A Sure Bet or a Noble Imperative?

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:3 – 5). 

Sometimes, it seems we put our minds on cruise control as we read the Bible. Passages and phrases are so familiar, we don’t spend much time thinking about what they mean. The consequence of that sort of reading is to deny ourselves a blessing. For example, I am preparing to teach a class on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As Paul opens this epistle, he makes reference to what Dr. Lightfoot called “the Great Christian Triad: faith, hope, and love.” (See Colossians 1:4, 5). In verse 5 Paul writes about “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (so most English versions). What does “laid up for you in heaven” mean?

The word apokeimai (ἀπόκειμαι), most often translated “laid up,” is used by the fearful servant to describe what he did with the money his master entrusted to him: “Lord, here is your mina[1], which I kept laid away in a handkerchief;” (Luke 19:20). So, it is possible the apostle is telling us our hope is a safe bet. The CEV reads, “what you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven” (See also the NCV, GNB, and GW).

But apokeimai is also used in another way in the New Testament. We can behave in a certain way because we are expecting a reward. We tell athletes to “keep your eyes on the prize!” This might be the sense Paul is expressing in 2 Timothy 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” It could be Paul is simply affirming how his hope (and ours) is a safe bet backed by the bank of heaven. 

However, apokeimai was frequently used in Greek letters of appreciation. They called attention to a person’s nobility. This person acted in a certain way to benefit the greater good. These people did the right thing – the admirable thing. 

When King Saul and his sons fought against hopeless odds and died in the struggle, Josephus the Jewish historian explained how Saul and his sons fought bravely to the death against the Philistines “knowing that their entire glory lay in nothing else but dying honorably” (Ant. 6, 368). Even though Jonathan knew it was hopeless (he knew he was going to die), he fought honorably because it was noble.

I suspect the Apostle Paul worked so hard for the Lord, not to earn a place in heaven, but because it was the right thing to do. The Lord gave the apostle a second chance, and Paul’s attitude of gratitude led him to live a noble life.

Why do we do the things we do? Are we trying to earn a place in heaven, or are we simply good because we are Christians?

Be a Blessing!

[1] A mina was equal to 100 drachmas. You could purchase a sheep for a drachma, or a slave for four drachmas, or an ox for five drachmas!