What does Paul mean when he speaks of “fruitfulness” on the part of the church at Colosse? Here is Col. 1:5-6: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing–so among yourselves, from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth.” The theme is picked up again in 1:9-10. What does he mean?
First, Walsh-Keesmaat (Colossians Remixed) urge us to consider the abundance of images in the Roman Empire that illustrate that “Rome was the source of fruitful abundance” (72).
Second, they explore the image of fruitfulness in the Old Testament and here is some evidence:
Lev 26:3-6: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the time for sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land securely. And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.”
Isaiah 58:6, 11: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” … “And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
Okay, you might say, there is lots of evidence in the OT for fruitfulness and fertility and fecundity as signs of God’s blessing and signs of Israel’s faithfulness. The question W-K force upon us is this: How would a community that was living out Israel’s story in its own world have understood language like this? Would they have drawn upon these great OT themes? Here is their question:
“Can a claim that the ‘gospel’ is bearing fruit ‘in the whole world’ be heard as anything less than a challenge to this imperial fruitfulness?” (74-5).
Is not the fruitfulness of Paul not empire but the virtues of a new community? Is it possible to de-politicize this image so much we no longer see the empire-denying reality?