The new creation
1. The Gospel brings fruit and increase
2. God’s Church brings fruit and increase
Heard and understood
The full stop which appears at the end of Col 1:5a by the RSV is put there simply to make the reader have sections which are easier to read but Paul’s thought actually continues without a break until at least the end of Col 1:8. The RSV, however, opens the second part of Col 1:5 with ‘Of this’ which links the sentence adequately enough to what’s gone before and the subject about which Paul and Timothy are now commenting - which is
‘...the hope laid up for you in heaven’
We saw on the previous web page that the hope spoken of here is the source from which both the believers’ faith and love have sprung and is primarily concerned with the action of God the Father in the future when all believers will be raised from the dead to receive their promised inheritance.
It’s this which was very much a part of Epaphras’ preaching to the inhabitants of the region for they appear to have significantly picked up on this part of the message (Col 1:23 - Cp Col 1:27, 3:4) so that, for them, the Gospel was more
‘...a message of hope for the future rather than simply...a change of life in the present’
even though it would be wrong to think that this was all that it was. It appears that this was one of the prime elements of the message which was preached to them and one which they’d taken up with great eagerness and acceptance. Colcar, however, is undoubtedly wrong in his interpretation (my italics) that the Colossians’ hope
‘...is not the product of a fertile imagination [agreed] but comes and develops through a study of the word of the Gospel’
The point of the early Church’s proclamation of the Gospel was not that it was accepted after much careful study (even though the message was checked out on at least one occasion - Acts 17:11) but that the verbal proclamations of the message were accepted and that it was this which caused them to believe in the ‘hope’.
Colbrien notes that it’s possible that the presumed wrong teaching which Paul eventually came against from Col 2:8 onwards had resulted in robbing them of their future hope and that the writers here begin their letter with a reminder of the basis of how they first believed. Therefore, the phrase ‘the word of the truth’ is
‘...a contrast with the false teaching of the Colossian heretics...’
Whether this is true or not, it remains speculative (as I’ve previously noted elsewhere) for it’s impossible for us to tie down any specific problem other than to read between the lines when Paul moves to urge his readers to shun that which was obviously against the message of the Gospel. However, more certain is the fact that ‘truth’ is linked with ‘Gospel’ in at least two places (Gal 2:5,14) so that the two words can be thought to be used interchangeably on occasion. When Paul, therefore, asks the Galatians in Gal 5:7 (see also Rom 2:8)
‘...who hindered you from obeying the truth?’
we could just as well swap the word ‘truth’ for ‘Gospel’ and glean the same understanding of the sentence for it says one and the same thing (unless, of course, we understand by the word ‘truth’ something which exceeds the boundaries of the good news of the Kingdom).
I’ve included Col 1:10 here for that part of the notes dealing with the new creation and the Gospel because it covers much common ground and needs comparing with Col 1:5b-6. I will, however, deal with the verse in context on a future web page.
The word for ‘Gospel’ appears at the end of Col 1:5 as the source from which the believers at Colossae had come to realise and hold fast to the
‘...hope laid up for you in heaven’
Paul and Timothy only use this word as an explanation of the phrase ‘the word of the truth’ (this phrase is, perhaps, used to undermine any or all of the teaching which is being brought to the fellowship which is contrary to the message delivered by Epaphras - Col 1:7) to save any misunderstanding which may have existed in their readers’ minds, but it’s of such fundamental importance to a correct understanding of the calling and ministry of the early Church that we must pause for a few moments and attempt to gain a Biblical understanding of what the ‘Gospel’ was understood to be.
Many different denominations, sects and cults have their own understanding of what the ‘Gospel’ is so, if we’re to be faithful to the message of the early Church, we need to accurately understand the content of the message by looking at the places where the word group occurs.
The words in themselves don’t tell us too much and can be best summarised by Vines to prevent us from going into a full blown consideration of the way they were used through time. He notes that, in reference to the noun, it
‘...originally denoted a reward for good tidings; later, the idea of reward dropped and the word stood for “the good news” itself’
Being a predominantly secular group of words, they were employed in a great many situations wherever they seemed the most appropriate and even, as Kittels points out, it was possible to accept a messenger as brining ‘good news’ even when the message was a prophetic pronouncement and could contain either a promise or, negatively, a threat. It was employed commonly when announcements of victories were received by messengers returning from the battle lines.
The words employed are straightforward. The noun (Strongs Greek number 2098) is normally translated ‘Gospel’ rather than ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’ simply because this is the word which has been accepted into the English language as a technical term for a message which can be relied upon though, at the outset, it seems to have been uniquely applied to the message of salvation and only later was used for other purposes. The verb (Strongs Greek number 2097) denotes the action of bringing the Gospel while the messenger who brings the message, another noun (Strongs Greek number 2099) is normally referred to as ‘an evangelist’.
An evangelist is also defined in different ways by different organisations and, as we attempt to learn what it was that the early Church’s Gospel contained, we’ll get a better understanding of what the person was expected to bring. Even so, the word only occurs three times in the NT (Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11, II Tim 4:5) and, although it seems obvious from the second of these that there was a distinctive gift of God given to the Church, how someone might be assessed as being that gift is difficult to define except as being a bearer of the true message for, apart from the message, there appear to be no clear statements.
There’s also one compound word which occurs in Gal 3:8 meaning ‘to preach the Gospel beforehand’ but the verb seems to hold its meaning here.
The profit of trying to understand what the Gospel was before the cross and resurrection in the Gospel accounts is somewhat limited for there’s no way that Jesus’ death and self-sacrifice on the behalf of others for the redemption of their lives could have been declared until He’d risen from the dead - and, even then, it was first proclaimed to a group of men and women on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). But that forgiveness of sins was available to believers even before the price was paid is obvious from passages such as Mtw 9:1-8, Luke 7:47-48 and John 8:10-11.
The Gospel, then, even if adequately defined as to content before the resurrection must have had a more detailed substance afterwards. Even so, in Matthew’s account, the Gospel is predominantly coupled with the phrase ‘of the Kingdom’ (Mtw 4:23, 9:35, 24:14 - see also Luke 8:1) though it can stand alone with no definition (Mtw 11:5, 26:13). The implication of Mtw 4:17 (and confirmed by Mark 1:14-15) is that Jesus’ pronouncements concerning the Gospel were along the lines
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’
a proclamation which was identical to the message of John the Baptist before Him (Mtw 3:2). There was, therefore, the need for a response to the message which was being brought to those who would listen.
In the other records of Jesus’ life, the words fail to appear totally in John and are repeated in roughly the same place in both Mark and Luke as they appear in Matthew, though the former defines the Gospel as being ‘of God’ in Mark 1:14 rather than ‘of the Kingdom’. There’s still no hard and fast definition of what the Gospel actually is, however, and the definition which we obtained from Matthew is about the closest we come until we approach Acts and beyond.
The word, however, can be used in Luke to denote a message which isn’t the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ (Luke 1:19). I should point out one teaching which I heard in a fellowship a number of years ago which, although I’ve not heard it repeated recently, still appears to be doing the rounds. It comes from Luke 4:18 (Pp Luke 7:22) where Jesus announces to the synagogue at Nazareth that
‘...[God] has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor...’
The reasoning went something like
‘What news could be good to the poor other than that they’d become materially rich? Therefore the Gospel isn’t concerned just with the forgiveness of sins but with supplying material wealth for the benefit of the believer that they might better their living standards and provide for every work of the Church’
It’s the same sort of logic which takes the words of Jesus in Mtw 22:39 where He says
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’
and manages to extract the ‘truth’ that God wants us to love ourselves.
Before we move on to the Book of Acts, we should note that, if the longer ending to Mark’s account is accepted, the Gospel is plainly intended to be preached throughout the entire world (Mark 16:15), a fact which is also upheld by Jesus’ teaching concerning the time immediately before His return in Mtw 24:14 (see also Eph 3:6).
As we approach Acts, we might be correct in taking any or all of the pronouncements made before crowds concerning Jesus and accepting them as what the true Gospel was meant to be. I wholeheartedly agree with this methodology along with numerous others for it shows plainly the centrality of the cross, resurrection and ascension as the message of the early Church.
I see no other way of taking the command to declare the Gospel and the messages brought to areas other than as a fulfilment of the command to go into all the world and to declare the message. However, for the purposes of this study, I’ve decided to confine myself to clear statements connected with the word group for, otherwise, what we might learn from their structure begins with an assumption which cannot necessarily be proven.
In most of the places where these words occur, there’s very little by way of definition (Acts 8:25, 8:40, 14:7, 14:21, 15:7, 16:10) but Acts 13:32-33 records Paul’s words in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia as
‘...we bring you the good news [the Gospel] that what God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus...’
and showing that the resurrection was considered as an integral part of the message. Acts 20:24 (see also Gal 1:6) also defines the basis of the Gospel by calling it
‘...the gospel of the grace of God’
As we saw on a previous web page, the concept of ‘grace’ is that which is given to another even though there’s no characteristic of merit which would warrant such a bestowal. The basis of the Gospel, therefore, shifts away from an individual’s self-effort to the giving away freely to all who would accept the offer.
In Paul’s letters - as it is in the Book of Acts - a definition of the Gospel is often lacking from the context of the use of the word. It can be referred to as ‘of God’ (Rom 1:1, I Thess 2:2, 2:8, 2:9, I Tim 1:11, I Peter 4:17), ‘of the Son’ or ‘of Christ’ and countless other variations around this theme (Rom 1:3, 1:9, 15:19, I Cor 9:12, II Cor 2:12, 9:13, 10:14, Phil 1:27, I Thess 3:2, II Thess 1:8), as ‘not man’s’ (Gal 1:11) or ‘of peace’ (Eph 6:15 - see on my notes here for a definition of what this word means).
It can also be joined with the idea of Jesus’ glory (II Cor 4:4, II Thess 2:14) and the idea of a future hope (Col 1:5, 1:23 - see on the previous web page).
But, in Paul’s letters, we get an indication of the content of the Gospel in a few places that define it. Perhaps the most definitive statement is in I Cor 15:1-8 where the apostle is concerned to remind his recipients
‘...in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast...’
and then goes on to define the message as
‘...Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to [a great list of people]...’
The resurrection from the grave is also noted in II Tim 2:8 where the extra clause is added that the Gospel supported the assertion that Jesus was
‘...descended from David...’
Both these points are also stated in Romans 1:3-6 where Paul phrases it a little differently. He speaks of the Gospel concerning God’s Son
‘...who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead...’
Perhaps surprisingly to modern man - and something which we’ve often shied away from in our declaration of the Gospel, is that the ‘good’ news also contains (Rom 2:16) mention of the day on which
‘...God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus’
The content of the message, then, is sufficient to bring about ‘salvation’ before God and is referred to as such (Rom 1:16, I Cor 15:2, Eph 1:13). We have to read between the lines as to how this message might do that but it’s plain from the NT writings that the death, resurrection and ascension were a completed work of God that forgave individual sin, raised the believer up into the newness of life and elevated his spiritual position through the ascension into Heaven itself. Death, seen as the final enemy (I Cor 15:26), is also defeated and part of the message of the Gospel, consumed in immortality for all who respond positively to it (II Tim 1:10).
Two final points must be noted here if we’re ever to realise the fulness of the Gospel which was preached in the first century. We may overlook the declaration of Paul in Rom 15:17-20 that he was striving to secure obedience to God from the Gentiles
‘...by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit...
by thinking that it’s not part and parcel of his following words that he’d made it his
‘...ambition to preach the gospel...’
But Rom 15:19 clearly notes - at the conclusion of his declaration of his use of signs and wonders - that such actions meant that he had
‘...fully preached the gospel of Christ’
I Thess 1:5 also confirms this need for demonstrations of God’s power in the proclamation of the Gospel for we read there (my italics) that
‘...our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction...’
An ‘evangelist’, therefore, is not and never was a person who went about only declaring the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom but was one who also demonstrated it with signs and wonders. It may be argued that the statement of I Thess 1:5 quoted above was surely something that only an apostle could declare but not an evangelist, but the letter was written not just by Paul but by his fellow workers Silvanus and Timothy (I Thess 1:1) which makes sense out of the word ‘our’ which precedes the word ‘Gospel’.
Timothy is never mentioned as an apostle and, as I showed in my introduction was never associated with Paul in the co-writing of his letters as such. He was always designated as something other than such a gift to the Church. Therefore, one of the traits of an evangelist - a bearer of the Gospel - must be to demonstrate the message in the power of the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders and not just by word only, simply because he’s the bearer of the message which is to be demonstrated externally.
After all, it’s very easy for anyone to say that Jesus has been raised to a place of supreme power and authority over the world but the demonstration of that position is expected from those who declare it so as to confirm the message (Mark 16:20).
Finally - and almost predictably - the Gospel is declared as being free of charge to all who listen and receive its message (I Cor 9:18, II Cor 11:7). We should remember this in all our dealings with men and women concerning bringing the good news of the message of reconciliation between God and man. When the Church does charge entrance fees and holds collections amongst unbelievers, it infers something about the Gospel which is against its foundation of grace.
The Church is to fund the proclamation of the Gospel, then, and not through collections from unbelievers.
In conclusion, I noted above that it was necessary that we use the clear statements in the NT as to what the ‘Gospel’ is to define the word and concept and not, as we could have done, take any or all of the pronouncements in the Book of Acts and accept them as the Gospel. Therefore, we restricted ourselves more to Paul’s letters than to anything else but, even so, the reader will, no doubt, have realised that the testimony of these undergirds an acceptance of the messages in Acts as being nothing short of examples of the way the Gospel was proclaimed.
The new creation
The reader may be wondering why I’ve decided to bring Col 1:10 together with 1:6 in this article. The main reason is that two identical Greek words appear in both verses (Strongs Greek numbers 2592 and 837) and a common interpretation seems to need to be made, even though the subject of both words is different.
The first of these two words means ‘to bear fruit’ and, even though it may be used to refer to real life situations, a figurative application is plain from its context in Jesus’ teaching (Mtw 13:23, Mark 4:20, 4:28, Luke 8:15) - it’s also used this way not only here in Colossians but twice in close proximity in Romans (Rom 7:4-5). The idea of the usage behind the word is that everything, by what’s supplied it, will produce fruit which is either beneficial or useless (Rom 7:5 is the only place where it’s used in its negative sense).
The second word implies growth in a great variety of forms throughout its contemporary usage. Therefore, it can be used to refer to the natural propagation of plants and humans (Mtw 6:28, 13:32, Mark 4:8, Luke 12:27, 13:19, Acts 7:17), to the stature of a man which increases with time and God’s attention (Luke 1:80, 2:40) or even to the popularity of a man amongst his contemporaries (John 3:30). It seems a quite logical extension that it could be used to describe the advance of the message of the Kingdom (Acts 6:7, 12:24, 19:20, Col 1:6 - also used this way in the more ‘natural’ meaning of the word in some of the Scriptures listed above) and the increase in stature of the followers of the Way (I Cor 3:6-7, 9:10, II Cor 10:15, Eph 2:21, 4:15, Col 1:10, 2:19, I Peter 2:2, II Peter 3:18) though, sometimes, the overlap between the two concepts becomes indistinguishable.
It’s these two latter concepts which raise their head in Colossians and which we’ll turn our attention to shortly, dealing with the occurrences of the words in more detail where relevant.
Paul seems to deliberately draw his readers’ attention to the relevance of their own experience by speaking of it as the direct action of God by His word as Creator. He’ll shortly bring out the truth of Jesus’ importance in the original Creation and the new birth (or ‘the new creation’) in Col 1:15-20, so showing them the invaluable possession of eternal life that they’ve received and the futility of the emptiness after which many have gone astray (Col 2:16-23).
For Paul, the idea doesn’t appear to be that God dreamed up a unique action which was coming about throughout the world but that He was doing very much the same thing as He’d done at the very beginning of the universe when He spoke an authoritative word and saw light brought from darkness (Gen 1:1-3) and fruitfulness as the objective of those which were created (Gen 1:22,24,28).
The new creation, then, echoes the old where the word of truth, the Gospel (Col 1:5), is spoken throughout the world (Col 1:6) and which bears fruit and grows wherever it’s proclaimed. The Colossians, being part of the positive response given to the message, then become new creatures who are to naturally bear fruit for God and who should increase in their knowledge of and relationship with God (Col 1:10).
Although I don’t want to add fuel to the Creation versus Evolution debate, it’s obvious that the evidence for Creation is the new birth - or, the re-creation of the image of God in man - and vice versa, so that each stands or falls with the other.
If God is the One who spoke everything into existence that we see around us when there was no possibility of it happening naturally then He’s also the One who brings about the new birth.
But a denial of a literal interpretation of Genesis chapter 1 undermines the evidence which sees the death of Christ as being the result of a move of the same God.
In short, a person is saved because God is Creator and not because He is the controlling force over natural processes which cause men to become better people given time.
Paul’s usage of the two words, therefore, seems to have been deliberately chosen so that what he perceives as happening in the Colossians - and throughout the world - will lead him on to describe Jesus as the Master over all Creation, both in the first work of God which brought all things into being and now, through the word of the Gospel, in recreating the image of God throughout the earth.
1. The Gospel brings fruit and increase
In the beginning, God spoke (Gen 1:3,6 etc) and, by His word, new life came into being, the first creation (Gen 1:20-21,24-25,26-27). The life was told
‘Be fruitful and multiply’
so that although the word of God brought life, that life was expected to increase in number by reproducing itself throughout the inhabitable world. That this command wasn’t concerned simply with the propagation of natural offspring but that it was tied up with a production of those who also reflected the image of God originally created in the man and woman is a necessary understanding for, otherwise, we would have to conclude that a man with more children is fulfilling the command of God in a much better way than one who has none.
Acceptance before God would then be on the basis of works of the flesh - which we know it isn’t - but, rather, upon the grace of God (see my notes on this subject in part two section 2 sub-section c for a treatment of this point).
Similarly, in the beginning of the foundation of the Church at Colossae, God spoke the word of the truth, the Gospel, through His servant Epaphras (Col 1:5-6a,7a), thus creating new life in the lives of all who received it (II Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15, Eph 2:10, 4:24, Col 3:10), bringing about fruit from the scattering of the seed of the message as men and women gave themselves over to it.
The word of life (Phil 2:15) had given an increase as they reproduced the life they had in others by God’s word in them (Col 1:6b, Mtw 28:19-20). This is the purpose of the Gospel of the salvation of God throughout the world - that it might bring both fruit (saved men and women) and increase (a numerical growth in God’s people).
The word of God bears fruit when men and women come into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ (Rom 10:17) and increases as they become channels through whom the Holy Spirit can speak the same word of the truth, the Gospel.
The fruitfulness and increase of the word of the Kingdom is also the subject of one of the parables that Jesus told (Mtw 13:3-9,18-23) where the Greek word for fruitfulness noted in the introduction to this section occurs in Mtw 13:23 (Pp Mark 4:20, Luke 8:15). Even here, though, there’s a clearly observable numerical increase of the seed in the lives of those who respond to the word of the Kingdom and, in the parallel passage in Mark’s Gospel, the second Greek word noted above and which speaks of an increase is used (Mark 4:8 - see also Mtw 13:32 where it’s used of the growth of the mustard seed into the largest of shrubs).
The word for fruitfulness also occurs in a closely related parable in Mark 4:26-29 where the Kingdom increases of itself when scattered upon the earth.
Clearly, the proclamation of the Gospel was expected to provide lives which would be fruitful and which would increase the seed available to the person who sowed it (taken here to be God or, better, God through His messengers).
This brings us to three initially puzzling verses of Scripture which appear in the Book of Acts, each of which speak of a numerical increase in the word of God (Acts 6:7, 12:24, 19:20) which parallels perfectly the parable of the sower which Jesus spoke concerning the increase of the seed of the message of the Kingdom.
However, the phraseology is somewhat peculiar here and we need to note carefully the meaning instead of simply accepting the statement because they’re known to us and think nothing more. Luke says clearly in Acts 6:7 that
‘...the word of God increased...’
in Acts 12:24 that, despite opposition
‘...the word of God grew and multiplied’
and, finally, in Acts 19:20, that
‘...the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily’
We need to ask ourselves just how the word of God might increase. Actsmar is surely correct when he notes that what Luke means is that
‘...its proclamation increased and was effective in winning converts. As a result, the number of disciples continued to grow...’
where Luke goes on to note in Acts 6:7 that
‘...the number of the disciples multiplied greatly...’
The inference seems to be that the proclamation of the Gospel - referred to variously in the NT but equated with ‘the word of God’ or ‘the word of truth’ (see, for example, Eph 1:13, Col 1:5. II Tim 2:9 - the latter of which also gives the reader the clear equation that word of God = the Gospel) - increased in its proclamation which, as a consequence, bore fruit in the amount of converts who gave themselves over to the message. This increase, in turn, provided more mouthpieces for the pronouncement of the Gospel message which meant that the writer can truly speak of the word of God increasing.
Just as God’s spoken word at the beginning of the world had brought an increase and had established fruitfulness on the earth, so now the spoken word of the Gospel was bringing the fruit of men and women as converts to Jesus and, in those converts’ lives, producing an increase for the benefit of God.
This word, then, must be understood for what it is - a spoken and anointed representation of the Gospel that achieves the purpose for which God commands it to be declared throughout the nations (Mtw 28:18-20 - see my notes in part one section 3 for a brief explanation of the two elements of the ‘word of God’ in Hebrew thought). Colcar is correct to note here that
‘The two characteristics of the true Gospel are its fruitfulness and its growth. It is because of its divine origin that it is fruitful. The merely human word at best lingers in the memory as a stimulus. But this word, because it is God’s word, is living; and so it has the inherent power of bearing fruit when it falls into the divinely-prepared soil of a receptive heart’
God has only one way, then, to reintroduce His own image into the world - and that’s by the declaration of the message of the Gospel, the seed, which, upon acceptance, bears immediate fruit and, ultimately, brings an increase in seed which is useful to the one who initially sowed it through His servants.
This, then, becomes the foundation upon which the Colossian believers will go on to both bear fruit and an increase in their own lives - the subject of the second of these sections below.
2. God’s Church brings fruit and increase
We’ve already seen that the word of God is the instrument God uses to bring about both fruitfulness and an increase - not only in the initial act of creation but in the proclamation of the Gospel, the new creation.
It seems logical to accept, then, that both fruitfulness and increase can only come about in the life of a believer by the same initial act of God in speaking the word to bring about the ability to fulfil the requirements.
Therefore, no matter how much a believer might work at his salvation, once converted, the bottom line is that he isn’t alone in his walk with Jesus but that the word of God must still be active alongside his own actions to bring about the purpose to which he’s been redeemed.
What we’ve seen in the previous section, then, becomes the basis for Paul’s prayer for the Colossian believers (Col 1:10) that they might now be fruitful
‘...in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’
where both Greek words noted in the introduction are again used. This time, however, the subject is different and Paul turns his attention away from the proclamation of the Gospel and its effects to the believers themselves and what his prayers are expecting of them.
Now that they’ve responded individually to the word of God, the message of the Gospel, and become both the fruit of the proclamation of the word and its increase, they should go on to be fruitful and increase from the starting point of their initial commitment to Jesus Christ.
Here, however, the parallel with the sower may be somewhat tenuous for, as we saw there, the seed was indicative of the word and of the increase of the proclamation of the Gospel. Now we’re looking at ‘good works’ - which aren’t specifically described - and an increase in the knowledge of God.
It was the initial word of the Gospel that had caused the foundation upon which their lives were to be built and it’s this same word of God that causes fruit to be borne out of every good work. In an age when many ‘good works’ are evident all around us in the form of charitable gifts and the like - even works done ‘in the name of the Lord’ (Mtw 7:21-23) - it must be realised that it’s only the work that’s done in harmony with the anointed and living word of God that will bring forth fruit that’s useful to the Lord of the harvest and that will remain (I Cor 3:10-15 - see also Is 55:10-11).
Bearing fruit is the purpose of believer’s life and the objective of a life which gives itself over to the message of the Gospel. Therefore Paul writes in Rom 7:4 (my italics) that
‘...you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God’
There are numerous Scriptures in the NT that speak of bearing fruit for God in various different forms but all that we need to say about Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that his desire was centred in fruit bearing, that they might become useful to the will of the One who had initially caused the word of the Gospel to be declared to them.
The same word of God also causes there to be an increase in the knowledge of God for the word proceeds directly from the Father and is therefore rightly called ‘the word of the truth’ (Col 1:5). If there’s an increase in the knowledge of God, revelation must be present and not just a Scriptural truth - but a word united with the power and provision of the Holy Spirit.
God’s creation reflects His nature (Ps 19:1-4, Rom 1:19-20); His writings express His mind (Ps 19:7-10); but only the spoken word (not in disharmony with the written word) is a revelation truth, coming directly from the Father and weighted with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit (Eph 6:17, Heb 4:12).
The idea of an increase in the believer’s life is, again, spoken of variously in the NT. In I Cor 3:5-9, Paul observes the growth needed following both his own and Apollos’ ministry within the church - that what had been poured into them was expected to produce a growth in their own lives. The vagueness of meaning can also be seen in other places (Eph 2:21, 4:15, Col 2:19) where the middle of these three verses speaks of growing up ‘in every way’ into Jesus, a phrase which doesn’t overlook any possible spiritual growth available to the believer.
This ‘growth’ or ‘increase’ is also specifically described. In II Cor 9:10, Paul looks to God to
‘...increase the harvest of your righteousness’
in II Cor 10:15 that faith might increase and, in II Peter 3:18, that the believers might
‘...grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’
We should note Paul’s words carefully here for the initial moment of conversion to Jesus Christ is not the be-all-and-end-all in the life given over to God. We’re quite right in maintaining that the work of the cross is sufficient for the salvation of any and every person and that there’s no work a person can do to redeem his own life before God, but to think that, once ‘saved’, the believer sits down to a life of wandering about aimlessly, waiting patiently for the final day of his life on earth to begin a new one in heaven, is incorrect.
Each person is expected to both bear fruit that’s useful for God and to increase in stature in Christ. There’s expected to be an increase throughout the life of the follower that should be observable ‘in every way’ (Eph 4:15).
But the word upon which the believer’s life is built and which encourages growth must never be regarded as mere information but, rather, the same as the spoken word of creation with both power and provision to bring about the intention and purpose of the One who spoke it. Fruit and increase are direct consequences in a believer’s life of God’s initiative of speech - His creative word brings something into a believer’s life that wasn’t there before and which had no chance of coming about through natural processes.
Heard and understood
The twofold phrase ‘heard and understood’ doesn’t limit acceptance of the Gospel to an intellectualism for it’s quite obvious that not all who, in our own language, have heard the Gospel message and understood its implications have joined themselves to God through the work of Christ. The word from which we get the English ‘understood’ (Strongs Greek number 1921) has a deeper meaning than merely cerebral comprehension mirrored by the AV’s translation as ‘knew’ which conjures up an OT concept.
Vines is the simplest of those who define the word by noting that, in I Tim 4:3, the Greek word
‘...lays stress on participation in the truth’
while JFB is probably too brief when they define it as meaning that the possessor of the knowledge
‘...became fully experimentally acquainted with [it]’
It’s best to read Colcar at this point who takes enough space to adequately explain the concept of the word by writing that
‘It has the intensive meaning involved in the prefix epi and speaks of knowledge which is much deeper than mere mental grasp. The use of the cognate verb here (‘knew’) implies an assimilation of the inner meaning of the Gospel so that truth is transformed into experience. Such a deepening grasp of the Gospel is a prerequisite to knowing its fruitfulness and power’
Although Kittels seems to miss this meaning in their extensive dealing of the word, they aren’t too far out when they note that
‘Observing the commandments is a criterion of knowledge...In general, the christian view of knowledge follows closely that of the OT. It involves obedient acknowledgement’
To the writers, knowledge of God means obedience to Him - not just a mere head knowledge but an active participation in doing the will of the One who’s known. As Jesus said in John 13:17 (my italics)
‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’
where action allied with knowledge is necessary for it to be regarded as true knowledge. To have knowledge about someone, to understand, is of no value if it remains simply mind-knowledge and not lived out in the experience of the believer.
Therefore, when Adam knew his wife in the OT (Gen 4:1), a union through the act of sexual intercourse was implied. He didn’t just know about Eve (mind-knowledge) but knew her by experiencing her and by her becoming a part of him. Therefore also Gen 2:24 hints at this experience by noting that the two bodies became one through sexual union.
Likewise in a believer’s knowledge and understanding of the Gospel. To know and understand the Gospel is to become united to it - not in mere intellectual acknowledgement (though this, obviously, is necessary) but in a dynamic harmony which causes its truth to become a way of life in the recipient.
The Colossians hadn’t just nodded their agreement to the Gospel - they’d become active participants. This knowledge seems also to imply a union of the two objects in which both retain their individual identity and yet, even though individualism remains, assimilation of the other takes place. Such a union shows the commitment to the message which had been brought to them by Epaphras (Col 1:7) and the very real danger that they would have been putting themselves into by going over to something which cut at the very heart of that initial message (Col 2:8ff - if this is the correct understanding of why this passage appears here).
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