The renowned child psychiatrist Robert Coles told a story in a graduate class at Harvard University many years ago, saying: “A highly regarded psychiatrist recently told me in despair: ‘I have been doing therapy with a man for 15 years. He is as angry, as self-centered, and as mean as he was the first day he walked into my office. The only difference is that now he knows why he is so angry and mean.’”
Dr. Coles pointed out that although the psychiatrist provided his client with insight as to how his childhood emotional wounding had affected his adult dysfunction, the man still hadn't changed. Coles asked, "Could we conclude that what this man needed wasn’t just information but transformation?”
Yes, indeed. What this man needed, and what all of us need, is not simply information, but transformation. Which in many ways, is the subject of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians and for us today: that our information would bring about transformation, in the form of radically changed lives for Christ.
So if you’ve still got your bibles out, great, if not, I invite you to open up your pew bibles to pg. 1676. Last week we started a new sermon series on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And as we highlighted last week, Paul’s encouragement to them in chapter 2 verse 6, serves as the defining and central verse of the entire letter. We find these words on the very next page, where he says to the Colossian church:
“just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught”
Paul wants this young and growing church to know that Jesus is not someone that they simply accept and put their faith in at the beginning of their faith journey, but rather someone that they must cling to throughout their entire life.
In fact, that language of being rooted, that language of rootedness illustrates this very point. For it gives us this image of the Christian life as a tree. That just as the word of God was impressed upon our hearts when we put our faith in Christ long ago, like a seed planted in the ground, we find our nourishment and strength in Christ when the tree’s very roots expand further and deeper into the soil. And in doing so, throughout the year, the tree continues to grow up and mature, accumulating rings, bearing fruit in every good work.
“just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him”
And not only does this verse serve as the central and defining verse of the entire book, it also serves as the very framework for these first 14 verses of Paul’s letter.
Where last week we looked at Part 1 of a 2 part prayer. Paul opened his letter with a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for the Colossians' faith in Jesus and their love for all of God’s people. And now today we come to Part 2 of this prayer, where Paul moves from thanksgiving to what we might call intercession.
Where he moves from “Here’s why I’m thankful for you … “ to now “Here’s what I hope for you”
In other words, the prayer moves from “just as you received Christ as Lord “Hey, you’re doing great! You’re off to a great start! … now continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him,” “Keep going, keep growing.”
And so with that said, let’s now dive into Part 2 of Paul’s prayer, verses 9-14.
As I was initially studying this passage, all I could see was this random grocery list of prayer requests … you know how sometimes when you go to the grocery store, you come home with some weird combination of milk, ground beef, grapes, laundry soap, like no coherence whatsoever, but instead through a closer look, Paul has indeed assembled an organized a list of ingredients here that make for a beautiful meal. And here’s what I mean by that. I think we can capture this prayer in just two words: Information and Transformation. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians and for you is that they would grow in a kind of information that would bring about great transformation. We’ll tackle each one at a time:
Here’s how Paul begins his prayer, saying in the second part of verse 9:
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives”
Paul desires to see them grow in knowledge, or in other words, information. And here Paul isn’t talking about a kind of information or knowledge that is about facts or figures or statistics, nor is he talking about biblical trivia such as knowing the names of the 12 disciples or us having memorized the exact order of the books of the New Testament.
Even more, when Paul talks about a “knowledge of his will” he also is probably not talking about God’s will for us in the specific circumstances of our own lives, such as “Should we buy this house?” “Or should I go into business or education?”
Rather, what Paul is getting at when he talks about being filled with the knowledge of his will is the knowledge of what God has done in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, do we have a good and right understanding of who Jesus is, what he has done through his life, death, and resurrection, and how then we’re called to live in light of that. And the best place to find this kind of knowledge and information is in none other than the bibles you now hold in your hands. Paul in fact highlights some of these truths in verses 13 and 14, for example when he says, “for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
And Paul’s hope is not that this is the kind of knowledge or information that they hold in their brains as if cramming for a test, but rather that it would be impressed upon their hearts. Or as Paul says, that they would hold this knowledge “through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
For example, at the conference I was at last week, I went to a seminar led by a youth pastor by the name of Cameron Cole, he’s a leader in the field, and he shared with us how each morning when he drops his kids off for school, before they get out the car, they go through a gospel catechism, simple questions and answers to remind them of some core gospel truths. And here it is, it’s short and sweet:
What does gospel mean? Good news. What’s the good news? Jesus died for my sins. Why’d he die for your sins? So I can have a relationship with him. Who loves you the most? God. Who loves you the second most? Mom and Dad. What can you do by God’s power and grace? Hard things.
That’s it. Together, as they begin their day, they remind each other of what’s good and beautiful and true. And in doing so, Cameron is echoing Paul’s prayer for his son and daughter, “asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
And he does so, so that, this now brings us to the second part of the prayer, we’re now in verse 10, “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”
Paul’s prayer is that the Colossians, that you and I, would be filled with a kind of knowledge, a kind of information that leads to transformation.
He wants their knowing to inform their doing, for their beliefs to shape their behavior, for the truths of the gospel to inspire their testimony. “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”
And when Paul uses the language of “so that”, he’s showing them and showing us how these two parts of the prayer and the Christian life work in tandem, how right information leads to transformation.
For example, think about those kids we just talked about as they get out of the car each day. For them to know and be reminded each day that God loves them and that by God’s grace they can do hard things, my gosh, that is going to set them up well to face the day, no matter what comes their way. And truth is, it wouldn’t hurt for us adults to remember those truths too.
It's information that leads to transformation. Which brings us to this crucial question, what does a life pleasing to the Lord look like? What does it look like to live a life worthy of the Lord on an everyday basis and over a lifetime? This is in many respects what the rest of this prayer is all about. Four aspects to the transformed life that Paul mentions here. We’ll look at them briefly and in order.
First, bearing fruit in every good work
Here’s this rooted language again. Like produce growing from a tree, a tree with roots down deep, you and I will bear fruit, through lives filled with obedience, faithfulness, and love, wherever it is we live, work, play or learn. And the overarching movement and progression of this prayer remind us that this fruit we bear is not the source of our salvation, but rather the natural by-product from it.
Second, growing in the knowledge of God
Okay, this is kind of interesting. Didn’t we already cover growing in knowledge in the first part of this prayer? Like, why is Paul being redundant here? Well, in one of my commentaries I read, Pastor Kent Hughes, who wrote the book Disciplines of a Godly Man, the focus of our upcoming men’s group, explains that Paul here is highlighting the ongoing need for information in midst of our transformation. After all, it’s not as though at the beginning of our walks with Jesus we immediately download all of the information and biblical truth that we’ll need for the rest of our lives. No, instead, in the midst of our growing faith, we need to continue learning and continue receiving the knowledge of God through his word. Even more, you and I have a tendency to forget things from time to time. We need reminders and so we keep coming back, to our bibles, to prayer, to fellowship, to church, to grow in the knowledge of God.
Third, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
This third aspect of a transformed life that Paul mentions reminds us that life is hard sometimes. That word for patience, in the original language, means, “long suffering.” That word endurance points us towards an athletic endeavor, where we need stamina for those days and weeks where you feel like you’re running a marathon.
And for this, God gives the strengthening! It’s according to his glorious might that we can run the race set before us.
And fourth and finally, we live a life worthy of the Lord by giving joyful thanks to the Father
One of the surest signs of a transformed life is the extent to which our lives are marked by joyful gratitude. And not simply gratitude for what he has given you through his creation, our homes, our jobs, our relationships, but in addition, what he has given you through his redemption. Notice what Paul says about the Father to whom we give thanks, a Father “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”
Most weeks, sometime on Monday, I send out the upcoming Sunday sermon scripture to a small group of people, to get their thoughts and insights and questions, and for them to get a sneak peak of what we’ll be studying that Sunday. If you ever want to be included on that email, let me know. For as I’ve said before, you’ll get far more out of any given sermon if you read the scripture passage beforehand. Anyway, writing back later in the week, Shani expressed this sense of gratitude in writing this:
It is encouraging to be reminded that we serve a God who pursues us in so many ways: he fills us with his Spirit to guide us, he strengthens us with his power, he qualifies us to share in His kingdom, and he rescues us from darkness and sin. What a good, good Father we serve!
Those are certainly words of gratitude and they also happen to be a great reminder that God is the hero and main character in this prayer. Doing the guiding, the strengthening, the qualifying, the rescuing. Indeed, what a good, good Father we serve!
Put it all together, and what you have from Paul, is a prayer that our knowing would inform our doing, that our beliefs would shape our behavior, that our information would bring about a great transformation, both in us individually and as a church.
And so with this said, as we begin to draw things to a close, let’s briefly hit on a few points of application:
First, which of those aspects of a transformed life do you want to focus on growing in, or rather, which one do you want to pray to God to help you grow in? You may think to yourself, “all of them.” Nevertheless, try and drill down and choose one for the week ahead.
Second, I want you to think about who you pray for. What’s striking to me about Paul’s prayer here is that he’s praying for people who are doing quite well. Maybe I’m alone here, but I have a tendency to only pray for those who I know who are in need, who are struggling, who are suffering. My mom has this saying about parenting, she didn’t come up with this, but it goes something like this, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” In other words, our heart often goes out to, our minds are often fixed on those who are hurting the most. Now, to be clear, that’s not a bad thing. We should pray for those who are struggling. And yet, are you praying for others as well? Do you pray for other churches in town, both those that are declining and those that are growing?
Third, I want you to think about how you pray for those you pray for. This might be the part of Paul’s prayer that hits us right between the eyes. I know it does for me. Friends, when you pray for others, do your prayers sound anything like Paul’s does here? Is the content and focus of your prayers anything like Paul’s? Again, maybe I’m alone here, so often my prayers for others are about their physical health, their well-being, their relationships. And that’s good. Do pray for those things! And yet, we may want to ask ourselves, the things that Paul prays for, do you pray for those things too?
When you pray for our students, do you pray that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives?
When you pray for your husband or your wife, do you pray that they would lead a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing God in every way?
When you pray for your fellow church members, do you pray that they would bear fruit in every good work as they go about their week?
When you are rocking your son or granddaughter to sleep, do you pray that throughout their lives they would grow in their knowledge of God?
When you pray for someone who is sick or who is suffering, do you pray that they would be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that they might have great endurance and patience?
When you pray for your aging parents, who are in their final months and years, do you pray that they would give joyful thanks to the Father?
In other words, when you pray, do you pray like Paul?
May Paul’s prayer be the kind of prayer we pray for ourselves, the kind of prayer we pray for one another, the kind of prayer we pray for churches and followers of Jesus everywhere, that,
“just as you and others have received Christ Jesus as Lord, may we continue to live our lives in him, rooted and built up in him.”