Vol. XI — No. 47 November 22, 1970


Prayer + Work = Success!

Colossians 1:9-14

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.

In Christ Jesus, who would have us pray and work, Fellow Redeemed:

Paul was a man of prayer, but also a man of restless, unceasing activity. What he prayed for he worked toward. That combination—of prayer and work—was the key to his success as a man of God doing Kingdom work.

We can see this combination of prayer and work in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. After the regular greeting Paul begins the body of his letter in this way: “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” He prayed for them—this congregation in Colosse. The founder of the congregation, Epaphras, had just come from Colosse with information that a spiritual danger threatened the Colossians. Paul’s old antagonists, these smooth, fine-sounding enemies of the Gospel of free salvation through faith in Christ Jesus—the Judaizers—were threatening the congregation. They weren’t as crass as those in Galatia who claimed they had the original Gospel of faith in Christ plus the old Jewish law-works as the formula for salvation. These were more sophisticated. They claimed to possess a superior Gospel. Faith in Christ plus their “Dos” and “Don’ts” would give a superior form of Christianity and make salvation even more sure. What did Paul do? How did he respond to the threat of this danger? He prayed for the Colossians, but then he also dispatched the letter that we have before us this morning to fortify the Colossians against the attack of the errorists who were threatening their spiritual life. In the opening verse of our text Paul says: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you…” He prayed, but he also wrote. Both his prayer and his writing were designed to achieve the same purpose.

Let us learn from Paul. Prayer is a mighty tool in the hand of a child of God, for “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16. But prayer, without corresponding effort, in situations where God has indicated that work can be and should be done, is tempting God. The man who prays, “Give me this day my daily bread,” but is too lazy to lift a finger to work, is tempting God and falls under the condemnation of God, who answers prayer for daily bread, but who also says, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” II Thess. 3:10. At the same time a person who works hard towards a desired goal, but fails to pray, is a practical atheist. He acts as though he were himself God and so needs no outside help. Isn’t it true that we are frequently guilty of this—working, striving to solve our problems, without taking them to the Lord in prayer, acting as though there were no God to help us carry our burdens and achieve our goals.

Let us learn Paul’s secret for success:


Let us examine this formula in the light of Paul’s prayer and efforts in our text and in this entire letter. He bids the Colossians, and the Spirit of God who moved him to write these words bids us and all believers of all time to pray and work -

I. To be filled with the knowledge of His will.

Epaphras had come from Colosse to Paul’s prison cell in Rome with a problem. Paul wrote in response: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Paul prayed that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s will concerning their salvation and that they would have the wisdom and understanding to apply that knowledge to the error that came in the form of a promise of a superior Christianity by obligating themselves to certain prescribed “Dos” and “Don’ts.” But Paul didn’t just pray. In his letter he teaches, He extols Christ. He holds before the eyes of their faith Jesus, the man who shed His blood to pay the ransom to free us from our sin and guilt, from death, and the power of the devil. But this Jesus was and is more ยท than a man. “In him—Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary—dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (2:9) This Jesus is true God! Let that giorious truth soak into your hearts and minds. And then comes the complementary truth: “And ye are complete in Him!” (2:10) If you are complete in Him, you don’t need some self-styled religious authority to present you with a set of rules and regulations to guarantee a superior form of Christianity. Therefore “let no man…judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days…” (2:16) Do you see what Paul was doing? He prayed for the Colossians—that they would be filled with knowledge to combat the error that was threatening them. But then he worked, he wrote to them—holding before their eyes the glorious truths of salvation—so that they would be strengthened in their faith and filled with knowledge.

Means of communication and transportation have improved immeasurably since the days of Paul. One effect is that we are more easily and readily exposed to error than were the Colossians. The same error that threatened them—that the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is insufficient for the best kind of Christianity and that following a set of rules and regulations imposed by some church authority is necessary for a superior form of Christianity—bombards us on every side. Surely we should pray for knowledge of the will of God, but we should also work at it to deepen our understanding of the power of God’s grace in human hearts. Pray and work! That’s the formula for success, also in being filled with the knowledge of His will.

Pray and work also -

II. To walk worthy of the Lord.

The Bible does not urge knowledge, spiritual knowledge, for the sake of knowledge. Growing in knowledge, spiritual knowledge, does not have as its goal becoming a theological “egg head,” a religious pundit, achieving the reputation of really knowing the truths of the Bible. No, acquiring knowledge of the will of the Lord is to have the practical effect of living more and more in daily gratitude for His grace according to the standard of love that our God has set. Paul prays that the Colossians be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s will “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in—or by means of—the knowledge of God.” Don’t call your self a Christian and then disgrace Christ by conduct unworthy of Him. Don’t claim to be a branch of the vine, which is Christ, and then be unfruitful.

Walk worthy of the Lord! Work at it! Learn to walk worthy by means of the knowledge of God. One of the great principles of such worthy walking is learning the principle that all of God’s gifts are to be USED, not ABUSED! This applies to food, drink, clothing, drugs, leisure time, automobiles, television, and so on down the list endlessly. USE, don’t ABUSE! That’s the great principle. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” I Cor. 10:31. The alcoholic abuses liquor. True, but that does not make the use of alcoholic beverages sinful. The pious, self-righteous prig who mutilates the Word of God by claiming that Jesus did not create high quality wine at the wedding of Cana and that He did not drink wine at the institution of the Holy Supper and who therefore substitutes grape juice for wine in the Lord’s Supper is also ABUSING alcoholic beverages, He is making the proper use of a gift of God sinful. Drugs have their proper use as gifts of God to relieve pain, to cure ailments of the body, but they are more and more widely being misused. Such mis-use is a form of suicide by degree. What such people sow they shall reap—as sure as there is a God in the heavens. The automobile is a gift of God to be used for many beneficial purposes, but it is also a missile of death in the hands of the drunken or rash or irresponsible driver. Walk worthy of the Lord1 Work at it! Each one of us has a lifelong job applying the principle of the proper USE, not the MISUSE of God’s gifts. Pray for guidance and strength to use properly, never to misuse any of God’s gifts.

Pray and work -

III. To be strengthened unto perseverance and longsuffering.

Paul prayed that the Colossians might be “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” We need strength for patience—that is, bearing up, persevering under trials, tribulations, burdens, obstacles, problems that confront us in our daily life. These may be personal or matters confronting the congregation or the church. We also need strength for bearing up over against the frictions that are caused when we live together in a family, when we work with others, when we associate in the community. This calls for longsuffering.

One situation that calls for bearing up or per severing is the problem of the isolated child of God. It may be the serviceman or the person whose job calls him to an area where there are no fellow confessors of the whole Truth. The temptation is to grow weary of confessing the Truth, to grow weary of the loneliness of standing alone for the Lord. The temptation is, then, to compromise one’s position, to make oneself believe that this or that error is really not so dangerous to one’s faith, to make oneself believe that one can associate spiritually with errorists without becoming infected with the leaven of error. The situation calls for perseverance, for holding up and out in a situation which calls for confession of the Truth, not surrender of it.

We live intimately with the members of our families—with our spouses, our parents, our children. We work together with others in offices, business places. Wherever there are moving parts, there is friction. This is true not only in cases of machinery, but in human relations, little things irritate, and when those little things irritate day after day, they cause an infection and finally an explosion of temper, meanness, vanity, peeivshness, lovelessness. We all know these things from experience. We know how much we need to pray for and strive towards longsuffering in dealing and living with one another.

Pray and work -

IV. To be thankful for your lot with the saints.

Paul urges the Colossians to give “thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the lot (our translations say ‘inheritance’) of the saints in light.” We are to thank God for our lot. What is that lot, that portion, that share of things that we have? This, that we too are numbered with the saints in light. We too have been called out of the darkness of our own sin and guilt into the marvelous light of the Gospel of Jesus. We have been “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son”—literally, the son of His love. Think of what that means. We arrived in this world as newborn babes—alive, yet dead in trespasses and sins. We arrived, crying and so exercising our lungs, but we had no power to cry unto the Lord. We arrived with an intellect, emotions, and a will, but our intellect, emotions, and will were turned directly against the Lord. We arrived in this world with the potential for growing in body, emotions, and strength of will, but we were born and remained impotent in spiritual things. We came into this world a creation of our God, yet we had no strength to love or fear or trust in Him. Our God delivered us out of the power of that darkness into which we were born. He sent the Holy Spirit to work the miracle of faith in our hearts so that we were translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love.

And what did the Son do for us? He redeemed us, paid the price for our release, paid the ransom. The earth was His—with all its riches. But that was not enough. It took His blood, the blood of the Son of God. When He paid that price, He earned for us forgiveness. This is our blessing—to have and possess that which took the shedding of the blood of the Son of God, namely, the forgiveness of our sins. This is our “lot” with all saints. Pray for a thankful heart, and work at living your thanksgiving. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached November 8, 1970
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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