Called To Be Thinking Christians
Colossians 1:1-12

As we begin, what will be, an 8-week study of Paul's epistle to the Colossians, we will find it useful to briefly examine the context of this epistle.

This letter is written to the people living in the city of Colosse(Co-los-see)--a city in the region of Phrygia, but we know this area today as a portion of the country of Turkey.

Paul writes this letter to the Colossians from prison(4:18), but scholars are divided over which imprisonment, and subsequently what date, to ascribe to this letter. It is probable, however, that Paul wrote this letter along with his letter to Philemon while imprisoned in Rome, around 60-62 A.D.

It is also important to note that it appears that Paul had never visited Colosse, but had only heard about the church there through his fellow-worker, Epaphras(1:7, 8). It is quite possible that Epaphras is actually the founder of the Colossian church and Paul, writing with the authority of an apostle(1:1), is attempting to help Epaphras combat the doctrinal error that has crept into this community of faith.

Let me frame for you, what I think is, the goal of Paul's epistle to the Colossians. This theme, you will see in the coming weeks, is predominant throughout the entire epistle. The purpose of Paul's letter to the Colossians is simple and straightforward: Paul desires that the Colossian community become mature in the Christian faith . Paul wants the Colossians to become mature Christians so that they would be equipped to recognize and eliminate harmful doctrines and practices. As we move through this text today then, expect to learn from Paul what some of the keys to Christian maturity are.

After greeting the Colossians in his typical fashion, Paul does something very wise--he compliments the Colossian community. For those of us who like to offer corrective advice and constructive criticism, we have, from Paul, an excellent model.
Before telling the Colossian people what they should work on, Paul does three things: First of all, Paul expresses his thankfulness for the Colossians (v.3); secondly, Paul explains to the Colossian people that they are constantly in his prayers (v.3), and thirdly, Paul encourages the Colossians --he compliments them for their "
faith in Christ Jesus " and for their "love for all the saints "(v.4).

What a tremendous model for giving advice! Picture your employer or your spouse saying to you, "You know, I am tremendously thankful for you. You mean a lot to me and I constantly pray for you. I also want you to know that I really appreciate all the work you do around here". Now, isn't that a great spring-board for giving advice?! The apostle Paul is pastoral enough to know that encouragement and advice should go hand-in-hand.

After encouraging the Colossians for their faith in Christ, for their love for the saints(v.4), for their evident spiritual fruit(v.6), and for their "
love in the Spirit "(v.8), Paul begins, in verse 9, to tell the Colossians what they need to work on.

Reminding them that he is always praying for them, Paul now tells the Colossians about the content of his prayers for them . Paul, along with other church leaders, are praying that the Colossians would be "
filled with the knowledge of (God's) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding "(v.9).

It isn't the case that the Colossians were devoid of any understanding of the gospel--Paul mentions in verse 6 how the Colossians had "
heard " the gospel and how they had "understood the grace of God ". The Colossians had not blindly accepted the gospel. Their response was not merely an emotional "acceptance of Christ into their hearts", but Paul says they heard the gospel and received it with a measure of intellectual understanding.

But now, Paul prays, that this understanding the Colossians had of the gospel would become complete. Paul wants the Colossians to be "
filled " with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding--Paul is saying essentially the same thing in three different ways. It is like if I asked one of you to wash, wax, and vacuum my car--what I am really asking is ONE thing--that you clean my car.

Paul, in praying for the Colossians to be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is really praying for ONE thing--Paul is praying that the Colossians would be thinking Christians . Our Lord, who commanded that we love Him with "
all (our) heart and with all (our) soul " also commanded us to love Him "with all (our) mind "(Mk. 12:30).

Does this surprise you? If I were to ask you, What should be the focus of our Christian life?, how would you respond?

Some of you would say that we should act the way Jesus acted. Others would emphasize looking after the poor and others in need. Some of you would stress obeying the commandments. Others still would elevate evangelism as the primary focus of the Christian.

None of these approaches, however, represent Paul's approach. For Paul, the best approach to gaining maturity in the Christian faith is to train one's mind . Don't get Paul wrong here though--Christians are not to grow in knowledge for knowledge's sake. Paul does not want us to be filled with wisdom and understanding in order to shame those who don't believe as we do. No, Paul wants you to be filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding "
so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord "(v.10).

Paul wants us to think correctly because he accurately discerns that thinking correctly is the key to acting correctly . God is holy; so to understand God better is to understand holiness better. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is not intended to make us proud, it is intended to make us holy .

Following the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin, among others, reduced the Christian purpose down to one thing: glorifying God . Paul takes up this very theme in verse 10 when he talks about "
pleasing God in all respects ".

If we move backwards in the text asking, How do we please God?, the answer we find is: "
walk in a manner worthy of the Lord "(v.10). If we ask, How do we "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord "?, the answer we find is: "be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding "(v.9).

If we move forward in the text asking, How do we please God?, we find the same answers. We please God by "
bearing fruit in every good work "(v.10). And how do we "bear fruit in every good work "? Paul's answer is by "increasing in the knowledge of God "(v.10).

There it is. The key to pleasing God, and therefore, the key to Christian maturity is "
increasing in the knowledge of God ". I must pause here and admit what many of you might already be thinking. We all know Christians who study their Bible constantly, Christians who study theology diligently, Christians who zealously acquire knowledge about God, but these same Christians have very little spiritual fruit that you would call "good". These same Christians, who appear to be on top of every Christian doctrine, seem to lack grace, love, and compassion for other people.

I know about these types of Christians because I happen to become one of them from time to time. Increasing in our knowledge of God was never intended to make us sound clever--it was never intended to help us win arguments. Increasing in our knowledge of God is intended for one purpose: it is intended to make us holy--it is intended to make us like Jesus Christ .

Knowledge that molds you into the image of Christ is the knowledge that I am admonishing you to pursue this morning. This knowledge comes to us in the Bible. That is why I emphasize the importance of the readings and the sermon in Sunday worship. That is why I emphasize the need to read one's Bible daily, and why I emphasize the need to attend a Bible study. We need these disciplines because they increase our knowledge about God, and IF that knowledge is applied correctly, it will translate into a holy life which will, in turn, please our heavenly Father.

Many of you, I'm sure, find the task of pleasing God overwhelming--sometimes it overwhelms me. But I am comforted, and you should be too, by what we read in verse 11: we do this "
strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might ". In plain English: your goal in life should be to please God, and the good news is that God provides us with the ability to please Him(Heb. 13:21).

What should also excite us is to hear that pleasing God and experiencing joy go hand-in-hand. After telling us to be filled with knowledge, after telling us to bear spiritual fruit, after telling us to please God, Paul tells us that we are the ones who will ultimately benefit from these efforts--Paul tells us we will attain "
steadfastness and patience ", and we will "joyously give thanks " to our heavenly Father "who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints "(v.12).

If we are to truly appreciate our inheritance, it is important to know the One giving us our inheritance. If we are to be effective at pleasing our heavenly Father, it only makes sense that we learn all we can about what He loves and what He hates.

Christians are called to be many things, but without a proper understanding of who God is we will surely go astray. God wants us to know Him. God wants us to love Him--not simply with our heart and soul, but also with our mind. The apostle Paul makes it clear: God desires to be worshipped by thinking Christians . Amen.