Praying for Spiritual Growth

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Colossians 1:9-14

INTRODUCTION: We are studying the book of Colossians together and our message series is called “Living the Christ-Centered Life.” When Christ is at the center, everything else in your life falls into place. But when you remove Christ from the center, that’s when your troubles begin. Last week we looked at Paul’s prayer thanking God for the Colossians and especially thanking God for the gospel and the work of the gospel among the Colossians. In today’s passage Paul continues praying for the Colossians, but now he moves from thanking God for the gospel to praying for their spiritual growth. (Read Colossians 1:9-14 and pray.)

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When you pray, what do you pray for? And when you pray, whom do you pray for? If God answered “yes” to all the prayers you prayed this last week, what would happen? Would God’s kingdom be advanced? Would other people’s lives be changed or just your own? It all depends on who and what you were praying for. Paul is in prison, and yet here we find him praying for others rather for himself. That’s the “who” he is praying for. And “what” he is praying for specifically is for their spiritual growth.

Part of living the Christ-centered life is praying that others will live the Christ-centered life, too. When Christ is at the center of your life, you love Jesus so much that you want others to know the same joy. And so like Paul you will pray for others – family, friends, people you know at church, people you know at work, people you know at school – you will pray for others and their spiritual growth.

Today’s passage not only teaches us that we should pray for each other’s spiritual growth, but it also gives us some very specific requests we can pray to make that happen. There are many things we could pray for each other, but the most important thing is for spiritual growth. We could have health and wealth and all the good things of this world, but what does it profit if we are not growing spiritually in the Lord? Nothing is more important than your relationship with God.

If you’ve ever wondered if you could have a positive impact on other people’s lives, the answer is yes. And one of the most important ways you can have that positive impact on others is by praying for their spiritual growth. Our passage this morning is verses 9-14. These verses are all one sentence in the original language and together they tell us how to pray for each other’s spiritual growth.

I. Pray for others to know God’s will (9)

First of all, pray for others to know God’s will. Look at verse 9 where Paul writes: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Colossians 1:9)

   A. Never stop praying for each other.
      – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

The first thing we learn from this verse is that we should never stop praying for each other. Paul started praying for the Colossians as soon as he heard about them. And once he started praying for them, he never stopped. He began praying for them right away, and he was committed to praying for them for the long-term.

For Paul prayer was as natural as breathing. Paul practiced what 1 Thessalonians 5:17 calls “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). There are two aspects to this kind of prayer. First there is a God-consciousness. You are aware of God throughout the day and you relate everything back to him in prayer as it happens. But then there is also a people-consciousness. You are aware of people and their needs throughout the day and you commit them to God in prayer. We all need prayer all the time, and so you should never stop praying for each other.

   B. Pray that God will fill them with the knowledge of his will.
      – Hosea 4:6; Ephesians 4:13-14

The next thing we learn from this verse is “what” to pray for other people. Colossians 1:9 teaches us that we should pray that God will fill them with the knowledge of his will. Now remember, this prayer stretches from verse 9 all the way to verse 14, but this is the actual main prayer request of the whole section. Everything else builds off of this simple request – that God will fill them with the knowledge of his will. Why? Because knowledge of God’s will is essential for spiritual growth.

Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) Ephesians describes those without knowledge as children tossed by the waves. (Ephesians 4:13-14) Knowing God’s will is essential for spiritual growth. You can’t please God if you don’t know what God wants.

The false teachers at Colosse claimed to be filled with all manner of special and secret knowledge, but here Paul prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Paul is not necessarily speaking of God’s specific will for your life, although that would be included here, but rather God’s will and desires as reflected in his word. This is a parallel prayer to the Lord’s Prayer when we pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – except now we are praying it specifically for each other.

I like what William Barclay says about prayer in this regard: “We are trying not so much to make God listen to us as to make ourselves listen to him; we are trying not to persuade God to do what we want, but to find out what he wants us to do. It so often happens that in prayer we are really saying, ‘Thy will be changed,’ when we ought to be saying, ‘Thy will be done.’”

   C. Pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding.
      – Proverbs 9:10

So we pray that God will fill them with the knowledge of his will, and then we also pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding. This part of the prayer explains the “how” of being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. That “what” of Paul’s prayer is that they may be filled with this knowledge. The “how” is “through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Paul prays for “spiritual” wisdom and the understanding because both wisdom and understanding come through the Spirit of God, not through human reasoning. Proverbs 9:10 says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) The Bible views wisdom as the ability to apply God’s will to various life situations. Understanding is the ability to put together facts and information, to see the relationships between different things in life and to draw the proper conclusions. Once again this is not the secret wisdom of the false teachers that was only available to the elite, to the few; but rather this is the spiritual insight available to all believers through the Holy Spirit and God’s word.

Do you want to have a positive impact on other people’s lives? Then you need to pray for them. And the first step is to pray for them to know God’s will.

II. Pray that others may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way (10-12)

Secondly, pray that others may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way. We have already looked at the “what” of Paul’s prayer and the “how.” We pray “what?” That they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. “How” will they be filled with this knowledge? Through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Now we come to the “why.” Why do we pray this? Look at verses 10-12: “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”

This is the “why,” the purpose for Paul’s prayer. The reason why Paul prays for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will is not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake. No, the whole purpose of this prayer is that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.

This implies that we *cannot* live a life worthy of God and please him in every way if we are *not* filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Once again, you can’t please God if you don’t know what God wants. But once you know God’s will and God’s ways, that’s when you begin to change. As F.F. Bruce writes: “Right knowledge leads to right behavior.” And so we pray for others to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in order that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.

Paul goes on to share four qualities of this life that is worthy of God and pleases him in every way. They are: 1) bearing fruit in every good work, 2) growing in the knowledge of God, 3) being strengthened with God’s power, and 4) joyfully giving thanks for your salvation. And so these become four key prayer requests as we pray for each other’s spiritual growth. Let’s take a brief look at all four of them.

   A. Pray that they will bear fruit in every good work.
      – cf. Colossians 1:6

First of all, pray that they will bear fruit in every good work. This is similar language to what we saw last week in Colossians 1:6 where the gospel was bearing fruit and increasing. Now it is the Colossians who are bearing fruit and increasing. God has already begun this good work in them through the gospel. Now he is carrying it on to completion. Notice that we are to bear fruit in every good work, in all things – whether at work or at home, at school or in service at the church. God wants you to be a fruitful believer.

   B. Pray that they will grow in the knowledge of God.
      – Jeremiah 9:23-24

Secondly, pray that they will grow in the knowledge of God. Once again, this is not the secret knowledge of the false teachers, known only to a few, but rather the revealed knowledge of God available to everyone through his word. We read in Jeremiah 9: This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. There is no knowledge more necessary, more important, more life-changing than the true knowledge of God through his word.

Paul has already asked for the Colossians to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. Now he prays for them to grow in the knowledge of God himself. This is a key element to spiritual growth. You will only grow as a Christian as you grow to know God better through his word.

   C. Pray that God will give them strength and endurance.
      – Philippians 4:13; Hebrews 12:1

Thirdly, pray that God will give them strength and endurance or as verse 11 puts it: “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” (Colossians 1:11) If you’re going to live a life worthy of the Lord and if you’re going to live in a way that is pleasing to him, you’re going to need strength for the journey, and that’s what this third prayer request is all about

And where does this strength come from? It comes from God. You pray that God will give them strength and endurance. This is all about God’s power working in us. We need to depend on God’s strength rather than our own.

Being strengthened refers to “being continually strengthened.” In other words this is not like a booster rocket, where you get an initial boost and then the rest of the way you’re on your own. No, God continues to give you strength throughout your entire Christian life. Notice God doesn’t just give you “some” power, but you are strengthened with “all” power. God will give you everything you need to live the Christ-centered life. Paul says this power from God is “according to his glorious might.” That word “might” refers to God’s mighty ruling power over the whole universe. God and his amazing power are the source of your strength, so you will never run out of the power you need to live this life that is worthy of God. Or as Paul put it in Philippians: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

What is the result of being continually strengthened with all power according to his glorious might? The answer may be surprising at first. But this prayer is all about endurance: “so that you may have great endurance and patience.” Endurance refers to a steady persistence until you reach the goal. The same word is used in Hebrews 12:1 of a runner who runs the race with endurance. This is not passively enduring something but rather actively persisting through trials.

There is endurance, and then there is also patience. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. This word refers to longsuffering or restraint, not retaliating when someone wrongs you. If endurance means patience in circumstances, then this second word means patience with people. Sometimes we need more strength to deal with people than with our actual circumstances!

The irony here is that the world wants power in order to dominate or manipulate others. Paul prays that the Colossians would be strengthened with God’s power so that they may display great endurance and patience.

Life is hard. You are going to go through many trials. You may even face persecution for your faith. You are going to be tempted to do the wrong thing. And so if we are going to live a life worthy of the Lord that pleases him in every way, we need to pray for each other for God’s strength in our lives. As William Barclay writes: “The great problem in life is not to know what to do but to do it. For the most part we are well aware in any given situation what we ought to do; our problem is to put that knowledge into action. What we need is power; and that we receive in prayer.”

   D. Pray that they will joyfully give thanks for their salvation.
      – 1 John 1:5

So how do we pray for people to live a life that is worthy of God and pleasing to him in every way? 1) We pray that they will bear fruit in every good work. 2) We pray that they will grow in the knowledge of God. 3) We pray that God will give them strength and endurance. 4) And then fourthly we pray that they will joyfully give thanks for their salvation. Look at verse 12: “and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:12) This is a continual outpouring of thanks to God the Father who has adopted you as children into his own family.

God has not only adopted you as his children, but he has “qualified” you. In the Olympics each athlete needs to qualify in order to compete. They work hard to qualify, because if they don’t qualify, they don’t get in. But notice when it comes to salvation, we do not qualify ourselves. Rather it is God who qualifies us.

Even better, Paul says that God “has” qualified us. It’s already happened in the past. It’s a done deal. When did this happen? When did God qualify us for salvation? Two thousand years ago when Jesus died on the cross. All of our sins were laid upon Christ, and God credits his righteousness to everyone who believes. It’s good news that God qualified us for salvation because without Christ we are completely unqualified. We could never pass on our own.

And what exactly have we been qualified for? Paul says: “to share in the inheritance of the saints.” This is Old Testament language reflecting Israel and the Promised Land. Israel inherited the land; we will inherit heaven, or as it says here: the kingdom of light. What a beautiful, descriptive phrase. 1 John 1: 5 says that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5). In his eternal kingdom there will be no darkness either. The false teachers claimed “illumination for the elite,” but Paul says we will all share in the kingdom of light.

One of the most important indicators of your spiritual growth is that you joyfully give thanks to God for your salvation. Douglas Moo calls thanksgiving the “flip side” of salvation by grace. We have been saved by grace, and so we give thanks to God who has an inheritance waiting for us in the kingdom of light.

III. Remember that we have been rescued by God (13-14)

Which brings us to our third point this morning: always, always, always remember that we have been rescued by God. Look at verses 13-14: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

   A. We have been rescued from darkness into light.
      – John 3:19-21

These final verses tell us three things about our salvation. First of all, we have been rescued from darkness into light. Once again this is something that has already taken place in the past. However, Paul is not talking about Jesus on the cross this time but rather your conversion. The word “rescued” is a dramatic word indicating deliverance from danger. Before you came to Christ you were under the power of darkness. We were all slaves to Satan and sin. But now you have been set free! And so as Christians we do not need to be delivered from darkness. We have already been delivered! Now we just need to live it out.

We read in John 3: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21) We have been rescued from darkness into light.

   B. We have been brought into the kingdom of his Son.
      – Mark 1:11; Luke 12:32

Secondly, we have been brought into the kingdom of his Son. This phrase “brought into” also refers to a one-time past action. It is a word that means “transferred from one place to another.” It was often used of deportation. Deportation is usually not a good thing for those who are deported, but this is one deportation for which we can be glad! We have not been transferred to some refugee camp but we have been brought into the kingdom of God! This should be a great encouragement to us. As Jesus said in Luke 12: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) This is not just a future hope, but this is our present reality. We have already been brought into the kingdom.

Notice Colossians calls it the kingdom “of the Son he loves.” In other words this is the kingdom of Jesus. God the Father spoke the following words of Jesus at his baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) So we have not only been delivered out of darkness but we have been brought into God’s kingdom. And it is the kingdom of Jesus, the Son whom God loves.

   C. In Jesus we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
      – Acts 26:17-18; 1 Peter 1:18-19

Finally, it is in Jesus that we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. Verse 14: “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:14) Redemption is another Old Testament word that was used of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt. The word “redemption” means complete freedom and release based on the payment of a price. The cost of Israel’s freedom cost was the price of the firstborn sons of Egypt. The cost of our freedom was the price of Jesus’ death on the cross. We read in 1 Peter 1: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) We have been bought by the blood of Jesus, and we have been set free. We no longer belong to the kingdom of darkness.

This redemption means the forgiveness of our sins. The word “forgiveness” here means release from a debt. Until your sins were forgiven you owed a debt you could not pay. Like the Israelites you were still in slavery and bondage. But with forgiveness came complete freedom and release. In Jesus we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. Praise God!

These are such beautiful truths of Scripture. You might wonder, where did Paul learn all this? Well everything in these last few verses he learned directly from the Lord. Listen to what Jesus said to Paul when they met on the road to Damascus. He said: “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17-18) That’s our third point this morning. Always remember that we have been rescued by God.

CONCLUSION: There are a lot of things you could be praying for each other, but there is nothing more important than praying for people’s spiritual growth. Paul basically teaches us two things in our passage this morning. Pray for others more than yourself. Pray for spiritual growth more than anything else.

“There is nothing in this world so practical as prayer.” (William Barclay) And here in these six verses Paul gives you some very practical things you can pray for each other, some key requests to add to your repertory of prayer. Remember, part of living the Christ-centered life is praying that others will live the Christ-centered life, too. I pray that these verses on prayer will change your prayer life as you pray for each other’s spiritual growth.

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