Colossians 1:9–12 (ESV): 9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Pastor Epaphras had brought greetings form Colossae Church to Apostle Paul. This faithful minister had told Paul all about this church’s love in the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Epaphras’ visit was also to gain Paul’s advice concerning a certain personality in the church that had arisen, teaching the people doctrines and practices that were unbiblical. It has been noted that Paul’s prayers at the beginning of his letters typically highlight his concerns for his readers. And so this prayer shows Paul’s great desire for this wonderful church.
Paul states that from the day he heard of their love in the Spirit until the time in which he wrote this letter, he had not failed to pray for the believers. We cannot know how long that time period was, but it would seem that Paul did not write this letter immediately, opting instead to spend a good season of prayer for the church first.
Paul’s practice provides us a great example of how to respond to problems and needs in the church. Instead of rushing to “fix” issues, we should spend time in prayer – much time in prayer – asking God for his wisdom and intervention in the situation.
Furthermore, Paul’s dedication to prayer speaks volumes to us. He did not cease to pray for the church. Are we as committed to prayer as Paul was? Do we merely say a good prayer for a need and then move on? Or do we continue to wrestle with God in prayer, seeking his grace and favor? Do we pray “through” on issues, gaining assurance from the Holy Spirit that God will answer our prayers? Or do we merely pray a hopeful prayer, asking for God’s blessing?
The method of Paul’s prayer is important to notice and worthy of our imitation, but we should also spend some time examining the content of Paul’s prayer and incorporate it into our prayers for ourselves, our local church, and the Church universal.
There are three big prayer requests Paul makes of God. First, Paul asked in Colossians 1:9 (ESV): that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. As followers of Christ, it might seem obvious that we should seek to know and understand God’s will. Yet we should not dismiss this prayer request quickly.
Even in Christians, especially those who are less mature spiritually or not entirely sanctified, we may see a mindset that revolves about pleasing Self. As Paul will later write in Colossians 3, we must actively choose to seek things that are above (Colossians 3:1-4), putting to death what is earthly in us, the old Self (Colossians 3:5-11), and put on the new Self, the new life that Christ has created for us (Colossians 3:12-17).
We must know God’s will! But we need this knowledge to be coupled with spiritual wisdom and understanding. Probably all of us have seen how knowledge in the wrong hands can cause great trouble.
This might not be the best illustration, but take, for example, a five year old with the knowledge to drive a car. Such a child at the wheel could be quite dangerous, because five year olds typically don’t have the wisdom and understanding that is necessary to drive an automobile!
We need knowledge of God’s will, coupled with spiritual wisdom and understanding to know how to apply that knowledge and act upon it.
We are reminded of Paul’s challenge in Romans 12 (ESV), to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Not only must we have knowledge of God and his Word, but we must have understanding and wisdom to apply it. As our minds are renewed by the Word of God, we can better understand God’s will and live by it.
It is only then that we will be prepared to live holy in a unholy world. Only then can we have the tools we need to navigate the thorny decisions of life where black and white are smudged and the way ahead seems unclear.
Paul’s first prayer request for the church flowed into his second: 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God Colossians 1:10 (ESV).
Sometimes, it seems like we have substituted a greater knowledge about God for a life more closely lived according to God’s plan. We go to church to learn more about God (and I love to learn more about God, please don’t misunderstand!). The problem comes when the means is confused for the ends. God’s desire for us to know more of him is so that we can live worthy of him, not so we can merely know more about him! Does our increasing and continuing knowledge of God result in application?
Consider the promise implied by this prayer request! We can live in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him! Think about it! We were once dead in trespasses and sins. Our sin separated us from God. We had no hope in this world. Nothing we could do might bridge the divide between us and God. All our righteousnesses were as filthy rags in God’s sight! But now, redeemed by the Lamb’s blood, filled with the knowledge of God’s will, we can actually live in such a way that meets God’s approval!?
Notice also the results of living a pleasing life to God. First, we [bear] fruit in every good work. We understand, of course, that while our good works cannot gain us salvation, God’s intention and expectation is that we do good works as his followers. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) tells us: 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Now, Colossians 1:10 assures us that these good works will bear fruit. We recognize, of course, that like any effort in life, we may not see that fruit immediately. The salesman may make a hundred calls to make one sale. The athlete exercises for days and weeks to shave a few seconds of his mile run. The point is, as we live pleasingly before Jesus in the center of God’s will, our efforts to conform more closely to God and our attempts to minister and bless others will pay off. There will be great results!
As I picture the faithful servants of Jesus’ parables of the Talents and the Minas, I wonder how many setbacks those servants had as they invested the master’s money. Yet in the end, they had multiplied the principal!
A second result of living pleasing before God is that we [increase] in the knowledge of God. This seems to reflect that law that those who are faithful in whatever study, task, exercise or enterprise they have before them will increase in their understanding of that field. In both of those parables mentioned above, the master rewarded the faithful servants by entrusting them with more responsibility. Furthermore, the unworthy servant’s money was given to the one who had gained ten talents or ten minas. In Matthew 25:29 (ESV) Jesus said: 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. In Luke 19’s story, the bystanders argued with the master, saying the servant had ten minas. The master’s response was: Luke 19:26 (ESV): 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The colloquial saying comes to mind: “Use it or you’ll lose it!”
This increase in our knowledge of God seems to be a practical knowledge, or a knowledge that comes through practice. In whatever field or sport you may pursue, you can learn much by studying textbooks, interviewing those who have had success in that field and more. But there is a knowledge that one gains only by through practice and a growing mastery of the subject area. You may know the various elements of the Lord’s model prayer, understand the conditions of prayer, and know all the promises of prayer. But there is an understanding of prayer that only comes by actually praying and struggling in prayer.
Paul prayed that Colossae Church would walk worthy of the Lord, bearing increasing fruit and increasing in this practical knowledge of God.
Paul’s second prayer request, like the first, flowed into his third request: Colossians 1:11–12 (ESV): 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
The unregenerate person is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), but also powerless to change, powerless to save ourselves. Instead, Ephesians 2:3 (ESV) pictures us as captives of our flesh: 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) adamantly states we cannot save ourselves from sin: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It is in Romans 7 that Paul best explains powerlessness due to our carnal nature, however.
Romans 7:15–19 (ESV): 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Later in this Colossians, Paul wrote that in Christ, we have died to the old life of sin and have been raised to new life in Christ. Therefore, we must, as Colossians 3:2 (ESV), says: 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Indeed, Paul exhorted in Colossians 3:5 (ESV): 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Instead, we must, as Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV) says, 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
On our own, through our own strength, we cannot put off the old life and take on the new, even as born-again believers. Rather, we must be strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians mirrors many of the same concerns and desires for God’s people that are seen in Colossians. In Ephesians 3, Paul expressed his prayer for those believers, asking
Ephesians 3:16–19 (ESV): 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Simply put, this is a prayer for entire sanctification, that second experience of grace in the believer’s life when, having already been born again by the Spirit and having the abiding presence of the Spirit, one is cleansed of carnality or inbred sin, and filled fully by God.
As Paul wrote in Romans, the carnal nature is so powerful that we cannot master it by ourselves. That power is broken by regeneration, or what we typically call “being saved”. But our hope and our promise is that not only may the power of carnality be broken, but that it may be done away with. Romans 6:6 (ESV): 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
It is this cleansing of inbred sin and filling of the Holy Spirit that answers the dilemma of James – a double-minded man unstable in all his ways (James 1:8), the tongue that cannot be tamed (James 3:1-12), the earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom that creates quarrels and fights among the brethren, the passions at war within (James 3:13-4:6). But our hope is not merely than our hands can be cleansed, but that our double-minded hearts may be punished (James 4:8). This cleansing and filling gives us the power to tame our tongue, not because we have control over it so much as the Holy Spirit has control. This cleansing and filling enables us to be steadfast through trials and tribulations, resulting in “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” – not because we are so righteous or good, but because we have been filled and are controlled by the Holy Spirit.
The cleansing and filling comes in an instant, but the living out of this holy life is ongoing. We are still very human and prone to mistakes, especially if we neglect the renewing of our minds by the word (Romans 12:2) and begin to be conformed back to the world’s standards instead of continuing to be transformed into Christ’s image.
And so Paul did not cease to pray for Colossae Church that they might be Colossians 1:11–12 (ESV): strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
As we have noted above, the strengthening that comes through the Spirit’s filling gives us power to endure and to be patient. But notice the emphasis of Paul in this conclusion of his prayer: 11 …patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father…. The Christian life is not meant to be a grim, rigorous exercise devoid of laughter, happiness and joy. Rather, God’s abiding presence in us and promises for us give us hope and joy beyond our circumstances.
In this world of sin, suffering, and death, people respond to difficulty and tragedy in various ways. Some soldier through, admirably choosing to maintain a positive attitude that will not cave to one’s circumstances. There is much to be said for this fighting spirit. Truly, we should encourage a mindset that refuses to be cowed by difficulty. Yet, divorced from the hope we have in Christ, such an attitude is ultimately lacking, for such hope may enable the person to cope better in this life, but does not offer much purpose beyond, except for the legacy one leaves.
A much worse response to trial and tribulation is a defeatist surrender to one’s circumstances. This reaction may be defended as realistic and reasonable, but is uninspiring and unworthy of imitation. Such a person may curl into the fetus position, crying woe and unwilling to face the world. This reaction is ultimately selfish, drawing everyone’s attention to the unfair situation the individual is in, sucking the energy and attention of well meaning caregivers who, despite their best efforts, can never do enough to change this person’s fatalistic perspective on life.
The Christian understanding of trials and suffering is both positive and realistic. Our hope is based on a biblical worldview which God created a perfect world that has been marred and deformed by sin. Pain, suffering, and death are ever-present in this world of sin.
Romans 8:22–23 (ESV): 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Christ’s death and resurrection not only purchased our redemption from sin but promises us life beyond this life. In Christ, we are made new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:16–17 (ESV): 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Though we physically will perish some day, our spirits will live eternally. And then in great culmination of history, 1 Corinthians 15:49, 51-52 (ESV):
49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. … 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
This is our hope as followers of Jesus that grounds us in reality but gives us a supremely positive outlook on life! This world of sin, pain, suffering, and death is not end. One day we will enter eternity to live in the presence of almighty God in an existence without sin, without pain or death, with joy, peace, hope, and love.
1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV): 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Paul’s prayer for Colossae Church. As he prayed for those believers, I now pray for my local church, myself, and even the Church worldwide. May you fill us with knowledge of your will with complete spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we can walk worthy of you, pleasing you in how we live, speak, think, and act, bearing spiritual fruit and increasing in our knowledge of you, so that we might be strengthened with power as your Holy Spirit cleanses and fully abides within us, giving us the endurance and patience to live faithfully till you welcome us into eternity. For this hope and promise, we give you thanks! In Jesus’ name, Amen.