”…for you we always thank God.’
How Paul tells us he prays for the people of the Colossian church gives us a wonderful inside look at his heart. What he says about his praying for these people gives us insight into what is important for the life of the church today. The first fourteen verses of this epistle are filled with meaning and could the basis of a whole series of messages. What we are going to try and do this morning is tap into the heart of them to see what they may tell us of how we might well pray for each other. Hear the words of the Apostle Paul from Colossians 1:
Colossians 1: 1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul writes: “In our prayers for you we always thank God…” There is no better place to begin than to express our gratitude to God for those on our hearts. What I’ve discovered about many of us, and in most situations, we end up being thankful for having something which in the past has been denied us: such as a person who is grateful for shoes because as a child his parents were unable to provide them, or the person who finds the diamond that fell out of an engagement ring. But Paul, in this instance. is thanking God for the lives of people who he has never met because of their faithfulness. Look around you. Can you generate such gratitude in your heart for those who gather here week after week. Are those who make up this company of faith any less faithful to Christ, is their love for ‘the saints’ any less, than those of Colossea?
Paul wrote that he is always giving thanks for them in his prayers because, “…we have heard of your faith in Christ and of the love that you have for all the saints.” I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but Meetings and churches have reputations. Now I wouldn’t want you to think that we should let what others think about us be the deciding factor in what we as a Meeting do or don’t do. That is the domain of the Holy Spirit. And I don’t think what others may think of us is the most important item on our agenda but, every so often, we probably need to consider the question, “What is our reputation? You see, it is not just for ourselves that we ask the question. If you read this epistle carefully it becomes clear that the reputation of Jesus Christ is on the line in our life together! You’ve watched the news as have I. You are aware how the world seems to delight to learn that someone in a church somewhere acted foolishly or destructively. “You are known for your faith in Christ and love for each other!” Paul says of the Colossians. What a great thing to say about a church. All of us know how much easier it is to become known for bitter squabbles and power struggles than for authentic mutual love. Clearly, the priorities of the Church in our time need to be evaluated in light of the fact that the world around us sees Jesus Christ through the window of our reputation in the community.
Beyond just giving thanks for the people of the Colossian Church Paul has very specific requests of God for them. “..we have not ceased praying for you,” he says, and he names four specific things for which he prays: 1. That they be filled with knowledge of God, and 2. that they live lives worthy of the Lord. Living lives worthy of the Lord always includes being fruitful and maturing in our relationship with God and with those around us. His prayer points to what takes place when the church attends to its God-given priorities. Namely, “...that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” As we live with faith in Christ and keep the commandment of Christ to love each other, something wonderfsul happens. The Spirit of God works in our lives in such a way that our lives are more fruitful and we grow in our knowledge of and relationship with God. And by the same token as we challenge engage in acts of kindness and compassion and people’s needs are met we have a sense that our fruitfulness in good works is pleasing to God. As you know, unfortunately, the opposite is the case as well.
This week the Presbyterians had their General Assembly. I read their reports and was pleased to learn how they tackled some hard issues, like immigration, the on going struggle to create a just and lasting resolution in the Middle east and civil justice for some within their own communities. But think of all the organized expressions of the Christian faith who do not step up to the plate, who run from these spiritual concerns that have ethical implications. Wasn’t it the failure to bear fruit that brought judgment on a vineyard in one of Jesus’ parables? To Paul, these were people known for their faith in Christ and for the love they have for each other.
His praying that the Colossians’s are fruitful is a special thing for Paul. He speaks of the fruit of the Spirit in Romans 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-23; Philippians 4:8. This is much more than a self satisfied sense of fruitfulness in our inner lives. Fruit is always a tangible demonstration of the life in us – it is always about nurturing others and growing seeds for the future. And evidently the Christian faith is a “life long learning” commitment. Growing in knowledge of God through reading of the Scriptures and meeting together to share our spiritual journeys will have a dramatic impact on how we live and how we live responsively to those around us.
The third thing Paul asks for the Colossians is that they will know the strength that comes from God so that they will be made strong. Paul knows only too well that that none of us dependent on our own resources can live victorious Christian lives. People who successfully combat addictions in their lives know that it is never in their own power but always through a power greater than themselves that they reach sobriety.
And then, also aware from his own life how we are faced with challenges, he prays that they may be prepared to meet with patience the obstacles that are thrown in their path. Not only is the Christian faith a life long learning commitment, it is also a life long challenge and we need to exercise patience, sometimes with others — sometimes with our own selves.
As we pray like Paul for a congregation where all are growing in their relationship with God, we will see a new kind of fruitfulness in the life of the church. His prayer ends like it started but now he is praying that those who are the subjects of his prayer are themselves “…joyfully giving thanks to the Father.…” The people’s thanksgiving is for being a part of the community of ‘saints’, those who have a share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom.
The message of this passage for us is that the Colossian Christians already have whatever they need in Christ. Paul is convinced that the gospel is at work “in” the lives of those who make up the church at Colossea. He uses the little Greek word ‘en’ saying that this work of Christ’s spirit is slowly but relentlessly transforming us into conformity to Christ. For us as individuals and as a community, each day is not the same. We are being reformed, reshaped, renewed and remodeled into being more fully the human being and the church that God intends us to be. In Paul’s last, long and laborious sentence, he pulls out all the stops to assure us that we already have fullness in Christ. It isn’t something we need – we are already recipients. We are now called to bear fruit and grow “in the knowledge of God. Of course not under our own steam but through the dynamis, the power, of Christ’s spirit.