Date: November 11, 2018
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Scripture: Colossians 1:9–1:12
Have you ever wondered if there is more to the Christian life than what we might call the everyday experience? Have you ever – even if only for a moment – looked at your daily walk as a believer and thought, “Is this really it?” If you observe American Christianity today, it would seem that many believers are, in fact, asking those questions. We’ve got books promising to unlock “the deeper or higher Christian life.” We’ve got conferences offering to “boost Christians to a new level.” We’ve got podcasts delivering insight for “the fresh life” we long to live. Now, I’ve got nothing against books, conferences, and podcasts. I read books, I go to conferences, I listen to podcasts. So, my point is not with those things per se, but with the motivation that drives us to them. If you listen closely, often what’s driving us to those things is this assumption that there has to be more to Christianity than what I’m currently experiencing. The Bible, church, prayer, love for one another – I understand all of that, but still, that can’t be all there this. I want the fullness of the Christian life. And so, we ask ourselves, “Is this really it?”
If you have ever asked yourself that question – and I know that I’ve asked it of my own life – then you’ll be encouraged to know that in our passage today, the apostle Paul is concerned with answering precisely what you’ve asked. It seems the Colossians had begun to wonder, “Is this really it?” And understandably so, in their situation. They had false teachers claiming special insight into the wisdom of God. These folks were also positioning their teaching as the key to experiencing the true fullness of spiritual life. Over time, those kinds of claims begin to wear on you. Be honest, which sounds more exciting – perseverance or the mysteries of wisdom? Which would you want – faithfulness or the fullness of the divine? You can understand the Colossians’ difficulty.
And so, the apostle Paul writes in this passage to answer the question that many of us find familiar – is there more to the Christian life? And Paul’s answer comes in the form of a prayer. I’m sure you noticed it as we read. Having already thanked God for the Colossians, Paul now shifts to describe his prayer to God on their behalf. But here’s the important piece for understanding this passage. Paul’s prayer is more than a formality. He’s not simply following the customs of first century letters. No, this is a prayer that teaches. This is a prayer with some teeth. It fights back against the false teachers, and it equips the Colossians with what they need to stand firm in the faith.
So, if we were to summarize Paul’s prayer, perhaps this would be a helpful starting place – Paul prays for the Colossians to have true spiritual knowledge so that they would then pursue true spiritual growth. Those two themes – true spiritual knowledge, and true spiritual growth – are the core of this passage, so let’s give our attention to each in more detail.
True Spiritual Knowledge
First of all, we need to consider Paul’s presentation of True Spiritual Knowledge. Again, it’s clear in v9 that prayer is Paul’s focus at this point. Notice how he speaks of praying without ceasing. Regularly, faithfully, and fervently, Paul prays for the believers in the Colossian church. And by praying for these believers, Paul continues to direct them to God’s work on their behalf. Don’t miss that. Paul’s prayer is a plea for God to work in them and through them. Remember, it was God’s work for the Colossians that sparked Paul’s thanksgiving in vv3-4, and it is God’s continued work that now prompts Paul to pray. So, you can see the apostle’s point already, and it’s an encouraging one. Believers don’t need something new to unlock the Christian life. Instead, they need the same God who brought them to faith to continue his work of growing them in the faith.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Before we get to the spiritual growth, we need to understand the content of Paul’s request. It’s the content that leads to the growth. So, notice what Paul asks for in v9 – that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Now, that’s a jam-packed prayer request! It’s clear the aim is knowledge of the divine will, but what exactly does Paul have in view? It helps if we break it down piece-by-piece, until we get some clarity at the end.
To begin with, note the scope of this knowledge. Paul prays they would be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Now, from reading the letter, it seems the idea of fullness was a key element of the false teachers’ agenda. Perhaps they claimed there were other truths besides the gospel that brought a greater fullness to the Christian life. Whatever the specifics, it’s clear that the Colossians were struggling with whether or not they had what they needed to live.
So, what does Paul do? He turns the false teachers’ language against them. He prays for God to fill the Colossians with the knowledge of his will. To be filled is to have complete certainty, but the key is that Paul stresses this must come from God himself. It’s not something we can attain on our own, through effort or human tradition. And it’s not something that can be found outside the gospel. Rather, to experience this fullness of knowledge, believers must look to God who alone can provide.
But consider, also, the source of this knowledge. Notice Paul says this filling with knowledge happens in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The key here is the word spiritual. Again, based on what we read in the letter, the false teachers were urging what we could call earthly prescriptions. They had certain rules and regulations you had to follow. They taught ideas that clearly came from human traditions. If you read ahead in chapter 2, you’ll get a sense of how man-centered, how earthly the false teachers were.
So, here in his prayer, Paul counters that by asking God to fill the Colossians by means of spiritual, that is not earthly wisdom. Now, like the Colossians, we have some pretty skewed notions about what spiritual means, and this is true both inside and outside the church. If you ask most people what it means to be spiritual, you’ll likely hear something that sounds very mystical and subjective. The thinking goes like this. You can’t know the spiritual through your mind, so you need to transcend the mind and commune with the spiritual by experience. That tends to be what we have in view when we hear the word spiritual, and that idea has even trickled into the church.
But that is emphatically not what Paul has in view here in v9. By spiritual, Paul means that which comes from heaven, the realm of God’s presence, rather than what comes from earth, the realm of humanity. Biblical spirituality is concerned with heavenly truth about the Triune God. And where else do we find this spiritual wisdom from heaven other than in God’s revelation in his Word? To be a spiritual person is to be a Bible person. Do you see Paul’s point? The fullness of spiritual wisdom is not found outside the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. If believers wants to be filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding, then we should give ourselves to knowing God through his Word. That’s the source of the wisdom and knowledge Paul prays for the Colossians to receive.
Now for the last piece that brings Paul’s request together – note the identity of this knowledge. Again, v9, Paul asks that the Colossians be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Now, what Paul has in mind here is not God’s direction for your life, which is how we typically speak of God’s will. No, Paul has in mind something much more significant. In fact, later in chapter 2, Paul will define this knowledge for us, and he does so by identifying the knowledge of God’s will as nothing less than the Lord Jesus himself. Chapter 2, v2 – Christ is the knowledge of God’s mystery, and ch2 v3 – Christ is one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
So, what is the knowledge of God’s will? It is the revelation of God’s work to save his people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Colossians want to know the fullness of spiritual knowledge, then they need to look to the gospel, the very gospel they received from Epaphras, the very gospel that brought them to faith in Christ, the very gospel that even now is working in and through them.
You see, part of the problem for the Colossians was that their view of Christ was too low. Their view of the gospel was too small. Sure, Christ was the Savior, but what else was out there? Yeah, the gospel was the good news, but what other insight can we find? You could say they had a small gospel with a little Christ.
And that’s why Paul prays as he does. He wants them to see that the fullness of God’s will is found in Jesus Christ. He wants to expand their understanding of spiritual wisdom, taking it beyond earthly practices and human tradition, and connecting it instead with the reality-defining good news of Christ crucified. Brothers and sisters, there is no greater depth of spiritual truth than Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for the salvation of sinners. There is no higher wisdom beyond the truth that God the Son took on human flesh, so that he continued to be fully God while at the same time also being fully man. There is no better provision than to know Christ by faith, for in knowing Christ we know God’s power, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s presence, and God’s faithfulness. This is true spiritual knowledge – to know Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, and reigning on high over all things. There is not another level of knowledge that will take us beyond the gospel and unlock the deep things of God. The gospel is the deep things of God. Christ is the fullness of wisdom and understanding.
And so, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this – is my view of Christ too low, like the Colossians? Do I take the gospel too lightly, as though there were something beyond this good news? If so, then I would urge us to follow Paul’s example and pray for God to work. Let’s not miss that point. Paul is praying here because what these believers need most is God’s work on their behalf. So, if your Christian life resonates a bit with the Colossians struggle, then perhaps the best application is to take Paul’s prayer and make it your own. Ask God to fill you with the knowledge of Christ, and then remember that since he’s already given you his Son, how will he not also with Christ graciously give you all things?
True Spiritual Growth
The second theme of Paul’s prayer is really the application of this first point. We’ve just considered True Spiritual Knowledge, which in turn, leads us to pursue True Spiritual Growth. V9 gave us the content of Paul’s prayer – that believers would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. As we come to v10, Paul now gives us the purpose of his prayer. Notice again what he prays, v10 – “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” If you read through Paul’s letters, you’ll find that this image of walking is Paul’s preferred way of describing how we live the Christian life. When Paul says to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, he means to live in a way that honors Christ. In fact, that second phrase clarifies Paul’s point. What does it mean to walk in a manner worthy? It means to live in a way that pleases Jesus Christ, a way that honors him as Lord.
Now, as we consider v10, we might be slightly uncomfortable with Paul’s language of living in a way worthy of Christ. Aren’t we unworthy before God? Isn’t our righteousness nothing but filthy rags before the Lord? Aren’t we fallen and depraved so that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation? Yes, those statements are true, which is why salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
But here’s what we need to recognize. Even as the Bible affirms that we are unable to save ourselves, the Bible, at the same time, calls us to aim for godliness that pleases the heavenly Father. It is not wrong for a Christian to want to please God. It is not a denial of the gospel to call believers to strive for lives that honor the Lord Jesus. Now, it’s a problem if we believe our pleasing God is what earns us our status as God’s children. It’s a problem if we believe we have to please God first, before he will forgive us and justify us in his sight. That’s a denial of the gospel.
But that’s not at all what Paul has in mind here in v10. Remember, he’s already affirmed in v3 that it was God who granted the Colossians faith in Christ and love for one another. It was God who saved them through the gospel. And now, through that same gospel, Paul urges these believers to aim to please God with their lives. He calls them to cultivate worthy lives before the Lord Jesus. That’s not legalism or works-righteousness. That’s gospel-rooted obedience. It’s a good thing to wake up each morning and say to yourself, “I want to please my heavenly Father today. He has saved me by his grace, I am secure in his love, and therefore, in response to his love, I want to please him. I want to live in a way that brings his heavenly smile over my life.”
The key question, of course, is, “How do we do this? How exactly do we live in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him?” If you notice in vv10-12, Paul tells us. The apostle gives four phrases that define the Christian life that pleases Christ. There is certainly more that could be said about living in a manner worthy of the Lord. But here Paul gives us the essentials, the everyday Christian living that does, in fact, please God. So, let’s look, just briefly, at each one.
#1 – Paul prays for fruitful obedience to God. Notice v10, where the apostle mentions bearing fruit in every good. The idea here is to love God and love our neighbor through practical displays of obedience. This is one of the reasons for our redemption in Christ. As Paul himself says in Ephesians 2.10, “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This should change how we think about acts of love, both in and outside the church. When I take a meal to a fellow church member, that pleases God. When I gladly serve in children’s ministry, that pleases God. When I set up and tear down chairs, that pleases God. When I faithfully show up on Sunday and seek out someone to encourage, that pleases God. That’s incredible. That is the fruit of the gospel among us.
But it extends beyond church as well. When I do my work with excellence and integrity so that it blesses my co-workers, that pleases God as well. When I tell the truth with my neighbor, that pleases God. When I patiently care for my children or an aging family member, that too pleases God.
What I’m trying to do here is reset how we think about the everyday things of life. They may seem mundane, but they’re not insignificant. They’re part of how we build lives worthy of the Lord, lives that please him and show the world his worth. So, how we do please the Lord Jesus with our lives? First of all, by pursuing fruitful obedience to God.
#2 – Paul prays for the continued pursuit of God. Notice the next phrase in v10 – “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Now, that might sound a little redundant. Paul just prayed in v9 for God to fill them with the knowledge of his will, and now in v10, he prays again for increasing knowledge of God. Why the repetition? What’s the point?
Paul is reinforcing the connection we noted earlier – that growing in the knowledge of God leads to growth in godliness. As Christians, we never move on from the gospel, but we should seek to go deeper in the gospel. There is not some other source of wisdom beyond the Bible, but we do not need grow in our understanding of the Bible. You see, that’s what will sustain us as we seek to love God and love others. The more I see the glorious character of God, the more I will want to display that character in my daily life. It’s one of the more astounding aspects of theology – the knowledge of God is so profoundly powerful, it actually changes us. It transforms us, so that our lives reflect the God whom we behold in the Bible.
Think of how the apostle Paul says it Romans 12 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…how? By the renewing of your mind. That’s why Paul prays here in v10 for increasing knowledge of God – because as we see more of who God is, our lives are changed to reflect his character.
So, please, brothers and sisters, never overlook the incredible importance of growing in God’s Word, of growing in understanding the Triune God. Don’t listen to folks who say that this kind of “head knowledge” doesn’t do you any good. The Bible has no concept of dividing our minds from our hearts, as though they were at odds. Hearts that love and obey God flow first from minds that understand and adore God. So, Paul prays for increasing knowledge of God.
#3 – Paul prays for humble dependence on God. Notice v11 – “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Living a life that is pleasing to the Lord is a high calling, but it is challenging, isn’t it? The Christian life can be taxing. Jesus himself likened the Christian life to taking up your cross, and to a narrow gate followed by a hard road. You and I know this, just like the Colossians knew this. In their situation, perseverance was particularly challenging.
So, what does Paul do? Does he tell them it’s not actually that hard? Does he tell them to just buck up and grind it out? No, he prays for God to strengthen them with his own power, the same power that God displays in the revelation of his glory. You see, Paul wants us to understand a truth we often lose sight of – that God grants what he commands. God equips where he calls. Isn’t that such an encouraging truth? God calls us to live lives that honor him. He calls us to bear fruit in every good work. He calls us to increase in the knowledge of God. And then, God grants us the strength we need to carry out that calling. He’s a good heavenly Father. He doesn’t call us to the Christian life, and then say, “Good luck figuring it out! I hope you have what it takes!” No, the Father calls us to the Christian life, and then he kindly, generously, and mercifully says, “Let me give you what you need to walk worthy of my name.”
In fact, I love how Paul concludes v11. Notice how he mentions endurance and patience. That’s precisely what the Colossians need, isn’t it? They need strength to resist the false teachers and persevere in the faith. And so, Paul asks that God would give them not a general provision that might meet their needs. No, Paul prays for a specific provision that precisely meets their need.
Brothers and sisters, if the day-in, day-out of the Christian life feels like a burden to you, there is strength to be found with the Father. Ask him to strengthen you – he’s not stingy. Ask him to give you the power you need to do what he’s called you to do. He’s a good Father who gives good gifts to his children, and therefore, we can live with humble dependence on him to provide.
#4 – Paul prays for joyful thanksgiving to God. I take the reference to joy at the end of v11 to go with the thanksgiving of v12, so Paul’s point is to joyfully give thanks. We’re going to see at a number of points in this letter how important Paul considers thanksgiving to be. We tend to view thanksgiving as simply an emotional response or expression, but Paul views thanksgiving as a vital weapon in the Christian’s arsenal to fight for faithfulness. You see, thanksgiving binds our hearts to that for which we express thanks. By regularly and joyfully giving thanks to God, I’m actually worshipping him and deepening my devotion to him. Do you see how it works? Thanksgiving is formative; it shapes our hearts and minds, so that we live with more devotion to the God who deserves our thanks.
And if we struggle to see reason to give thanks, Paul reminds us of the grand, unchanging reason that every Christian has to live with joyful thanksgiving. Notice the end of v12 – “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Oh that is such sweet good news. In the gospel, God has made us worthy to join his people and receive a heavenly inheritance. Do you see how this ties back in with the purpose of Paul’s prayer? The Christian life is a call to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, and here at the end, Paul gives thanks to the God who has made us worthy. Because the Father has qualified me to receive his inheritance, I am now free to live for his pleasure. I’m not trying to earn my inheritance; I’ve already received it by the Father’s grace. And therefore, I can run, I can strive, I can pursue the kind of life that brings honor to his name.
So, let’s put it all together. What is the worthy life that pleases the Lord? Bearing fruit in good works, increasing in the knowledge of God, depending on God’s power, and joyfully thanking God for the gospel. That is the everyday Christian life, and nothing could be more profound or significant than that. You see, that’s what Paul is driving at in this prayer. The everyday Christian life is far more significant than we tend to think. This is where the fullness of spiritual knowledge leads us – not to some higher plane of spiritual power, but to the everyday calling of growing in godliness, loving one another, and persevering in the faith.
So, the next time you find yourself asking, “Is this really it?” – stop and remember Paul’s prayer. Remember there is nothing small or insignificant about perseverance and faithfulness. Remember that it pleases God to do good to others and to grow in his Word. And then tell yourself, “This is it, and it is a joy to live.” Amen.