PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE COLOSSIANS
(AND PAUL’S EXPECTATIONS)
It is my privilege to share God’s word with you once again this morning. In our first service together in July I used a part of Colossians chapter 1 as the basis for my message. In that message I used the prayer of Paul for the church at Colossae as a lead up to the main point, the all-sufficiency of Christ.
Now I would point out that the reason that Paul’s prayer has any meaning at all is that Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient saviour. It is in light of that reality that Paul prays this powerful prayer.
After the message there were some who were clearly challenged by the prayer itself. My granddaughter said later that she just thought “Wow, when we don’t know how to pray for someone that would be a great prayer to use.”
Well, there is much in any of the Bible books that we can sometimes use to introduce the next section that are in and of themselves worthy of closer examination and so we are backing up to look more closely at verses 9-14 in the book of Colossians. The simple title for such a message would be “Paul’s prayer for the Colossians.” However, my subtitle or the completion of my title would be “and Paul’s expectations.” It is a powerful prayer not just because of what he asks for but for his assumptions of what is going to happen based on some biblical truths of the Christian gospel.
When you pray what do you expect from God? Now you might reply that it depends on what prayer you had made. Fair enough, but how strong are your expectations? The hymn writer defined prayer as “the heart’s sincere desire spoken or unexpressed.” So, when you express your desires to God, what do you expect in return?
The story is told of a young pastor who was working hard at being a good preacher who was discouraged with the results of his ministry. He had opportunity to speak with an older pastor who had a reputation for seeing much fruit in his ministry. He said, “I always pray for God to work through my preaching but not much happens.” The older pastor replied, “Well you don’t really expect something from God every time you preach, do you?” The younger replied, “Well, maybe not every time” to which the elder replied, “there’s your problem.” Expecting God to work in answer to his prayer was not a problem for Paul.
Let’s read the reason for Paul’s prayer in verses 3-8 and the prayer itself in verses 9-14.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this 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 increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 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, 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; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
There are several things to be noted in this prayer. Paul began praying the day he heard of the Colossians coming to faith. Paul didn’t wait to be asked. Here are some new converts and Paul begins to pray. He had never ceased praying for them. How long it had been, we do not know but certainly it had been ongoing for some time. We don’t know how Paul managed his prayer calendar. Maybe the Colossians on Monday and the Ephesians on Tuesday and so on. Or he prayed for all every day. We just know that Paul majored in prayer as well as in evangelism, developing congregations and disciplining believers.
And this prayer may have too much in it to truly do justice to it in one sermon. John Gill, a 17th century pastor, wrote 8 single spaced pages and over 5 thousand words on these 6 verses. Of course, it was all hand-written in the original form. Some key ideas that we could talk about are: He had not ceased to pray for them, he asked that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, and that with all spiritual wisdom and understanding, Walking worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing the Lord, bearing fruit and doing so in every good work, with an increasing knowledge of God himself, being strengthened with all power, displaying endurance and patience while joyfully giving thanks to the Lord. This appears to be Paul’s asking. Then there are the givens he mentions; the Father has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints, has delivered them from the domain of darkness, has transferred them to the kingdom of Jesus, in whom they have redemption and, finally, the forgiveness of sins. There are some of these that would be the basis for a series of sermons. But let’s look at it as it appears here before us.
So, if prayer is so important to Paul, as well as to us as believers, what did he pray? How did he pray? We read that he prayed ‘asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding’. Or with the understanding and wisdom that the Spirit gives. Paul simply asks God for his desire for these believers he has never met. Paul does not name it and claim it. He does not make demands of God. He simply asks. But boy, he asks BIG!
He wants them to know God’s will, but not just a little piece of it, but being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. How much do you need to know about God’s will to be filled with knowledge of it? Paul asks for this knowledge to be in or with all spiritual wisdom and understanding. With all the wisdom and understanding that the Holy Spirit has available. Now that is a BIG ask. We are often asking for a knowledge of God’s will in little things such as which auto to buy, or should we lease something. Paul is talking about something entirely different. This impacts our whole lives. While there is some small degree of finding out a particular course of action in a personal way, most of God’s will is the same for all of us. It is found in the instructions of God’s Word concerning what we believe and do and become. Until we understand the teaching of the Word regarding our ways, actions, beliefs, we have no need of finding out the nuances of a special direction for our lives. And fortunately, the Holy Spirit is always at work in aiding us in knowing and obeying God’s will for us. He alone gives us all wisdom and understanding about the teaching of Scripture.
Depending on how you read this portion it may be that this is the end of Paul’s prayer, and the rest is what he expects God to do in answer. He prays this so that the Colossians will look like the people described in verses 10-14. Or it could be that Paul prayed the next 5 verses as well verse 9. Either way works. He asked a big request and then describes what the answer will look like, or he prays that description. Either way; let’s continue our look at Paul’s prayer.
When Paul adds the measurement to which he desires them to know God’s will the big request gets even bigger. As already mentioned, he wants them to know the will of God in a manner that is with all wisdom and understanding. What does that mean and how does it happen? Is it an instant thing or does it take time? Where do you find this wisdom and understanding? We find this out only by listening to the Spirit as he teaches us as we read or meditate on the Scriptures. So, this is part of Paul’s expectation, that we will spend time in the Bible and be taught by the Holy Spirit on a regular and ongoing basis. There is no other way to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will Are we doing what we need to do to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will?
Paul tells us why he asks for this first request; “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” He desires them to know the will of God so that they can then live it out. Usually, we only act based on what we know. How do we walk in this way and fully please the Lord? By knowing how God expects us to walk – that is, knowing his will – and being enabled by the Spirit of God to translate our knowledge into living.
And while we may somehow question whether we can ever fully please God, Paul suggests that living in this manner will be fully pleasing to God. Got that? Not somewhat pleasing to God but fully pleasing Him. This is all part of this first request.
But Paul extends this by stating the next outcome of living a life worthy of God; namely, “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Now we know that no individual performs every good work but altogether the Colossians could. But they would not only participate in all types of good works but bear fruit in each of them. And not only that but they would increase in their knowledge of God. Paul had already prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and also wants them to grow in their knowledge of God himself.
How do we get to know someone? We need to spend time with them and see what makes them tick, so to speak. Paul assumes here that if we live out God’s will, working with Him in a way that pleases him fully that we will be spending our time in a way that will enable us to know him personally and be growing in that relationship.
Obviously, we could unpack more insights regarding this statement but let us move on.
Paul continues his explanation of how his prayer would bring benefit to the Colossians when they know and live out the fullness of God’s will, writing, “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”
In my mind’s eye I can rather see Paul praying with a topsy-turvy rush of one sentence followed by another inspired by the last, just like Currie does sometimes as he prays for us in a service. Paul is so caught up in this prayer and how one thing leads naturally to another that it appears he breathlessly rushes on toward its completion.
As the Colossians are to expect to be getting to know God better, they can also expect God to strengthen them, not just enough to get by, but with all power according to the Lord’s own might. And God’s might is glorious. We know that God is all powerful. So, if our being strengthened is according to the might of the Lord it will be sufficient for every situation. Paul expects it to be able to equip us for all endurance and patience. Why endurance and patience? This sounds like Paul may expect us to face hardships and persecution if we live according to his prayer. And he expects us to be given strength enough for every challenge. And the ESV translation that I am using ends this verse with the words, “with joy.” Not only will we have the strength to endure and be patient, but we will do so with joy. The strength of the Lord makes difficult situations, places of joy.
The final thing that Paul prays for the people is that they will be giving thanks to the Father. These thanks are regarding all the things that Paul has either asked for or expects to follow in answer to his prayer. I just mentioned that the ESV put the term “with joy” along side endurance and patience. Other translations like the NIV put it with this next verse, “joyfully giving thanks to the Father.” Why does Paul expect us to be joyfully giving thanks to God? It is not because of something they will do or be. It is because of given truths of the gospel. Paul finishes the prayer with a rehearsal of some things God has already accomplished for the Colossians and for us. Of what does Paul remind us?
I really don’t have time to go into all of this in detail, but you need to read it again and remember that this describes your riches in Christ. Your riches!
He writes, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Everything Paul has prayed for in this passage is dependent upon these things that God had already done for the Colossians and for us. He alone qualified us, delivered us, transferred us, providing us with redemption and forgiveness of sins.
What an amazing reminder Paul gives us when he tells us that God, who is our Father, has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We are told elsewhere that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus. We get to share in all the joy and glory of the eternal inheritance that is provided for God’s own people. Just as the Israelites who were able to enter the promised land with Joshua received a part of the land for their own possession each one of us have a share in the heavenly glory of Christ.
This is only available for those who are in Christ. Only available to those of us whom the Father has put in his will as his very own children.
It is an inheritance in light. Jesus is the light of the eternal future along with the Spirit and the Father. And we will dwell in the light in Him. And because this glory is not earned by the works of men, it is a pure free grace gift of God, our Father has bequeathed it to us and to all who they enjoy new life through the death of Christ; and this glory is a special privilege to all who are the children of God by adopting grace.
Then we are told that we should give thanks to God also because He has delivered us from the domain of darkness. We all were born in sin and darkness. Satan, who was a shining angel in heaven became the ruler of the dark kingdom of unbelief. You may remember that when Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus a part of the commission to the gentiles that He gave Saul was “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
This deliverance is brought to us when we are called, and powerfully brought out of this darkness, by the introduction of light to us, revealing Christ in us, causing the prince of darkness to flee from us, and the scales of darkness and blindness to fall from our eyes; this displays the wonderful grace of God, and his almighty power, and delivers us from the domain of darkness. It is all of God and him alone. No wonder we are told to give thanks to the Father.
The next clause tells us that the Father has also transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. This is rather the second half of the transaction that delivers us from darkness and brings us into the light. Not just for now in this life but forever in the eternal kingdom of Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father. This like the flip side of the action previously cited. Removed from darkness and brought into the eternal light.
However, because this is called the kingdom of the Son whom God loves, and not called the kingdom of God which denotes the eternal glory and reign of the triune God, it may be talking about the kingdom which is the church of Jesus here on earth now.
Jesus is king and he reigns in our lives and as head of the church he is our security and promise of that eternal kingdom and life. We belong to him, and he is our head and keeps us in his care.
It is ours by reason of our faith in Christ Jesus and could be, by extension, referring also to that eternal kingdom of glory. It is secured for us all in that same transaction of faith and redemption. So we have been transferred into the kingdom the Son and the eternal glorious kingdom of Heaven.
Which is the next point; in whom we have redemption. This is another point that could be more than a sermon all by itself. Indeed, there are whole books written about redemption. It is the work that Jesus came to accomplish and did accomplish. It is the heart of God’s work.
We have been redeemed. Purchased from evil and destruction to the family of God. It is Jesus’ death and resurrection that accomplishes this. It has removed the curse of sin and judgement upon those of us who believe. It secures our salvation. Pays all the debts of curses and judgements and disobedience. Redemption changes our place from hell to heaven. We were bought in redemption by the death of Christ as the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. He paid the price we should have paid for our sins and accomplished our change of status from sinner to saint, from fodder for hell to sons and daughters of heaven and everything else that we needed to be able to spend eternity with God.
And finally, we can and should give thanks to the father because we have the forgiveness of sins. This is an amazing thing to think about. All our sins, forgiven. Buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness. God chooses never to remember our sins ever again when he forgives. Jesus’ death paid all our debt, period. Let me close with this quote from John Gill to whom I referred earlier.
We have received the forgiveness of our sins, which John Gill explained this way.
We have forgiveness of our sins, “of all sin, original and actual; of heart, lip, and life, secret and open, past, present, and to come; which lies in a non-imputation of sin, a remembrance of it no more, a removing of it entirely out of the way, a covering and blotting it out of sight, so as to be no more visible and legible: this is in Christ, where all spiritual blessings are. nor is it to be had or expected from an absolute God, but from God in Christ, and through him, through his propitiatory sacrifice; for as redemption, so forgiveness of sin is through his blood, which was shed for it; so that it proceeds upon the foot of satisfaction made to the justice of God by a price paid, and is an act of justice as well as grace, and belongs to the same persons as redemption does; hence those that are redeemed are represented as without fault before the throne; and indeed, the reason why their iniquities are blotted out, and will be remembered no more against them, is, because they are redeemed.”
I would add that the forgiveness of sin also means that when we come to God in prayer that we come before him as one without fault, cleansed and made holy.
I would be delighted if you would take some time today or sometime soon to reread Paul’s wonderful prayer for the Colossians and his list of things to be thankful for; these amazing things God has already accomplished in our relationship to him. Spend some time letting the Spirit fill out the meaning of these completed acts of God on our behalf. And may God work out the answers to the prayer of Paul for the Colossians in all our lives.