Word and Spirit
extract from seminary module Dynamics of Spiritual Growth
Colossians 1:3-6 says:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people – 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
Here are signs of spiritual growth. Paul gives thanks for the growing faith, love and hope of the Colossian church. Then he expands to describe how similar growth is being seen elsewhere.
What is it that is creating this growth? Verse 6 says: ‘the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world’.
This is the language of the creation mandate of Genesis 1. When God first made humanity, ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Genesis 1:28) Bear fruit, increase in number, fill the earth. That’s exactly what Paul says is now happening in the church. The gospel is bearing fruit; the church is increasing in number; and the new humanity is spreading throughout the whole world. What’s taking place is the fulfilment of the mandate given to humanity when we were first created by God in Genesis 1.
After humanity’s rebellion that mandate went into reverse on the plain of Babel in Genesis 11. There the people of the world come together to build a tower up to heaven. Humanity contracted to one location instead of spreading throughout the earth. And humanity came together for their own glory instead of reflecting the glory of God.
But now through the gospel humanity has been rebooted. We’re back on track, doing what we were made to do. This is why Paul gives thanks. He gives thanks for faith in Christ Jesus and love for God’s people, both of which are fuelled by heavenly hope (1:4-5). Why? Because these are signs of the beginning of a new creation with a new humanity bearing fruit to God’s glory.
So the important question is: How does this new humanity grow and mature? The answer is: through the gospel word.
Look again at verse 5: ‘the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you’. Faith and love ‘spring from’ hope. It’s creation language. Faith and love are like plants springing up from the soil of hope to produce fruit – just as the land produced vegetation in Genesis 1:11- 12. And this fruitfulness comes because people have ‘heard … the true message of the gospel
What produces faith and love is hope? It’s the promise of sharing in God’s glory. It’s that hope that keeps us going when the going gets tough. But, of course, we’ve not yet seen what we hope for. So hope itself comes from God’s promises in his word. This is what makes us fruitful.
Or look again at verse 6: ‘the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.’ It’s the gospel which generates new creation fruit. Wherever you look and wherever you go, it’s the gospel that brings new life. The new humanity is formed through the gospel word.