One of the mainstays of church life is the prayer request. Whether prayer requests are voiced in the context of a prayer meeting, small group, personal conversation, or other service, you can tell a lot about a person or a church by listening to what is lifted up in prayer. The same is true in the life of the Apostle Paul and the church to which he writes in the Book of Colossians. In Colossians 1, we have already learned about Paul’s thankfulness in connection to the faith witnessed in Colossae (see verses 1-8). However, as we move to verses 9-12, we are going to learn what Paul is concerned about by looking at his specific prayer requests related to this church. In Colossians 1:9-12, there are three prayer requests that together demonstrate how a church and her people can maintain faithfulness in an unfaithful and compromising world. Let us listen closely to Paul’s prayer and be encouraged by what is shared.
1. REQUEST #1: Prayer for Knowledge-1:9
After expressing his thanks to God for the faith witnessed in Colossae, Paul offers a pastoral prayer for the members of this relatively small and obscure church. The first request voiced is for knowledge. Piggy-backing on the theme of fervent, ongoing, and consistent prayer introduced in verses 1-8, Paul introduces this petition with “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you,…” (1:9a). Oh what it must have meant to have the apostle pray like this for the church! What prompted this kind of prayer for this people? I imagine what was celebrated in the previous passage. This was a church that “got it” concerning Jesus Christ as evidenced in their faith in the Word of truth and their love for one another. There was, as a result, so much potential for this church to be used in mighty ways in Asia Minor for God’s glory—the kind of potential that drove Paul to pray constantly for her. However, there is another motivating factor behind Paul’s prayer zeal. Paul sees danger lurking in the background in the form of theological heresies and understood what these could do in the life of this congregation if entertained. This is why he asks for specific things on behalf of this church—things that would be in keeping with the Word of truth and theological orthodoxy.
First, Paul asks “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will” (1:9b). Typically, Paul uses the term “knowledge” in his letters to refer to a knowledge of God that is more personal as well as intellectual, experiential as well as academic. Paul wanted this church to be filled with such knowledge of God (“brought to completion”/”be given the full amount”) so much so that they would not be swayed by that which was false. This is reiterated by the modifiers used to describe the kind of knowledge meant here.
“in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9c) suggests the environment in which knowledge of God and his will is apprehended. Some suggest that “the perception of God’s will consists in wisdom and understanding of every sort, on the spiritual level” (O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 21). While the two words—wisdom and understanding—may possess different nuances, together they indicate that the kind of knowledge Paul desired for the church in Colossae involved both the acquisition of knowledge and the appropriate application of that knowledge—i.e. to think and act spiritually. Both the acquisition and application of knowledge is centered on the person and work of Christ in whom God has made himself fully known. Paul knew and wanted the church to know that if they ever had any question about what to think or do, they could find complete answers in the person and work of Christ. He is the repository of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding about who God is and what his will dictates.
John 1:18-“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
Matt 11:27-“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
Heb 1:3-“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…”
In a world where people were becoming unnaturally preoccupied with deceptive messages and false teachings about the nature and will of God, Paul prays that this church might be filled with the true knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The quickest way to revisit, learn, and embrace a right understanding of God and know how to carry out his will involves a healthy preoccupation with Christ—God made flesh. Focusing on Jesus would drown out those who would have the church question, deny, or doubt him.
2. REQUEST #2: Prayer for Good Testimony-1:10
Knowledge of the will of God is only as good as it is applied correctly. This is why Paul’s next request is for a good testimony. In fact, the purpose of his first petition on behalf of the church is “so that (the church in Colossae) will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,…” (1:10a). The metaphor of “walking” calls to mind how one conducts his/her life. The desired result or intended purpose of the previous verse’s prayer for knowledge is a life lived with specific conduct.
Running parallel to the idea of walking a certain way is “pleasing him in all respects” (1:10b). To walk rightly in accordance with the will of God is to please the Lord. The idea of walking rightly and pleasing the Lord permeates the Scriptures and if we look at the rest of Paul’s writings, we glean a clearer picture of exactly what walking rightly (i.e. in a way that pleases the Lord), looks like.
-Walking rightly is dependent on faith—see Col 1:1-8—and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7-“For we walk by faith, not by sight”). Ask yourself: Am I willing to trust the Lord and take steps of faith or do I have to have every variable completely figured out prior to making a decision or moving forward?
-Walking rightly is accomplished under the control of the Holy Spirit and not our flesh (Gal 5:16-“But I say walk by the Spirit,”). Ask yourself: Who or what controls you?
-Walking rightly involves the prohibition of certain behaviors (Rom 13:13-“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy”). Ask yourself: Am I behaving like a child of the light or am I endorsing activities best left in the darkness?
-Walking rightly is possible because of our position in Christ (Col 2:6-“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him”). Ask yourself: Does my confidence come from my place in Jesus?
Those who walk in the Spirit because of who they are in Christ by faith, avoiding certain behaviors that are inconsistent with the light, please the Lord.
These also see fruit in their lives—“bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10c). This refers to the reproductive aspect of the Christian’s calling (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 203) as witnessed in evangelism and the fruit of the Spirit. The idea here is that those who know the will of God (Col 1:9) will be successful in their Christian activities. The present active participle used here suggests ongoing fruit-bearing capacity in the lives of those who walk rightly according to the will of the Lord. Paul reveals that those who desire to see gospel fruit in their lives and in the life of their church must be willing to walk rightly.
Consider the following analogy. I may have fitness goals and/or weight goals for myself. However, if I do not change the way I eat or exercise, I cannot expect to see the results I am seeking. I may want to reach a certain destination on the map, but if I am not willing to plug in the right coordinates in my GPS, fill the car with gas, and drive on the right roads according to the proper directions, I will not reach the right place. While the Bible teaches that ultimately God is responsible for bearing fruit in our lives and in the life of His church, fruit does not happen by accident and is seen most in the fields that have been adequately sown, plowed, and watered. You cannot expect to see a harvest in a field that has not been planted and nurtured. If you an unsatisfied by the fruit witnessed in your life or in the life of the church, consider your walk and ask, “am I walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, seeking to please him in all respects?”
Fruit is most clearly witnessed in good works. Works are the proof of faith and the dividends that demonstrate that someone truly understands and has bought into the will of God. A walk without works demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s will. Paul prays for a faithful walk in the lives of those in Colossae.
Not only does walking rightly result in “bearing fruit;” it also leads to “increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:10d). This teaches that those who strive to please the Lord in all respects will benefit from their service by an increased understanding of God both mentally and experientially (intellectually and personally). The two benefits of walking rightly go hand in hand—fruitful works and increased knowledge. After all, the more one knows about God (who He is and what he has done) the more one wants to obey him, walk with him, do for him. The more one obeys, walks with, and does for God, the more one learns about who he his and what he has done.
Paul’s second request for the church is that their testimony would be one in which they would be walking worthily in accordance with God’s will—perpetually bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of the Lord.
3. REQUEST #3: Prayer for Persevering Strength-1:11-12
Walking rightly and maintaining a testimony of bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God is no small feat. In fact, there were many elements of the first century world that made this extraordinarily difficult for those in the church of Colossae—pressure/persecution/false teachers/internal strife/etc. This is why Paul prays for persevering strength in verses 11-12. As Paul introduces this third and final petition, he recalls the source of strength at the beginning of verse 11—“strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might” (1:11a). Paul stresses the nature and application of the power available to Christians. Notice, this is not strength or power that the believer possesses in/of himself/herself, it is “his” (God’s). In other words, the strength and power a believer needs and ought to depend on is God’s at work in him.
Recently my son has taken up basketball. As a result, we have taken the family out to a court at an elementary school near our home to practice on occasion. Because my son is only five, we lower the net a considerable amount so that he can work on his shot. However, it only goes so low. While Henry can make it from that height, Heidi, my one-year-old who accompanies us, is powerless to heave the ball even part of the way to reach the rim. This does not stop her from wanting to try. As a father, I delight in picking her up with the ball raising her close to the basket so that she can drop it in the net. It is my strength that allows her to be successful in her goal of shooting a basketball. In a far more profound way, any success God’s people have is only possible because of the strength of the loving father that picks his children up and positions them in the right place so that they can do what he has called them to do. God delights in helping his children persevere well (bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, etc.).
Believers are strong insofar as God is strong in them and for them. Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae was for God’s strength to be realized in their lives in a most impressive way.
How do I know that this kind of persevering strength is outside the reach of God’s people in and of themselves? The answer lies in the presumed results of the strength mentioned in the remainder of verse 11 and into verse 12. Paul reveals that the results of the persevering strength is “for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (1:11b). “Steadfastness”/”endurance” is “the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances” (Louw & Nida, 308). “Patience” is “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaining or irritation” (Louw & Nida, 307). Both steadfastness and patience are some of the most difficult things to come by naturally in our broken and wicked world. This was true in the first century and it is true in the twenty first century. If there was ever anything for which God’s help was required, it is steadfastness and patience.
Add to these “Joyously giving thanks to the Father” (1:12a). Consider how often the church in Colossae must have struggled to stick with it, remain patient under pressure, or find joy in being faithful. Consider how often you and I struggle with these in our own lives. Paul draws attention to these attributes to remind the church that these are out of their reach and difficult to hold onto without the persevering strength and power offered by God himself who, as he closes in verse 12, “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (1:12). The Father not only empowers his children for the walk they are asked to take, he qualifies them to take the walk in the first place. This he does through Jesus Christ in salvation. In other words, God provides the way to begin the walk and the power to take the walk which leads to fruit and knowledge and results in steadfastness, patience, and joy.
These three requests voiced in the opening chapter of Colossians echo what I imagine most pastors would pray for their churches today—that the church would be filled with the knowledge of God (as opposed to being filled with the things of this world or deceptive teachings therein), that the church would be characterized by a compelling testimony (walking worthily and in so doing bearing fruit and growing in knowledge), that the church would have persevering strength (depending on the Lord for the power necessary to remain steadfast, patient, and joyful despite difficulties, frustrations, or tribulations). This is Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae and it is my prayer for our church today. After all, if there was ever a time when we needed to know more about God and his will, it is today as the world entertains anything and everything that is opposed to godliness. If there ever was a time in which the testimony of God’s people needed to be more distinct, it is today as the world continues to slip further and further into darkness. If there was ever a time where we needed to depend on the Lord to lift us up in his strength to reach the goal of perseverance, patience, and joy, it is today when everything around us seems to work against these things. Stop right now and pray for these things on behalf of our church and for God’s people everywhere. This prayer voiced in the first century continues to ring forth today. May we not only ask for these things in faith, but seek and find these things in our lives and in the life of our church.