“We Do Not Cease to Pray for You”
(Colossians 1:1-14 – Pentecost 8 – August 4, 2019)
Colossians 1:1-14 – Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:
As we read through the epistles of St. Paul, in many places he encourages believers to pray without ceasing. He asks believers to keep praying for one another’s spiritual well-being. At the same time, he asks them to pray for him, that in his ministry he might faithfully proclaim the gospel. As a model for believers, Paul assures them that he constantly prays for them. (Ephesians 6:18-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 3:1)
This is true here in his letter to the Colossians. In verse 3 of our text, Paul includes his coworker Timothy when he says: “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus.” Again in verse 9 he says: “we… do not cease to pray for you.” And true to form, near the end of this epistle he asks believers to pray for their spiritual leaders: “praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3-4).
Dear members of Christ’s Church through faith, I can assure you that I pray for you. I regularly pray through our membership, interceding to the Lord for you personally. I pray for your spiritual and eternal good, and that God would work out all things in your life according to His grace in Christ. And with Paul, I encourage you to pray for one another. Also please pray for me; because as your pastor I need your prayers, that I may faithfully proclaim His Gospel. As those who together stand in need of prayer and God’s gracious work in our lives, let us use Paul’s words as our theme: “We Do Not Cease to Pray for You.”
1) For faith that is rooted in true knowledge and wisdom in Christ
As our first petition, let us pray in the manner of Paul as he says: “We also… do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (vs. 9). That is, let us pray in behalf of each other for faith rooted in true knowledge and wisdom in Christ. We need such prayer, for in this world there will always be proponents of false knowledge and wisdom, threatening to rob us of true faith in Christ.
It was true for the Colossians. Paul was not the one who originally had brought the Gospel to them. Another coworker named Epaphras had that privilege (vs. 7). But since Paul heard of their saving faith in Jesus and the hope laid up for them in heaven, he continually gave thanks to God. This faith, he says, had come to them “in the word of the truth of the gospel… since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (vs. 5-6).
However, false teachers threatened their faith by new claims to knowledge and wisdom. They added to the Gospel both Jewish and pagan ideas. In Colossians 2, Paul warns against false teachers’ attempt to burden Christians with Old Testament laws about circumcision, food, and holy days. They even went beyond the Law of Moses in demanding self-denial and harsh treatment of the body, as if such works earned God’s favor. They combined works-righteous teachings with pagan philosophy and superstitious ideas of the spirit world, including worship of angels and claims of special revelations. All their supposedly superior knowledge and wisdom seemed make the Gospel Paul and Epaphras taught seem too simple and incomplete.
This has always been Satan’s work, to propose a “more complete” knowledge, wisdom, and spirituality – to make you think something is missing if you simply believe God’s Word. When we teach that all Scripture is inspired by God’s Spirit, and therefore reliable and complete for our spiritual understanding, liberal theologians say: “That is not enough; we must reconcile Scripture with modern science and scholarship.” As our youth go off to school and into society, their Bible understanding is challenged as being way too simple and uneducated next to modern “enlightened” views. They are laughed at for believing a six day creation or the miracles taught in Scripture. They are despised as narrow-minded for promoting biblical morality. When we preach Christ crucified as God’s way of saving us from sin and death, the world takes offense at the apparent foolishness of that Gospel. When we teach that we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ, false teachers say: “That is not enough. You must add your own works and holy living to the equation. You need religious experience like speaking in tongues, dreams and visions, some higher form of spirituality and feelings than you now have.” In many ways, Satan seeks to uproot the faith God planted in our hearts “in the word of the truth of the gospel.”
We need the same encouragement Paul gave the Colossians, to stick to God’s Word alone and the old Gospel that alone produces faith and makes us wise unto salvation. The Gospel turns our focus away from our own human understanding, our works and religious experiences. It points us instead to Christ’s finished work of saving us. It tells us that in Christ crucified, God forgives all our sins; and that in Christ glorified, we have a living hope laid up for us in heaven. So let us pray in behalf of one another for faith rooted in true knowledge and wisdom in Christ.
2) For faith that continues to bear fruit and grow
When our faith is rooted in God’s true and saving Gospel, it will bear God-pleasing results. As Paul’s prayer goes on to say: “…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (vs. 10). So let us pray in behalf of one another for faith that continues to bear fruit and grow.
We need one another’s prayer when it comes to “being fruitful in every good work.” How easily we can develop wrong ideas about what good works are and wrong motivation for doing them. Based on Scripture, our ELS catechism defines good works this way: “In the sight of God good works are the works of faith which the Holy Spirit leads the Christian to do out of love, according to the Ten Commandments, and for the welfare of his neighbor” (Q. 220). Good works are a fruit of faith in Christ, motivated by thankfulness for His free salvation. Yet, we are tempted to do good works for the wrong reason, to be seen by men or to try to earn God’s favor. We are tempted to hide the spiritual gifts and abilities God gives us, in selfishness or in false humility; instead of using them fully to serve to the glory of God and the good of one another.
There is a reason why Paul couples the idea of “being fruitful in every good work” with “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Only when faith is being nourished by God’s Word and growing healthy can it produce fruit; just as a tree must be rooted in good soil and well watered. A faith that is not being fed and strengthened by God’s Spirit through Word and Sacrament will cease growing, become weak, and eventually die. Often this decline shows by a lack of fruit of faith, and an increase of sinful attitudes and works. God does not want us to be like a tree that has only leafy branches to show, but no fruit – or merely a false show of religion. He wants us to be like a tree that is truly alive and healthy, bearing genuine fruit of faith. Jesus says: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). We need to abide in His Word so that the Law can prune away sinful attitudes and works; and then the Gospel can reassure us of His forgiveness and make our faith grow. God’s Gospel declares us righteous in Christ. Then it motivates us to produce fruit of righteousness from pure thankfulness for His salvation. Let us pray in behalf of one another for faith that continues to bear fruit and grow.
3) For faith that is strengthened in life’s hardships
As our faith remains rooted and growing strong in the Gospel, Paul refers to another blessing as he prays that believers in Christ may be: “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering” (vs. 11). So let us pray for one another’s faith to be strengthened in life’s hardships.
How often do we say to each other “I’ll pray for you” when we face hardship in life? This is what Paul is getting at as he prays “for all patience and longsuffering.” “Patience” is the strength God gives us to stand firm in faith under pressures and burdens of life. “Longsuffering” is the endurance and self-restraint God’s Spirit works in us when we experience adversity, especially for the sake of Christ. It is the ability to respond calmly even when others mistreat us, because the Spirit leads us to trust God to work all things out for our good in His time.
This is not a response we can muster by our own willpower. How often have we proven this by our impatience and lack of trust in time of trial? The strength Paul speaks of can only be given by God’s Spirit. It is something we can pray for and receive. As always in answering our prayer, God directs us back to His Word and promises in Christ. Only in Christ can we see how God is working all things for our good, even in our greatest suffering and need. God reminds us in the Gospel how He has already worked out our eternal good in Christ. He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up to save us. So He assures us that He will give us everything we need at the right time and in the best way. God is for us no matter who is against us, and nothing can separate us from His love in Christ (Romans 8:31-39). Let us pray that one another’s faith may be strengthened in life’s hardships through His unfailing promises.
4) For faith that rejoices in the blessings of God’s kingdom
Finally, as our eyes of faith remain on Christ, Paul says this will enable us to live: “with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (vs. 11-14). So let us pray in behalf of one another for faith that rejoices in the blessings of God’s Kingdom.
We have good reason to rejoice and give thanks to God! He loves us and treats us so well. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but by His grace. Our sins had disqualified us from heaven, and shut us out in hell’s eternal darkness. But God so loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son to save us. Jesus shed His blood to redeem us from sin and death and deliver us from Satan’s power. Jesus rose from the grave to grant us eternal life. God sent His Spirit into our hearts to enlighten us by the Gospel and faith, conveying us into the Kingdom of His Son. Now, in His Kingdom of Grace, God daily and richly forgives all our sins. He calls us saints, as those who are clothed in Christ’s holiness and inheriting His heavenly glory!
Now we can truly live “with joy; giving thanks to the Father” at all times. This is true even when things are difficult in life, and when from all appearances there is not much to be joyful or thankful about. The fact is, we have all we could ever ask for and more in Christ’s Kingdom. Are we poor or lacking in this life? Yet we can rejoice in the incomparable riches of His heavenly Kingdom. Are we troubled by suffering? Yet we can rejoice in the eternal pleasures we shall experience at His right hand. Are we troubled by death? Jesus says: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32); and “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Dear members of Christ’s Church by faith, let us be encouraged to pray without ceasing for one another, saying with Paul: “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” Please join me in praying for one another: 1) For faith that is rooted in true knowledge and wisdom in Christ; 2) For faith that continues to bear fruit and grow; 3) For faith that is strengthened in life’s hardships; and 4) For faith that rejoices in the blessings of God’s Kingdom. In Jesus’ saving name we pray. Amen.