1. Walk worthily
2. Be fully pleasing
1. Bearing fruit
2. Increasing in the knowledge of God
3. Being empowered
4. Giving thanks
I’ve dealt with the subject of ‘prayer with thanksgiving’ on a previous web page and noted under the header ‘The Colossian Thanksgiving’ that Col 1:3 is better rendered by affixing the word ‘always’ to the prayer which Paul says he’s responding with
‘...so that thanksgiving isn’t seen as continuous but as part and parcel of what it means to (I Thess 5:17) “pray without ceasing”...’
Here we get the same statement from Paul that (Col 1:9)
‘...we have not ceased to pray for you...’
and, in both, we see it being as a response to the news which has been brought to him. In Col 1:4, Paul gives the reason as being their faith and love (where the ‘hope’ mentioned as the third of the three characteristics is better seen to be a reason for the activity of both the first two) but, here in Col 1:9, Paul and Timothy’s (Col 1:1) response is declared as being (Col 1:8) the knowledge of
‘...your love in the Spirit’
We should note the other letters of Paul where he brings both ‘prayer’ and ‘thanksgiving’ together as being closely allied actions which, for him, seem to run together as two aspects of the one service which he renders to the believers. So, for example, he thanks God for the believers in Rome (Rom 1:8) because
‘...your faith is proclaimed in all the world’
but then immediately continues with the declaration of his prayer for them (Rom 1:9-11) that
‘...somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you...that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you...’
going so far as not to think of his desired visit as a totally one-sided giving from himself to those in the capital of the Empire but that (Rom 1:12)
‘...we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine’
This desire that there might be a sharing of what each has is the ultimate destination to which all true ministry aims - we’ll discuss this briefly in a short while but let’s note here that the twin aspects of thanksgiving and prayer are not uncommon in other of Paul’s letters such as Ephesians (Eph 1:15-16a - thanksgiving, 1:16b-20 - prayer), Philippians (Phil 1:3-5 - thanksgiving, 1:9-11 - prayer), I Thessalonians (I Thess 1:2a,3, 2:13 - thanksgiving, 1:2b - prayer), II Thessalonians (II Thess 1:3 - thanksgiving, 1:11-12 - prayer) and Philemon (Philemon 4-5 - thanksgiving, 6 - prayer).
And what Paul recorded as being his practice, he instructed others to do likewise. Therefore, in Phil 4:6, he urges his recipients that
‘...in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’
and, later on in Colossians, he’ll instruct them (Col 4:2) to
‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving’
But prayer with thanksgiving can seen to be necessary here in Colossians in a past, present and future context which is applicable not only in the Colossian experience but in each individual church in the present day. Paul and Timothy are able to give thanks in the present for the actions of the past in that men and women have responded positively to the message of the Gospel (Col 1:4-5) but this only compels them to come before God the Father at the same time and pray for the body of believers that they might go on from this starting point to the fulness and stature of Jesus Christ (Col 1:9b-12a).
Perhaps it’s best, therefore, to consign ‘thanksgiving’ to the past memory of both the action of God and the response of man and ‘prayer’ to the forward looking supplication of God’s servants who would desire earnestly that each believer might develop in their relationship with God and in their likeness of Jesus Christ. This is too simplistic a statement, of course, for thanksgiving is offered in prayer, but it does help us focus on the twin aspects to which Paul and Timothy had devoted themselves as they learnt of the positive responses of the Colossian believers.
Paul was never content that he might get a fitting response to the message of the Gospel and to leave it at that. His desire was to see a progression and development in the lives of individuals until the time came when the groups could dispense with the fivefold ministry gifts of Christ because of their own stature in Him. Therefore, when noting the gift of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, he speaks of them being provided (Eph 4:12-14 - my italics)
‘...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine...’
Clearly, even though we might like to think of no such time when a group of believers might become fully dependent upon God directly and so be able to minister outwards rather than have a need to be ministered from without, Paul saw the fivefold gifting as being given to the Church that they might make themselves redundant by the success of their God-given ministry - a call to nearly every leader in every fellowship to think of their own job in terms of a fixed-term contract that’s to end as soon as is possible.
It isn’t that leadership should remain one step ahead of those who are in the congregation but that they should impart what they’re given from God that they might soon become obsolete in the situation and be forced to move on elsewhere. And that isn’t too comfortable a thought for those of us who rely upon the support of the congregation in one particular area to live! But the writer to the Hebrews is also plain in his statement (Heb 5:12) that the time had come when the recipients of his letter
‘...ought to be teachers [but that] you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word’
and with a reluctance he turns his attention to address the problem. Here’s a writer who doesn’t go about his job with any great relish but who sheepishly feels compelled to cover ground that the believers should already have been able to deal with themselves. Such is the desire of a true servant of God when the time is known to have arrived when those who have been fed and watered directly from God should be able to turn from receiving to give.
Paul’s desire for the Church which we’ve summarised as being one of ‘thanksgiving and prayer’ is again well summed up in Phil 1:6 where he expresses his sure hope that
‘...He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’
but this isn’t to see the believers as being totally dependent upon him throughout their lives on earth or not to be able to envisage a time which would come when those ministered to would turn to become the ministers themselves and who, because they would be able to build one another up (Eph 4:16), would have a surfeit of the knowledge of God to be able to expand the work around them into areas not reached by the message of the Gospel.
The details of Paul and Timothy’s prayers for the Colossians are listed for us in Col 1:9b-12a and it’s this to which we must now turn our attention. In the Greek, Paul’s sentence appears to run continuously from Col 1:9 through to the end of Col 1:23 and, even though most modern translations add punctuation, begin new sentences and try to bring some structure to the passage, it stands as one speech. Colwright is one who sees Paul’s prayer for the Colossian believers as continuing throughout these verses and notes that from Col 1:12b, the words are
‘...built on the final main element in the prayer - that is, thanksgiving’
seeing that which follows as being a list of reasons why the believers should (Col 1:12a) give
‘...thanks to the Father’
Although this appears attractive, it doesn’t seem to explain Paul’s latter words in the passage - notably from Col 1:21 - and, even though Paul may have begun a reasoned argument of why thanks were due to God, he appears to have found himself going off at a tangent in his writings as he contemplated the greatness of God and the completed work of the cross.
This long passage, however, means that it’s difficult to know exactly where one should break in a commentary on the letter but I’ve chosen Col 1:12a because the following verses seem to be an aside attached to the opening phrase
‘...giving thanks to God the Father...’
which ends the content of Paul’s desire for the fellowship. What we have in Col 1:9-12a, then, is what Paul and Timothy were praying might come about in the life of the church at Colossae and we should note that there are some fairly absolute statements which make up the list. For example, they speak of praying for them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will (Col 1:9), of living a life which is fully pleasing and bearing fruit in every good work (Col 1:10), of being strengthened with all power for an end result of all endurance and patience (Col 1:11).
The prayer, then, is not a small incidental in much the same way as we might ask for a ‘blessing for the missionaries’ but an earnest desire which encapsulates a provision which goes beyond something which is barely sufficient to sustain, to something which reaches to the uttermost limits of what’s available.
Paul and Timothy’s opening recorded prayer for the Colossian church is that (my italics) they might
‘...be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding’
a significant statement when their mention of living a life which is pleasing to God must take second place to an initial knowledge of what God requires from them (Col 1:10). The prayer is paralleled in Col 4:12 (my italics) where it’s recorded of Epaphras that he remembered them in his prayers
‘...that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God’
These two italicised phrases are strikingly similar for they both relate to the will of God, but the latter is a late compound word of the former. The Greek word (Strongs Greek number 4135) from which we get ‘fully assured’ means literally to be ‘full carried’ and implies a wholeness and completeness in the object being addressed. Vines defines it as meaning ‘to bring in full measure’ while Kittels gives the general interpretation as ‘to bring to fulness’, commenting on Col 4:12 that the structure of the passage
‘...suggests that the thought is that of being brought to full maturity or completeness’
In Col 1:9, the simpler word is used (Strongs Greek number 4137) and the idea is of a ‘filling up’.
In both places, what’s primarily in mind is that there might be no lack of knowing what the will of God is in the church’s life and that it’s not enough simply to ‘know’ that will but that they might be ‘wholly filled’ with the knowledge so that in everything they might do what’s right in God’s eyes.
Knowing the will of God is vitally important for at least two reasons. Firstly, that a believer might be able to do the will of God and so receive the promised inheritance of all those who follow Jesus. Although the knowledge of what the will of God is isn’t the same thing as actually doing it, it must come first that assurance can be present in the heart that one’s travelling the correct path through life. Therefore I John 2:17 instructs the readers that
‘...he who does the will of God abides for ever’
where it’s being contrasted with the way of the world and the desires which are associated with it. To cease following after the impulses that reside all around a believer is clearly one of the steps needed by a follower to devote themselves purely and sincerely to do only that which is obviously the will of God. But the Scripture ties in the doing of God’s will with an eternal dwelling with God and is seen to be the final natural outworking of such a life.
In Mtw 7:21 there’s clearly some sort of relationship being implied when Jesus speaks of those who announce directly that they regard Him as ‘Lord’ but it’s not these who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only those who do
‘...the will of My Father who is in heaven’
and, in Heb 10:36 (my italics), the writer notes his recipients’ need of
‘...endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised’
Clearly, knowing the fulness of all that God requires must be the first step in doing it but, unless the believer presses on to actively live out the will of the Father, eternal life is not a certainty. The work of the cross, therefore, demands a positive response where men and women turn from doing their own pleasure and to do the will of the One who died on their behalf.
A second reason for needing to know God’s will is that prayer might be answered. I John 5:14 (my italics - see also John 14:13-14) states that the believer can have confidence in God because
‘...if we ask anything according to His will He hears us’
To periodically have prayers answered and to occasionally do God’s will may seem sufficient for many people but, if a believer is truly ‘full’ of the knowledge of God’s will, they’ll never fail to do what is right or to fail to have every prayer answered if they exercise their own will in the matter and follow after it.
Paul and Timothy’s first prayer for the Colossian church, then, is one which secures their new life in Christ and which envisages them pressing on to see the advance of the Kingdom through answered prayer as they perceive the will of God in each and every matter that presents itself to them.
Colwright goes one step further in his understanding of what it means to know God’s will by defining it additionally as being
‘...an understanding of God’s whole saving purpose in Christ and hence...a knowledge of God Himself’
We should be careful to remember, therefore, that the work of the cross is specifically the ‘will of God’ for mankind and that any revelation of God’s will must also contain such a message. In other words, to know God’s will can’t be devoid of any foundation laid down by the Gospel but must impart purpose with that work solidly presented as the foundation upon which the lives of men and women are established.
The second phrase which leads on from this prayer is translated by the RSV by the phrase
‘...in all spiritual wisdom and understanding’
but there needs some clarification of the writer’s meaning. There seems to be two options for the meaning of the Greek word from which the English word ‘in’ is used. Colbruce notes that it could either be taken as meaning ‘with’ or ‘by means of’ where the first pictures something which stands alongside the knowledge of the will of God while the second gives the methodology of how the knowledge comes to the individual.
There doesn’t appear to be a certain way to determine the meaning here, Colbruce and Colbrien opting for the former interpretation (though the former’s comments seem to indicate he understands it as conveying the alternative interpretation) while Colcar and Colwright choose the latter. Personally speaking - and here it comes down simply to a matter of preference - I understand it to make better sense if the translation ‘by means of’ is understood.
That is, that the wisdom and understanding that comes from the Spirit is the way that God uses to fill the believer with the knowledge of His will. He quickens their wisdom and understanding by His Spirit so that there comes a perception and a realisation of the way forward. Colcar comments at this point that
‘Wisdom speaks of that settled condition of the mind whose thinking is not dependent merely on the unaided processes of the human intellect, but is controlled and enlightened by the Spirit of truth. Understanding...speaks of the application of this basic wisdom to the various problems which present themselves to us and require a clear analysis before a decision can be taken’
If this is the correct interpretation of the passage, it means that being filled with the knowledge of God isn’t a matter of consistently waiting for a direct revelation from God to enter one’s consciousness but neither is it a matter of sitting down to try and figure out what the correct path is, left only to our own rational thought processes.
Rather, the will of God would be seen to be made known through the harmony of both a man’s thought and reasoning processes and the directing influence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the reasoning of the apostolic band would have led them into Bithynia but the Spirit would not allow it (Acts 16:7). When, eventually, Paul sees a vision in the night concerning Macedonia, they reason that this must be the will of God for them and so proceed to do it (Acts 16:9-10) and, this time, the Spirit doesn’t forbid them.
Having a desire to always do the will of God doesn’t mean that the mind should remain empty of plans for the advance of the Kingdom - but it does mean that they should be loosely held as the controlling and guiding of the Spirit’s hand is made known. I heard a local preacher once say that, if a person wants to do the will of God, they needn’t worry about missing it. You can’t miss God’s will when you desire to do what He wants.
And this seems to be the bottom line. Although Paul and Timothy would have the Colossians full of the knowledge of God’s will for themselves, there’s no reason to presume that they should sit contemplating what that might be and neglect to do what is at hand for the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The three concepts of knowledge, wisdom and understanding are used in this one verse and shown to interrelate. We should, perhaps, attempt individual definitions of the words as they occur frequently in the OT and are often poorly understood or perceived.
Knowledge, in itself, means simply learning, information or knowledge in much the same way as we might say that we know the capital of England is London or that the North Pole is cold. The word takes on a slightly different aspect because it’s often used to denote something which has come about by experience rather than simply being a piece of learning. Therefore Adam ‘knows’ Eve and sexual intercourse is meant (Gen 4:1).
Wisdom is the knowledge of what to do in any given situation, of doing what’s right or of knowledgeable actions. Hence, the ‘utterance of wisdom’ (I Cor 12:8) is the speaking of knowledge which points towards a specific course of action in a situation by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the above two examples under the previous word, wisdom would urge a protester to launch a march in London for maximum impact or compel one visiting the Arctic to purchase thermal clothing.
Understanding, however, denotes perception, insight and the knowledge of what matters mean. In the two previous examples, an understanding that London is England’s capital would interpret why protesters would want to march in London rather than anywhere else while, concerning the North Pole, perception might come that the temperature had something to do with sunlight, latitude or the earth’s position in space.
Simply being equipped with the full knowledge of God’s will isn’t, therefore, sufficient for the possessor needs wisdom to know what that might prompt him to do as a response to it in obedience and needs understanding to realise what the basis of the command is rather than it being taken simply as fact which needs to be rigidly obeyed.
Relating it to the existence of this web site, I might say that I knew God wanted His people grounding in basic christian truth, that I was wise to knowing that placing it on a universally accessible web site made it useful to as many as possible and that I had understanding in knowing what was needed to be put there for the benefit of those who would find it.
Others might say I was deluded in my knowledge, was foolish in my application and misunderstood that it would have an impact - unfortunately, for one belief there’s always an equal and opposite one!
But both wisdom and understanding are envisaged as being ‘Spirit inspired’ which comes about after the knowledge has been received.
Paul’s prayer hasn’t been primarily that the Colossians would ‘walk worthily’ and ‘be fully pleasing’ but that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through the means of spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col 1:9) for it’s only out of that position that a believer will be able to choose what is pleasing to Him and so walk worthily before Him.
The fulness of the knowledge of God must come first, for a man left to his own ways and uninfluenced reason, cut off from the revelation of the Spirit, tends only to work apart from God rather than be a part of God’s work. A man’s heart throws up desires and attitudes which aren’t in keeping with the will of God (Gen 6:5, Mark 7:20-23) and which are a reflection of the way the world functions and operates.
Therefore, as we previously noted, I John 2:16-17 speaks about
‘...the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life...’
as not being a product of God Himself and which both stand condemned to pass away totally in the future when only the will of God - and those who do it - will continue forever.
Jesus is the best example here for a believer to follow for He only did what He saw the Father doing, thereby walking in revelation, in all the fulness of the knowledge of the Father’s will (John 5:19), and leaving the believer the example that, whatever else might happen in their own lives, it’s only following after those things which the Father desires should be done which are ultimately pleasing to Him.
1. Walk worthily
Although the RSV’s translation of Col 1:10a is perfectly adequate when it renders Paul and Timothy’s desire for the Colossians (my italics) that they should
‘...lead a life worthy of the Lord...’
I prefer the NASB’s translation which retains the obvious meaning of the above italicised word (Strongs Greek number 4043) and gives the reader (my italics)
‘...walk in a manner worthy of the Lord...’
The Greek word also occurs later in the letter in Col 2:6, 3:7 and 4:5 making it an important one. Clearly the word could be used of the way a man or woman lived both positively (Col 1:10, 2:6, 4:5) and negatively (Col 3:7) so that context is important to gain a proper understanding of the meaning.
Knowledge of the will of God, then, is the first step in causing the believer to live a life which is considered to be worthy of the One who’s called them to follow after Jesus Christ.
As in many places in the NT, it’s difficult to be absolutely sure but there may be an intended allusion to the Jewish ‘Halakah’ (variously spelt in different resources but changed to this rendering wherever it occurs) because of the use of the above word which is employed here and which infers a walking before God.
The word ‘Halakah’ can have different shades of meaning but it’s interpreted by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as meaning ‘the Way’, by Encarta as ‘path’ or ‘way’, by Zondervan as ‘walk’ or ‘behaviour’ (this latter definition is an interpretation rather than a literal rendering) and NIDNTT as ‘that by which one walks’. The basic meaning - when applied to a man’s life - is the conduct which he’s observed to perform and, therefore, when one thinks of a man’s ‘halakah’, the life can plainly display what the man believes.
However, in Judaism the word takes on a more technical meaning, defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as
‘...the totality of laws and ordinances that have evolved since biblical times to regulate religious observances and the daily life and conduct of the Jewish people’
so that halakah becomes the outworking of the laws of God as applied to everyday living so as to please God by a legalistic observance of conduct. In other words, it became necessary for every facet of life, every situation that a believer might find himself in, to be scrupulously defined so that a follower of Judaism might know what reaction God required of him. NIDNTT comments that
‘It arose out of the pious wish to apply the Law to every aspect of life’
but, ultimately, it became a series of additional rules and regulations which bound the follower into a life of bondage in which there was little time for God to move sovereignly outside the accepted interpretation. Jesus speaks of this in Mtw 11:28-29 when He refers to those who
‘...labour and are heavy laden...’
and offers them rest and, in the incident of Mtw 15:1-20, He observes how their interpretation concerning conduct had even gone so far as to negate the clear commandments of God.
Paul and Timothy, then, are praying for the Colossian church that they might live the true halakah that comes from a revelation of Jesus Christ, from being filled with the knowledge of God’s will by His Spirit (Col 1:9) and not from following after decisions arrived at by a human application of that which is written.
For the NT follower of Jesus, it means action in what’s clearly perceived as the situations and events occur and not preconceived ideas of conduct which must be rigorously adhered to regardless of the circumstances of unique situations. Of course, Paul can also speak about right conduct on many occasions when it was obvious that the believers’ conduct was amiss, but he seems more concerned to speak (Gal 5:22-23) of the traits of
‘...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...’
and allow each believer to let the Spirit move through them as He so chooses in demonstration of His fruit, concluding that the Law doesn’t forbid such characteristics of a life before God. If the Law is built upon the principle of love (Rom 13:10), then it isn’t so much the finite points of legal observance which become of major importance but the demonstration of love, that what might flow from such a life will be as a fulfilment of the Law.
There’s a word of warning here directed at all ministers and preachers of the message of the Gospel for much of how a believer will react in a situation must come about through a revelation of the will of God and as a positive reaction towards it. Not only this but a believer should content himself to allow the Spirit to live His fruit out in his life so that the character of Jesus Christ might be seen to respond to everything.
Speaking to a group of believers - unless they’re obviously straying from the will of God - becomes more a matter instruction and encouragement than one of laws and exposition which have to be legalistically observed.
Being filled with the knowledge of God’s will (Col 1:9), therefore, is the fundamental need of every believer in order that they might fulfil God’s true halakah (Col 1:10a) and live a life that’s fully pleasing to Him (Col 1:10b). As Colbrien comments, there’s a consequence of action in that
‘...the knowledge for which Paul prayed was designed to lead to righteous behaviour’
Notice also that Paul’s letter doesn’t speak of ‘sitting’ worthily of the Lord but of ‘walking’ which implies action. Where being ‘full of the knowledge of God’s will’ is concerned, ‘sitting’ can only be interpreted as disobedience whereas ‘walking’ is a description of a life that’s actively engaging in completing what’s on God’s heart.
That walking denotes a lifestyle has already been noted above when we thought about the halakah of the NT but we should note in passing that the concept can be used both positively as in Eph 2:10 where we read of walking in good works, and negatively in Eph 2:1-2 where we see the concept of walking in trespasses and sins. Context is important to be able to determine the intention of the writer but we can note at the very least that action is implied.
When the prophet Habakkuk received a message of destruction from YHWH, he was commanded (Hab 2:2) to
‘...write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it’
The prophetic vision was to be made known so that those who desired to please God would actively engage (‘run’) in what it demanded of them. A reaction to knowing God’s will is one of action, endeavour and work - these are all words which must be used in conjunction with the revealed will of God in a believer’s life. The word ‘walk’, therefore, denotes action - a simple contemplation of heavenly matters is a relationship with God that’s lacking a dynamic outworking of received revelation.
2. Be fully pleasing
The third of the prayers of Paul and Timothy for the church in Colossae is that they are
‘...fully pleasing to [the Lord]...’
where we may think of a passive state of an individual whereby they achieve very little by way of the promotion of the Gospel or of some kind of automatic achievement which relies little or nothing upon the response of the individual. Both are far from the truth, however, and we need to turn initially to Eph 5:10 to gain a fuller understanding of the intended context here in Colossians. The Scripture (my italics) reads
‘...try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord’
where the words employed by the RSV tend to conjure up in the mind a striving on behalf of the follower to make sure that they please God in everything. However, writing concerning the italicised phrase, Ephfoul comments that
‘The participle here is from a verb that sometimes means “approving” but more commonly “proving” for oneself and so here “choosing”. It indicates the demand for careful thought and discrimination. The light of God is given, but it does not free men from the responsibility of thought and choice’
This ties in well with Col 1:9 where the knowledge of the will of God was one of the desires that Paul and Timothy had for the church and, as we began Col 1:10, we saw that only a positive response to that knowledge from the Spirit would be able to cause the believer to walk worthily before Him and, therefore, to be fully pleasing.
But the word employed also pushes the doing of the will of God to a matter of intellectual choice - that is, neither of cerebral assent nor of a high IQ, but of a positive considered response to that which has been made known to them.
The prayer seems to follow a natural progression in these first three items which shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s still possible to be full of the knowledge of God’s will, to clearly perceive what God requires from men and women in situations and yet fail to make the correct choice. Obedience isn’t automatic but a conscious decision of the will in alignment with God’s purpose and, consequently, it pleases God when a follower makes the right decision.
Taking Eph 5:9 as a parenthesis to the overall flow of Paul’s meaning, we read his thought (my italics) as
‘...walk as children of light...and choose what is pleasing to the Lord’
where the italicised word is the same as that employed in Col 1:10a and translated as ‘lead a life’ by the RSV (Strongs Greek number 4043) which we saw to be better rendered as ‘walk’ implying a lifestyle which displayed an active response.
Action, therefore, is once again an essential part of being pleasing to God. I John 3:22 (my italics) notes that one of the conditions of having prayer answered is that
‘...we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him’
We’ve already seen above (under Col 1:9b ‘Filled’) that answered prayer is dependent upon knowing God’s will and praying accordingly - here, doing His revealed will is equally important because that’s the final outworking of the perception of the revelation that directs a follower in the correct path laid out before him.
In John 8:29, Jesus also notes the continually abiding presence of the Father with Him because
‘...I always do what is pleasing to Him’
tieing down an action as being what pleases God. Johnmor comments that
‘Sometimes objection is taken to the whole idea of “the sinlessness of Jesus” on the grounds that it is a negative conception. Here we have the glorious positive. Jesus is active in doing what pleases the Father. Always’
What these Scriptures show us is that being pleasing to the Lord is inseparably linked to doing something that God responds to (John 8:29 and I John 3:22 both talk about ‘doing’ while Eph 5:8 speaks about ‘walking’ which equates to a way of living before Him). Action kindles pleasure in the Father’s heart when it’s a response to His revealed will.
Being pleasing to God, therefore, isn’t a negative state of passivity but a positive one of activity - a response to God’s clearly revealed will which comes about through spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col 1:9). Though many might be tempted to think of God finding pleasure in what the believer doesn’t do - they don’t steal, they don’t commit adultery, they don’t murder - it actually comes about by what the believer does, a life lived in accordance with the revealed will of God.
Col 1:9-10b has demonstrated a progression of thought in Paul and Timothy’s prayer in that the initial realisation of what is the will of God is the stimulus that should cause the follower to live a life which is considered worthy, leading on to God being fully pleased with what He sees the believer doing.
We might have supposed that this was all that could be desired for the believers in Colossae for it seems to encapsulate the entire walk of the believer, but there are consequences of this life which Paul wants to bring to both God’s attention to address (the revealing of the content of their prayers is not done merely for show) and to the Colossians so that they might perceive what a life of obedience to God should be growing towards.
All these characteristics of a believer’s life aren’t meant to be once-for-all-time occurrences and are meant to be continually or consistently experienced as they perceive and obey the revealed will of God (Col 1:9). While we would positively accept the concepts of ‘bearing fruit’, ‘increasing in the knowledge of God’ and ‘giving thanks’ as aspects of a believer’s life which should be developing as a progression, many may baulk against the statement here that the desire is for the believers to continue to be ‘empowered’ with all power if the experience of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) is accepted as being a once-for-all-time experience in which the believer is filled with God’s presence.
Clearly, although the early Church might think of it in this way, there’s another sense in which empowering is a continuing necessity that both maturity and stature might become greater in individuals’ lives.
We shouldn’t think that these four characteristics were lacking from the Colossian fellowship, however, but that their presence was expected to increase that they might begin to overflow out from them in increasing measure and so be made visible in the secular world around them.
1. Bearing fruit
I’ve previously dealt with this prayer (the reader should refer to these previous notes to get a fuller explanation of this verse) where I noted the contrast which seems to exist in these opening sentences of Paul and Timothy’s letter, paralleling Col 1:6 where the Gospel is said to be bearing fruit in all the world with Col 1:10 where God’s people are also desired to bring fruit from their lives in increasing measure. Colwright is correct in his statement which summarises these two verses when he writes that
‘God is at work, therefore His people are at work...’
even though the second statement is more a desire of the heart rather than a current observation. Nevertheless, if God’s word of the Gospel has borne fruit in the world, it’s necessary to expect that those who are the ‘first fruit’ will go on to also bear fruit from their own lives, especially as it sits as a consequence of further perceiving the will of God by the continuing revealed word of God (Col 1:9).
As I wrote on that previous web page
‘...no matter how much a believer might work at his salvation, once converted, the bottom line is that he isn’t alone in his walk with Jesus but that the word of God must still be active alongside his own actions to bring about the purpose to which he’s been redeemed’
God’s spoken word that explains His will is thus seen as the basis of producing beneficial fruit to the Father - whether it be through an initial reception and positive response to the message or as the continuing acceptance of the path of God that the believer continues to travel.
Therefore the fruit of the Gospel message becomes the starting point from which more fruit develops - but, more than this, that what’s expected from a believer is a growth that will continue to bear fruit that’s useful to the Originator of the way of the cross. As I wrote on my previous web page cited above
‘...the initial moment of conversion to Jesus Christ is not the be-all-and-end-all in the life given over to God. We’re quite right in maintaining that the work of the cross is sufficient for the salvation of any and every person and that there’s no work a person can do to redeem his own life before God, but to think that, once ‘saved’, the believer sits down to a life of wandering about aimlessly, waiting patiently for the final day of his life on earth to begin a new one in heaven, is incorrect’
We have to think of the phrase ‘like father, like son’ as applying here for, as God created and encouraged fruitfulness to be a part of the Creation (Gen 1:22,28), so His children should reflect His character and cause fruit to be borne in their own lives.
We must understand this call for the bearing of fruit in every good work, however, especially when, today, there are multitudes of charitable acts that are being performed when the life of the initiator isn’t experiencing the knowledge of the will of God. While ‘acts of mercy’ are all well and good, Paul and Timothy are looking at fruitfulness which springs directly out from ‘the knowledge of His will’ (Col 1:9) which, as we’ve already seen, isn’t a series of rules and regulations as has often been imagined but a continuing response to fresh revelation received in situations that are encountered.
The believer may feel ‘led’ to give to ‘good causes’ but he’ll never have sufficient resources to give adequately to each and every one - but he was never meant to. Rather, perceiving the will of God, he’s to respond positively to the will of God and do all that’s laid out before him, to please the Father in everything (Col 1:10b).
Colbrien, however, doesn’t relate these good works to the continuing need to know God’s will (Col 1:9) but states that
‘...Paul is asking God that the fruit of good works might appear in greater abundance in their lives - and this because of the seed sown in their midst (v.6)...’
This seems to be too tenuous a link, however, for the result of the proclamation of the word of the Gospel has already been seen to bear fruit for God. What’s now required is that those who are the end result of the message now become the beginning from which new fruit develops - and that can only come about through the continuing revelation of the will of God through the speaking of the word of God.
2. Increasing in the knowledge of God
Colbruce seems to equate the concept which lies behind ‘knowledge’ in Col 1:9 as being identical with that which occurs here. He writes that
‘...obedience to the knowledge of God which has already been received is a necessary and certain condition for the reception of further knowledge’
and is followed by Colbrien who notes the present tense of all the verbs and states that
‘...it is probably right to conclude that the Colossian christians would receive further knowledge as they were obedient to the knowledge of God they had already received...’
But the problem with this assumption is that it negates the clear meaning of Col 1:9 where the prayer begins by talking about the knowledge of His will rather than simply about the knowledge of God. Knowing God isn’t necessarily the same as knowing His present will, even though it should be clearly a good guideline when one is trying to anticipate what God would want doing in any given situation when a decision has to be made and nothing specific is easily identifiable as being a new declaration of His intention.
Rather, knowing God’s will and, consequently, doing what God has revealed, increases the believer’s knowledge of God by experience (and knowledge about God - that is, facts) because he’s done God’s will at first hand and has known the provision in the situation to bring His purposes to fruition.
Obeying God’s will, then, leads to an increase in knowing God - it isn’t knowing God which leads to knowing God, for the response of obedience would then be only based upon the concept of God that was currently accepted and couldn’t allow for progress in knowing God better through the direct revelation of the will of God.
We’d just be back at a legalistic type of obedience which, as we know, is nothing to do with the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Obeying God when the will is revealed means a perception of who God is and, therefore, an increase in the knowledge of God. The two aspects of knowledge aren’t the same here. The first (Col 1:9) is the basis of a life of obedience, the second is a consequence of living in the will of God - to walk as God walks is to learn of Him.
But an increase of the knowledge of God is clearly shown to be that which comes about only by knowing God’s will and obeying it.
3. Being empowered
For a more detailed explanation of the concepts meant by the Greek words translated ‘endurance’, ‘patience’ and ‘joy’, see the section ‘Word definitions’ which follows below.
The RSV ends Col 1:10 with a full stop and begins Col 1:11 as if there’s a change of purpose in Paul and Timothy’s thought which demands such a construction. However, the new subject which began at the start of Col 1:9 continues on until the end of Col 1:23 as previously noted. What’s being recorded here in the letter are the continuing subjects of prayer which are being brought before God as they pray for the fellowship in Colossae.
Many years ago, adverts appeared in the UK’s national press offering a booklet called ‘Power for Living’ to be sent, free of charge, to anyone who made contact with the organisation who were trying to reach as many as possible with the Gospel. In the congregation that I was then a part of, the leadership decided to take the label and use it as the title of a series of evangelistic meetings that they were putting on that summer as a joint venture with two other fellowships.
No one would dispute that part of the good news of the Kingdom is that there’s power available through God’s Spirit to live righteously before God as He desires men and women to do, but what will probably come as a surprise is that I could only find two places in Paul’s writings in the NT where power is obviously linked with the righteous characteristics of a life.
Here, in Col 1:11, power is clearly being prayed for as the basis of causing believers to endure and be patient ‘with joy’ and, in II Thess 1:11 (my italics), the prayer is that
‘...God may make you worthy of His call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power’
Apart from these two places, trying to find a place in Paul’s writings where power is directly the instrument which God uses to bring about right conduct in His people is difficult, the apostle using the word to describe other concepts in the life of the believer and in the work of God, especially in Christ.
The Greek of the passage seems to make it clear that the translation is best linked as the RSV reads - that power is being prayed for to the end of giving them
‘...all endurance and patience with joy’
even though Colbruce joins the first two words together as the one concept of ‘patient endurance’ but chooses to render both words separately in his translation of the passage! He also links the phrase ‘with joy’ as belonging to the next verse so that Paul is praying that the Colossians might
‘give thanks with joy(fulness)...’
The description could go with either part of Paul’s prayer as the Greek construction is able to be translated either way but I’m taking it as rendered by the RSV and as a further description of how both ‘patience’ and ‘endurance’ should be outworked in their lives by God’s power. The phrase ‘give thanks with joy’ makes it sound as if we should all bounce around our fellowships with large smiles on our faces but the definition of ‘joy’ which is outlined below would actually make it more applicable to be used of both endurance and patience.
We should note carefully Paul and Timothy’s words here for they don’t pray that power would be given to the church in accordance with
‘the power which is currently at work within you’
and neither in harmony with
‘the need of the situation in which you find yourself’
but, rather, in keeping with God’s
so that the quality of what will be received is dependant solely upon God Himself rather than anything external to Him, demonstrating that His desire is for the believers to receive not simply sufficient for the task but more than enough. As Paul wrote on another occasion to the Ephesian church (Eph 3:20) concerning the power at work within them, commenting that God
‘...is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think’
All supply for the follower is given ‘according to His riches in glory’ (Phil 4:19) and, therefore, is always excessive for the need which it’s meeting. God’s ‘weakness’ (I Cor 1:25 - so to speak) is enough to deliver a man or woman, but God shows His love for His people because He uses His strength.
In the incident of the Exodus, God is recorded as having used His ‘right hand’ to deliver His people out of Egypt (Ex 15:6) denoting all the power at His disposal, even though His ‘left hand’ would have been enough (speaking in the familiar usage of the phrase in the setting of the day). He delights in His people by over-strengthening them in order that nothing might stand in their way.
God’s power here is meant to be the believer’s continuing experience (‘being strengthened’) so that they will have it available constantly in situations where endurance and patience are necessary reactions, joy springing out of both because their lives are centred in Him (for an explanation of the concepts behind these three italicised words, see below where I’ve tried to briefly define them). Colwright comments that
‘...for every requirement there is power available’
and Colwright also speaks of the power of God which
‘...is now continually at work in God’s people...’
but this is going one step further with an interpretation than seems called for, Paul simply noting that he was petitioning the Father that power might be made available rather than that they would come to a realisation of the power that is available.
We should note carefully that Paul doesn’t rebuke the Colossians for failing to move in all the fulness of God’s power that they should know they have at the time of writing - he prays, rather, that they may be empowered by God Himself, where the idea isn’t that a once-for-all-time empowering has taken place such as on the Day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) but that there continually needs to be an energising of the believers to face each and every problem which confronts them and to respond both positively and righteously.
Where Col 1:9-10 talks about a life which God takes pleasure in through it’s worthiness which comes about as a result of a clear perception of the will of God, Paul seems to have in mind in Col 1:11 not so much a proactive response as a reactive one, of a response which comes about when situations confront the follower.
4. Giving thanks
Paul and Timothy’s final prayer for the Colossian believers is that they might give thanks to God the Father, a phrase which seems to propel them into a fairly lengthy discourse of their own personal praise.
I’ve already noted above that many commentators affix the previous descriptor ‘with joy’ to this prayer but that, when one comes to an understanding of what the word means, it seems better to attach it to the prayer that they might know God’s power to endure situations and be patient with people (see below), especially as genuine joy is more clearly demonstrated in these sorts of situations than it is when everything seems to be going ‘according to plan’.
Thanksgiving should be a characteristic of the life that’s lived in obedience to God. Colossians is specifically the ‘letter of thanksgiving’ (Col 1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:15, 3:17, 4:2) though the theme continues throughout Paul’s letters. Thanks is given to the Father through Jesus Christ (Col 3:17, Rom 1:8, 7:25).
In everything, in every circumstance, the believer is to give thanks to God (I Thess 5:18, Phil 4:6) knowing that (Rom 8:28)
‘God works together all things for good...’
Whatever the believer’s current position, they can be confident that God will work in it to bring about His will and purpose for their lives (Eph 1:11) and the mention of giving thanks here after both endurance and patience (Col 1:11) is surely more significant - as if Paul is concerned to bring to their attention the need of a response of praise to the Father even when circumstances don’t seem to be going their way.
Paul’s phrase in Eph 5:20 (my italics) that believers should be giving thanks
is more difficult to interpret. Are they to give thanks for the work of satan? Or, perhaps, for our brother’s stumbling? Most certainly not! But a believer can give thanks for God’s power that’s released into these areas that changes it into a proclaimer of God’s love and an establisher of the Kingdom. Therefore, Psalm 56 begins by describing evil (Ps 56:5-6) before going on to note God’s work (Ps 56:7,9) and concluding with a word of thanks (Ps 56:12-13).
The strengthening which Paul prays might become a part of the Colossian believers is meant to inspire these three characteristics of endurance, patience and joy and are therefore one of the main reasons for his petition.
Like a great many words used by the translators of the modern English versions of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, the understanding which we often glean from them is coloured by our own experience and the way in which we comprehend the word.
Therefore, as previously demonstrated when we thought about the love of God, it’s very possible to get a worldly definition of a subject and think that we’re being faithful to the intentions of God Himself.
Language changes as do the meaning behind words also - it wasn’t too long ago when the word ‘wicked’ meant ‘evil’ but it does so only today by the context which proves it to hold such a meaning, as the present generation have taken it to mean that which is extremely pleasing. This isn’t necessarily a sign of satan on the advance, of course, it’s a proof that language is fluid.
If we were to interpret the word in the present day context, we’d arrive at some very strange theology indeed but, in the case of this word, we’d see immediately the error of our ways. When it comes to ‘more serious’ words, however, we often are beguiled and led astray in our interpretations because we take for granted that the words being used mean the same things as we use them for.
Therefore, we need to take a short step backwards to redefine these three words which appear in Col 1:11 to better understand the intention of Paul and Timothy’s prayer.
‘Endurance’ can be variously interpreted in the present day and claimed as existing in a person’s life in a great many situations and applications. Along with considering the way that the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 5281) is employed in the NT, we should look at the definitions given it by the commentators. Colwright’s definition of the word as being
‘...what faith, hope and love bring to an apparently impossible situation’
doesn’t so much help the reader come to terms with what it means for them personally as it is an attempt to show where the characteristic springs from. Besides this, Paul and Timothy note that it’s the power which comes from God which is the source of the three characteristics of endurance, patience and joy. Vines, however, writes that the word
‘...is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial’
This definition probably comes from a consideration of the use of the word which occurs thirty-two times in the AV text of the NT and which, in the context in which it appears, is used on fourteen occasions to denote an attitude in tribulation, suffering or hardship (Luke 21:19, Rom 5:3-4 [x2], II Cor 1:6, 6:4, II Thess 1:4, Heb 10:36, James 1:3, 5:11, Rev 1:9, 2:3, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12). It’s never used of enduring a person, always a situation or object whereas ‘patience’ (the second of the words which we’ll consider - see below) is essentially a quality directed towards mankind.
Kittels notes the definition as
‘...courageous endurance. As distinct from patience, it has the active significance of energetic if not necessarily successful resistance...’
showing that the word isn’t meant to be taken as a passive state of the mind but as a mobilising force in the life of whoever possesses it. Taking it’s most common application, Colcar goes on to note that the word
‘...is not...so much a passive acceptance of the inevitable, as an active unrelenting endeavour even in spite of difficulty and trial’
even though we might like to think of the concept as being one of almost serene resignation to the problem or difficulty being encountered until it disappears from an experience to be replaced by a more pleasant situation. This is far from the content of the word, however, for it doesn’t sit back and let it happen but is active within the trial and achieves a positive response to what’s being encountered.
Although a lengthy quote, Barclay is worth reading at this point. He writes that the word
‘...has one very interesting use - it is used of the ability of a plant to live under hard and unfavourable circumstances...It is not the patience which can sit down and bow its head and let things descend upon it and passively endure until the storm is past. It is the spirit which can bear all things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope; it is not the spirit which sits statically enduring in the one place, but the spirit which bears things because it knows that these things are leading to a goal of glory; it is not the patience which grimly waits for the end, but the patience which radiantly hopes for the dawn...It is the quality which keeps a man on his feet with his face to the wind. It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal’
A believer who endures tribulation, then, is not one who survives an experience but one who comes out the other side stronger and who overcomes in it that which stands against Christ and His Kingdom.
Logically, therefore, power needs to be seen to be the basis of the trait as Paul notes when he records his prayer for the Colossian fellowship (Col 1:11) as there needs to be an empowering in the believer’s life for them to actively move through difficult situations for the better.
When the word is used directed towards God, it can mean to wait on Him until a reply is received or a direction given but, even here, we shouldn’t necessarily think that a passive resignation is being taught. Even when a believer waits, there’s still the need for an active life which sees through the difficulty until the answer comes.
Similarly to the previous word considered above and translated ‘endurance’ by the RSV, Colwright sees ‘patience’ as a conclusion of the outworking of faith, hope and love but, this time (my italics)
‘...to an apparently impossible person’
The special characteristic of the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 3115) in being employed to relate to people is quite correct but, once again, we must note that Paul and Timothy envisage patience as being a product of the empowering of the individual by the power of God and not as a product of the trinity of attitudes listed in I Cor 13:13. Even though Paul will list ‘patience’ as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22, he sees it here as the result of the imposition of God’s power into a believer’s life.
Of fourteen occurrences of the word in the text of the AV, four clearly direct patience towards someone rather than a trial or time of tribulation (Rom 2:4, 9:22, I Tim 1:16, I Pet 3:20) while other words in the group can also be used in this manner (for example, Mtw 18:26) and, therefore, in the NT application, the word can be shown to be specially used with its object as men and women. Vines is possibly best followed here, therefore, when he explains the word as being
‘...that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish’
Both ‘endurance’ and ‘patience’ seem to be two aspects of the one attitude and response, therefore. The former is more especially that reaction towards impersonal trials and tribulations that causes the believer not just to survive the situation but to bring about God’s will and purpose in it, while the latter is more an attitude of the heart directed at people when similar situations arise though, more especially, in every facet of life when people are encountered who begin to grate on the believer’s peace.
Colcar observes that
‘Whereas the natural instinct is to retaliate, whether by bitter word or by act of revenge, the christian is to aim rather at that quiet spirit which was exemplified by Him who in the moment of extreme provocation prayed “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”’
while Barclay (as Colbrien) mirrors the characteristic of the believer by describing it as a ‘great obligation’ that
‘...he must be as patient with his fellow men as God has been with him’
We’ve seen above how both ‘endurance’ and ‘patience’ seem to carry with them the idea of tribulation and testing - one from situations and the other from people.
According to the modern usage of the English words, both RSV and NIV should be followed in Col 1:11 for the AV translation is reversed. Care should also be taken by the individual when using the AV to study these two words as both are frequently translated ‘patience’ which obscures the possible difference in application.
Joy is a defining characteristic of both endurance and patience, the former an attitude directed at troubling situations while the latter is more especially employed towards troubling people (see above). In each of these ‘conflicts’, joy is what Paul and Timothy pray will accompany the believer as they experience God’s power bringing them through them.
To try and understand the concept of ‘joy’ as it relates to the christian experience is difficult - if not impossible. The translators of the AV used the word as an equivalent for at least six different words when it was probably not the best one to opt for and, in our present day society, ‘joy’ is normally associated with an exuberant show of ecstasy which has very little to do with the main Greek word employed in the NT which is also used here in Col 1:11.
We’ll begin by considering very briefly the words used in the Greek which have been taken by the translators of the AV to be indicative of the concept of joy.
The first word transliterated is agalliasis (Strongs Greek number 20) and is used fourteen times. It’s usage seems to be more especially in contexts when an underlying translation of ‘jumped for joy’ is applicable and is translated as ‘joy’ three times (Luke 1:44, I Peter 4:13, Jude 24) while it’s rendered elsewhere as ‘gladness’ or ‘rejoice’. This is the type of joy which shows itself for it seems to be used of external manifestations. Therefore, in Luke 1:44, we read that
‘...the babe in my womb leaped for joy’
John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came to her. The baby apparently recognised that the fulfilment of the promises were coming to pass through this woman - perhaps, even, it was the recognition of Mary as being the chosen vessel of God to bring God’s purposes to a conclusion. Without a clear statement in the text, it’s difficult to be absolutely sure.
And Jude 24 (paralleled in I Peter 4:13) speaks of Him who is able
‘...to present you without blemish before the presence of His glory with rejoicing’
or, if a more extreme translation is taken
‘...before the presence of His glory with jumpings for joy’
When the believer finally stands before the glory of God’s presence, the vision is not of them standing sedately before Him but of them seemingly dancing round the Throne with outward expressions of joy. When the earthly worries have been left behind, then surely the right expression can’t be equated with the type of British reserved attitude but one which bubbles up from within and finds expression in a physical demonstration. Rev 19:7 also employs the same word to speak of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
On this word, see also Luke 1:47, 10:21, John 5:35, Acts 2:26, 2:46, 16:34, Heb 1:9, I Peter 1:6 and 1:8 where one might be tempted to render the word ‘jump(ing) for joy’ in place of the word which appears there and gain a totally different interpretation of the type of attitude which is being described.
Two other words which need to be mentioned only in passing are kauchaomai (Strongs Greek number 2744) and euphrosune (Strongs Greek number 2167). The former means ‘boast’ and is translated once by the AV as ‘joy’ in Rom 5:11 though a better interpretation would be ‘glory in’. The RSV renders the relevant part of the verse as
‘...we also rejoice in God...’
while it’s more usual translation can be seen to good effect in I Cor 1:31 and II Cor 10:17 where the RSV translates the text
‘Let him who boats, boast of the Lord’
In a good sense, it means that the believer should verbally proclaim the mighty deeds of God, boasting of who He is and not of themselves.
The latter word means something more akin to ‘good-minded’ or, more literally, ‘good-feel’ and can be understood to speak of putting someone into a good frame of mind. It’s translated ‘joy’ only once in Acts 2:28 where the AV runs
‘...Thou shalt make me full of joy with Thy countenance’
being a quote from Ps 16:11 which speaks of there being fulness of joy in the presence of God. It means something more than simply ‘contentedness’ like ‘happy in mind’ and it’s not insignificant that the word is associated with the taking of alcoholic drink - hence it’s translation as ‘merry’ in many passages (Luke 12:19, 15:23, 24,29,32, Rev 11:10).
Finally, we come to the word group from which the word used here in Colossians comes. Within this group is chairo (Strongs Greek number 5463) which means either ‘to rejoice’ or ‘to be full of good cheer’ - ‘to be happy or well-off’. It’s translated five times as ‘joy’ by the AV and is a word that can also be used as a greeting (Mtw 26:49) or as a farewell (II Cor 13:11), the underlying thought being one of joy where the blessing is ‘Joy be to you’ or ‘May joy be upon you’.
The main word used for joy - and translated fifty-three times this way in the AV - is chara (Strongs Greek number 5479) used in Col 1:11. It means ‘cheerfulness’ or ‘a calm delight’.
The word of the greatest significance in the word group is charis (Strongs Greek number 5485) which is only once translated as ‘joy’ (Philemon 7) but which is the normal word translated as ‘grace’ throughout the NT, coming from the root of the first word we considered in this word group.
There is, therefore, a connection - even if it be a narrow one - between both joy and grace. We might say that it’s God’s delight to be gracious, that it’s a joy to God to be kind to those men and women when they don’t deserve it. That the word would have developed beyond the boundaries of the concept of ‘joy’ is certain but we shouldn’t forget that there’s an emotion involved in the origins of the word.
Part of our interpretation of the word chara will be as a contrast to what’s already preceded it for, as with the modern day word ‘love’, it can only be truly defined in context and, in the NT, context is often wholly lacking as it stands on its own with nothing surrounding it by which the reader might propose an interpretation. For instance, Gal 5:22-23 (see also Rom 14:17) lists the fruit of the Spirit as
‘...love, joy, peace...’
where a concept akin to agalliasis defined above (‘jumping with joy’) hardly seems appropriate. After all, is Paul actually saying that the Spirit will inspire believers to ‘jump with joy’ almost continually in their experience? It seems best to accept the interpretation of the word as meaning a ‘calm delight’.
We should also note in passing that Paul only mentions the one fruit because there’s only one source, the Spirit - but he does note the nine flavours! One tree bearing nine different types of the same fruit is what seems to be envisaged here which grow out through the believer as they mature in Jesus Christ, as they put down their old nature and allow the new nature to have control.
Joy, then, comes as the Spirit grows out through us. Joy is a delight that doesn’t fade and which doesn’t find itself rocketed to the heights of ecstasy and then slumped into the depths of despair. This is a type of joy that isn’t ‘jumping around’ or ‘bubbling over with excitement’.
Joy is a calm delight - being pleased with God and with whatever the believer has. Joy is a deep satisfaction which grows and overflows in a believer’s life with time.
Joy’s also associated clearly with affliction. Paul wrote in II Cor 7:4 that
‘With all our affliction, I am overjoyed’
and, in James 1:2, the author encouraged the believers to
‘Count it all joy...when you meet various trials...’
It’s certainly outer influences that affect a person’s agalliasis, the ‘jumping for joy’, but it can’t affect the chara that comes from knowing God and which is ever-increasing in a life. Hence, in II Cor 8:2, Paul writes that
‘...in a severe test of affliction...their abundance of joy...[has] overflowed...’
There’s a principle in Scripture that, even when a follower of Christ is afflicted, they can still be joyful (Heb 10:34). The inward delight that finds itself centred in God cannot change because neither does God change. Outer circumstances - though they often have the effect of pulling one’s feelings ‘low’ - don’t affect inward joy.
Notice also John 16:19-24. The disciples were going to be apart from Jesus and they would know much sorrow. But, when He was raised from the dead, their sorrow was to be turned into a joy (John 16:21) so that (John 16:22)
‘...no one will take your joy from you’
Jesus would die and so would their joy - but when He would be made alive, then so would their joy in Him, never dying again as He also would never again die.
Two final passages need noting here in Luke 1:14 which, transliterating the Greek words used, runs
‘You will have chara and agalliasis...’
and Mtw 5:12 which reads identically. Perhaps the best way to take these passages is to understand their meaning as conveying something like
‘You will have inner joy and outer expressions of joy’
Trying to conclude this article is probably best done by reproducing a more ‘popular’ work of the subject of ‘joy’ which I wrote for a new magazine ‘New Christian Media’ many years ago as a response to a letter I received from the editor when I complained about the liberal aspect of some of the articles that were appearing. I don’t think the magazine lasted very long and I have no idea whether this article is supposed to still be copyrighted by the organisation responsible but, as it was my own work, I’ve reproduced it below - with some slight alterations to make it run a little better.
from the ‘New Christian Media’ magazine
‘But I don’t have joy like them!’ is often a cry from our hearts. Some people think that something is seriously wrong with a christian if they don’t have a six-inch wide Cheshire cat grin on their face - and, if you don’t jig around to the latest in-chorus shouting ‘Hallelujah!’ then ‘...you just ain’t got no joy, man!’
You know, throughout the New Testament, I can’t think I’ve ever found a quote that condemned people who don’t smile all the time. Joy just isn’t relative to the width of the grin on your face - it’s something that’s far more fundamental and, like nearly everything, it begins inside us, never outside.
True - a smile may be an expression of joy but it can also be a mask to hide behind.
‘Are you okay?’ someone asks.
‘Sure!’ we answer, trying to hide away the fact that we’ve just written off our brand new car behind a smile! Joy may be expressed in many different types of ways but expression is not a certainty of it being present.
So, what is ‘joy’?
Joy is a delight that does not fade - it does not find itself rocketed to the heights of ecstasy and then slumped into the depths of despair; it should be ever-present in our lives, throughout our lives.
Joy is a ‘calm’ delight - being pleased and satisfied with God and whatever we have. Joy is a deep satisfaction within ourselves that does not fade no matter where we should find ourselves.
It’s quite true that our joy may ‘bubble over’ through our lives.
‘To Him who is able’ Jude wrote ‘to present you without blemish before the presence of His glory with [literally] jumpings for joy’. And Luke wrote of Elizabeth (Luke 1:44) that the babe in her womb ‘leaped for joy’.
So, too, Jesus (Luke 10:21) ‘[literally] jumped for joy in the Holy Spirit’ - that is, Jesus rejoiced within or He ‘bubbled over’ with joy.
But joy begins within us - it’s not something that always inspires us to jump around (actually, because of my height, I got the nickname ‘the dancing giraffe’ - but it’s not just giraffes that have all the joy!).
It’s part of our life as christians that God will lead us through many different trials but even in them our joy will still be with us.
‘With all our affliction’ Paul said (II Cor 7:4) ‘I am overjoyed’ and, again in the New Testament, Heb 10:34 observes that ‘you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one’
That’s it! - an abiding one - that’s the secret!
Our joy as christians is centred in God: it is rooted and grounded within us because Christ is in us. Christ will never leave us and so neither will our joy - no matter what our outer circumstances may be; no matter if our feelings hit an all-time low, yet, it cannot affect that calm, inner delight that we have in the One who died and rose for us.
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...’ (Gal 5:22-23)
Our joy comes from God who is the Spirit. God’s very presence within us grows out through us.
Becoming a christian is like planting an acorn in your back garden one evening - you don’t wake up the next morning and find a thirty foot oak tree in full blossom! Growth takes time and so it does as a child of God.
We don’t get all the answers overnight and we don’t instantly become perfect. But, as we continue our ‘walk’ with Christ, then God’s very nature grows out through us - the seed that’s planted within us when we first come to know Jesus, germinates, develops, grows, blossoms and finally brings fruit; one of the flavours being ‘joy’!
So, finally, if you don’t ‘feel’ particularly joyful, rejoice! Allow God to work within you and through you and you’ll find the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ beginning to bud.
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