Fruitfulness: Colossians 1
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The Bible reading and talk is long.
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You might remember about five years ago if you’re a space freak, that the Rosetta spacecraft team to the end of its mission. After a couple of years in orbit, it finally crash-landed into the comet that it had been circling. In the last few moments of its life, the spacecraft sent a flurry of photographs showing the rocky surface of the comet drawing closer and closer. The Rosetta mission was just one part of scientists’ ongoing search to find signs of life elsewhere in our universe.
They use sophisticated instruments to search the heavens for evidence of reproduction or respiration, or liquid or water or gas emission. They’re searching for signs that somewhere out there, perhaps on a planet or a comet or a moon, an organism is living and growing. Which makes us think, “Well, what about us as Christians? What signs of life do we have? What signs are there that our faith is living and is growing? What evidence should we expect to see if we are spiritually, I guess. alive and healthy?”
Thankfully, the Apostle Paul helps us in our reading from Colossians 1:1-14, this morning, signs of spiritual life, there’s faith and there’s hope and there’s love. Sounds a bit like 1 Corinthians 1:13. Today, we start a new series, a new eight-week series, looking at different aspects of fruitfulness. Different preachers using different parts of the Bible will be opening up their thoughts to encourage us about fruitfulness. As we unlock and as we restart life, as we continue to wrestle with COVID and what it means to us as a church as we go forward remembering that fruitfulness is key to our faith, and working it out.
Let me quickly summarize the message of Paul in Colossians. It was written in around 60 AD by Paul, who was writing from prison, possibly in Rome. The letter is addressed to a young church, Colossae or Colissi or something like that in modern-day Turkey, is the church that Paul had never found it, nor is one that he’d ever visited. As we found out in verse 7 this morning, the church is founded by a man called Epaphras. It seems Epaphras had heard from Paul. Well, had heard of Paul and he’d heard him preach the Christian message, come to faith in him himself, and carried the message of Jesus to Colossae.
Epaphras then took this good news to Paul who then wrote the letter. In summary, Colossians is a letter that encourages Christians to stick close to God, despite all the temptations the difficulties that life throws at us. Particularly in those times, it had to do with false teaching. It teaches us to live in the light of Jesus rather than walking in darkness. It tells us to keep Christ supreme over our beliefs and behaviours.
Before teaching anything at all, Paul begins his letter by giving thanks to God for the church there, for the Christians at Colossi. He gives thanks for the signs of life that they display. In verses 3-6, it says this, “We always thank God, we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you because we’ve heard of your faith in Christ, and the love you have for all the saints. The faith and love that springs from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven, and that you have heard all about in the word of truth, the gospel.”
In short, Paul is impressed by the Colossians’ faith. He’s impressed by their love and their hope. He considers those three things sure signs that they are spiritually alive. Three pieces of evidence if you like that the Colossians have truly heard and understood the message of Jesus. Faith is the first sign, Paul give thanks that they trust Jesus as their God-given saviour, the one through whom they have the forgiveness of sins. To have faith in Christ is to trust in him and him alone. Faith in nothing else, not even our own efforts puts us right with God. It’s a reminder; we know this stuff.
Love is the next sign that Paul mentions. Not romantic love, but brotherly love, the love that wants what’s best for the other, agape love. That’s what Paul means when he speaks of the Colossians’ love for all the saints. Perhaps Paul had heard how the Colossians loved served one another, meeting up frequently to encourage each other in their faith. He probably also heard how they’d share their money with each other or generously gave to their churches as the need arose.
Again, that’s my experience of Main Street, of my four and a half years here. Just as I was praying for the congregation and for the church last evening, I was reminded that this is probably one of the most faithful congregations I’ve ever been involved in. I expect that Epaphras had reported, perhaps to Paul, that the Colossians prayed diligently for each other, and for Christians, maybe even further afield. I know that we do that here too.
After faith and love, comes hope. Hope is the third and final quality that Paul admires in the Colossian church. In other words, they have confidence in whatever it is that comes next. They regard the everlasting Kingdom of God as a real place, if you like, beyond the grave, not just pie in the sky when you die. Paul believes that they were bearing fruit in every good work: faith, hope, and love are three wonderful things, three sure signs that the Colossians’ real relationship with Christ is actually working.
No wonder Paul gives thanks to God for them, but he doesn’t stop there because he then prays for their faith to grow. He wants the Colossians’ commitment to Christ to thrive not just to survive. In verse 10, Paul prays that they will live life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every good way, bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God. To help with this sermon series, I’ve left it at home, but I’ve been looking at a Bible series in a book called “Fruitfulness on the Front Line” by a chap called Mark Greene of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.
It explains what Godly living looks like on a daily basis. In fact, he summarizes a fruitful life under six headings. It sounds a bit baptist-y because they all start with the same letter. The first is M, modelling godly character. Because as a fruitful Christian, we will want to live in an attractive, distinctive, Christ-like lifestyle, in front of the watching world. M, for modelling godly character. Making good work: a fruitful Christian works at their job using good use of the skills and talents that God has given them
Last time in our Zoom Bible studies, we looked at what it was that made people of goodwill. We discussed in part what it was that made good work in our homes, our lives, our church, and our wider community. Third up is M for ministering grace and love. These aren’t mine, these are Mark Greene’s. It may well be that we look at some of these too, either in church or perhaps in Bible study, as they begin towards the end of the month too. Ministry, grace, and love, a fruitful Christian will obviously show generosity and kindness to people that they come into contact with.
Whether that’s along the road, at the school gates, in the play in the place of work. I trust that ministry, grace, and love is something that you experience together, that we experienced together as the congregation here. Hope, grace, love is something that’s extended into our wider community, particularly our market traders on one a Thursday and those who will return to our church coffee mornings on Thursday from this time next month and anybody actually who uses these church buildings and comes into contact with any of us who profess Jesus as Lord.
The next M is moulding culture. I should have put these up on a screen, shouldn’t I? I apologize. Moulding culture, a fruitful Christian will try to change their workplace or their neighbourhood for the better. They will seek to be an influence for good in the way that their company or their community operates. Jesus talks about being salt and light. Light is, of course, visible, it lights up darkness. Salt, well, it needs to be put in something either to preserve it or to bring out the best of it. It is something quite unseen in comparison to light that makes a whole lot of difference when making a soup taste good, for example.
Wherever we are, where we are, so we mould culture. I used to work in a Jobcentre as a part-time job and I remember one lady saying to me, “Paul, there’s something really different about you, about how you work and the way that you deal with people.” I had to face up that I was a Christian. In the words of the Argentinian Evangelist, Ed Silvoso, many years ago, he said that culture changes when God raises the spiritual climates of an area and our job is to pray. That’s moulding culture. The fifth of a fruitful life, the fifth M is being a mouthpiece for truth and justice. We’ve touched on that in our prayers this morning and thinking about our mission of the month, challenging cruelty or criminality that we come across.
I know that each one of us here at home or in this building, each one of us has some kind of passion or other, whether this is for the environment or improving the life chances for people in Eastern Uganda or wanting to know what’s happening to do with our mission of the month or something else that rattles our cages: that we must pray, that we must move ourselves into action. We all have to stand up for truth and justice. The last M is being a messenger of the good news of Jesus. A fruitful Christian will want to share, in all sorts of ways, the love of Jesus.
As a church, I think that we do this strongly yet gently through our lives and our words, and by consistently being active congregation, right where we are in the middle of our town: loving God, loving Frodsham. Enabling our building and our meetings to be places where everyone is welcomed. It shows the love of God in practice, rather than just talking about it. Sharing faith is all these things, not just trying to put Jesus into every word. That might be important too. These six M’s are quite a long list. I’m sure that we will be looking at some of those as we talk about series on fruitfulness in these coming weeks.
Unless we have a relationship with Jesus, we will be unfruitful. With His Holy Spirit in our hearts, we can be consistently truthful and faithful. To use agricultural metaphors, God the Holy Spirit is like the farmer, perhaps the fertilizer that we need to produce a harvest of good fruit, of love in our lives. No wonder, Paul concludes his prayer in verse 11 today, by asking God to strengthen the Colossians with all power according to His glorious Might. Paul knows that they will never be fruitful without God’s help. As a question to leave us with this morning, are we, like the Colossians, fruitful? Are we growing? Are we living and growing?
Have we heard that message of Jesus? His love, His wanting to love one another. What is our response to Him? To the work and the life of Jesus. His example, His teaching, what are they worth to us? Is He worth following? If so, have you told Him that He’s worth following? Have you said to somebody else that He’s the best way to live? Let’s examine whether we have these three qualities that Paul saw in the Colossian church. Those qualities of faith and hope and love, however imperfect or weak or formative they might be. Do we have a faith? Do we have a genuine hope in all that Christ offers us?
Do we have a real love for not just God’s people, but those around us? We are sure that we are Christians If we believe the message and the words of Jesus to show to our neighbour, to our loved ones, the signs of faith and hope, and love. If this is true of us, then we will want that appetite to grow. It’s the growth that Paul prayed for the Colossians and is the growth that we pray for one another today. Just a bit of an introduction, if you like, to the theme of fruitfulness. Over the next few weeks, other people will be joining and speaking.
My voice is starting to give out, so I’m pleased that I’ve got three or four other folks over the next few weeks to be thinking about fruitfulness. Next week. Moira will be talking about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5, but for now, God will bless His word to us as we pray and praise and obey Him.
References and sources
Greene, Mark. Fruitfulness on the Frontline: Making a Difference Where You Are. Nottingham, IVP: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.