The Book of Colossians Study
(Part 07 of 33)
Today we continue in the Book of Colossians and we are going to be looking at some of the most important verses in all the Scriptures in the next couple of times we teach this book. The 9th verse down to the 23rd verse is particularly critical. This whole section, verses three to twenty-three, is really a thanksgiving section and that in this process Paul not only thanks God for the faith of the Colossians and the spread of the Gospel, but also for what God has done and he prays and intercedes for them in this thanksgiving.
What we have right here, that we are going to look at today, verses nine to fourteen, in fact is that prayer. Many of you know that this one of the four life-changing prayers of the apostle Paul that I have listed and I have passed those out here before. If you want a list of those prayers on one sheet, just go to the Reflections Ministries website and they are under miscellaneous text resources. I strongly urge you to print those out and carry them with you. They are the four key prayers of the New Testament.
I promise you that you will discover that you are not praying that way. You will discover that most of the way we pray is actually not consistent with the way Paul prayed. That is pretty revealing, so I will let you go through that exercise and discover that for yourself. My view, then, is that we can actually pray better for our loved ones than we actually do right now. We typically ask for health and wealth and happiness; that sort of thing. All of that is good. They are all good things.
Paul, though, asks for a deeper thing, as we are going to see in this prayer. This is the kind of thing, as he says, that is more fundamental. Remember the distinction between hoping for something and hoping in something. These prayers deal with your hope in Christ. Other prayers are good and they reveal the hope for something. We don’t know if the ‘hope-for’s’ will come to pass, but don’t put your hope in those things.
So, here are the things we have to pray for others and for ourselves. This particular prayer is one of those four and the others, as you will see on my website, are in Philippians chapter one, Ephesians chapter one and also in Ephesians chapter three. If you put these four together they are a remarkable combination.
So, having thanked God for them, he then says tha5t everything he does is in a context of prayer and as he writes this epistle to them he prays for them, even though he hadn’t met most of them. He had not been to Colossae yet. Nevertheless, he says, speaking about the fact that they have grown in the knowledge of the truth, understood the grace of God in truth, and you recall that we talked about faith, hope, and love all being animated by God’s grace, and the idea of truth as being imbedded in a person who is unchanging and therefore we have an unchanging standard, an absolute, for truth, which is a powerful anchor to hold onto in a culture of total relativism. But, the Scriptures always imbed truth in a person. That person reveals propositions that are true and His own person, His character is unchanging.
Having said that, Paul goes on to say, “He has informed us of your love in the Spirit,” and he is speaking here of Epaphras. Now he begins in his prayer; “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.”
I want to read these verses to you, because I want you to have them real fresh in your mind. Paul says, “So that you will walk in a manor worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance on the saints in Light. For He rescued 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.” That is the text.
Now, let’s just unpack a few of those verses and I hope we will have time to interact at the end as well. Right away Paul starts and says we pray for you, that you would “be filled with the knowledge of His Will.” That is a very important. Many of you know that this is a word that could be translated as ‘real’ knowledge, or ‘true’ knowledge. The word ginosko, in the Greek, is different from the oida. Oida is a word that speaks of intellectual apprehension. But, ginisko is a knowledge of a person or a relational knowledge or an experiential knowledge. That is the knowledge Paul is praying for, not that they have head knowledge, but that they have heart knowledge.
Now, again, it has to start with the head and go into the heart because belief is not based upon ignorance. It is based upon knowledge. You see the idea? I think it was Ambrose Pierce who, in The Devil’s Dictionary, years ago defined faith as, “Believing without evidence in what is told by someone who has no knowledge about things that have no parallel.” In other words, it has to be all la-la land. The fact is, faith is not believing in what you know isn’t so. It is, in fact, based upon knowledge that is revealed to us, not by our senses and not by our minds, but by the Spirit of God who reveals this third way of knowing God. May I parenthetically say, in the spiritual realm there is no knowledge without commitment. I want you to hear that again; in the spiritual realm there is no knowledge without commitment; not spiritual knowledge because spiritual knowledge is not achieved in the same way we would achieve knowledge in astronomy or calculus or biology. No, this knowledge is achieved only through the process of commitment, in advance, to what God will reveal. So, it is not only in our minds but in our wills.
I will also stress that you can not grow and live effectively without this knowledge. This knowledge is mediated by the Spirit of God and then it is also empowered by our commitment, our volitional commitment. You create a context in which the Spirit of God works it into your life, and so it goes from the head to the heart. That is what He is after. You go from propositional truth, which is the head, into personal encounter, which is the heart, and that is the process.
So, His desire is always for us to have a real knowledge of God. So, Paul says we pray for you to “be filled with the knowledge of His will.” So it is not just knowledge of God but it is also the Divine will. It is important to see this as well. In Islam, you can only know Allah as divine will. That is all you can know. You can’t know Allah at all. Here, we can know the living God and we can also know His will.
But, knowing God is more than a matter of just surrendering to His will. It is entrusting oneself to a loving person. You see the difference there? It is radical. In this concept, then, when you entrust yourself to Him and get to know Him personally, to know Him I to love Him. The more you know Him the more you love Him. To love Him is to trust Him. You see the idea here? To love Him is to be willing to trust Him, because you know that He always has your best interests at heart. To trust Him is to be willing to take the risk of obeying Him. So, knowledge leads to love; love leads to trust; trust leads to obedience; and obedience leads to fruit. So, obedience leads us to fruit-bearing as well. So, there is always a practical outcome; there is a birthing process that starts from the inside and works itself toward the outside by the means of starting with actual work of the Spirit on the inner man. The Spirit works from the inside out until our own actions are animated by the power of that Spirit. It begins to have a real effect, not just on you, but on the people around you and your own arena of influence, whether it is your family, your neighborhood, your business, or your friends. All those arenas of influence can be profoundly affected by this very kind of Spiritual knowledge, this knowledge of His will.
By the way, I want you notice something; this is just a process of meditation out loud. That is all I am really doing right now. When you read the Scriptures, to meditate is to ask questions; what does that text mean, “be filled with the knowledge of His will”? You see the idea there? Paul says, “The knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Now, this word wisdom is a word that is rich with meaning because there is a whole tradition of ‘wisdom literature’ that is found in the Hebrew Bible. This ‘wisdom literature’ always had to do with honing in on practical details of life; looking at the fine mesh of life, things too fine to be seen in the big broadsides of the prophets. It would deal with the finer details, about money, or speech, or relationships, or parenting, for example. This ‘wisdom literature’, then, is very specific and it was always animated by the fear of the Lord.
Whenever you connect wisdom, you must have chokmah, the Hebrew word which means practical skill, or applying it in a practical way. That is what Paul is talking about here. Our call is to take truth and to apply it in a meaningful and practical way. You do not learn wisdom in college. You do know that? You never learn wisdom in college. I may have mentioned this story before, but there was a Columbia University student who sued the university because the catalog said they were going to train the students in wisdom, and he claimed he didn’t get any, so he sued them.
At any rate, my point is that you aren’t going to get wisdom in your world. We only have factoids now. There once was wisdom, which was reduced to knowledge, and that knowledge was reduced to information, and, finally, that information has been reduced to factoids. The loss is rather great and we have become more shallow and more superficial as a result.
People in our present culture live merely on the surface of life. Have you noticed that? They are surfaced and shallow thinkers and therefore they are shallow livers, because they don’t have any depth to them.
Where do you get this depth? Well, ‘wisdom literature’ teaches that this depth comes from a radical commitment to the Lordship of Christ, which is the New Testament equivalent to the fear of God, in many ways; it is the imagery of radical commitment to the living God. It is a fear of God and it is a fear of divine displeasure. Furthermore, a fear of God is also a desire to please Him, which is sort of the other side of the coin. They go together in that regard. You will know what that is when you cross to the other side.
Karen and I just sat the expanded version of The Return of the King. It was close to four and a half hours, but there were a couple of magic moments and one was when it appears the end is at hand and it looks like Minas Tirith is being destroyed by Sauron’s forces, and these cave trolls, and these armies of orcs and everything looks like it being destroyed and at that moment Gandalf speaks to Merry and says, “It is not so bad,” and he describes what that would be like. You see in the distance these white shores and beyond that a beautiful green followed by a swift sunrise.
In fact, the best image in the film is at the very end when Gandalf and Bilbo go off to the other-most west. It is the end of the third age and the elfs no longer have their dominion because the power of the Ring has been destroyed and consequently they lose their power and they must leave this world. The image of death here is a beautiful image; it is a beautiful image of them getting on this boat and going to the west, across the ocean to a place that had never been visited. But, it is really their home. The beautiful thing in the movie is the way that they proceed off into the west, into the sunset, the image gets whiter and whiter and whiter until you can longer see it. That to me is really an image of home. You see the idea?
So, Karen and I were talking about that and she made an interesting comment. She said she would like to go with them and to be there, and I said you will be one day. We will all head to those fair shores where home really awaits us. So, what we have is what I might call a ‘home-sickness’; we are homesick for a land we have not even seen. It’s not homesick of somewhere you have been, it homesick for a place you have not yet visited. And that is what wisdom is about. It is really to be animated and empowered and motivated by the things that God says will be more than worth your while. So, when you see Him then you will know that the fear of God was, in fact, the love of God and the desire to embrace His sovereign and yet loving initiatives. He is the sovereign and sacred romancer of your soul.
So, wisdom has to do, in this world, with living today in light of that day. Would you agree with me on this; you only have two things, God and now. That is all you have. Now, there are people with whom you express that relationship in your life and there are tasks and labors. “We are called to work while it is yet light, night is coming when no one can work; we have a task, a purpose, a mission.” Really, each moment, if you stripped it down to the bare essence, would be that relationship which refines you and empowers you and it would be this moment, which is all you ever have.
As you know, most men live in the future. The vast majority of men live in the future don’t they? They always suppose there is a future that will make up for their present lack. That is a terrible thing. What you need to do is treasure the now because the future is not here and the past is gone. You know what happens. When a person retires and no longer lives in the future, what happens then? They start to live in the past and make this bizarre twist to nostalgia land, and sadly, in their whole life they were never alive to the present.
That is one of the things about child-likeness. A child lives in the now, they are immersed in it. Children can never be as bored as adults. Lewis has made it very clear, in The Screwtape Letters, that the present tense is the closest thing we know to eternity, not the future, because God lives in the eternal ‘now’, the eternal present.
All the past and the future is who I am, and so Christ is always the ‘I am’ at all times. “Before Abraham was, ‘I am’.” That is a powerful picture. Of course, the Jews, the Pharisees, understood that and they took up stones to kill Him because they knew what He was claiming to be. That was also the instructions to Moses, who was to tell the pharaoh that it is ‘I am’ who is giving him this message. So, that is the One who is, who was, and who will be. He live is all of the past and all of the future in the present tense. For God, then, every moment is an eternity. But, for God, eternity is only a moment. Both are true and there is a mystery there.
Now, continuing in our text, Paul talks about this will and spiritual understanding, “So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” There is a growth in moral understanding. It is not just intellectual; there is moral and volitional understanding that relates to what I mentioned before, which is commitment. So, you will not understand spiritual truth beyond what your commitment level is.
You see where I am going with that idea? Your understanding will stop at the point you stop obeying. Application is the key to transformation and it is also the key to spiritual knowledge. So, a man can stop applying and he will stop learning and God will not give them new information because he is the perfect pedagogue; a pedagogue, a good teacher knows when there is no more point in teaching new things unless the student grasps the prerequisite material. What happens is that He will teach us the same thing over and over again, give us new opportunities to practice it, and you can go around in that circle as long as you want, until you finally catch on and He gives you new Light that you will have to apply to.
“So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,” speaking of this wisdom and understanding, and “you will walk” has to do with application. ‘Walk’ is your outward life of obedience and application. And “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” is to actually be pleasing to Him. But, as we all know, you can’t please God, “Those who walk in the flesh,” Paul says, “can not please God.” Therefore, the only way you can please God is by being empowered by the Spirit of God. Only when you are walking by the Spirit can you be pleasing to God. You can not be pleasing top God on your own effort. It requires your dependence upon the Spirit of God to mediate the life of Christ in you and through you.
Here is a neat idea about this; Paul says, “To please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” You see what you have? You have a virtuous cycle. We all know about vicious cycles, don’t we? You spiral down and down, but there is also the opposite, where you can have a virtuous cycle. So, Paul first prays, in verse nine, that they would have “knowledge of His will.” This knowledge would be birthed in a walk that bears fruit. This fruit, in turn, will lead to greater knowledge of God. You see the cycle there? As you come to know Him and then apply it, it leads to more knowledge and it is a virtuous cycle upwards, and that is the idea in this text. It is a really powerful concept.
“Strengthened with all power”, is an image , I think, of the Spirit’s work in us, “according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.” So, this power, as we bear fruit in every good work and good works are the by-product of the intimacy with God. Good works by themselves are not such that they lead to a saving relationship but they are a product of that relationship and they are achieved in us and through us by our Divine-human cooperation. It is a kind of synergy as we depend upon the Spirit of God, but we use our physical and natural gifts as well.
So, it is a Divine-human process. Everyone in this room has been called for good works, which God has prepared for those to walk in. You have been given a mission for these things that are worthy of God and pleasing to Him in your respective arenas of influence. And so, he says, “Strengthened with all power,” as we grow in this knowledge, “according to His glorious might.” It is His power; that is to say, “strengthened” is passive, which is to say it all of Him and not you. Continuing, “For the attaining of all steadfastness and patience,” is an important idea.
Why do you suppose Paul chose those particular words? Yes; that kind of patience is virtuous because we in the Psalms, “waiting on the Lord,” waiting upon God. And, God’s time table is never ours. We can have that vision but we must not try to open doors that are not yet opened, although we have a vision of what that might be like.
I would also say that “steadfastness and patience” are required in a fallen world. That is the issue. You have been liberated but in this world we require “steadfastness and patience” because you will be misunderstood in this world and, as I have told you many times before, it’s not a question of if, it is a question of when the faithful follower of Christ becomes more and more marginalized in our culture. It is like water torture; it happens drop by drop by drop. At first it is not painful, but it drives you nuts.
So, we require it in this world and as you know the world, the flesh and the devil are all hostile to your spiritual growth. All three forces are there and they all would keep you down and all you need to do is stop pursuing and you will decline. I can finish this in this way; “Giving thanks to the Father,” which is really to, in everything, give thanks. In this case it is thanksgiving because He has qualified you “share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.”
That is a wonderful picture. There is a new Exodus that he is describing here. In the former Exodus, they were delivered from the bondage in Egypt, but this new Exodus is an exodus into the newness of God’s land. The inheritance was at first the parceling of the land but later they began to realize there was a deeper spiritual meaning and their inheritance was God. That is the idea.
So, this liberation can be lost, though. I would speak of this liberation in this way; a better and more modern analogy that would help us to see it would be the liberation that occurred at the end of the Second World War with the victims in concentration camps and with the piled dead bodies and the survivors with hollowed eyes and frail bodies who were liberated and that is a radical image here of being moved from bondage to freedom, but even there many of those people suffered stigma afterwards. It was not an easy course. You and I, too, have been liberated but we still will experience adversity and a lack of full embrace. That will be the stuff of the other shore.
Now, Paul goes on to finally say, “He rescued 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.” So, we were formerly in a “domain of darkness,” where we under the bondage of Satan, but now He has moved us from that realm into a new realm, the realm of Light, the realm of grace, away from the realm of death and of sin and of sorrow, into the realm of life, Light, and love. We receive this kingdom and although we are already enjoying this kingdom, it is both now and not yet. The fullness of the kingdom has yet to be seen but even now we live kingdom life. That is the idea.
And so, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” and remember the word ‘redemption’ means that someone has paid a price to set a slave free. We have now been set free from the auction block of slavery and set free into the liberty of Christ. So, we have, then, the forgiveness of sins, which is our deepest need, which is to have forgiveness. Usually our problem is that we can’t forgive ourselves because we can’t embrace God’s forgiveness of us.