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. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
[Follow this link for the Order of Worship with embedded videos of the recommended songs that accompany this study.]
Last week we studied Colossians 1:3-8, the first half of Paul’s “prayer report” to the Colossians in which he tells them what he is praying for. In that paragraph Paul and Timothy were thanking God that the gospel of Jesus Christ was evident in the lives of the Colossian believers. So we could say that this was a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
In verses 9-14 the prayer changes and becomes an intercessory prayer, a prayer of intercession, a prayer in which Paul and Timothy are interceding for the Colossians – asking God for him to do something for the Colossians.
Having prayer reports such as this one included in the Bible is truly a gift to us, for several reasons. First, it helps us to learn how to pray and what we should be praying for. No one knows how to pray on their own. We all learn this important part of the Christian life by listening to how others pray, or reading and following the example of prayers or prayer reports in Scripture.
Second, it is loaded with theology, which simply means that there is much to learn in this prayer about God and how he works in the world and in our lives.
Third, and I’m not quite sure how to put this, but it will build our faith and trust in God and his promises. Here we are being specifically instructed by Paul in what we should pray to God for, and I almost can’t imagine that if we were to pray like this, asking God for these things, that he would not grant these requests.
So let’s get started.
[Pray for God’s help as we read, discuss, and meditate on Scripture today. Read Colossians 1:9-14 out loud to each other, perhaps several times, taking turns.]
Observation and Exposition
Consistency in prayer
“And so, from the day we heard…”
- Heard what? And from whom did they hear it? This would be a good time to read the previous paragraph to have the context fresh in our minds. [Need a hint? Look specifically in verses 4 and 5 for the what, and verse 7 for the whom.]
“…we have not ceased to pray for you…”
- Does Paul mean that he has literally not stopped praying for the Colossian believers? That in his every waking moment he is praying for them, and he’s not doing anything else?
- Check out Acts 5:42, where the same word “cease” is used. In that passage the stress seems to be regularity and consistency (“every day”).
- So Paul is probably saying that every day, in our regular times of prayer, since we heard about your faith in Jesus Christ, we have included you in the people and churches that we are praying for.
- What’s the lesson here for us? Regular, consistent praying. Jesus taught and modeled this as well. Read Luke 18:1-8 to see just one example.
In the rest of verse 9, Paul tells them and us what specific thing he is asking God for.
- What is he asking God for? Right: that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will.”
- Whose will?
- Take a moment to notice the words Paul is using in this paragraph, if you haven’t already: “filled with the knowledge,” “all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” “fully pleasing,” “every good work,” “all power,” “all endurance and patience.” These aren’t just partial or half-baked requests and promises. There’s a sense of completeness here. Our attention, focus, and energy is often divided between what we know God desires for us, and everything else. That everything else may not even be morally or ethically wrong, but it’s often not contributing to our spiritual well-being and growth.
- Okay, “filled” with the knowledge of God’s will. Not just acquainted with the knowledge, or familiar with the knowledge, but filled with the knowledge. I’m reminded of two passages from the minor prophets at this point, Habakkuk 2:14 and Hosea 6:3. Take a few minutes to read and ponder those verses.
- Knowledge of God’s will. There are some today, and maybe in all “todays,” who dismiss knowledge as something that is not worth pursuing, or is even harmful to our spiritual life, health, and growth. But did Paul think that? No way. The heart of Paul’s prayer is that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.
- And what is the knowledge of his will? God’s secret plan for every individual? Probably not. If that plan were revealed then it wouldn’t be a secret any longer, and even if you could know God’s secret plan for your life, would you really, truly want to know everything that was going to happen in your life?
- So what is it? Verses 1:10 and 2:2 shed more light on this question. “The knowledge of God” himself, and the “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” In other words, all of what God has revealed about himself in Scripture, and especially what he has revealed about Christ and the salvation that can only come through Christ and his saving work, the gospel.
- So how does that happen? Does God just fill us with knowledge of his will, without any effort on our part? I don’t think so. If he did, why would Paul bother to write the rest of this letter to the Colossians? Especially chapter three?
- However, there most certainly is a spiritual element to this filling with knowledge, as Paul says, “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” This will not happen without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But state that another way: this certainly will happen with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So be encouraged!
In verse 10 we find the reason Paul is asking that they and us would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. It’s not knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It’s knowledge that results in changed lives. Knowledge of God, and Christ, and God’s salvific will for us, should affect how we live.
When Paul later instructs us how to live and what choices we should be making, he does that based on what he has told us about God and the gospel. In technical terms the indicative leads to the imperative. The truth leads to the command. Knowledge results in behavior.
- When we first started studying Colossians we spent some time discussing the idea of walking as an illustration of living. Why do you think walking is such a good way of describing our lives?
- What does it mean to walk “in a manner worthy of the Lord?”
- In the next phrase Paul says it another way: “fully pleasing to him.” If it’s possible to be fully pleasing to the Lord, and it must be, since Paul is praying for this to happen, then it’s also possible to not be fully pleasing to the Lord.
- What about you? Are you walking in a manner worthy of the Lord? Are you walking in a way that is fully pleasing to the Lord?
- I was at a conference in 2004 when I heard John Piper say something to this effect: “How do you expect to be fighting lust if you’re not reading good theology?” Let’s expand on that in light of our passage. How do we expect to be walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, if we’re not reading good theology? If we’re not growing in the knowledge of him and his will?
- Have you read any good books lately?
What that looks like
In the rest of this passage Paul describes what that walk, that life, looks like, and he does this using four participial phrases.
- “bearing fruit”
- “being strengthened”
- “giving thanks”
Let’s look at each of those in turn.
- Like a living tree that bears fruit, our lives should and will bear fruit. What fruit does Paul mention specifically? Right: every good work. This ties in well to our study in Titus from several months ago. In that letter, one of Paul’s main concerns was that Christians would be diligent in doing what is good. Turn there now and look especially at Titus 3:8 and 3:14.
- But don’t forget, Paul is still praying for these things to happen. We don’t make these things happen in our own strength. Galatians 5:22-23 comes to mind here, and that tells us that the Holy Spirit is the source of this fruit in our lives.
- Increasing in what? That’s right: the knowledge of God.
- Consider this: God is infinite in all his attributes and being. He has no limits. Our knowledge of God will increase throughout eternity. We will never know all there is to know about God. And we get to start on that incredible journey here and now, in this life.
- Being strengthened – how?
- With whose power? Ponder that. Strengthened with God’s power, which has no limits.
- “according to his glorious might.” “Might” in this phrase is probably drawing attention to God’s mighty acts throughout history. Knowing what God has done in the past gives us encouragement about what he will do in the present and the future.
- And what’s the end result of this being strengthened? So that we may have all endurance and patience. Endurance is “the ability to stand in the midst of persecution and difficulties.” Patience is “a general state of calmness and control,” and “a virtue to be practiced within the community of God’s people,” as Colossians 3:12-13 make clear.
Wait a minute. What about joy? The ESV reads, “for all endurance and patience with joy,” but should that read instead, “giving thanks to the Father with joy?” When Paul wrote this letter, and when any of the New Testament authors wrote what they wrote, they didn’t use punctuation like we do, so it can be challenging sometimes to know which words and phrases belong to which words and phrases. Translators are split on this one, but it may be better to put “with joy” together with “giving thanks.”
- We discussed last week that thanksgiving is a major theme of this letter to the Colossians. We could argue that it’s a major theme in much or all of Paul’s writing and thinking.
- That may be an understatement. Romans 1:21-23 and Ephesians 5:3-5 seem to suggest that not giving thanks to God is equal to idolatry. Read those passages for yourself. Do you see the connection between ingratitude and idolatry?
- Why and for what should we be thanking God in this passage? The gospel! The good news! Let’s take a closer look.
- In verse 12, what has God the Father done? Could we have done this ourselves? Did we have a part in doing this? (Hint: no.)
- Verse 13 further describes this work of salvation that the Father has done. What did he deliver us from?
- Ponder that for a moment. We were delivered from the domain of darkness. There are still people living in the domain of darkness. You and I know people who are living, right now, in the domain of darkness. And we have a message, the gospel message, that is the power of God and able to deliver them from that realm of darkness.
- What were we transferred to? Yeah, we are now citizens of a kingdom where the beloved Son of God, Jesus Christ himself, is the king.
- There is no in between, no middle ground, no gray area here. There is either the domain of darkness or the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
- And finally, in verse 14, Paul tells us what we have as citizens of this kingdom: redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. Can you think of anything more wonderful, more incredible, more amazing to be thankful to God for? I can’t either.
So if we were to use Paul’s prayer here in Colossians 1:9-14 as an example of how to pray for each other, for our church, what would that look like? Perhaps something like this:
“Father God, would you fill the members of Sojourn Church, each and every one of us, with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. But not just for the sake of knowledge, Father, but so that we would walk in a manner worthy of you and your son Jesus Christ. So that we would live lives that are fully pleasing to you.
That we would bear fruit in every good work – help us to be aware of our surroundings so that we can see the opportunities to do good to our families, to our church family, to our friends and neighbors, and to the world around us.
That our knowledge of you would always be increasing. We acknowledge that you are infinite, and that we can never know all there is to know about you, but we can try!
That we would be strengthened with all your infinite power, according to your glorious might, so that we may have endurance in persecution and difficulties, and patience with our fellow human beings…and that they would have patience with us and our many faults.
That we would remember to continually give thanks to you, Father, with great joy, and not forget that all good things come from you, not least of which is our salvation. Thank you that you have qualified us to have a share in the inheritance of your saints who are in the light. Thank you that you have delivered us from the domain of darkness where we walked for so long, and that you have transferred us to the kingdom of your beloved Son. We did not deserve this, but in him we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins, and for that we are and will be eternally grateful.
Amen and amen!”