In preaching through Romans and now beginning the epistle to the Colossians, I have somehow stumbled upon a series of sorts that has come out of my usual verse by verse exposition. This series doesn’t have a title, but it has to do with the life of the church. Perhaps this emphasis was brought to my mind as a result of the pandemic, and the ensuing restrictions that were placed upon the church. It made me examine why we go to church, the reason for the church, and whether or not church was essential. It seemed at the time that government had deemed the church inessential, whereas I believed that the church was essential to life as a Christian. Church is not an addendum, it is not entertainment, it is not merely a social gathering. But I believe that scripture teaches that the church is Christ’s body on earth, in other words, the church is the physical manifestation of Christ on earth, and as such the physical assembly of this body is absolutely essential.
Now I don’t want you to take my word for it. Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body.” As you can see, the church and Christ’s body are synonymous. And then another one, found in the book we are now studying, which verse we looked at last week, Col. 1:18 “He (that is Christ) is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” Again the church and the body of Christ are synonymous, and furthermore, it says that He will have first place in everything. You might rephrase that to say that the church, Christ’s body is to be the number one priority in every situation. I wish I could say that proved to be true in our experience. But I’m afraid that for most 21st century Christians, the church is not their number one priority. However, the confession that Jesus is Lord means that He is to have preeminence in all things.
So anyway, in spite of being an expositional preacher, I have managed to preach a series of messages on the church which have come from our exposition of Romans and Colossians. This series began with the worship of the church, then the essentiality of the church, then the love of the church, the edification of the church, the model for the church, the fruit of the church, and the saints of the church. That finished up Romans, and as we began Colossians I skipped a few verses so that we might continue our series with Christ, the Head of the Church. Now this week, I will probably conclude this series with what I will call the Prayer for the Church.
Paul begins this epistle, after a short introduction, with a prayer for the church at Colossians. And I will suggest to you that his prayer for the church, should become a model for the prayer of the church. We might learn to pray by studying Paul’s prayer, so that we might pray more effectively.
The scriptures make much of prayer. Jesus made much of prayer. The One who would seem to need prayer the least, prayed the most. Jesus spent many an entire night in prayer on a lonely mountain top. His last night on earth He spent praying for the disciples in the Upper Room, and then praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with the disciples before He was arrested. And you will remember that Jesus implored the disciples to pray with Him, to keep watch for just an hour, and yet they fell asleep.
Isn’t it amazing that Jesus desired the disciples to pray with Him? At this point they weren’t exactly spiritual giants. And yet Jesus wanted them to pray. But Jesus wanted them to pray not only for Him, but for their own sake. Notice He said to them in Matt. 26:41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” I can assure you that a life that is prayerful, is a holy life. It is one in which temptation rarely overtakes you. It produces a life that is focused on the Lord. It produces a victorious life.
Now in scripture we are encouraged to pray for the church, for one another, and for ourselves. In Ephesians Paul indicates that prayer is an essential weapon of the church. After listing the spiritual armor needed for spiritual warfare, he says in Eph. 6:18-20, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and [pray] on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in [proclaiming] it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Prayer is direct communication with God. And we are to pray at all times, for all the saints, that is the church, and for those who minister to us in preaching the word of God.
There are many such encouragements to pray found in scripture, but another one that I want to mention is found in Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Over my lifetime I have probably quoted this verse literally thousands of times in prayer to God. A great strategy of prayer is to speak back the promises of scripture to God.
Philippians 4:6 has a lot of important points that can be made concerning prayer and the peace of God which is given in response to our prayer. But what I would like to draw your attention to is two components of prayer which are laid out in that verse. And the two components of prayer are supplication, which also can be translated as petition, and thanksgiving, which may also be translated as praise. Petition and thanksgiving.
Now I point that out because that is the same method that Paul employs here in his prayer for the church. He begins his prayer with thanksgiving, praising God for certain things that are true concerning the Colossians. Then he moves on to petitions on behalf of the Colossian church, and then he sums it all up with another burst of thanksgiving at the end of his prayer.
Notice first of all that Paul mentions that he prays always for the church at Colassae. Perseverance is essential to prayer. In the verse from Ephesians 6 that I read a moment ago the apostle exhorts us that “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit.” I think how we pray is secondary to how often we pray. The frequency of prayer is important. Persevering in prayer is important. Staying in an attitude of prayer. Prayer should be strategic. Daniel prayed three times a day, everyday. And look at the life he lived and how God blessed him, even to the point of this political exile being made an advisor to kings.
Jesus taught a parable in Luke 18:1 “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” In that parable He equated prayer with a woman who came constantly before the king, so that he was afraid that she would wear him out if he did not grant her request. And in 1Thess. 5:17 we are told to “pray without ceasing.” So, it’s important that we pray frequently, which Paul says he does for the church.
Secondly, notice that Paul begins with thanksgiving to God for the faith that was found among the Colossian church. Thanksgiving, as I pointed out earlier, is an important ingredient of our prayers. Paul told Timothy in 1Tim. 2:1-2 “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties [and] prayers, petitions [and] thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
But notice Paul gives thanks to God for their faith. Faith is an individual decision. But it is also a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God.” So we pray that God would grant to a person the gift of faith. That their eyes might be opened so that they will believe the truth. I think salvation can be correlated to giving sight to a blind person. God has to open a person’s heart to believe in order for them to receive Christ by faith. And so faith is something we can thank God for, in the case of the church, but it’s also something we should ask God for, in the case of an unbeliever.
Notice also that faith is not simply believing in the existence of God, nor believing in the existence of Jesus. But it is faith in the work of Christ. Paul says he is “praying always for you,
since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel.” Paul says their faith came as the result of hearing the word of truth, the gospel.
He says in Rom 10:17 “So faith [comes] from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The word of Christ is the truth of the gospel. And the truth of the gospel is that God sent His Son Jesus the Messiah to earth to die for our sins. Recognizing you are a sinner, that you are in need of a Savior, that you are in need of forgiveness, and repenting of your sin, believing that Jesus died in your place to pay the penalty of your sin, and that He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven- that is the gospel. Faith in Christ’s gospel is saving faith. The Bible says that even the devils believe in God, but they are not saved. Saving faith is believing much more than simply that God exists, and it starts with repentance of your sin.
So thanksgiving is being thankful for the gift of salvation. Then Paul adds to that thankfulness for the fruit of the gospel as it is being sown throughout the world. He says at the end of vs 5, “the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.”
Jesus gave a parable about the sower who went out to sow and some fell on good ground, some found on stoney ground, some fell beside the road and so forth. I’m sure you all are familiar with the parable. But the point I want to emphasize is when Jesus explained the parable He made it clear that the seed the sower was spreading was the word of God. And the seed which fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it and who brings forth fruit.
That’s why Paul continues in his thanksgiving for Epaphras, who had ministered the word to the Colossians and had brought back the good news to Paul of the bearing of fruit that was occurring in the church there. It would seem that Paul had never been to Colossae, but Epaphras was likely the minister to the church, and his faithfulness to proclaim the word resulted in the fruit that was evident in the lives of the Colossians. We are to sow the seed, but it is God that gives the increase.
And in vs 8 Paul tells us what the fruit of the church is, saying, “and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:22 Paul identifies the primary fruit of the Spirit is love. And in 1Cor. 13:13 he says concerning spiritual gifts; “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It’s interesting to note that in this prayer, Paul is thankful for their faith, in vs 4, their hope in vs 5, and their love in vs 6. Love is the fruit of their salvation. Love for God and love for one another. Love is not just some sort of sentimental expression, but speaking the truth in love. Love is being concerned about another person’s benefit. And the greatest benefit that anyone could receive is to be saved, to be delivered from darkness and transferred to the church of Christ. Telling someone that they are a sinner, that there is forgiveness by faith in Christ’s gospel, and telling them the truth even if it hurts your relationship is really acting in love. Love is not concealing the truth because you’re afraid of offending them. Love is speaking the truth to a lost and dying world.
So Paul begins his prayer for the Colossians with thanksgiving. Not simply because it is some formula, a way to somehow butter God up with praise so then you can ask Him for what you really want. But because thankfulness shapes your perspective. Thanksgiving for what God has done gives us confidence that God cares, and that God can and will help us, because He has so graciously helped us in the past. Thanksgiving releases an intercession which is formed out of blessing and not out of crisis. It’s a certainty that there will be times of crisis, but our prayer life should not be founded on a response to crisis, but out of a response to blessing. And when we realize our blessings, we should be inspired to offer up even more prayers and petitions to God from whom all blessings come.
“For this reason” then, Paul says in vs 9, he offers up specific petitions on behalf of the Colossians. Because of his thankfulness for God’s blessings of faith, hope and love in the life of the Colossians, he is spurred to ask God to specifically fill them “with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.”
Paul prays specifically, so let’s look specifically at what he is petitioning God for. First, that God would fill the church with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Spiritual understanding is discernment. I believe that is a spiritual gift that is too often undervalued in the church. Spiritual discernment is the gift to be able to rightly divide the word of truth, to be able to discern false teaching, and determine false spirits. Lord knows there is a great need for that today. And in Colossae, they also had a need to discern the false teaching that was gaining a foothold in their church doctrine. I’m not going to go all into it today, but there was some sort of teaching which promised a deeper level of Christianity, which actually wasn’t the true gospel at all. Some level of teaching which promised a deeper experience which was not based on sound doctrine.
But Paul knows that true knowledge of the will of God comes from wisdom and the discernment which is given by the Holy Spirit, and that does not lead to some “deeper experience” that the false teachers were teaching, but it results (as he says in vs 10) “in a walk worthy of the Lord, being pleasing to Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” True knowledge produces a holy walk. Christian doctrine is not just head knowledge, but it’s applied in day to day life. It results in a different walk, a different life.
Paul details this walk as being pleasing to the Lord. We talked about that last week. If you love the Lord, you will seek to please Him, to serve Him, to be found pleasing to Him. Furthermore, a true walk results in being fruitful in every good work. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Our walk is to do the works of Christ, to love one another, to serve the Lord in sowing the seed of the gospel.
And finally this walk of faith involves growing in the knowledge of God. How do we do that? We study His word. We come to the true knowledge of God through HIs word. That is the only way we can truly know God is through His word. His word is the only barometer of truth that we have. Even if you had an experience in which you believed God directly spoke to you, you would still have to judge the truth of it by God’s word. To do anything less is to leave yourself open to being deceived.
To know Christ is to love Him. We grow in our love for the Lord through reading His word, by meditating on Him. And as we know more of Him, we love Him more, and if we love Him more, we will keep His commandments, ie, do the things that are pleasing to Him.
Paul continues his prayer, petitioning God that specifically they would be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.” Notice Paul prays that they would be strengthened by the power of God in order to be steadfast. What does steadfast mean? It means faithful, loyal, without wavering. It carries the idea of standing fast in the storms and trials of life.
In Ephesians 4:14-15 Paul speaks of stedfastness, saying, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him who is the head, [even] Christ.” The Colossians were in danger of being tossed about by a new wind of doctrine, and as such were in danger of spiritual shipwreck. Paul’s prayer was that God would strengthen them so that they would be found to be stedfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:58)
And that they would be strengthened to attain patience. Patience means endurance, perseverance, longsuffering. Steadfastness and patience are basically synonyms, but with perhaps a different emphasis. Patience has more a sense of endurance. James speaks of trials producing endurance. James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have [its] perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
It’s interesting that Paul links joy with patience as well here in vs 11. But also notice that though the idea of trials is indicated in his prayer, Paul doesn’t ask God to take them out of the trial, but to give them endurance and steadfastness as they go through the trial. Because as James indicates, the trial is God’s means of refining us, of strengthening us, and giving us confidence in God. So many times our prayers in crisis mode is “Lord deliver me. Get me out of this!” But Paul prays “Lord, be with them as they go through trials, and give them steadfastness and endurance so that they come out of it perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Finally, Paul concludes His prayer for the church with a final round of thanksgiving. Vs 12, “joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” I believe that Paul here is giving thanks for the suffering that they were called to endure. The inheritance that God qualified them to share in is not just the glory of heaven, but the sufferings on earth. This is the biggest challenge yet to our prayer life. To joyously give thanks to God for our sufferings.
But I would remind you of the attitude of Peter and John who when they were arrested and scourged and thrown in prison, went away rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer for the Lord’s sake. Why would you have that perspective?
Well, the answer may be found in Romans 8:16-18 “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with [Him] so that we may also be glorified with [Him.] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
We can rejoice because we have been counted worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. Even our trials can be the source of blessing. And as Paul makes it clear in Romans, if we suffer with Him here, we shall be glorified with Him there. And the glory that we shall enjoy there, cannot be compared to the suffering that we share in here. As we saw last Wednesday in our Bible study in 2 Cor. 4:17-18 “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
The key to enduring with patience the trials that are set before us is to pray at all times, pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all things with all prayer and supplication. Phl 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.