9 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, 10 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; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. i
Last week, we learned that Paul’s letter to the little church of Colossae was prompted by the visit of his friend Epaphras, the church’s planter, to Paul under house arrest in Rome. Epaphras brought news of a church that was both faithful to the gospel of Christ and attracted to a Jewish/Pagan mysticism that promised a deeper, fuller spiritual life through “higher life” conferences sold by gurus. Paul wants them to know that this little church is being sold a big lie.
In his letter to the Colossians, we have no real clue as to the exact kind of false teaching being sold to the congregation. We know historically that Phrygia was a region that had certain kinds of ecstatic pagan cults emphasizing austere lifestyles. It had a Jewish population as well which likely contained its share of Jewish mystics.
So one of the words the apostle will use several times in this letter is “fullness” because it appears that spiritual fullness (full knowledge, full emotional experience, full fellowship with the divine, fullness of earned works-righteousness, full assurance, full direct divine revelation) was a hallmark of the mystic religion business of Phrygia.
About 100 years after this letter was delivered, the region of Phrygia gave birth to one of the first Christian heresies, Montanism. A self-declared prophet named Montanus claimed the Holy Spirit was giving him new revelations regarding rules and regulations (many of which were of the “don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle” variety). Phrygia had a reputation even in Paul’s day as a center for strange religions since it was not nearly as “Romanized” as the surrounding regions of Roman Asia. It was famous for its mystical religions of ecstatic emotional experiences and direct revelations from the gods.
Paul wants the believers of the Lycus Valley in the region of Phrygia to know that their union with Christ already provides them all the resources they need to live as saints in light surrounded by the domain of darkness (1:12, 13). In essence, Paul is teaching the Colossians that the fullness of the Christian life is nothing more than discovering all that Jesus Christ is and all that we already possess in our trust-union with him. So, like his prayer for the church in Ephesus (delivered at the same time as this letter and Philemon), Paul prays for the Colossians. He briefly takes up three themes in his prayer: intercession, aspiration, and salvation.
This prayer is part of one 218-word sentence beginning at verse 9 and reaches through verse 20.iii Imagine being Paul’s secretary as Paul paces back and forth about the room pouring out all of this praise and supplication and deep theology in one long sentence! He prefaces his prayer by explaining that the news of their faith, hope, and love he mentioned in vs. 3-8 has prompted him and Timothy (and Epaphras and others mentioned in 4:10-14) to pray unceasingly for the congregation of Colossae.
Paul is a constant practitioner of the fellowship of prayer. He doesn’t write one letter (except Galatians) without mentioning his prayers – usually with a group of others – for the letter’s recipients and requesting their prayers for his ministry. Paul doesn’t consider prayer “the only thing he can do.” Paul sees prayer as EVERYTHING he can do, as we will see next week in his instruction on the “everythingness” of Christ Jesus. He prays (1:9), “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding….”iv
Paul doesn’t have in mind a store of secret occult information, such as acquaintance with passwords or private rituals. It is not the kind of mysterious knowledge which the Phrygian gurus claimed for their “initiates.” No, it is penetrating insight into God’s wonderful, redemptive revelation in Jesus Christ, a discernment with fruits for practical life, as vs 10 will show.v
What makes Paul’s prayer so wonderful to read is that it is SO different from the kinds of prayers you and I often pray. When you gather with other believers in order to pray about a situation, do you pray like this? Paul isn’t indifferent to the practical needs of fellow Christians, but he understands that their practical needs can only be met out of the riches of their union with and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s prayers teach us that far too often, we ask for far too little. Healing is a small thing to the apostle Paul in the midst of someone’s sickness compared to that person knowing that all the riches of Jesus have been given to them.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for the practical things. The Holy Spirit prays for us. Jesus intercedes for us. The Father listens with love like the parent who listens tenderly as his child prays for her dead guppy. He delights in our prayers, however small. But Paul’s vision is for the grander things behind the day-to-day – the great need to see more of Christ and all his benefits.
The goal of his intercession is that the Colossians “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord….”vi He is NOT praying that they behave in a manner that makes them worthy of God extending his grace to them. That would turn Paul’s very clear message of salvation by grace alone on its head, to turn it into the very “give-to-get” system the gurus of Phrygia are peddling. Paul is praying that their lives will express the grace they have already received in Jesus Christ because the outworking of grace is a desire to please God. When we do the works Christ prepared for us to do, we feel God’s pleasure. Paul wants them to feel God’s pleasure as they bear God’s fruit.
A Christian life that burdens its followers and oppresses them with the “David Plan: From Cave to Castle” or “The Daniel Diet” and the “Sampson CrossFit Program” through which they can lead a fuller higher life NEVER brings the pleasure it promises; because all those guru products create an inward focus, not the outward (toward Jesus and neighbors) focus that bears true fruit. What makes the gospel glorious, what makes it different from mere do-gooders and self-improvers, is that believers gain their pleasure in pleasing their gracious loving God – not in pleasing themselves. Because we were made to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Paul prays with a focused intercession that the Colossians come to know in all wisdom and understanding that glorifying God in and through union with Christ IS the fullness of their pleasure as they do the good works of their vocations, serving their neighbors with an attitude of worship.
The key to Christian pleasure is that we are increasing in the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. The more God’s children know of him, the more they will love him and seek to glorify him. Knowing that you have all things in Christ, listening to his voice as he speaks though his Word, serving him with his hands, sitting with your fellow believers at his table, those are the pleasing things.
Paul and Timothy clarify their wish into one constant aspiration, one great constant prayer goal for these Jesus followers living as light in a dark place: that they be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy 12 giving thanks to the Father….”vii
When the multimillionaire gives “of” his wealth to some good cause he may be giving very little; but when he donates “according to” his riches, the amount will be substantial. The Holy Spirit gives not only “of” but “according to.” Paul prays a similar prayer for the Ephesians in his letter to them (written along with this letter):
[That] the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.viii
Paul’s greatest goal for believers is that they should experience the mighty resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ to give them ALL endurance and patience. “Endurance” is longsuffering, taking a long time before breaking under the cultural pressure to seek out the gurus’ improvement programs. Then he adds patience (remaining under the weight of difficult circumstance). When everyone around you seems to have a “better” time of it, when your friends seem to be having their best life now with the Sampson CrossFit program and the Daniel Diet, Paul prays constantly that you will pursue more of Christ alone.
Western culture in the 21st Century isn’t really different than Western culture in the 1st Century. Everyone wants everything NOW. Mostly, I want YOU to be better RIGHT NOW – a better spouse, a better parent, a better child, a more affirming-of-me person NOW! I don’t want to wait the long years it takes for Word and Sacrament to do their ordinary work in ordinary ways.
YOU need to change NOW! So go buy this book. Go attend this feelings-based conference with steps to follow. Get on board with this program, or go to this or that church promising an easy fix …NOW! Fix yourself now so I can stand being around you. Fix ME so I can stand to be around myself. Because waiting patiently with endurance for God to work in his ordinary ways can seem like waiting for a steady drip of water to shape a mountain of granite.
That’s why endurance and patience are things for which Paul prays; they are supernatural benefits from Christ alone, not self-generated or self-manufactured traits. They are fruit that comes from being a branch grafted into the vine of Christ. The power is Christ’s alone – NOT the Colossians’ power, not yours.
Please don’t misunderstand this! If you are struggling with physical, clinical disorders like bi-polar issues or suicidal ideations, or depression don’t let some hack preacher or blog writer or pietistic guru tell you that you simply have “a sin issue” you need to confess and work hard to overcome with patience and endurance. That kind of thinking is exactly the pagan asceticism, the severe physical denial, that the false teachers of Phrygia were promoting. It’s a lie from the pit of hell and it smells like smoke, especially when some whack job sprinkles it with Jesus language to bind your conscience.
Who among you, if your child was suffering from appendicitis would demand she confess her sin issues and memorize scripture to heal herself? You would rush her to the ER, detailing the fever, nausea, and abdominal pain and beg the surgeon to cut to cure right away. And I’ll bet most of you would skip over giving the surgeon a theological exam before he or she can scrub in. So why let some conscience-binding guru keep YOU from getting the help you need for depression, anxiety, or other physical disorders because they claim it to be mere “a sin issue”?
God, in his common goodness to all mankind, provides physicians (believers AND unbelievers) for your healing and well-being. Seek them out. Get help. God has provided his good gifts in the form of human vocations for your health and wellbeing. You have a duty to use them! After you start to get the educated professional treatment you need, THEN we’ll talk about your “sin issues.”
The endurance and patience of which Paul writes are that which overcomes the peer pressure of an evil world and its prince, the devil, that seek to draw believers away from Christ and all his benefits. It’s being able to stand when pressure is brought to bear upon you under the strains and stresses of living the Christian life in a dark kingdom.
This isn’t stoicism; this isn’t having a “stiff upper lip” that tends to make us rigid and unapproachable. The knowledgeable Christian who is wise in the benefits of Christ doesn’t simply patiently endure. The wise believer patiently endures “with joy, giving thanks to the Father….” ix Non-Christians can and may endure great suffering with stoicism, but to be able to endure with joy and thanksgiving is a mark of the wonder of God’s grace. It’s the kind of joy and thanksgiving George Matheson wrote when he penned his hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go:x
O Joy that seekest me through pain. I cannot / close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, / and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.xi
There is endurance that comes from a closed heart – a stiff upper lip, never let them see you sweat kind of endurance. But never does that closed-heart endurance have the joy and thanksgiving that is found only in Christ Jesus. Very few events show what a joyless, thankless culture in which we live than the 4-year presidential election cycle. We can respond by bemoaning the joylessness and thanklessness by becoming joyless and thankless ourselves.
That’s why Paul prays for the power of Christ to overtake the believers of Colossae – because they too live in a joyless, thankless culture and their only hope of glory is Christ in them. It’s not in any of the paid spiritual upgrades the mystic gurus of Phrygia are selling.
So far, we’ve seen Paul’s focused intercession and his aspiration; now we come to the root of intercession and aspiration: assurance of salvation. He writes that the Father:
“has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” xii
Paul and Timothy know that we are all addicts by nature; we are all addicted to the darkness of pride and sin. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we learn that our old Adam, our sin nature is an addict desperate to feed itself all of its desires to gain some fleeting sense of happiness. Those without Jesus cannot begin to admit the true nature of their addiction because they live in total darkness. There is no light to see the sin that enslaves them. They have to be delivered by the will and work of God alone.xiii
The old Adam’s addiction is to living for itself, rather than to living for the glory of God. Those who by nature refuse to glorify God are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22) and only in their punishment will be indirect glorifiers of God. But, says Paul, there IS deliverance from slavery to the kingdom of darkness.
Through trust into the perfectly righteous life and sacrificial death of the risen Jesus, our union with Christ transfers us into Christ’s kingdom where there is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. What a beautiful way to express our salvation! We are delivered into the kingdom, the reign, the rule, the authority of God’s own beloved Son who went willingly to the cross. The Perfect One who became sin and suffered God’s wrath against sin in the place of his people did so not only that we might be delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Light, but also that we might be brought into him, into his family, into communion and union with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Paul’s prayer is teaching the Colossians – pulled as they are toward paying for false spiritual upgrades to some non-existent higher life – that everything they need is to be found already in their union with Jesus Christ. Everything they need is theirs through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the very thing we celebrate every Lord’s Day in the Lord’s Table.
Horatius Bonar put it like this:
Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness; mine is the / guilt, but thine the cleansing blood; here is my robe, my / refuge, and my peace, thy blood, thy righteousness, O Lord my God.xiv
Shortly, you who trust into Jesus will hold that small cracker and that tiny cup of wine. And Jesus will say to you, “Everything that is mine is for you. Come and give everything that you are to me.”xv
But perhaps you’re here this morning and you cannot see that you are trapped in a kingdom of darkness, that all your desire is to please yourself, that you are addicted to your own glory. Our prayer for you is that will have no rest and no peace until you cry out to Christ to deliver you into his restful peaceful Kingdom of Light.
i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Col 1:9–14.
ii Headings taken from: Sinclair Ferguson, Solid Joys and Lasting Treasures. Accessed 10/22/16 at: http://mp3.sa-media.com/filearea/fpc-080606am/fpc-080606am.mp3
iii William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 54.
iv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:9.
v5 William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 56–57.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:10.
vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:11-12a.
viii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 1:17–21.
ix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:11–12.
x Ferguson, op. cit.
xi Trinity Hymnal, #708.
xii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:12–14.
xiii Ferguson, op. cit.
xiv Trinity Hymnal, #378.
xv Ferguson, op. cit.