Pleasing to Him
Paul’s letter continues with his standard greeting. We need to be reminded that the letter would be read as a whole and has thoughts that are intertwined with one another. When we study the scriptures, we generally take a pericope (extract from the text) and dive into the meaning. We find that even reading through a letter that takes about fifteen-twenty minutes to read will take us over twenty weeks to digest in sermons. As we continue to study any book, we need to remember the significant landmarks as we travel through the letter. As we turn to the passage today, Colossians 1:9-14, we need to be reminded that Paul’s thought is based on the previous verses. Verse nine begins with, “and so” or another way to write this would be “because of this (the previous verses).” Paul had previously given thanks to God because of the church’s Faith in Christ, foundation in the gospel, and their fruitfulness. The verses speak of the praise that Paul had given to God the Father. The second portion is the petition, which he prays for the church after hearing of them, after hearing of this church through Epaphras and their faithfulness and fruitfulness. Paul has not been able to shake them from his mind when he prays. He is unceasingly praying for them. His prayer is in two sections. The first is a prayer to be filled with knowledge, and the second is a prayer that they might be fully pleasing to Christ.
I. Prayer to be filled with knowledge
His first petition for the church is that they may be filled with the knowledge of His (God’s) will. The church had already heard and understood the grace of God in truth (Col 1:6). However, Paul prays that they might be filled with the knowledge. The word translated ‘filled,’ is used in the gospel account of John. John explains that Mary comes and washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears. She takes a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard. John writes that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3). You might have a memory of walking into a room or house and felling that you walked into a cloud of scent. You cannot escape the smell; the room is full. Paul prays that the church might be filled with the knowledge. Paul will later explain that the goal of his ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ (Col 1:28). Maturity is similar to humility; one can always grow in these areas. If you pricked John Bunyan, CH Spurgeon said that he would bleed, ‘Bibline.’ He was full of scripture. The author of Proverbs writes, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov 9:10). This echoes Paul’s prayer. That the members of the church would be filled with the knowledge of His will. Often greetings and thanksgiving in Paul’s letters are a brief synopsis with many of the themes, and topics that will be explained in the letter will be further unpacked throughout the letter. This knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are found in Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures (Cf. Col 2:2-3).
Intriguingly, this generally does not echo our prayers. Many times, in my life, I have thought I was had reached the point of knowledge, wisdom, and maturity. However, the life of the church and the Christian is one of contrast growth in knowledge and wisdom. This does not need to come in an academic format with nuanced and technological jargon. One can grow in understanding and wisdom, one with the gospel over and over. The Christian should love God’s word because it speaks of God. It teaches us about his attributes, his heart, his faithfulness. One should never grow tired of growing. Our prayer for ourselves and one another is that we would be filled with the knowledge of His will. If squeezed, we should ooze out of our pores with scripture.
II. Prayer that they might be fully pleasing to Christ.
We should be filled with the knowledge of His will so that we might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him. Knowing something is one aspect of maturity, but the real test of character and maturity is having your beliefs and actions united. Having a good moral conscience is useless; you listen to it. We should not seek to be knowledgeable of the scriptures but never put that knowledge into action into our lives. Sadly, this can be the reality in the modern reformed tradition. We might be able to explain the mission heart of God throughout all of scripture but struggle to put this into practice in our lives. Many times, I have seen young men defend the doctrines of grace without any grace in their communication. We should not seek to be a walking Wikipedia/encyclopedia but deeply affected by the truths of the scripture. You would not take advice from someone who had read all the parenting books but has never had any children or who is a terrible parent. So too, the knowledge of God’s will affect how we walk. Godly knowledge leads to Godly walking. Paul’s prayer gives four ‘ings’ for Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing to him.
Paul’s prayer is that they might bear fruit in every good work. Immediately our ‘reformed-o-meter’starts flashing amber, and the siren begins to beep. Paul states in 1 Corinthians that God is the one that causes the growth (1 Cor 3:6). Fruitfulness is not opposed to reformed teaching. Fruitfulness will never get you into heaven. The Westminster Confession of Faith has a whole chapter on Good works, the start of section two under chapter 16 states, “These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.” The beginning of section three says, “Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.” We looked at this briefly last week with Colossians 1:6. Fruitfulness is not a bad word, but often fruit is measured in wrong metrics. Frequently fruitfulness, in the church is measured in raised hands not making disciplines, giving per capita not biblical stewardship, seating capacity rather than biblical fidelity. This should continue to be a personal and church-wide prayer that we would remain biblically faithful and biblically fruitful.
Paul did not lose his train of thought a forgot he had already prayed that the church might increase in knowledge (Col 1:9). Apart from walking in a manner worthy of God is increasing in the knowledge of God. This spiral of Christian maturity. It best represented by a ladder that needs both the right side and the left side to be able to obtain new heights. One cannot only bear fruit and think they have reached their maximum level of knowledge. To increase in the knowledge of God, we must be willing to utter the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prv 1:7). The fool claims he has reached the height of knowledge, especially when it comes to God. Walking in a manner that is fully pleasing to Christ seeks to grow in our understanding of Christ and what he has commanded in his word.
We can often read the imperatives (Commands) in the scriptures and see them as a checklist. So, you want me to walk worthily. Great, tell me what to do… bear fruit and increase in knowledge. Check. The Christian walk is one of weakness, realizing that we are weak and need God to give us power. We need to be strengthened with his power. Not according to the fruit, we have produced or the knowledge we have obtained but only through his glorious might. Stephen Charnock explains, “Many have the knowledge of God, who have no delight in him or his will. Owls have eyes to perceive that there is a sun, but by reason of the weakness of their sight have no pleasure to look upon a beam of it; so neither can a man by nature love or delight in the will of God because of his natural corruption.” God needs to strengthen us so that we might be able to endure by his strength and also with patience with joy. A prayer to be strengthened is founded on the idea that you realize you are weak and need help. This is the Christian walk from beginning to end.
Finally, Paul explains that the Christian’s walk is one of thankfulness. You say thank you when you are given something. The Christian walk is one of gratitude because you realize you have no fruit to bear on your own, no knowledge to contribute, and no strength to muster on your own. We give thanks because this is a work of God in our lives. This is the truth of the gospel. Many falsely believe either you start the fire, and God keeps it burning, or God starts the fire, and you keep it alight. However, the Christian walk is one of God’s grace from start to finish. Paul explains this in three verses (Col 1:12-14). God the Father has qualified, literally made us sufficient, he has delivered us, transferred us. Christ has redeemed us and forgiven our sins. This circles back to Paul’s first line in the letter, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” (Col 1:3). The Christian life is one of thankful praise to God for taking a wretched man or woman and working in them for his glory that they may walk worthily in a manner pleasing to him.