Maturity in Christ
March 27, 2022 | In Christ Alone | Maturity in Christ| Colossians 1:9-14
In this second week, I want to dig a little deeper into the why behind this letter.
From what we can infer men had come into the church teaching some sort of philosophy that combined oriental mysticism with Jewish ritualism and sought to go beyond the ‘simple’ gospel message and ‘simple’ faith in Jesus.
All of these elements were confusing the very message the Colossian believers had believed and Paul is concerned that if left unchecked, it will not only lead many astray but destroy the church itself.
In essence, here is the problem they faced, is the gospel, is Jesus, enough?
Specifically, how would they grow in their relationship with God, how would they grow in their faith, how would they deal with the battle of the flesh that every Christian knows all too well. These false teachers presented tangible, pragmatic ways to do that, which included but were not limited to angel worship, elevating astronomy, strict religious asceticism, observation of certain festivals and special days. This, they taught, was the way to know God better and to experience him more fully. Furthermore, these men were the ones that could show them the way. Furthermore, even Paul admits in Colossians 2:23, “these indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion” but he goes on to say, “but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Paul’s object of this letter then is to counteract this false teaching and oppose these false teachers. One commentator summed it up like this, “He does that by setting before the Colossians their true standing in Christ alone, the majesty of his person, and the completeness of the redemption offered by Him.” Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
This is why we said last week that Paul starts with their identity in Christ, the foundation of their lives with him. Having reminded the Colossians of who they are in Christ, now he moves on to how they grow in him, or mature in Christ. This is equally important to Paul as their identity because there was a real danger that the Colossian church would be seduced by this early form of Gnosticism and chase after things other than Christ in order to grow.
So Paul shares with them his ongoing prayer for them.
When we take everything he prays for together, the overarching theme is that they would grow, or mature, in Christ.
One of the more interesting things I found in my study is that verse 9 begins a 218 word sentence in the original language continuing through verse 20. That’s quite the introduction to this letter and most of it deals with the idea of the believer maturing in Christ. What a believer should be becoming in Christ.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Before we dig in, we acknowledge that there is tension present here that we cannot fully resolve, and that’s okay, some tensions you just have to manage. Here is the tension of the Christian life. On one hand, as we talked about last week, the work is finished. When you were saved you are in Christ, you are a saint and a child of God. Here is the other truth we have to hold in tension with that, we should be growing in the identity that is already ours.
Being in Christ is something that is both fully realized and grown into.
Think about this- what happens when someone not born here becomes a citizen of the United States? For the purpose of this illustration, we will oversimplify the process. They express their desire, they meet certain requirements, they go through certain interviews and tests, and then the day comes.
They stand with others who are doing the same thing, they pledge their allegiance to the United States and its ideals, and they are declared citizens, they receive a certification of naturalization. It’s as though they were born here. There is a moment when you are declared a citizen of the United States and at that moment you possess all the rights and privileges of a citizen. It is done, finished. However, in the months and years to come, you will grow into the fuller expression of your citizenship. You will exercise your rights, to vote, to hold certain jobs, etc…, and each time you do, you are no more a citizen than the day you became one, but your experience, understanding, and appreciation grow. In the same way, you cannot be any more of a citizen, you cannot ever be any more saved, or anymore a child of God, it is simply who you are in Christ. However, you can and should grow in the experience, expression, and understanding of what that means from the time you were born again until the time you face Jesus face to face.
In the same way, you cannot be any more of a citizen, you cannot ever be any more saved, or anymore a child of God, it is simply who you are in Christ.
What was so seductive about these false teachers, they claimed to be able to show these men and women how to do that. Maybe some of you have had that question as well. “How do I grow in Christ?” We will see Paul answer that question head-on by relating to them what he prays for them. Paul has already said that he prays for these believers since the day he heard of their faith, now he tells them what his prayer is. In essence, Paul breaks his prayer into two aspects concerning these believers’ lives, which are interrelated in their foundation and dependent on one another in their application. That they would grow in Christ, both in knowledge and holiness. Both in understanding and action.
Let’s turn to each of those now.
Disciples should be growing in their understanding of God’s will.
The first part of Paul's prayer is that they would be filled with a deeper understanding of God’s will.
It is very similar to what he prayed for the believers at Ephesus.
Ephesians 1:17-23 (ESV) 7 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
In Ephesians, Paul goes on to expound on what that means.
that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Essentially Paul says, my prayer is that you would grow in your knowledge of the things you already know.
You know the hope you have in Christ, may you know it more fully.
You know the inheritance that is yours as a saint, may you know the extravagant and gloriousness of it more.
You know the great power that God has, may you more fully realize the vast and immeasurable greatness of it.
You know that Christ is Lord of all, may you grow in your understanding that he is indeed above any and everything you could ever think of.
Here, he prays very similarly, but specifically that they would grow in their knowledge of God’s will.
That portion of his prayer is recorded in verse 9.
9b asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Notice that Paul’s prayer here is not that first and foremost that they would do something, but that they would receive something from God.
Be filled- abound (ever-increasing knowledge)
Notice that Paul’s prayer here is not that first and foremost that they would do something, but that they would receive something from God.
This is vitally important for us to understand, and central to the gospel. If God doesn’t initiate we are lost.
God sent his Son, God draws unbelievers, God prompts unbelievers, God gives faith to them so they can respond. Having received the gift of salvation, these Colossian Christians were in danger of trying to take matters into their own hands and produce maturity. Paul gently reminds them that their maturity in Christ will come as a result of receiving and responding, not manufacturing. The word be filled is the idea of literally to cram, as in filling a net, or fill to level as in filling a bowl or vessel. Filled to the brim.
As your knowledge increases, may God give you more and more, and as that fills up, may God give you more and more. This is an ever-increasing work of God in their life that Paul prays for, that God would fill them with the knowledge…
With the knowledge- (that which is precise and correct knowledge)
The word Paul uses here is not just knowing something, but knowledge that is precise and correct. No need to raise your hand, but how many of us have known something, I mean really believed it to be true, only to find out later that it wasn’t?
Paul’s prayer is that these believers would be filled with the right knowledge about God. We know there was a whole lot of wrong knowledge going around in the church concerning God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as well as what he desired from his children. Paul’s prayer is that they would be able to receive what God was pouring into them and reject what was not from him. That the knowledge they had would be divine and right.
Paul is asking that God would give these believers discernment along with their knowledge. What Paul specifically asks for gives us insight into what knowledge will lead to their maturity. May you be filled with the knowledge… of his will.
Of his will- (what God wishes to be done by us)
That is what God desires for us to do as men and women in Christ. I know it’s hard to imagine because we take it for granted, but these early Christians did not have the scriptures in the way we do. They had heard Christ and him crucified, they had put their faith in him and been born again. But what did he desire of them?
When someone came along and used some of what we call Old Testament scriptures and some elements of Judaism, they were tempted to accept it because they didn’t know better.
God ultimately answered this prayer of the Apostle Paul by leading the church, by the Holy Spirit to pen the various letters and epistles, then through the Holy Spirit, to canonize and assemble these 66 books so that we may more fully know his will.
How much more of an affront is it when we, who have the full privilege of the Holy Scriptures, as well as the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, don’t bother to read it much less seek to understand it?
The last part of his first petition is in all, or with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
In all spiritual wisdom-(skilled application of knowledge) and understanding (what is true and what is false)
Paul prays that God would give them ‘right’ knowledge of his will by giving them spiritual wisdom and an ability to understand the things of God. So how do we grow in our understanding of God’s will, how do we mature in our knowledge? According to Paul’s petition, it is a gift of God given to believers by Spiritual wisdom and understanding. They would not find it outside of or apart from God.
This is simultaneously, so easy to see, those who began in Christ, through God’s gift, should continue growing in Christ through God’s gift, but it’s also really easy to be seduced by best selling authors, new tantalizing pragmatic methods, or some new revelation that God gave this charismatic and gifted leader. Before we know it we have taken wisdom from the world and tried to incorporate it into our faith, when we should simply heed the advice of James who says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him”. James 1:5
That is essentially what Paul prays for these Colossian believers and you can easily infer what he would have them pray for themselves.
Do you want to grow in your understanding of God’s will? Then ask God and read his word, ask God and read his word. It’s not near as exciting as some emotionally driven worship service, or interesting as some intellectual driven new book that unlocks the secrets of God, or as pragmatic as ten steps to take to grow in Christ, but it is the only way that will produce any real maturity in your knowledge of God and his will.
But, that is not the only growth Paul prays for on behalf of these believers. One of the most important details is found in the beginning of verse 10. So that…
Paul is not praying that they would increase in their understanding for the sake of their knowledge alone, but that by their increased understanding their lives would continue to be changed, which leads us to the next aspect of Paul’s prayer.
Disciples should be growing in their exercising of God’s will.
The second part of Paul’s prayer is that they would be moved to a deeper exercising of God’s will.
vs 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him:
So as to walk (purpose of knowledge- right knowledge should lead to right behavior) (Hebrew for to live)
In a manner worthy (suitable)
The idea is not that we can somehow be worthy of what God has done for us, but rather that our life would be lived in a way that corresponds to what God has done for us.
This word was often used in connection to a pair of scales in which the item on one side should weigh as much as the item on the other side.
I think what Paul is saying is that the way we live our life ought to reflect as accurately as possible what God has done for us in justifying us through his Son. The more we grow in our understanding of the truth of what that means, the more our lives ought to reflect it.
Fully pleasing- the idea is not that we can ever walk so fully in Christ as to fully please him, as in perfectly please him, that’s not what Paul is saying. What he is saying is that pleasing God should be the aim of our life. That should be our desire.
When those two things align, when we lean on God’s understanding and our desire is to please him, when our concern is to live in such a way that our lives increasingly reflect Christ in us and us in Christ, then Paul says certain things will be manifested in our lives.
Paul gives four markers of that kind of life.
A believer who is walking properly will be fruitful in every good work.
Best translated as producing evidence of their life in Christ in all areas of their lives through their Godly actions.
Maturing in Christ touches every area of your life. You cannot be a maturing disciple and a lousy husband. You cannot be a maturing disciple and a dishonest employee. You cannot be a maturing disciple and enslaved to viewing inappropriate images.
This was an especially important truth for waring against the false teachers because some were teaching that it didn;t matter what you did with your body because all matter was evil, as long as you were spiritually clean. Nonsense, says Paul. Maturing in Christ affects every area of your life.
A believer who is walking properly will be Increasing in the knowledge of God.
Literally growing in the right knowledge of God. We have already established that God gladly gives wisdom and understanding to those who ask, and that it is ever increasing. Practically how does that work? Remember what Paul said earlier? That God would fill you to the brim with understanding so that you may walk. God gives you understanding of what he desires for you, when you act on it, when you obediently put it into action, your cup gets bigger, God then gives you more understanding that you act on in obedience, and your cup gets bigger. A believer that is maturing in Christ they will be growing in their knowledge of God.
A believer who is walking properly will be strengthened with all power.
Paul uses the same basic word twice for emphasis. Literally strengthened with all strength according to, or from the power of His glory. Paul is saying that as we mature God’s strength will be more and more evident in our lives.
The evidence is probably much different than what some may initially think.
We may expect it to say, strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might so that you can cast out demons, so that you can heal the blind and the lame, so that you can speak in tongues, so that you can prophesy. Right? I mean those things feel like displays and evidence of God’s power, don’t they?
What does Paul says “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for… all endurance and patience with joy;”
Endurance, sometimes translated patience. I had a seminary professor give the most wonderfully simple picture of the meaning of this word. He drew a stick figure holding up a huge boulder. He said endurance or patience here is remaining under a load, when it would be easier to quit, easier to give in, endurance is patiently holding on because God said so. Despite circumstance, despite false teachers, holding on, enduring in the truth.
The second word Paul uses is patience, sometimes translated as long-suffering. The idea here is relational, being patient with others.
Interestingly when we take both of these words together Paul essentially says that God’s strength is manifested when we patiently endure difficult situations beyond our control and in loving patience endure difficult people beyond our control.
Finally he says, we will do this with joy. The perfect picture of this being Paul himself, with Silas, wrongly beaten and imprisoned, singing praises to God.
What is the evidence of God’s power in your life, an unshakeable joyful patience with difficult situations and people.
A believer who is walking properly will be grateful to God.
Giving thanks to God. A life marked by gratitude to God for life despite the challenges, despite the difficulties. Listen to how Paul says it in Ephesians.
Ephesians 5:20-21 (ESV) giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Four markers of a maturing disciple.
They will be fruitful in their works, growing in their knowledge of God, strengthened by His power to be joyfully patient, and be overflowing with gratitude towards God.
Finally, Paul wraps up his prayer for them by reminding them of the reason they should want to live this kind of life, one of maturing and growing in Christ.
God has qualified, made you fit, given you a place among the inheritance of the saints, by transferring you from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ, in whom we have redemption.
Paul essentially says, that all of what I am praying for you is not only possible but should be what you desire since you are now in Christ.
This prayer reminds us that in Christ there is a necessity for a proper balance between knowledge and experience. You cannot act beyond your knowledge, and you cannot grow beyond your actions.
If we want to be maturing disciples of Christ, then we must make Paul’s prayer our own.
As we wrap up, I want to challenge you with this thought?
As a disciple of Christ, if you wrote down what you are praying for yourself, how closely would it look like what Paul prayed for?
Furthermore, is the aim or your life a desire to please Christ? The goal to mature in Christ?
If the answer to those questions is no, what would it look like for you to surrender to Christ in a fresh way?
To ask God today to grant you a greater understanding so that you can walk in a way that more closely resembles who you are in Christ.