Day 6, Colossians 1:6: The Efficacy of the Word
“…that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
“Paul describes the effect of Epaphras’ preaching in Colosse in terms not of an emotional reaction, nor even of people ‘accepting Christ into their hearts,’ but of hearing truth and understanding it. The task of the apostolic herald is to announce truth: the word here translated ‘understood’ indicates that the response sought is an intelligent thinking through and recognition of that truth.”—54 (N.T. Wright)
It was the Word of truth, the Gospel, that had come among the Colossians. This is significant for a number of reasons, but I think it also raises a number of questions. Foremost among these questions is this: Is the Colossian response to the preached Word a paradigm of what should happen when the Gospel is preached among people? A sub-question might be, what is the point of preaching: Intellectual response or emotional response? Are the two responses mutually exclusive? Is the Colossians’ response the norm from which other responses are the exception? Just how much credit, so to speak, should we give the Word of God when it comes to conversion?
Whatever we may say, the apostle seems to be convinced that it was the Word of truth that opened the eyes of the Colossian pagans and brought them into the riches of God’s plan for their salvation. The apostle takes no credit, and barely gives Epaphras credit. The credit belongs to the Word of God. The Word has the remarkable power to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and soften the hardest of hearts. Yet it is the Word that is often neglected, supplanted, or misused. (A question I might ask in this regard is this: must the word be preached in a specific way in order for it to do its work or will any old method or manner accomplish the task? If we agree that the Word is effective, how must it be preached in order for it to be effective?)
“The addition of ‘in truth’ reinforces the overtones of 1:5 that their encounter with the gospel was an opening of their eyes and lives to reality, what actually is God’s purpose for humankind, a purpose of grace, with the further implication that this truth first learned thus should continue to be the touchstone of their ongoing discipleship.”—63 (Dunn)
Truth it seems requires an intellectual response and it requires an ongoing conversation. The Word of truth becomes the touchstone of our ongoing discipleship. We continue to return to the truth even as we never stray far from it. But Paul is also making, I think, more than a statement about our dependence on the Word of God. He is making a statement about the efficacy of the Word itself. The Colossians will continue to grow in the grace of God as long as they continue in the Word. The Word has not stopped growing among them since the day they heard of it. Again, here is an important point often missed in our modern hurry to provoke people’s emotions: We simply lack confidence that the Word of God will do its work.
James Dunn makes sense of the present tense participle with the preposition: “The opening phrase could be translated ‘which is present among you,’ recognizing the force of the present tense. But in this case it can also mean ‘which has come to you,’ (and so is present among you). And that makes better sense of the preposition, which most naturally has the meaning ‘to or into’.” (61; so, see Acts 6:7 for the Word grew).
How important is it then that the Word of God be among us? What matters among us: that the Word Grows. What is primary about us: That the Word produces fruit. So what needs to be among us: The Word.
We cannot, we must not, we dare not try to produce the sort of fruit among ourselves that is not derived from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that bears fruit among us so we are right to ask: “If there is fruit among us, is it fruit from the Word?” Knowing what we know, would we want fruit that is not of the Word? And if the Word is not among us, then what of the fruit that is being produced? But note also the power of the Gospel of truth, of Grace: Its effects are not only local (small) but they are worldwide (‘all the world’; large). In other words, the Word of God is big enough for the world, and small enough for the local congregation. The Word will do its work in any setting, in any context. Our responsibility is to trust the Word enough to let it do it’s work whether that work is to cause stumbling or bring salvation.
I fully understand the way of things: We want results. We are ‘now’ sort of people. Still I cannot help but believe that we are too easily sated with cheap imitations in the church. I cannot help but believe that are far less convinced of the power of the Word than God is. The Lord is quite content with the foolishness of preaching of his Word. Why we are less convinced will continue to be the mystery.
Finally, it cannot be a mere coincidence that what Paul writes about is the grace of God. They understood God’s grace from the preaching of truth. This must have been the content of Epaphras’ teaching of truth: God’s grace. I’m speculating here, but I wonder how much more the Word would be among us, grow among us, if the content of our message of truth was God’s grace? This word of Grace has continued efficacy among those who hear it: From the day we hear it this grace will be our hope.
Soli Deo Gloria!