© Rosemary Bardsley 2014
Paul states why he prayed what he did for the Colossians: It was ‘in order that’
They would live a life worthy of the Lord, and
They would please him in every way.
The knowledge, wisdom and understanding that he prays for them is essential if they are to live lives that are worthy of God, and that are pleasing to him. Living such a life is not just about what we actually do. It includes our beliefs, our mindset, and our perceptions – the mental framework in which and out of which our choices, attitudes and actions flow.
Paul explains this by using a series of present participles to define the kind of life that is worthy of the Lord and pleases him in every way:
‘bearing fruit in every good work’
‘growing in the knowledge of God’
‘being strengthened with all power …’
‘joyfully giving thanks to the Father …’
‘bearing fruit in every good work’ – If they have truly understood the grace of God they will demonstrate that grace in their lives. If they have truly understood the love of God, they will demonstrate that love in their lives. If they have truly received forgiveness and mercy from God they will be forgiving and merciful to others. [Paul will expand on this latter in the letter.] If they are ‘in Christ’, if they are saved, then that truth will reach out and impact every area of their lives.
‘growing in the knowledge of God’ - the knowledge of God that is given to us in Jesus Christ is so great that we will never get to the bottom of it. Although we have rightly understood and embraced who Jesus is and what he has done for us, yet we have not understood exhaustively, nor have we participated in it in its fullest measure. The Christian life is a journey of perpetual discovery – a continual uncovering of layer upon layer of truth. Not different truth, but more and more aspects and depths of the same truth. It is like the enjoyment of a ‘bottomless’ lake: as a toddler you paddle in the shallows, as a child, you swim around near the shore, as a teenager you dive down beneath the surface, as a grown man you scuba dive into the depths. At each stage you are in the same lake; at each stage you enjoy your experience of the lake; but the longer you live the further in and the deeper you go, discovering and experiencing more and more about the lake. So Paul’s purpose in praying for knowledge, wisdom and understanding for the Colossians is that they will be continually going deeper and deeper into their knowledge of God, so in love with God, so overjoyed by his salvation that they are constantly wanting to understand him and his gift better. This ever-increasing knowledge of God both contributes to and expresses a life that is worthy of the Lord, a life that pleases him.
‘being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might’ – both the verb ‘being strengthened’ and the noun ‘power’ relate to the Greek dunamis; ‘might’ is the Greek kratos. In the context of both temptation and false teaching the Colossian believers, and we also, are too weak to survive. We can survive only if God strengthens us. And only if he strengthens us with a power that has nothing to do with us, but has its source and foundation in God himself. This is not an inner power that God implants within us, but a power, a strengthening, that is vitally connected with the fullness of knowledge, wisdom and understanding that Paul prayed for for the Colossians. It is that knowledge, that truth that is grasped, from which this strengthening comes. Thus Paul says that it is ‘according to his glorious might’ [might = kratos – force].
In Ephesians 1:15 to 2:10 Paul expands on a similar prayer, making it clear that he wants the Ephesian believers to really understand the greatness of the power of God that saved them and that keeps them saved: the power that brought Jesus Christ out of death, into resurrection life, and seated him at the right hand of the Father, is the same power of God that saved the believers from spiritual death to spiritual life, and seated them also in the heavenlies in Christ. That is the power of God active on their behalf, that Paul wants them to understand. It is a power that is unequalled. Because it is unequalled, they are totally secure. Nothing can undo what it has achieved. It is a power that is not combined with human power or ability. It stands alone they. Because it stands alone, and operates on the basis of God’s grace alone, it cannot be compromised and it cannot be diminished. Again, they are totally secure. Totally safe with God.
This mighty and glorious power of God is what Paul prays will strengthen the Colossian believers. It is a power that is external to them, but intimately active for them and in them. It is not their power, it is God’s power. Nor does it operate in tandem with their own power. It is, Paul says ‘according to his glorious might’ – his glorious, stand-alone, unparalleled, undiluted power. Not a small piece of his power that he has put in us and added to our own power. No. The strength that Paul prays for the Colossians is ‘according to’ – in the measure of, of the same kind as – the glorious power of God.
‘so that you may have great endurance and patience …’ [hupomone and makrothumia] This is the reason and the anticipated result of our being strengthened by God according to his glorious power. Again, this is something totally necessary in the context of temptation, persecution and false teaching. Both words can be and have been translated ‘patience’. What is the difference between them? JB Lightfoot has an insightful comment:
‘The difference is best seen in their opposites. While hupomone is the temper which does not easily succumb under suffering, makrothumia is the self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong. The one is opposed to cowardice, the other to wrath or revenge. While hupomone is closely allied to hope … makrothumia is commonly connected with mercy.’ [p140, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon].
Note: some translations and commentators connect ‘and joyfully’ or ‘with joy’ with the above, some connect it with ‘giving thanks’ in verse 12. Because the NIV does that latter, these studies will do so also. This does not infer that it is wrong to apply the joy to the patience and endurance mentioned before it. Joy in both applications is appropriate.
‘and joyfully giving thanks to the Father …’ – Paul is about to describe the salvation the Father provides for us through the death of his Son. Regardless of the presence of temptation, persecution or the pressure of false teaching, if God has filled us with the knowledge of his will [verse 9] that he brought to completion in Christ we will joyfully give thanks to the Father. No human circumstance can diminish the joy of salvation because no human action can diminish or destroy our salvation; it stands utterly secure. It is in the Father’s hands. It is the Father’s gift to us in Christ. It is something that has been fully achieved and fully implemented by him for us. But this assurance, this joy, is possible only if we have understood what it is that the Father has done.
‘… who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light’. The false teaching, as we will see later, put the onus of securing salvation and acceptance on the individual human being. It demanded conformity to rules and rituals. It required a mystical, subjective, experience-based spirituality. It generated guilt in those who failed to meet the standards. It disqualified those who did not meet the expectations.
But here is Paul’s first statement of the grand and joyful truth about the salvation the Father has given to us in the Son: God ‘has qualified you’. Literally, the Greek reads ‘the Father, the one who qualified you’. The ‘qualified’ is in the Aorist Tense, indicating a one-off, decisive action. God, in a once-only decisive action, qualified you. It is done. It does not have to be done again.
In ourselves we are disqualified from life with God. Not one of is able to qualify ourselves for entry into heaven, for acceptance in the presence of God. This is what the Scriptures teach:
Romans 3:20: ‘… no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin’
Galatians 3:10: ‘All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law”’.
But here in Colossians Paul states that God has qualified us.
Do we have to qualify ourselves? No.
Do we have to keep ourselves qualified? No.
‘… to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light’
God has done all that is necessary to qualify us, to make us acceptable, to enter his presence, to enter ‘heaven’, to live with him for ever. God has qualified us to share the inheritance God has for those who are ‘holy’ [saints]. God has qualified us to be in the kingdom of light – where there is no sin, no evil, no darkness.
That disqualification and exclusion that has been in place since Genesis 3 has been overturned by God himself. No longer does our personal disqualification apply. No longer does our sin shut the ears of God. No longer does our iniquity erect a barrier that excludes us from God’s presence: God has qualified us.
Some of Paul’s readers had allowed the false teachers to effectively disqualify them – they had convinced them that their failure to meet the expected standards had the ability to overturn the action of God in Christ. But here, as his very first statement about the salvation we have in Christ, he states unequivocally: ‘God has qualified you’. By this bold and extremely clear affirmation he calls the Colossians, and us, back to this incredible truth.
We have had this truth in our possession all of our Christian lives. It has always been here in Colossians 1:12. Yet so many Christians today live each day as though it is their performance that day qualifies them for, or disqualifies them from, God’s favour. To do so is to completely miss the point of this statement of the Good News: God has qualified us. Our qualification for ‘heaven’, our qualification as ‘saints’, our qualification to possess all the inheritance God has for us, does not depend on us: it depends on him.
Here is a vital question: are you, or are you not, confident that you will be with God in heaven? Are you, or are you not, confident that you are accepted by God even today when you come to him in prayer, worship or service? Are you or are you not, confident that all the spiritual blessing of God are yours? If you cannot answer with a confident ‘yes’, then you need to listen hard to this word of God: he himself has qualified you.
‘For his has rescued us from the dominion of darkness …’
God ‘rescued us’ – again the verb is Aorist tense. God, in a decisive action in the past, rescued us.
‘Dominion’ = authority, control, jurisdiction, power, supremacy; it also means the place where this power is exercised. The dominion of darkness is the kingdom which is characterized by darkness and where darkness is in control.
Darkness is the opposite of all that God is, for God is light. To be in the darkness is to be severed from God. The Bible describes the unbelieving human state as one of blindness [2Corinthians 4:4] and spiritual ignorance [Ephesians 4:17-19]. Jesus described those who do not follow him as walking in darkness [John 8:12]. Thus, in the Bible ‘darkness’ has several applications:
the darkness of ignorance of God
the darkness of separation from God
the darkness of sin
the darkness of condemnation/judgement
the darkness of death
the darkness of bondage to Satan
So deep is this darkness in which mankind is lost that most don’t realise they are in it. Indeed, Jesus taught that ‘men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil’ [John 3:19]. They are so familiar with and accustomed to the darkness that they do not know what light is, and do not want the light when it comes to them. For some the power of the darkness is so great that it has deluded them into believing that darkness is light: of these Jesus said: ‘if the light that is within you is darkness, how great is that darkness’ [Matthew 6:23]. The power and the deception of this darkness, and the control that it has over us, is tremendous.
It was into this terrible dominion of darkness that God came and rescued us out from under its authority. None of it, not even Satan, the prince of darkness, has any more authority over us.
God has rescued us, removed us, delivered us, from its authority and its jurisdiction. And he did not do only that, and leave us somewhere in ‘neutral’ territory. Rather he also …
‘… brought us into the kingdom of his Son he loves’ .
The word ‘brought’ does not fully convey the meaning of the Greek text. The Greek word is made up of the preposition meta which speaks of change (as in metamorphosis), and the verb histemi, which means to stand. So, what has God done? He has relocated us: instead of leaving us powerless [Romans 5:6] in the dominion of darkness, he has made us to stand in the kingdom of his Son. We didn’t step over from one to the other. He has so rescued and transferred us that we now stand in his kingdom instead of the kingdom of darkness. Note well what Paul says: God did it!
Again the verb is in the Aorist tense: in one decisive action God did this to us.
So now we have a further aspect of salvation: not only did God qualify us for his kingdom [‘the kingdom of light’], he has also transferred us out of his enemy’s kingdom [dominion] and established us in his kingdom [‘the kingdom of the Son he loves’]. God, in a decisive action, has put us in his kingdom. And that is where we are: already, right at this moment, we are in the kingdom of the Son. We do not have to wait till we die and ‘go to heaven’ to be in his kingdom, we do not have to wait till the return of Christ to be in his kingdom. God has already relocated us into Christ’s kingdom. We are already living under the reign and the authority of Jesus Christ the King.
Let us note that Paul describes this saving action as the action of God the Father. Just as it is God the Father who qualifies us for heaven, so it is God the Father who rescues from the dominion of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of his Son. As we will see in the following verses, the necessary and legal basis of this action is the death of Jesus Christ, but as Paul describes it the qualifying, the rescuing, the relocating are the work of the Father. There is a grand trinitarian synergy in action here, a divine unity of purpose, action and result.
‘the kingdom of the Son he loves’ – from these words we learn that the Son is the King of the kingdom. We could call it ‘the kingdom of Christ’. It is no different to ‘the kingdom of God’ or ‘the kingdom of heaven’. They are all one and the same. Note also that Jesus is described in the NIV as ‘the Son he loves’. The Greek, however, reads ‘the Son of his love’, where ‘love’ is a noun, not a verb. We know that the Father loves the Son [see, for example, Matthew 3:17], but this is not Paul’s primary meaning here according to some commentators. Paul wants to convey to us  that just as love is the essence of God, so love is the essence of Jesus, and  that Jesus was sent by the Father to reveal the Father’s love. For those whom God has rescued their new King is a King of love.
In verses 15-19 Paul defines just who this ‘Son’ is whom the Father loves and who personifies and reveals the love of God.
‘in whom we have redemption’ – in Christ, the Son of God’s love, our King, we have redemption.
Redemption is release from slavery or bondage. For example:
 Our spiritual redemption in Jesus Christ is foretold by the historical redemption of the Israelites out of Egypt. That whole event is a massive pre-view of what Jesus did for us on the cross. From that historical event onwards God is known as the Redeemer.
 Another image of redemption is that of a slave who was purchased, or bought himself, out of slavery.
 Another, modern, image is when a pawned object is bought back from the pawn shop by its owner.
In each of these images a price is paid. Redemption always refers to a release obtained by the payment of a price. That price is referred to as the ‘ransom’. Redemption then = freedom at a price.
Our deliverance from slavery to the dominion of darkness is exactly that: freedom at a price, the price being something paid not by us, but by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
The Scripture identifies the ransom that was paid for our redemption:
‘The Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many’ [Mark 10:45].
‘In him we have redemption through his blood … ‘ [Ephesians 1:7].
‘For you know that it was not with perishable things … that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ …’ [1Peter 1:18,19].
‘… you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God …’ [Revelation 5:9].
Paul states that it is ‘in him’, in this Son of God’s love, that we have redemption, that is, freedom. All that held us bound in the dominion of darkness, holds us bound no more because we are ‘in him’:
We are set free from our ignorance of God.
We are set free from our separation from God.
We are set free from sin.
We are set free from condemnation/judgement
We are set free from death.
We are set free from our bondage to Satan.
This multifaceted freedom/deliverance/release that is ours ‘in him’ is something that Paul says ‘we have’ – present tense. Already now, we possess this redemption. It is ours. Again, like membership in his kingdom, this is not something we are waiting for – we already ‘have’ redemption in Christ.
‘… in whom we have … the forgiveness of sins’ – Paul adds this phrase as an explanation of the redemption we have in Christ, focusing on those aspects of redemption that relate to our sins. The word translated ‘forgiveness’ is aphesin which literally means a lifting away. The ‘redemption’ we have in Christ means a lifting away of sins:
Our sins are lifted out of the way – they can no longer separate us from God.
Our sins are lifted out of the way – they can no longer condemn us.
Our sins are lifted out of the way – their judgement can no longer fall on us.
Our sins are lifted out of the way – their death penalty no longer hangs over us.
Our sins are lifted out of the way – Satan’s accusations, though true, can no longer touch us.
When God looks at us as stand-alone individuals, he holds us accountable for our sins. They cut us off from him; they separate us from him; they prevent him from hearing our prayers; they stand against us.
But God now sees us, not as stand-alone individuals, but always, ever and only ‘in Christ’, and ‘in Christ’ that is all changed. ‘In Christ’ the believer stands in the presence of God with our sins taken out of the way. Because Jesus Christ took responsibility for our sins we are no longer held accountable. On the cross God held him accountable. As mentioned above, the key thought of the Greek word is lifting away. It is not that sin has been taken out of our hearts, but that sin as a barrier that separated us from God has been removed. The image is that of the barrier being lifted at the race track freeing the horses to race. In forgiveness the sin barrier is lifted away, freeing up our access to God, re-establishing our relationship with God.
Like the redemption of which forgiveness is an aspect, this forgiveness is ours because of the death of Jesus Christ as our substitute. It is a gift that the believer already possesses ‘in Christ’ – in him ‘we have’ forgiveness of sins. Like redemption, this forgiveness of sins is a present and permanent possession. Because it is ‘in him’ it is not variable. It is not dependent on our present sinlessness. It is not dependent on our ‘confession’ – our identifying and verbally listing - of our individual sins day by day. It is ours, already, in Christ. The believer lives, or should live, in a state of permanent, present forgiveness, not in a state of condemnation or the expectation of condemnation.
Although in ourselves we still sin, and that sin would still cut us off from God if we stood in his presence on our own two feet, yet because we have Jesus Christ, and are in Christ our sin no longer stands in between. In Christ we have forgiveness.