Paul shifts from thanking God for what we have heard about the Colossians to what you have already heard about . . . the gospel. The common verb hear logically relates Paul's favorable report of the Colossians' life with the Colossians' reception of the gospel, so that the one results from the other: because the Colossians have already heard the Christian gospel (and presumably believed it to be true), their lives have been transformed. This connection of proclamation and transformation makes perfect sense to Paul, whose missionary experience is of the gospel . . . bearing fruit and growing (see Luke 8:1-15). Moreover his personal experience is validated by Scripture, whose stories of Old Testament prophets heralded the good news of God's salvation as the final solution to Israel's spiritual and sociological woes. We should not be surprised, then, that Luke's narratives of Paul's calling on the Damascus Road (cf. Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-21; 26:9-23) and Paul's own allusions to the same event reverberate with echoes of the prophets called by God to their evangelistic tasks (compare Gal 1:11-17 and Jer 1:4-19). Like the prophets of old, Paul is called to preach the gospel; and as with the Israel of old, the church's believing response results in restoration by God's powerful grace.
The content of Paul's gospel is the word of truth. Even as the prophets of God proclaimed "the word of the Lord," so does Paul. The subject matter of Paul's gospel is theological because its source is God; its claims can be trusted as true because God is Truth. Significantly, the phrase word of truth translates a Hebraism more naturally rendered "God's true word" (as in Ps 119:43). In the Old Testament the phrase refers to the content of God's revelation given in Torah (literally, Law), which is a reliable guide to God's promised blessing. This intimate union of revealed truth and experienced life is noted elsewhere in Paul's writings, where the reconciling "word" (2 Cor 5:19) comes from God (1 Cor 14:36), the Lord (1 Thess 1:8) or Christ (Col 3:16) in order to shape the life of the faith community (Phil 2:16). This equation of divine revelation and human experience anticipates Paul's argument against the Colossian "philosopher," whose teaching is a "word of falsehood" and results in spiritual and eschatological death rather than in life (see O'Brien 1982:12). The "deceptive philosophy" of Colosse, which fashioned a private and mystical religion, would also diminish interest in the work of evangelism and thereby undermine the prospect of changed lives.
In order to highlight the importance of evangelism, Paul cites two results of his Gentile mission. First, the proclaimed gospel is being heard all over the world. Paul's phrase does not refer to the universal scope of his Gentile mission (as Houlden and Lohse suggest) but rather to its "triumphal progress" (as O'Brien says) that now has come to Colosse. Perhaps Paul's phrase echoes Jesus' "parables of growth," in which growth (of a tree, a tiny mustard seed, a loaf of bread) signals the ultimate triumph of God's covenant people. In this sense, the progress of the Gentile mission to Colosse fulfills in part the promise contained in Jesus' parables.
Second, the gospel message is the medium by which the whole world comes to understand the truth about God's grace. Nowhere in Paul's writings is there a more succinct expression of the importance of evangelism than here: the proclamation of the gospel clarifies the intentions and results of grace. God's grace is a difficult notion for most people to grasp, partly because it contradicts so much of what we learn and experience from the non-Christian society that surrounds and conditions us. Secular humanism teaches that only the self-sufficient individual survives; secular materialism teaches that only the self-interested individual prospers. Everyday experience teaches us that receiving gifts from others is conditioned on first giving gifts. In Western society, as in ancient Colosse, the myths and idols of secular humanism provide no resources for understanding the gospel's truth that one's humanity survives and prospers only because of the loving interest of God and the sufficiency of God's grace. And the medium of the message is the proclamation of the gospel for conversion.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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