Newsletter Article for the August edition of The Hillside Messenger
Reflections on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians,
Chapter 1, verses 9-14
For four months now, while we have all been sheltering in place by order of county and state, we have had time to pray and reflect on the Lord’s will for our lives, and to grow in all the virtues which the Holy Spirit desires to flourish and abound in us. Whether we have used it or not, we have been given the opportunity to examine our priorities and the value of our lives in terms of God’s eternal purposes, and to grow in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
If we think that it is not an urgent matter that we should grow in the knowledge of God and of his will, let us remember how St. Paul continued to pray for the Colossian Christians to be “filled with the knowledge of his [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9b, KJV). The goal of being filled with the fullness of God’s wisdom and spiritual understanding is a life worthy of the Lord and fully pleasing to him, a life that is fruitful in every good deed and shows evidence of growth in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10). This knowledge of God and of his will is to be found in God’s word, the Bible, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who leads the faithful in all the truth (John 16:13), as he is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13). What we must realize is that the knowledge of God’s will must lead to a life lived in obedience to his will, and this is the purpose of all the good works, or deeds, of every Christian, and it is such a life which reveals a genuine, living faith in Christ, as Article XII of The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:
XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
(p. 605, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
Not only must the knowledge of God and his will lead to a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him, but also, as we live such a life, our knowledge of God and his will will grow even more. However, if people acquire the knowledge of God and refuse to implement it in their lives, they will, as John Calvin remarked, find themselves “really only wandering about in endless circuits, without making any progress” [p.304, Parker, T.H.L. (ed.): John Calvin: The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. Calvin’s Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965. Reprinted, 1979.] The exhortation that we should all draw from this, Calvin adds, is that we should always progress in the knowledge of God throughout our lives.
It is not only in actively leading a life that pleases God, that we must make progress continually, but also in the virtues of endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:11). St. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians here includes the request that God will strengthen them with all might and power to endure and show patience with joy. It is not only a matter of leading a life pleasing to God in what one thinks, speaks and does, but a matter of enduring patiently the trials and sorrows of life, including opposition to one’s faith. Every Christian needs the strength and power of God for all this, since it is not easy. This reminds me of the following story:
A preacher was repairing the fence around the old country church. He noticed that a small boy had been watching him for some time.
“Do you want to speak with me, son?” the pastor asked.
“Oh, no,” the boy replied. “I’m just waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” the preacher asked.
“Waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his finger with a hammer!”
(p. 229, The Big Book of Church Jokes, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.)
This joke reminds us of how there are observers watching the witness of each of us, to see whether we are faithful to our Christian vocation or not. Will we endure trials patiently, or react in a way that conflicts with the high standard of behavior God expects of us?
Now the phrase “with joyfulness” (at the end of Col. 1:11 in the King James Version) could instead belong to the beginning of verse 12, which would yield a reading as follows: “with joyfulness giving thanks unto the Father…” The King James Version translators probably thought the passage would make better sense if the phrase “with joyfulness” was added to “unto all patience and longsuffering.” Joyfulness certainly helps us show patience and longsuffering, but it is also appropriately linked to the participial phrase “giving thanks unto the Father.”
When we begin to grasp the reasons for which we are to give thanks unto the Father, there is all the more cause for joy, in that God has made us fit to share “the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12b). How wonderful also for Christians that through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and through his resurrection, God has delivered us from Satan’s power and brought into the kingdom of his dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13). It is in Christ that we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). For these marvellous gifts of God that we have received by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we should always be thankful. From this thankfulness must flow the offering of a life that is pleasing to God in Christ. This all agrees with the exhortation of St. Paul in Romans 12:1-2, KJV:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present yourbodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
This passage in the General Thanksgiving also shows the relationship of thankfulness to a life offered to God:
And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days….
(p. 19, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
However restricted our lives may be under Covid-19 rules, we must grow in the knowledge of God and his will, as well as in obedience to his will, including the thanksgiving to God which expresses itself both in praise and thanksgiving to God, and a life of serving God and doing his will.