“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.” (Colossians 1:6)
It sounds like a bit of an exaggeration at first, doesn’t it? “The whole world!? But then again, consider it from Paul’s perspective.
From Jerusalem to Rome
First, the scope of the book of Acts (which forms a kind of backcloth to the drama of Paul’s life) takes you on a journey which begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. Luke’s phrase in the final chapter (“And so we came to Rome“) has a quality of finality and purpose about it. So there’s a geographical expansion.
From Sideline to Centre-stage
The book of Acts isn’t the story of Paul’s life, however, (important though that was). It’s the story of the Gospel “bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” It starts in Jerusalem, in the epicentre of the Jewish faith, and takes you to Rome, the head of world-power, and secular authority. So there’s a cultural, political or perhaps religious expansion too.
From Local to Universal
Acts begins with the words of faith-filled Jews asking their risen Messiah: “Will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?” His answer is to expand their vision to something spectacularly all-embracing. “ ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”
So that’s the programme for the book of Acts, and the rationale for Paul’s statement here in Colossians 1:6. Without denying the place of Israel in God’s plans, the disciples are simply told that that’s “not for you to know.” Their vision is to be turned “to the ends of the earth.“
One key to understanding Acts is to see that it is a transitional book, showing how the worship of God moved from the Jewish temple, to the hesitant acceptance of Gentiles into the Jewish church, and finally to the Christian worship of predominately Gentile churches all over the Roman empire. Acts shows us how God went from working primarily with the Jews as a nation to working with the church, comprised of Jews and Gentiles on equal footing.th of Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy.
So Colossians 1:6 expresses a hope for the future, since at this time the Gospel was contained to the Roman Empire. But the point was to refute the charge that Christianity was just a local sect or ethnic or cultural fad with no power or future; rather, the Gospel is transformational and cross-cultural. Even then the Gospel was spreading—as it continues to do so—and we are called to come on board.
Paul develops the idea in Col 1:23: “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
In Romans 10:18, Paul quotes Psalm 19 to make the same point: “ But I ask: did they not hear? Of course they did:‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’”
That is to say, God’s intentional has always been global. How could it be less? For God so loved “the world.”
All of it.
O gracious and loving God, you work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. In your Son and through the power of your Holy Spirit, you invite each of us to join you in your work. We, young and old, lay and ordained, ask you to form us more and more in your image and likeness, through our prayer and worship of you and through the study of your scripture, that our eyes will be fully opened to your mission in the world. Then, God, into our communities, our nation, and the world, send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all of your creation. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Prayer from The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts)