Colossians 1:9-14: Revelation, Direction and Reflection

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Colossians 1:9-14: Revelation, Direction and Reflection

by I Gordon

Let's carry on with the book of Colossians and look at the Apostle Paul's prayer for those at Colossae. It is an interesting study looking at Paul's prayers. Last time, we looked at how the Colossians, like most of the early churches, was coming under attack on different fronts. So it is good to see what Paul prays about. You can trust him to pray about the things that truly matter. In contrast to a lot of the prayers that we hear (and pray) today, you don't find a lot in Paul's prayers about deliverance from problems and difficulties. You do see a lot about gaining spiritual insight and being strengthened with God's power. Here is the entire prayer and passage that we will look at:

Col 1:9-14 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (10) so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (11) strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; (12) joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. (13) For He rescued 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.

So what does Paul pray for them? He has four requests based on four remembrances.

  1. Knowledge and insight (into the will and purposes of God)
  2. A pleasing walk
  3. Spiritual power (for... steadfastness and patience)
  4. A thankful heart.

These requests are based on the following realities requiring remembering!

  1. Saints have an inheritance
  2. We've been rescued from darkness
  3. Are included in His kingdom
  4. Redeemed and forgiven

We have not ceased to pray for you...

Col 1:9 for this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you...

So Paul had heard of it... What is it? It is the three main things that Paul has heard about the Colossians - their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for one another, which comes about because of their sure hope of heaven and a true understanding of the grace of God. The Apostle Paul is pretty chuffed by what he has heard. Remember - he has never visited the Colossians that we know of. What we are reading here today, is what Paul wrote to them from a Roman prison. He desires to help them and keep them on the true path, but in terms of what he could do, his hands were somewhat tied so to speak. Maybe literally! He was limited in what he could do in the natural, but what he did do, through prayer, is keep this church before the One who is not limited and cannot be bound. There are plenty of times when we feel pretty small and limited, facing problems in our own lives or the lives of friends which seem out of our control. Prayer is one thing that nobody can ever stop! Paul says he had not ceased to pray for them... Imprisoned, possibly chained up, possibly under constant guard... the Roman Empire was trying to put the brakes on our Apostle Paul. But nothing can stop prayer. It is wonderful that God has made something so vital so accessible to all.

The first Request - Knowledge and spiritual insight concerning the will of God 

When we hear about God's will, and in particular knowing God's will, we normally think of things like 'should a take that job? Should I marry that girl? Where should I live? What should I do?' God can give us direction with these things if they are important but I believe the Apostle Paul is speaking about something higher and grander here. He is speaking about gaining insights into the eternal will, plan and purpose of God... what he requires of you whether you are here or there, young or old, up or down.

The Amplified Bible says it like this:  'that you may be filled with the full (deep and clear) knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things.' 

So we should be filled  [1]  with this deep knowledge of God and His ways. In this regard, it is a strange age in which we live. There is more access to spiritual material than in any other. We certainly don't lack for books and resources telling us what to do in anything remotely connected with the Christian life. But with regard to true insight into the overall will and plan and purpose of God, we have to admit, its' lacking. We often prefer to substitute our own will and make it sound spiritual. In fact I bet the prayers of the Apostle Paul wouldn't sell many books but it wasn't long ago that people in their millions were all repetitively praying a pray that boils down to the following:

'Bless me, give me more, stay with me and keep me from harm and pain.'

Here is the actual prayer that people loved so much:

"Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!" 

This is of course the prayer of Jabez. It is a prayer that we like because it asks God to bless us, give us more and keep problems and pain far from us! As a one-off prayer, in a specific situation, fine. As a repetitive daily prayer prayed by millions, it expresses well the spirit of this age.  [2]  The book of Revelation tells us that one characteristic of the last church, Laodicea, before Jesus returns will be spiritual blindness. And the sad thing about spiritual blindness, as opposed to physical blindness, is that you don't even know you can't see! This church thought they were on to it! They were going places. They were wealthy, not in need of anything  [3]  . But they were oblivious to the fact that Jesus was outside of the church knocking on the door. He councils them to purchase from Him 'eye salve to anoint their eyes so that they may see.'

God wants us to be filled with His will and purposes. We naturally respond with our own will do we not? We all do it. We've had many years with a firm grip on the reigns. We are pretty skilled at performing our own will. We are experts at looking at situations and circumstances according to our will. Harder to step back and think 'what about God's will'. How does he see this situation? What would His purposes be? How would He like me to react? What would He like me to learn in this? Of course that takes effort, faith and courage. But He is a rewarder of those that seek Him.

A.B Simpson wrote the following which is so true:  'God has hidden every precious thing in such a way that it is a reward to the diligent, a prize to the earnest, and a disappointment to the slothful. The nut is hidden in its thorny case; the pearl is buried beneath the oceans wave; the gold is imprisoned in the rocky bosom of the mountain; the gem is found only after you crush the rock; so the truth and God must be earnestly sought - 'to him that knocks it shall be opened.' 

Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The Second Request - A Worthy Walk

(10) so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

So the knowledge of God, His ways and will, is not just knowledge for knowledge sake. As the Apostle Paul says in Corinthians:

1Co 13:1-2 says 'If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing'. 

So our need for knowledge is for a worthy walk... a life pleasing to God. The knowledge of God, His ways, His thoughts and purpose should lead to and result in a changed walk. The world, unfortunately, has seen a lot of things done by those that name the name of Jesus which have clouded people's thoughts concerning Jesus and Christianity (ok, that's saying it very mildly!) But how great it is when they see the reality of a changed life due to the presence of Jesus Christ in a life!

As we get nearer to the end of our life, we tend to think more on the things that matter. And those things are have we lived a life pleasing to Him? The scripture tells us that God can be pleased and displeased and we do want to please Him. Enoch was a man that scripture says 'pleased God'. He walked with God. What pleases God? Our faith, dependence and obedience.

The Third Request: Strengthen with all power

(11) Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience...

Strengthened with all power... Argh, here is something we like! The Greek word is 'dunamis'  [4]  - 'specifically miraculous power'. 'According to His glorious might...' yes, oh yes, that sounds good. We like obtaining His glorious might... for the attaining of... yes, yes, the attaining of what? Great miracles? Healing the sick? Controlling people and powers? Commanding the angels maybe? What are we going to be given 'all power' to do? Oh yeah, here it is... 'For the attaining of patience and steadfastness.' Hmmm... not sure I really like this third request anymore!

Aren't we patient people already? Patience is not a strong point of 21st century westerners. Everything is instant. There is a great need for the steadfastness mentioned here. This word means 'hopeful or cheerful endurance, enduring, and patient continuance'. It is one of the things that Peter says we should add to our faith (2 Pet 1:6), where it is translated perseverance. So we are to add it, but Peter says this straight after saying 'His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.'  (2 Pet 1:3). The same principle is expressed here. We need to have perseverance, steadfastness, patience... it is something that we should desire. But the enabling comes, as Paul prays, from His power and might. There are many things that stand against a Christian, against a godly life, in this age. Perseverance and steadfastness are easy... at the start. Anything longer than that can be difficult! It requires the enabling of God Paul says  [5]  .

Fourth and final request - A thankful heart

(12) ' thanks to the Father...'

This is huge. If the testimony of the Bible concerning the ways of mankind teach us anything, it is that we are an ungrateful lot and are quick to forget our blessings. We read before that it takes the power of God to enable us for patience and steadfastness and you might think 'does it really take God's might and power to do that?' Well, think of the last time you went through a trial that required great patience, endurance and steadfastness. Were you joyously giving thanks to God for it? No, that is the supernatural bit! That definitely requires the power of God. The natural man knows nothing of praise and joy in the midst of trial. And our nature just cries out 'get me out of here God!' But God wants to develop trust, faith and character in us and a thankful heart, in the midst of patience, is what He is working towards!

Concerning this, I read recently of one minister saying this:  'In thirty years of ministry, I never had anyone ask me to pray for them to endure with joy, but I am frequently asked to pray for deliverance from situations.'  Elihu said the same thing. Do you remember Elihu? He is the younger of Job's counsellors yet he seemed to have more insight and wisdom than Job's other three 'friends' (definitely in quotations!) Elihu, seemingly understanding the heart of mankind said this;

Job 35:9-11 "Because of the multitude of oppressions they cry out; They cry for help because of the arm of the mighty. (10) "But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, Who gives songs in the night, (11) Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?' 

A thankful heart... critical! We talked about knowing the will of God earlier on. It was Paul's first request for the Colossians. Well remember this: 1Th 5:18 'In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.'

The First Remembrance - Share in the inheritance! 

(12) '...who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light?'

So those are the four requests that Paul made for those at Colossae. (i) Knowledge and insight, (ii) a pleasing walk, (iii) spiritual power and (iv), a thankful spirit. But there are also things to think about which help on this walk. If you are struggling to be thankful or if temporary issues have clouded your eternal view, try spending more time thinking on the following:

'Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.' 

We have an inheritance! And who doesn't like an inheritance? Christ is the heir of all things scripture tells us. He will inherit all things. And yet He has chosen to make us co-heirs and all true Christians have a share.  [6]  And the scripture tells us that He has qualified us for this. He qualified us. Now there is something to be thankful for. People work pretty hard to qualify for events or get a qualification do they not? Often many years of hard work goes in to getting the qualification. So the great news here is that He qualified us. He has given us a qualification based not on any work that we have done but based on the awesome work of another. Jesus qualified us through His work, and death, on our behalf!

The second and third things to remember: Goodbye darkness, hello eternal kingdom! 

(13) For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son

We often forget what it was like before we became a Christian. But try to think of what life was like before you came to know God. Think of where you might be now had you not become a Christian. I mentioned last time I spoke about Paul Holmes, shortly before he died, saying he was fearful of dying and constantly wondering what happens 'over the hill'. That's a small glimpse of what it is like in the domain of darkness. It is to have no light, no assurance and no eternal hope. Just a fearful dark unknowing. But that is where you were (if you have given your life to God!) You are now in a whole different kingdom, a kingdom of light, a kingdom of hope, grace and forgiveness. As Israel was taken from the bondage and slavery in Egypt to the liberty of the Promised Land, so have Christians been transferred from darkness into light. God's words to Israel, in bringing them out of their captivity in Babylon equally apply to those that He has brought of out of darkness and into His kingdom: 29:11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 

Conclusion and final point to remember

(14) In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Some Christians still fret about whether they are truly forgiven. 'Maybe God has forgiven most of their sins but is holding on to some of their worst ones?' Some wonder whether their sins are going to be brought up again when they stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ - to be exposed very publically before all those in Heaven. To these the Apostle Paul would say 'You have redemption!  [7]  You have forgiveness! He has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. It is a completed work!' And I should add that it is a work as perfect as any other that God does. God doesn't do things by halves. We see from the scripture that forgiveness and redemption are 'in Christ'. So it is not possible to be 'in Christ' and not have that which is also 'in Christ'. Of course, having it, and knowing that we have it (and by extension living in the reality of it) are two different things. So here is the fourth and final point that Paul wanted those at Colossae to meditate on and remember. You are forgiven. You are free. You no longer have to live in slavery to that which once captured you.

So it is a great prayer is it not? Paul prayed about the things that matter. He prayed that they would have an increased knowledge of God and His will, leading to a pleasing walk before the Lord. He prayed that they would be strengthened so that they could have steadfastness and even rejoice and be thankful during their time of testing. Things that we all need! And He wanted them to be reminded of their position in Christ right now - qualified, forgiven and established in a new eternal kingdom. 'Bless me Lord' and 'give me more' prayers may appeal more to our fleshly natures, but the Father is looking for His children to grow up and see things from a more mature spiritual view. May Paul's prayer help us in this regard.

[1] ↩  John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Colossians that the Greek word for 'filled' is pler—ō, and it means to be filled to the full, completely, abundantly. And it has a thought to be controlled by that which fills you. The same word is used in the following places:
The disciples hearts were filled with sorrow when Jesus spoke of His departure (John 16:6)
The crowd was filled with fear after Jesus healed the paralytic (Luke 5:26)
The Scribes and Pharisees were filled with rage when Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 6:11)
The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31)
Stephen was full of faith (Acts 6:5)
In each case, that which they were filled with controlled them. What do you fill your heart with? Paul prayed that we would be filled with the knowledge of God, His will, His plans and purposes.

[2] ↩   C.S Lewis wrote 'It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.'  That is good advice when it comes to some of the books and teaching today. So before buying that new book, how about having a read of some of the older writers like Spurgeon, Bunyan, Moody, and Murray etc.

[3] ↩  An example of this is the prosperity gospel. I recently had an email from a brother in Nigeria who spoke of what has happened to 'Christianity' in his country due to the 'prosperity gospel'. He writes:

 'The thing is that in most Pentecostal churches today, especially in my country, the prosperity gospel has taken a deep root and I see this as the main problem why there is so little impact on mainstream society. The main reason a lot of people get born again here is because "God wants to prosper them" and nothing more so we end up with a lot of 'milk teeth' Christians trying to use God as an alternative ATM machine and loads of dictator type "men of god" who just keep fleecing the flock and amassing power along with the wealth. But it's not my place to judge. 

 Nigerian churches started to change sometime in the mid 90s when the economic situation of the country became dire. I believe this coincided with the full emergence of Pentecostal churches in the country. i guess a lot of these preachers just got back from the US with their various certificates of theology/divinity and had encountered the prosperity gospel firsthand. It caught on really quick cos loads of people needed something to believe in with regards to alleviating their poor financial situations. This isn't saying that all Pentecostal preachers in Nigeria are false, it's just that it all got really mixed up in major way.' 

[4] ↩  A little related word history from the online The same man who gave us dynamite gave us the Nobel Peace Prize, an irony that was surely not lost on the pacifistic Alfred Nobel himself. Nobel, a Swedish chemist, invented dynamite. Coined in Swedish in the form dynamit, the word was taken from Greek dunamis, "power," and the Swedish suffix -it, which corresponds to the English suffix -ite used in various scientific fields. Greek dunamis also gave us words such as dynamic and dynamo.

[5] ↩  Last year I starting listening to a Christian folk-rock singer called Mark Heard. Heard of Mark? Maybe not, but 'Christianity Today' called him 'one of the finest songwriters - Christian or otherwise - of the second half of the 20th century.' Side note: In 1992, while playing at the Christian Cornerstone music festival, he tells the crowd that he thinks he is having a heart attack. He was a bit of a joker so they laugh... but he actually was. He finished his set, walked off the stage and was taken to hospital. He was released from hospital a couple of weeks later. Two weeks after that went into cardiac arrest and died aged 40.

Anyway, Mark Heard has a song called The Winds of Time which goes:

 It takes more than a good intention, It takes more than a cursory line
It takes more than mortal vigour, To withstand the winds of time
It takes more than an eager heart beating, It takes more than an enigmatic smile
 It takes more than positive thinking, To stand against this tide

 It takes a saturated soul, and a faith that will never let go
It takes a saturated soul, To withstand the winds of time

I like the imagery used. The winds of time can and do take their toll, both in the natural and the spiritual. Maybe slowly... but surely Eroding a little faith here, a little passion there. Maybe you've seen that in your own life when you have had to endure? It takes more than a good intention, it takes more than a cursory line; it takes more than mortal vigour, to withstand the winds of time. It takes a saturated soul - that is what we saw earlier in Paul's prayer - that you would be filled, saturated, with the plans, purpose, will and knowledge of God. And a faith that will never let go - this is what Paul prays in this verse - that God's power, the dunamis, would be with them for what? For all patience and endurance... to withstand the winds of time.

[6] ↩  John MacArthur writes this concerning inheritance: Lit. "For the portion of the lot." Each believer will receive his own individual portion of the total divine inheritance (see note on Rom8:17), an allusion to the partitioning of Israel's inheritance in Canaan (cf. Num:ch26.vs.52-56; Num:ch.33:51-54;)

[7] ↩  The Complete Word Study Dictionary says about Redemption that it gives the thought of 'The recalling of captives (sinners) from captivity (sin) through the payment of a ransom for them, i.e., Christ's death. Sin is presented as slavery and sinners as slaves (Joh_8:34; Rom_6:17, Rom_6:20; 2Pe_2:19). Deliverance from sin is freedom (Joh_8:33, Joh_8:36; Rom_8:21; Gal_5:1).'