Prayer Priorities

Series: Rooted

Sermon by David Strain on Sep 2, 2018

Colossians 1:9-14

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Please take your Bibles in hand, if you would, and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 1; Colossians chapter 1. Page 983 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. We are thinking about the words of verses 9 through 12. We’re going to come back next time and look at 12 through 14, which are really part of the same fabric of thought with the prayer we find in these verses, but they deserve some attention of their own, so we’ll come back next week, God willing, and consider them separately. But verses 9 through 12 provide for us the prayer of the apostle Paul. And we’re going to think about it under three headings. The request that Paul makes in verse 9 - that we would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. The result that Paul seeks in verse 10 - that we would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him. And the resources we need to do all of that in verses 10 through 12. So the request, the result, and the resources.

Before we look at the prayer together, I think it’s important for us to stop and pray first of all and ask for God’s help. So let’s pray.

O Lord, we turn now to You asking that You would take up Your Word and work by it in our hearts, not only to instruct our minds but also to incline our wills to new obedience, to inflame our affections, to love the truth and hate our sin. Grant to us the grace of faith to believe and to cling to Christ as He speaks to us in His holy Word. For we ask it now in His name, amen.

Colossians 1 at the ninth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“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.”

Amen, and we thank God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

I picture myself almost as though we were walking past Paul's room and his door is slightly ajar and you can hear him on his knees pleading for the Colossians in chapter 1 verses 9 through 12. We're eavesdropping on the apostle Paul at prayer. And we get a real sense, don't we, of the heart of this man for these Christians whom he has never met personally. Here are his priorities. These are the things that burden him as he thinks about them. I suppose if you were to eavesdrop on my prayers you might see some very different priorities. I would be, I think, ashamed for you to hear the worldliness and the self-centeredness of the priorities that so often burden my heart. But not so with Paul. His priorities listed in this prayer, as I hope we'll see, if we will take them in and make them our own, will not only change our prayer lives but will change our Christian lives in a thoroughgoing way.

The Request

And you’ll begin to see the burden of Paul’s prayer and the character of his priorities if you look with me at verse 9. The request that Paul makes, first of all. The request that he makes, first of all. He asks, notice, that they “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Now you may remember from previous weeks as we’ve looked at the teaching of Colossians, we saw that one of the buzzwords that the false teachers at Colossae were using as their heresy began to penetrate the Colossian church was the word “fullness.” That’s what they were offering. “If you’ll just follow our rituals and engage in our mysticism and in our asceticism and self-denial, if you’ll listen to our teaching you’ll discover the secret path to real spiritual fullness.”

Fullness

And Paul here, and we’re going to see him do this over and again in Colossians, Paul is using their buzzword, “fullness,” very purposely. He wants the Colossians to know that he too desires fullness for them, but not the esoteric, mysterious fullness that the false teachers were offering. Rather, he wants them to be “filled with the knowledge of the will of God;” filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This isn’t a secret. This isn’t to be found by some mysterious ritual. This isn’t a second blessing into which they may be introduced. No, this is the knowledge of the will of God. He wants them to know God - what He’s like and what He wants for them. And notice how he characterizes this knowledge of God. He says, verse 9 again, he wants them to be filled with the knowledge of God “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Another way to render that would be the knowledge of the will of God “that consists in spiritual wisdom and understanding.” That is to say that the kind of knowledge he’s talking about is knowledge that is wise and understanding.

Knowledge

There’s a marvelous balance here, isn’t there? On the one hand, Paul really is insisting that the healthy Christian life requires the pursuit of knowledge. He wants us to love truth and want to know as much of the truth about God - who He is, what He’s like, what He’s done - as we possibly can. It is not possible to be godly and not think deeply about God, about His Word, about ourselves, and about God’s world. And so he really is praying for growing knowledge. He wants Christians to love doctrine, love truth, to love to understand who God is and what God wants. That’s on the one hand.

Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding

On the other hand, He is not at all interested in encouraging or producing insufferable know-it-alls who live only for abstract theological debate and who don't know how to balance their checkbooks. So he's not looking for heady, bookish, impracticality. No, he wants to help us understand that knowing God truly is related to living blessedly and joyfully. Knowing God truly is essential to the blessed life. The Puritan, William Perkins, famously said that "theology is" - listen to this - "theology is the science of living blessedly forever." What a great definition of the study of Christian truth. It is the science of living blessedly forever. And so he's praying, "I want you to be filled with the knowledge of the will of God that consists in spiritual wisdom, practical know-how to navigate the challenges of life and understanding." He wants us to live the blessed life that comes in the wake of knowing God truly.

And don’t skip over the word, “spiritual.” It’s “spiritual wisdom and understanding.” That doesn’t mean, it’s not the opposite of practical. You know it’s spiritual or it’s practical. It doesn’t mean useless. Actually, it probably should be capitalized, Spiritual with a capital “S”, because it’s referring to the work of the Holy Spirit Himself in our heart. So where do you get this wisdom and understanding that helps us, this knowledge of the will of God that helps us connect profound truth to practical life? Where does that come from? It’s not an inborn and innate instinct. It’s not a trait of natural personality. No, Paul says, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people. That’s why he’s praying and not merely exhorting the Colossians to study their catechism - what a wonderful thing to do. But he’s praying, “Oh Lord, as the truth begins to fill their minds, press it down into their hearts and help them live it out day to day, by the work of the Holy Spirit.” And that’s what Paul is praying for - the fullness of truth brought to bear on the heart to change the life by the mighty supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. That’s something that ought to be a priority in prayer for all of us who are serious about the glory of God, about knowing Him, and about living for His praise - crying out for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So that’s Paul’s prayer request.

The Result

But he’s not only interested in the means; he’s also interested in the ends, in the outcome, in the result. Notice secondly, the result Paul is seeking. Look at verse 10. Here’s what happens when God begins to answer that prayer and He begins to fill us with the knowledge of His will in all Holy Spirit-wrought wisdom and understanding. Here’s what happens. Verse 10 - he prays that we may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will “so as,” that is, with the following result, “that we may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.” Now let’s break that down a little bit so that we’re sure about what Paul is saying.

What does it mean, first of all, to "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord"? Is Paul saying something like, "We should try to demonstrate to God that He hasn't made a terrible mistake in loving us by the way that we live"? Is that what he's saying? Are we to show God that we are worth being loved by Him? Is that what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord? Well, that would be to deny everything we know about the biblical Gospel from the rest of the writings of Paul, including the letter to the Colossians. That's not at all what Paul has in mind. Rather, Paul is asking that we would live in a way that displays how worth it God really is. That's what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. Not that you show yourself to be worth loving, but rather you show how worth loving God is in the way you live day by day. You walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. You walk in a way that displays how worthwhile it is to sacrifice and to labor and to pour yourself out for His honor and His glory.

Because, Paul says, nothing pleases Him more. Isn't that exactly what he says in verse 10? What does it mean to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord? Paul tells us it means to be "fully pleasing to Him." When my boys were still very small, three or four, we kept seeing them adopt an odd posture. They would sort of stand almost professorially, you know, with their hands behind their back, and they'd walk around like that. And we don't know quite where they got it from. How did they pick this up? Well, it turns out, their great-grandfather, this was one of his particular idiosyncrasies. Now that may just be coincidence, but I like to think there's some sort of recessive gene or something, some family trait that was shining through. Certainly, it brought a lot of pleasure to their grandfather when he looked at his grandchildren to see things that reminded him of his own father.

When God looks at us and sees the family likeness, it pleases Him. I think sometimes because we struggle with our own remaining sin, don't we, we can begin to worry that perhaps God is lukewarm in His delight over us. That He's sort of standing back saying, "You know, that was a good try, but not good enough." But that's not it at all. Your imperfect, growing Christian obedience pleases Him. He's delighted to see in your life the family likeness. So one of the ways God answers the prayer for growing "knowledge of the will of God in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" is by producing the family likeness in us; that we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, that we display how worth He is to live for Him, and nothing pleases Him more. This is a prayer whose goal is our holiness. Do you see that? Likeness to Jesus; the family likeness in our lives. The request. The result - likeness to Christ.

The Resources

But don’t we need some resources? We need some help to understand both what that looks like and how we live it out. How do we flesh this out a little bit, Paul? What does it mean to bear the family likeness? If you’ll pardon the technicalities for just a moment, Paul answers that question with four Greek participles in verses 10 through 12. You’ll see them if you look at the passage carefully; verses 10 through 12. They’re translated in our Bibles, if you’re using an English Standard Version, “bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and giving thanks.” Do you see those in verses 10 through 12? So how do we please God? What does it mean to bear the family likeness? It is a life that is bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and giving thanks. We’re going to look at each in turn and then we’re done. Okay?

A Holy Life

So first, a holy life. A life that pleases God is a life “bearing fruit in every good work,” Paul says. Holiness shows; you can see it. Likeness to Jesus works. Pleasing God blesses others. “We are,” Ephesians 2:10, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” The Christian life isn’t about joining a club. It isn’t about learning the correct religious vocabulary or putting on your Sunday clothes. The Christian life bears fruit in good works. When the Gospel is at work in your life, you want to get working for God. One of the ways we will know if and when revival and spiritual renewal has come to First Presbyterian Church, is we will all begin to feel a sort of mounting internal pressure as the Gospel bubbles away in our hearts till we feel like we’ve got to let it out in works of service, in loving our neighbors, and in telling the world about Jesus Christ. We will bear fruit. A life that’s pleasing to God, that walks worthy of the Lord, is a life that “bears fruit in every good work.”

Increasing in the Knowledge of God

Then secondly, still in verse 10, Paul says a holy life, a life that pleases God, that bears the family likeness, is a life, notice, that is “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Now that’s interesting because there’s a certain circularity here. You remember his opening request. His request is that we might “be filled with the knowledge of the will of God.” And now he’s saying that a holy life, a life changed by that knowledge, is a life that is marked by increasing in the knowledge of God. Do you see the cycle? It’s actually a beautiful description of the Christian life. The more you get to know God, the more that knowledge changes your heart, changes your motives, changes your appetites, changes the way you behave and live. And the more your character aligns with His character, the more of Him you will know and enjoy. And the more of Him you know and enjoy, the more like Him you will become. And the more like Him you will become, the more of Him you will know and enjoy. And round and round it goes in a beautiful fellowship with the living God as He remakes us in the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The chief end of man,” you will remember, “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The two are linked. As we glorify Him, we enjoy Him. As we serve Him, we become like Him and we come to know Him. Have you lost your joy in Christian things? It might be because you’re not laboring to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him; you’ve signed a truce with sin somewhere in your life, and so you don’t know Him as you should and you don’t enjoy Him as you might.

Before we move on, do remember that Paul has used these two expressions already - “bearing fruit” and “increasing” - that we find here in verse 10. He’s used them back in verse 6. Do you see that in verse 6? Only in verse 6 he used them to describe “the word of the truth, the Gospel.” The word of the truth, the Gospel, was “bearing fruit and increasing.” And now he says he wants the Colossians’ lives to “bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God.” What’s the point? I think he wants us to see the connection and understand that bearing fruit and increasing in the knowledge of God is a Gospel work. It is the Gospel that bears fruit and increases and it does it in our lives as we bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God. Some of us get impatient with the preaching of the cross. “I’ve been a Christian for so many years. I’ve got it already! Jesus died for sinners. We trust in Him. We receive forgiveness of our sin. Yes, it’s wonderful, but I need more. I need the deeper truth. Let’s move on, already!”

But don't you see, Paul is saying, no, the way to grow up is not to grow past the Gospel, it's not to get beyond the Gospel. No, the way to grow up is to send your roots ever more deeply down into the good news about what God has done for your soul in His Son, how he bore your sins in His body on the tree. How, by His obedience and by His blood, you have been reconciled to God. And as the wonder of that penetrates ever more deeply you begin to know Him better. You see His heart more clearly. You hate your sin more ferociously and you live for Him more single-mindedly. And so if we are to grow in the knowledge of God, if we are to bear fruit, if we are to become men and women of God, we need to be men and women of the Gospel.

Fully Pleasing to Him

Well then thirdly, we walk worthy of the Lord, Paul says, fully pleasing to Him, verse 11, by "being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might." You could translate it rather woodenly, because Paul uses this same word both in a noun and a verb form, he's praying that we might be "empowered with all power, according to the might of God's glory." Now, why do we need so much power? The standard is the might of the glory of God. That's what we're empowered with, Paul says. Why do we need it? I'm not a president or a general. I'm not a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It's just little me. Why do I need all this power? Paul tells us, doesn't he, look at verse 12 again. We need it, he says, "for all endurance and patience with joy." For endurance and patience with joy. The word "endurance" clues us into the difficult context of the Colossians' lives. It's a word that means "to bear up under a weight." It's sometimes used of a military unit hardpressed by their enemies.

We sometimes talk about holding the fort, don’t we? Okay, so forgive me for the rant. We hold the fort; we don’t hold down the fort. The fort isn’t going to float away! “I’m leaving the fort. There are enemies about to attack the fort. I need you to hold the fort till I get back with reinforcements.” So hold the fort. That’s actually what Paul is saying we need to do in the Christian life after all. Aren’t we under siege? Isn’t there a war on? The world and the flesh and the devil. And it’s hard and we are assailed on every side and he’s saying, “Hold the fort!” A Christian that pleases God, a life that honors Him is a life that holds the fort until reinforcements come. Endurance and patience.

But more than that, he says, “I want endurance and patience with joy.” “Now that’s just taking it too far! Endurance and patience, I guess I can tough it out. But joy? That’s asking too much. That’s just too much, Paul.” And that’s why we need to be empowered with power according to the might of God’s infinite glory. This isn’t just stoicism that he’s praying for, you see. It’s not English stiff, upper lip. You know, “Tough it out.” That’s not it at all. This is the power of God at work in your heart to keep you when the battle rages hot so that in the midst of it all, you may count it all joy, brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds. That is a supernatural life, not a natural one.

Giving Thanks to the Father

And that connects, actually, to the last thing Paul says about what it means to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him. Verse 12, he says, we do it “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Do you ever get these calls - “Good news! You have been prequalified for a special discount! Just call this number!” Click. Paul has better news. He’s not trying to sell you anything. He’s trying to thrill your hearts because someone else has paid in full for an inheritance. You’ve been qualified not by anything in you, but by the Lord Jesus Christ in your place. He has paid in full by His obedience and blood at the cross. And now your destiny is secure.

How do you hold the fort with joy, giving thanks, and continue to abound in good work, bearing fruit in good works, growing in the knowledge? How do you do that when the battle rages on all around you and you are under pressure? You do it knowing you have an inheritance guaranteed; that there’s glory waiting and nothing, nothing can stop you receiving the inheritance set apart for you - an inheritance among the saints in light, amidst the gloom and the shadows of your daily battle with self and sin. Amidst the tears and the trails of this veil of tears. Preach the good news that you have an inheritance. You have been qualified, not that you are, but you have been. Someone else has qualified you; Christ has qualified you, and because He has, that inheritance is utterly secure. So that you can give thanks. You can give thanks that the outcome of the conflict is not in doubt, because the battle belongs to the Lord.

The request - that we would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. The result is - that we would walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him; that the family likeness would begin to shine. And the way we do that, the resources we need to do that, “bearing fruit in every good work” - we get busy serving Jesus by serving one another. We grow and increase in the knowledge of God; we want to know Him better. We are being strengthened by the mighty power of God so that we can do more than just cling on; we can hold the fort with joy even in the midst of the raging battle. And we do it with thankful hearts because we know how the battle ends. We know that the battle already belongs to the Lord. We have been qualified for an inheritance among the saints in light. Praise God that we have not only a call to holiness but all the resources we need to live it out. Saint Augustine once famously prayed, “O Lord, give what you command, and command whatever you will.” That is the truth. Brothers and sisters, the Lord not only calls you to holiness, He will provide you all the grace you need that you might begin to be holy. And for that, we should indeed give thanks.

Let’s pray together.

O Lord, how we praise You that when You call us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to You, You don’t leave us without the resources that we need. And so we pray for one another, for the people sitting beside us in the pew, and we pray for ourselves, O Lord, grant to us the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we may be empowered with power according to the measure of the might of Your glory so that we can do more than just tough it out, but even in the midst of the ferocity of the battle we might hold the fort with joy, giving thanks, because we have been qualified at the great cost of Your Son, for an inheritance among the saints in light. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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