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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:O God, let this church be filled with the knowledge of your will!
Text:Colossians 1:9-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 24:1-3

Hymn 25:1-4

Psalm 114

Hymn 26

Psalm 48

Scripture reading: Isaiah 44:21-28

Text:  Colossians 1:9-14

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

I’d like you to think for a moment about your mother.  If your mom is still alive, do you pray for her?  I imagine that you do.  If your mom is no longer here on this earth, then did you pray for her when she was?  Again, I imagine that most of us did.  It’s normal for children to love their mother and then pray for her.

Because we have Christ as our Saviour, we have God as our Father.  But if God is our Father spiritually speaking, who is our mother?  Do we have a spiritual mother?  Scripture answers that question for us in Galatians 4:26.  There Paul speaks about the church as the Jerusalem that is above.  Moreover, he says that this heavenly Jerusalem, the church, is our mother.  Based on that passage in Galatians 4:26, John Calvin and others said, “the person who would have God for a Father must also have the church as a mother.”  If we’re called to love our earthly mothers, then how much more wouldn’t there also be a calling to love our spiritual mother, the church?  Wouldn’t that love express itself in prayer for our spiritual mother?  So, let me ask you, do you pray for the church?

Along a similar line, we could think of how Scripture speaks of the church as a family.  In the church, believers are brothers and sisters.  You pray for your biological family, for your immediate brothers and sisters, don’t you?  But do you also pray for your spiritual family, for the church?

In our passage this morning, we listen in to a prayer of Paul for the Colossian church.  The Holy Spirit has allowed us this opportunity to listen in for a very definite purpose.  He wants us to pray for the church along these same lines.  This is not merely a historical recounting of Paul’s prayer so that we can say, “Well, isn’t that interesting how Paul prayed for them.”  Loved ones, the Holy Spirit wanted the Colossians to pray the same way for themselves, and he wants us to pray in this line for our church too.  Moreover, those who pray in these lines also find their hearts being drawn to walk along these lines.

So I preach to you God’s Word this morning.  We can summarize it with this plea:

O God, let this church be filled with the knowledge of your will!

We’ll see that Paul prays this with an eye to:

  1. The life believers live
  2. The thanks believers should give

Our text begins in verse 9 by looking back to what Paul just said about Epaphras.  Epaphras was a faithful minister of the gospel.  He brought the good news to the Colossians and then brought a good report about the Colossian church back to Paul.  Through his beloved fellow servant, Paul has heard of their faith in Christ and their love in the Spirit.  Now we read here that Paul reacted to this good report.  He responded with unceasing prayer for the Colossian believers.  He encourages them with the fact that he constantly offers intercessions for them.

The heart of his prayers is at the end of verse 9.  His focus is on their knowledge of God’s will.  Often when the Bible is speaking about God’s will, the reference is to God’s commandments, how he wants us to live.  However, that’s not the case here.  Here Paul is putting first things first.  He’s putting the gospel first.  This is really important.  The knowledge of God’s will is what God has done in sending his Son for our salvation.  God sent his Son to do for us what we could not do for ourselves:  live a perfect life in our place, pay for all our sins with his suffering and death on the cross, and then rise again victorious.  This gospel plan for our salvation is what’s being referred to here with ‘God’s will.’

We know this because of what was going on in the Colossian situation.  If we read ahead in the letter, we find that the church was being troubled by some false teachings.  It’s been virtually impossible for scholars to nail down what those false teachings were.  There are all kinds of theories and there are pros and cons for each of them.  We can only sketch these false teachings in a broad way, and as we get into the letter further in this series of sermons, I’ll do that for you.  For our text today, what you need to know is that these false teachings included some unbiblical notions about knowledge and religion.  There was some kind of idea floating about that we need to attain a special mystical knowledge that will connect you to the divine.  In this letter, Paul is addressing that false teaching and he begins to do it here already in verse 9 by telling the Colossians how he’s praying for them.

Instead of this mystical knowledge that they can use to lift themselves up, Paul prays that they would be filled with a knowledge of the gospel.  That has to be first and foremost.  This knowledge of the gospel is qualified here with the words “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”  With those words he’s asking that the Holy Spirit would give them discernment and insight, so that their eyes would be opened to the truth that God has revealed in Jesus Christ.           

So Paul prays by putting this first – “let the Colossian church be filled with a knowledge of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit!”  Now we should think about why he wrote this to them.  He could have simply kept his prayers to himself.  Why did he want to tell them that he was praying this for them?   I can think of three reasons.  First, he wanted to encourage them.  It would be reassuring for them to know that the Apostle Paul was bringing them regularly before the throne of grace.  It’s always great to hear that someone is praying for you, to know that you’re on their heart and being brought before the Lord. 

The second reason would be because he wants them to pray this for themselves too.  He wants them to pray that as a church they would be filled with a deep understanding of what God has done in Christ, his will for the salvation of believers.  In their circumstances, this is what the Colossians need in terms of prayer.  They need to be turned away from the false teachings that point them inward in search of mystical experiences, and instead be turned upward to Christ.  So if they need that, then they need to pray for that!

The third reason would be because he also wants them to pursue this for themselves.  By laying out his prayers for them, he’s indicating what their priorities should be as a church.  The number one priority has to be getting filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Number one has to be understanding and believing the gospel.  That’s something you need to pray for, but it’s also something you’ll also want to strive for.  For example, imagine you’re a Colossian Christian and you hear of Paul’s prayer for you and you echo that.  You say, “Yes, God, please let this church be filled with the knowledge of the gospel!”  But then Sunday comes, and you’re too tired to go to church, or you’re not otherwise motivated to go to church, to go to church where you would receive that gospel knowledge.  It’s not really a heart-felt prayer then, is it?  If you’re going to ask for that knowledge and say that it’s a priority, then it also follows that you need to act as if it’s a priority.

So I think you know where we’re going with this.  Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church should be our prayer for our church.  All of us ought to be committed to praying along these lines for our congregation here.  But then it must follow that the priorities we have in prayer are reflected by the priorities we have elsewhere in our lives.  Pray for a church where the gospel is a priority, but then also live as if the gospel is a priority for you.  Concretely, that means taking every opportunity you can to be under the ministry of the gospel in the church.

Paul goes on in his prayer here in our text to speak about the fruit of the gospel.  He asks for God to fill the Colossians with this knowledge of the gospel, so that there would be a specific outcome in their lives.  That outcome is captured with the first words of verse 10, “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”  Believers have been redeemed by God, bought by him to be his own possession.  Paul prays that there would be a corresponding walk of life.  Remember: it’s a manner worthy of the Lord.  Here we need to remind ourselves of what “Lord” means.  ‘Lord’ means master or owner.  If he’s the Lord, you belong to him.  Your life is his.  All of it.  The prayer is that this truth would be evident everywhere and all the time.  Your lips say, “Jesus is Lord,” your life says, “Jesus is Lord.” Paul’s prayer is that believing the gospel would lead to this outcome because this is fully pleasing to the Lord.  This is what he wants to see in the lives of believers.

Now our text speaks of four specific ways that Paul is asking for this to be worked out.  Look with me at verse 10, the second part of the verse.  It says, “…bearing fruit in every good work.”  Knowing God’s gracious plan for our salvation in Christ is meant to lead to this.  Paul prays that the faith of the Colossian believers would bring forth the fruit of good works.  Good works are things that we do that are lined up with God’s commandments, things that serve God and our neighbour.  Paul prays for this for the Colossians, they need to pray this for themselves, and we need to pray for it for ourselves as a congregation.  We must pray that our lives would never deny the power of the gospel or the Lordship of Christ by a lack of fruit.  Instead, we want our lives to testify that the gospel is powerful to bear fruit and Jesus is our Lord.  We live like he tells us to live, because through grace we belong to him.  So, bearing fruit in every good work.  That’s the first way believers walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

The second way is right at the end of verse 10, “increasing in the knowledge of God.”  Paul is asking for the Colossian believers to grow in knowing who God is and what he’s done through his Son.  Some people think that the life of a Christian is one of growth for a period and then a plateau at some point.  So, for some people, you grow in your knowledge through attending catechism and a Christian school, you do public profession of faith, and then – bang! -- suddenly you’re an expert in the Bible and theology.  You’ve reached the plateau, you’re now a mature Christian who has everything all figured out.  But that is not the way the Bible presents the Christian life to us and that’s reflected here at the end of verse 10.  The goal of every Christian is to grow and continue growing.  We all have room to grow.  And according to our text here, we need to be praying and asking for an increase in the knowledge of God.  Now we can and should pray for that, but how does that happen when you’re not on your knees?  How do you increase in the knowledge of God?  You can know him in a limited way from the created order, from nature, but to know him in the deepest and richest way, you need his Word, you need the Bible.  Loved ones, pray this for our church -- that we would grow in knowing God -- but then also make the reading and study of his Word a priority for yourself.  So that’s the second way of leading a life worthy of the Lord:  increasing in the knowledge of God.

The third way is in verse 11.  Our translation says, “May you be strengthened with all power…”  If you still have an NIV, you’ll see that it says, “Being strengthened with all power…”  That actually better brings across the connection to verse 10.  Paul is still speaking here about how walking in a manner worthy of the Lord is going to be fleshed out.  He asks God to give them strength because God is able to; he has a complete and sufficient measure of might.  Paul recognizes that the believers won’t be able to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord unless he helps them and strengthens them for that.  So that drives this request.  And then he connects it to endurance and patience with joy.  Endurance is a virtue oriented to problems that come from outside the church.  When unbelievers make life difficult through persecution, mockery, or temptations, Christians need this virtue of endurance.  Patience, on the other hand, is a virtue oriented to the inner workings of a church family.  Believers need to be patient with one another and their weaknesses and shortcomings.  You live in a family together, you get to know one another, you get to know one another’s quirks and sometimes they can be annoying.  It’s the same thing in a church family, if it’s functioning the way it should.  You get to know one another and the more you know of one another, sometimes the more patience you need with one another.  It’s something to pray for. 

And both endurance and patience should be virtues practiced with joy, with that deep abiding attitude that comes from living in the Lord.  So Paul is praying that the Colossians would get strength from God for these things.  With that strength being provided, they could then lead a life worthy of the Lord, a life that shows that they belong to Christ.  Brothers and sisters, we also need to pray for strength from God’s hand so that we can joyfully endure whatever the world might throw at us, but also so that we can joyfully bear with one another in our church family, growing together in love and unity.

Now there is a fourth way in which Paul prays for believers to walk worthy of the Lord.  This is found in verses 12-14 and this makes up the second point for the sermon.  To walk worthy of the Lord, Paul prays that the Colossians would be a thankful church. 

Specifically, he prays for them to be thankful to the Father, to God.  That’s at the beginning of verse 12.  When Christians are thankful, there is always someone to whom their gratitude is directed.  You always give thanks to someone.  Paul prays that they would be giving thanks to their heavenly Father.

Why?  He gives two main reasons why the Colossians should be thankful.  The first is that the Father has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints.  The language here is supposed to make you think of the conquest of Canaan.  After Moses died, Joshua assumed the leadership of the people of Israel.  It was Joshua’s responsibility to bring the people of Israel into the Promised Land.  He led the conquest of Canaan.  That takes place in the first chapters of the book of Joshua.  But starting in about Joshua 13 and going up to Joshua 19, you read of how the land was divvied up among the tribes.  Each of the tribes received an inheritance in the Promised Land.   All those Old Testament saints had a share in the inheritance.  How did they receive that share?  Because God gave it to them.  God qualified them for it by leading them out of Egypt, providing for them in the wilderness wanderings, and then helping them conquer their enemies in the land.  It was all the grace of God that allowed them to share in the inheritance. 

This is what Paul wants the Colossians and us to think about when we read these words.  Like the Old Testament Israelites, we have also been granted a share in the inheritance of the saints.  Think about it for a moment:  what did the Promised Land point ahead to?  It pointed ahead to the eternal inheritance of believers.  As heirs of God’s promises, as his privileged adopted sons, we are guaranteed an eternity with him in the new heavens and new earth.  We have a place reserved for us in that Promised Land.  This is the inheritance in which all Christians have a share.  Moreover, it is an inheritance “in light,” not the domain of darkness, but an eternity living in God’s light.  “In light” makes you think of Revelation 21, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”  That’s our inheritance!

We ought to give thanks to God, because it is God who has graciously qualified us for this.  We don’t qualify ourselves.  We don’t earn the right to it.  Through his grace, God makes believers fit for the inheritance.  He begins working in them with his Spirit during life on this earth and then afterwards, he glorifies and perfects them.  God is the one who does this and therefore God deserves all the credit and all the thanks.                                        

The other thing God has done is deliverance from one kingdom to another.  By nature we belong to a domain of darkness.  By ourselves that’s our rightful place.  In the Bible, darkness is associated with curse and suffering, misery.  Darkness fell on the Egyptians as the ninth of the ten plagues during the exodus.  The book of Exodus says that it was “a darkness to be felt.”  It was for good reason that our Saviour Jesus spent three hours on the cross in darkness.  He was suffering the curse that was to fall on us for our sin.  The sun in the sky is there to bless you with its light – it gives life.  When it’s taken away like happened with Christ or the Egyptians, it’s God’s curse.  We belong in the darkness, under its rule and dominion, along with the Prince of Darkness.                   

But the Colossian Christians were not in that domain of darkness any longer, and neither are we.  It’s not because of our action, but because of what God has done.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  You have to pay attention here and visualize this.  Imagine two kingdoms, one over here and the other over here.  There are only two.  People are in one or the other.  This here is the domain of darkness and there you find the vast majority of people in this world.  Over here though is the kingdom of God’s beloved Son Jesus Christ.  In his mercy, God has picked out some of the people from this domain of darkness.  He has lifted them out and he has transferred them over to this other kingdom.  I want you to realize that this is God’s sovereign doing.  It’s only through his grace.  He didn’t look into that domain of darkness and see some rays of light with some of the people.  That domain of darkness has a darkness that can be felt.  There are no rays of light reaching God’s eyes.  All he sees in there is darkness because that’s all there is.  But he picks out some of those people, lifts them out, and transfers them into the light.  Loved ones, that’s gospel grace, and that’s a great reason for thankfulness!

And this Son whose kingdom this is that we’re now in, it’s through him that believers have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.  That too drives gratitude.  Redemption means that we’ve been bought.  We’ve been bought with the precious blood of Christ to be his own possession.  We are his people, he is our Lord and King.  Closely connected with redemption is forgiveness.  We see that connection also in what we read from Isaiah 44.  God tells Israel that she has been redeemed.  He is her Redeemer.  He wants her back and has bought her back.  As part of that, her sins have been blotted out.  It’s like a cloud or mist.  We don’t often get fog here, but when we do it doesn’t stay along.  Eventually that fog gets burned off by the sun and it disappears, completely vanishes.  God’s forgiveness is like that.  When he forgives our sins through Christ, our sins completely disappear.  They are taken out of the way, no longer an obstacle to fellowship with God.  God will never bring them up again in order to use them against us or to shame us.  When God forgives, he forgets.  In Jeremiah 31 he says, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  If you’re not remembering, what are you doing?  That’s right, you’re forgetting.  God forgets our sins according to Jeremiah 31.  This already is good news, fantastic news for sinners like us.  But it gets better.  Not only are all your past sins forgiven through Christ, but also your present and future sins.  If you are resting and trusting in Christ alone for your salvation, God promises you that all your sins, past, present, and future are forgiven and forgotten.  Period.  Isn’t that a load off your shoulders?  This is the good news and it’s what Paul tells us all believers have in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  If you’re in that kingdom, you are redeemed and forgiven 100% all the time for 100% everything. 

Paul prays that realizing this will make the Colossian believers thankful to God.  And if they’re thankful to God, that in itself is walking in a manner worthy of him, but it also fuels other the other forms of walking worthy.  If you think of the Christian life like a car or truck, thankfulness is one fuel that powerfully drives the engine.  Paul wants that church to see how richly blessed they’ve been so that they’re living in a way that fits with who they are.  They are those who belong to the Lord, and their thankful lives reflect it.

So, Paul prayed that for the Colossians.  Let’s also pray that for our congregation.  Let’s pray that we would be a thankful people, deeply thankful for the riches of the gospel.  It is so easy to take this good news for granted.  It would be like wearing the most spectacular diamond on your finger every day.  The first time you saw it, it was beautiful and it awed you.  But say after ten years of seeing it all the time, you may get to a point where you go, “Oh, there’s the diamond again, ho-hum.”  Meanwhile, someone you meet who’s never seen such a beautiful diamond might be awestruck at the beauty of this gem when first seeing it.  Then maybe you wake up and see it again with fresh eyes.  But, you know, the gospel is something far more precious than any diamond.  What Christ has done is of far more worth than diamonds or gold or silver, or anything else in this world.  Our enemies want us to think otherwise, they want us to lose sight of the worth, so that we would lose our sense of gratitude, we would lose our way, and God would lose his honour.  It can easily happen and maybe for some of you it already has.  Listen:  PRAY!  Loved ones, pray that the Lord would make not only you see it again, but also the whole church.

Brothers and sisters, Paul prayed like this for the Colossian church.  He and his words were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  These words are here also for our benefit, to teach us how to pray and how to live.  Like Paul, we should continue praying that the church, this church, would be filled with a knowledge of the gospel, and that this knowledge would bear fruit to the glory of God’s Name now and forever.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Lord God, our Father,

We desire that you fill us as a church with the knowledge of your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.  We want to be filled with the knowledge of the gospel.  We desire that so that we may walk in a manner worthy of our Lord, pleasing you completely and bringing forth fruits in all good works.  We want to grow in our knowledge of you, strengthened with all power according to your glorious might.  Please strengthen us in all endurance and patience with joy.

We give you thanks for qualifying us to share in the inheritance of the saints.  We did nothing to deserve it and everything to forfeit it.  But in your grace, you gave it to us, a share in the new heavens and new earth.  We’re glad.  We thank you also for transferring us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of your beloved Son.  This too is your grace and we praise you for it.  And above all, thank you for your forgiveness of all our sins through Jesus, sins past, present and future.  We give you thanks for our redemption.  We ask for your help for us as a church to become more thankful for this precious gospel of our salvation.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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