We often say to a brother or sister in need, “I’m praying for you.” Seldom do we tell what we’re praying. To the Colossian church, Paul does. And he unveils a theologically packed prayer!
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you . . . ” (Colossians 1:9a).
Paul tells the Colossians he and his team pray continually for them. Their praying began when he heard of their “love in the spirit” (1:8). Here’s another indication that Paul hadn’t planted nor visited the Colossian church. And it’s another insight into how Paul regularly prayed for the churches.
Then he tells them how he prays for them. Why? Here are three possible reasons. One, this is a teaching moment. Paul wants them to know what’s important in their church life. Two, he hopes they will pray this for themselves. And, three, he wants them to increasingly practice what he prays.
” . . . and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,” (Colossians 1:9b,10a).
In his prayers Paul “asks that you may be filled with the knowledge of (God’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . “. Shortly, he’ll explain what he understands God’s will to be for them. What’s interesting here is the phrase “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”. The Greek, pneumatikos, is an adjective meaning “belonging to the Spirit” or “in the realm of the Spirit”. Its contrast is natural human wisdom–wisdom of this fallen world. Paul prays that the Colossians may know God’s will by the wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives.
A lesson for us: reading God’s Word to know his will is good, but if we are to gain wisdom and understanding, we need the Spirit to give them. This is why prayer before reading Scripture is necessary.
To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will is a penultimate purpose. Paul’s ultimate purpose is “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him in all respects . . . “. This means in Paul’s mind knowledge of God’s will is not enough. Most important is their conduct as believers—the kind of conduct that can be accounted for only by the Spirit of Christ. The Greek, areskeia, means “a desire to please”. Thus, “to please God in all respects” is not letter-of-God’s-law living. It’s to have a heart to please him. And only the Spirit can give us that.
Paul prays the Colossians will live a God-pleasing life in four ways.
By bearing fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10a).
In the original Greek, “bearing fruit” is a continual present participle. The implication is obvious: fruit-bearing is to be ongoing.
Of course, a vine doesn’t bear fruit by gritting its teeth and pushing. The life in the vine produces fruit. So when Paul calls us to please the Lord by bearing fruit, he’s implicitly promising the Spirit’s life to be continually at work.
That doesn’t mean “automatic”. We have to reach out and do the good work, especially the good work of lovingly serving others according to their need.
Such good news! Our ordinary lives can bear fruit in good works that honor God and continue the ministry of Christ!
By increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10c)..
Paul doesn’t mean “by gathering more theological information”. Of course, we have to study the Scriptures and learn theology. But Paul wants us to increasingly know the person—God as revealed in Jesus. What does it take to know this infinite God? Eternity. But it’s a relationship to cultivate now.
By being strengthened with all power by the might of his glory (Colossians 1:11a)..
This Greek here is particularly interesting. “ . . . strengthened” translates the Greek dunamo-o—“empowered”. Empowered with all power by the might (Greek, kratos—denotes strength that gives supremacy) of his glory. That’s powerful stuff!
Though Paul doesn’t say “through the Spirit”, he does in the companion passage (Ephesians 3:16—”I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being . . . “.). So the Spirit may well have been in the back of his mind—because it’s through the Spirit we are “empowered with power”.
Disappointingly to me, Paul doesn’t promise power for miracles, but power “for the attaining of all steadfast and patience”. That implies opposition, trials, hardships. Here is power to endure in the faith.
But how can we be “empowered with all power”? Pray. Feed on the Word. Worship. Cultivate an attitude of dependency.
By joyously giving thanks to the Father (Colossians 1:11b).
Suppose I don’t feel joyful or thankful? Look how Paul describes the Father—“who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12). Grace. He has qualified us. We didn’t run a qualifying lap and ace the time. He qualified us–to “share in the inheritance”. The idea here is the “saints” each get a portion of the inheritance. “ . . . in light”—in contrast to the “darkness” of the domain of the evil one.
Am I greedy in wishing Paul described the inheritance a bit? Maybe, but alas, he didn’t. That it’s glorious is hinted in the reason Paul gives for joyous thanksgiving to the Father: “For he rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in which we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).
- “ . . . he rescued us from the domain of darkness”. “Domain” translates the Greek exousia and means “ruling power” or “sphere of power”. . . “darkness” symbolizes “delusion, sin and Satan”; but God in his Son has “rescued” believers from the tyranny of Satan in the world . . .
- “ . . . and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. When one empire was victorious over another in the ancient word, it was customary to transfer the population of the defeated country to the conqueror’s land, as Assyria did to Israel. So Paul proclaims God has transferred believers to the sphere of power of his beloved Son. . .
- ” . . . in which we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Redemption results from the payment of a great price (the sin-bearing, wrath-enduring crucifixion of God’s beloved Son). The result of redemption is the forgiveness of our sins.
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” . . . strengthened with all power according to the might of his glory for the attaining of patient endurance”. I want to hear “power for healing miracles”. Instead, I get a prayer for power to endure. Miracles? Yes, still in the 21st century. But until the healing comes, patient endurance.
I found this testimony by Pastor J. Hampton Keathley III, who is now with the Lord . . .
“In January 29, 2001, the Lord called my beautiful and faithful wife home to glory. This was after eighteen months of battling a horrible cancer called multiple myeloma. These were the most difficult and heartbreaking months of our nearly forty-two years of life together. Knowing that God is sovereign and able to do whatever He pleases, we prayed for her healing by whatever means He might see fit to use. He could have healed her miraculously or used any of the solutions we sought through alternative and conventional medicine. But, in His infinite wisdom and love, He had other purposes in mind, purposes that would manifest His glory and Christ-likeness both in Kathie and in me as we sought to be steadfast and longsuffering through those painful months and learned to give thanks with joy for what He was doing, even in the midst of our tears. Now that she is with the Savior, I must find God’s strength to endure so that I might go on in His service. But I must do it in such a way that it will glorify God and lead to my own spiritual growth as I learn to live without her lovely presence and support.
Would a miraculous recovery have glorified the Lord? Absolutely, and that certainly would have been my choice and that of our family. But during those difficult months, the testimony of her life—her peace and inner joy, her continued humor and sweetness of character, her lack of complaint and much more—were in many ways a greater miracle, and one that was seen not only by those who knew her, but by the angelic hosts who observe the church. Her life and faith showed that her love for God and the Lord Jesus was not dependent on good or comfortable circumstances. Rather, it was dependent on the grace of God that redeems us from sin and makes us His children, those who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.”
Kathie sets the bar high. But I, too, must seek to be steadfast and patient and learn to give thanks with joy for what the Lord is doing. Then I will live God-pleasing. What about you?