I. Doctrinal: The Person and Work of Christ (1:1-23)
A. Introduction (1:1-14)
1. Paul’s Greeting to the Colossians (1:1-2)
2. Paul’s Thanksgiving for the Colossians (1:3-8)
3. Paul’s Prayer for the Colossians (1:9-14)
a. The Cause of Paul’s Prayer (1:9a)
b. The Content of Paul’s Prayer (1:9b-14)
(1) The Root and the Trunk—“filled with the knowledge of His will” (vs. 9b)
(2) The Branches—a worthy walk (1:10a)
(3) The Fruit—four areas of fruitfulness (1:10b-14)
1:10b bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, 1:11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, with joy 1:12 giving thanks to the Father… (emphasis mine)
Verse 10a and the previous lesson pointed us to the intended result of being filled with the knowledge of God’s will, namely, to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord in order to please Him in every area of one’s life. As seen in the previous study, this does not mean to walk so that one becomes worthy of the Lord or His salvation, but to walk in a manner that is consistent with and conforms to what God has done for us in Christ. Now, with 1:10b-12, the apostle describes four directions a worthy walk that pleases the Lord will take. Certainly, there are other Christ-like qualities every Christian should manifest, but these four illustrate the kind of character that should be found in a Spirit filled, Word filled Christian. In the Greek text, four participles describe the result of walking in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects; these participles define the walk that pleases God and each is modified by a prepositional phrase. The four participles are seen in the following English translation:
1. Bearing fruit in every good deed,
2. Growing in (or by) the knowledge of God,
3. Being strengthened with all power, and
4. Giving thanks to the Father.
All the participles are in the continuous present tense and describe what should be the pattern of life for those who walk in a manner that pleases the Lord.
The tree metaphor with its picture of spiritual growth and fruitfulness again becomes prominent by the same terms the apostle used in 1:6 (“bearing fruit and growing”). Fruitfulness is a frequent topic in the New Testament, but in the synoptic Gospels, human actions and words are viewed as fruit that grows out of a person’s essential being or character. In the Gospel of John and the epistles of Paul, the concept of fruitfulness takes a slightly different turn. It shifts from that which is the product of character to that which is the product of God’s work within us through fellowship with Him by means of the Spirit and His Word. Naturally, character is seen in the Bible as the product of God’s work within, but the focus in John and Paul is on this inner spiritual dynamic. This is evident in the passage before us, as the exposition will demonstrate.
“Bearing fruit” (karpophorountes) is the same verb used in verse 6. There it described the inherent power of the gospel, and there the apostle used the middle voice, but here he uses the active voice. Some think no distinction is intended in the change of voices,98 but surely, the apostle had a purpose in the change of voice. Johnson is probably correct when he writes:
The active voice (the middle was used in verse 6 where the verb occurred previously) may point to external diffusion (Lightfoot, op. cit., p. 133), or it may simply direct attention away from the inherent energy of the fruit-bearing instrument, the Christian. When the gospel is in view, emphasis upon the inherent energy in the Word is proper, but it is hardly proper when the instrument is frail, mortal man. The figure of fruit-bearing itself directs attention to the life within, since the tree bears fruit by the life within it. We meet once again the New Testament’s great concept of union with Christ, who is our life within and produces fruit through His own.99
Again, let’s note that “bearing fruit” is a continuous present. This not only reminds us that our lives are to be perennial or constant sources of fruit for the Lord, but the continuous present calls to mind the ongoing work of the Father as our spiritual vine keeper or viticulturist. He is constantly at work to take us from no fruit, to fruit, to more fruit, to much fruit as He seeks to cause us to abide in the Vine, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life (John 15:1-7). This is not always pleasant and often requires severe cutting back of the branches; it may require suffering and pain, but if our lives are to have fruit that abounds for all eternity, and if we are going to mature, various trials are a necessary part of life (Jam. 1:2-4, 1 Pet. 1:6).
“In every good work” marks out the sphere of fruitfulness. First, we should note that “most trees produce after their kind, but this one is omniferous, bearing all the virtues of the Spirit’s fruit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).100 But secondly, we might ask, what else does this include? Fruitfulness in the Christian life certainly includes the following three areas:
The cultivation of our own spiritual lives in such Christian virtues as self-control, meekness, patience, and faithfulness.
The cultivation of worship—confession, praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and the adoration of God in song, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.
The cultivation of loving ministry or service for others—witnessing, teaching, encouraging one another, helping through deeds of kindness and compassion, giving, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice, hospitality, etc.
Being fruitful in every good work is not only a call for us to be balanced and productive in several areas of good works, but it should also be seen as a reminder that we can be engaged in good works, but without genuine fruitfulness. It is sad but true that our good works can be dead works—the works of the flesh—works done in our own energy and from wrong motives. Works that are the products of wrong motives (to please self, to impress others, to outdo others, etc.) do not please God because He is neither the source nor the energy behind the works produced. The following passages speak strongly to this issue (see 1 Cor. 13:1-8a; Ps. 50:7ff; Isa. 29:13).
A comparison of 1 Thessalonians 1:3 with Revelation 2:1-4 directs our attention to the importance of the source of our fruit. First Thessalonians 1:2-3 reads:
1:2 We thank God always for all of you as we mention you constantly in our prayers, 1:3 because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (italics mine)
With regard to the specifics mentioned in verse 3, it is evident that the substance of what Paul and his associates remembered is found in three words: work, labor, and endurance. However, Paul was quick to add three more words that were vital to these three active nouns. To each was added one of the great words of the Christian triad—faith, love, and hope. These are three Christ-like qualities, but they are also the fruit of spiritual living. These qualities of faith, love, and hope are absolutely essential if one’s work, labor, and endurance are to result in true fruitfulness. It’s because of this that the Lord’s rebuke to the church of Ephesus provides such a stern warning regarding our Christian service or ministry. In Revelation 2:2, Christ told the church, “I know your deeds (works) and your toil (labor) and perseverance (endurance),” but there was something missing and so they experienced His rebuke. The church of Ephesus had works, labor, and endurance, but there is no mention of the faith, love, and hope as seen at Thessalonica as the source of the works being produced at Ephesus.
These three prepositional phrases are what we call subjective genitives in the Greek and each stands to the word they modify as root to fruit. They point to a work produced by faith, a labor motivated by love, and an endurance prompted by hope. The NIV even translates them similarly. But, as Scripture makes abundantly clear, each is in turn the result of the ministry of the Spirit of God and the Word of God in the heart and life of believers. Again, we see the vital principle that the apostle always sees good works as fruit, never the root. The abiding, Spirit controlled, Word filled life is the root.
Of course, if we are to continue to be productive, we must never stand still, but continue to grow or we will become stagnant. So, the apostle addresses the issue of growth. “Growing” is the Greek auxano, “to grow, cause to grow, increase.” It was used of plants, of infants, of increasing numbers as in a multitude, of the increase of the gospel, and of Christian character or spiritual growth. The fact that the apostle is here speaking to the church as a whole, that he uses this word in verse 6, and the way auxano is used in the New Testament would all suggest that the growth he has in mind is twofold. First, it is qualitative and refers to spiritual growth or enlargement. In this, it speaks of growth in all the areas of fruitfulness as seen in passages like John 15 and Galatians 5:22-26. But second, it may also look at a quantitative growth in the sense of the outward dissemination of the gospel. “The greatest thing that one man can do for another man is that which Andrew did for Peter—‘he brought him to Jesus (John 1:42).’”101 Let’s face it. Spiritual growth should lead to a concern for the lost and telling others about the Savior.
Before discussing “in the knowledge of God,” a few comments are in order about the construction of verse 10b and 10c, since this discussion will impact the focus and meaning of the verse. We may have an illustration here of a chiastic construction (ABBA).
A in every good work (modifier)
B bearing fruit (present participle)
B and growing (present participle)
A in (or by) the knowledge of God (modifier)
The central focus is on B, the continual and progressive action of spiritual fruit bearing and growth. The two modifiers, A, point to the spheres where this is to occur, “in every good work,” and “in the knowledge of God.” However, the second modifier may well point not to the sphere, but to the agent that causes the growth, the knowledge of God, which has its source in the life giving streams of the Word. It is this Word that is alive and powerful (energizing) that contains within it the power to transform the believer’s life (Heb. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:13).
Thus, “in the knowledge of God” is a vital element in spiritual growth and fruitfulness. The focus is on the instrument or the means, on that which sustains and causes our growth qualitatively and quantitatively—the knowledge of God—rather than on the sphere in which grow occurs. Since Paul has already pointed to the sphere of growth in verse 9, it seems best to understand this verse to point to the agent of growth. As Lightfoot suggested, “The simple instrumental dative represents the knowledge of God as the dew or the rain which nurtures the growth of the plant: Deut. XXXii. 2, Hos. XiV. 5.”102 This is further supported by the fact that the voice is passive. Knowing God intimately and personally through His holy, inspired, and inerrant Word is a necessary element of spiritual growth. Naturally, this is not simply talking about intellectual information about God. Paul has in mind an intimate personal understanding of God. This is a life lived in the light of His being and grace as it touches our lives in every sphere and in every situation of life—in the good and in the difficult or the painful. As rain and sunshine nurtures plants, so knowing God intimately gives growth and maturity to the spiritual life of believers in Christ.
Christians are engaged in a moral and spiritual conflict with forces more powerful and insidious than anything we can even imagine. In ourselves, we are no match for either Satan’s guile or his strength. Because of the finished work of Christ, he is a defeated foe and ultimately doomed to the eternal lake of fire (cf. Col. 2:15; John 12:31; Heb. 2:14 with Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10), but at this moment in history, Satan is alive, well, and working night and day to distract, defeat, and destroy. To resist his advances or attacks, his cunning devices and deception, we need power and strength far beyond any human ability.
The power of God is one of the great themes and propositions of the Bible. Through Christ, God promises us power and strength for every situation of life, yet our tendency is to trust in ourselves as though we were sufficient, which we are not (see 2 Cor. 2:14-16 with 3:5). We may trust in ourselves because we each have, by God’s grace, our own abilities and talents, our gifts, our money, our education, our experience and background, or whatever human resources we think we have; so we are ever-prone turn to these to bail ourselves out of life’s difficulties. Or we fail to look to God for strength because our faith is simply too small. Our faith is more theoretical than it is actual. Or we fail to look to God for strength because we are afraid of the conflict; we know that if we are going to trust the Lord, we must sometimes crawl out on a limb or be exposed to significant pain.
Knowing our human tendency to lean on our own resources, the apostle now describes the third aspect of the worthy walk that pleases the Lord, “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness.” To stress the power available to us, the apostle uses three Greek words for power in 1:11. This serves to stress at least two things: (1) that God’s power is supreme and more than sufficient for anything we might face, and (2) that our human strength is not only insignificant by comparison, but totally insufficient in the spiritual and moral conflict we face in this life. Literally, the text says:
“With all (maximum) power, being constantly empowered according to the standard or measure of the strength (or might) of His glory.”
“With all power” is emphatic because of the word order, and emphasizes what’s available to us in Christ. It points to what God wants us to experience. The Greek word is dunamis, “power, might, strength, force.” Our word dynamite comes from this word, but dunamis is not an explosive kind of power like dynamite. It speaks of inherent ability that carries the potential to perform or accomplish a task. Paul’s prayers contain a strong emphasis on our need of the inherent power of God that He has made available to us in the Lord Jesus. This is because great power is needed to transform sinners into saints who can then live godly lives in an evil and darkened world.
“Strengthened” is dunamoo, “to make strong, strengthen.” It’s a causative verb and comes from dumamis. It carries the idea of making strong something or someone that is inherently weak (cf. Eph. 6:10; 2 Tim. 2:1). Further, the participle is in the present tense and points to the steady access of strength, the constant source that is available to believers in Christ.
Then, “according to His glorious might” directs our focus to the standard or measure of the power with which God strengthens us. “According to” (kata followed by the accusative case) means “the standard, the measure by which something is done.” This calls our attention to an awesome truth! “Might” is the Greek kratos, which speaks of God’s power and is used only of God in the New Testament. It speaks of manifested power, power put forth in action, specifically, the historic acts of God as in creation, with Israel, and especially in the person of Jesus Christ. It also speaks of a power that overcomes some form of resistance like the resistance of sin, of Satan, of the world system under Satan’s grip, and of death (spiritual and physical). Finally, the significance and impact of this word can be seen in Ephesians 1:19-21. As the third in a series of three things Paul prays for believers to understand, he prays they may grasp something of resurrection kind of power that is available to them in Christ:
so that you may know … what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 1:20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 1:21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
But here in Colossians, Paul declares that the measure or the scale by which this might is available is nothing short of God’s own glory (doxa). The scale is never just our situation or circumstance. It’s nothing less than God’s own glory. The basic idea of glory is “brightness, splendor,” but theologically, as applied to God, it speaks of the various outward manifestations of God’s inward character, the divine essence and the excellence of His divine attributes.
Some Illustrations: (1) Creation is an outward manifestation of the glory of God, it reveals His divine attributes—His holiness, justice, goodness, faithfulness, infiniteness, sovereignty, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1); (2) In the gift of God’s Son as manifested in the person and work of Christ, we see God’s wisdom, power, holiness, righteousness, grace, mercy, and love. We see this in Christ’s miraculous birth, His unique and powerful life, His substitutionary death, miraculous resurrection, and ascension. We should remember that Paul saw something of the Shekinah glory of the Lord on the Damascus road. This experience of seeing the glorified Lord then became an important theme in the mind and writings of the Apostle. This became the standard and foundation for the works and provision of God in Christ. This may be why the apostle uses the word “glory,” the Greek doxa, some 77 times in his letters in the New Testament.
Thus, “according to His glorious might” not only stresses the limitless source, the infinite power available to us in the person of Christ, but it also points to the goal, being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18) so that we might bring glory to God as a testimony to both mankind and angels regardless of what life may bring. This is evident in the next words, “for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience, with joy” or “joyously giving thanks …”
The NET Bible translates verse 11b as “for the display of all patience and steadfastness, with joy.” As I will explain below, while patience and steadfastness are permissible translations, patience is a little too passive, and steadfastness fails, in my opinion, to capture the emphasis of the Greek term used here. I prefer “for the display of steadfastness (or endurance) and longsuffering (or patience).”
Though experiencing God’s power or strength is vital to handling the various situations and trials of life, it is important to note that the goal or issue Paul stresses here is not power or spiritual strength. Rather, the goal is the moral and spiritual result of God’s empowerment for steadfastness, longsuffering, and joy, or depending on how one understands the text, with joy giving thanks. The text literally says, “unto (eis, indicates the goal) of all steadfastness and longsuffering.” God’s power is for producing at least two or maybe three Christ-like qualities—steadfastness, longsuffering, and joy. There is debate over just how we should understand or translate “with joy.” Some want to take these words with the preceding, with steadfastness and longsuffering as in the KJV, RSV, and ASV. Others believe that the grammatical construction strongly favors the translation of the NASB, NET, and NIV Bibles. Because the first three participles are modified with phrases, many expositors believe that “with joy” should go with this fourth participle as its modifier. Compare the following:
in every good work
by the knowledge of God
with all power
giving thanks to the Father
But not all agree that this construction answers all the issues here. Commenting on this, Curtis Vaughan writes:
It is debatable whether “joyfully” (meta charas; lit., “with joy”) should be construed with “endurance and patience” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NEB) or with “giving thanks” (NIV.) In the former construction, joy is seen as the pervading element of endurance and patience. Goodspeed renders it “the cheerful exercise of endurance and forbearance.” A distinctively Christian quality (cf. Gal 5:22; Philippians 1:18; 2:17; 3:1, et al.), joy is often associated in the NT with hardship and suffering.103
To this issue, Carson adds the following:
Abbott argues with others that with joyfulness, meta charas, should be taken with the clause that follows. He contends as against Lightfoot that eucharisteo (to give thanks) does not necessarily imply joy, and may therefore be quite legitimately amplified by the preceding phrase. In favour of Lightfoot’s position is the fact that Paul uses virtually the same phrase three times in the Epistle, and in the other two cases eucharisteo stands alone (i.3, iii. 17). This reinforces his view that joyfulness is implicit in thanksgiving, and so it would be unnecessary to introduce such a phrase as meta charas especially in such an emphatic position…104
On the practical side of this, Wiersbe adds,
God’s power is evidenced in our lives not only in our patience and longsuffering, but also in our joyfulness. When circumstances are difficult, we should exhibit joyful patience; and when people are hard to live with, we should reveal joyful longsuffering. We often use the words joy and happiness interchangeable, but a distinction should be made. Happiness often depends on happenings. If circumstances are encouraging and people are kind, we are happy. But joy is independent of both circumstances and people. The most joyful epistle Paul wrote was Philippians and he wrote it from jail as he faced the possibility of being martyred for his faith.105
But because of the construction explained above, it is probably best to translate as the NET Bible, “with joy giving thanks,” or as the NIV, “joyfully giving thanks.” The NASB likewise has “joyously giving thanks.” Paul could easily be pointing to the mood or the state of mind that should accompany our thanksgiving as giving thanks focuses us on the Fatherly love of God and the riches of God’s grace in Christ. But perhaps we have here one of those places of divine ambiguity where either could apply because either viewpoint is really true and applicable biblically.
Regardless of how one understands “with joy,” the objective is not just power, but God’s power manifesting itself in spiritual and moral fruit. We have a similar emphasis in 1 Corinthians 1:3-6 concerning the comfort God offers us as “the God of all comfort.” Paul wants us to know God’s comfort that we might not only be comforted ourselves, but also be able to comfort others. The goal, however, goes beyond just comfort. The goal is that the Corinthians (and we too) might experience patient endurance (2 Cor. 1:6). Naturally, to experience godly endurance or patience, we do need the strength that only God can give, but let’s not lose sight of the fact this strength is tied in with a joyful and thankful heart.
“Patience” as translated by the NET Bible is hupomone, “endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance.” As a translation, “patience” is a little too passive for this noun. This noun comes from hupo, “under,” and meno, “to abide, remain.” It speaks of remaining under a trial without giving in, of an ability to endure or remain or be steadfast regardless of the intensity and length of the testing. Hupomone is used in relation to the variegated kinds of trials that we all face in life as human beings: sickness, pain, financial loss, death of loved ones, warfare, physical and spiritual weaknesses, satanic attack, and persecution. It’s the perfect word for the kinds of trials faced by Job or Joseph in Genesis or the hall of faith characters listed in Hebrews 11.
Perhaps a few observations are in order:
a. Without trials accompanied by steadfastness or endurance, we will not and cannot grow (Jam. 1:1-4).
b. Endurance means waiting on the Lord in the light of the knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture; it means the enlargement and deepening of our faith (2 Thess. 1:3-4). Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, endurance requires seeking, knowing, and resting in God in the light of His Word (Rom. 10:17; 15:4).
c. To endure we must focus on the goal; we don’t endure just for endurance sake. The goal must always be kept in view. The goal consist of the following: to please and glorify the Lord (see Ps. 40:16), to experience His strength in place of our weakness (2 Cor. 12: 8-9), to be able to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-9), to develop our faith and to be transformed into the image of Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7; Rom. 8:28-29). Understanding this forms the basis of joy even in the midst of pain (Col. 1:11-12; Jam. 1:2-4; Heb. 12:2, 3).
d. The opposite of endurance is losing heart, giving up, running away, or some form of man’s many human escape mechanisms and substitutes (Luke 18:1).
With “patience,” or as I have translated it, “steadfastness,” Paul lists another quality that the NET Bible has translated as “steadfastness.” The Greek term here is makrothumia, “long suffering, long in compassion, even-temperedness.” It comes from makros, “long,” and thumos, “passion, temper.” In its use, this word is directed more toward people or our relationships with others. It means “long tempered, not easily provoked into angry words,” or into some form of retaliation or revenge. Makrothumia is the Christ-like virtue that is manifested in the face of some form of provocation. This word is used of God in His relations with mankind; He is longsuffering and enduring in His patience with man, forgiving and treating them in grace.
a. The opposite of longsuffering is retaliation, revenge, and reaction (1 Thess. 5:14-15).
b. Longsuffering is one of the virtues of the fruit of the Spirit; it is the product of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23).
c. It is also a product of love for love is longsuffering (1 Cor. 13:4).
d. Longsuffering or patience is also goal oriented and motivated by the coming of the Lord and eternal rewards or heavenly treasures (Jam. 5:7-11; 2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Much like a pinnacle, the fourth participle with its modifier, “with joy giving thanks,” focuses on that which sits like a crown over the other three participles. Much of the strength God gives for the display of endurance and longsuffering comes through a life characterized by praise and thanksgiving for God and His matchless grace. Learning to live by praise or thanksgiving is a key element in steadfastness and longsuffering, and in all areas of the Christian life because it turns our focus from our puny selves to Almighty God. This pattern is seen throughout the Psalms. The need, then, is to focus on His glorious person, especially as our heavenly Father, on the truth of His infinitely wise and eternal purposes, and on the unfathomable riches that He has given us in Christ (Eph. 3:8). So important is thankfulness that it is mentioned four times in this short epistle, and in all but one, the thanksgiving is made to God as our Father. At least two things are to occupy our minds as we give thanks. The first is the realization that, through Jesus, God is not some far off and uncaring deity, but a loving God who is concerned for us as a father for his children. The Lord Jesus Himself called our attention to this in His teaching on prayer (Matt. 7:7-11; Luke 11:10-13). Then secondly, we are to be thankful for the awesome blessings that we have through the person and work of Christ as illustrated in the partial list mentioned in 1:12-14. A worthy walk that pleases God is a thankful walk which both recognizes and stays occupied with God as our Father and recognizes and rests in God as our very source and benefactor (Rom. 11:36). The next lesson will be devoted to the issue of thanksgiving and its objects as listed in 1:12-14. The next lesson will focus on verses 12-14 and on the meaning and the objects of prayer listed in these verses.
We are probably not surprised by the responsibility to bear fruit in every good deed or by the need to grow by the knowledge of God, but the concept of being strengthened for the display of steadfastness and longsuffering might be somewhat surprising. But why? If we are typical of many Christians, we may be surprised because the goal of steadfastness and longsuffering is so different from the typical reasons people generally have for desiring God’s strength. We want healing from our diseases, miracle cures in our relationships, sudden deliverances from our life-dominating patterns, but above all, we simply want God to remove our problems with the pain they bring. And when do we want this? Well, NOW, of course! In fact, yesterday would have been better!! Unfortunately, as Christians we are often indifferent to the purposes that God has in suffering both in us and in those around us. Too many of us are often especially ignorant or apathetic regarding God’s purpose for us as a testimony to the angels who observe the church, both the good and the fallen angels as seen in the book of Job (cf. Job 1-2 with Eph. 3:10-11; 1 Pet. 1:12; 1 Tim. 3:16; Luke 2:13).
The principle is this: God is both the Vinedresser and our heavenly Father. In both of these roles He is committed to building spiritual character and conforming us to His Son (Rom. 8:28-29). By contrast, because we are often so dedicated to our own agendas of comfort and ease, God must use the pain of the various trials of life as tools to get our attention. As the Vinedresser, He prunes us like branches on the vine to make us more productive, and as a loving Father, He disciplines us as a training tool that we might partake of the peaceful fruit of righteousness (John 15:1-7; Heb. 12:5-13). At they say in sports, “No pain, no gain.”
Warren Weirsbe writes:
We usually think of God’s glorious power being revealed in great feats of daring—the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, David leading a victorious army, or Paul raising the dead. But the emphasis here is on Christian character: patience, longsuffering, joyfulness, and thanksgiving. The inner victories of the soul are just as great, if not greater, than the public victories recorded in the annals of history.106
A huge disparity exists between the focus of so much of today’s Christianity with that of the New Testament, which is on spiritual growth, maturity, and Christ-like transformation. This is especially evident when one compares the focus of today with the teachings of the epistles. Such a disparity is easily seen when one examines the thrust of the self-help books that line the shelves of bookstores and the health and wealth promises of many preachers and evangelists with their emphasis on signs, wonders, and miracles,
Modern Christians tend to make satisfaction their religion. We show much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing our God. Typical of Christianity today, at any rate in the English speaking world, is its massive rash of how-to-books for believers, directing us to more successful relationships, more joy in sex, becoming more of a person, realizing our possibilities, getting more excitement each day, reducing our weight, improving our diet, managing our money, licking our families into happier shape, and what not. For people whose prime passion is to glorify God, these are doubtless legitimate concerns; but the how-to-books regularly explore them in a self-absorbed way that treats our enjoyment of life rather than the glory of God as the center of interest.107
Since it is our experiences in life that bring the truth from the pages of the Bible into the realities of where we live, maybe it would be helpful to share my own experience of what is meant by this biblical focus on steadfastness in the midst of very painful and even the life threatening trials we all face sooner or later.
On January 29, 2001, the Lord called my beautiful and faithful wife home to glory. This was after eighteen months of battling a horrible cancer called multiple myeloma. These were the most difficult and heartbreaking months of our nearly forty-two years of life together. Knowing that God is sovereign and able to do whatever He pleases, we prayed for her healing by whatever means He might see fit to use. He could have healed her miraculously or used any of the solutions we sought through alternative and conventional medicine. But, in His infinite wisdom and love, He had other purposes in mind, purposes that would manifest His glory and Christ-likeness both in Kathie and in me as we sought to be steadfast and longsuffering through those painful months and learned to give thanks with joy for what He was doing, even in the midst of our tears. Now that she is with the Savior, I must find God’s strength to endure so that I might go on in His service. But I must do it in such a way that it will glorify God and lead to my own spiritual growth as I learn to live without her lovely presence and support.
Would a miraculous recovery have glorified the Lord? Absolutely, and that certainly would have been my choice and that of our family. But during those difficult months, the testimony of her life—her peace and inner joy, her continued humor and sweetness of character, her lack of complaint and much more—were in many ways a greater miracle, and one that was seen not only by those who knew her, but by the angelic hosts who observe the church. Her life and faith showed that her love for God and the Lord Jesus was not dependent on good or comfortable circumstances. Rather, it was dependent on the grace of God that redeems us from sin and makes us His children, those who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). Just as Paul put it in the next verses here in Colossians, Kathie was one who continually “gave thanks to the Father who qualified her to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light, and who delivered her from the power of darkness and transferred her to the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom she (and all believers) have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14). (my paraphrase)
Many times in those last months, I heard her offer up praise giving thanks to the Savior for His grace that had saved her. To use her own words, she would say something like, and often with tears of joy in her eyes, “I am so thankful for His grace that has saved me and made me, a wretched sinner, a child of God with the guarantees of glory.” I would almost cringe when she would call herself a wretched sinner because to me she was one of the most beautiful and Christ-like people I have ever known. It’s true, against the scale of God’s holiness, we are all wretched sinners saved only by grace, but through the process of spiritual sanctification and growth over the years of her precious life, God had so transformed her into the image and likeness of the Savior that if anyone was prepared for glory, from the standpoint of progressive sanctification, it was this beautiful lady. She was truly an illustration of God’s strength for the display of steadfastness and longsuffering in the midst of painful conditions. Because of my great love and appreciation for her, I often told her, “My dear, that you are my wife is my greatest claim to fame.” As a result of what the Lord had done in her life both before and in these last eighteen months, the Lord used the testimony of her life over and over again, not only with her family and friends, but also around the world through e-mail and her labors with the worldwide ministry of the Biblical Studies Foundation. For more about her life and her work as a staff member of BSF, see “About BSF” and then “BSF Staff” from the opening page of the BSF website.
98 Peter T. O'Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon, gen. ed., Glenn W. Barker, NT., ed., Ralph P. Martin (Word Books, Publisher, Waco, TX, vol. 44), Peter T. O'Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, Colossians, Philemon, gen. ed., Glenn W. Barker, NT., ed., Ralph P. Martin (Word Books, Publisher, Waco, TX, vol. 44), 23.
99 S. Lewis Johnson, "Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part I," Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, vol. 118, #472), 342-343.
100 Johnson, 343.
101 Johnson, 343.
102 J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1879 reprint, 1961), 139.
103 Curtis Vaughan, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992), electronic media.
104 Herbert M. Carson, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, An Introduction and Commentary (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1960), 38.
105 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Complete (Victor Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1986), 42
106 Wiersbe, 39.
107 J. I. Packer, Keeping in Step With the Spirit ( ), 97.