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, 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; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered 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.
Colossians 1:9-14 ESV
After greeting the Colossians and thanking God for them, Paul now writes down his prayer for them. The importance of having the overall theme of the apostle’s prayers for his fellow believers cannot be overemphasized. These Holy Spirit-inspired prayers are powerful guides for us as to how we should pray for one another. Thus, let us pray that Paul’s prayer for the Colossian’s knowledge of God’s will which leads to bearing the fruit of endurance, patience, and joy will also be our prayer for one another and all the saints of God.
A PRAYER FOR KNOWLEDGE // VERSES 9-10
The phrase “and so” connects this passage directly with the previous one and for good reason. Much of what Paul thanked God for in last section, he now prays for God to continue in this one. Note these similarities: “since we heard” (v. 4) and “from the day we heard” (v. 9), “we always” (v.3) and “we have not ceased” (v. 9), “pray for you” (v. 3 and 9), “understood” (v. 6) and “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9), and “bearing fruit and increasing” (v. 6) and bearing fruit in every good work and increasing” (v. 10). Paul’s thankfulness that the Colossians had not fallen into the heretical teaching around them did not stop Paul from continuing to pray for their faithfulness.
Especially in the face of the threat posed by the false teachers, the Colossians’ good start and genuine progress should lead not to complacency but to renewed effort. Yet it is not simply the threat of false teaching that stimulates Paul’s prayer for them, for he has been regularly praying for the Colossians ever since he first heard about their conversion through the ministry of Epaphras.Moo, 93.
The main goal of Paul’s prayer is that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. In light of the philosophies and empty deceits that surrounded the Colossians, it was of the utmost importance for them to be grounded in the true knowledge of God’s will. But what does Paul mean by the will of God? “What Paul has in mind is not some particular or special direction for one’s life (as we often use the phrase God’s will), but a deep and abiding understanding of the revelation of Christ and all that he means for the universe (vv. 15-20) and for the Colossians (vv. 21-23)” (Moo, 93). It makes sense that knowledge of God’s will would come through a proper understanding of the Scriptures. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable” (1 Tim. 3:16), and they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3:15). The wisdom and knowledge of God comes from the divine revelation that He imparted to the writers of Scripture. At times, it is explicitly stated. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3). But in most cases, we must understand that all of Scripture comes from the breath of God; that is, it is God’s revelation of Himself and His will to humanity. We find in Psalm 40 the proper relationship between God’s will and the Bible: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). The implication of the psalmist is that he is only able to delight in God’s will because God’s law (the Scriptures) are in his heart. Prayer is all about submitting ourselves to the will of God.
We are trying not so much to make God listen to us as to makes ourselves listen to him; we are trying to persuade God to do what we want, but to find out what he wants us to do. It so often happens that in prayer we are really saying, “Thy will be changed,” when we ought to be saying, “Thy will be done.” The first object of prayer is not so much to speak to God as to listen to him.Barclay, 108.
Dr. Constable describes these two concepts as follows: “This knowledge included “spiritual wisdom” (the broadest term covering the whole range of mental faculties) and “understanding” (how to apply wisdom in specific cases)” (13). Together these terms express the idea that Paul wants their knowledge to be practical. He wants them to have the fullness of the knowledge of God’s will, and that they will also have the capacity to live that knowledge out every day. “Right knowledge leads to right behavior” (Bruce, 46). This thought, of course, becomes very evident by Paul’s next statement.
Notice that in verse 10 Paul is claiming that the understanding of the Scriptures helps enable us to live a life that is pleasing to God. Paul prays that we would have knowledge in order that we may walk in a worthy manner. The fruit of understanding the will of God is always living the will of God. Throughout the Bible, knowledge is always followed by action. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, if we truly know God’s will as expressed in the Scriptures, we will walk in a manner worthy. The apostle then describes this lifestyle by two characteristics: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. These are both characteristics that Paul rejoiced over in the previous lesson because the Colossians were already displaying them. Thus, even though they are already displaying the fruit of believing and understanding the gospel, he is praying that they will continue to do so more and more. Also, notice the circular pattern of these two verses. Paul prays that they may be filled with knowledge so that they can walk in a manner worthy and increase in knowledge.
A PRAYER FOR STRENGTH // VERSES 11-12
Next, Paul prays for strength. The strength of the Christian does not come from the individual but rather from God. The importance of such a statement rests upon our understanding sheer impossibility of walking in a manner worthy of the Lord. Living a life that meets the standard set by Jesus is a mission that is destined for failure. There is no earthly way that we can achieve such a lofty ambition. Fortunately, Paul is not urging us to attempt it through earthly measures; instead, Paul prays that our strength may come from the power and the glorious might of God. What is likely the most well-known verse gloriously expresses this exact thought: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). This text comes after Paul described having experienced plenty and need, abundance and pain, joy and sorrow. Many take the verse to mean that Paul found strength in Christ to make it through the seasons of need, pain, and sorrow; however, I do not believe that is his point. Paul means that he can literally do all things through Christ, his strength. This meant that Christ was strengthening him through the times of plenty, abundance, and joy as well! In fact, if Jesus’ words are true, that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” then perhaps we need the strength of Christ even more in the times of plenty and happiness (Mark 10:25). During times of abundance, it is difficult for us to remember our constant need of the grace of God. Indeed, we need strength of God every day to continue walking in a manner that is pleasing to Christ, whether in ease or difficulty.
Paul further prays that God’s strengthening power would grant us endurance and patience with joy. Let us briefly break those three fruits down.
First, God strengthens us for endurance. The Christian life is not easy. Jesus told the crowds that followed Him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). This lifestyle of self-denial goes against every impulse within our hearts. We are instructed to constantly be on guard. “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:22-23). Without the gift of endurance, a Christian would not remain a Christian one day. Praise God that He is one who enables us to endure to the end!
Second, God strengthens us for patience. While the term “endurance” in the New Testament tends to describe a graceful handling of difficult situations, “patience” tends to describe graceful handling of difficult people. As a human being, I am fully aware of the depth and depravity that our kind is capable of merely by examining my own heart. Thus, since we are constantly surrounded by sinning people (and are ourselves those sinning people), thank God for the patience to gracefully interact with one another!
Third, we are strengthened with joy. Only the Christian is able to face both difficult circumstances and people with joy. How are followers of Christ able to joyfully love the unlovable? How is a Christian able to suffer immensely but remain joyful? Because we are being strengthened by the power of God. Brothers, the same power of God that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you, granting you endurance and patience with joy (Eph. 1:18-20).
Because of the faithfulness of the Lord to sustain us, we ought to continually offer thanks to God the Father. As if all that we have recently discussed was not entirely sufficient for us to continuously thank God (which it is!), Paul offers yet another statement of God’s doing that should lead us further into thankfulness: God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. The inheritance mentioned is the same as our “hope laid… in heaven,” as mentioned in verse 5. Because of our future sinless glory with Christ, we have infinite reasons to give thanks to God. Also, do not miss that God qualified us for this inheritance, for our new hope. The only reason that we have any hope of standing righteous before God is because by His death and resurrection, Christ has qualified us to do so. There is no such thing as self-qualification in the kingdom of heaven. There is only the grace of God poured out on those who are not worthy.
TRANSFERRED INTO THE KINGDOM // VERSES 13-14
Finally, Paul describes how we have been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints.
What a glorious transfer these verses describe! God the Father has removed us from the domain of darkness and placed us safely within the kingdom of His beloved Son. This verse (and the rest of Scripture) offer only two placements for all humanity: in darkness (in sin) or in light (in Christ). Paul, in Ephesians, speaks of this same idea but uses different metaphors: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). That is the grand idea: our sins left us dead in the domain of darkness, but Christ has made us alive in His kingdom.
But some may say, “I have never been under the dominion of darkness, evil, and sin!” or “How do I know that I am in the kingdom of Christ?” The answer to both questions hinges upon the understanding that we are always within a kingdom serving a king. Before the Fall, humanity was given dominion over the earth, but through our lust for being like God, we gave ourselves over to the dominion of sin. The irony is that man’s God-given dominion made him more like God than all the rest of creation; however, in our bid to become more like God (or, rather, usurpers of God), we actually became less like Him. Thus, by default, we are born under the domain of sin. Because we were in the domain of darkness, we lived to please our gods. Money, kids, fame, power, self, all of these things were gifts from God, but we have perverted them into our kings and gods, the objects of our service and worship. But in Christ, God has reestablished Himself as our one true King. Now we serve only Christ, and all of our time, money, and abilities are used for His kingdom. Simply put, you will serve someone or something (even if it is yourself), and if it is not Christ, then you are serving a puny god and king.
Here is why we rejoice in being a part of the kingdom of God: in Christ, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins! Redemption means the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. Brothers, this is gospel! We once were sinless before God and, therefore, His children, but because of sin, we owed a debt to God that could only be paid through eternal death. God said that sin would lead to death, and as He is an eternal God, sin is eternally offensive to Him. Such was our circumstance. We deserved the full wrath of God for our disobedience, but praise be to God that He did not leave in our darkness! God cleared our debt by providing the payment Himself. Elsewhere, Paul writes that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25a). The Father offered Christ as our sole means of redemption and for propitiation. Propitiation means this: by His death, Jesus satisfied the just wrath of God and imputed His righteousness to us. It is a twofold work. First, God’s justice is satiated. Second, we are reconciled to God. That is what redemption entails. The debt of our sins has been paid in full by our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered His blood as propitiation for our sins! In His unwarranted death, Christ absorbed all the wrath of God that we stored for ourselves through sin. “In him (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). In Christ, there is total forgiveness for sins.
As stated originally, Paul’s prayer is probably unlike most of our prayers. We tend to focus upon the temporal needs of our brothers and sisters, but Paul centered upon their spiritual and eternal needs.
Just to be clear, Paul did not pray this way for the Colossians because he had not yet met them. To the Philippians, Paul offered this prayer: “And it is my prayer that you love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Paul knew the Philippians well, and he still prayed primarily for their eternal wellbeing before their physical wellbeing.
How wonderful for us to pray for one another that we would walk in a manner worthy of our Lord! How marvelous for us to pray for the strength, endurance, patience, and joy of our brothers and sisters that is deeply rooted in their redemption in Christ and the forgiveness of all sins! May we pray all the more for one another concerning eternal matters that will ultimately give them the ability to walk wisely through the temporal physical circumstances.