Advancing the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus in a Disorderly World
Living the Kingdom Life in a Disorderly World: (Col 1:9-12a) By Dr Annang Assumang
The last time I visited you, we reflected on Col 1:3-8 which, in the structure of the letter, constitutes the apostle’s Thanksgiving Report. We mentioned that usually, Paul’s opening Thanksgiving Reports are brief and naturally leads him to a longer Prayer Report. The Thanksgiving Report in Colossians is, as an exception, complex and long. But, as expected, it leads the apostle to Prayer. After thanking God the Father for the believers’ faith, for their love and hope, for the fruitful ministry of the word among them, for the missionary growth of the gospel all over the world, and for the successful evangelistic work of Epaphras among them. After thanking God for these six items, Paul naturally turns to prayer!
Listen to his prayer: “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. May you be 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” (Col 1:9-12).
Amen! Our focus this morning is on this prayer.
Paul Prayed Impulsively
Before we reflect on the contents of the prayer, let me make three comments on how Paul prays. First Paul says, “from the day we heard”, we prayed (1:9a). As soon as we were told what wonderful things the Lord was doing among you, our hearts went out in prayer! We should say then that Paul prays Impulsively! Friends, this is one of the most important characteristics of a man or woman of the Spirit. As soon as he or she hears this or that news, the natural impulse of the man or woman of the Spirit is to turn to God in prayer. Always the impulse is to pray! Whether good news is heard about this person or that church or that fellowship, or some bad news is heard. He or she Impulsively prays. He or she may impulsively pray with the mind, or pray in the spirit, or pray in tongues. Whichever it is, this person prays Impulsively. That was what Paul was like. Shall we also pledge ourselves to be like that! To have this natural impulse to pray about everything and anything which comes to mind, which we talk or hear about? Shall we!
Paul Prayed Incessantly
Paul did not just pray Impulsively. He also prayed Incessantly! See what he says in 1:9b, “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you”! Paul in other words, prayed without ceasing! He practiced what he preached. Remember how he challenged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)? Well here he shows us how he did it! He had every reason, every excuse in the book to cease praying! His circumstances alone would have been a big impediment to a life of continuous incessant prayer. He was a busy apostle with the burden of so many churches on his shoulders. Yet, or should we say, exactly because of that, he prayed and prayed without ceasing!
He was a man under immense pressure. Here is an itinerant missionary now bound in prison and unable to travel and share the Gospel in the manner that he was used to! Further, he was constantly faced with uncertainties, not knowing whether Caesar would release him or execute him. Imagine how deeply frustrating his life was. Yet his prayer life was not so much focused on his personal needs and difficulties and frustrations and burdens. Of course, later on at the end of this letter, he asked them to pray for him, so that he would continue to declare the mysteries of Christ with boldness (Col 4:3). But for now he prays and intercedes without ceasing for the believers in faraway Asia Minor. Yes, for Paul, when it came to prayer, all believers were his prayer concerns. So he prays without ceasing for all of them. May the Lord turn us all like Paul into Impulsive and Incessantly praying men and women here in Celebration! Amen!
Paul Prayed Intelligently
The third comment about how Paul prayed is that Paul Prayed Intelligently. He did not just pray Impulsively and Incessantly. He also prayed Intelligently. He says, “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking… (1:9).” In other words he made specific requests in his intercession. Paul didn’t babble on. No! He made intelligent intercession to God on their behalf! Indeed this prayer is carefully thought out and structured. Let me show you a few of its features. In the first place, Paul designed the prayer to mirror his thanksgiving report which preceded it in 1:3-8. So for example in 1:3 he says, he always thanks God. And now in his prayer in 1:9 he says we pray without ceasing. He always prayed as often as he always gave thanks! In 1:3 he thanks God the Father. Now in his prayer in 1:12, he prays that the Colossians would also give thanks to the Father. In 1:6, he thanks God that the Colossians had come to understand the Gospel. Now in his prayer in 1:9 he prays that they would be “filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”. As if to say, I thank God for giving you understanding of the Gospel. But now I pray that this understanding will increase and overflow.
In 1:6, Paul thanks God that this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world. Now in 1:10 he prays that the Colossians would bear fruit in every good work and increase in their knowledge of the Lord. The fruit bearing in the thanksgiving report of course describes quantitative fruit-bearing, the increase in the number of believers. Whereas here in the prayer report, the fruit bearing describes qualitative fruit-bearing, the increase in intensive spiritual growth and the flourishing of individual Christians! So there is a bit of variation. But this variation illustrates the careful thought that has gone into putting this prayer together. There are other correspondences between the thanksgiving and the prayer. But I hope these examples suffice to prove the point that this prayer is well thought out and carefully constructed. It was indeed an Intelligent Prayer!
One of the things I love about our services at the Grimsby Baptist Church, something that Pastor Graham does very well, and you also excel in, is the time of the service that we used to call in our Church in Ghana Pastoral Prayer time. This is the time when the pastor or one of the leaders brings together all the concerns of the fellowship and offers them in an intelligently thought out prayer to God on behalf of His people. I always find it a very enriching pastoral moment of the service.
This is not a new phenomenon at all! The Book of Common Prayer which is increasingly being used by Conservative and Charismatic individuals and Churches contains lots of pastorally enriching intelligent prayers. The popular Prayer of St Francis of Asisi which the late Margaret Thatcher prayed in front of No 10 Downing Street some decades ago, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon…” and so on, that prayer is an Intelligent Prayer. But more importantly, there are many Intelligent Prayers in the Bible. Most of the Psalms are intelligent prayers. The benedictions of the Bible are intelligent prayers. So also are Paul’s prayer reports. But the Intelligent Prayer par excellence is the Lord’s Prayer, which sadly, we don’t pray it as often as we should! Sad, because these prayers are pastorally very powerful!
The reason why intelligent prayers powerfully bless God’s people is that they bring together three ingredients necessary for the spiritual formation of God’s people. Firstly, they are derived from God’s will as expressed in His Word. Secondly, they distil the needs and circumstances of God’s people in relation to fulfilling His will. And thirdly, they draw from the spiritual power involved in the bond between God and His people, the bond that enables us to grow closer to Him. So, three ingredients necessary for corporate spiritual growth: the will of God, the needs of God’s people and the spiritual power in the bond between God and His People! These prayers bring all three ingredients together so God will minister to us. That is why Intelligent prayers are really powerful.
Paul’s prayer here fulfils all three ingredients. So, not only does it repeat the themes in the thanksgiving. It also pre-empts the focus of the letter. In other words, in this prayer, Paul asks God to provide the Colossians with the same things that he is going to challenge them to pursue. In short, this prayer summarizes how to live the kingdom life in a disorderly world. Paul did not just preach at the Colossians. He prayed that what he preached would be fulfilled in them. I pray the same for you this morning! Amen! The prayer has four items of request:
1. That they would Discern the Purposes of the Lord (1:9): “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”
2. That they would Display Good Works that Please the Lord (1:10): “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”
3. That they would be Drenched by the Power of the Lord (1:11): “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”, and
4. That they would Declare the Praises of the Lord (1:12): “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light”.
Discerning the Purposes of the Lord in a Disorderly World (Col 1:9)
Paul prays, “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”. Three components of this request: (a) that they may know God’s will, (b) that they would receive all spiritual wisdom and (c) that they would receive understanding. One word describes the three together. That word is Discernment. In other words, Paul’s first concern for the believers living in the disorderly world of Colossae was that they might discern the purposes of the Lord in that world. That makes sense, doesn’t it! If you live in a pluralistic world of competing ideas, competing philosophies, worldviews and religions, a world that has lost its moral compass, like Colossae, and like our world today, if you live in that kind of disorderly world, what you need to start with is discernment. That is the first step to living the kingdom life. Oh how we also need it in our time! Colossians, as we said, was written with us also in mind!
The word “knowledge” describes the acquisition of facts and their contextual meanings. So knowledge, when it is applied to God’s will, is not just the acquisition of the facts of God’s will in His Word. Knowledge in this sense is also the appreciation of the contexts within which this will is expressed. And Paul prays that the Colossians, and all of us, will become “filled” with it! Filled with the knowledge of God’s will in a disorderly world! To receive full clarity each time we open His word! That the noise and the cacophony which keeps us from hearing the Master’s Voice, that this noise will all be quenched! In Jesus’ Name! So that whenever we read His word, His will is plain and crystal clear. That is the first thing we need. And Paul prays that we will be full of it!
But knowledge of God’s will, though fundamental, is not, on its own, enough. We need the second component, which Paul calls “spiritual wisdom”. Or as the NIV puts it, “all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives”! Oh how we need them in our disorderly world! May the Spirit pour them into all of us! What is wisdom? Well, if knowledge describes the acquisition of facts and their contextual meanings, then wisdom describes the application of these facts in a new context. Knowledge finds the information, but wisdom tells us how to apply that information. Knowledge shows what needs to be done, but wisdom shows how to do it. We don’t just need knowledge of God’s will. We also need His wisdom!
The third component of discernment is “understanding”. Understanding brings knowledge and wisdom together at the right time to seamlessly fit into each other. Understanding is insight into the details of the matter so that the believer acquires full grasp of the actions to be taken, the manner in which it must be done, and the time or the moment in which it must be done. The other day, Brother Glen shared with me the theme of a message he heard at a conference he recently attended. The preacher spoke on 1 Chron 12:32 which says, “the children of Issachar, were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”. In other words, the children of Issachar had knowledge, they had wisdom and they had understanding of the times and the moment. They had discernment! So they knew exactly what Israel needed to do under the circumstances. What a marvelous testimony! I say this to you, my dear friends; every Church needs children of Issachar. Men and women who have discernment and so know what needs to be done! I am sorry to say this, but not all of us Christians are like the children of Issachar! Some of us are very knowledgeable of the will of God, but sadly we lack the wisdom and the understanding provided by the Spirit. So, we are stuck in a rigid ostrich mentality, unable to tell the changing times and what the Lord requires us to do and how to do them under the new circumstances. We know the will of God alright. But His will has become fossilized in our minds. So we keep fighting new battles with old and worn out weapons. We are full of theory, but we lack the practical wisdom and understanding that applies the theory in our world today! Oh how we need discernment! May God answer Paul’s prayer for us! May He answer us! Amen!
Displaying Good Works that Please the Lord (Col 1:10)
Paul next prays that the discernment would lead to, “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” (1:10). As with the first, this request also has three components. The first component gives us the Meaning of Kingdom Character. The word “walk” which sadly the NIV drops is important. It resonates with the fact that the first Christians described themselves as “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). The Way is of course Christ. So, to walk in or belong to the Way means to walk with the Lord, following His steps. To Imitate the Lord Jesus Christ! That is exactly what Paul has in mind here. In other words “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” is to behave as a Christ follower, as one whose speech and actions betray their unwavering allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Kingdom Character is Imitation of the Lord Jesus! To walk worthy of Him! To walk just as He walked!
The second component of the request describes the Mandate for Kingdom Character. Paul says the display of kingdom character is “fully pleasing to [the Lord]” (1:10b). We must display kingdom character exactly because it fully pleases the Lord. It often baffles me that some Christians have managed to successfully construct a false dichotomy between character and grace, so much so that any talk of character is regarded by such Christians as anti-grace. That is a sad error which I must say often stems from the lack of whole counsel of God teaching from some of our pulpits! Friends, a balanced Church ensures that grace reverberates in everything it does. But this emphasis on grace must always serve the purpose of fashioning kingdom character in God’s people to please the Lord. That is the Lord’s Mandate! May I challenge the preachers among us to strive to keep this balance between character and grace! Please, keep the balance!
The third component of this request is the Means to Kingdom Character. Not just the meaning, and the mandate, but also the means to Kingdom character. Paul stresses that kingdom character amounts to “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:10c). In other words Kingdom character is not something that you and I can manufacture. Kingdom character is fruit which we bear as a result of the work of God in the soul. That is why our pulpits must talk about character. Because God’s soul work starts with hearing when the seed is sowed!
Drenched by the Power of the Lord (Col 1:11)
If kingdom character is fruit that is borne, then what we need is the spiritual power and enablement to bear this fruit and to persist in it. That is what Paul next prays for: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (1:11). Power to perform the will of God that pleases Him! Paul prays, not just for power, but superlative abundance of it. Look at those phrases: “all power”, “His glorious might”, and “all endurance”! In other words, I pray that you be anointed to overflowing, like the oil that drenched Aaron’s beard and garment!! Amen! Oh may we experience this power every day! So we will live the kingdom life!
Friends, what God expects of us Christians living in a disorderly world is not self-derived character which will wane as soon as we are put under pressure! What He expects of us is character produced through the knowledge of God’s will, character that is honed through application of wisdom and understanding provided by the Spirit, and character practiced through the empowerment of the same Spirit. When these three conditions are met, we produce the fruit of kingdom character.
Declaring the Praises of the Lord (Col 1:12)
Let me conclude with a few sentences on Col 1:12. Paul ends the prayer with thanksgiving. He begins with thanksgiving and ends with thanksgiving! All good prayers are like that! He prays that the fruit bearing may result in “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light”. We shall save the second half of the verse for next time I join you since it really belongs to the thought of 1:13. The first part of the verse simply reports the result of kingdom character. Paul says it leads to “giving thanks to the Father”. The NIV renders it as, “giving joyful thanks to the Father”. That is the end result of a well-honed kingdom character. It leads to joyful thanks to God!
You remember the first article of the Westminster Catechism? The first question asks, “What is the chief purpose of man?” To which we answer, “the chief purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever”! To glorify God and enjoy Him! That exactly is what this verse amounts to. When God has produced the kingdom character in us, we will, through that character be expressing joyful thanks to Him who saved us!
May the Lord Jesus Himself, fill us all with the knowledge of His will. May His Spirit fill us also with His wisdom and understanding to guide us to live the kingdom life here in Grimsby! May He pour His Spirit afresh upon each one of us! To strengthen us and cause His kingdom character to be produced in us! May God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit baptise all of us again and again by the Spirit that we all will flourish as His kingdom people to His honour and His glory!