Notes of an address on Colossians 1:13.
I desire to speak a little about the knowledge of His will (v. 9) as connected with fruit-bearing. The apostle had never seen these Colossians to whom he writes, but he had heard that they were specially characterised by two things; viz., faith in Christ Jesus, and love to all the saints. The same thing is said of the Ephesians. (Eph. 1:15.) We get them also joined together in 1 John 3:23. "And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment." John putting both as commandments of the blessed Lord. Believing here does not refer to the soul's salvation. He is not writing to sinners, but to saints, and as such the commandment comes to us. You have believing spoken of in the same manner in John 14, "Ye believe in God, believe also in me," which is evidently not believing for salvation. The great thing before Him was, that He was going out of the world, and would no longer be here for them to see; but in heaven He would be the object of their faith. I may believe that Jesus died for me; but the question is, Have I got Him as the object for my faith outside this world? In the end of John 13 the Lord says to His disciples, in view of His going away from them, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another." Why new? Because the teaching was quite new to them. As Jews they loved their neighbour, and hated their enemies, and rightly so, because their enemies were the enemies of God. But now, instead of finding the circle for their love in Israel, they were introduced into a circle entirely outside this world, and they were to love one another, as in that new circle of affections; or, according to Paul, they loved the saints as belonging to a glorified Christ.
Can we start here? and do I find my affections and interests outside this world with those who belong to Christ? The truth we get in Colossians all goes on this line. They had received the gospel, which bore the blessed fruit of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and love unto all the saints, but they were deficient in the apprehension of the hope, and the apostle stirs them up about it. If Christ in heaven is faith's object, then the hope must be there also. It is thus described (v. 5): "The hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel." The gospel was bringing forth fruit in them since the day they heard it and knew the grace of God in truth. The apostle could thank God for this; besides Epaphras also had declared unto him their love in the Spirit. Here their love to the saints unfolds and develops; they did not know Paul in the flesh, it could only be in the Spirit they loved him. I might know a brother, and be drawn to him because of something attractive in the flesh, but love in the Spirit is because he belongs to Christ. Now love in the Spirit takes in "all saints," as we have it in verse 4. It is a blessed thing when the heart gets linked up in some way with what is of Christ. It is real fruit-bearing, and it is from this point that the apostle desires to lead them on. You know the apostle had a double ministry; to him was committed the ministry of the gospel for the wide world, and of the church to unfold the mystery. He wants their souls connected with the chief interests of Christ now that He is glorified. Therefore he takes hold of the point they had reached - faith in Christ and love to the saints - and seeks to lead them on as the Spirit of God would certainly do with us today, and first he would establish them in the hope of the gospel.
In the epistle to the Philippians Paul says, "I am set for the defence of the gospel." He was the mighty champion for the truth. But this man is now in bonds, the devil having succeeded in getting the great champion into prison. Satan gained no real advantage; "for," says the apostle, "I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." He is like a man going into conflict assured beforehand of victory. He is in touch with Christ as to all the circumstances and sufferings in his path. He was set for the defence of the gospel, and he thanks God and prays with joy for these dear Philippians, because of their fellowship in the gospel. Now they had sent him a little money, which he speaks of as fruit acceptable, and well-pleasing to God, because given to him in the interest of Christ's gospel. So he says to them, "Ye have me in your hearts." "Ye are all participators in my grace." It was a great thing to say of them - they shared in his grace - as the one set for the gospel, through sending help to him. They might not be able to understand all the apostle's teaching, many of them did not (chap. 3:15, 16), but their fellowship in sending some money to him enabled the apostle to connect them with the grace which wrought in him for the furtherance of Christ's interests on earth.
Some here may not understand all the precious truth we have had before us, but the Spirit of God can take up the measure of the grace of Christ in each in order to lead us into the sense of being connected with the whole circle of His interests. What an encouragement when the grace of God gives us to know something of this, and we can each say, "I want to know more of it." The apostle saw what was defective in the Colossians, which if not corrected would carry them back to human wisdom and ordinances. And I would say to young Christians, Remember, you have been brought into connection with Christ, and all that is of Christ; you may only be able to pray for the saints, or send a little money, but the Lord will enlarge the interests of Christ in your heart. (v. 3.) "For this cause we also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Paul had heard of their faith and love, and this leads him to desire that they may go on to the full knowledge of the will of God. In connection with this I would refer to Eph. 1:17: "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." I do not think the Colossians had got as far as the Ephesians in the knowledge of God. If I want to know God's will about me, I must begin where He does, and that is with Himself, I must know Him. This puts us on God's side of things. Paul says to the Corinthians, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world." Thus when we speak of the full knowledge of His will, we find ourselves in a region where all is connected with God, and into which man as man, no matter how wise he may be in other matters, cannot enter. You find a person converted, and his first thought is, "Now I must serve the Lord." A very right desire if properly directed. Look at Christendom and the various systems in it. All serving the Lord, as they call it; but how much of their so-called service is after the will of man and there is little or no thought as to their doing it according to the word and will of God. To get into God's circle of service I must understand His will. Now Christ is the wisdom of God, and from Him and in Him we get all the hidden wisdom of God, and knowledge of God's will, which can never be attained by human intellect. In Christ I learn my position, my standing, my wealth, my hope, and much more. Taking my place at the feet of Jesus (like Mary of old) as being nothing, and of myself knowing nothing, then He unfolds the full knowledge of God to my heart, because His word reveals to me what He Himself is.
Again we see the same effects produced in Paul; all he had and was he counted but dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. What do such effects show? That there must be surpassing power and excellency in Jesus. Paul found in Christ the opening out of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He had been brought as a dead man to His feet, and when once Paul's eye rested on a glorified Christ he could say, "That I may know Him." That is knowledge indeed. Now the will of God is in connection with the Christ whom He has glorified.
As to fruit, I am to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit." It is not merely that I am not to disgrace the gospel, but to walk worthy of the Lord, the One who is the wisdom of God, and who, when down here, always did the Father's will. He said, "I do always those things which please Him"; and, "my meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and finish His work." The will of God is necessarily connected with Him who came to do it, and in proportion as you get into the knowledge of it will you walk worthy of the Lord, and bring forth fruit in the most ordinary details of life. We are to walk as He walked. No matter where the Lord has set us, or what our circumstances may be, it is our blessed privilege in all the details of our everyday life to bring forth fruit. You see this illustrated in Joseph. He was in prison, but the wisdom of God was with him there, so that when the chief baker and the chief butler dreamed dreams, he could interpret them, and became, so to speak, to the one the savour of life, and to the other of death; and yet Joseph was faithful in prison as before when a slave in Potiphar's house; in both he bore fruit, and had the secret of God with him. Do not think that serving the Lord is by doing some great thing, but as those in wisdom's secret seek to be faithful in little things, then the Lord will give the increase. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much," and, "If ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's" (i.e., what God has committed to you to be used for Him), "who will give you that which is your own?" It is in our ordinary occupations that we prove ourselves to be either faithful or unfaithful.
When we speak of service or fruit-bearing, the heart naturally turns to John 15, where the Lord says, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. Apart from me ye can do nothing." The blessed Lord was just going out of the world, and He says, as it were, to His own, whom He leaves in it: I want the Father to be glorified in you. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit," but in order that it may be so ye must abide in me, which gives us the thought of the disciples being in present communion with the mind of Christ. Thus we see that fruit-bearing now is not merely connected with the gospel which saves me (the gospel had produced fruit in the Colossians, 5:6), but with the Lord Jesus Christ, who has gone out of the world, and with the wisdom and spiritual understanding by which the walk is reproduced in us of Him who is now in the glory of God.
There is another figure of this fruit-bearing in the priestly robe, which was all of blue, and had round about upon the hem of it a golden bell, and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate. This, was to be upon Aaron to minister, that his sound should be heard when he goeth into the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out. Thus we get fruit and testimony connected with the presence of Aaron in the holy place. When the Lord Jesus Christ took His place at God's right hand, having accomplished eternal redemption, the Holy Ghost came out in testimony. The testimony of divine righteousness being in the presence of God, the Holy Ghost can be here on the ground of that righteousness; and fruit is produced by the Holy Ghost in us which God can accept, and which delights His heart, fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. But remember the bell and the pomegranate went together, and were never detached from the hem of the priestly robe. "Apart from me ye can do nothing." Fruit is not only for God, but from God by Jesus Christ. As He said to Israel, "From me is thy fruit found." Now that divine righteousness is established in the Holiest, the fruits of righteousness are to flow out in the saints. If you know your place in the Holiest as having divine righteousness in the presence of God, you learn that all fruit-bearing flows from your having been brought into that place, and thus it will be after a new order. T. H. Reynolds.