Transformation: Paul’s Payer for the Saints at Colossae

 

Sunday School Lesson for October 26, 2003

 

Background Passage: Colossians 1:1-14

 

Focal Teaching Passage: Colossians 1:9-12

 

The Faithful Prayer-Warrior (1:9)

 

As was typical of many of his epistles, Paul initiated his letter to the church at Colossae with a reminder of his deep love and gratitude for his brothers and sisters in the Lord (vv. 2-8).  He indicated his special delight in the fact that their faith in Christ was bearing fruit for the kingdom of God (v. 6). Yet even more importantly, the apostle assured his Christian friends that he was faithfully praying for them even while he was the prisoner of Christ in Rome (vv. 3, 9).

 

Paul first assured his brethren that he was “praying always” for them not only as a corporate entity, the body of Christ, but as individual believers as well (v. 3). The focus here is upon the frequency and consistency of the apostle’s intercession on behalf of his friends.  Obviously, Paul was a man of disciplined prayer. He must have maintained a sizeable prayer list that included concerns related to each of the churches he founded and those, like the Colossian church, which he had apparently never visited. 

 

In verse 9, however, Paul reinforced this fact by informing his brethren that, having received from “Epaphras” news of their faith in Christ and “love in the Spirit” (vv. 7-8), he had “not ceased to pray” for them.  Included in his prayer of thanksgiving and concern for his brethren was his repeated petitioning of God for specific requests on their behalf.  This is reflected in the phrase “to ask” which indicates “a particular request that God intervene in the lives of the people for whom Paul prayed” [Richard Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, TNAC, 200]. 

 

The Main Request (1:9b)

 

As Paul unceasingly remembered his brethren in prayer, one request stood above all other concerns.  He asked the Lord to fill each of them with “the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Fundamentally, this was a request that his friends in Christ would come to possess a greater knowledge of God in terms of His ways and purposes. The phrase “be filled” (which is in the passive voice) suggests that which progresses to a state of completion or maturity.  It indicates that God is the One who fills the believer with the knowledge of “His will”—that God discloses Himself, primarily through the Word, to those who seek Him. Consequently, this knowledge of God “is not the product of the fleshly wisdom of the world which puffs up but does not enlighten,” but rather results from “the illumination of the Holy Spirit” who enables the believer to know God’s ways [Herbert M. Carson, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, TNTC, 35].  The mention of “spiritual wisdom,” in contrast and distinction to earthly wisdom, relates to the ability to apply knowledge to “a specific concern. It, therefore, consists in the ability to ‘act and think spiritually’ [with a measure of special wisdom that] goes beyond natural wisdom” [Melick, 202]. Carson defines “wisdom” as “that settled condition of the mind whose thinking is not dependent merely on the unaided processes of the human intellect, but is controlled and enlightened by the Spirit of truth” [35]. On the other hand, “understanding” represents the “application of this basic wisdom to the various problems which present themselves to us and require a clear analysis before a decision can be made” [35].  William Hendriksen notes that believers who are endowed with such wisdom and understanding are not “deceived by the wiles of Satan, the lure of the flesh, or the pretentious claims of false teachers” [Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, NTC, 57].

 

The Ultimate Purpose (1:10-12)

 

Verse 10a

Having set forth his main request for the brethren at Colossae—that they would continually experience an ever increasing knowledge of God and apprehension of His will—Paul indicted the ultimate purpose for knowing God more fully—“so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” In other words, the mere acquisition of knowledge was not the goal. Rather, it was the transformation of one’s character that Paul had in view.  Carson explains that Paul did not want his readers to be misled into thinking that “their goal [was] barren orthodoxy” accompanied by an “intellectual growth in religious knowledge divorced from life” [35].  What he desired for his friends was that they would live out, in every-day life, what they had come to know about God and His will.  The word “walk” was Paul’s way of speaking of the practical, obedient lifestyle of the disciple of Christ. Thus, the disciple’s lifestyle is to be conducted in such a way as befitting those who call themselves Christians.  The standard of measurement for the believer’s walk is nothing less than the very character of Jesus Himself. 

 

Verses 10b-12

The theme of walking in such a way as to manifest the character of Christ is further developed in these verses. Paul employed several key phrases to depict the worthy life of the follower of Jesus:

 

  • to please Him in all respects” (v. 10b)—This defines the motive or controlling purpose for the believer’s conduct and life. He must live entirely for the pleasure of God [Carson, 36]. His life must have a God-centered orientation rather than a self-centered, self-serving course that is characteristic of those who are not the servants of Christ.

 

  • bearing fruit in every good work” (v. 10b)—Here fruit-bearing is essentially synonymous with manifesting the character of Christ. Such character is articulated in Galatians 5:22 and represents the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Paul’s point was that a Christian is to view his work and service as a platform from which to display the holiness, faithfulness, and righteousness of Christ to the world. In this way a believer’s good works are the fruit of God’s grace, and not the root or cause of such divine favor [Hendriksen, 58].

 

  • increasing in the knowledge of God” (v. 10b)—Again Paul emphasized the necessity of growing in one’s intimate knowledge of the Lord. Here it is closely connected with fruit-bearing and this may indicate that a greater knowledge of the Lord makes the bearing of spiritual fruit—defined as the character of Christ—more pronounced.

 

  • strengthened with all power” (v. 11)—The power source behind such a transformation is not found within the will or moral resolve of man, however.  It is a gift from God who shares “His glorious might” with His children.  It is interesting that the word translated as “strengthened” indicates a continual process of being empowered.  Thus, the Christian may “confidently expect that the God who came to him in regenerating power will continue to strengthen him” for whatever task or responsibility might lie ahead [Carson, 37].

 

  • for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (v. 11)—The power which God faithfully grants to His children is made most evident in their perseverance, or “steadfastness and patience.”  While “steadfastness” refers to the Spirit-borne ability to bear a heavy or painful weight without complaint, the word “patience” refers to the Spirit-borne ability to endue unjust treatment and provocation without retaliating.  Both of these virtues provide irrefutable evidence of the work of the Spirit, and each was characteristic of Jesus who, in His earthly life, perfectly manifested them.

 

  • joyously giving thanks to the Father” (vv. 11-12)—Finally, the disciple is to be known as a person of radiant joy and gratitude.  Despite the difficulties that typically accompany the Christian life, the faithful disciple is to endure them with an eye towards eternity—our share of the “inheritance of the saints in light” (see also v. 5—“the hope laid up for you in heaven”).  Consequently, there should be an irrepressible, ever-present joy in the heart of each believer who understands that, in Christ, God has “qualified” them to receive salvation in its fullest measure. 

 

 

Major Themes for Reflection and Application

 

 

One: Paul, prayer, and youIn each of the epistles of Paul there is a strong emphasis upon intercessory prayer. Paul was obviously a man who believed in and faithfully practiced disciplined intercession on behalf of others. What lessons are apparent from such a persistent emphasis?  What beliefs and convictions motivated and compelled the apostle to engage in prayer to the degree that he apparently did?

 

 

Two:  God’s will and WordWhere do Christians go to discover God’s will?  In other words, how are we “filled with the knowledge of His will”?   What part does the Word of God play in this situation?  What about the Church? 

 

 

Three: Christ as Savior and Standard—Paul indicated that Jesus not only came in order to save those who trusted in Him, He also provided us with a picture of the Christian life.  See if you can explain what it means to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”  How do we carry out such a walk?  Is it possible to live exactly as Jesus did? 

 

 

Four:  A marathon, not a sprint—According to v. 11, “steadfastness and patience” are to be present in the lives of God’s children.  Why does Scripture place such an emphasis upon endurance?  How is endurance cultivated? How does a long-term outlook on life distinguish us from our culture?

 

 

Five: Your future is still ahead of you—Think once again about Paul’s words in v. 12 regarding those things that God has prepared for believers in the future. How do the promises related to our future blessings motivate and encourage us in the present?