"A Prayer for Maturity
1: 9 - 14
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, November 12, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
The apostle Paul had never met the people to whom he wrote this wonderful letter. All that he knew about them was what he had been told. He had been told that these people, in the ancient city of Colosse, had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and had believed. Furthermore, he heard that they had grown in that faith, and that it had resulted in a transformation of their lives. He had been told that they professed a solid faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and that they had a deep love for each other, and for all who -- like themselves -- had placed their trust in Jesus.
Paul knew these people only through the report of someone else; but what he had heard was enough to cause him to rejoice and praise God for all that had happened to them. He couldn't wait to write and tell them how much he thanked God for them, and how he had been praying for them. And so, he begins his letter with these words;
"We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us our love in the Spirit (Col. 1:3-8)."
As I study those words, I try to put myself in the place of those Colossian believers. They were all relatively new Christians; but just imagine what it must have meant to them to have received such a greeting from the great apostle Paul! How it must have thrilled them to read how he thanked God for them, and of how he praised God for all that God was doing in them! I can't help but imagine that reading such a greeting would have encouraged them to give thanks and praise God for those things too!
Paul not only thanked God for these believers, but he also prayed much for them. This morning, we will take a look at what it was that he prayed; and as we do, I suggest that we also try to imagine what it would have been like to have been one of those early Christians. Imagine what it would have been like to read that Paul was praying these very things for you! Paul wrote to them about his "prayer list", saying;
"For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (vv. 9-14)."
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Paul's great burden for these new Christians was that they become established in their faith. They had placed their trust in Jesus; and he wanted them to rest confidently in the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ to make them everything God wants them to be. He wanted them to know that they were already accepted and perfected in God's eyes through their relationship with Jesus; and he wanted them to increasingly behave, in practice, like what God has already declared them to be. Later on in his letter, he urged them; "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:6-7).
That's what he desired to see happen in the lives of these Christians who were so close to his heart, and yet so far away in distance. But here's the wonderful thing about it all: even though Paul had never met them personally, and even though he was physically far away from them -- and in fact, being in prison (4:18), was incapable of going to them personally -- he was, nevertheless, very confident that he could play an important part in their spiritual growth. He believed that he could have a powerful and positive impact on them, and could do much to help them become deeply rooted in the Lord and strongly established in the faith, by praying regularly for them. And that's what he did. He didn't cease to pray for them.
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Have you ever thought about the impact you and I have on each other's Christian life when we pray for each other? As Christians, we are -- by God's design -- dependent on one another. God made us in such a way that we cannot be all that He wants us to be unless we support one another, build up one another, and strengthen one another in times of weakness. And one of the most powerful ways we can be a help and support to one another in our Christian lives is through regularly keep each other in prayer.
Paul himself modeled such prayer in his ministry. He prayed much for the believers under his care. He once told the Philippians, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy ..." (Phil. 1:3-4). He told the sometimes-disobedient Corinthian believers, "Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And for this also we pray, that you may be made complete" (2 Cor. 13:7-9).
When you read his letter to the Colossians, you can see how much Paul believed in the power of prayer to strengthen other believers. He longed deeply to see the Colossian believers grow in their faith in Christ; and so, he prayed very earnestly for them. He told them,
"For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ ...(Col. 2:1-2)."
The fact that he said he had a great "conflict" or "struggle" for them shows us the effort he expended in praying for their spiritual growth and maturity. He also wrote to them about Epaphras -- the man through whom they first heard the gospel message.
"Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God (Col. 4:12)."
Paul even recognized that he himself needed the prayers of the Colossian believers. He urged them,
"Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains ... (Col. 4:2-3)."
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Paul's "prayer list" for the Colossian believers is fascinating. It has great authority, because it's the prayer list of the great apostle Paul, along with his associate Timothy (1:1). That's reason enough to study it; because who wouldn't want to know what Paul asked for when he prayed for new believers? And what's more, because these new believers were, to some degree, in danger of being harmed by a false doctrine that had infiltrated their church (2:1-23), his prayer list was motivated by a desire to protect them and see them grow strong in their new faith. That makes it fascinating to read as well. And it's also fascinating because it deals with basics. It was a list of what he prayed for regularly and repeatedly for them; because he said, "For this reason we also, since the day we heard of it" -- the "it" being their faith in Jesus -- "we ... do not cease to pray for you" (1:9).
But this list is more than fascinating. It's strategic. This is a list of things that God wants to see happen in our own lives; and it's a list of things that God wants us to be praying about for one another. Paul's prayer for the Colossians teaches us what sort of things to ask for in praying for our own growth in the Christian faith, and for that of each other.
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What specifically does he ask God to do for them? First, we see that he prays that these believers would be characterized by ...
1. A PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL (v. 9).
He writes, "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding ..." When you're praying for the growth of a brand new believer -- or even for the continued growth of someone who's known the Lord for many years -- can you think of anything more basic -- more strategic -- than that they'd be filled with a knowledge of God's will for their lives? What a great thing to pray!
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When Paul wrote this letter to these new believers, they were under the threat of a false teaching. This false teaching claimed that having a relationship with Jesus Christ was not enough. It said that, in order to really be made "complete" before God, these Christians needed something more than what they already had in Jesus. They needed a kind of "superior knowledge" that came only through human philosophies and secret traditions.
But Paul wrote to them and said, that he prayed that they would attain to what was already available to them in Christ -- that is, "to the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2:2-3).
Paul prayed for these new believers in the confidence that they already had all that they needed in Christ, and in Christ alone. And so, he prayed -- not that they'd be "given" the knowledge of God's will -- as if it were some unattainable mystery. Rather, he prayed that they'd be "filled" with the knowledge of God's will -- that is, ruled over and controlled by the knowledge of God's will, and influenced by that knowledge in a prevailing way.
God's will is never a big secret. He has told us, time and again, what His will is for our lives. He's made it very plain, and has recorded it for us in the Bible. Paul told Timothy, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). That's why Paul urged Timothy, in the strongest way possible, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). It's because we find out what God's will is for our lives through knowing God's word.
When Paul was praying for these believers to be "filled" with the knowledge of God's will, he was praying, in effect, that they'd be doing what he later urges them to do -- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col. 3:17). He was praying that the knowledge of God's will -- already made plain and clear in His word -- would get into them and rule over their lives.
Notice also that he prayed specifically that they'd be filled with the knowledge of God's will "in all wisdom and spiritual understanding". This speaks of the manner in which this knowledge he was praying for would be put to use in their lives.
"Wisdom", as Paul means it, isn't something mystical or merely intellectual. It's something very practical. Someone has defined wisdom quite well as "the insight in how to use the best means to achieve the best ends in the best way". And so, when he prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's will "in all wisdom", he's asking that God would grant them the ability to apply their knowledge of God's will to the situations of life in the best, most accurate, and most effective way.
Paul also prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's will "in all ... spiritual understanding". The word he uses for "understanding" here has the meaning behind it of 'putting things together'. And so, he's praying that they'd have a knowledge of God's will, and be enabled by God to put the truths, facts and information of God's revealed will together in such a way as to see significant relationships between them, and to draw insightful conclusions. It's always exciting to be around Christians who are constantly in the word, constantly comparing Scripture with Scripture, and are constantly seeing the deep relevance of God's truths to daily living. This is a "spiritual" understanding and insight -- something that is granted to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as He illumines divine truth to us through the study of the word.
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This is what Paul prayed would be given to these new believers -- that they'd be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Shouldn't we desire such a thing in our own lives? And shouldn't we pray that such a thing would become an increasing reality in each other's lives?
Second, we see that Paul prayed that they'd be characterized by ...
2. A WORTHINESS IN DAILY CONDUCT (v. 10).
It's important to notice that there's a relationship between the first thing he prays for, and the other things he prays for. He prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of God's will as a means to an end; and here we see the first end -- "that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (v. 10). In other words, being truly filled with the knowledge of God's will is always practical; and it is always meant to lead us to a manner of living that's "worthy of the Lord".
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Let me tell you a little-known secret about college. Usually, a four-year college divides its program up into four levels: a freshman year, a sophomore year, a junior year, and a senior year. Do you know why a second-year student is called a "sophomore"? It's because after he or she has been through a full year of college, a student begin the second year with the idea that he or she is "brilliant", and already know it all. What such students don't know, however, is that "sophomore" comes from the combination of two Greek words -- "sophos", which means "wise" or "clever"; and "moros", which means "foolish" or "silly". Therefore, a student in his second year of college is -- you guessed it! -- a "wise fool". (The Bible college I went to didn't have a "sophomore" level; and it's probably because too many of the students there knew Greek!)
There's a serious side to this, however. There's a kind of "sophomoreism" when it comes to the Christian faith. If they're not careful, immature Christians can sometimes fall into the error of believing that a kind of "Christian intellectualism" can make them truly wise. True "wisdom" in the Christian life, however, isn't revealed by what you know, or how articulate you are, or how well you can argue the finer points of doctrine. Instead, true "wisdom" is revealed in how you live in relationship toward others. James once wrote;
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:13-17)."
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So; Paul prayed that these believers would become filled with the knowledge of God's will; and as it's translated in the NIV, he said, "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord ..." That's what he meant by "walk" -- the conduct and behavior of daily life. He prayed that they would increasingly be filled with a knowledge of God's will so that they would live the kind of life that is "worthy of the Lord". Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and said, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called ..." (Eph. 4:1).
The sort of "worthy walk" he prayed for was characterized by three things. First, in relation to the Lord, it was "pleasing". He said that he prayed they'd walk worthy of the Lord, "fully pleasing Him". Wouldn't it make a tremendous impact for good in our lives if we prayed that we'd all live a daily life that was truly pleasing to the Lord?
Second, such a walk, in relation to other people, is "fruitful". He said he was praying that they'd walk worthy of the Lord, "fruitful in every good work". The Bible says that we are God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared before hand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We should be praying for each other that we'd walk daily in those good works God has already prepared for us, and that we'd have a positive impact in the lives of others who are touched by those good works.
Third, a worthy walk, in relation to ourselves, is one in which we're "increasing" or "growing" in the knowledge of God. Paul prayed that, as they walked in a daily life-style pattern that was worthy of the Lord, they themselves would grow to know the Lord better and love Him more. He urged the Roman Christians, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2).
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This is what Paul prayed would be given to these new believers -- that they'd walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Isn't that something for which we all need prayer? Shouldn't we pray such a thing for each other?
Third, we see that Paul prayed that they'd be characterized by ...
3. AN ENDURANCE THROUGH TIMES OF TRIAL (v. 11).
I can remember the first time I read verse 11. It still takes me by surprise every time I read it. I saw in it that Paul prayed for these Christians, and asked that they would be "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power ..." And of course, that always appealed to me. I thought to myself, "Yeah! I like that! I could do anything if I were 'strengthened with all might, according to God's glorious power'. I'd never have any more troubles after that! No one would ever push me around again!"
But then, I read on and saw what it was that Paul prayed they'd be strengthened for -- "for all patience and longsuffering with joy ..." Paul wasn't praying that they'd be strengthened so as to leap over all the troubles and trials of life and avoid them. He wasn't praying that they'd be strengthened so that they could knock every obstacle out of the way in mighty displays of over-powering strength. Rather, he prayed that they'd be strengthened so they could endure their trials and obstacles with patience and longsuffering, and with an attitude of prevailing joy. I wanted strength -- but not for that! Obviously, God's idea of "strength" was quite a bit different from mine.
Notice, first, that Paul prays that they'd be strengthened for "patience". This speaks of an inner attitude of peaceful, quiet endurance -- an attitude that isn't stressed and fretful in times of trouble. Then, he prays that they'd be strengthened for "longsuffering". This speaks of an attitude that has an outward and circumstantial focus -- an attitude of forbearance -- an attitude that has "a long fuse", and doesn't easily fly off the handle in frustration and anger toward people, circumstances, or things. And in all of it, he prays that real "joy" would prevail -- an attitude that finds true happiness and contentment, not in favorable circumstances, but in knowing the God who is in control of even difficult circumstances.
Paul is praying that they would have the same sort of attitude that James talked about when he said,
"My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4)."
Such a thing sounds superhuman; and it is. But that's why Paul prayed to God for them, asking that they'd be strengthened in an unlimited way -- "with all might, according to His glorious power".
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Paul Himself learned what it means to be strengthened with God's power in the circumstances of life. He wrote to the Philippian believers and said that he learned how to be content in whatever circumstance he was in. He said,
"I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:12-13)."
Trusting in the power of God while in the trials of life isn't something that came automatically for Paul. He wasn't "naturally" an easy-going person. Rather, he "learned" it. And that's why he prayed for these new believers -- so that they'd "learn" it too.
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By the way; is God seeking to teach you the sufficiency of Christ's power in your life by allowing you to go through a trial? Is He seeking to build "patience" and "longsuffering" into your life "with all joy", by letting you find out that you can be "strengthened with all might" for such trials, "according to His power"? Or perhaps you know someone else that God is seeking to teach such a lesson. Isn't that just another reason why we, too, should be praying about this for one another?
Finally, we see that Paul prayed that they'd be characterized by ...
4. A THANKFULNESS FOR GOD'S SAVING GRACE (vv. 12-14).
He tells them that he prays they'd be filled with the knowledge of God's will, so that they'd be "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (v. 12).
"Thankfulness" is an essential quality of godliness. In fact, a failure to give thanks to God and acknowledge His goodness is the chief characteristic of ungodliness. When Paul wrote to the Roman believers about the terrible depravity of the sinful human heart, he described how it all begins with "unthankfulness". He wrote,
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:20-21)."
Thankfulness is so essential, in fact, that Paul once urged the Thessalonian Christians, "... in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:18).
Paul prays, then, that these Colossian Christians would grow to be characterized by "giving thanks to the Father" to God. But he isn't merely asking that they'd be characterized by a vague spirit of "thankfulness". He's specific what it is that he prays they'd thank God for. He prays that they'd give thanks to the Father, "who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light". Paul's talking here about God's grace in bringing about our salvation. If we're thankful for that, then we'll have reason to be thankful for everything else!
He says that the Father has made us partakers of an "inheritance"; and that inheritance is one we share in common with "the saints in light". "Saints in light" is Paul's way of describing all people who walk in fellowship with Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in holiness and purity, and who are destined for heavenly glory. He wrote to the Ephesian believers and told them, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) ... (Eph. 5:8-9). He told the Thessalonian Christians, "You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5).
But how could sinners like us ever claim to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light? It's certainly not because we deserve to be saints in light; nor is it because we've done anything to earn the right to be called saints in light. We are sinners, and on the basis of our own deeds, we don't deserve to be considered "saints in light" at all.
But that points to God's grace in Jesus Christ. We don't partake of the inheritance of "the saints in light" because we deserve it as a right; but rather because we've been "qualified" for it through God's grace, by virtue of the work of someone else. Paul goes on to speak of God's grace toward us;
"He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (vv. 13-14)."
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Look at how God's grace is shown to us in giving us salvation in all its aspects: We see it in the future aspect of salvation, in that God has ensured that we will receive the full blessings of heavenly glory in Christ. He Himself has "qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light".
We also see God's grace in the present aspect of salvation. We are, right now, recipients of God's saving grace in that "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His son." We've been rescued from the tyranny of one kingdom and transferred safely into another. And right now, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20).
Finally, we see God's grace in the past aspect of our salvation. He has cleansed us completely, and purified us of all the sins of the past, in that, in Christ, "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (see also Eph. 1:7).
Paul prays that the Colossian believers would grow, increasingly, to give thanks to God for His saving grace in all its aspects. He prays that they'll grow to know and understand what God has accomplished for them in Christ, rejoice in it, rest confidently in it, and continually give thanks to God for it.
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Isn't this, again, something that should be true of us? And isn't it right and good that we lift one another up in our prayers and ask that it be true of each other as well?
Each week in our church bulletin, you can find a section devoted to personal prayer requests. We should keep one another in prayer regularly; and in this weekly list, we can find specific things to pray. You do more good than you can imagine when you take time to pray for one another's specific needs from that list.
But here, in this passage, we find a list of things that we can always be praying about for one another. It's a list that comes from God Himself, and that reflects the very things He wants us to see happening in our lives. And it's a list that is always current, and represents needs that all of us continually have. Each one of us will always need to grow in our practical knowledge of God's will. Each of us will always need to cultivate a practical walk that is worthy of the Lord. Each one of us will always need to be strengthened with God's glorious power, so that we can endure our trials with patience, longsuffering and joy. And each of us will always need to grow in an attitude of ongoing thankfulness for God's wonderful, saving grace toward us. We need to be praying for one another in all these areas; and like Paul, do so "without ceasing".
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Let me offer a suggestion. Find another believer in church (I suggest that it be someone of your gender -- men with men; and women with women); and agree that you will pray these four things for each other for a full year. Can you imagine what sort of a church this would be if every one of us committed to doing that?
May God help us to grow in these areas; but also, may God help us to do our duty toward one another. May God help us to lift one another up in prayer; just as Paul has shown us in this passage. And may Jesus be glorified in us -- together -- as a result.
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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