The Fruit of the Gospel (1:9-11)

The second part of Paul's prayer repeats in reverse order the words and ideas found in 1:3-6, but this time in intercession for the Colossian believers. The content of Paul's petitions reflects the nature of his pastoral concern. This concern is clearly marked out in the text as a purpose clause: Paul intercedes for the Colossians in order that God may fill you with knowledge so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord. The essence of this "worthy life," exemplified by Epaphras, is defined by two participles, each modified by a prepositional phrase, which together recall the yield of the gospel ministry (1:6): bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

While the apostle Paul is impressed by the report of the congregation's spiritual development, his petition seems to detect a certain immaturity in them that fails to discern what is spiritually important. Hence, he asks God for increased knowledge and spiritual wisdom and understanding for them. This accumulation of similar terms for true knowledge underscores its importance to Paul. The progress of Christian formation follows up rebirth with retraining. While the Colossians have learned the word of truth from Epaphras, they are apparently too easily confused by false teaching; their faith in Christ Jesus is not "as hard as nails," and their Christian witness has suffered as a result. At its root, the Colossian crisis is a crisis of knowing God. And so it is with every challenge to a congregation's spiritual formation.

Paul's concern for a more comprehensive knowledge of God's will as the basis of living for God in the world is profoundly Jewish in nature (see Schweizer 1982:41). Knowledge for its own sake—as "fine-sounding arguments" (2:4) or as philosophy "which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world" (2:8)—is simply not valued by Paul. Knowing God, the yield of an active spiritual life, sparks obedience to God, and obedience finds its eschatological reward (3:1-5; compare Rom 2:5-11). In a similar sense, the writer to the Hebrews warns against being satisfied with a rudimentary understanding of "the elementary truths of God's word" and calls for a more mature wisdom that can "distinguish good from evil" (Heb 5:12, 14). That is, a mature knowledge of God's Word always yields a practical and public result: behavior that conforms to the will of God, which is "doing good" (compare 1 Pet 3:17).

The biblical illiteracy that characterizes so many clergy and congregations today is largely responsible for a church that seems powerless to stem the tide of secular materialism. In fact, often there is really nothing except words glibly confessed that distinguishes the believer from the nonbeliever (see 1 Cor 4:20). It might seem to those outside of faith that Christ makes no difference in the way we live or think. Even when we place ourselves under Scripture's claim, we do so for individual reasons, with individual questions, for individual direction. In such cases the result of submitting to Scripture's witness to God is rarely repentance that leads to transformed relationships with others. Paul's concern and his prayer for the Colossians, therefore, have their counterpart today.

The expression every good work is not typical of Paul, especially since he links it to a life that pleases [God] in every way; but it is not unlike Paul to stress the practical outcome of knowing God (compare Phil 1:10), as some commentators have reminded us (see Lohse 1976:29-30). This reminder seems especially appropriate in light of the (I think false) distinction some conservative expositors make between our confessions that "Jesus is Savior" and "Jesus is Lord." Paul's theology is centered by the Old Testament idea of covenant that binds together a gracious God and a people of faith (see Rom 9—11). A covenant between two partners is the product of concrete actions by each one for the other. In the case of the biblical covenant, God's gracious initiatives toward God's people and their obedient responses secure a relationship that results in a lasting salvation. Without one or the other there would be no relationship, no covenant, no blessing.

Paul's gospel, as reflected in his letters, emphasizes God's gracious initiative in Christ. In fact, so keen is Paul's emphasis on God's covenanting grace that it is quite possible to mistake his idea of salvation as consisting only of God's unilateral and unconditional act in Christ. More precisely, however, Paul retains a biblical understanding of God's covenantal relationship with Israel: Israel's actual participation in God's promised salvation depends on its response to God. While salvation is unconditionally offered, it is entered into only when certain conditions are met. "Obedience of faith" (see Rom 1:5; 16:26) and "good works" (Rom 2:5-11) are required before God's positive verdict is given. Of course, for Paul good works are the public indications of a believer's "obedience of faith" in Christ; they are the results of participating with him in God's salvation. For Paul, then, a firm dependence upon what God has already accomplished through Christ is the single requirement for getting into—and staying in—the community covenanted with God for salvation. The emphasis of his prayer of intercession, then, must be understood in terms of the deeper "theo-logic" of his gospel: to understand God's grace in all its truth by the preaching of the gospel (1:6) will produce good works, not independent from but the result of divine grace (compare Phil 2:12-13).

A third circumstantial participle, being strengthened, along with its adjoining prepositional phrase with all power, introduces a second triad of virtues—endurance, patience and joy. The second triad interacts with the first (1:4-5) to describe the congregation's new life in Christ. In this case Paul links the knowledge of God with the power of God, additionally alluding to the Old Testament idiom [God's] glorious might. God's grace is not a theological abstraction; it is God's power that empowers a community to walk in a way that pleases the Lord (compare 1 Cor 2:5; 4:19-20; 12:10; Eph 1:18-19). Grace makes the promises of God real in people's lives. The additional reference to God's glory is rooted in the Old Testament concern for God's reputation. God's might enabled Israel to wage war against God's enemies so that the nations might come to know "the power of his might" (Lohse 1976:30). In this context, Paul prays that God's gracious power may transform the Colossians to live in the marketplace and town square in a manner that upholds God's reputation.

The life that demonstrates God's glorious might is characterized by endurance, patience and joy. Like the first triad, this one has an eschatological basis: it characterizes a people in whose life the new age has already dawned (compare Gal 5:22-23), with the capacity to maintain hope in God's future triumph (Col 1:5; 1 Thess 5:14) even in the midst of present adversity (2 Cor 6:4-5; Jas 1:2-4; 5:10-11). Yet the second triad also extends the significance of the first. While the first establishes the ideal characteristics of true religion (faith, love, hope), the second triad envisions the characteristics that are necessary to overcome spiritual conflict in maturing toward the ideal Christian life.

Difficult circumstances that place the believer under spiritual siege may well be obvious to a congregation: a recent tragedy in a member's family, a current controversy in the surrounding community, perhaps some transition taking place within the church. Yet often the signs of spiritual warfare are less obvious. The secular values of society shape habits of mind and heart that are utterly antagonistic toward God. For example, today's Christians too easily detach the virtue of love from its spiritual and biblical moorings, replacing it with an anti-Christian humanism that specializes in self-love.

In this light, endurance refers to the act of hanging on to one's most essential commitments, whereas patience refers to one's capacity to do so. Each reflects the sort of person who has been formed by difficult circumstances in order to respond favorably toward God in adversity. Both dispositions are rooted in joy, which like hope is disposed toward the future, where the costs of Christian existence bear their promised reward (see Jas 1:2-4). Paul's praise of this sort of believer presumes the active participation of the Spirit, whose good work yields this favorable fruit (compare Gal 5:21-22; 1 Thess 1:6). His concluding reference to joy may also presume his own apostolic influence (cf. Phil 1:25; 2:2; 4:1); his missionary ministry provides the context for the Spirit's work and fruit (compare 1 Cor 3—4). Thus the final phrase, joyfully (or "with joy"), may well embed a call that is critical to Paul's larger purposes: Reject the falsehoods of Paul's opponents and embrace the truth of his gospel in order to be formed by God's Spirit into a redeemed people (compare 2 Tim 2:8-10).

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