Category Archives: Praying with Paul

Colossians 1:1-14: Praying with Paul 3: Knowing God’s Will

How easy is it to know GOD’S WILL for your life?  Is it God’s will for you to live in Blacktown or Balmoral? Is it God’s will for you to be a teacher or a tradesman? To drive a pushbike or a Porsche?  Is it God’s will to marry MARY or MARTHA? To have TWO kids or TEN? To buy a BOAT for the HOLIDAYS, or BRACES for the KIDS?

Or what about God’s will for us AS A CHURCH? We were just talking about a number of decisions at Leadership Team this week. How many home groups to have, and who’d lead them. Whether to approve certain people to help look after the children. And what sorts of challenges we could run with as part of our challenge to “Get Up and Grow!” What is God’s will in all of those decisions?

I went to another meeting last week where interested people were looking at the options for Scripture teaching in Evans High. And we wanted to know what God’s WILL was in THAT situation.

And it’s only that we’d PRAY as we make those decisions. Which we certainly did. Pray that God would show us his WILL. Guide us to do the RIGHT thing. The BEST thing.

I’m sure there have been times when YOU’VE prayed to know what God’s will. Perhaps even for some of these decisions.

And Paul ALSO prays that people would know what God’s WILL is. Here in Colossians 1. But perhaps not in the way you might be expecting. What we’ll discover / is that God’s more interested in the SORT OF LIFE YOU’RE LIVING than the car you drive, or the suburb you live in, or the career you choose.

His will is more to do with HOW you drive, rather than what CAR you drive. How HARD you work and how HONEST you are / rather than what the particular job IS. And his will is more about what sort of things you DO TO GROW HIS KINGDOM in your suburb, rather than what suburb it is.

You see, TO KNOW GOD’S WILL is something we especially need in Australian Christianity today. We need insight and wisdom into God’s will because we’re swamped with choices about how to live. Our churches and Christian bookshops are filled with new books and programs and techniques. Gimics and the latest fads. Each promising to be the answer to success and power and revival and growth. For individuals, or for churches.

So many claims, so many promises, so many opinions. But what does GOD want for his people? We need to pray that we would know God’s will.

Let’s turn to HIS word, and in particular to THIS PRAYER, and let it shape us. Shape our prayers. And our desires and goals. Shape our LIVES.

1. Paul prays for those he has never met

But before we look at the prayer itself, I want you to notice a of things. The first is that Paul even prays for those he’s never met. Look there in v3.

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have HEARD of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-

You see, Paul had never actually BEEN to Colossae. Never met the people there. The church had been planted by Epaphras. That’s down there in v7.

7 You LEARNED (THE GOSPEL) FROM EPAPHRAS, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and WHO ALSO TOLD US OF YOUR LOVE in the Spirit.

Paul had only HEARD about the Colossian church, but he still PRAYED for it.

Let me ask YOU / how much of YOUR praying is just concerned with your own immediate circle? YOUR family, YOUR church, YOUR work? The URGENT concerns of TODAY? How wide is your vision when it comes to prayer? Does it stretch to the other side of Sydney, the other side of the world? Does it stretch beyond the urgent and immediate to the IMPORTANT? The BIG things?

At last year’s “Improving Your Serve”, Gordon ran a prayer seminar, and one of the s for prayer he talked about was to imagine your life as a series of concentric circles.

The INSIDE circle represents YOU. Personal issues, interactions you have, people you’re meeting – both requests and thanks for answered prayer. You start off praying there. The NEXT circle out represents your FAMILY. Then you move out to your CHURCH, then your community or your city. Then finally you pray for your WORLD. For Christians on other countries, for missionaries. Even for people you’ve never MET.

And so, as you work your way out, you’re able to pray for a whole RANGE of concerns. Close and distant. Small things and large. Immediate and more long-term.

But it takes a bit of organisation to be INFORMED about concerns outside your immediate circle.

Perhaps it takes a church MISSIONS group who can regularly provide information on missionaries around the world. Perhaps organise activities to raise money for them. Keep us up to date with prayer points. Things to PRAISE God for as well as requests. I reckon that would be GREAT for a of people to take on. See me if you’re interested.

Individually, you can be subscribing to magazines, reading books. Or even checking websites regularly that inform you of God’s concerns across the world.

One excellent resource is a book called “Operation World”. It gives you information on the state of the Christian church in every country in the world. Specific needs as well as things to be thanking God for.

Learn from the example of Paul. Be praying for people you HAVEN’T met/ as well as those you HAVE.

  1. Paul links thanksgiving to petition

A second lesson we can learn is that PAUL LINKS THANKSGIVING TO PETITION. In other words, Paul hears that the Colossian church is doing WELL, so he THANKS God. But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t move on to other churches that are WORSE OFF. Straight away he moves on to asking God to show MORE of his work in their lives.

Have a look at what I mean. Verses 3-8. “We always THANK God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you”. And then he goes on to list the things he’s thankful for. Their FAITH and LOVE and HOPE. How they’ve responded to the gospel.

And then, v9, he says,

9 FOR THIS REASON, since the day we heard about you, WE HAVE NOT STOPPED PRAYING FOR YOU

Why does Paul pray? Because things are going WELL. Because God is DOING things in and through the Colossians, Paul prays that he would do MORE. Paul prays for GOING CONCERNS.

Don’t just pray when there’s a desperate need. That’s what we’re tempted to do, isn’t it? But let PETITION flow out of THANKS.

  • Do you pray more when the church is about to split, or when there’ve been several conversions?
  • Do you pray more when your kids are growing in grace, or when they’re in danger from bad influences?
  • Do you pray more when you’re getting on WELL with your friends and friendships are deepening? Or when everyone’s turning on each other, and things are a mess?

Let your requests flow out of your thanks. It’s a way for our prayers to be God-focussed, rather than focussed on ourselves. Work hard at looking for how God IS working in the situations around you. Then give THANKS. And then pray for him to do MORE of it.

3. Paul prays for

  1. Knowledge of God’s will

Which is what Paul goes on to do. In v9. Let’s turn to the prayer itself. It’s really only a prayer for ONE THING. Have a look at it.

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and ASKING GOD TO FILL YOU WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL THROUGH ALL SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING.

Is this just a prayer that the Colossians would know what job to do, or who to marry? It’s not a bad thing to limit God’s will to those sorts of guidance questions. And it’s wonderful when God DOES guide in those ways. But it’s not the main way the Bible speaks about God’s WILL.

Like in Ps 40:8

8 I desire to do your WILL, O my God; your LAW is within my heart.”

God’s WILL is his REVEALED will. His LAW. His decrees. We already HAVE his blueprint for how he wants us to live our life. All that we need to follow God’s WILL/ is there in the Bible.

Paul’s prayer is that these people would be so filled with God’s WORD, that it would be bubbling out in the way they speak and think and act. That the pattern of God’s actions and attitudes down through history would be stamped onto their lives. Whatever they did. And wherever they were.

Whatever we do when we meet together, we should NEVER outgrow spending serious time and energy and attention/ studying and reading and applying God’s word together.

It’s how we learn God’s WILL.

But perhaps you’re saying “That’s all too general! I want some GUIDANCE! You’re saying “Just be GOOD. Do what the Bible says” Give me some SPECIFICS about God’s will!”

Alright, try these on for size. What is God’s will for a Christian being TEMPTED TO LIVE THE WAY THE WORLD DOES? 1 Thess 4:3-5

3 It is God’s WILL that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid ual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable,

What is God’s will for a COMPLAINING Christian?

1 Thess 5:16-18 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

What is God’s will for a Christian who’s being ridiculed and slandered?

1 Peter 2:15 For it is God’s will that by DOING GOOD you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

God’s will is that you’re NICE to them!

Or another example. If you thought the last one was different, this one will spin you out. What is God’s will for a Christian who’s being persecuted? Surely it’s that the persecution would stop! But not according to 1 Peter 4:19

19 So then, those who SUFFER ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.

It may actually be God’s will for you to SUFFER for his sake. In which case, his will for you is to TRUST him. And keep doing GOOD, without retaliating.

Is THAT practical and specific enough for you! And that’s just a few verses that SPECIFICALLY MENTION God’s WILL. The WHOLE BIBLE is full of specific and practical commands for how to live.

And so, Paul’s prayer is that God would FILL THE COLOSSIANS WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

It’s a prayer WE need to pray. Not only that we would KNOW our Bibles – that’s the THEORETICAL. But also that God would give us a glimpse into his DESIRES – A glimpse into his character that lies BEHIND his commands. A HEART knowledge.

It’s a prayer that we would know something of The LOVE that drives God to want to see the gospel spread. The HOLINESS that mourns our sin and weakness and rebellion. A glimpse into his PATIENCE that wants to keep giving people another chance, long after OUR patience wears out. A peek at the JOY he feels when his people lovingly and faithfully follow his ways.

But to pray that God would fill us with the knowledge of his will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding isn’t just about HEAD knowledge. And it isn’t just about HEART knowledge. It’s a prayer that God would show us how to APPLY that truth in the hundreds of specific situations we all face each week – that’s a PRACTICAL knowledge.

  1. So that you live worthy of the Lord, and please him,

Situations that take WISDOM so we can respond in ways that bring HONOUR to God. You can see that’s the POINT of Paul’s prayer because of how he goes on to describe what this will LEAD to. The GOAL he has in mind. Look there in v10.

10 And we pray this (that they’d know the will of God) in order that you may LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE LORD and may PLEASE HIM IN EVERY WAY: etc

We need to know God’s will not so much so we can steer the right path through life. But so we can live a life that MEASURES UP and PLEASES him WHEREVER THE PATH TAKES US.

To drive LEGALLY and WITH PATIENCE in whatever car we choose to buy. To work HARD and HONESTLY in whatever job we’re in. To get on with our neighbours in whatever suburb we live in.

To live a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord. I don’t think we grasp the WEIGHT of that – the weight of living under an EXPECTATION.

It’s something Prince Harry and Prince William have had to live with. Living a life that’s WORTHY of a WINDSOR – worthy of ROYALTY. And occasionally, ly, they haven’t been able to measure up. And they’ve been caught doing what OTHER NORMAL age boys do. Go to nightclubs, get drunk and get up to mischief.

But it’s not the sort of life that WORTHY OF ROYALTY.

Does it weigh heavily on YOU that you live a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord. That’s FITTING. Are you conscious that your thoughts and actions and words needs to be measuring up? So that they might be PLEASING to God?

Paul goes on to describe what that sort of worthy and pleasing life LOOKS LIKE. Four characteristics.

  1. bearing fruit in every good work,

Have a look there in v10. First, a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord BEARS FRUIT in the form of GOOD WORKS. Christians do good works.

Let me be clear. A CHRISTIAN can PLEASE God by doing good works. But you can’t BECOME a Christian by doing good works.

If God has forgiven your sin because of Jesus, then he looks with PLEASURE on your efforts to please him. But if you’re NOT a Christian, then it doesn’t matter HOW many good works you do, God will never look with pleasure on them. Because they’re done from a state of REBELLION.

Jesus put it this way (Jn 15:5)

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he WILL BEAR MUCH FRUIT; APART FROM ME you can do NOTHING. … 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, SHOWING YOURSELVES to be my disciples.

Good works are the EVIDENCE of a Christian, not the means of becoming one. They are the FRUIT of being with Christ, not the ROOT.

It’s a confusion LOTS of people fall for. Probably most Australians. But I don’t think it’s a mistake WE often make. The Pressie church has been well-taught that our salvation is by GRACE, rather than what we do.

But there’s still a danger for us. We’re more likely to go the OTHER way. To think we can’t please God AT ALL. That we’re nothing but filthy sinners. But here’s the startling truth. We CAN ACTUALLY PLEASE God.

As we faithfully and energetically work at the good works God has prepared for us, then it is actually possible to be PLEASING to God. Even though we sometimes stumble.

  1. growing in the knowledge of God

The next aspect of a life that’s pleasing to God is there at the end of v11. That we would be growing in the knowledge of God.

It seems like there’s a cycle going on here. Paul prays that they’d grow in the knowledge of God’s will so they can live a worthy life and bear fruit, which means they’ll be growing in the knowledge of God.

Paul’s saying that the Christian knows A LITTLE of God’s will, then obeys it. As he obeys it, he sees that it’s GOOD. That it WORKS – brings JOY. And so he’s able to know it BETTER. To know it from the INSIDE. By EXPERIENCE.

Romans 12:1-2 talks about TESTING and APPROVING what God’s will is.

It’s like an engineer product-testing a new car. Before the test drive, he knows the car – he’s read the reports, looked at the designs, seen the computer simulations. But it’s not until he DRIVES it, EXPERIENCES it – that he can test and approve what the car is like. He knows it a lot better.

  1. Being strengthened with all power so that you may have great endurance and patience

The third aspect of a pleasing life is there in v11.

strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,

Knowing God’s will leads to having POWER. But it’s not the power to defeat armies. Claim mighty victories. Win gold medals. A pleasing life is one that is strengthened by God’s power to ENDURE with PATIENCE. That looks with HOPE to the reward God’s promised. As you stick it out in the tough times.

Do you pray that for yourself? Do you pray it for OTHERS?

  1. Joyfully giving thanks

Paul’s fourth descriptor seems to clash a bit with number three. Have a look at it there in v12. I’ll read v 11 as well. See if you can work out the clash.

11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have GREAT ENDURANCE AND PATIENCE, and JOYFULLY 12 GIVING THANKS TO THE FATHER,

How does joyful thanks go with great endurance and patience? How can you ENDURE a TRYING SITUATION at the same time as being joyful and thankful?

The only way you can do it is if you’re trusting in a God who’s SOVEREIGN. Who IS in control. Who’s dealt with your PAST, who’s got your PRESENT in his hand, and who’s PROMISED you a secure future.

You can see that’s what Paul’s got in mind as he goes on

joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (That’s our FUTURE). 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness (that’s our PAST) and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (that’s our PRESENT).

It’s that perspective that we need. That insight into God’s WILL for us. We need it to live with PURPOSE – the purpose of pleasing God in good works. We need it to live with POWER – the power to endure faithfully with patience. And we need it to live with ATTITUDE. An attitude of JOYFUL THANKS to the God who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Amen.

Eph 3:14-21: Praying with Paul 1

How’s your prayer life?

If you’re anything like me, it’s a question you DREAD people asking. Because praying seems to be one of the HARDEST things you do in the Christian life. I’ve never met anyone who says they find it easy.

And for me, prayer is something I’ve struggled to do my entire life.

But it SHOULDN’T be so hard. Think about it. It doesn’t take SKILL. Or STRENGTH. You don’t need to be trained, or experienced, or , or coordinated. You don’t need equipment, or money. You can do it ANYWHERE. Any TIME. There’s no levels to attain. No goals to achieve, or targets to meet.

And perhaps that’s part of the problem. That when you pray/ there’s often no evidence that you’ve actually been doing ANYTHING AT ALL.

Prayer for A MINUTE. Or prayer for AN HOUR. And, from a human point of view. Things can look just the same.

On an EARTHLY level, prayer often seems like A WASTE OF TIME. Time you could better spend doing OTHER things. USEFUL things. Things that make a difference

Does your prayer ever sound like this?

“Heavenly Father. You’re awesome and holy and righteous and huge. You’re good and powerful and pure. You love me, and you’ve given me so many good things. Thanks. Thanks for my family. (Which reminds me, I need to talk to Alex about work. And Lachlan needs to clean up his room. OOPS. I’m supposed to be praying. Where was I? Oh yeah).

Thanks also for our church. For how you’re looking after it.  (Which reminds me, I need to phone Gordon about our meeting. And I need to arrange the new roster. OOPS. I’m supposed to be praying. Where was I? Oh Yeah!)

Praying. Thanks God for our friends. The ones who know you. And for those who don’t. (Which reminds me. I need to drop off that drill to Jim down the road. And I really need to invite Mike and Helen over for dinner. And, before I forget, I better go and do the shopping for dinner tonight.

Does YOUR prayer ever sound like THAT?

Prayer often seems to be something we have to get through. So we can get onto the IMPORTANT stuff. The stuff that MATTERS. That makes a difference. That achieves something.

But that’s not what THE BIBLE teaches about prayer. Prayer is something God WANTS us to do. Something that DELIGHTS him. Something that IS important. That DOES make a difference.

And so, at the start of a New Year, it’s a great time to stop for a moment. And spend some time letting God re-shape our priorities. Learning from Paul the sorts of things we should be MAJORING on. And the things, perhaps, we need to be LETTING GO of as we begin 2007.  That’s what we’ll be doing for the next few weeks.

Why pray?

The first prayer we’re looking at is in Eph 3. And the first question Paul answers for us is WHY PRAY? Have a look at it there in v14. The very first phrase.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father,

For WHAT reason? WHY does Paul pray for the Ephesians. The FIRST place to look/ is in the paragraph that comes BEFORE. That’s from the start of Ch 3. But if you go back up to v1 of Chapter 3, you see ANOTHER “For this reason”

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-

And then he goes off on a tangent, talking about himself, and the ministry he’s been given. He finally gets back on track in v14 again. For this reason. So to find WHY Paul prays, we have to go back into Ch 2. So jump back there for a moment.

Just skim your eye down the words there in Ch 2. It’s all about God’s great purposes for mankind.

V1. The Ephesians were in their sin. Objects of God’s wrath. But then, v4,

.. because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

And then, from v11, he describes how this means the Gentile Ephesians have now become THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Which leads to the final truth. In the last paragraph of Ch 2. V19.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

Both Gentile and Jew – one people, one household – brother and sister. With Jesus, v20, as the chief cornerstone of the whole building. And then, v22,

22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Why pray? Because God has done a wonderful thing in making us his people. Just like the Ephesians, WE were objects of wrath, headed for destruction. But because God LOVED us, he made us alive in Jesus. We are part of his people. A people he LIVES IN by his Spirit.

We ask the question, WHY PRAY? A better question is why WOULDN’T you pray to a God like that? To a God who’s done SO MUCH. And has such an incredible purpose for you.

Pray what?

And so, because Paul knows these truths, he PRAYS. V14, “For this reason I kneel before the Father”.

And he prays for three things. Three good things to pray for. But three things Christians have misunderstood. He prays for POWER. That’s in v16. Then he prays for KNOWLEDGE. That’s v18 and 19. And finally, in v19, he prays for FULNESS.

Power, knowledge and fullness. Paul PRAYS for them. But perhaps not in the way SOME people might like to understand them. So let’s look at his prayer a little more closely.

  1. power

Firstly POWER. Look at v16.

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

The NIV translation is a little misleading here. It makes it sounds like one things leads to the other. “I pray that A, SO THAT B might happen”. But there’s no “so that” in the Gk.

So it really becomes two parts of the same prayer. Listen to it again, without the SO

16 I pray … that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

So Paul is talking about the same thing in two slightly different ways. He wants God the Father to strengthen the Ephesians with power THROUGH HIS SPIRIT IN THEIR INNER BEING. WHICH IS ANOTHER WAY of asking for CHRIST to dwell in their hearts through faith.

That’s how Jesus understood it. In Jn 14.16 he talks about the Holy Spirit coming. And then in the next sentence talks about it as being Jesus himself being with them.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- 17 the Spirit of truth. … you know him, for he lives with you and WILL BE IN YOU. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.

JESUS HIMSELF promises to be with us THROUGH THE PRESENCE OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT LIVING IN US.

So, Paul is praying that God the Father will strengthen the Christians by means of His Spirit working in their inner being. WHICH IS THE SAME REALITY as Christ himself dwelling in their HEARTS.

The phrase for inner being is literally INNER MAN. It’s the same phrase Paul uses in 2 Cor 4:16-18.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though THE OUTER MAN is wasting away, yet THE INNER MAN is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Can you see the difference? Your INNER man is what God’s interested in strengthening. So often, it’s our OUTER MAN that WE’RE interested in. Our physical fitness, our looks, our health, our comfort, our fashion – our clothes or hairstyle. How we appear ON THE OUTSIDE. How other people see us. What people THINK of us.

But God is more interested in what we’re like on the inside. And God is even prepared for us to suffer PERSECUTIONS (that’s the light and momentary troubles he’s talking about) – for our OUTER man to suffer – for the sake of our inner man. Because that’s what will last for ETERNITY.

And so, Paul prays that God would strengthen us with power in our INNER MAN. That’s the area God’s interested in growing.

We’re concerned with growing old gracefully. But our hair goes grey, or fall out, or both, our joints start to creak and groan, our skin starts to wrinkle.

But for God, that’s not his priority. He doesn’t mind about your education, or your physical condition, your superannuation, or your suntan. He doesn’t care about your committees or your promotions, your achievements, or your connections.

He wants his Spirit to be building you up ON THE INSIDE, making you STRONGER, growing your faith and dependence and love for Jesus, your ability to stand firm, and building your hope for heaven.

Is that something YOU’RE working on? Are you LESS godly than you were ten years ago, or MORE? Are you MORE patient and tolerant and understanding and generous? Or are you becoming a y old man or woman?

When people look at you, are they seeing someone who’s outer man is fading away, but who’s INNER MAN IS BEING RENEWED – strengthened, improved?

That’s what God’s interested in for YOU. And that’s what he wants you to be praying for in OTHERS TOO.

b. dwell

But how can we CONTRIBUTE to that process? What can we do, other than PRAY? That’s what v17 helps answer. The prayer is that Christ would DWELL in our hearts.

Now, at first glance, that seems a funny thing to be praying for Christians. After all, isn’t Christ living in ALL Christians? If you don’t have Christ, you’re not a Christian!

But the word for DWELL means to ABIDE. TO MAKE A HOME. To be COMFORTABLE in. To be a good FIT in. Rather than just to VISIT. That’s a DIFFERENT word.

So what’s Paul’s prayer about? The picture’s of someone who buys a house. When he FIRST moves in, it doesn’t really suit. There’s so much he doesn’t like, so he sets about re-painting, fixing up . Then he extends, pulls down walls, and puts up new ones.

And, slowly, it becomes HOME. It used to just be a place where he lived. A HOUSE. But now it’s a HOME. That’s the sort of thing Paul is praying for the Ephesians. That Christ would be making his home in them LIKE THAT. Your heart, Christ’s home!

c. through faith

And he says that the process happens THROUGH FAITH. It’s as the Christian exercises TRUST in Jesus, submitting every corner of his life to Jesus, trusting his promises, giving him control, that Jesus is BETTER ABLE TO FEEL AT HOME THERE. Because he’s getting rid of the dark corners, the selfishness, the lusts, and the pride. The impatience and resentments, and bitterness.

It’s a gradual process. A LIFELONG process. But there should BE progress. Christ should be feeling more and more at home in YOU.

What areas of your life is Christ NOT feeling at home in? Open up the doors, and let him in! And be praying that exact same thing for OTHERS as well.

That’s Paul’s FIRST prayer. A prayer for POWER. As Don Carson puts it, Pray for “Power to be holy, power to think and act, and talk in ways utterly pleasing to Christ, power to strengthen moral resolve, power to walk in transparent gratitude to God, power to be humble, power to be discerning, power to be obedient and trusting, power to grow in conformity to Jesus Christ.” (p189)

  1. knowledge

Paul’s SECOND request begins in the second half of v17. It’s a prayer for KNOWLEDGE. (And we’ll work through this one more quickly). Follow along with me.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-

It’s a prayer that we might understand how much Christ loves us. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t know it already. If you’re a Christian then to SOME extent you understand how much Christ loves you. If you’re a Christian you’ve recognised that Christ has died in your place. But it’s something the Christian can HAVE a LITTLE of, but also know MORE AND MORE.

Paul actually says as much. Notice the condition he describes the Ephesians as being in? They’re ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE. That’s God’s love for them. They’ve been planted in the soil of love. They’ve had their foundations dug down deep into love. They only exist because of love. Like a plant exists because of soil, or a building because of its foundations.

It’s the sort of love that Paul’s already talked about. Back in Ch 1

Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,

Or again in Ch 2 v4.

Eph 2:4-5 But BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved

So, Paul’s prayer is that they’ll APPRECIATE what they’ve GOT. They’re IMMERSED in love – and they need to understand the EXTENT of that love more and more.

Note, it’s not a prayer to LOVE CHRIST MORE – as good as that is. … Perhaps it’s because as we understand what Jesus has done for us, that becomes THE KEY to how we can respond to HIM. As we grow in our understanding of Christ’s love for us, then we’re able to more deeply show love TO HIM. As well as Gratitude, service, repentance, submission, commitment, and loyalty.

And as Paul tries to get HIS head around it, he uses a GEOGRAPHICAL description.

He could have used ECONOMICS. “How much does Jesus love you?” More than all the money in the world!

He could have used ASTRONOMY. “How much does Jesus love you?” More than from one side of the Milky Way to the other

But instead he uses GEOGRAPHY. “How much does Jesus love you?” His love is WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP.

I like Matthew Henry’s explanation. His love is so WIDE, it covers ALL mankind – Jew and Gentile, Aussie and Arab. It’s so LONG, it will last for all eternity. It’s so HIGH, it reaches even to heaven itself. And his life is so DEEP, it descends to the depths of the most degraded sinner.

And to understand Christ’s love more / isn’t something Paul imagines a Christian can do ON HIS OWN. It’s not just about going up onto a mountaintop and meditating there until you find the answer. That’s not how Paul understands the Christian life. His prayer is that the Ephesians will grow in that understanding TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS.

It’s something we all do TOGETHER. We can each play a part in others understanding Christ’s love more. By being here on Sunday, by being in a home group, by singing loudly, by sharing prayer points, writing cards, making phone calls, praying for each other. Sharing and explaining and being excited by the depths of the love of Christ.

And to pray that someone will understand more of Christ’s love is a prayer you’ll never stop praying. Because you can never understand it COMPLETELY. Notice that Paul wants them to understand MORE what can never be completely understood. “To KNOW the love that SURPASSES knowledge”.

That doesn’t make sense, unless we’re asking it of a God who can gradually reveal these truths to us as we trust him. Gradually draw open the curtains on the wonderful sunrise of the love of Jesus.

We often SING about these things better than we say them. For a century and a half the church has sung these words

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know;
Spirit breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so!
O this full and perfect peace! O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.

Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as I now know, I am His, and He is mine.

His forever, only His; Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heav’n and earth may fade and flee, firstborn light in gloom decline;
But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.

George Wade Robinson (1838-1877)

When was the last time it struck YOU? How unworthy you were? And how absolute and deep and weighty and costly Christ’s love for you is? Singing a song? A Bible reading? A poem? During prayer? Contemplating Christ’s during the Lord’s Supper, perhaps. Or during a sermon, or reading a book – something fresh strikes you, and you catch a glimpse?

They’re all great ways to be allowing God to give you the power to comprehend the love of Christ. So, if you’re going to be PRAYING THAT PRAYER, make sure you’re DOING those things as well.

SING it to each other. PRAY it for each other. Read and listen and sing and pray. Meditate on God’s character and actions.

  1. fulness

And when we DO that, and our UNDERSTANDING of Christ’s love grows, and as Christ dwells in our hearts more and more by faith through the strengthening of the Spirit in our inner man. Then we begin to get closer to Paul’s goal for us. There at the end of v19. Eph 3:19

that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

And if THAT sounds like an impossibility. Then spend a few moments dwelling on Paul’s doxology. God can EVEN answer your prayers to filled to the measure of all his fullness.

V20

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Philippians 1:3-11: Pursuing Excellence

“To PURSUE EXCELLENCE”. Google tells me that’s the motto, or mission, or duty of organisations as diverse as

  1. the Royal Australian and NZ college of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists,
  2. Canterbury Christ Church University
  3. Xiamen University in China
  4. West Point Military Academy
  5. The Hastings Police Department, Nebraska

To pursue excellence. It carries the idea of a single-minded commitment to achieving quality. Never settling for second-best. Of always throwing your whole self into a task – your energy, your concentration, your time.

Perhaps it’s a bit jingoistic, but let me ask the question, how does it fit with being a Christian? What part should PURSUING EXCELLENCE have in the CHRISTIAN life? As individuals, or as a church? I guess it depends on what your definition of EXCELLENCE is.

  • For universities, it’s excellence in EDUCATION AND RESEARCH.
  • For the college of obstetricians and gynaecologists, they say their goal is excellence IN THE DELIVERY OF HEALTH CARE TO WOMEN THROUGHOUT THEIR LIVES.
  • And for the Hastings Police Department, Nebraska, their mission (and I quote) is to “pursue excellence by working in concert through effective partnerships with our diverse community/ to improve the quality of life which provides a safe and clean environment to all our citizens and visitors”. Whatever THAT means.

So, what excellent things should A CHRISTIAN be pursuing? Fairly obviously, the EXCELLENT things are the things of GOD, the things of ETERNITY. Things that cause the name of Jesus to be honoured, that cause people to recognise their sin, repent, and live honouring him as king.

In his letter to the Philippians, we can see how PAUL pursued excellence. Like Ch 1 v20. The excellence of glorifying Christ.

20 I EAGERLY EXPECT AND HOPE that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always CHRIST WILL BE EXALTED IN MY BODY, WHETHER BY LIFE OR BY .

Or into Ch 3 v7. The excellence of an eternal prize in heaven.

(If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more):

7 But whatever was to my PROFIT I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider EVERYTHING a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH, that I may GAIN CHRIST 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith….

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I PRESS ON to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I PRESS ON toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Pursuing excellence. Pursuing the things of God. The rich reward and eternal glory of heaven. It consumed Paul’s life. And, as we’ll find out, it was what he prayed that OTHERS would be doing too.

But unfortunately, I’m not sure PURSUING EXCELLENCE is how most of us describe OUR OWN Christian life.

Perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, life is just so busy, that the things of Christ – the excellent things – just seem to slip down our priority list. And so, if we even thought about it, our motto, rather than “to pursue excellence” might be more along the lines of ;

  • “To wander half-heartedly after mediocrity.
  • Or “to meander in the general direction of whatever’s most urgent and noisy”.
  • Or “to stroll nonchalantly after the easiest and most comfortable option. As long as there’s nothing to watch on TV that night”.

But that’s just NOT GOOD ENOUGH. And Paul won’t allow us that option. He prays for his Philippian readers. It’s only a short prayer – 3 verses, and he’s really only praying for one thing. It’s a prayer that their love will abound so that they can discern what’s BEST, and be pure and blameless. In other words, it’s a prayer to PURSUE what’s EXCELLENT.

But if we take it seriously, and if we begin to pray it for ourselves and for others, and as God answers it. It’s a prayer that will remove our lukewarm, black and white, faded, second-rate, half-hearted, poor imitation of a Christian life. And begin to make it one Jesus is PROUD of. Where we pursue the excellent things – the things of significance. The things that MATTER.

It’s one that will transform our attitudes and actions, our thoughts and our words. It will transform our church, and our families.

Now, that’s a big build-up. But I think it’s a big prayer that can measure up. So let’s turn to it now, and see what you think.

  1. May your love abound more and more

The first part of Paul’s prayer is fairly straightforward. There in v9. That the PHILIPPIANS’ LOVE MAY ABOUND MORE AND MORE.

He doesn’t say WHO the Philippians are to love. But he expands on the same idea when he prays for the Thessalonian Christians. 1 Thess 3:12

12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow FOR EACH OTHER and for EVERYONE ELSE

May this group of Christians be one who are CHARACTERISED by love. Towards EVERYONE. Christian, non-Christian. Insider/ outsider. Loveable and Unloveable. When people look at them, may it be their LOVE that’s the defining characteristic of followers of Jesus

Love that ABOUNDS is love that OVERFLOWS INTO ACTIONS. Into WORDS. Into the sacrificial service of God and for others. You can see the sort of thing Paul’s thinking about a bit further on into Ch 2. Paul pleads, v2, that they be

like-minded, having the same LOVE, being one in SPIRIT and PURPOSE. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES. 4 Each of you SHOULD LOOK NOT ONLY TO YOUR OWN INTERESTS, BUT ALSO TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.

That’s love that abounds more and more.

  1. Love in knowledge and depth of insight

But for Paul, it’s not just love in some sort of undefined, GENERAL sense. It’s FOCUSSED love. SPECIFIC love. Look at the next phrase in v9.

that your love may abound more and more IN KNOWLEDGE AND DEPTH OF INSIGHT

That’s knowledge of God, of people. Knowledge about situations. About eternity. And depth of insight is to do with making wise, moral choices in the light of that knowledge.

You see, Paul’s not talking about love ON ITS OWN – which simply becomes SENTIMENTAL and SOFT and EMPTY. That can flatter, or spoil others. And in the end, it’s not in the person’s best interest. But it’s love that abounds in knowledge and insight.

Occasionally I get phoned up by people who WANT things. They phone the church number, looking for help. Sometimes it’s just food. They’ve had an extra bill this week, and there’s nothing in the cupboard. So, I bring them a few bags of groceries.

Other times people want MONEY. A of years ago, a guy phoned, and said he was stranded in Victoria at a Highway Road House, and needed money to buy a bus ticket back to Blacktown. He was getting back with his wife and kids, who were staying at her parents. He couldn’t let them know. He said the bus was leaving in an hour, and I needed to transfer the money into his account so he could buy the ticket.

I actually said I WOULD, but on the way, I dropped into the address where he said his wife and kids were staying. Guess what? They’d never heard of him. He phoned back asking about the money. He got quite angry and called me a liar when I told him I’d changed my mind. But he’d actually lied to ME.

To just hand over money shows love WITHOUT knowledge and insight. But Paul prays for love that abounds in knowledge and depth of insight.

He’s got in mind love that’s PERCEPTIVE. That can discern what someone NEEDS, rather than just WANTS, and does that INSTEAD. Love that’s willing to ask questions, and dig a bit deeper to find out what’s REALLY going on.

And it’s love that’s TOUGH. That can make difficult choices. It’s love that can go out on a limb, and risk causing offence. Risk being thought of badly. That can risk being a peacemaker between two fighting friends.

It’s love that knows when the right time to make the phone call is. And when a card would be better. Whether it’s right to bring around a meal, or offer help. It’s love that knows when it’s right to rebuke, and when it’s best to keep quiet. When it’s right to risk the friendship by bringing up Jesus, and it’s love that knows what to say when you DO.

  1. So that you may be able to discern what is best

You can see this is the sort of love Paul’s thinking about because of what he goes on to pray. It’s the THIRD part of his prayer – there in v10. His prayer is for love that abounds in knowledge and insight SO THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO DISCERN WHAT IS BEST.

In other words, so that you may be able to test or approve the things which are most excellent or valuable.

Apply the HEART of love/ with the HEAD of knowledge and insight, so that in a whole range of situations, you can DECIDE YOUR RESPONSE on the basis of choosing the things that are MOST EXCELLENT OR VALUABLE.

Pursuing excellence becomes much harder than a simple difference between right and wrong. For lots of decisions, it’s a choice between TWO GOOD THINGS. Which do you choose?

Let me give you some examples.

What’s the MOST EXCELLENT way to use your holidays? What brings most glory to God? How do you balance time for your family, time to refresh yourself, time to perhaps serve on a Christian youth camp, or go to something like CMS Summer school? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

Perhaps you’re finishing school – deciding on a career. What’s the MOST EXCELLENT career for you/ The one where God can use you for his glory the MOST? The one where you can show love for God and others, and use your unique gifts? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

What do you READ? In the last six months, you’ve probably read newspapers and magazines. But have you also found time to read any good Christian books. Books that will help you understand the Bible better, or improve your spiritual discipline, or broaden your views of God and his purposes? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

How do you use your MONEY? Are you using it on the MOST EXCELLENT THINGS? Things that will last into ETERNITY? Or is it all disappearing on things that will rust, and break down, and wear out? And perhaps more importantly, what’s your ATTITUDE when give money to support ministry? Do you do it GRUDGINGLY, or do you DELIGHT to do it, returning to God what’s his anyway, because you’ve got the wisdom and insight to recognise the MOST EXCELLENT THINGS.

And as we look forward into 2007, how are you going to fill it up? What things can you TAKE UP? What things can you STOP doing? They might all be GOOD things, but it takes discernment to know the MOST EXCELLENT THINGS.

Will you get trained to teach Kids Church better, or read your Bible better? Will you give up some WORK time to do some MINISTRY? Will you STOP spending on ONE thing, so you can support an EXCELLENT missionary opportunity? Will you give up one night of TV a week, so you can show hospitality? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

You can see examples of this sort of decision making in other parts of the letter. Like down in v14. Paul’s writing from prison. And when word of it gets out, the option for the Christians is to shut up shop. Keep quiet and play it safe. Or speak out, and risk being put in prison themselves.

But, they show love that abounds in knowledge and insight. And so they’ve worked out what the most excellent thing is. V14.

14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Or there’s Paul himself, down in v22 of Ch 1. He’s in prison, and his thoughts have turned to . It’s possible. And Paul can’t help looking forward to it. But on the other hand, there’s so much work for him to be doing among the churches.

Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

He needs knowledge and insight to know the most excellent thing. Look at his conclusion. V25

5 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

The progress and joy in the faith of OTHERS. That’s what’s BEST. Better than Paul’s comfort or release from suffering. And so, that’s what he’ll spend his life PURSUING.

  1. Pure and blameless until the day of Christ, Filled with fruit of righteousness

And you can see the RESULT of this sort of lifestyle in the NEXT part of Paul’s prayer. When people start living like THAT –making the knowledgeable and insightful loving decisions that choose what’s MOST IMPORTANT, it results in them being (v10 &11)

pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ

That’s about EVERYONE being pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Those who are SHOWING the loving discernment, and those who are RECEIVING the love.

As YOU pursue what’s excellent, and show love to others, then YOU are showing the fruit that comes from being a disciple of Jesus – evidence of the right standing you have as God’s friend.

But you also encourage OTHERS to grow in maturity. Because their maturity and joy in the faith is the most excellent thing you can do for them, then THEY will be growing in those things that show the fruit of righteousness.

And notice it’s all to be done with one eye on the day of Christ. That’s judgment day. But I think Paul’s saying something MORE than just that they’ll keep doing these things UNTIL Christ returns. He’s not so much thinking of it like the HSC. The exams that hang over your head, like an omen making you work hard right to the end.

If that’s the idea Paul was trying to get across, he could have used the word â€%9 il”. Filled with the fruit of righteousness UNTIL the day of Christ. That’s what the NIV says. But Paul LITERALLY says “Filled with the fruit of righteousness INTO the day of Christ. Or TOWARDS the day of Christ.

I think he’s saying something much more attractive and compelling. His prayer is that Christians will so live/ that they recognise that their lives are HEADED TOWARDS the day of Christ. To the new heavens and the new earth, when the fruit of their lives will be ENTIRELY righteous. To recognise that the fruit they’re growing NOW is of the same type and flavour as the fruit they’ll, one day, show in perfection. The sweet first-fruits of a harvest to come.

They’re on the path towards a life that PERFECTLY reflects Jesus. They’re not there YET, but they’re ON THE WAY.

And living your life with that sort of perspective gives you the taste that builds your appetite for MORE. That seeks to grow more and more of the fruit of righteousness in ourselves, and in those around us.

And when Christians who view their INDIVIDUAL lives like that GATHER TOGETHER. Then church becomes a time-travelling outpost of heaven. An anticipation, a glimpse into the future where we see, and experience, even if in a clouded and dull way, the sort of love and character and flavour of perfect righteousness.

It’s the sort of pursuit of excellence Paul was consumed with. A future-oriented, determined and costly, single-minded commitment to discerning the most excellent things, and to work with all his strength to achieving them.

You can see that sort of desire in the way Paul treated his present life. Flip over the chapter 3 v12. We read it earlier. But I just want you to dwell on his words.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I PRESS ON to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I PRESS ON toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Make that YOUR declaration. Make it your prayer that OTHERS may be able to declare it.

Pray for yourself, and others, that

your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.