Monday, 14 September 2015

The Whole of Life for Christ (4): Whole-Life Fruitfulness

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the fourth in a series introducing themes explored more fully in the book, The Whole of Life for Christ: Enriching Everyday Discipleship, written with Mark Greene.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Genesis 1:28

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... We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.
Colossians 1:6-10

‘Without doubt’, according to Bishop J.B. Lightfoot, ‘Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.’ Impolite, perhaps, but probably true. What had once been a prosperous city had declined in size and significance, and was largely populated by low-born people who eked out a living as shepherds and slaves, wool dyers and market traders.

And yet it is ones like these for whom Paul thanks God, excited that the gospel which has been ‘bearing fruit and growing in the whole world’ has also been bearing fruit and growing among them. That fruitfulness is then applied to the Colossians again as Paul prays for them to be ‘bearing fruit in every good work’.

Far from being incidental, his references to ‘bearing fruit’ here and elsewhere in his letters tap into a rich seam which runs through the Bible from beginning to end. We find fruit on the first and last pages of Scripture – in the garden of Eden and the new Jerusalem – and almost everywhere in between. Look more closely, and it becomes clear that God’s desire for fruitfulness is as extensive as the gospel – with what God has done in Christ in bringing men and women back to himself and in setting in motion his plan to restore the whole of creation.

So it is that Paul sees God’s originally intended design for humanity finally being completed through the power of the Spirit bearing fruit in the lives of a transformed people – Gentile as well as Jew, men and women, shepherds and slaves, wool dyers and market traders.

Fruitfulness, then, is bound up with the larger biblical drama of creation and redemption, God’s relationship with his people and his plan for the nations. And it’s our privilege as disciples of Christ to take our place in his grand scheme, working out the implications of the gospel on our frontlines, our lives reflecting the scope of his reign, our relationships displaying the arrival of the kingdom and anticipating its future completion, all the while bearing fruit to the glory of God.

With Paul, we don’t just pray for fruit. We pray for God’s Spirit to do his new creation work in and through us, for the sake of the world in which he has called us to live.

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