We are continuing to look at Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae. As we discussed earlier, this letter was probably the only written part of the New Testament many members of this church ever received.
Think about that for a moment in context as though you were Paul. There are a group of people who had followed Judaism, angelology, or paganism who heard someone, other than Paul, preach the message of salvation through Christ and they accepted Jesus. Now, you have a chance to send them a short letter of fewer than 2,000 words. For perspective that is about 3 typed pages. In those three pages, you want to encourage these people in what it means to be a Christian, what to do and what not to do, and how to become who they claim to be. What would you put into those precious few words? It is a difficult challenge.
Over the last few weeks, we have spoken about some of instructions and topics Paul put in his letter. Paul said to his readers that they were now “in Christ,” and that their lives needed to be “rooted in Christ.” Paul described his readers as having died and being raised into new life. Paul called on his readers to set their hearts on Christ and their minds toward heaven.
All of these topics were important and major objectives for those who claimed Christ to understand that they may grow into mature Christians. Paul’s letter was almost over. There is a bit more space before he must stop writing. What then must he include to make his one and only letter to this church complete? Not surprising, Paul turned to the subject of prayer.
Prayer. What is prayer? The most basic definition of prayer is “talking to God.” Prayer is not meditation or passive reflection; it is direct address to God. It is the communication of the human soul with the Lord who created the soul. Prayer is the primary way for the believer in Jesus Christ to communicate his or her emotions and desires with God and to fellowship with God. Prayer can be audible or silent, private or public, formal or informal. And so, Paul began his final major topic this way, “2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).
“2 Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2a). The Greek verb Paul used for “devote” was plural, meaning devotion to prayer was expected to be an activity of the entire church, not just a few prayer warriors. Where Paul said, “Devote yourselves in prayer,” we might say, “You must pray together.”
What prayer might Paul have wanted the church to pray together? I think it is likely the prayer Paul had in mind was the prayer he offered for the church earlier in the letter. In Chapter 1 of the letter to the Colossians, Paul said, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9b-12).
Let’s look at Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae as a model our own prayers and prayers for our church. Paul said, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understand that the Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9b). Paul and his associates (We) were joined together collectively speaking to God and asking God to intervene in the life of the members of the church and the church itself. This is the first important point of prayer. In prayer, we are talking with God. Conversing with God is an acknowledgment that God exists and that we desire a relationship with him. In our conversation with God, we acknowledge that God can do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves. And so, in our conversation with God, we ask God to intervene in our life and bring about something we know or are not certain will happen on its own. Let’s think about this perspective that we are asking God to intervene with a couple of examples.
I think it is fair to say that we would all welcome warm spring days to come sooner rather than later. Now if we have a conversation with God about the coming of spring, we do not say, “God, we ask that You intervene and grant that when the grass of our lawns awaken this spring that You would make the grass green.” We do not pray for the grass to display its green color because God’s intervention is not needed. God made the grass green and by its very nature, when the grass returns from dormancy, the grass will be green. Grass does not have a will to seek to be anything other than grass and so grass has no choice but to abide by its nature.
But humanity is different from grass. Humanity has a free will with desires of the heart, the mind, the eyes, and all our other senses. Recognizing that we have a free will, Paul prayed that God would intervene and send the Holy Spirit to church at Colossae and give wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God’s will. Why? So that having come to possess wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God’s will, the members of the church at Colossae would voluntarily make God’s will their own. This is the essence of becoming like Christ.
Jesus had a will of his own and in a prayer just before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said to God, “Not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36b). Jesus had the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God and conformed his free will to God’s as a sign of love for God. Paul’s prayer to the church of Colossae was that God would intervene and give its members the wherewithal to make their will that of God. Paul made this prayer, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,” (Colossians 4:9b) because Paul understood that absent the continued intervention of God the transformation of the church and its members was not possible. It was not possible for the church in Colossae to follow God’s will without God’s intervention and it is not possible for us to follow God’s will without God’s intervention.
Let me share with you some statistics about how we express our will through a study on the behaviors of New Yorkers. A survey from 2014 found that New Yorkers chose to spend their time in the following ways each day:
Sleeping – 8 hours 33 minutes
Working – 7 hours 31 minutes
Leisure – 5 hours and 23 minutes
Television – 2 hours 48 minutes
Commuting – 58 minutes
Grooming – 43 minutes
Housework – 32 minutes
Reading – 21 minutes
Thinking – 18 minutes
Religion – 9 minutes
It would seem that we have a long way to go before we could say we are involved in continual prayer asking God to intervene in our life so that we can understand God’s will. We need to accept that absent God’s intervention, we will not individually nor in the collective, act like Jesus and follow God’s will. We, then, individually and collectively must be in continual prayer for God to “fill us with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
But what is the consequence of knowing God’s will? Why would we want that for ourselves and our church? Paul explained in verse 10 of Chapter 1, that with God’s intervention asked for through prayer then “10 You may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (Colossians 1:4).
Whether we are conscious of it or not, humans seek to define a legacy for ourselves. Our legacy is how we want to be known and how we wish to be remembered. Some people want their legacy to be felt long after their death. You can see examples of the desire for a long lasting legacy by looking at the pyramids of Egypt, the granite monuments in your local cemetery, and trust funds established in memory of the founder. Paul’s model prayer, the one he prayed for the church at Colossae, includes an understanding of legacy. He prayed that the church would know God’s will so that it could be said about that church that “They lived a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”
Paul’s words would make for an interesting message on a church sign as an expression of the mission of the church. I did a study one time about mission statements for churches. Some of those statements were quite short, “Making Disciples.” Other statements were long, “Turning the hearts of youth and families to God and each other. Developing our God-given potential in order to win in every area of our lives. Advancing the Kingdom of God, first throughout our circles of influence, then the nations abroad.” Not one of them said, “Living a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing him in every way.” Yet, that is God’s word and desire. And we will not live a life worthy of the Lord unless God intervenes because we ask him to do so. Paul prayed this prayer for his friends in Colossae and instructed them to pray this continually. It was necessary for them and it is necessary for us to pray continually that we our legacy will be “They lived a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (Colossians 1:10).
In living a worthy life, Paul said the church would know they life was worthy by “bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b). The church must bear fruit. There must be action in response to the acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of God’s will, otherwise such wonderful insight is wasted. As our earlier statistics as to how New Yorkers spend their time suggested, we prefer entertainment to prayer. We generally prefer everything else to God and bearing fruit. Marva J. Dawn is an American Christian theologian, author, musician and educator, borrowing from the book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, argues that “Television has habituated its watchers to a low information-action ratio, that people are accustomed to ‘learning’ good ideas (even from sermons) and then doing nothing about them.” The test of faith is whether we ask for God’s intervention through prayer and then accept and follow through the wisdom he sends to us. We can know if we passed this test of faith if there is fruit in our life and the life of our church that is pleasing to God.
But Paul understood that good works would not win over some people to Christ. The culture of Paul’s day, including the culture in Colossae was antagonistic, and even hostile, to both faith and good works of the church. Does that sound familiar? Christians then (and now) were met with resistance and adversity. Therefore, they needed God to intervene not to silence the hostility but instead to strengthen the church “with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:11). God is not going to change the situation surrounding the church by making the meanness, arrogance, viciousness, and indifference of the world simply go away. If God has not done that since Adam and Eve first sinned it seems unlikely God will do it today. Instead, God strengthens his chosen people to endure and have patience until the day he sets everything right again. In the meantime, God uses his people to be instruments through which the world can experience the presence of God and ask why? In their asking, God’s people can then share the news that God has shared with them. That is God’s plan. There is no alternative plan. As God’s chosen people we need to be in continual prayer to ask for the strength and power to endure and be patient in the work of God’s plan.
Finally, Paul prayed that the church at Colossae would be a giving church not in the sense of finances but a church “giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12). Why did Paul pray the church would be joyful to God? There is only one reason. Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s intervention into the world. The Apostle John wrote, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1,14, 17b). “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus came that the church members at Colossae and us could know God, receive God, and have eternal life. This life we are living in this moment, however glorious it may be, is not the end of the story. There is more life to come only in that life, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Knowing our identity and our destiny should be the source of great comfort. In our comfort, we should be joyful and thankful for God’s ultimate intervention in our life by sending Jesus Christ.
Paul’s message was simple. “2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). Let’s do this together that we may know God’s will, live a life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work, have great patience, and be joyful. Amen and Amen.