Colossians 1. 9-14: Mystery of Prayer

September 25, 2011 Series: Colossians

Topic: New Testament Passage: Colossians 1:9–1:10

 

Prayer 2.0
God’s will and his ways are mysterious.  For thousands of years, God’s plan to save men from their sin remained hidden in His relationship with Israel.  The writer of Hebrews says, “in many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son”.  Jesus Christ is the supreme and sufficient revelation of all that can be known about God.   

A deep belief in the gospel is at the heart of all that the Apostle Paul believes, says, and does. And he is writing to re-establish the Christ-centered foundation that Epaphras first set when he planted a church in his hometown of Colossae.  Ever since Paul first heard Epaphras’ disturbing report about Colossae he and his team have not ceased to pray for their Christian brothers and sisters.  False teachers are trying to convince the Colossians that there spirituality is somehow deficient or falls short—that they need something more.  So Paul begins his defense of the gospel by thanking God for all that Colossians already have since they day they first believed: Faith in Christ, love like Christ, and hope for Christ.

But thankfulness to God is only the first part of his prayer.  In verse 9, we see that because of what God has already done through the gospel to produce faith; Paul has not ceased to ask God do more through the gospel to further establish their faith.   It is important to examine exactly WHAT Paul asks God for because 1) this is how one builds on a foundation of gospel faith, love, and hope 2) this is how one protects from spiritual doubt, indifference toward others, or a depressing sense of hopelessness.

Paul’s prayers, especially the ones he writes from prison, are quite different than what we might expect. First, the fact that he is not throwing a prison pity party and actually prays for others at all is amazing.  Second, the content of his prayers is completely unexpected in not only what he asks for but in what he doesn’t.  Our prayers are usually little more than short, superficial, requests for materials things directly related to an apparent crisis or need.  Paul’s prayers are so deeply spiritual, so gospel-centered, and so impractical that we might find them to be a waste of breath.  The problem is not with Paul.  Paul’s prayer here not only demonstrates HOW Christ-centered Christians should pray for ourselves and others, but it also directs us in perhaps WHAT we should be praying for.   

Unceasing Prayer (V.9a)
The first thing Paul says is that, HE HAS NOT CEASED to pray.   It is hard enough for me to be silent before God for five minutes, so praying without ceasing seems like torture.  What does it mean to pray without ceasing?  Does that actually mean that Paul never ever stopped praying for the Colossian church?  Not knowing exactly what Paul did is difficult for us because we don’t like the tension of mystery in our faith—that is why so many gravitate toward religion (self-righteous).  Unceasing for them means praying in a certain time of day, in a particular place, for a specific length of time, with your body positioned a certain way, with your words modeled after a pattern…forever.  The irreligious (self-indulgent) are just as bad.  For them, the concept of praying without literally ceasing is so ludicrous that they dismiss it all together and never actually start.  

How to Pray
Paul could be using hyperbole, because saying, “I prayed for you one time”  sounds strange even cold. In closing his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul shows us how, in terms of prayer, we need to think bigger and not smaller.  16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1Thess 5.16-17).  Prayer is less about a spiritual moment and more about a spiritual lifestyle.  Even in describing himself, Paul is writing less about exactly what to do, and more towards the attitudes of one’s heart.  And though the act of prayer happens within a moment of time, in all times and every circumstance I am to be actively and intimately in communication with God.  Just as I am to rejoice always and give thanks always, I am to pray always.   Because of what we have in Christ, we should delight in imagining what God is going to do, delight in regularly talking with God about what he is doing, and be constantly grateful to God for what he has already done.  In praying without ceasing you may as well say depend on God without ceasing.

What to pray  
Without doubt, there will also be those times when you stop all that you are doing, and pray.  There will be those regular times when you “bow in”, “get away”, go “up to the mountain” to commune with the God of the Universe in a sacred and concentrated way.  WHAT do you pray for then?  Though Christians have a responsibility to prayfor our material needs, and those of our friends and neighbors, we must be even more eager to pray for their spiritual needs.  Unlike our own prayers, Paul’s words are not dominated by earthly desires or requests for changes in circumstances.  For a young church that is being assaulted by bad teaching, he could have prayed like Christians so often do today…for a “A hedge of protection” from the false teachers, or “wisdom to discern” truth and lies, or the ever popular and nebulous request to “bless them” in this time of trial.  On the contrary, what Paul prays for might feel somewhat strange to us because his prayer is so vertically-oriented and we are so horizontally-oriented in ours. 

Paul’s prayer is concerned with building more faith, more love, and more hope.  To accomplish that end,  out of all the things he could pray for, Paul asks for two things:  KNOWLEDGE and STRENGTH.

Pray to be Filled with Knowledge (V. 9b)
asking that you may be:  filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

Foundational to Paul’s prayer is a request that the Colossians be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, wisdom, and understanding. The false teachers have been challenging the FULLNESS of their faith.  So, Paul is guarding them against believing that they will fill up their faith, or grow, in a different way than how they started.  The knowledge of God’s will is more than simply insight into how God wants his people to make decisions or behave.  Paul wants them to obtain a deeper understanding of God’s the gospel—and thus a deeper knowledge of God himself.  The heretics taught that Jesus was a good place to start, but that they needed another spiritual experience to gain spiritual wisdom they didn’t have yet.  Paul knows they do not need something new, they need the Holy Spirit teaching helping them understand the depths of what they already have when they believed the gospel.  In other words, the mystery of the gospel is never fully understood…(1Corinthians 10.10-13) 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  Our faith is filled with a deeper understanding of the gospel—of going beyond “Jesus died for my sins.”  

So as to Walk in a manner worthy (V.10)
In verse 10, Paul says that a greater FILLING of the gospel will overflow into walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. You are not filled with godly wisdom, or taught by the Spirit, if it does not translate into Christ-like conduct.  Intellectual ascent is not enough; truth must be applied to action.  Now, the gospel teaches us that our “walk”, how we act, is not the cause of our worthiness, but that our worthiness is the result of our faith in how Christ walked.  So, walking in a manner worthy is not about acting in such a way so as to be accepted by Christ; it is a commitment to live in such a way so as to try and reveal the person of Christ—to make him known.   That is a life committed to fully pleasing to GodIf you believe the gospel, then endeavoring to live in a way that pleases God is the only loving response of an adopted child who knows His Father loves him.  There are only three people you can “please” with how you live.  I live to please myself.  I live to please others.  Or, I live to please God…just like Jesus. 

Bearing Fruit in “every good work”
Paul also prays that this commitment would transform the daily minutia of their lives.  A deep understanding of the gospel should result in bearing fruit IN EVERY GOOD WORK.  Some believe the gospel is only for the spiritual parts of our lives.  I don’t necessarily disagree as long as you understand all of your life as spiritual.  There is Jesus shaped fruit to be produced as men, women, husbands, wives, parents, workers, even neighbors.  The gospel DOES NOT simply declare to us how we are saved, it guides us in how we are to live every day, how we are to interpret every circumstance, how we are to speak in every conversation, how we should make every decision, and act in every way.

Increasing Knowledge
And as we do bear fruit through our good works, as we live a gospel-centered life, Paul says that those actions will in fact increase our knowledge of God.  It is a full circle.  A profound, deep, intimate knowledge of the gospel should impact someone’s walk.  And someone’s gospel-centered walk should also impact their knowledge of God.  Walking an intentional Christ-centered life, one of humility, service, sacrifice, love, even faithful suffering frees you to get closer to God.  A life devoted to pleasing yourself or others leads only to slavery.    

Prayer for Strength
Paul not only prays for deeper knowledge, he prays for strength and power.  11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.  This part of Paul’s prayer completely different than how we typically pray for ourselves and others.  Out of all of the things he asks for the Colossians who are being assaulted by bad teaching and bad people, he asks God to give them strength.  He doesn’t tell them that he has been praying unceasingly for God to smite the false teachers with boils, to die, or even for them leave, only that the Colossians will ENDURE and be PATIENT. 

Strength TO ENDURE = difficult circumstances
Endurance has to do with finding strength in difficult circumstances.  This is when things are uncomfortable, unfair, or unbearable whether that is physical, financial, emotional, etc.   Trials of all shapes sizes and flavors come in life.  And when a crisis hits, if we’re honest, most of our prayers (for ourselves and others) are not requests for God to give us endurance; they are for God to take the crisis away.  God uses trials, allows trials, ordains trials, sends trials, to build our faith.  Difficult circumstances are God’s tool to sanctify us—to changes us and make us look more like Jesus. This is for His glory and, amazingly, for our joy.  In essence, instead of a change of circumstances in Colossae, Paul asks for a change of heart in the Colossians.  Without endurance, the Colossians could easily despair and lose heart. He wants God to build their faith in the midst of the trial, even if that means not taking the trial away.  .

Strength TO BE PATIENT = difficult people
Patience has to do with finding strength in dealing with difficult people.  This is when people in our lives, be it family, friends, bosses, neighbors, or strangers become irritating, abusive, or otherwise harmful to us.  In essence, Paul prays against the temptation we all have to react, to get angry, and to allow the sin of someone else to dictate what we say or do.  Without patientce, they could easily get violent and take their own revenge.  So, his ceaseless prayer has been for the Colossians to follow the example of Christ who patiently trusted God when he was rejected, betrayed, mocked, abused, and falsely accused by family, friends, strangers, and leaders.  1Peter 2.19-23. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

For the typical Christian, Paul’s prayer might sound somewhat lofty, hyper-spiritualized, and impractical.  In fact, when we consider all that WE tend to want to build in life—security, health, success—it is hard to see how this prayer help at all.  But when we find our purpose in the gospel, to get Jesus himself, we see that KNOWLEDGE and STRENGTH is exactly what is required to grow more faith in Jesus, more love like Jesus, and more hope for Jesus

Conclusion Give thanks (12-14)
The end of Paul’s prayer turns the Colossians and all of us back where he started—joy-filled gratitude not for what we want God to do for us, but for what God has already done for us in Christ 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.

Walking in a manner worthy of the Lord is characterized by a heart of gratitude for being able to walk at all.   Our salvation is a gift of God, not a result of anything we have done.  Even if we don’t get anything more we ask for, we can never cease to give thanks to God for all that we have now. And if we struggle in expressing our thankfulness to God, if you are consumed with what God has not given you, it is because you are not finding the core of your identity in Christ.  You have forgotten where you came from and where you are going.  Just as God delivered Israel from death-filled slavery under the kingdom of Egypt, so also has he delivered the Christian from slavery to sin. .Through the death and resurrection of His Son, he has returned his ruling power by which he is restoring all of creation.  And as we live more under the authority of His Word and not by the values of this world, by His Spirit, individuals, relationships, and entire communities are healed. 

Living a gospel-centered life as the church is not only our shared confession that God, and not ourselves, has deemed us “qualified”, it’s not only a recognition of our heavenly inheritance,  but it is also the means of making the reality His Kingdom, and His values, visible in this world.  So let us not waste our breath with foolish prayers, rather, let us pray without ceasing, to know God that we might make Him known.