READ : Colossians 1:9-12, 28
If you are an athlete, one of the most important things you can do is to set high goals that you strive to attain. The same thing is true for Christians.
Do you find it difficult to talk to strangers? Then imagine yourself in the apostle Paul’s position as he sat down to write his letter to the church in Colossae. Not only had he never been to that city or met any of the Christians there, he was writing them for the express purpose of correcting some of the false ideas that had taken hold in their church. If I had been writing, I think I would have had to chew on my pen for a while before I came up with the right way to begin the letter.
Paul doesn’t seem to have been troubled by this problem. For one thing, as an apostle he possessed a unique authority over the church in Colossae – and all other Christian churches as well. Whether or not he knew them personally, Paul was uniquely commissioned by Jesus himself to teach Christian truth to Christian believers. In fact, one of the marks of genuine Christians in any age is their readiness to submit to apostolic authority; like the early church in Jerusalem, faithful Christians devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42).
But despite his unique authority (or perhaps because of it) Paul still opens his letter to the Colossians in a wonderfully appealing and sensitive way. He starts out by simply telling them how he has been praying for them. Paul didn’t have to know these Christians personally to care about them. He didn’t have to belong to the church there in order to feel the responsibility of interceding for it. Paul’s love and concern for the Colossians went out to them instantly when he heard of their faith from his friend Epraphras, the man who had brought the gospel to Colossae. His prayers for the church began with thanksgiving for all that was right and good – their faith, hope and love and their steady growth in the gospel – and then Paul went on to pray for further spiritual fruit in the Colossians’ lives.
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
(Col. 1:9-12, nrsv)
Do you have any goals in your life? It’s important to set some. You know the old saying, “If you aim at nothing, that’s just what you’ll hit.” I was listening to a well-known television interviewer who was himself being interviewed. He talked about how much he loved his job because he got to talk to many of the most interesting people in the world. Then he was asked what he had learned in his conversations with so many powerful, famous and influential men and women. “I have learned one thing.” he said, “While they’re all different, every highly successful person I’ve ever met, no matter what their field, had this one thing in common – determination. The secret of success is to never quit, to never give up short of your goal.”
Now that is an important insight, but it’s not the whole truth. For if part of the secret of success is having the determination to pursue your goal to the end, no matter what, another part is to make certain you’ve picked the right goal in the first place. What is your goal? If you’re a student, it may be to get to the head of your class. If you’re in business, it could be to reach the top of your profession. But if you’re a Christian, then your goal is clearly spelled out in Paul’s prayer for the Colossians. “We have not ceased praying for you,” he wrote, “that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.“ There it is. Our goal is nothing less than to lead a life worthy of the Lord. Our goal is to fully please him always, in all we do.
Douglas MacArthur, the famous American general, was himself the son of a prominent Army officer. As an old man, MacArthur once confided that everything he had ever done he did for his father. He spent his whole life trying to be worthy of him. Every time he won a victory, got a promotion or achieved some notable accomplishment which the world applauded, MacArthur said he couldn’t be happy or satisfied until he had stood in his imagination before the noble figure of his father and asked, “Do you approve?” That’s exactly how it is for Christians. Everything we do, we do for the Lord. Our motto is, “Live to please him,” and we judge nothing about ourselves to be successful unless we have reached the goal of living a life worthy to be offered to Jesus Christ himself. Actually, this is God’s universal standard. It’s for everyone, not just for Christians. The way to test your life is to ask this question, “Is it pleasing to Jesus Christ, the Lord?” Living for anything else means you have chosen the wrong goal.
FRUITFUL IN GOOD WORKS
But what does this sort of life look like? What does it mean to lead a life worthy of the Lord? What do we have to do in order to please him? Paul tells us several things here in Colossians 1 about the kind of life that is pleasing to God. First, it is a life of continual growth. Just as Paul talks about the goal of the Christian life here in his prayer, so later on he reveals the goal of his own ministry,
It is [Christ] whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.”
The nature of Paul’s ministry was to proclaim Christ, which meant to preach the entire Word of God in its fullness, both “warning” and “teaching” everyone in all wisdom. The goal of Paul’s ministry was to present every single person “mature in Christ.” Paul wanted full-grown Christians to be the result of his work. The word mature means “finished” or “complete” or even “perfect.” Paul couldn’t be satisfied with baby Christians, with people who never progressed beyond a childish spiritual level. He realized that the whole point of the gospel was to change people, to take bad people and make them good and good people and make them better. So the first mark of a life that is pleasing to God is that it continues to grow spiritually. It never stops short of perfection, even if that is not obtainable in this world. It never says, “I think I’ve gone far enough with this morality business; I’m good enough now. I don’t need to be a fanatic about religion. Now I can relax and enjoy myself for a while.”
Secondly, a life that is pleasing to God is a life of increasing knowledge. The specific growth for which Paul prays is growth in the knowledge of God: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . as you grow in the knowledge of God” (v. 10). Think of the many kinds of knowledge for which people are striving. There’s scientific knowledge, knowledge of how the world works. Billions of dollars and thousands of lives are invested in the attempt to unlock the secrets of the universe and the wonders of technology. There’s political knowledge, knowledge of how to govern human society, how to get and keep power, how to influence and control others. People will go to incredible lengths in order to gain that kind of knowledge. And there’s commercial knowledge; how to make money is the knowledge most people are most interested in. But beyond any and all of those is spiritual knowledge, the knowledge of who God really is and who we really are. Many of the world’s most learned people remain ignorant of that knowledge all their lives. They know all about all kinds of things but they don’t know about God. They never learn the one thing that really matters. No matter how great your learning, how high you rise in the world, if you don’t know God, you’ve missed the most important lesson in life.
But it’s not only knowledge of God for which Paul prays; it is knowledge of God’s will. The knowledge we need is the knowledge of right and wrong, knowledge not for its own sake but knowledge for the sake of obedience, because our goal is not merely to gain information about God, it is to live well before God. When Paul sets before us the goal of gaining spiritual wisdom and understanding, what he’s really praying for is “a meeting of the minds” between God and us, so that we can come to know and understand what he wants and expects of us.
The idea, of course, is that once we know what God wants we’ll begin to do it. So here’s the third mark of a life that is pleasing to God: fruitfulness in good works. The goal is “that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in every good work…“ (v. 10). Knowing God’s will ought to transform our lives. It means we will search out God’s likes and dislikes so that if there is something in our lives which offends God, we discard it, no matter how dear it is to us. And if there’s something lacking of which God approves, we strive to obtain it, no matter how contrary it may be to our nature. It’s really quite simple. What pleases God is a life that more and more bears the fruit of good works, works of fairness, works of kindness, works of generosity, works of compassion, works of mercy, works of justice, works of love.
Finally, says Paul, the life that pleases God will be a life filled with power, not necessarily the power to work wonders or perform miracles but the power to continue fruitful in love under all circumstances. “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power . . . to endure everything with patience while joyfully giving thanks” (vv. 11-12). The wonderful thing about the gospel is that it not only tells us what we must do, it tells us how. God gives us the power to change. Do you realize that? You really can become a new person, a better person, a positive, productive person if you turn to Christ in faith and sincerely ask him for his grace and power day by day. The goal isn’t impossible. It’s reachable, with God’s help.
I said earlier that the goal of every Christian’s life is to become mature in Christ, to live a life worthy of him, a life which pleases him. That means a life of continual growth, a life of ever increasing knowledge of God and his will, a life that is fruitful in doing good and a life filled with the power to keep on believing, to keep on loving. But really, shouldn’t this be the goal of your life, whatever faith you might profess?
Jesus once asked a very searching question, “What does it profit someone if they gain the whole world but lose their own soul?” What he meant was this. What if you got everything you ever wanted in life. Would that satisfy you? Imagine that you reached every goal, that you attained the absolute pinnacle of your ambition, whatever that might be. Would it even matter, if in the process you lived an unworthy life that was displeasing to God? Is that something you would want to do? I can’t imagine it would be.
The alternative is to seek to live a life that brings honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. Make it your aim to please him. That’s not only the right goal for your life; it is one you can attain!