Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth
In this series, Simon explores the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.
The apostle Paul is writing from prison to a church, which he has never visited and maybe never did visit. And they’re very new believers. And he’s full of thanks because the message of Christ has come like a seed and is being planted in their hearts and is born a kind of a tree, which has begun to show the fruits of faith and hope and love.
Asking God’s blessing on listening to His Word
Well friends, let’s bow our heads and pray ask God’s blessing on the listening to His Word. Let’s bow our heads together. Gracious God. We thank you for this day. And we thank you for a fresh word, your word, living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. And we pray that as we hear and think for these few minutes, you would help us to build our lives on the rock and not upon the sand. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.
Once I worked in a church where the congregation would immediately settle down for sleep, when the preacher got up to preach. And I therefore got in the pulpit one morning and I called out in a loud voice, “Look just before you settled down for your sleep, I want to give you a little challenge and that is listen to me for the next few minutes. And if nothing I say make sense or is useful, I give you permission to sleep on forever afterwards”.
And a little lady came up to me afterwards and she said, “You know, I’ve never ever listened to a sermon in my life. And I did this morning and it was very helpful.” And the interesting thing was she was never the same person again. It was as if the lights went on for the first time. I want to suggest to you this morning that we coming to a passage, which is extremely helpful to us. It’s extremely practical and we should be good listeners because God is a speaking God, we have this great privilege of hearing him. The apostle Paul is writing from prison to a church, which he has never visited and maybe never did visit. And they’re very new believers. And he’s full of thanks because the message of Christ has come like a seed and is being planted in their hearts and is born a kind of a tree, which has begun to show the fruits of faith and hope and love.
So you have to ask yourself at this point, how would the apostle Paul keep going in his letter? Or why doesn’t he just say to them, dear Colossians I hereby become Christians, wonderful news. Yours sincerely, lots of love, the apostle Paul. But he doesn’t because of course, when babies are born into the world, we don’t just say to them, have a good life or your growth will be automatic. There’s a great need for parental care. And the apostle Paul has these Colossians as his spiritual grandchildren. God of course has no spiritual grandchildren. He only has children.
But we can have spiritual grandchildren because we might lead a person to Christ who leads a person to Christ. And that’s what had happened to Paul. Paul had helped a man believe, who had helped the Colossians to believe. And so the apostle Paul writes this letter, this Colossian letter, because he wants these new believers to grow and to be safe. And the prayer, which we’ve just heard is in Colossians 1:9-14. Now, somebody said, if you want to know what’s important to somebody have a look at their bank statements, watch their timetable and especially listen to what they pray. Of course, if people prayed nothing, then you know that nothing of eternal significance is important, but having somebody listening to our private prayers would be a most embarrassing thing because when we pray, we’re not very good at praying. We don’t find it easy. We lose concentration. We mumble. We wonder, we get caught up in our own little world, we’re asking God with our shopping list to deal with all our problems and it’s not a particularly edifying experience.
Some people tragically in their prayers never moved beyond kindergarten. They just keep praying a kind of a childhood prayer. Or can you imagine you’ve only got prayers that you’ve learned by heart and say, you just pray wrote prayers. I can’t imagine anything weirder than to have a friend come up to you and always talk to you in quotes. And yet some people don’t really get beyond our Lord’s prayer in speaking to God. And that’s why Paul’s prayers are so important. First of all, they are a great gift to us. We know the Lord’s prayer is a great gift to us. The Lord’s prayer is a great gift to us because it’s a skeleton or a structure on which we can hang a great number of issues.
So just imagine, for example, you’re dealing with a very tricky person in your life. And you’re tempted in your prayer to say something like this, “Lord, please change them. They’re absolutely terrible. Please Lord strike them down. Remove them from the face of the earth.” Of course you wouldn’t fall into that kind of trap, but just imagine you don’t know what to do with this person. Well, if you start to think through the Lord’s prayer, you’ll say something like this, “Lord in our relationship, please may your name be on it. May your kingdom come, may your will be done.” Not my will, your will and the prayer helps us.
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Or think you’ve got a very difficult meeting coming up, you’ve got to an appointment which is really distressing you and you think to yourself, “Oh, what do I pray? Lord, make it go well, make it not happen.” And then you think, “No, Lord, may your name be on it. May your kingdom come, may your will be done.” So the Lord’s prayer is a great help to us. And Paul’s prayer, a great help to us as well because they show us great things to pray. The second thing is that Paul’s prayers are a great corrective, our prayers tend to be very small. Paul’s prayers are very big.
Professor Don Carson says, “Suppose for example, that 80 or 90% of our petitions ask God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application and much more of the same.” And Carson says this, “How much of Paul’s praying revolves around equivalent items? If the centre of our praying is far removed from the centre of Paul’s praying, even our very praying may serve as a wretched testimony to the remarkable success of the process of paganisation in our life and thought.” That says Carson is why we need to study the prayers of Paul. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in raising all small issues with our heavenly Father, but we’d want to get beyond me, me, me, me, me.
And the last reason why these prayers are instructive is that they tell us exactly what the apostle Paul is battling with. And these Colossians have been infiltrated by some theological pests. Who’ve come in with some crazy spiritual one-upmanship ideas. And the apostle Paul is praying so wisely and carefully that these Colossian Christians will not be tricked, but we will grow. So his prayers are key prayers for safety and progress. They’re quite complex the prayers. I don’t know if as the reading was being read, whether you can remember even what it said. And when you look at the prayer, it looks like a can of worms to be going all over the place, but just like being given some instructions to get to somebody’s house that look on the surface to be quite complicated, but proved to be quite practical.
The apostle Paul’s prayers are very straightforward and practical. So this is what he prays. He prays, first of all, the Colossian Christians and us as well will know God’s will. Chapter one, verse nine, “Since we heard of your faith and your new life,” says the Apostle Paul, “we have not stopped praying for you that you will know his will.” Now, when Paul says we’ve not stopped praying, he doesn’t mean that he does nothing else. He doesn’t mean that we never sleep. We never eat. We never wash. We only pray. No, no. What he means is that we haven’t given up on you. You’ve got onto our hearts and we’re not going to give up on you in terms of praying. And so he prays that God would fill these believers with knowledge of his will.
Now it seems, as I say, from the rest of the letter that the intruders or the deceivers or what I’ve called the pests have come in to make a very big thing of fullness. And may be secret knowledge as if they are saying to the rest of the church, you are pretty ordinary, but we are quite special. You seem to be a bit empty, but we’re full. You seem to be quite confused, but we’re in the secret knowledge. This always splits the church. God does not have A grade and B grade children.
But when people come in and split the church, they often give the impression that they are A grade and others are just B grades. So the apostle Paul prays, “We’re praying for you,” he says, “we’re praying for all you believers that God will give you not from some secret cult, but from himself knowledge of your will. And you’ll grow like a child into an adult, or you’ll grow like a sapling into a tree, because he’s not withholding things from you. You don’t need anybody beyond Jesus Christ. If you have Christ, you have everything and you do belong to Jesus Christ.” That’s what he’s saying.
In our back garden at home, we had to get rid of a huge Jacaranda tree, which was getting into the plumbing and lifting the side of the house. And it was a very sad thing to remove such a beautiful tree and in its place we put a small Oak, which people tell me is going to eventually cause exactly the same problems. But at the moment, it’s quite small. Now that small tree doesn’t need to move around the garden to get nutrients. It just needs to stay where it is and put down the roots. And so it is with the Christian. When you put your faith in Christ, you don’t need to move. Nobody can come along and give you more than Christ. The roots just need to go down.
Now, if God is going to help us to know his will, what does this mean to know his will? Well, of course, we need to know his big will, which is the plan of God to reconcile people to himself through Christ. That’s the big will. That’s why this church exists. To help people hear of Christ and be reconciled to God. But there was also the specific or the particular will because every day we need his help to know how to live faithfully. The Christian truck driver needs to know how to be a Christian truck driver. The Christian parent needs to know how to be a parent. The Christian doctor needs to know how to be a doctor.
The Christian teacher needs to know how to be a teacher. And on it goes and the apostle Paul is praying, “You belong to Christ.” He said, “I’m praying that you’ll know his big will. And also his specific will.” You’ll notice incidentally that he says, “I want you to know because I want you to live. And then you will know him better. I want you to know him and I want you to do his, and you’ll find that you get to know him better.” This is a very interesting principle. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this in your Christian life, but when you’re in a disobedient time, I wonder if you’ve ever noticed that it’s as if God stopped speaking to you. Of course, God has not stopped being a speaking God, but you’ve become deaf.
And then there are other times of course, where you’re keen to hear and do his will. And it’s as if he speaks very much to you through his word, telling you more and more. So the apostle Paul, that’s the first thing he prays. “I’m praying that you know he’s will.” What could be more practical than that we would know God’s will. Second thing he prays is, “I’m praying that you’ll keep going.” In verse 11 he says, “I’m praying that God will give you strength and power.”
What’s he going to give you strength and power for? To be a super success in the world? To be a superior Christian? To overcome every problem so you never get sick and you’re never poor? Not at all. The apostle Paul says, “I’m praying that God will give you strength and power.” Listen to this. “So you don’t give up. So you don’t give up following the Lord, Jesus, but you endure with patience to the end.” But what is it that closes Christians to keep going following Jesus Christ, right to the end when so many give up. So many give up when doubt comes along. So many give up when suffering comes along. What is it that causes people to keep going year after year after year? And the answer is, it’s the strength and the power and the might of God, which is why Paul prays for it.
It’s such a wise thing to pray. He’s saying, “I don’t want you Colossians to fall away. I don’t want you to give up. I want you to walk right to the end till you see Jesus face to face.” And we need his help, don’t we? To keep going when others give up and leave. The word endurance in this text, it means that you get to deal with difficult circumstances. The word patience means that you deal with difficult people. Circumstances can make it very difficult. People can make it very difficult.
The apostle Paul is of course no ivory tower believer. He’s in prison when he writes this. And he’s been persecuted horrendously for his faith, but God who is at work to sustain the apostle Paul is praying, well Paul is praying that these believers will keep going. It’s like that moment in Pilgrim’s progress, where Pilgrim walks into the house of interpreter, and there is a fire in the fireplace and somebody’s throwing buckets of water onto the fire. And the guy asks, “Why isn’t the fire going out?” And the owner takes him around the back and shows him that oil is being pumped into the fire from the back. And God you see gives the strength and the endurance for the person to keep going. Sometimes of course, we wish that the power of God would be more dynamic and there would be more fireworks. And we say sometimes, why doesn’t God just do something incredible?
Why doesn’t he rattle the cage of this suburb and white people up? He could do it so easily, but the cross of Christ where God showed his greatest power was not impressive. But it’s from the cross, comes forgiveness. It’s from the cross, comes a new door of hope. And it’s when believers keep going patiently, steadfastly, we see the power of God at work. So he prays that they’ll know his will. He prays that they will keep going. Thirdly, very quickly, he prays that they will be thankful. Verse 12. He says, “I’m praying that you will have joyful thanks.” Now he doesn’t say I’m praying that you would have joyful things because I want you to enjoy your troubles. We’re not meant to enjoy our troubles.
We might see through our troubles, but he says, “I’m praying that you’ll have joyful thanks because you’ll remember the status that God has given you.” That is that he’s put you into his kingdom. He’s done something huge. He’s rescued you. As soon as you come to faith in Jesus Christ. And you recognize that his cross, the cross of Christ is where your sins were carried away and you belong to him forever. It is as if something very great outweighs all the little troubles. Paul says, “You’ve moved from dark to light. You’ve moved from lost to found. You’ve moved from outside to inside. You’ve moved from the world to the kingdom.” Because when you have Jesus Christ, you have an answer to sin and an answer to death. But without Christ, you have no answer to sin and no answer to death.
Friends if you’ve ever been tempted to think that your Christianity is very small stuff. If you’ve ever been tempted to think that your Christianity is pretty ordinary. Look at what the apostle Paul says in chapter one verses 12 to 14, he says, “One, you’ve got a heavenly father. Two, he’s brought you into his people. Three, there’s a permanent kingdom that you belong to. Four, there’s a permanent inheritance round the corner. Five, you’re not in the dark anymore. You’re not in the dark of ignorance. You’re not in the dark of evil anymore. Six you’re in the kingdom. You’re in the kingdom of Christ. Who’s the king of Kings and you’ve got redemption and you’ve got forgiveness.”
No wonder the apostle Paul is sitting in prison is full of thanks for the blessings, which outweigh the difficulties. So when you become a Christian, it’s like, you’ve moved from poverty to the palace, you really have. The problems that we experience are like bruises. They’re not malignant. And so this is Paul’s pray. He prays that they’ll know God’s will that they’ll keep going and there’ll be thankful. All of these things are vital. Now let me finish in this last 60 seconds. Please try not to let your prayers descend again into help me to be happy, help my family to be happy.
Think of the bigger things which are here in this Colossians 1:9-14. Start to pray that you, your family, your friends would know God’s will. The big will of God and the specific will. And be ready to do it and keep going with faith in Christ and full of thankfulness. Not just gritting their teeth and miserable and grumpy, but full of thankfulness. I can’t imagine that any of our family, friends would be unhelped by this prayer. I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t be helped by this prayer. And I have taken this prayer for myself into some of my morning prayers where I don’t know what to pray for people. I don’t know what to pray for a missionary. I don’t know to pray for somebody in hospital. I don’t know what to pray for a family member.
And I go back to Colossians one and I think here it is. To know his will, to keep going and to be full of thankfulness. Now we easily forget these things don’t we? We forget sermons. I forget my own sermons within a minute of preaching. And you probably forget my sermons within 10 seconds of the close of the sermon. So I have reduced this particular threesome to three words, knowledge, fortitude, cheerfulness. And I’ve done that because these three words begin with the letters KFC. And every time you go past the KFC, you can say to yourself, that is a great thing for me to be praying for, for myself, my family and my friends, that they will know the will of God. That they’ll have fortitude to keep trusting. And that there’ll be cheerful, thankful, joyful.
Let’s bow our heads and pray together
Let’s pray. We thank you, heavenly father for giving to us, such a precious word. We thank you that you give to us the Lord Jesus, in whom we have all the riches and the treasures. And we pray that you would help us to be people who know your will and seek to do it. Who go on with perseverance and fortitude, following your son. And help us to be marked by that thankfulness, that cheerfulness, which is a true testimony to your goodness. Please help us. Please hear us. We ask in Jesus name. Amen.