Chapter 3 Paul's Player, and Thanksgiving

Colossians 1:9-14

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. (vv. 9-14)

This section reminds us of the prayers of the apostle for the Ephesians, as recorded in chapters 1 and 3 of that epistle. There is something very precious and exceedingly instructive in being thus permitted to share the thoughts of, and notice the petitions offered up by, the apostle Paul for the Lord’s people in various circumstances. His deep concern for their growth in grace, their enlightenment in divine things, their apprehension of the purpose of God, and the manifestation of spiritual power in the life—all these come out very strikingly as he bows his knees before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was not content to know people were justified and hence safe for eternity.

He was controlled by the earnest desire that each one should understand the hope of his calling in order that the life and walk might be in harmony with it, and that they might remember they were here to represent Christ, their risen Head. These are what formed the burden of his prayers. It is questionable if any merely human writer has ever been able to give as helpful suggestions for our own prayer life as will come to us in our meditation upon these various petitions.

In verses 9-11 we have set forth certain blessings for which he prays. In verses 12-14 there are others for which he gives thanks. It is very important to distinguish these things, that is, to have clearly in mind the privileges and blessings which are nonforfeitable because confirmed to us by God in Christ from the moment we believe on Him who died to make them good to us. The additional blessings for which we need to pray daily, and concerning which there should be constant soul-exercise lest we fail to enter into and enjoy them. Many believers fail in not distinguishing the two classes of blessings.

In certain circles almost every public prayer will be concluded somewhat as follows: “We pray Thee, forgive us our sins and wash us in the blood of Jesus. Receive us into Thy kingdom, give us Thy Holy Spirit, and save us at last for Christ’s sake, Amen.” Yet every petition in this prayer has already been granted to the believer in Christ! God has forgiven us all trespasses. We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. He has already translated us out of the kingdom of darkness into that of the Son of His love. He has sealed us with His Holy Spirit, for “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And we are saved eternally from the moment we believe the gospel. Therefore we might far rather cry exultantly in faith: “We thank Thee that Thou hast forgiven all our sins, and washed us from every stain in the blood of the Lamb. Thou hast brought us into Thy kingdom, given us Thy Holy Spirit, and saved us for eternity.”

Faith says “Amen” to what God has declared in His Word to be true. To go on praying for blessings that He tells us are already ours is the most subtle kind of unbelief, and robs us of the enjoyment that should be our portion if we but had faith to lay hold of the exceeding great and precious promises which are ours in Christ.

Let us then follow carefully the apostle’s prayer, weighing every phrase and clause. He says, “[I] pray for you,… [that] ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will.” Those who were troubling the Colossian saints boasted of their superior knowledge. They had evolved a complex system of mystical and wholly imaginative teaching in regard to the soul’s approach to God through an interminable number of intermediaries, coupled with ascetic regulations and legal observances. In their eyes the gospel as preached by Paul was simplicity indeed, so much so that they looked upon it as a child’s conception of the philosophy of the universe, which was puerile for men of mature minds. But he who knew this gospel in all its grandeur, as few other men have ever known it, speaks here of being “filled with the knowledge of God’s will.” He uses a superlative in the place of a word which the Gnostics were very fond of. They boasted of Gnosis—“knowledge.” He says, Epignosis, meaning, literally, “super-knowledge.” It is in the divine revelation alone that this is found.

By this term, “the knowledge of his will,” I do not understand him to be referring merely to God’s will for the individual believer’s life from day to day (though, indeed, that would be involved in the fuller thought of the will of God, as the drop of water is included in the ocean), but by His will, I take it, he means the wondrous plan or program of the Father known from eternity and now being carried out in time to have its consummation in the ages to come—“the eternal purpose of God.” Here is super-knowledge indeed! Here is that which the cleverest human intellect could never fathom, apart from divine revelation. And this revelation we have in our Bibles. It runs throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to the Apocalypse, furnishing a theme for devout contemplation, and demanding enthusiastic study and careful examination by men of the most erudite minds and brilliant intellects, and the deepest investigation of the most spiritual believers. But in which also the unlearned and the ignorant Christians will find constant enjoyment if they but allow themselves to be guided by the Spirit in searching the Scriptures to see whether these things are so.

So the words that follow stress the important fact that truth is not learned through the intellect alone. He prays that they may comprehend these things “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge aright, and is imparted by the Spirit, and He alone gives true understanding. Therefore, if we would learn the mind of God as revealed in His Word, there must be subjection of heart to the divine Teacher, and that self-judgment and self-distrust which leads one to walk softly before God; not in self-will or egotism, but in humility and lowly dependence on the One who inspired the Holy Scriptures, which alone can make wise the simple.

Then we learn in verse 10 that if God opens up His truth to us it is not merely that we may delight in the wondrous things He has revealed, but it is His desire that we walk in the power of that which He makes known to us. So the prayer goes on, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” We can only walk worthy of the Lord as we know His mind. The study of His Word and a godly walk should ever go together.

It is noteworthy that in Ephesians 4:1 we are exhorted to “walk worthy of [our] vocation,” or calling, as members of the body of Christ, while in Philippians 1:27 we are told to walk worthy of the gospel, which we are left in the world to proclaim. Then in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 we are bidden to “walk worthy of God,” Himself, who has called us to His kingdom and glory. Our walk is ever to be in accordance with the truth revealed to our souls. So here we are to walk worthy of the Lord, He who is the Head of the new creation to which we now belong.

Dr. Griffith Thomas points out that the word here rendered “pleasing” is not found in any other passage in the New Testament, but is used in Greek elsewhere to mean “a preference of the will of others before our own.” Bishop Handley Moule translated the phrase, “Unto every anticipation of His will.”

This is blessed indeed, when the will of God is sweeter far than our own will, and we delight in doing as He would have us, not in order to propitiate Him but to give joy to His heart. Yet most of us learn so slowly that the only true happiness in life is to be found in doing the will of God. In vain we seek for satisfaction by trying to have our own way, until at last like a bird, wearied out with flying against the bars of its cage, we fall back upon the will of God and learn that in it the mind and heart find perfect rest.

Oh, the peace my Saviour gives;
Peace I never knew before;
And the way has brighter grown
Since I’ve learned to trust Him more.

It is the subject believer who becomes fruitful, so he adds, “being fruitful in every good work.” Or it might be better rendered, “bearing fruit in every good work.” When we speak of every good work, we are not to think simply of preaching the gospel, teaching the Holy Scriptures, or engaging in what is sometimes called Christian activity or church work. We are very prone to do this and to distinguish between secular employment and sacred. But we need to be reminded over and over again that everything in a believer’s life is sacred. The church of Rome distinguishes seven sacraments. But every act of a Christian should have a sacramental character using the word as generally understood. Whatsoever is right and proper for me to do in any circumstance, I should do with an eye single to the glory of God, and by so doing I shall be bearing fruit unto Him. The testimony of the little maid who said, “I know I am converted, and my mistress knows I am converted too, because I sweep under the mats now,” has gone around the world, and wherever this gospel is preached it is told for a memorial of her. She was right, for even in the most commonplace duties she was bearing fruit for God, and she sought to glorify Him by the faithful performance of her responsibilities, done not with eye-service as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing “God which trieth the heart.”

Then we have, “Increasing in the knowledge of God.” This is more than the knowledge of the Word of God, though undoubtedly the one leads to the other, for God has made Himself known through His Word. But we increase in the knowledge of God as we walk with Him from day to day, learning more of His love and grace, His tender compassion, His care for those who trust Him; and proving, too, how solemn a thing it is to deviate from the path of obedience and thus be exposed to the rod of correction. We know God as we walk with Him. We walk with Him as we obey His Word.

We know Him as we could not know
Through heaven’s golden years;
We there shall see His glorious face,
On earth they saw His tears;

The touch that heals the broken heart
Is never felt above;
His angels know His blessedness,
His way-worn saints His love.

We shall thank Him for all eternity for every trial along our pilgrim path that gave Him a new opportunity to display His grace and to manifest His heart to us, His needy people, so dependent upon His power and grace.

As we thus go on with Him, we will be strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, and this “unto all patience and long-suffering with joyful-ness.” How much have we here upon which our souls may well meditate? It is He who supplies strength, giving all needed power in order that we may overcome in every adverse circumstance, according to the might of His glory. What room is there for discouragement as temptations and trials surround me and seem about to overwhelm me, if I realize that the very same spiritual dynamic, that wondrous energy which raised Christ from the dead, operates in me by the Spirit that I may be even more than victorious through Him who loves me!

But we might have supposed that all this manifestation of divine energy would result in producing some great outward display that would astonish and amaze an unbelieving world. But no it is “unto all patience.” I need this dynamic force so to keep the flesh in subjection that I can patiently endure whatsoever God in His wisdom sees fit to let me go through while in this wilderness world. Neither will I simply endure with stoic resignation, such as even a pagan philosopher might exhibit, but God would have me patiently wait upon Him and rest in His love even amid circumstances that press hard upon my soul, with long-suffering, that is, uncomplaining endurance. But there is even more than this. In the hour of trial a song of gladness will well up in the heart where the will of God is supreme. And so he adds, “With joyfulness.”

Here is something that the natural man knows nothing of—joy in the time of trial; gladness in the time of hardship; songs in the night, though the darkness be overwhelming; praises to the God of my salvation when nature shrinks and trembles. It was thus the martyrs could rejoice in the arena when thrown to the lions, or exult in the Lord when the flames leaped up around them as they suffered at the stake. And myriads of sufferers all through the Christian era have been able to testify to the sustaining grace of God, when the spirit seemed about to be overwhelmed. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The three verses that follow are in marked contrast to those we have just been considering. We have now thanksgiving instead of prayer. Here all is positive and eternally settled. The blessings enumerated are ours from the moment we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are absolutely nonforfeitable. To pray for these is to dishonor God by casting doubt upon His Word. Notice the three haths and the one have of the King James Version; words that speak of present possession. Faith lays hold of such testimonies and rejoices in the assurance that these wondrous blessings are to be enjoyed even now.

First we read, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” This is true of every Christian, and there are no degrees in this divine fitness. We are made meet to be partakers of our glorious inheritance the instant we are cleansed from our sins and receive the new nature, which is imparted by a divine operation when we are born of God. How different are the thoughts of even some of the best of men! How often we hear it said of some devoted and aged believer, “He is fit for heaven at last.” But he was just as truly fit for heaven the moment he received Christ as he is at the end of a long life of devoted service. Fitness does not depend upon experience. But in this connection it is well to remember that there is something more than the Father’s house, the inheritance of the saints in light, before us.

It is important that we should also have in mind the coming glorious kingdom. In 2 Peter 1:10-11 we are told, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The expression, “these things,” refers to the various Christian virtues enumerated in verses 5-7. It is through these things we are fitted for a place in the coming kingdom, but it is the justifying, regenerating grace of God that alone makes us meet for our heavenly inheritance. In other words, it is important that we distinguish between salvation by grace and reward for service.

We next read, “Who hath delivered us from the power [or, authority] of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of [the Son of his love].” This is a different kingdom to that of which we have been reading in 2 Peter. It is the present sphere where Christ’s authority is owned, the kingdom which we see and enter by new birth. This kingdom consists not of “meat and drink, but [of] righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” As born of God we have lost our old standing as sons of fallen Adam in the satanic kingdom of darkness. We have been brought out of the darkness into the marvelous light of children of God, and it is here, of course, that responsibility comes in to walk as children of light. J. N. Darby was once asked, “But suppose a Christian turned his back on the light. What then?” He replied, “Then the light will shine upon his back!” Most blessed it is to see this. We are in the light in all the value of the precious atoning blood of our Lord Jesus Christ sprinkled upon the mercy seat, the very throne of God from which the light shines.

Lastly we read, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” There is some question as to the manuscript’s authority of the expression, “through His blood.” The best editors generally omit it. It seems to have been inserted from Ephesians 1:7. But that does not for a moment touch the truth of which we have been speaking. It would only suggest the fuller character of redemption which is both by blood and by power. The blood having been shed, the omnipotent power of God makes redemption real to the believer, whose sins have all been forgiven and who has been lifted completely out of those circumstances in which he was once exposed to the judgment of God. As the soul meditates on the wonderful truths so succinctly presented in these three verses the heart will surely go out to God in worship and the life be yielded for devoted service!

Let me recapitulate, as I close:

· He hath made us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

· He hath delivered us from the authority of darkness.

· He hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.

· We have redemption through His blood.

Blessed certainties these that tell in unmistakable terms of our eternal security if once in Christ!