Growing in the Knowledge of God – Colossians 1:9-12
And, now, having gotten some preliminary issues out of the way here and here, some comments on the text of the prayer itself:
9 Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἀφ᾿ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν, οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι, ἵνα πληρωθῆτε τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ, 10 περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν, ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ, 11 ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν. Μετὰ χαρᾶς 12 εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί·
“9 For 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, 10 so 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. 11 May 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 joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (NRSV)
The apostle Paul’s prayer in this passage can be outlined as follows:
- First, there are specific prayer requests:
- that the church will be sensitive to God’s will, so that they understand what is spiritually valuable;
- and, that this, in turn, would issue in conduct worthy of the name “Christian” and pleasing to God (in every good work & in growth in the knowledge of God);
- that they be strengthened by God’s power to stay the course.
- Then, there is thanksgiving: for light, for love, and for rescue from evil.
- Then, there is the recognition that all this has sprung from what God has done in Christ.
He prays that they will have: “the knowledge of God’s will” (τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ). As I read the New Testament, it seems that “knowledge” is closely related to experience and life. New Testament writers did not see “knowledge” as purely academic and theoretical — as we might be tempted to do. No. Knowledge was life-related. It’s not just what to think, but also how to live. And, then he adds the phrase: “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ). Wisdom is the art of living: an understanding of how to live and what life’s abiding values really are. And, this is a growing thing, it’s something we are always learning. It’s not something we just possess. We are always learning wisdom — from God and from one another, and from the experience of those who have gone before us. We do not keep what wisdom we have without continually seeking. Spiritual growth is an ongoing thing: continually we are seeking new insight, new knowledge, new direction. The great enemy of Christian growth is complacency, apathy, not wanting to learn. But, the truth is: we are either moving ahead or we are falling behind.
But, they not only need the knowledge of God’s will, they also need the power to perform it. “…so 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. May 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 joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Addictions sometimes have us in their grasp. We are aware of them, but they hold us in their grasp. Furthermore, it is possible to have the knowledge of what is right, but not the willingness to do it. It is possible to know what is right but lack the moral character to do it. Notice: God is pictured here as giving us a power that is beyond our own. And, that power enables us to endure everything in life with patience. We bear with life. We bear with one another. We don’t give up on ourselves. God’s grace gives us the strength to be patient. And, beyond even that the power of God brings us joy, There is a deep well spring of joy in our inner selves. God’s power bring us not only the ability to bear all things, to bear with others, to be patient with ourselves, but also the ability to rejoice in all circumstances! “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NRSV).
And, there is a larger purpose to all of this. They need knowledge and power so that they may lead lives worthy of the Lord and please him in every way (verse 10). Knowledge and power are not ends in themselves. All Christian knowledge, empowerment, and experience is supposed to be translated into life. What is “a life worthy of the Lord”? It is a life that is a good reflection upon our faith and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a life of love and grace and compassion. It is a life of integrity and high standards — but it is a life that leads with grace. Sour, judgmental, authoritarian, controlling attitudes can bring disrepute on our faith and our church and our Lord. Our commitment to high moral standards needs to be wrapped in love and compassion and respect if it is going to bring hope to others — and honor to the Lord we serve.
Do we expect this? Do we believe this is a possibility for us: to live a life worthy of the Lord? Are we expecting to live this way today?
We can never be faultless or perfect in an absolute sense — but, we can, and ought to be, living for God with a clear conscience, as the second letter of John puts it, “walking in the light.” This kind of life John Wesley called Christian Perfection. This is a perfection of intention. This is an evangelical perfection: a pure desire to serve God and to love others.
This kind of life is described with progressive verbs: “bearing fruit in every good work” and “growing in the knowledge of God.” We lose what we have if we do not grow. Are our good works increasing? Is our knowledge increasing. Are we growing in one and not the other? Thus, Christian Perfection is not a static state: it is something that is continual, ongoing, and growing.
So, bear in mind that when John Wesley used the phrase Christian Perfection, he was not using the word “perfection” in the same sense that we might. It is a continually growing state of spiritual conformity to the known will of God. (See: The Nature of Christian Perfection.)
And, it seems to me, that this prayer, if fulfilled in their lives, would be the most effective antidote to the false teachings which were running rampant in the church at Colossae. What they need is not a doctrinal statement, but a genuine, real and growing experience with God. They need to look to God, to seek new knowledge and experience, to walk in the Spirit, to do good, to find new ways of doing good, to continually press on to perfection. This is the way to keep from being entangled in falsehood. Look to the spiritual disciplines. Keep prayerfully reading the Scripture. Keep on worshiping. Attend to the sacraments. Seek ways to share the love of God with others. Find ways to make deep connections with your brothers and sisters in the faith. These are the means to mature understanding. There are no shortcuts: there is just simple day to day to day to day routine obedience. This is how God’s Spirit forms our character and teaches us.
May Paul’s prayer for the Colossians be fulfilled in us!