Thanking and Praying
Series on Colossians #1
Today begins an eight-part series of messages on the New Testament Book of Colossians. The purpose of the series will be to help us learn both the historical and spiritual importance of what the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Colossae.
In this message the first half of chapter one will be highlighted.
Paul is the author of Colossians. He announces that in the first verse of the Book of Colossians. However, he did not just give his name. He further identified himself by writing, “an apostle of Christ Jesus.”
The word “apostle” refers to one who is sent out, in this case sent out to share with others about Jesus.
In most cases apostles of Jesus had to have been associated with Jesus before the Lord’s crucifixion. However, Paul had not been a follower of the Lord during the Lord’s ministry. Yet he knew about Jesus. Then he met Jesus, that happening after the Lord’s resurrection. After that - after Paul accepted Jesus as his Savior - Paul was sent out, eventually to non-Jews to lead them to knowing Jesus as the Savior. Hence he was an apostle of Christ Jesus.
But listen. Paul took no credit for his conversion to being an apostle of Christ. He identified himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus “by the will of God.” Paul credited God for drawing him to Jesus.
Paul mentioned another name in the introduction of the letter to Christians in Colossae. He added the name of Timothy.
We know Timothy was a close associate of Paul. We know Timothy had been led to faith by Paul. We know Timothy learned from Paul, eventually being given his own pastorate.
However, notice Timothy here was not identified as being a preacher or a teacher or a pastor, but a “brother.” In other words, Timothy was a fellow Christian. A fellow believer. That, more than anything else, made him close to Paul and, Paul hoped, close to the Colossian Christians.
The Book of Colossians - this letter to them - was written by Paul, Timothy with him. Together they had some words for who Paul described as “saints and faithful brethren in Christ.”
I remember being asked once about the word “saint.” It seems at a recent Bible study at one of the retirement facilities I visit once a month, everyone at that Bible study was identified by the leader as being a saint.
The one who asked for my definition told me she knew the other people at that Bible study. She said, “I know those people, and most of them I would certainly not refer to as saints.”
I did some research on the word “saint.” It means, not perfect in every way, but simply one who knows and follows Jesus. I assume saints want to be moving toward perfection, but none of us has to be perfect before becoming a follower of Jesus.
Like the members of the Bible study referred to, the Christians in Colossae may not have been perfect, but they had accepted Jesus as Savior. They were following Him, hopefully better each day. They were trying to be faithful in staying true to the Lord and to getting better and better.
It was saints and faithful brethren to whom Paul wrote. Paul, along with Timothy.
After the introduction, the first thing Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae was this. He shared with them that he “thanked God for them.” He wrote, “We [he and Timothy] always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.”
The phrase “pray for you” is also important. It should have made the Colossian Christians glad to know Paul - the well-known Paul - was praying for them. Especially since at least part of each of the prayers was giving thanks for those people.
For what was Paul thankful? Three things are listed.
Faith. He wrote, “We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus.” Faith is trusting in the Lord, being confident of the Lord’s love, knowing He is not only able, but also willing, to help in every good time and every difficult time.
Love. Paul wrote, “We have heard of the love which you have for all the saints.” There is the word “saint” again. Remember saints are those who know and follow Jesus. Each of the Christians in Colossae lived out their love for Jesus by loving other Christians, love in this context meaning wanting the best for every other Christian.
Do you suppose there were ever any disagreements in the Colossian church? I imagine there were. That seems to be the way it is in most groups of people. In fact, as this series of messages continues, we will be introduced to some problems in the church in Colossae. But the saints seemed to be overcoming the disagreements, at least to the extent of still wanting what was best for each other.
The Colossian Christians were known for having faith, love - and hope. Paul referred to the “hope laid up for them in Heaven.”
Faith, love, and hope. Those three things were resulting in the people of that congregation producing fruit, for which Paul was also thankful. Fruit perhaps in leading more people to Christ and certainly them becoming more and more righteous.
How did Paul and Timothy know how well the Christians in Colossae were doing spiritually? It had been told them by Epaphras, identified as a “faithful fellow minister” and a “fellow servant.”
Isn’t that last word an interesting one? “Servant” can be considered a negative word, as in being subservient to a master. But Paul - and Timothy and Epaphras - were servants of Jesus, who is a good master. It is an honor and a privilege to be a servant of Jesus.
Consider this. Later in this book - this letter - Paul is going to address some negative things that were going on in the Colossian church. It is interesting, is it not, that Paul did not start off with the criticisms? Instead, he started the letter with compliments. Not empty compliments. Not for the purpose of buttering them up. But compliments with substance. The people there were saints. They were fellow Christians. They did have faith and love and hope. They were fruitful. Which are good things.
What an interesting pattern is taught in the Book of Colossians. Things that need to be corrected do need to be mentioned, but maybe it is best to start out with some compliments. Do you suppose that made it easier for people to hear the corrections, more likely for the Christians in Colossae to listen to and heed the corrections? Do you suppose it works that way with people with whom we deal spiritually?
Paul complimented the Christians in Colossae. He also shared that he, and Timothy with him, had been and were continuing to pray for them.
Paul prayed for a number of things.
Earlier Paul wished them “grace and peace.” He wished them the favor of God and the assurance their hope in the Lord was strong and steady, no matter what.
He then prayed for some other things. Notice they are not general things, but specific requests, which might be another pattern for us to follow. To be specific in our prayers, including our prayers for others.
One prayer of Paul was that the Colossian Christians be filled with spiritual wisdom.
Do you - do I - ever wonder which way to go through life? What is the right thing to do in any given situation? We can know what is right. What we should do. We will know - we will know God’s will - if we will rely on the Lord. That is what Paul prayed for. He prayed the Colossian Christians would know the Lord’s will, that they would have the spiritual wisdom to know and do the Lord’s will. May that be our prayer, too, for ourselves and for each other.
With that wisdom, it will be possible to do what Paul prayed next, which was that they would “lead a life worthy of the Lord,” which means the Christians in Colossae would be fully pleasing to the Lord.
Pleasing because in every good work they did, they would bear “fruit.” Fruit, as already mentioned, in them leading more people to the Lord and they themselves growing deeper in their Christian faith, developing what is listed as the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, and peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Paul also asked in prayer that the Christians in Colossae would “increase in the knowledge of God.” He wanted the Christians to continue to study and learn and apply the word of God. What an important challenge even now.
And listen. It is so much easier for us to increase our knowledge of God because we have His word readily available to us. Let’s take advantage of that.
Then this. We are to have knowledge, not just for the sake of knowledge. Paul’s prayer is that our knowledge - our application of what we know - will result in “endurance and patience with joy.”
Endurance. Fortitude. As in taking difficulties, not so much in stride, but using them to grow stronger. It can be defined as the ability to deal triumphantly with anything life can throw at us.
Patience. Long-suffering. As in being patient with other people. Bearing with someone who is unpleasant, avoiding letting another person drive you to bitterness or despair or irritation. To keep loving that person. Love in the sense of wanting what is best for that person.
Both endurance and patience are a whole lot easier to talk about than to have, but that is what Paul prayed the Christians in Colossae would have. That is what we are to have as well.
And let’s not forget the word “joy.” We are to have patience with joy. That, too, is easier said than done, but we are to have joy. We are to be joyful all the time.
Remember the definition of joy. It is knowing things will be fine, no matter what. It is knowing things will be fine because of Jesus. That He will help us, not only celebrate good things and easy days, but will also help us survive bad things and difficult days.
* * * * *
Wisdom. Living a life worthy of the Lord, bearing spiritual fruit, knowledge, having endurance, patience, and joy, having faith, love, and hope. All that is possible because, not only of what God had done for the Colossian Christians, but for us as well.
What has God done? He has qualified us to “share in the inheritance of all saints.” He has delivered us “from the dominion of darkness.” He has, through our acceptance of His salvation, “transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son Jesus.” It is in Jesus that we have redemption, which is the forgiveness of sins.
* * * * *
Paul was an apostle. As one sent out to do the work of the Lord, he began this letter by complimenting the Colossian Christians for what they had done that was spiritually good, including proving their faith, love, and hope. He reminded them of his prayers for them. Prayers that they would grow in their faith. That they would be strengthened to the point of enduring and being patient and having joy. That is what Paul wrote in the first part of his letter to the Christians in Colossae.
I have two stories to close this message. The first one relates to the phrase that God has rescued us - those of us who are Christians - from the dominion of darkness. It tells of something that happened in January 1997.
A British yachtsman, 55-year old Tony Bullimore, was racing around the world in a yacht race.
He was in the Southern Ocean, about 1500 miles from Australia, when his boat capsized in a storm.
For the next four days, Tony remained in an air pocket beneath the overturned hull of his boat. He survived by eating a little chocolate he found and drinking a little fresh water he had. Even then, he had to endure solitude, pitch darkness, and absolute silence except for the sloshing of waves hitting the boat.
On the fifth day following the capsizing, Tony prayed to be saved. I am sure the praying was a display of endurance. His hope had to be weakening by the hour. But on the fifth day, he heard a banging on the hull of his boat.
An Australian rescue party had found his capsized yacht. They had arrived to help.
Tony reports, “I started shouting, ‘I’m coming, I'm coming, I’m coming.’” He said over and over again.
It took him a few seconds to get from one end of the boat to the other, but then he took a few deep breaths before diving away from the boat, soon rising to fresh air and the light of day.
When Tony emerged into daylight, the moment was, as he described it, “spiritual.” He said, “It was heaven. Absolute heaven. It was a a miracle. An absolute miracle.” He added, “It felt like I had been born all over again.”
Do you remember when you were saved from the darkness of sin? When you were saved, did it seem to you like you were born all over again? Born into a new spiritual life? A life on its way to Heaven? May you and I feel that now. May we be willing to breath fresh spiritual air and see a new light - the light of Jesus. May that fresh air lead us into greater and greater spiritual growth, seeking ways to lead lives worthy of the one who rescued us from sin.
Of course, if you have not accepted Jesus, you do not know the joy of fresh spiritual air and light. But you can change that. You can, even right now, accept Jesus. He is ready to rescue you. Will you let Him do so? Simply ask Him to forgive you. To save you.
And this story, related to the challenge to have patience.
In 1987 at Talladega Motor Speedway, racer Bill Elliot set the fastest recorded speed for a qualifying lap at just under 213 miles per hour.
That speed was so fast it caused the car to begin to lift off the speedway. That was a major safety issue. The speed was so fast Bill Elliot could not effectively handle his car.
The following year, NASCAR implemented restrictor plates. They are devices that limit the power output of an engine, thereby slowing the acceleration and the overall speed of a race car.
That was a good thing. As another driver - Rusty Wallace - words it, “Too much speed puts a car out of control. There is no way we could race at those speeds.”
Restrictor plates do slow the speed of cars. The average for a NASCAR race is still 187 miles per hour, which is way too fast for me. But applying restrictor plates spiritually, while the world is spinning faster and faster culturally and while there is so much to do, including all the spiritual things Paul listed in today’s passage from Colossians, there is also a need for patience. The patience to listen to and follow God so we can grow spiritually.
As we sing today’s closing song, make sure you have accepted Jesus, and if not, do so. Then make sure you have the patience needed to grow spiritually, and if not, ask God for it so that together we can live lives worthy of the Lord.
Do not dally. The closing song is just one verse of a hymn. Be right with God this day.
Verse 1 of I’ll Live for Him.
My life, my love I give to Thee,
Thou Lamb of God who died for me;
O may I ever faithful be,
My Savior and my God!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
How happy then my life shall be!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
My Savior and my God!
Let’s be thankful for Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colossae? Thankful Paul cared enough to be concerned about them and that God cared enough about us to include the letter in the Bible.
May we apply Paul’s words to our own spiritual lives. For those of us who have accepted Jesus as Savior, may we display faith, love, and hope, doing so more and more as we bear fruit, which is part of living lives worthy of the Lord.
As Paul complimented the Colossian Christians, may we be complimented by the Lord. May that be our goal. Amen.