In their recent book, Equipping for Life: A Guide for New, Aspiring, & Struggling Parents, scholars and married couple Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger pose the following question to parents: What’s your main goal for your children? What do all your parenting efforts aim at? Is it academic success? Or perhaps athletic and social success? Or perhaps happiness?
Without dismissing the value of such things, the Köstenbergers’ research and experiences as parents lead them to this conclusion:
One insight has increasingly deepened during the course of our own parenting journey ... This simple insight is that throughout our parenting efforts, character consistently must be made the key priority in everything we do and say.
The parents’ goal should be the child’s character.
We are goal setters. Not only for our kids, but for ourselves. The thing about a goal is that it exerts tremendous influence on how we live in the present. Your goal for your future shapes how you live and what you value in the present.
In Colossians 1:9–14, Paul is praying for the Colossians. His prayer, however, sets forth the apostle’s goal for their lives. In these few verses, we see what Paul’s goal is for all his friends, including us. We also see how this goal comes to shape how we are to live in the present.
The flow of our passage can be explained in three stages. Paul states his goal for the Colossians’ lives in verse 10, the means of achieving this goal in verses 9 and 11, and the result upon life in the present in verses 10–14. It goes as follows.
In verse 10, Paul states the goal this filling with knowledge is to cause: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” (1:10a)
In verses 9 and 11 Paul writes,
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 (1:9) ... May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might. (1:11)
In verses 10b–14, Paul then enumerates four qualities of a life that aims at being worthy of the Lord: fruitfulness; wisdom; fortitude, and; gratitude.
I’d like to do two things in this sermon. First, we’ll consider the means by which a worthy life is lived, looking at how God enables and empowers us. Second, we’ll consider the results of this for our present life, looking at some of the qualities enumerated in verses 10–14.
Before that, however, let’s be sure we’re clear about what Paul means by this goal, “worthy of the Lord.”
The term translated in English as “worthy,” in the original language means literally, “bringing up the scale of the balance.” It evokes the idea of equivalence. It suggests that one’s life is being compared to something other than oneself. When a mother says to her 17 year-old who is throwing a fit, “Act your age,” she is saying that he should act in a manner worthy of having lived 17 years i.e. not like a 6-year-old.
The other side of the scale in this verse is Jesus. Paul says, live “worthy of the Lord.” Simply put, if you call yourself a Christian, then you should act like Christ. You should live a life worthy of the title of Christian. Keeping the conclusion of the aforementioned Köstenbergers in mind, we might summarize: Paul’s goal for your life is Christ-like character.
Now when Paul admonishes us to live worthy of the Lord, he is not explaining what we must do to get saved. Rather, Paul is explaining what God is up to with us, once we’ve been saved by grace through faith. Having become part of God’s family, God is now rearing us to be like His Son.
Let’s now ask what Paul tells us about how the worthy life is achieved. What is the means by which we take on the character of Christ?
I. The Means of the Worthy Life: God-Given Insight and Inspiration
There are two sections of our passage that indicate the means by which a worthy life is lived, verse 9 and again in verse 11. In both verses God is the active agent, and works in us to enable us to live a worthy life. I am summarizing the main point in both verses with one term, which I’ll explain.
In verse 9, Paul tells us that God empowers us to live the worthy life by granting us insight. In verse 11, Paul tells us God empowers the worthy life by granting inspiration. God-given insight and inspiration; these are the key means to living a life worthy of the Lord. We’ll explore here what this God-given insight involves, and return to God-given inspiration below.
In verse 9, Paul prays that God would fill the Colossians with knowledge of His will, and that this would involve being filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding. Verse 10 then begins with, “so that they can walk in a manner worthy….” We might paraphrase: A worthy life requires first knowledge and wisdom.
What does Paul here mean by wisdom and knowledge? And what does wisdom have to do with living a good, worthy life?
In Scripture, wisdom and knowledge involve more than observation of facts, although they include this. Wisdom is always a matter of the head and heart, which is why we are told in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10)
Wisdom is given to us by God when we come to faith in Him, and humbly set our lives and our view of things before him. Wisdom is to see things in the light of God and God’s purposes. Wisdom is further cultivated when we study God’s Word, in order to further understand God’s identity, ways and aims in our world.
I’m calling this God-given insight, because this wisdom and understanding mean an awareness and ability to see, not merely the surface of a matter, but to see into it, and to see it from God’s much larger and eternal perspective.
Let me offer an example of how this works. I’m in my thirties and for some reason was recently thinking about the summer between 9th and 10th grade. I turned sixteen and was thinking of one thing: a driver’s license and car. I had been working and saving, and was excited to buy my first car. Now I didn’t have much money, but I had pretty expensive taste. A luxury car for sale alongside the road caught my eye. It had leather seats, custom wheels, and was turbo charged. I was fixated on it. The only problem was, it had nearly 200K miles! But I didn’t care, I could only think about what it would be like to drive that car onto campus one day.
My parents were adamant. A car of that type, with that many miles, is a like a bucket with a hole in it. You’ll have problem after problem, and it’ll be super expensive to have work done. I didn’t care, it was my money and my horizon was clear. I wasn’t thinking past my first semester of 10th grade; if I had that car to start school, who cared what might happen if it broke down later.
Well, needless to say I bought it. And, after nickel and diming me for a year, it ended up in a junk yard. (I should have gone with the used Camry.)
I look back on that experience with humor and astonishment. When we are young, we may think we understand a situation, but we simply lack the awareness to really make good decisions. I’m sure you can look back on how you reasoned about things in high school and snicker; how short-sighted we are.
But here is the point. What makes us think we still aren’t like this? If we could look back after a thousand years in heaven, what would we say about the decisions we are making now? This is why living a worthy life, marked by decisions that are truly good, requires us to constantly be putting things before God, asking Him to tell us what He thinks from His perspective.
So here is the first thing Paul teaches us about living life worthy of the Lord. We must have God-given insight into things, if our decisions and behaviors are to reflect the character of Christ and be worthy of Him.
Later, we’ll return to the second means, inspiration. At this point, though, I want to look at the results of the worthy life—when someone begins to understand things from God’s perspective and what qualities then mark their life.
II. The Qualities of the Worthy Life: Fruitfulness and Fortitude
In verses 10b–14, Paul lists four qualities of a life built on the wisdom and knowledge from God, aimed at being worthy of the Lord. They can be stated as: fruitfulness, wisdom, fortitude and gratitude. I wish we had time to consider all four, but we’ll pay attention to two, fruitfulness and fortitude.
In verse 10, Paul explains, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work.”
I want to focus on this phrase, “bearing fruit.” A distinguishing mark of a worthy life is that it bears fruit. This idea is common throughout scripture. Jesus teaches his disciples, for example, in John 15 that if they abide in Him, they will bear fruit; and “by bearing fruit, they prove to be his disciples.” (John 15:8; 1–17) What exactly does it mean for a life to bear fruit?
In a nutshell, to bear fruit in the biblical sense means that your life makes the lives of others healthier and holier. It means that the people and social systems you interact with most are subtly but consistently turned more towards harmony, integrity, and godliness.
So we should ask ourselves, does our presence tend to produce sour grapes, such as impurity, enmity, strife, jealously, or envy? Do we cultivate an atmosphere where gossip tears down, or mercy and grace build up?
Fruitfulness is not, moreover, being nice and making people feel good all the time. Jesus often rendered a harsh word for the sake of moving a person further into truth and goodness.
When God fills us with knowledge and wisdom—awareness of what He loves and what He is doing in the world—we then should take part in furthering God’s aims, which will include influencing others toward that which is true, good and beautiful. This is the fruitfulness of the life worthy of the Lord.
Along with fruitfulness, Paul says the life worthy of the Lord demonstrates fortitude.
We see this in verse 11, where Paul writes, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”
Paul uses two words here, rendered as “endurance” and “patience,” which are very similar but have an important nuance. Endurance comprises that strong activity of the soul to stand firm amid hardship. The word translated as “patience,” however, adds to this the ability to act rightly despite hardship.
I’m summarizing with the term “fortitude” because fortitude captures both the ability to endure hardship, but also the courage to act bravely when one knows hardship may ensue. A life worthy of the Lord imitates these qualities of Jesus. Our Lord bravely took on a mission that would entail great hardship, and our Lord endured during that hardship without losing faith.
Let’s just cut right to the root here: Paul is telling us a life worthy of the Lord will be able to endure hardship and act bravely, because he knows following the Lord in a fallen world is not an invitation for your best life now. Rather, it’s a call to take up your cross.
Christian endurance and fortitude, courage and bravery go to the depths of an ability to face death. If we think we are simply talking about enduring being sick because God will always make us well, or enduring insults because God will always and finally set the record straight for us here and now, then we reduce Christian endurance to a swaggering gesture. We hollow it of any real power. Paul is here praying that his friends would not merely be sturdy when they lose their jobs or get a terrifying health report. Rather, he is calling us to be like our Lord, who did not turn back from the Cross.
One reason it is so crucial that we have fortitude is because fortitude is the context within which fruitfulness happens. It is typically in the long-suffering and patient endurance of following and serving Christ that we end up seeing true fruit. A weak and fleeting Christianity will not produce much fruit.
Now this is a hard teaching, that fortitude is a necessary quality of a life worthy of Christ. And this is so because facing hardship is, well, hard. So I’d like to return once more to the question of means; the question of how we are empowered to live the worthy life. Above I highlighted the need for God-given insight—we need to see as God sees, to live as God wants us to. However, I also noted a second means by which God empowers us, inspiration. We’ll close by considering this, because it’s the fuel for fortitude.
C) God-Given Inspiration
If insight is the wisdom to understand and act according to God’s perspective, inspiration is the ability, or inner strength, to follow through and carry these actions out.
I am using the term inspiration intentionally, because its Latin root, inspirare literally means “breathe into,” and originally was used to convey God breathing His Spirit into humankind. In other words, the ability to live a worthy life, to display fruitfulness and fortitude, requires being strengthened by God’s Spirit.
How does the Spirit inspire us? There are many ways the Spirit does so, some imperceptible. I want to suggest one I see in this text. The Spirit inspires us by giving our hearts a vision of God as our Father, a Father with Glory and Beauty.
Notice what Paul says in verse 11: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”
Then, notice in verses 12–14 Paul moves into a vision of God as our Father, and highlights what this Father has done for us: “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
There is much going on in this passage, but at its core Paul is setting before his readers a vision of God as their Father who works in mighty power for them, and who loves them. And this vision will, if seen in one’s heart, inspire a type of fortitude in us—a desire to live for this father, to honor this father, to trust in this father—that otherwise we would not know.
A life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit and bearing up in hardship, is a life that has been inspired—filled with motivation and strength and courage—by a realization that God is our father.
I’d like to close by using a human example to try to illustrate the inspiring power of seeing God as our father. (It is Fathers’ Day, after all.)
John G. Paton was a missionary to the New Hebrides Islands, roughly from 1850 to 1900. Located in the South Pacific, the Scotsman Paton faced great hardship and danger in his efforts as a missionary there. During his life on the islands, he lost his wife and children. But his life produced incredible fruit for God’s kingdom and was marked by an almost otherworldly fortitude. His life was worthy of the Lord.
How did Paton do it? In his autobiography, he gives us a window into how the presence of his earthly father inspired him unto faithfulness and fortitude. After reflecting on the godliness and character of his father, Paton reflects on a poignant scene from when His father bade him farewell as he headed off to school and then the mission field as a young man. Reflecting on the memory forty years later, he writes:
My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way [to the train station]. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday…. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence – my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand…. We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!
Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me …After he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while, he …set his face toward home, and began to return ...I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.
The appearance of my father, when we parted ...has often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and does so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian Angel ...It is deep gratitude which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.
As Christians, no matter what type of earthly father we have had, we are meant to see in our hearts the true Father, God Almighty, strong, faithful and loving, standing near to us, gazing towards us. It is His love, His strength, His presence, that inspires us to live a life worthy of Him. Make your chief goal in life to live worthy of the Lord. And when you falter, see the Father’s loving eyes gazing in your direction, and press on.
by Sam Ferguson, Sermon given on June 16, 2019