Category Archives: Sovereignty of God

Firm Foundations – Study 2 – Colossians 1:9-14

Praying like a Christian

Topics include: How do we pray and enjoy it?
Glossary: kingdom of God; endurance, redemption, 

Discussion Question

What things do you like to pray about?

Context

The Apostle Paul is writing to a church that he has never met in person but has heard much about from his partner in mission, Epaphras. The reports are that this church has heard the true gospel of God and have truly understood what God’s grace is all about. The evidence is in the faith that they display for Jesus and their love for one another. The true gospel comes to us from God the Father. It is about salvation through Jesus Christ alone and not based on any of our own merits. And it is spreading across the globe by the words of faithful servants like Epaphras and Paul and by the Spirit of God.

Paul always thanks God for what he hears about the church in Colossae because of the reports that he is hearing about them.

Read Colossians 1:9-14

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,t 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he 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.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Paul’s prayer for knowledge of God’s will (9)
  • In order to live worthy of the Lord (10-12)
    • Good work (10)
    • Growing in knowledge of God (10)
    • Strength from God to endure (11)
    • With a life of thankfulness to God (12)
  • Because that is God’s plan (13-14)

Paul’s prayer for knowledge of God’s will (9)

“For this reason…” Phrases like this mean we need to recap what was the reason already laid out? Epaphras has told Paul and Timothy about the faith and love of the Colossians springing out of the hope that they have because of the gospel that they heard! Because of this report…

“…we have not stopped praying for you.” The subject of this section is the content of Paul’s prayer. We mustn’t imagine that Paul spends his whole day 24/7 praying and not doing anything else. His ministry is about preaching and teaching but he is a prayer. He says elsewhere to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This verse is worth looking up and including in the study somewhere. It is God’s will that we speak with him with joy and contentment in all situations.

“We continually ask God…” This is a reminder that one prayer to God once only is not a sign that you really need what you are asking for. Jesus spoke about approaching God the Father in prayer and being persistent. He also gave the profound formula of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer which can be prayed over and over because we know what God desires in our prayers. You see, prayer is faith speaking. We know who God is through his word, we know what he is like and what he has promised to us. We now, by faith, ask God to fulfill exactly what he has promised. Not because he is likely to forget, but because our prayers are a reflection of our understanding and relationship with God. Shallow prayers about selfish things are indications of immaturity. But mature prayers are about fulfilling God’s purposes in your life and in the life of others. This is why the Lord’s prayer is so profoundly helpful! It is about God’s will being done and his kingdom coming. This kingdom is about forgiveness, the provision of what we truly need while continuing to trust God for the future and it is about running away from darkness and into the light of God’s grace. So, Paul does not just pray once and forget. He is invested in the church in Colossae and his prayer for them is repeated because he is keen for them to grow up in the kingdom of God’s grace.

“…to fill you with the knowledge of his will…” Let this request be clear to us! Christianity is not about choose-your-own-adventure and let love guide your way. It is about knowing the will of God! In Ephesians 1, Paul explains that God’s will was a mystery for ages but now that Christ has appeared, it has been made known. His will is to bring everything under Christ’s rule. Paul’s prayer is that the Colossians would get the full grasp of that will. This is life changing to anybody to grasp what God’s plans are for this world and everyone in it and then to shift their thinking to fall in line with him! This is foundational to the Christian faith.

“…through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…” The bible teaches us that the Spirit works through transforming minds in accordance with the word of God. Jesus spoke in John 16:12-15 about the Spirit being sent in order to speak only what the Father and the Son gives Him to speak. Although God is one, he is three persons in one. All three are equally God. Yet there is a relationship within the Godhead which is other-person-centred. The Spirit is not fighting for headship nor is the Son. The Father freely gives everything to the Son and the Spirit gladly works in this world to tell of the good news of Jesus and the love of the Father. It can be difficult to wrap our heads around an apparent hierarchy without imagining the Spirit as less than God. But this is a truth that we must grapple with and give all glory to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that the bible is God-breathed which literally means ‘God-Spirited’. It is the Holy Spirit that has worked in the mind and hearts of people to bring us God’s word the bible (2 Peter 1:21). The Spirit of God fills our minds with the knowledge of God’s will through the message of the bible. If we wish to know the will of God, pray for the Spirit to help you to understand the word of God, the bible, as you try to read and understand it. The COMA method is very helpful in learning how to listen well to the Spirit of God through the word of God.

In order to live worthy of the Lord (10-12)

“So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…” Context changes everything and is vital to a good understanding of the scriptures. It is important to live worthy of the Lord and to please him but it is impossible for us to do this without a) hearing the gospel and truly understanding God’s grace; and b) living in response to the grace of God by knowing the will of God by truly listening to him through his word. The point is that we are saved in the first place so that we can actually pursue a life of pleasing him. We do not work at living a good life in order to get his approval to begin with! The words ‘so that’ flow from the prayer that we be filled with the knowledge of God. You can’t please someone without knowing what pleases them. What pleases God is a life of faith and love flowing out from his grace. We were made to glorify God which looks like a life of pleasing the Lord – yet we cannot do that without the salvation of the cross nor the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But with the Spirit and the Word, we can now pursue life with Christ. Paul lists what he has in mind when he says this…

Good work (10)

“…bearing fruit in every good work…” The gospel carries a cause and effect message with it. When a person hears and responds to the gospel, it is expected that the outworking of this is a life of faith and love. This is the good fruit that flows from a born again Christian. If the fruit is not there, this is evidence of a person who is not born again. Matthew 7:17-19 describes Jesus using the fruit of a tree to illustrate whether someone is worthy of the kingdom or not. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit in terms of the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Conversely, Galatians 5:19-21 describe the fruit of someone who is not part of the kingdom: sexual immorality, impurity, hatred, jealousy, fits of rage and so on. The gospel brings personal change to people. At this point, a genuine Christian can lose heart because of their failings in some of these areas but a fruit tree doesn’t immediately sprout great juicy fresh fruit! It takes time and nurture and good feeding. The same is with the Christian but the direction and purpose remains the same – we live for the kingdom now and not for ourselves. Good work refers to everything that is done in love for others and not self. “Good works” are the first in the list of ways we live pleasing lives for God.

Growing in knowledge of God (10)

“…growing in the knowledge of God…” There is an intrinsic link between what we learn and how we act. The fruit of the gospel is righteous living and we grow in our obedience with the growing of our knowledge of God. To be ‘godly’ or to live a life of ‘godliness’ (words common to this world, not quoting from Colossians) is to grow in our knowledge and love of God. We are godly when we are Godward! Fill our minds with the knowledge of Him and we learn about his grace and mercy and patience and kindness and contentment and faithfulness and truth and so on. Paul’s prayer is to keep growing in the knowledge of God. See Colossians 2:6. “Growing in knowledge of God” is the second way we please God.

Strength from God to endure (11)

“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might…” Living in the strength that God provides is one element of faith. That is, we trust him to grow us and equip us for the works of service. But what is the strength for? 

“…so that you may have great endurance and patience…” Endurance and patience are a key lesson in the New Testament as we continue to live in this world, waiting for Jesus to return! Jesus spoke of being dressed and ready for when he returns even though we do not know the day or the hour that he will return (Luke 12:35-40). He says that whoever gets tired of waiting and is not ready when he returns will be treated as an unbeliever (Luke 12:42-46). This is about faithfulness. The nature of our lives while we wait for heaven is to persevere with endurance and patience. The strength to endure comes also from the growing knowledge of God! Enduring through the power of God is the third way we live pleasing lives.

With a life of thankfulness to God (12)

“…and giving joyful thanks to the Father…” The audience of Paul’s prayers is God the Father and he is our Father too. He is the source of our salvation since it is his great love that sent Jesus into the world to save us. He is our creator and our lives exist to give him thanks and praise (Romans 1:20-21). The gospel doesn’t come to us so that we can praise ourselves or one another but that we can live in joy of knowing God and growing in our knowledge of him. This is what we were made for! The trouble is that all of humanity are hopeless at doing this by nature. So how can we ever come to God with joy in our hearts unless we knew for certain that he was happy to receive us?

“…who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” Wow! God’s kingdom is a kingdom of light – with no darkness allowed – filled with his holy people, the righteous, sinless ones – and we who have heard the gospel and truly understood the grace of God have been qualified to share in this – it is our inheritance! When God sees you and me, in Christ he views us with the purity of Christ. The fourth desire of God for our lives is that we rejoice in the assurance of salvation!

Because that is God’s plan (13-14)

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…” Paul is underlining his last statement that HE has qualified US and we have not qualified ourselves. This is the gospel of grace. We were living in darkness but he rescued us. He saved us. He pulled us out of the pit and placed us in the kingdom of the Son whom he loves. We must be clear by now that Christianity is not about earning God’s praise but that he saved us so that we can, in truth, praise God! We praise him with our lips but also and more significantly with our actions. This is God’s plan for us.

“…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” What an amazing couple of verses of the gospel! Rescued, brought, redeemed, forgiven. Out of darkness and into light. And all of this has been done in Christ! Our next study will follow Paul’s theme of the Son of God, who he is and what he has done. We finish this lesson on the foundation of our lives which is to get on board with God’s plan for us to be part of his kingdom! He has qualified us and we ought to live lives that praise him because he loves us so much. The key to all of this is our knowledge of the gospel which transforms and grows our knowledge of God and his will.

What did we learn?

Christianity is completely for us, for our benefit, and it is at the heart of the will of God but it is not about us! It is about God and his great will and purpose to give us the qualifications of entry into the kingdom of God. Paul’s prayer is for the knowledge of God’s will to grow clearer and clearer so that we live just as God intended for us to live. Without this, we remain in darkness. But with wisdom and understanding, we can enjoy and embrace a life that pleases God. This comes to us by the power of the Spirit through the reading of his word.

Now what?

Topic A: A praying life. Notice the content of Paul’s prayer for the people of God in Colossae. Prayer is our privilege as children of God to bring to God any of our concerns (Philippians 4:7) but our concerns must be transformed to be the same as God’s for us and for the world. Look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and compare what Jesus outlined with the prayer of Paul in Colossians 1:9-14. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we learn to pray continually for God’s will to be done. This is not merely a respect for God’s will to trump your desires but it is a plea for your desires to be the same as God’s.

Topic B: How do we pray? Just like any relationship, talking to God in prayer involves knowing who you are talking to. It also involved just talking. Calling him Father is a great start. Talking out loud is said by some to be helpful. Also, writing down your prayer can be a good way of staying focused and not drifting your mind onto other things. It’s as easy as speaking to someone who you trust with your life and every secret thing. It is also tricky because God doesn’t speak back or provide head-nods as you speak. But start praying and do so while growing in your knowledge of God. It is always helpful to take a passage of the bible, read it, and then turn that lesson or story into a prayer. You’ll be surprised how helpful that can be.

Topic C: Praying for one another. Paul shared in writing what he was praying for and this is a very useful thing to do when you intend to pray for others (see Luke 22:32). Rather than suggest that you’ll pray for a sick person to get better, be clear about what you are praying for. Also, praying out loud with one another is a practice that Christians have done right from the beginning (Acts 1:24; 4:31; 12:12; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5). Learning to pray in Growth Groups is not only a growing opportunity for the prayer but whole groups that are comfortable with open prayer are a very encouraging thing to be a part of. Start by saying a short prayer of thanks to God for one thing that you learned in the study and take things slow. You’ll be comfortable with open prayer in no time.

Study 8- Faith speaks to the world – Colossians 4:1-7

Discussion question: At the end of our series, why would you say you have faith in Christ?

Context

Faith in Christ is about a certainty of God’s universal plans. These plans include all who call on the name of the Lord to be saved. The plans, according to the bible, are not simply for those who believe. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In that simple statement, we are reminded that what’s true is true, even if you don’t believe it.

But for all who have believed and received Christ, to them (you) have been given the right to be called children of God. Faith saves. Faith goes all in. Faith is always at work. Faith opens our mouths to speak with God. Finally, but not least importantly, faith is for everyone.

Read Colossians 4:2-6

Observation

Q1. Discuss the attitude toward prayer that Paul has in Verse 2.

He instructs the church to be devoted to prayer: this implies dependence on God and a mindset that prioritises prayer – that prayer really is important.

He instructs them to pray being watchful – alert to the needs around them. If you are not watchful, then you are asleep at the wheel. What follows is Paul’s direction for the mission, and he starts with the need for prayer.

He instructs them to pray with thankfulness: this comes part and parcel with faith. We believe in a Sovereign God who has set us free already. The work of God is not dependent on us and often what we need is an attitude of thankfulness for all that God is doing in the world.

You may want to consider the Great Commission at some point in this study in order to see that Paul is doing exactly what Jesus commands us all to do. Matthew 28:18-20

Q2. Discuss what Paul requests in Verses 3 and 4. How can we apply this request as a church?

As a missionary of Christ, Paul asks for prayer for himself. For the Sovereignty of God to create opportunities (open doors) so that the gospel (the mystery of Christ) can be heard – despite the chains that Paul is wearing. He asks not only to proclaim the message but to do it clearly. He is asking for missionary support through prayer.

We have partners in the gospel through our CMS and BCA missionaries as well as two local missions with MIC and CAHSM. As well as these, we have many ministries that are set up to proclaim the gospel in our area. And it would be great to remember our weekly ministry of the word in our church services. Prayer for clarity from our preachers would be wonderful.

Q3. What advice does Paul have for the church in Verses 5 and 6?

Wisdom toward outsiders: there’s no formula or recipe for interacting with those outside the church but the direction of wisdom.

Make the most of every opportunity: being watchful in prayer and watchful in conversations.

Full of grace: work at filtering out anger, bitterness, envy and quarrelling. Give people grace and space. If Christ will work in somebody, he will do it.

Seasoned with salt: I suggest this means making your conversation attractive, interesting or tasty. A blunt bashing of the bible is rarely helpful.

So that you may know how to answer everybody: like our prayers, our conversations need to be eventful and meaningful – driven toward proclaiming the gospel or leading people to the community who have faith in Christ.

Meaning

The bible directs us to be alert and proactive in mission. There are those who need our prayer and covet our support. A church who is on board for Jesus must be on board for the mission and be thoughtful about it. And we go beyond praying for others. We pay careful attention to our own conversations and interactions with the world. You never know when God will open a door for you to speak to someone with wisdom, grace, salt and light.

Application

Application A) Devote yourself to prayer. We looked at prayer together last week but again we are commissioned to be prayers. Where and when are all a matter of wisdom. But a Christian who does not pray is like a human who does not breath. The content of our prayer must be for the mission. Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. We don’t do this alone. We do that as a local and global church and by the will and power of the Holy Spirit.

Application B) Practice the gospel. Being ready to speak about your faith starts with practice. Telling another Christian what it means to have faith is useful training and encouraging. Do you know how to guide someone into faith? What would you do if asked to explain what a Christian is?

Application C) God in 60 seconds. Showing my age, there is a movie with Nicholas Cage called Gone in 60 Seconds – it is about car stealing. We can adapt this title for personal mission and work out ways we can “steal” conversations and direct them toward God. How can you turn current affair statements toward God? Likewise with pop-culture or anything. Can you take a normal conversation and naturally steer it toward faith in Christ? 

Example,
“Politicians are only in it for themselves.”
“Well, I know one leader who is totally trustworthy”
“Oh yeah? Who?”
“Jesus… have you ever thought seriously about him?”

This example may be a little artificial but the point is to look for open doors and do it proactively.

Genesis 8

Opening discussion:

Every day is a gift from God. Discuss.

Context

Chapter 7 ends with an eerie and foreboding feeling. Everything on the face of the earth is destroyed. Everything that has breath! Only a boat remains containing Noah and his family. Chapter 7 Verse 23 takes us from an aerial view of the world in disaster and zooms all the way into the ark that is floating on water for 150 days. We are with Noah. Waiting in the dark.

Observation

Structure

8:1-5 – God remembered Noah

8:6-14 – Noah checks the weather

8:15-22 – A new start

8:1-5 – God remembered Noah

“But God remembered…” Could God have forgotten? This is not a celebration on what God is capable of doing but a moment of thankfulness that God is committed. He made a covenant with Noah in 6:18 – a promise. With the backdrop of world annihilation, God remembered Noah – this ‘little’ man in this ‘little’ boat, bobbing up and down with nowhere to go but wait – God remembered him. While we can take comfort in this, we first thank God that he keeps his covenant with Noah and then work out what covenant can we bank on God remembering that helps us. We can sit defenselessly in the bed that we have made but can thank God that he remembers his covenant made to the world that all who put their trust in Him through Christ will be saved.

“…Noah and all the wild animals and…” Here (Verse 1) and in Verse 17 and 19, we are reminded that the covenant with Noah included all those who God had ordained to be on the ark. Chapter 7 included the repetition of all the animals. We see that God doesn’t simply remember something, but he remembers everything. This plan for salvation was fully thought through and God will see it happen.

“…and he sent a wind…” We remember that the weather didn’t just get better, but God sent a wind. It is perfectly helpful to balance the laws of nature with the command of God. He made everything. Jesus calmed a storm. In late January 2020, when the rains came down and receded the Summer bushfires, it was not visible as a miracle – something that sits opposed to predictable science – and yet we can give thanks and praise to God for his mercy. God enacted the flood and God caused it to cease. The process of withdrawing the waters included a wind which was sent. “…the floodgates of the heavens had been closed…” Same deal. A perfectly natural thing to happen and yet it is God who is to be thanked.

“…on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” The text is so specific about the timeline and the general geography of the earth that we must see this as historic. Cultures across our globe have legendary flood stories which we may or may not trace back to this one, but the bible contains a story with dates preserved in it. This is not just myths and legends but a passed down account of how long this happened. You can almost imagine the wall inside the ark where Noah scratched a tally of the days. But, the geography is vague enough that we don’t know which mountain it landed on. Again, would it not have been that Noah would pull that thing apart and reused what he could rather than leave it for history? The fact that this happened is preserved, but the geography is lost – and thank God for that or else we’d have a shrine built on it.

8:1-5 gives us God’s perspective of the event described by the narrator. God remembered and God brought the ark to rest back on the ground. Next, we watch what Noah does.

8:6-14 – Noah checks the weather

“After forty days Noah…” We were told it had rained for forty days and nights (7:12). Now that the rain stopped and the tops of mountains became visible, Noah waited 40 days before doing some biological experiments.

“…after forty days Noah opened a window…” lol

“…he made in the ark and sent out a raven…” These verses focus on what Noah plans to do. The ark zoo was all God’s plan and the boat and its contents are all at the mercy of God and yet, Noah works within his boundaries to investigate. I think we see the trust and faith of Noah overlaid with the thoughtfulness and proactive freedom to think and plan. We are not told to simply believe God or have faith but to walk by faith. We see that Noah observes what he needs to, and gets the answer he wants, but still waits for God to tell him it’s time.

“He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark.” Isn’t that a beautiful image of Noah’s tenderness. A man who built a huge vessel and bore the challenges that were upon him, also receives a dove and brings it back into shelter. Given this amount of detail compared to the vast absence of detail in all that Noah did, I take it that we have a little glimpse at the tenderness of this man – perhaps even to reflect on the tenderness of God?

“By the twenty-seventh day….the earth was completely dry.” After these human experiments, Noah could attest that the earth was dry and ready to be reused. But he didn’t leave the ark until God had said. We see the narrator’s perspective of the flood as the hand of God (to open and close the waters) and the perspective of Noah is that he is being saved by God and not himself. It is one thing to observe the signs, and another to wait on the Lord.

8:15-22 – A new start

“Then God said to Noah…” The two main characters will now meet. God initiates the next move.

“Bring out every kind…” The same long explanation of all the different types of creatures is repeated like we saw in Chapters 6 and 7 because this is all part of the same plan. The whole creation is on view but all who were promised to be saved were saved.

“…be fruitful and increase in number on it.” We get the same plan as the beginning of creation – to multiply.

“So Noah came out, together with…” The repetition is there to take us all the way to the full end of salvation. Not a single part of God’s promise is forgotten or a failure. God is a promise keeper.

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord…” God doesn’t get a statue. The ark is not praised. The Lord who speaks and wills and promises and does – he is worshipped. Rather than hoard his goods, Noah sacrifices the very things that were planned for sacrifice. Prior to the flood, Noah was known as a man of righteousness – he lived a life trusting God. Post the flood, the first thing he is recorded to do is offer a sacrifice of dedication to the LORD in response to salvation. 

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma…” God has no nose, of course. Exodus 29:18, 25; Leviticus 1:9, 13 and more use the same language. The act of worship is a demonstration of our dedication to God and the bible uses this language of sweet smell to directly link the act with the response from God. The bible warrants sacrifice. 

“Never again will I curse the ground…” The ground was cursed in Gen 3:17. This promise does not seem to undo this original curse but is a promise linked to what follows in Verse 21.

“…even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” God knows that a flood is not going to change the human heart. What we need, is not an external washing or genocide but for our hearts to be washed. It’s not a water ritual that will change us, but the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Please note that children don’t need to be taught to be evil. 

“As long as the earth endures…day and night will never cease.” The seasons of the earth will keep their rhythm like the beating heart of every human – until one day it will stop. Floods and fires and viruses will come and go but this world remains in God’s hands until it is time for the world to pass away. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the word of the Lord stands forever. The predictability of the weather is only so by the grace of God.

Meaning

Our days are in God’s hands. We may observe the world and make rational decisions about each and every day, but the ultimate end is in his power and not ours. Noah observed the world around him and bowed down and worshipped. Every day is a gift from God. And salvation belongs to our God.

Application

Application A: The place of weather forecasts. Noah was quite clever in sending a raven out who is a robust bird before sending out the gentler creature of the dove. His approach was wise. But all of our sciences are both clever and short-sighted. That is, we can forecast the weather and we can do many great wonders within our means through science, research and development – but we cannot stop death, we cannot tell a storm to stop and we cannot save ourselves. Noah used his head but also waited on the LORD. We can learn from Noah to be both practical and walk by faith.

Application B: God remembers. It is not a miracle for God to remember but it is for us. We will quickly forget the love and mercy of God. Especially when we begin to presume on his mercies. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23.

Application C: Noah was saved by a narrow path. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. The narrow gate is Jesus. All who fail to go through him and him alone, will not be saved but destroyed.