God’s Strength, Not Ours

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)

Over the last couple of weeks in Colossians 1 we have looked at Paul’s sincere prayer for the Christians in Colossae. He has strong desires for the church people there. He cannot be with them, he is in prison, but he can be with them in Spirit, he can be with them in prayer. We see his prayer unfold and progress. There is nothing light or trivial about his prayer. There is nothing in this prayer that indicates form over substance. He gets right to the heart of what is needed in their lives, and as we read and understand it, we can see it is what we need as well. We can also see it is what our neighbors need too. Let me remind you of his prayer in bullet form. Here is what he desires for his friends.

He prays constantly
He prays that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
He prays that they have all spiritual wisdom and understanding
He prays that they may live a life worthy of the Lord
He prays that they will live in a way that is pleasing to God
He prays that they will bear fruit through their good works
He prays that their strength will be from God
He prays that they will have endurance, patience, and joy
He thanks God for their inheritance
He recalls their past lostness and their now glorious place in His kingdom
He is thankful for their redemption and the forgiveness of sin

In verse 11, where we will be today, Paul prays for strength, endurance, patience, and joy.

As we are filled with the knowledge of God’s will for us from His Word, and we then begin to understand it with wisdom and understanding so as to know how to live out the Word in our lives, pleasing to God and bearing fruit in our good works, when all that begins to come together in our hearts and minds, and we see the radical nature of life in Christ, the ways it goes counter to our world, our society, even to our old nature, when we get to this point, then make no mistake about it, we will need and cry out for what Paul asks God for in verse 11: strength, endurance, patience, and joy.

We don’t, as changed creatures in Christ, just jump out and begin obeying and living out the Word in a way that is consistent with His desires without heavily, completely relying on His strength in us. And so we must ask God to give us this, give us strength, give us endurance, give us patience, and give us joy.

Are you struggling to live out what you know to be pleasing to God? If so, have you been asking Him for strength, endurance, patience, and joy? Have we been asking for these through prayer?

Paul prays for strength. Living a life worthy of the Lord is a very high calling for us, and make no mistake about it, it is a difficult calling. But in this Paul is reminding us that God gives what He demands. The participle here is present tense in Greek, and what this indicates is that God’s provision of strength is always, continuously available to His people. 

And you know, if we think about this, it becomes really clear that this life of ours now in Christ is to be way contrary to our old nature. We can go through life doing our own thing without any strength outside of ourselves. We can make choices about our finances, about how we manage our things, what we buy, what we sell, what we lend. We can manage our marriage, our homes, relationships of all kinds our own way, by how we feel, what we want, and what we think we need. We can make decisions about careers, where we will live, how we will spend our time. We can determine our leisure schedule, what place sports will have in our lives, what books we will read, what movies we will see, how our weekends and evenings will look. We can do all of these things and they can flow simply from our inner self, our inner desires, do what feels good to us and feels right according to our own flesh and understanding. We don’t need much outside help if we simply do our own thing, right? It is like, “This is me, this is what I want, this is how I will carve out life around me, because, well, this is me, and my strength will be sufficient for me.”

But to live for God, your strength, my strength, well, it just simply is not enough.

And to take it even further, no outside strength is enough except for God’s strength. We can’t just get strength from other people, or strength from self-determination, or strength from an independent American attitude. It must be God’s strength, strength from God to you and to me. We are not meant to live apart from His strength.

But listen again to how this is described – “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.” It sounds very much like another passage, that being from the end of Ephesians.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

The reminder there is, again, we can’t do this life in our own strength. It is not as though the battle is even with mere humans. There are forces at work around us, evil ones that we cannot battle on our own. It is God’s strength that we need.

This strength, our passage says, comes from God’s power. The word “all” in the phrase “all power” means a marker of the highest degree, complete, unlimited power. The words “strength” and “power” are very closely related. A paraphrase of this section in the verse could be, “strengthened by God with the greatest strength imaginable.” This is what Paul wants for his Christian friends.

By God’s grace and in His kindness, I get to talk with a lot of people about many issues of life. Many people I hardly know, others I know as close friends. Sometimes people are dealing with severe trials, and often times through no fault of their own. God tells us that in this life there will be troubles.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We should expect tribulation and trouble. And in these times of trouble we can know how to respond from God’s Word. But in those times we may honestly say, “I don’t think I can live God’s way in this situation.” Someone has terribly sinned against you perhaps, and God says to love in return, to forgive, to think of that sinner as more important than yourself. And we may say, “I can’t. I don’t have it in me. I do not have the strength to return such kindness to that person.” You may say that or you may hear that from a friend. What do you do with those thoughts, whether from our own minds or from someone else? We remember that in some sense that is true. On our own we cannot obey. I don’t have to have confidence in myself to do right and I don’t have to have confidence in you to do right. We can instead take a deep breath and believe that God is strong and He can lead us to do right!

I had a professor in a Biblical counseling class who said to our class very bluntly, “I don’t really have much confidence in any of you.” What he was saying was, “I know you are all sinners and you won’t always do right.” But he went on to say, “I do have confidence in God and in God’s work in you as you submit to Him.”

Remember, this verse is about how Paul was praying for others. We can pray that God will do this in others and in us as well. Pray for strength and power in God.

Paul goes even further with this prayer for strength. He continues to build it up even more by adding the word “might” – “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.” Paul emphasizes the extent of God’s empowering, and at the same time makes its source clear by adding “according to His glorious might.”

A parallel with Colossians is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1…

18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:18-20)

When we think of God’s might, we can go all sorts of places. I think of creation. God spoke the world into being. The sun created by Him, the mighty seas, the mountains. That is great might. I also think of the outworking of creation – volcanoes, tidal waves, hurricanes, earthquakes. God is a mighty God and works mighty deeds, some we see and some we don’t see. I’m convinced that from heaven we will see so much more of His might in the heavenlies, in space and beyond.

But from Ephesians 1:18-20, it’s interesting that when Paul had an opportunity to illustrate God’s might, he did so by speaking of a single event. A single event to describe the might of the Father. He mentions the event that changed the world, that I pray has changed you as well. He speaks of the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of God in the heavenly places!

Was that the mightiest of God’s mighty deeds? Well, I don’t know exactly, but it was perhaps the most glorious of His deeds! The culmination of His redemptive work! Glorious for Him and glorious, no doubt, for us.

This same might of God is what Paul prays we will have at work in us. The same might that was exerted to raise Christ from the dead is here for us as we call on His name and submit our wills, ourselves to Him to do things His way according to His Word. With this might can we ever really say, “I can’t obey God”? Is that really an honest statement if God’s might is at work in us? We can obey, we can with the power and might of God at work in us.

Do these things build you up, bolster your confidence in God to work His will in you? Does it help you to realize that you don’t have to rely on yourself? That the power of the Godhead is behind you? That God is there to give you what you need to move forward in your circumstances, in your life? He is not weak to help, He is not absent, He is not distracted or too busy for your problems. He is there!

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:11)

These are practical statements for us. This strength and power and glorious might enable endurance, patience, and joy in us! Again, the same strength and power and glorious might that was used to raise Christ from the dead, the same power used in us to enable endurance, patience, and joy!

We see the word translated “all” yet another time! We saw “every good work” in verse 10, “all power” in verse 11, and again in verse 11, “all endurance and patience.” This means the very greatest possible endurance and patience. Endurance here means to bear up under pressure, troubles, hard circumstances, while patience suggests long-suffering toward people or a willingness to be patient with people. It is all covered here – enduring in troubles of all kinds and patience with people of all kinds! Now, we know, don’t we, that this is only possible, I mean on a consistent basis, with the power of God at work in us! 

One commentator puts it this way, “Endurance is what faith, hope and love bring to an apparently impossible situation and patience is what they show to an apparently impossible person.”

You know, it is possible, even in our flesh at times, to have a semblance of endurance and patience that can look like what Paul is talking about here. I mean, for a time we can, in and of ourselves, at least appear to be exercising endurance and patience with circumstances and people, I mean externally so. But what Paul adds to these two that helps us to verify the genuineness of true, Christian, God-empowered endurance and patience is joy!

Have you ever had a phone conversation with someone and used really nice words, a calm tone, complementary speech, even if they are being unreasonable and rude? You know, I’m talking about using a phone voice with people. Those are usually short conversations, and we can do anything or be almost anyone for a few minutes, right? But we may hang up the phone and roll our eyes, and think something like, “Who do they think they are?” Our act of endurance and patience is simply that: an act.

But what if in that conversation and even afterward, there was an abiding joy over what had just happened? A joy that rests in Christ? A joy that reminds us that God is still in charge and is caring for us? A joy of having been able to speak kindly in a hard situation and represent Christ well?

Paul adds joy to his list. And by adding joy, I think we get a test, a test for us in our situations as to whether we were really acting in a spiritual manner, being controlled by God’s strength and power and glorious might! If we endure with joy, if we are patient with joy, then perhaps we were submitting to God in that matter rather than simply holding our tongue for a few moments in our own power.

Where is the joy? Was it present, is it there? If so, then so was God’s power!

You know the Stoics in New Testament times were big on endurance and patience, but not so much on joy. But the New Testament doesn’t separate the two. Paul brings them together, and rightly so.

A Stoic might be placed in the stocks, in the old days. You know what that is, right? Where they would be punished publicly by putting their heads and hands between two pieces of wood so they can’t really move. If a Stoic were put in stocks they would have handled that with what would appear to be endurance and patience. They wouldn’t complain, but at the same time they would not have been singing hymns to God with joy as did Paul and Silas in the Philippian town jail.

The power which Christians received from God gave them something over and above what the Stoics and others thought they had. What Christians have been given is, and this means you and me if you are in Christ, we have been given the ability in God’s power to be content in all circumstances of life. Paul’s contentment was accompanied by a joyful exuberance which overflowed to others. Paul says so in places like Philippians 4…

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Philippians 4:4-5)

When we read in Ephesians 1 that we as God’s adopted children have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, and when we read in 2 Peter 1:3 that “His divine power had granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” then surely those things include what we see in Colossians 1:11. We have been blessed beyond measure! We have been lifted above the fray of this world, we have been placed by God in a new Kingdom to live a new way, and given by His grace the power to live this new way in His Kingdom. We will be different than those around us. And our difference, by God’s grace, will play a part in leading others to Christ. That is our prayer, that is our way, for God’s great glory!!

Now, if this is true, that God will do this in our lives, then the next time we are dealing with a difficult circumstance or person, we can also think and remember that we have an opportunity to see God’s power in us in action! Conflict or troubles can become and should become for us a time of prayer and a time to witness the same power that God used to raise Christ from the dead. That is what He does in us for His glory and for the world to see! I pray that we will see and recognize His work!

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:11)