Paul has focused on the hope we all have in Christ as the ground or fountain from which flow both faith and love. Of this hope, he now writes in Colossians 1:5-6, "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 – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth."
Let me make four brief observations on this text.
First, the content of the gospel, at least in large part, is the "hope" that is "laid up" for us "in heaven." It was when the gospel was proclaimed that they "heard" of this hope. Many today argue that the gospel has little if anything to do with heaven in the future. Its primary focus is earth in the present. I understand their concern. We need to embrace a gospel that provides direction for life on earth, a gospel that transforms relationships and pursues social justice and labors for the expansion of the kingdom in this life. Yes, the gospel is about the lordship of Jesus over all of life now. It isn't merely a way to escape the corruption of this world and "go to heaven when you die."
But make no mistake: the gospel is most certainly (and perhaps primarily) concerned with life after death. It is most certainly concerned with the "hope" that is reserved for us in "heaven" and the glory of spending an eternity in God's presence (see esp. 1 Peter 1:3-6). As Colossians 1:14 will make clear, the gospel is certainly about "redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Second, the gospel is something the Colossians "heard." This is important, for we are being told that we no longer live in a world where "oral" communication is effective. Hearing the gospel, so they tell us, accomplishes little and must be replaced by presentations that focus on image and sight and color and taste and smell. The video clip has replaced the expository sermon. Theater has replaced teaching. Entertainment has replaced exegesis.
I suspect this may be offensive to some, but so be it. My opinion is that the alleged "ineffectiveness" or "lack of appeal" in the expository sermon is due less to the need of people for a more holistic sensory experience in church (as beneficial as that may be) and more to the laziness and lack of training on the part of pastors to expound and explain and apply the glorious truths in texts like Colossians 1:5-6.
The preparation and preaching of biblical texts that is true to the intent of the biblical authors and relevant to the lives of contemporary folk is hard work. It is demanding both of time and energy. Sadly, fewer and fewer "pastors" are willing to expend themselves in this way for the sake of their people. May I suggest you read my more extensive comments on this subject in a series of three articles that I wrote, titled "An Appeal to All Pastors: How and Why should we Preach?" These can be found at http://www.samstorms.com/ in the Theological Studies section under Miscellaneous Topics.
Third, the gospel that saves and heals and delivers us from the dominion of Satan (see Col. 1:13-14) is a "word" (logos), a "proclamation", a propositional declaration, a "message." Again, we are being told that we no longer live in a "word-based" culture. But we cannot so easily dismiss the logocentric or word-centered orientation of the biblical gospel. It comes to us as a multi-faceted declaration or statement or assertion of truths regarding the work of God in Christ. Yes, the gospel is a story or narrative of what God has achieved for us in his Son. But the story must be stated, explained, unpacked and applied in words. Such words are more than lifeless abstractions: they are life-giving, soul-saving, comprehensible truths that the Spirit awakens us to "hear" and understand and to trust and enjoy.
Fourth, this "word" of the "gospel" that we "hear" is true! Whether we translate this phrase "the word of the truth, the gospel" or "the true preaching of the gospel" or "the proclamation of the truth which is contained in the gospel," the result is the same: there is truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ that can be discerned, known, and cognitively embraced.
The very concept of "truth" has not fared well in the hands of postmodern critics. They typically say one of three things. Some, generally the more radical relativists, contend that absolute truth simply doesn't exist. Others say that if it does exist, we can't know it. Such truth, objective and real though it be, is inaccessible to the human mind. Then there are those who concede that truth exists but always in a variety of different and even contradictory forms, depending on the community in which one lives. "Truth" for one community of people, that is to say, what makes sense to them and enables them to function well in the world, may not be "truth" for another. But the consistent testimony of Scripture, such as we find in Colossians 1, is that truth is absolute and accessible and universally relevant for all people in all times. Certainly we must be sensitive in how we communicate it. We must contextualize the gospel in a way that is both faithful to the revelation of Scripture and meaningful to the people to whom we minister. The truth of the gospel is not a hammer with which to oppress those who may disagree, but a key that unlocks the mind from slavery to false idols, a light that dispels the darkness of errant thinking, a power that liberates and delivers us "from the domain of darkness" (Col. 1:13) and transfers us "to the kingdom of [God's] beloved Son" (Col. 1:13).
This truth is found in the "gospel", in the good news that God has become human in Jesus Christ and has lived and died and risen from the grave for the redemption of his people. This truth is now embodied and expressed for us in the written Word of God, the Scriptures. Hear it. Study it. Ingest it. Relish it. And above all else, by God's grace, let it transform your heart and renew your mind and govern your steps each day.
Trusting the Truth,