Colossae on map

This blog comes from a seminary paper Ryan completed in June of 2016.

 

Introduction

        Colossians 1:9-14 issues Paul’s prayer for the believers in Colossae and gives insight into the nature of the Gospel and the Christian life for all believers. Paul addresses spiritual learning, the believers’ way of life, perseverance in the journey with Christ, thanksgiving and praise to the One who won us victory and redemption. All of these are vital and important components of the Christian life. In this paper the context of Colossae’s doctrinal crisis, the message of the preeminence and sufficiency of Jesus Christ in the church, and the significance of following Christ from the heart in one’s daily walk will be addressed and conclusions drawn on how to practically apply the components of Paul’s prayer to one’s own life.

 Context

         Thomas Lea and David Back estimate the date of Colossians’ writing being “in the early 60s.”[1] They go on to describe the city of Colossae and its surroundings as follows:

Colossae was located in the southwest corner of Asia Minor in the Roman province of Asia, one hundred miles east of Ephesus. The cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea were nearby. Colossae, Heirapolis, and Laodicea were situated in the Lycus River Valley…Colossae had been a prominent city during the Greek period, but by Paul’s time much of its importance had faded. Earthquakes in the area had been detrimental to all cities in the region, but the neighboring cities had grown more in Roman times than Colossae had. Colossae was the least important city to which Paul addressed a letter.[2]

        False doctrine had crept into the church network in the city of Colossae and Laodicea (Col 1:2, 4:16). Hollow human philosophy, Judaizer legalism, syncretism, worshipping angels and asceticism are among the erroneous teachings present at this time (Col 2). Paul does not appear to have been to Colossae since he mentions that those in Colossae and Laodicea had not seen him face to face (Col 2:2), it was likely planted by Epaphras who is mentioned in the letter (Col 1:7). Although Paul did not plant the church there, he hears of the Colossian believers and begins to pray for them (Col 1:3-8). That prayer is recorded in Colossians 1:9-14. In addition, Paul was in believed to have been in prison at the time that the letter was written.[3] It is also significant to note that Paul was also in prison when he wrote his prayer to the Philippians in 1:3-11[4] and both his prayer there and in Colossians are rooted in thankfulness to God for the believers in their respective churches.[5] The location of Paul’s imprisonment for the writing of both Philippians and Colossians was Rome.[6]

Paul’s tone throughout the letter is one of gentle tenderness instructing fellow brother and sisters in the truth of the Gospel. A much different tone is seen in Galatians where Paul also addresses false doctrine. Perhaps the motivation for the difference of Paul’s tone was that he had heard of the Colossian’s love (Col 1:8) whereas in Galatia of their coercive legalism (Gal 1:6-10). The tone of the prayer is important to understanding Paul’s motivation and intent of these words. They are not a lecture; they are the earnest pleas of a loving friend for another friend. They are the longings of the missionary to the people who have just begun their journey with Christ. Regardless of the reason, Paul’s tone of love entreats the Colossians and the reader today to listen to the loving words of a Brother in Christ.

In light of this context, Colossians 1:9-14 and endeavoring to practically apply Paul’s exhortations in his prayer. It is clear that the overall context of Colossians is that Paul is writing to correct false teaching that has crept into the church network in Colossae. But here in the first part of the letter, Paul shares his heart, what he has been praying for them. In doing so, Paul displays his longings for the spiritual maturity of the believers; that they would be discerning and live out a Christ-like walk. It is important to note that Paul is addressing the saints in prayer in these verses and not lecturing to them or expounding doctrine in a cold manner. It is in Colossians 1:9-14 that the pastoral heart of Paul is revealed.

 Meaning

           In moving on from the context, the meaning of the passage must be considered. In light of the context, it is clearly seen that Paul is praying for the believers at Colossae to be grounded in the truth and thus his heart prays for their increased spiritual maturity in Christ. This is the overall meaning. Our method in this section will be analyzing the specific meaning by considering verse by verse the selected passage of Colossians 1:9-14.

Verse 9

            “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col 1:9 NKJV).[7] Not only because of the Colossians’ commendable Christ-like love (Col 1:8) and their present situation of doctrinal struggle, Paul and his companions Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas (Col 4:7-14) are praying for the church.[8] The prayer of Paul and his companions is fervent for the Colossian believers. This is displayed in the phrases “we…do not cease to pray for you” (Col 1:9). Not only does Paul pray ceaselessly out of love and concern for this church, but Paul specifically longs for those at Colossae to be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col 1:9). The depths of Paul’s heart desire is that they would know Christ’s will;[9] not that they would be tossed about by every doctrine they hear (Eph 4:14). Evidence of knowing Christ’s will will result in a maturity of discernment, that is wise and full of spiritual understanding. Paul longs; therefore, for their maturity and intimacy with Jesus Christ, their Savior and Lord, which he will make even more clear in Colossians 1:13-14.

Verse 10

         “That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10). The word walk here means way of life or in today’s vernacular, living like Christ, one’s lifestyle.[10] Out of spiritual maturity is born a lifestyle that pleases Christ. It is a fruitful life full of good works that also increases in the knowledge of God as this verses says. Theologically, this detail is important because it demolishes the argument that some have great faith and others have great works, a doctrinal error[11] that was and is present in the churches. A faith that does not result in the works of one’s life is not faith, one’s faith without good deeds is dead and not of God (Jas 2:14-26).

Verse 11

          “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Col 1:11). The Scriptures emphatically teach that the joy of the Lord is to be our strength[12] and this is certainly a theme of Paul’s letters.[13] The Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives within the believer and functions to empower the believer to do the Father’s will (Rom 8:11, Acts 1:8). Paul knows that the believer will face hardship (John 15:20, 1 Pet 4:12-19) and that patience and endurance are necessary[14] yet they can experience contentment in Christ, Paul knows this from personal experience.[15] Suffering has a maturing work to play that will teach the believer to rejoice in Christ alone, developing deep inner joy and contentment like Paul that can only be found in Christ Jesus (Jas 1:2-4, Phil 4:11-13). Paul recognizes the need of the believers at Colossae to have the strength of the Spirit to endure patiently and to develop the spiritual fruit of a deepening of their inner peace in joy and contentment that comes from Christ alone. Paul realizes that this is not just given from God, God develops it us in us.

Verse 12

         “Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col 1:12). Paul draws emphasis to the priority of gratitude. Praising God is a theme in Paul’s letters[16] because thanksgiving focuses the believer on reality: God is sovereign and we need not fear man (Matt 10:28). Paul’s prayer for the Colossians to have a heart of thanksgiving to the Father.[17] As missionary Charles Brock says, “A healthy, strong person is someone who is habitually grateful.”[18] This is not all that Paul addresses here. Paul prays that the Colossians will realize that because of Christ’s atonement, they are written in on the inheritance deed, saints, sons of God in the Kingdom of God.

Verse 13

           “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col 1:13). In the midst of the false doctrines of legalism and worshipping angels (Col 2:15-23) Paul longs for the believers to see that the Father has delivered them from sins’ power and its bonds of darkness. He has made them children of the light (Col 1:12). And as a result, the believers at Colossae are now members of the Kingdom of Christ, the Beloved of the Father. Paul longs that this reality would be truly known, experienced by the faithful saints in Colossae.

Verse 14

             “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:14). Children of God, sons of the light, have been blood bought and forgiven by Jesus Christ. Paul closes this section with pointing to Christ and the Gospel. The reason why Paul’s prayer and longings for them have any foundation is because of Christ’s redemption. His blood was the final sacrifice atoning for sin (Rom 3:24-25) and by His sacrifice, those who believe are justified (Rom 3:22, 26). The reality that internalizes all the specifics of this passage in the believer is the truth that Christ died and saved us. He is truly preeminent (Col 1:18).

 Significance

          Paul’s prayer is significant not only in that it reveals his heart for the Colossian believers, but also because it reveals his deep personal experience with Christ.[19] His prayer breathes forth lessons of the Scripture that Paul himself had found true. He had found Christ to be his wisdom, forsaking the Pharisaical pride and zeal of his past (Phil 3). Paul had lived a life that had pleased the Lord and seen fruitful Gospel labors. Paul had faithfully depended on the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry (Acts 15:28, 23:11). Even now, Paul experiences deep joy despite his circumstances because Christ had taught him through the trying situations he had gone through (Phil 4:11-13). Thus we see the preeminence of Christ (Col 1:9-18). Dillon Thornton said, “In Col 1:1-14, the Apostle Paul affirms that the gospel—the sinless life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ—is a transforming message.”[20]

The significant message of our passage is the preeminence and sufficiency of Jesus Christ;[21] and therefore, following Christ from the heart in one’s daily walk. Paul’s prayer pleads for practicality, for a living faith to be incarnate in the believers at Colossae—as was seen in the meaning of each verse, Paul from the heart cries out in prayer for their spiritual learning, Christ-like lifestyle, perseverance in the journey with Christ, thanksgiving and praise to the One who alone won us victory and redemption through His blood. Stephen Wellum says,

From the incredible Christological text or hymn of Colossians 1:15-20, and in every subsequent chapter, the person and work of God’s own dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is unpacked and unveiled before our eyes. Colossians, like no other Pauline letter, from beginning to end, presents the glory, supremacy, preeminence, and sufficiency of Jesus, the incarnate Son, as Lord of creation, redemption, the church, and every principality and power, not only in this age but also in the age to come.[22]

Conclusion

         Paul’s prayer can and should be the cry of the believer—longing for the incarnation to be filled with knowledge of Christ’s will, to increase in wisdom and spiritual understanding, to walk worthy of the call of the Lord, to please Christ, to be fruitful in labor for Christ, to abide in the Spirit’s empowerment, and for joy in all circumstances. Glory be that God has forgiven us through the blood of Christ! As the old hymn says, “O what a wonder and foretaste of glory divine.”[23] The Lord is living and active in our lives and He can and will answer this prayer, for all these aspects of blessing are promised to the one who walks with Christ. As in the days of the believers at Colossae when false doctrine abounded, even so today the believer can find stability by keeping his eyes fixed upon the Christ Jesus, the solid Rock, preeminent in all things.

____________________________

[1] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2 ed. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003, 452.

 [2] Ibid., 449.

[3] ESV Global Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, Kindle) loc 328739.

 [4] Ibid., loc 281084.

 [5] Hyun David Chung, “Paul’s Pastoral Prayer in Philippians 1:9-11: An Application to Today’s Ministry” (DMin. diss., Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001), 15-16.

[6] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology: Revised and Expanded (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 109.

[7]Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[8] Note the “we” in Colossians 1:9, referring to not only Epaphras and Paul but the present companions of Paul.

 [9] For a further discussion see Rev. W.H. Griffith Thomas, The Prayers of St. Paul, (Ed. by Rev. John Adams, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914) loc 389-423, Kindle.

 [10]“4043. Peripateó,” BibleHub, last modified ?, accessed June 25, 2016, http://biblehub.com/greek/4043.htm.

[11] For a discussion of the doctrinal errors present in Colossians and an overview of what those errors were believed to be see H. Wayne House, “The Christian Life According to Colossians,” (Part 4. Bibliotheca Sacra, BSAC 151:604, 1994), 440-445, Accessed May 25, 2016. http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/bsac151-604-05.

 [12] See Nehemiah 8:10, Isaiah 41:10, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Psalm 28:7, 18:2, Isaiah 12:2, and Exodus 15:2.

 [13] The of “joy” in a theme of Paul’s letters seen in Romans 15:13, Galatians 5:22, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, 2 Corinthians 7:4, Colossians 1:11, and Philemon 1:7.

[14] Endurance is synonymous with suffering-long or longsuffering. See 1 Peter 4:12-19 for a discussion of the necessity of patient endurance, long-suffering, in the disciple’s life.

 [15] Paul knew how to be content and joyful no matter what his circumstances were. He reveals this in detail in Philippians 4:11-20.

[16] The theme of praise is in Paul’s letters because of the importance of constant praise and thanksgiving in the surrendered life to Christ (1 Thess 5:16). In Philippians Paul makes this clear in 4:4.

[17] Jesus taught us to pray to the Father in the Lord’s prayer so that we recognize God first and foremost as the loving Father who is in charge (Matt 6:8-10). We are to live by faith as a child is free from worry and trusts their parents (Matt 18:3). 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 teaches that the believer is to always offer thanks to God. For additional discussion see W. H. Griffith, The Prayers of St. Paul, loc 439-456, Kindle.

[18] Charles Brock, Philippians: The Joyous Journey (Neosho, MO: Church Growth International, 2004), 60.

[19] W.H. Griffith, The Prayers of St. Paul, loc 376.

[20] Dillon T. Thornton, “Colossians 1:1-14 The Fruit of the Gospel,” The Expository Times, ISSN0014-5246, no 6 (2013): 439, accessed May 25, 2016, http://ext.sagepub.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/content/124/9/438.

[21] For a discussion of how the sufficiency of Christ is defended throughout the book of Colossians see David Schrock, “The Cross in Colossians: Cosmic Reconciliation Through Penal Substitution and ‘Christus Victor,’” (Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, SBJT 17:3, Fall 2013), 34-?, Accessed May 25, 2016. http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/sbjt17-3-04.

[22] Stephan J. Wellum, “The Glory of Christ in Colossians,” (Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. SBJT 17:3, Fall 2013), 2, Accessed May 25, 2016. http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/sbjt17-3-01.

[23] Fanny Crosby, Blessed Assurance, 1873, accessed June 21, 2016, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/b/l/e/blesseda.htm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s