A Prayer for True Godliness
February 4, 2018 Speaker: Kit Johnson
Passage: Colossians 1:9
When I was a sophomore in college, I joined a student group that would do youth rallies at churches throughout the region. Our team leader, Andrew, was one of the most genuine, friendly people I have ever known, but he was also very absent-minded. One weekend we were supposed to do a teen rally several hours away, and somehow Andrew got lost. We wandered around for quite a while, and I was starting to get frustrated.
We were in the middle of nowhere sitting at an intersection, and I can remember as clearly as if it were yesterday Andrew sort of peering up toward heaven and saying, “Well Lord, which way should we go?” I just stared at him thinking “Seriously? Does he expect God to answer?” Then I thought, “We are really in trouble.”
Thankfully we eventually found our way and made it to the church, but the process was frustrating. If you have done much travelling, you know that good directions make travelling far more enjoyable and efficient. In a similar vein it’s disappointing to see how often Christians don’t have a good sense of where God wants them to go spiritually. They know they are saved and that eventually they will make it to heaven, but in between they are just wandering around trying a little of this and little of that.
But that’s not what God desires for us. He has a goal, and he knows how we are to get there. And some of the most helpful passages in the Bible for gaining direction are Paul’s prayers for the churches that he records in some of his epistles. This is because if Paul only picked 2 or 3 requests to pray for, they are probably pretty important. They do a masterful job of boiling the Christian life down to a couple of key goals we must pursue.
And this is especially true of the prayer in Colossians 1:9–14. As I studied this week, I was amazed at how much insight is packed into this paragraph about what spiritual maturity really is and how we get there. This passage also gives tremendous insight for how God wants us to pray for ourselves and for others.
There is so much here, and what Paul says in this text is foundational for much of what is to come in Colossians; therefore, we will only cover vv. 9–10 today. Lets’ begin in v. 9a with…
The Pattern for Prayer (v. 9a)
Again, this whole section is a record of how Paul prays for this church. I see three lessons about prayer that we should learn from Paul’s pattern.
We must be inspired to pray by the good things God is doing, not just by the problems we observe.
Verse 9 opens by saying that Paul had been praying for the Colossians ever “since the day we heard it.” Heard what? Clearly, he is referring back to vv. 3–8 and to the report Epaphras had given of the mighty work of the gospel in the Colossian church.
And these reports inspired him to pray for this church. This is worth highlighting because our prayers are often driven by problems. We pray a lot when things are going poorly and very little when life is comfortable.
But that’s not what we see from Paul. When Paul saw God at work at Colossae, he prayed for God to do even more. And there is an important lesson here for us. Crisis shouldn’t be the only force that drives us to pray. We should also be motivated to by the good things we see God doing.
We must pray regularly and broadly.
Notice how Paul says that he prayed. The grammatical emphasis is on the fact that Paul “does not cease” to pray. Paul devoted significant time to seeking God on behalf of the Colossians.
What is especially striking about Paul’s devotion is that he had never met these people. And so think about how much time Paul must have spent in prayer. He makes similar statements in many of his other epistles, so we can assume that Paul prayed regularly for all of the churches he started and for his many, many partners in ministry. That’s a lot of people to pray for.
But if he was also praying for the Colossian church, he was probably also praying for many other churches that his associates had started. You get the picture that Paul spent a lot of time in prayer.
And what a challenge that ought to be. There may be no area where the modern church is weaker than in prayer. It’s just not that exciting, and we have better things to do. We proudly think that our busyness and slick programs are more essential than the hand of God.
Be very careful that you don’t let anything, even really good things, crowd out prayer because nothing we can do can ever replace the hand of God. Pray for your own soul, pray for your family, pray for your church family, pray for our missionaries, and pray for sister churches and pastors all over our country and world that God’s hand would be on them.
We must pray spiritually minded prayers.
I’m not sure how you could effectively do this, but it would be interesting to chart how we spend our time in prayer. I would venture to guess that the majority of our prayer time is focused on temporal concerns—health, finances, work pressures, etc.
My point is not that we shouldn’t pray for those things. God is concerned about all of our burdens, and he wants us to pray for all of them. But they are never the focus of Paul’s prayers even though many people he loved were facing persecution and other hardships. Rather, he was far more concerned about spiritual health and the advance of the gospel.
Therefore, devote yourself to prayer. Make it a priority. And if you want to pray more consistently with the will of God, then study Paul’s prayers such as this one, and begin to pray for the things that he prayed for. Let’s commit to follow Paul’s pattern of prayer.
The Prayer Request (v. 9b)
It’s interesting that Paul’s prayer report continues through v. 14, but the only actual prayer request he gives is here in v. 9. Therefore, this statement is very important, and we need to make sure we really understand what Paul is saying.
There are two aspects to Paul’s request. First…
Pray that we would know God’s will.
Paul prayed that the Colossians “may be filled with the knowledge of His will.” On one level, the meaning here is very clear. To know God’s will is to know who God is and how he wants us to live based on the commands and patterns of Scripture. After all you can’t live a truly godly life in this complex and dark world without a deep understanding of God’s will and skillful application of it.
But on another level, we have to understand knowledge in light of the broader context of Colossians. In particular, throughout Colossians knowledge is always closely connected to Christ and the work of the gospel.
Knowing God’s will begins with understanding my union with Christ and how I must practically live it out.
Remember from a couple of weeks ago that the false teachers at Ephesus were urging the church to move off the foundation of Christ. In particular, they were saying that they needed to pursue a higher knowledge through Greek philosophy and mystical communion with angels. They also needed to follow certain rituals if they were really going to be spiritual (2:20–21).
Therefore, the central theme of Colossians is that Christians must remain rooted in Christ and Christ alone. And first and foremost staying rooted in Christ means recognizing that all true knowledge begins with Christ.
Notice what Paul says in 2:1–3. This is basically another prayer report, and notice that Paul again mentions understanding and knowledge, but he specifically ties them to Christ and the gospel. “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ. Knowledge begins with Christ.
And then notice what he says in vv. 8–10. The false teachers were advocating for a knowledge that was apart from Christ; therefore, vv. 9–10 urge them to recognize that our fullness or spiritual completeness is not in human tradition, but in Christ. He is the perfect revelation of the Father because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” And he is the one who makes us “complete” or accepted before God.
Therefore, a major emphasis of Colossians is that our knowledge of God and even our knowledge of how to live in this world must begin with Christ, with what he did on the cross, and what it means that I am united with him.
Therefore, when Paul prays in 1:9 that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, he isn’t just praying for knowledge of the Bible; he is praying that our entire Christian experience would proceed from a proper understanding of Christ and all he means for our Christian experience.
This is so important to emphasize in our day because much of modern preaching is little more than a cleaned up version of secular psychology designed to help you live a happier, more productive life. Now certainly, we need to take practical steps and follow good strategies, but if these things are not rooted in Christ, they are useless.
We must understand that…
Christ gives a new security, a new motive, and a new power.
2:10 says I am “complete in Him.” In other words, I am “in Christ” and God sees me based on his righteousness. I didn’t earn God’s favor to begin with, and at the most basic level it’s not up to me to maintain it. Therefore, I am not motivated like every other religion by the need to earn God’s favor or to placate his wrath; instead, I am motivated by the fact that God has changed me, and he is better.
Therefore, 2:6 says that I must continue to “walk in Him.” I don’t just try to do better; I walk in the strength that he provides. Do you see that Christ fundamentally changes how I pursue God’s will?
Because of this I want to emphasize that…
Any efforts at godliness that are divorced from Christ are worthless (2:23).
From the world’s perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between us and a good Catholic or Mormon. We do a lot of the same things and we look a lot alike. But Paul says that good works without the proper foundation are worthless no matter how good they appear.
And maybe there is someone among us today who is missing this foundation. You may look really spiritual, and you may live a relatively moral life. But understand that if you do not have Christ, all of your good works only appear to be wise; they will not get you to heaven, and they do not impress God. And you need to come to him today for grace and forgiveness. Look to him today and be saved. Only then can you truly purse righteousness.
Therefore, the knowledge of God’s will begins with a knowledge of Christ and all he means for the Christian life. And with this foundation we must then go on to know God’s will for how we should live based on the commands and patterns of Scripture. We must learn to think like God because we know God in his Word.
This is a big task; therefore, we should plead with God that he would fill us and fill those we love with this kind of knowledge. It needs to be emphasized that the verb filled is in the passive voice because ultimately God is the one who gives this knowledge.
This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pursue it, but ultimately I am dependent on his him to open my eyes. We know from the rest of Scripture that he does this by the Spirit as he illumines our hearts to appreciate who I am in Christ and how this should affect my life.
And how we need to pray that God would do this work in us and in those around us. It is so sad to see Christians sometimes who are limping along spiritually because they don’t want to let go of the world. Others know they are saved by grace but they don’t really get what it means to “walk in him.” They are always struggling and always discouraged. And still others spin their wheels because they don’t know the will of God, and they aren’t skilled at applying it to life. We need to pray that God’s Spirit would illuminate their eyes so that know the will of God in Christ so that they will walk in him.
And so the first aspect of the prayer request is pray that people would know God’s will. The second aspect is…
Pray that people would know how to apply God’s will to practical life.
I believe it’s best to see wisdom and understanding as fruits that grow out of the knowledge of God’s will. In other words as I come to appreciate the knowledge of who I am in Christ and how God wants me to live, this must lead to wisdom and understanding.
Wisdom and understanding are commonly linked in the OT, and together they describe the person who is discerning and skilled at decision making. He is able to look at a difficult question, gather all of the pertinent information, and process that information into a wise decision. And folks, this is an essential aspect of Christian living because we are continuously faced with questions that the Bible does not answer explicitly. The Bible doesn’t tell you exactly how to spend your money and your time, which ministry to join, or which television shows will help or harm your soul.
But does that mean that God doesn’t care about these things or that any decision you make is okay? Absolutely not! Proverbs teaches that I am responsible to gain wisdom. The Bible demands that I learn what it says, that I develop the mind of God, and that I prayerfully seek his will in every circumstances.
And this is something that needs to be emphasized in our day because sometimes we have been influenced more than we realize by the pluralism of our day. We think that as long as my heart is in the right place, God doesn’t really care about the details. And if anyone dares to challenge us, they are just judgmental, nosy legalists.
But v. 10 says that I must live “worthy of the Lord” and “pleasing to him.” So let me ask you, does the holiness of God have a definite shape, or is it free flowing gobbledygook? God’s holiness is black and white. Therefore, with just about every decision of life, there are wise and foolish options, and one option will be the wisest option in light of God’s revealed will. And we are responsible to pursue wisdom so that we can see the best choice.
Therefore, you need to study the Bible with a hunger to really grow the heart of God so that you love what he loves and you think like he thinks. And then you need to work hard to make wise decisions because you can’t be really pursue godliness and fly by the seat of your pants.
And so have you given serious, honest thought in light of the testimony of Scripture to what your involvement in the church should be? Have you done the same with your entertainment choices, your clothing standards, your finances, and every other aspect of godly living? Pursue wisdom.
And so v. 9b gives an incredible concise and powerful summary of what we should pray that God would do in us to grow us into maturity. We need God to fill us with the knowledge of his will. In other words, we must understand who we are in Christ and how God calls us to live in light of that. And we need God to make us wise and understanding.
Paul then follows in v. 10a with…
The Purpose of the Prayer (v. 10a)
There are two parts of this statement, and they each have their own significance, but really they are two sides of the same coin. First, God wills that we…
“Walk Worthy of the Lord”:
The Bible commonly describes our lives as a road or a path along which we walk. Therefore, the idea of walking worthy of the Lord means intentionally shaping our path according to the character of God. I am I am walking in his steps, striving to conform all of life to his character and will.
And the word worthy is especially potent in this context. The Greek term here is axios, and it was originally used for weights on a scale. The idea is that if you have a very heavy weight on one side, you must counterbalance it with an equally heavy weight. This is a powerful picture of what it means to walk worthy of the Lord. We can think of God’s righteous character as an incredibly heavy weight on one side of the scale, and when God calls us to walk worthy of him, he is saying that my life is to in some sense match the weightiness of his righteous character. It must be worthy of my Lord.
Now of course, we have to understand this in light of what we already saw about our ultimate dependence on Christ because I will never in myself be worthy of the Lord. I must stand on my union with Christ or I will be ruined by discouragement. And I must pursue worthiness in the strength of his grace, or I may begin to proudly think that I am something.
That foundation is essential, but once it is there I must strive to live worthy of the Lord. I must earnestly desire that every aspect of my life is a fitting representation of the glory and holiness of my Savior.
Let that sink in for a moment. God is not looking for the scraps of your life. He’s not content with a little obedience and a little service when it happens to be convenient. And yet so often that’s what we do. Jesus gave his life for us, and we say thanks by giving him the spare change in our pocket so to speak. He deserves and demands so much more. Therefore, is it your heart’s desire to give it all to him? Are you striving to root out evil, to grow in godliness, and to serve in a manner that is worthy of God?
Paul then adds…
“Fully Pleasing Him”:
This language takes us back to the OT and particularly to God’s response to the sacrifices man offers. God was pleased when his people brought the sacrifice he required and did so with sincere hearts. He was not pleased when they brought an insufficient sacrifice or did so hypocritically.
And Paul takes hold of this same language and says that today through my Christian walk and service, I am to present to the Lord a pleasing sacrifice. And again it’s worth emphasizing that I can’t please him by just giving him a portion of my life or paying him off for the bad things I do. There’s a lot of people out there who willfully disobey God in certain areas, and they try to pay him off through giving money or going to church. But Paul says that I am to be fully pleasing to him or pleasing to him in every aspect of life.
What a weighty picture! Is God pleased with you today? Is he pleased with your sacrifice of service and commitment? Of course, we have to answer that question in light of the gospel because I can never please God apart from Christ. But through Christ, I must strive to please God in every aspect of my life. We should be challenged to examine ourselves, to confess before God where we are not worthy or pleasing, and we must pray, “Lord by your grace help me to walk worthy of you, fully pleasing in your sight.”
But then we should also just marvel that by the grace of God humble sinners like us could even dream of somehow being worthy of the Lord and pleasing him. Our God is good, and he is gracious.
In sum, we haven’t covered a lot of Scripture today, but we have covered a lot of significant ground. In this text, Paul lays out a grand picture of the Christian life that ends in a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him. This is where we need to go. But we are only going to get there if we pursue wisdom, and make wise and discerning choices. And the only way we will ever be wise is if we know the will of God as revealed in the gospel of Christ and the instructions of Scripture. And the only way we will ever know God’s will is if God fills us with the knowledge of his will. And so we need to pray that God would do this for us, do this for this church, and do this for all of our co-laborers around the world.