Pete Matthew, our Assistant Minister at CCB, preached a sermon on Colossians 1:9-14 on Sunday morning. It was one of his best and I was hugely helped by what he said. Pete made the helpful observation that when Paul used the phrase ‘bearing fruit in every good work’ in (1:10), it was one he’d already used some verses earlier in (1:6). He argued, persuasively to my mind, that when Paul spoke about bearing fruit in every good work he was alluding to the good works that arise out of the gospel bearing fruit among us.
After the sermon we had a productive time discussing what Paul meant by the phrase ‘good works’. Pete suggested that it clearly included our evangelism because Paul had used ‘bearing fruit’ in the context of the gospel bringing people to faith in (1:6). Others suggested that Paul was deliberately using a term he’d used in Galatians 5 to describe the fruit of the Spirit. And so the good works that we’re supposed to be growing in are the good works of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t think that’s completely wrong. I’m just not convinced by the logic we might use to get there. It sounds a bit like biblical word association; bearing fruit and fruit of the spirit. However, I still think we end up in the same place. Let me explain.
What does it mean ‘to bear fruit’. I take it that when a tree bears fruit, it’s doing what you’d expect it to do. So, for example, if I plant an apple tree then I’d expect it to bear fruit; namely apples. When the gospel bears fruit among you, as Paul says it does in Col 1:6, he means that the gospel has been doing what you would expect it to be doing amongst a church gathering. The gospel brings people under the reign of the king that it announces. And so as people submit to that king for the first time in their lives (conversion) and then throughout their lives (sanctification), the gospel is bearing fruit. So we bear fruit in every good work when we live under the reign of Jesus our king. That will include manifesting the fruit of the spirit, it will also include prayerfully explaining the gospel as we have opportunity. I just think the good works Paul had in mind are more general than being either evangelism or moral virtues. It’s everything that comes with the territory of submitting to Christ as Lord.