Prison Prayers of Paul (4): Growing Spiritual Intelligence

In the last of these studies of the prayers of Paul from his imprisonment, several differences should be noted. Paul probably had never seen these believers to whom he writes at Colosse. Epaphras had been the main instrument in their evangelizing and gathering, and had given a good report to Paul about their condition. We should learn from Paul’s example how consistently he prayed for saints who were far away, and were the fruit of another’s labors. He wasn’t as small-minded as some, and seemed to be free from the jealousies and rivalries that afflict many Christians. Most of us have difficulty getting beyond ourselves, our families, the assembly, and our own work. But Paul pays a tribute to Epaphras.

A second contrast is that Timothy is linked with him in his prayer here. He says “we … pray for you.” It can be learned from Paul’s letters that assemblies were not all equal in their progress, faithfulness, and general spirituality. The same is true today. Not only does the Lord know the condition of each, as with the seven churches in Revelation, but He will hold us responsible as to how we help or hinder. Epaphras had made a massive contribution in Colosse as the first and last chapters of the epistle confirm. Happy is the assembly where there are men like Epaphras.

The Point of the prayer is “knowledge.” This is the focus of the first petition. The clouds of doctrinal error were gathering fast in the latter half of the first century. Colosse was going to face the storm, and Paul sends back a letter to steady the believers. We can learn from Paul’s prayer the secret of their well-being. Central to it would be knowledge, a developing spiritual intelligence, sufficient armor against the “boasted knowledge” of the heretics.

The Progress of the prayer:

Verse 6: Knowledge of the grace of God … His Pardon

Verse 9: Knowledge of His will … His Purpose

Verse 10: Knowledge of God … His Person

Note the progress in these. The first was at conversion, when we learned “the grace of God in truth,” but it is something else to grapple with “a knowledge of His will.” As in Ephesians, this is first of all God’s will in its broadest sense, involving all His purposes in Christ as this epistle unfolds. He is all and in all. The Colossians, and we, need no one else and nothing else. Christ is given a kingdom as the Son of the Father’s love, and is the agent in the ultimate harmonization and reconciliation of all things. In all things He shall have the preeminence. Some might say, “I thought His will here was about my everyday living: where I live, study, and work, if I should marry, and whom?” These are important things, but if I am “filled” with a knowledge of His will in this larger sense, then the smaller matters of life will fall into place. If I, as a Christian, could see the wonder of divine purpose, it would make earthly allurements look very small. If I know that Christ will one day have the preeminence, it will help me give Him that place now. Considerations like these make me sensitive to God’s will for me and will influence my choices.

The Christian who submits to the Lord in every possible way, and waits upon Him, will not be disappointed in knowing which path to take. Many professing Christians today put a low value upon doctrine and even suggest that it is divisive. I’m not sure that Paul would have agreed.

Then notice that he adds, “In all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” It is often pointed out that knowledge is accumulation of truth drawn from the Scriptures. Understanding is the growing apprehension of what has been learned. It is spiritual understanding by the help of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is the sensitive and proper application of it all.

Verse 10 brings us to the knowledge of God. This is the highest aim of all. We are not said to be “filled,” as in verse 9, but simply “increasing” in this knowledge, because it is something beyond our full grasp. To know God is the business of a lifetime, and will involve prayer, yieldedness, love, and, like the Psalmist, delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating in it day and night (Psa 1).

The Path of the believer is the focus of the second main request. We are to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” Knowledge has an impact upon the life, and what we have here is “Christianity in shoe-leather.” This is why Scroggie calls this “A prayer for enlightened behavior.” Our walk should reflect what we have learned of the Lordship and claims of Christ. “Worthy” means befitting and appropriate to the One Who saved us. “Unto all pleasing” means in every way that will please the Lord. Then follows what all students of the chapter are familiar with – the important participles in the prayer.  There are four, each one expressing more about this worthy walk: “being fruitful, increasing, being strengthened,” and “giving thanks.” They emphasize the Christian’s produce, progress, power, and praise.

The Plenitude of everything is striking in Paul’s desires for them. Note the expressions “filled” with knowledge, “all” pleasing, “every” good work, “increasing,” “all” might, and “all” patience and longsuffering. There is nothing limited about this prayer. They must aim for a full and clear knowledge, exercising all their faculties for spiritual service, which will be varied and abundant in good works. The power they need is available from a limitless reservoir, and it all leads to an experience of life that results in joy for them and praise to the Father.

The Perseverance of the believer is to be valued (v11). All this power from God is not for us to become great performers, to have mighty success in evangelism, or to be bringing about miraculous turnarounds. No, it is simply to keep plodding on, to keep “walking worthy of the Lord,” that in face of all the difficulties, we might develop patience in all circumstances, and longsuffering with all people. This is what really matters in the long run, and it is open to every Christian. Maybe the poet wasn’t far from the mark when he said, “it’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones who win in the lifelong race.” May we live our lives with spiritual success, not based on how we feel, worked up excitement, or mere sentiment. Not even upon what is so much talked about in the charismatic culture, experiences. None of these will be enough for us in the walk of life, nor can they be a substitute for an education from God and His Word. Paul knew better, and this is why we should listen to these prison prayers. God has preserved them for all time, and for us.