In Colossians 1:6, Paul mentions “The word of truth, the Gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing — as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” The most important thing happening in the world is the progress the Gospel is making everywhere, as it “bears fruit and grows.” The greatest reason for rejoicing over the Colossian church is that the Gospel is also doing its “fruit-bearing and growing” thing right there in their town. How does the Gospel bear fruit and grow? Probably by reaching more people and winning them over to Christ.
The same two words (karpophoroumenon and auxanomenon) appear together a few verses later in Colossians 1:10, in Paul’s searching prayer:
We pray that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
The prayer presents a great expansion of the “bear fruit and increase” language: They are to bear fruit in every good work, and to increase in the knowledge of God.
I missed this in 1:6, but 1:10’s expansion and application made it obvious: “Bear fruit and increase” is Eden language, the command given to the birds and fish (Gen. 1:22), Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28), and Noah’s arklings (Gen. 8:17, 9:1, 9:7). The coming of the good news, the word of truth, renews the possibility of growth, productivity, increase, and expansion. It re-starts the human project, taking us all the way back to the original plan. The command is of course “spiritualized” (which probably shouldn’t be a word). Perhaps, informed by the Genesis background, we could overly paraphrase Colossians 1:10 as “Your church should get pregnant with good works and raise a big family of the knowledge of God.”
(This is a lightly-revised re-post of a 2006 blog entry. I’m doing a series of Colossians-related re-posts this week because my church is preaching through Colossians, and I’m trying to get back in the habit of daily blogging.)