There is an increasing interest in spirituality in our times and it is both thrilling and frightening to see. It is thrilling, because there is openness to the spiritual – it is frightening, because people tend to look for that connection in the wrong places. In the epistle to the Colossians Paul addresses a congregation who somehow got mixed up about a certain philosophy (maybe even philosophies) which was not grounded in the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ (2:8; whatever that philosophy was is beyond the scope and purpose of this work). Hence, it is of utter fruitfulness and importance to explore the Apostle Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving, so that we (especially those who are educators in the church) might see what we should focus on.
Paul’s Prayer for the Church
Just as a quick overview, let us be reminded that in vv. 3-8 Paul is thankful for the Colossian believers’ reaction to the gospel message, how they believed and lived in the love of the Spirit (v.8). In vv. 9-14 “Paul now prays that they might continue on the course they have begun” (Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. The Pillar New Testament commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008. 92). Let us now take a look at his prayer.
Content of the Prayer (cf. Moo, 92)
In order not to be too detailed nor to be ignorant of the overall sequence of this prayer by the Apostle, we will quickly summarize it before we will venture to a more detailed understanding.
St. Paul is praying that the believers at Colossae might be (1) filled with the knowledge of God’s will “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v.9). Then (2) he shows the believers why he prays for such and how such a knowledge of God’s will transforms into a life pleasing to God (vv. 10-11).
(1) The Knowledge of God’s Will
The verb for being filled (ESV) is a “divine passive,” i.e., “that you might be filled by God.” God is the subject, the one, who causes, wills, and accomplishes such a filling. But what does St. Paul mean by being filled with God’s will?
What Paul has in mind is not some particular or special direction for one’s life (as we often use the phrase “God’s will”), but a deep and abiding understanding of the revelation of Christ and all that he means for the universe (vv. 15–20) and for the Colossians (vv. 21–23). (Moo, 93)
The meaning as such is absolute – that which God has willed. This will can be found in Scripture – His Word. God’s will, though it has subjective/individual purposes for each believer, is first and foremost revealed in the Bible and in His Son, Jesus Christ.
To be filled with God’s will “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” would be better translated “with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives” (GNB). It is the Holy Spirit who gives God’s people understanding and wisdom as to live a life worthy of our calling (see also 1 Cor. 2:12–13; 12:1, 4; 14:1–2).
(2) Demonstration of that Knowledge in Ethics – A Lifestyle Pleasing to God
The main purpose of such a filling is to live a life worthy of the Lord (v.10a). Then the Apostle Paul elaborates as to how a life pleasing to the Lord looks like:
First he writes that bearing fruit in good works is in every way pleasing to God (v.10b). Good works are the “natural” outcome – the fruit of the Spirit – born through a life of obedience.
Second, he prays that we might grow in the knowledge of God. It is an ongoing process, not a once “I won the Bible Trivia Game.” We need to grow in the knowledge of God not about God (to this point see my former articles “Concerns and Other Remarks on the Christian Life – part 2” and “The Dangers of Studying Theology”). Our Lord and Savior spoke of this in John 17:3
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
We need to know God as a real person, not simply a theological abstraction.
Third, St. Paul introduces power-language. Listen to this: “May you be strengthened (dynamoumenoi) with all power (dynamei) according to his glorious might” (ESV). He speaks about the power of God in our lives, a power to obey and to live a life worthy of God. The outcome of a life empowered by God through His Spirit is incredible, because it enables us to bear the difficulties in our lives.
We hope that we will all be blessed by the prayer of St. Paul and that we will take courage to live a life worthy of our Lord. It is “doable” because He Himself will strengthen us with power in accordance to His might!