The apostle Paul’s letter to Colossae – a city in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey – is interesting, because he is writing to a church he did not found and which he has not visited. Instead the pastor Epaphras had proclaimed the Gospel there, and Paul had heard the reports about the congregation that had been founded.
Like almost all of his letters, just before our text Paul had begun with a statement of thanksgiving about the Christians in Colossae. He wrote, “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.”
By faith the Colossians were in Christ, and that faith was active in love toward all the fellow Christians. The hope they had secure in the risen and ascended Lord prompted them to act in ways that shared this love.
Then Paul added, “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 growing--as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” In the preaching and teaching of Epaphras, the Colossians had heard the Gospel - they had heard about the salvation God had given in Jesus Christ. Paul gave thanks that this Gospel was bearing fruit and growing among the Colossians and indeed in the whole world.
These facts provide the reason for what Paul indicates in our text he is now doing. Our translation is rather lame when it says, “and so.” Literally, Paul’s Greek says “because of this.” Because they have heard the Gospel and believe in Jesus; because they have love for the saints; because the Gospel is bearing fruit and growing among the Colossians, Paul is praying for these things.
The apostle says in our text, “Because of this, 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.” What Paul wants for the Colossians is the same thing he would want for us. It is the same thing for which we should be praying. And so our text provides important guidance for us as Christians.
Paul says that he is praying the Colossians “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Knowledge of God’s will characterized by spiritual wisdom and understanding includes knowledge about how we are to live in the situations we encounter. But it is by no means limited to this. In fact, the ability to live in this way is a product of another aspect of God’s will – his will to save in Christ.
God’s will was to accomplish what Paul says at the end of our text: “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.” Paul’s letter to the Galatians has many parallels with that to the Colossians, and there Paul says that Jesus Christ, “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”
Because of the entrance of sin in the Fall, we are all conceived and born as people are in the domain or authority of darkness. We are trapped in sin and unable to free ourselves. We are slaves of Satan. Now of course you need, as Paul calls it, “spiritual wisdom” to recognize this fact. Satan’s rule looks like “freedom” to the world. It is the attitude that we are free to use our body, our money, our relationships and everything else in any way we choose. That sounds really good, and Satan wants it that way. Because when you do it you are his slave. He is your lord.
But God’s will was to free us from this darkness. He acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to transfer us from the domain of Satan to the kingdom of his Son – to the reign of Jesus Christ. Now, Jesus is our Lord, and we stand forgiven before God. As Paul goes on to say in this chapter, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
Paul has a purpose in mind when he prays that the Colossians be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. He says that this is “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” For Paul, the Gospel is a very practical thing. It produces a way of life. It makes things happen. And in our text, the apostle mentions four things that define this way of life.
First he says that it means “bearing fruit in every good work.” Now before we think that in talking about doing the apostle has somehow lost sight of the Gospel, we need to observe that he has just used the exact same verb to say that the Gospel is bearing fruit. These good works are the fruit produced by the Gospel. Why will I forgive another person? Because God in Christ forgave me? Why will I put the needs of my husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister ahead of my own? Because Jesus put my needs before himself when he died on the cross. Jesus sacrificial and saving love in service to me, prompts me to sacrifice for others and to serve them.
Second, Paul says that it means “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Here too this increase in knowledge is not separate from the Gospel. We see this in the fact that Paul has just used the exact same verb to say that the Gospel is increasing or growing in the world. The knowledge of the Gospel makes us want to know more about God. Think about what it is like when you are in love with someone. You want to continue to learn more and more about him or her. In the same way, God’s love for us has drawn us through the Gospel to love him.
This should lead us to want to learn more and more about God. What do his actions for his people in the past tell us about who he is and how acts for us? What are his intentions for our future? How does he continue to share his love and forgiveness with us? These and many other things can only be learned from his Word – from the Scriptures. So are we reading our Bible at home? Are we coming to Bible class? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” then it is not the Gospel that is running the show in this part of our life. It’s sin – it’s the sinful old Adam who always wants to resist God and those things pleasing to him.
Third, Paul says that it means “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Now I have to be honest with you. It is this line that really caught my eye as I was looking at the texts assigned for this Sunday. Paul says that through the Gospel the glorious might of God strengthens us with power to endure and be patient.
Now when you think about the power of God’s glorious might directed towards you, what comes to mind? I think for most of us it is probably the idea of God taking away our problems and giving us those things that we think we need. And when those things don’t happen we usually think that God’s power has not helped us in any way.
Yet within Paul’s writings and the Scriptures as a whole there is another way that the effect of God’s power is described, and that is the endurance and patience of the Christian. It is easy for us to think about the presence of hardship as the absence of God’s help. But Paul says here that God’s help – his power – is present in the midst of hardship as he helps us to endure and be patient.
These are occasions that God uses. He uses them to crucify the old Adam in us as he turns us away from ourselves and towards him. He uses them as opportunities for Christians to serve, help and support one another. God’s word teaches us that times of endurance and patience are not the absence of God’s work, but instead occasions when his power is at work in our lives.
They are God at work because not only is there endurance and patience, but Paul also says that it occurs “with joy.” Obviously this is not joy in the fact that hardships are present. But instead because of Jesus Christ we have the certainty of God’s continuing love. We have the assurance that there is only one way that all of this can end – eternal life with Christ and resurrection on the Last Day. God’s Spirit gives us joy in these facts even as we endure and are patient.
And finally Paul says that it means “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Our lives as Christians are lives of thanksgiving. They are because in Christ God has delivered us from the domain of darkness. He has given us a share in the inheritance that belongs to the saints in light. This is not something that we could do for ourselves. Only God could do it for us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. For this we give thanks, now and always.
So with Paul let us pray we that may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him. For in this way, because of the Gospel, we will be bearing fruit in every good work; we will be increasing in the knowledge of God; we will be strengthened with all power for endurance and patience with joy; and we will be giving thanks to the Father, who through Christ has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.