Knowing and Growing

Knowing and Growing

A lack of proper knowledge often leads to frustration and to failure. When my oldest son turned three years of age, that next Christmas time I decided to buy him a little bicycle with training wheels. I was so excited to give my first child his first bicycle. It came in a box partially assembled. Being confident I possessed the necessary knowledge to complete the assembly, I waited until ten o’clock on Christmas Eve to begin this project. How hard could it be?

I opened the box and the first item I saw was a booklet of instructions. I quickly tossed it aside and pulled out the unassembled parts. There was a main frame, some handle bars, pedals, and the front wheel. I began to work and after diving right in, I discovered three hours later, at one o’clock in the morning, frustration had set in. Failure was coming upon me. I had put the bike together, but as I began to attempt to spin the wheel, they seemed to be stuck and jammed and the pedals would not rotate the back wheel. I looked across the room and there I saw the unopened booklet of instructions.

I went to the booklet of instructions I had previously considered completely unnecessary. I opened it up and on the first page, I saw this warning which told me: “Whatever you do, do not loosen or tighten this bolt,” a bolt which tightened the sprocket against the rear wheel; “Do not touch this bolt for if you do it will be at your peril!” There was a diagram of exactly which bolt they were talking about, and it was a bolt I had become intimately and personally familiar with, for about three hours, as I rotated and unrotated trying to get this set just right. What was I going to do now? The instructions did not tell me any cure for such a problem. I decided my three-year old son was far too young for a bicycle that Christmas. I didn’t want to spoil him with too many Christmas presents that year.

A lack of knowledge often leads to frustration and failure. I believe many Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, are living their lives in frustration and failure; failure to rightly walk in such a way God is honored, failure to live such a life that there is an internal joy which springs up within them and gladness in our God. This is all because of a lack of knowledge concerning the will and the ways of God. This knowledge is not some ethereal or mysterious knowledge which is out of the reach of the ordinary Christian, but it is a knowledge which is accessible to every believer, whether you are young or whether you are old. You do not have to be highly educated or scholarly in order to obtain this knowledge, but you do have to commit yourself to learning from God.

Paul prayed to God in intercessions for these Colossian believers that each one would be filled to the full with the knowledge of God’s will. Paul knew spiritual ignorance leads to error, sorrow, and instability. Therefore, his great desire, and the first thing he prays for concerning this church, is they would be filled with knowledge and they would come to know and to learn the things of God from God.

True, this group of believers, in Colosse, possessed a saving knowledge. They already had some knowledge;

Verse 6 tells us that much and it describes this church as,

6 All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

Paul is telling them they do have a knowledge which they have come to know and understand God’s grace and the Gospel; they have a saving knowledge, but this saving knowledge needs to move deeper and fuller. It needs to become, not just a saving knowledge, a sanctifying knowledge, a serving knowledge, and a strengthening knowledge which would help them throughout this world to live in such a way God would be pleased and Jesus’ name would be advanced.

This is a knowledge which they were still lacking and they needed to be filled with it, so Paul turns to God, in intercession on their behalf, and he begins to pray, “God fill them with the knowledge of your will.”

In this study we will consider the need for an increasing knowledge of God’s will in our own life. Then we will study four practical benefits of such knowledge. It is not knowledge for knowledge sack, but there are practical applications and a practical outcome. There are four practical benefits listed in this prayer. We will look at a fruitful ministry which comes from such knowledge. Next we look at a growing knowledge of God Himself and His person. Third, we will study a power for Christ-like living. Finally, we will study a joyful gratitude which comes to us as we are filled with the knowledge of God’s will.

Our attention is first turned to the need for an increasing knowledge of God’s will, as we see in Verse 9, where Paul discusses their Christian faith and the progress they have made in coming to know Jesus Christ and to receive the salvation God is offering them in Jesus,

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you…

I want to take a moment to consider Paul’s example of intercessory prayer for other believers. These believers did not have a huge health need which caused Paul to remember them in intercession before God, but they did have a huge spiritual need. It was not that they were failing miserably, no, they were doing pretty well, but nonetheless Paul sensed this great need to pray for these people that God would continue to work in their life.

Notice how vital praying for one another is. This, by the way, is not trifling religious talk Paul is using at the beginning of his letter, “Well, I am praying for you.” He is not writing that because he knows as an Apostle that is what he should write, but rather this is his heartbeat, his passion, his zeal, and his dependence upon God for to work in them and through them.

I believe if we desire God’s blessing upon those whom we love, other believers and other followers of Jesus Christ within our family and within the church, let us pray for them. We too often fail to consider the powerful effect of intercessory prayer upon others.

Over sixty years ago a young missionary named Raymond Edmonds staggered in from an Ecuadorian jungle desperately ill. He was examined by the doctor and the doctor predicted, “He will be dead by morning.” Edmonds wife died her wedding dress black because she did not have a black dress and she knew she had to be ready for a funeral. In the jungle they do not take very long for funerals; as soon as one dies they are buried. In the United States, thousands of miles away, in Boston, Edmunds friend, Dr. Joseph Evans, interrupted a prayer meeting. He said, “I feel we must pray for Raymond Edmonds, our missionary in Equador.” Pray they did; praying and interceding on behalf of this missionary whose need they did not know at the time. In the middle of the prayer meeting, after much prayer for Raymond Edmunds, Evans finally called out, “Praise the Lord. The victory is won!”

You can imagine the rest of the story. Raymond Edmunds recovered, but his wife’s wedding dress did not. Raymond Edmunds would go on to become the president of Wheaton College for over forty years of fruitful ministry.

Thankfully, God leaves a glimpse at the power intercession brings upon the church and others around us. Sometimes we wait in faith. Sometimes we cannot see the results directly, but we must know this, the effectual and fervent prayer of righteous men and women avails much. It is powerful.

Notice the “we” in this prayer. Paul, as he is writing, is not saying “I am praying,” but he is saying, “we.” In other words, in this intercession Paul is gathering other believers around him, certainly Timothy, perhaps Epaphras, and others and friends, and he is saying, “We need to pray for this church in Colosse. Let us get together, kneel down together, and let us begin to pray.”

The church is only strong when the church prays together. A church in which men and women are committed to praying together, for each other and for God’s glory to that church, is a church which is immensely wealthy.

I challenge you: what would God have you to contribute to the prayer treasury of this church? I believe He has something for you to give. I know not many in this congregation are extremely wealthy in worldly, material wealth, and perhaps that keeps one from being able to give as much as one would like to give because of the difficulty of one’s circumstance, but this much I do know, all of us can contribute generously to the prayer treasury which binds the church and which builds the church and causes God to receive in it and through her.

By way of application, I would encourage you, first, formally, to consider a commitment you have made to the formal prayer ministry of this church. Once a month we have “First Prayer” and you have heard me talk to you about it, so much so, you may be saying, “Pastor, when are you going to stop talking about ‘First Prayer’?” I tell you, the day I stop talking about First Prayer is the day I stop believing in it, which I trust will be the day not until I die.

Informally, I would encourage you as well. In your conversations with other believers, incorporate intercessory prayer. We have phone conversations, we have conversations in the hallway, and we talk to each other and sometimes we share with each other the needs we have in our lives and others lives. Why don’t we, instead of saying, “I hope things go well. I will pray for you,” let us take each other by the hand and say, “Let us pray right now and have a prayer for each other, right now.” What a difference it would make if we would begin to commit ourselves intentionally, in a focused way, upon intercessory prayer.

Let us look at the content of Paul’s prayer; what did he pray? Again, in Verse 9, he says, “We have not stopped praying for you, asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He does not want them to miss out on any of the full measure.

This knowledge of God’s will is not a knowledge of speculation and of mystical experience, but it is what the New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, defines as a “decisive knowledge of God which involved in conversion.” What he means by that is it is not just cold, factual knowledge of God’s will, but it is a personal knowledge which is rooted in a personal relationship with God through Jesus as He is revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God, in the Scriptures. Paul is praying and asking they would continue to grow in this knowledge.

Christian, I would urge you, never stop learning more and more of God’s will and of God’s person. Knowing and growing are always connected together in the Bible. You cannot grow in your faith if you stop increasing your knowledge of God’s will. Paul presses this truth home by making an increase in knowledge as a central theme in his prayers for almost all of the churches.

Consider Paul’s prayer to the Philippians in Chapter 1,

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…

Paul is saying this church cannot love rightly if they do not grow in knowledge. In his letter to the believer, Philemon, Paul says,

6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, in Chapter 1,

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Do you catch the theme Paul has in his prayers for the saints?

Friend, faith does not rest upon ignorance. It rests upon the Truth and we do not know the Truth we cannot grow in our faith.

In this letter to the church in Colosse, Paul prays specifically they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. He is referring to the revealed will of God; the will God has already made available to us through the revelation inspired by God’s Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. This knowledge helps us to know who God is and what He is about. It helps us to know how to serve Him, how to worship Him, what He commands and what He forbids, what sin is, and what righteousness is. In this day and age do we ever need to know the difference between those two, because the world is so confused about what is right and what is wrong? We need the knowledge of God’s will to be discerning in these areas. This knowledge is needed if we are to become more like Jesus.

I would urge you, also, to be careful of anyone who claims to possess knowledge apart from the Scriptures. If someone says, “You need to listen to this teacher and read this book in order to have the full knowledge. The Bible is fine, but you need to have the full knowledge and here is what it is.” Allow red lights of caution to go off in your soul because, I will tell you, God has given us the knowledge and He now makes it available to us personally and to be our Teacher through the Holy Spirit.

How do we possess such knowledge? Understand, knowledge is always a gift of God’s grace as is the knowledge of God’s will. That is the reason Paul prayed. He understands God has to give it, but on our part, if we wish to have this full knowledge of God’s will, first, we must yearn for such knowledge. I fear many Christians have stopped desiring to be filled with such knowledge. They are content with the knowledge they already have. It is almost as though they studied for a couple of years and they read the Bible maybe once and they feel as though they have arrived and there is not much more for them to learn.

My friend, this is a book which was forever established in Heaven and God is an infinite being. How would we ever come to the end of our knowing Him and the joy of learning of Him?

I remember in high school, as I was teaching a Bible study, a friend asked me, “What are you guys going to be studying?” I told him we were going to be studying Galatians. His response was, “I have already studied that book.” I thought, “You have obviously drained the infinite wealth, wisdom, and knowledge of that book and you have set it aside.”

We could go back and study Colossians over and over again, throughout the rest of our lives, never moving on to another series and we would never come to the end of our learning and what this one letter has for us. Isn’t that exciting, to come to a book which God’s Spirit is always teaching us through and we never come to the end of the opportunity we have to learn.

My youngest son recently sat down with a pile of new books his mother had gotten for him, whether from the library or purchased for him. He said, “Dad, look at these books. I just love to read.” That called me back to my younger years when I remember looking at a book and being able to have that joy of new discovery of reading and thinking, “Wow, the whole world is full of learning. How fun this is going to be!”

If we do not have that youthful zeal for learning, then we have lost the measure of our progress in our growth in Jesus Christ, because God intends for us to come to this Word by His Spirit each time with a sense of, “Wow, I could study this for a lifetime!”

We depend upon the Holy Spirit in prayer so we ask the Lord, “Lord, help me,” as we open His Book. That is why I pray before teaching a message. We do not have the wisdom and the knowledge to be able to grasp and understand and grow in our knowledge of God through His Book, but God will gladly impart it as we depend upon Him, so we yearn for it and we pray for it.

The last thing I would encourage you to do as you desire to be fill with the knowledge of God’s will is you give yourself to the study of God’s Word. Paul didn’t encourage the Christian to seek visions or to wait for voices. No, he gave them a letter to study.

Psalm 1 tells us of the man who is so blessed. It says,

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

We have to give ourselves to the study of God’s Word. I believe it is very tempting to grow lazy and we believe this knowledge will come passively, without much effort, to us. I had a good friend of mine, who was not much of a studier at Moody Bible Institute, and he would come into my room the night before he was to preach a sermon for homiletics class and he had not done much work on the text. He said, “What should I do?” I was trying to help him out. He came up with this prayer method in that he would open up the Bible and he would sit there and he would pray and eventually he would fall asleep, kneeling down near his bed with his Bible opened.

I would not commend that prayer method to anyone in the study of God’s Word. It was as though he thought the knowledge of what this passage was teaching and his ability to communicate that would come to him passively, as he sat there and said, “God, help me!”

I tried to tell him what God was trying to tell him, as I talked to my friend. I told him God was saying, “Open up the Bible. Get your pen and paper out and start working at it! Pray as you go and ask for God to help you.”

I ask you, do you desire to have a full knowledge of God’s will? If you do, understand this is God’s delight to bring it to you as you avail yourself to Him. The knowledge of God’s will is always given to us, not just for the purpose of head-knowledge, but always for the purpose of practical, everyday living. It is not given to us so we can impress others, or that we might win at Bible Trivia Pursuit, but rather it is given to us so we might live in such a way to honor Jesus Christ.

Dwight L. Moody would say, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” How good of a statement is that?

There are four practical benefits, or applications, as they were which come to us from such knowledge. I trust in looking at these four practical benefits you will be motivated to pursue this knowledge of God’s will. We read in Verse 10,

10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way…

There is a God-centeredness to our life, not a self-centeredness, which God intends for us so our one focus is: how can we walk in a way that our lives would reflect honorably upon Jesus Christ, and so our lives would reflect those things which please God and would avoid those things which displease God. That is the whole of our being and the aim and goal of our living as Christians.

Paul would say, “Walk that you might walk in a manner worthy.” Every time Paul uses the word “walk” he is referencing conduct, behavior, and everyday living. Learning and living always go hand-in-hand. Keep the aim of living in such a way when people look at your life they would think more highly of Jesus because of the way you behaved and talked. Oh, how sad it is when we live in such a way people think less of Jesus.

I remember in junior high there was a group of guys who were speaking in such a way so as to be hurtful to unpopular student. I came along and, while I did not join in whole-heartedly, I joined enough and participate enough so as to be a part of the crowd. I remember a junior high teacher coming up to me, and I was not the ring leader of all of this, and this teacher said to me, “Ritch, I thought you were a Christian.” I don’t believe this teacher was a Christian, but that teacher had identified I had spoken of my commitment to Jesus Christ and he said, “That is not living a manner lies which causes me to think better of Jesus Christ.”

This is Paul’s prayer, “I am praying that you have this knowledge so you might walk in a manner worthy of Jesus, worthy of God who called you, and you might please Him in everything you might do.” Practical results is always the aim of Bible learning.

Dr. Howard Hendricks, my seminary professor on Bible Study Methods, drilled into us, when we study the Bible, we go through the process of observation and interpretation, but then, at the end of those two lessons, he would say this, “Observation and interpretation without application is spiritual abortion.” Let us be careful of having spiritual abortions in our lives.

There are four practical results and the first practical result is a fruitful ministry, as we see in Verses 10 and following, and I want you to follow the logic of this passage,

10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord…

If we do not have this knowledge we will not be able to live a life worthy of the Lord. If we do not know what the Lord’s will is how will we ever be able to live it? Paul goes on to describe what it means to live a life worthy of the Lord and he gives four specific benefits, or practical applications, of what it means to please God: that we would bear fruit in every good work; that we would grow in the knowledge of God; that we would be strengthened with all powers so that we might have endurance and patience; and that we might joyfully give thanks.

Let us look at this fruitful ministry so that we might, as Paul puts it, bear fruit in every good work. Jesus, when teaching in John 15, would say this, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and I will abide in you. If you abide in me you will bear much fruit, but if you do not abide in me you will not bear fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

When we look at the work of our lives, we say, “At the end of my life I desire to have a fruitful life and a fruitful effect.” How is that going to happen? First, we must remain connected to Jesus Christ. It is in understanding how we are to remain connected to Jesus Christ we bear much fruit.

Notice how He says “in every good work”. In that statement, He is saying several things. First, no Christian should see any work for God as being below him or her, or menial. For instance, it is not below a Christian of a certain standing to work in the nursery, to mop the floors, and to teach little children in Sunday school. There is no work. It is all about God and God says “that you might bear fruit in every good work.”

Secondly, and perhaps even more instructively, this phrase is indicating fruitfulness is not just related to what we would call religious or spiritual work. It is not just fruitfulness in preaching the Gospel and in teaching the Word or in assisting the poor or in visiting the sick, but this word “every” includes every kind of work we are involved in. What kinds of works are those? You have a work specifically within your family don’t you, so that you are asking, “How can my effort toward my wife bring fruitfulness to her life and to our family? How can my work toward my children bring fruitfulness in their lives and in this home?”

It is often said babies do not come with instruction manuals. There is a certain amount of truth to that, but there is also a certain sense we, as Christians, can say that is not entirely true, for God tells us spiritual knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is available to us so we can be fruitful in the raising of our children, so that we do not have to wring our hands and say, “I do not have any idea where to begin in understanding how to successfully and fruitfully raise children to bring about a positive effect. God has that available to us and I need spiritual understanding.”

In your work place, God intends for you to be fruitful in the work so there would not be a sharp division or separation between secular and sacred, but in everything you do, Paul says, “our work is to the Lord so there is a fruitful and spiritual effect from our work.”

How can we be fruitful? We can be by daily connecting ourselves to Jesus Christ and by making every effort, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live such a life.

The second benefit is a growing knowledge of God. God is a person and we can grow in our fellowship with Him, our love for Him, our understanding of Him, and our joy in Him. Notice what the text says, in Verse 10, “that you might grow in the knowledge of God.” If we turn to Philippians 3, we will see this is Paul’s passion, and we read,

8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ… 10 I want to know Christ…

Oh, Lord, may our passion be: I want to know you more and more and more. God is an infinite being and what we know of Him is such a small portion. We have now, and on into eternity, to know Him more and more in right relationship with Him. God is gracious to reveal Himself. Let us pursue such a personal and intimate knowledge.

The third benefit is a power for Christ-like living, as we read in Verse 11,

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

The good news is, whatever our need is, God is rich in its supply. In looking at the temptations and the trials we face in our lives, isn’t this often the case where we say, “God, I do not know if I can overcome that temptation. The trial before me is too huge an obstacle to get around. It is going to crush me.” The glad news is this: there is no temptation and not trial which is so large and so great God’s power is not able to overcome it as you stand in the might and the strength the Lord supplies.

In counseling it is vital we help others to change their understanding and their view of God’s will, of God’s person, and of God’s resources. This is how knowledge is affecting our everyday Christian life.

Paul says this knowledge pertains to two things: endurance and patience. Endurance is how we persevere under difficult circumstances. Patience is how we endure under difficult people. Sometimes it is easier for us to endure difficult circumstances, but we fail when it comes to patience enduring difficult people. Here the power enables us to persevere and to live godly lives and honor Jesus Christ under both.

The last benefit is a joyful gratitude. Our work can be fruitful and we can have a personal, growing knowledge of God Himself. We can have a power within us which enables us to live Christ-like lives. We read, in the last verses,

11 … and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints… 13 …he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…

We have been qualified for Heaven and there is no more enslavement to sin or to the evil one and He has brought us near to the blessings of His Kingdom.

I ask you, as you look at these benefits, which He says of certain people who have been qualified to inherit Heaven itself, who have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness, and have been brought into the Kingdom of God’s Son and the complete forgiveness so God no longer holds any of your sins against you, is that your experience? Paul’s entire prayer is precipitated upon the fact this group of people had placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord, and how they have benefitted from Him. Yes, then needed to move further in increasing knowledge of God’s will, but this was their present inheritance and their present gift God has provided for them.

As you look at your life, has God delivered to you His gift of forgiveness? Has He brought you into the Kingdom of the Son He loves? Has He qualified you for Heaven so when you stand before Him you need not fear, “I do not know if I am qualified for Heaven. I do not know if I will make the cut.” The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Jesus did something for you so you can be qualified for that day.

In dying upon the cross for you, He calls you to believe in Jesus Christ and repent of your sins. Have you personally called out upon Jesus Christ and upon God who is rich in grace and mercy and say, “God, I need to be rescued from the guilt of my sin and from the power of the evil one. I cannot rescue myself. You sent your Son to rescue me and I am calling upon Him to rescue me today.”

This day could be your day of liberation. I urge you to call upon Jesus Christ right now.