We began a study last week of Paul’s short letter to the Colossians. We talked about the power of the gospel to change lives and the overwhelming joy of understanding God’s grace in all its fullness. This morning we want to follow Paul as he talks about what it means and how we can live a life that is worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:9-14)
Wouldn’t it be great to wake up every morning knowing exactly what God wanted from you that day, and go to bed every night knowing that you had been pleasing to him? Paul tells the Christians in Colossae, “that’s what I’m praying for you.” Wouldn’t you like to hook into that? To get a firm grip on the will of God and what makes God happy.
That’s what Paul’s concern is about – spiritual health and growth – “asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will though all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
Of prime concern to each one of us is to know God’s will – how can we know what he desires, specifically what does he want us to do – in the decisions we make – how can we know?
Access is gained through spiritual wisdom and spiritual understanding – not second rate, not ivory tower. Some think of spiritual wisdom as some kind of mystical, not really serious brand of knowledge. But Paul is saying that to know God and his will you must seek it – not just through worldly eyes, but through eyes of faith – not suspending reality, but taking into account all of reality – which includes much more than our empirical, scientific, fact based modern thinking allows.
If one desires to know God’s will, he must seek it first through his word, and then in practice.
There is a purpose for knowing God’s will – it is not a theoretical exercise in the abstract. Paul writes: “in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord.” Spiritual wisdom and understanding – knowing God’s will – living a worthy life. I’m glad Paul brought these together – knowledge and living. We tend to think of theology as some academic pursuit, unrelated to real life. But not Paul – what you know about God, what you believe about God – must impact how you live at its deepest level.
And as we read deeper in this passage we learn that what is involved in leading this life worthy of the Lord is not just a matter of switching tracks from worldly to heavenly. It’s not just that we walk out of step with the world, or have different ideas than everybody else. It is the distinction between light and dark. It is being rescued from the kingdom of oppression and death and being given citizenship in the kingdom of freedom and life.
So, let’s not be tempted to look at this worthy life as simply slapping a fresh coat of whitewash on the old worldly lifestyle and thinking it will pass muster with God. This is a life that has been leveled down to the foundation and rebuilt from the ground up.
For some of us, we think that Paul is just throwing out a pipe dream. We know deep in our hearts that no matter how good you are you can’t be worthy of the Lord. And so we take our editor’s pencil (mentally at least) and where Paul wrote “worthy” we add the prefix “un” – for we know deep in our hearts that we are “unworthy” and could never be anything but. Wait a moment before you do that though, because Paul is not trying to send us on some misguided ego-trip. He isn’t deluding himself or us into thinking we are going to live a perfect a super-spiritual lifestyle that God looks at and says “Wow!”
Worthiness implies deservedness. And by our own actions and our own spirituality, we know that isn’t possible. What we deserve is punishment and death.
Deservedness can only be imparted by God – vs. 12 – “the Father who has qualified you…” There it is – it is not we who attain worthiness, but God who makes us worthy. We are worthy, with all of its implications for life and salvation.
Now, in practical terms, what does a life that is worthy of the Lord look like?
It’s easy to get lost in the maze of exhortations and admonishments – especially since the different translations have a difficult time making coherent English out of a series of Greek participles which elaborate on this fundamental intention, to live a life worthy of the Lord.
Look at these four phrases that are so systematic and deliberate in their description of this worthy life:
This worthy life begins by:
“Bearing fruit in every good work”
This is not a works based salvation. Our worthiness is not on the quota system. But when we read the sister letter to Colossians, the Ephesian letter – we get a better understanding of what Paul is meaning here: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph. 2:8-10. Works are not the means to worthiness, but the practical expression of that worthiness.
The apostle Peter writes: For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 2 Peter 1:5-9
You see, it is not just the quantity of the work, but the quality of the life.
Worthiness is to be found in bearing the fruit of the spirit and in fruitful activity for God.
The second dimension of this worthy life is found in verse 10:
“Growing in the knowledge of God”
Where is your knowledge of God going to find its source? In his Word. God has revealed himself there. But it also takes the practical application of these principles in real life: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25.
In fact, the Hebrews writer says that spiritual maturity is the process of applying what we learn – Heb. 5:14 “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Worthiness is to be found in our knowledge of God. But the mere collection of facts about God is not what Paul is talking about. Our goal isn’t just to be encyclopedias of information about God, but to actually know God – to have an intimate relationship with God.
At a church I was at, we had a very good Bible class teacher – he was knowledgeable about God, could teach outstanding classes about any subject in the Bible. In fact, one Sunday he taught a class on how God hates divorce, then the next week, left his wife for another woman. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. James says, “Don’t just listen to the Word, do what it says.”
Paul adds a third layer to this worthy life is found in verse 11:
“Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might”
This in itself has an underlying purpose – “so that you may have great endurance and patience.”
Worthiness is to be found in learning to depend on the strength of God rather than our own strength. It is only as we come to the end of our own resources and recognize the bankruptcy of our own spirits that God can finally create some room to work. As long as we think we can handle our lives and solve our problems, God stands to the side waiting for us to turn it over to him.
I would guess that more of us fail at this point than at any other in trying to be followers of Jesus. We are strong willed and independent, and make no apologies for it. We excuse it away as being “just the way I am.” It may be just the way you are, but it’s not the way God wants you to be. Quit thinking that self-dependence is a godly virtue.
I’ve heard it said that the hardest words to say are “I’m sorry.” And I’ll admit how difficult it can be to apologize. But I think more of us struggle with the three words: “I need help.” When was the last time you admitted you couldn’t handle your own problems (even when you couldn’t and knew you couldn’t)? Our pride takes control and we lose the support that God built into our lives by putting us into the body of Christ, and we rob others of the joy of helping us, by not letting them.
The strength that we need isn’t just more of what got us to where we are - leaving us thinking if I try a little harder, work a little smarter. This is “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might.” This is the strength that comes when we are fully dependent upon Jesus. It is his strength, his power, his abundance that fills us.
Paul’s final description of what makes a worthy life is:
“Joyfully giving thanks to the Father”
Do you really want to know what pleases God? A grateful heart. Appreciation and gratitude for everything he has done for us. Thankfulness takes the focus off of us and places it where it belongs – on the Father.
I’ve learned that most people don’t know how to be grateful; they don’t know how to express appreciation. Most of the time, if they have appreciative thoughts, they keep them to themselves, or if they try to voice them, it comes out sounding insincere. We’ll say, “Well, you shouldn’t have, but thanks anyway.” That’s not joyfully giving thanks.
Imagine giving a gift to someone that you have made yourself. You have spent hours on it, you have carefully crafted it, just with them in mind. You anticipate giving it to them, and their response when you do. The day comes and they unwrap it, and… “Oh, well that’s nice – thanks a lot.” How would you feel? Imagine how God feels when he pours out his gifts into our lives, he gave his one and only Son to die for us, and we say, “Well, thanks, I guess. But what I really need is…” How do you think he feels?
We need to learn the vocabulary of thankfulness, we need to learn to express appreciation – joyful appreciation – to each other – but most of all to God. We need to take time every day, not just asking God for things we need and want, but thanking him for what he has done in our lives.
When we come to verse 15 next week, Paul will launch into the heart of the letter – a magnificent account of the deity and supremacy of Christ. But in these three verses that precede it, Paul describes the kind of life – a worthy life – that finds a welcome invitation before the throne of the Father – this Father to whom we joyfully give thanks.
Here in verses 13-14, Paul sets the stage for being able to see and appreciate the glory of Christ.
God is the one who has:
“qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light”
“rescued us from the dominion of darkness”
“brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”
This “kingdom of light,” this “kingdom of the Son” – they define our true citizenship and loyalties. It is where our hearts are, where we will spend eternity.
Over the next year and a half of political campaigning, filled with political jargon, being enticed this way and that, told to choose sides, hate this candidate, love our candidate, be a true American, don’t forget where your real citizenship lies. Our eternity doesn’t rest on who our next president or congressman might be, but on who our Lord and Savior is.
The last verse is the crucial heart of the gospel – “the Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
God has qualified us, rescued us, redeemed us and forgiven us. The life that is worthy of him is a life that is spent seeking to please him in every way.