Knowing God.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV

Paul was grateful to God for the believers in Ephesus. He was thankful to God that they had heard the word of truth, the gospel, and had believed. As a result, they had received the Holy Spirit, as a guarantee of their future inheritance of eternal salvation. And Paul gave God all the glory. But he also gave God his thanks. He thanked God for the news he had received about the believers in Ephesus regarding their faith in Christ and their love for one another. They were growing. Their relationship with Christ was maturing and the presence of the Spirit within them was bearing visible fruit. And Paul knew that it was all due to the gracious work of God in their lives. He had made it possible. He was the one who had called them and He was the one who was sanctifying them. And one day, He would be the one who would glorify them, “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV).

But Paul didn’t just express gratitude to God for all that He had done. He let his readers know that he regularly petitioned God for their ongoing spiritual well-being. And he was very specific as to what he asked God for. This was not so much a prayer as it was an outline of his how he prayed for them. It seems that Paul wanted them to know just exactly what he viewed as necessary and of highest priority for their spiritual health. The first thing He asked God to do for them is quite revealing.

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him… – Ephesians 1:17 ESV

Here Paul is asking God to give the believers in Ephesus the capacity to know Him better. God, the transcendent, holy, unapproachable God of the universe has chosen to make Himself known to men. Had God not chosen to reveal Himself, no man or woman would ever be able to comprehend Him or hope to have a relationship with Him. In his letter to the Romans, Paul expressed the “otherness” of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?” – Romans 11:33-35 ESV

Yet he told the believers in Corinth…

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-12 ESV

Because we have the Spirit of God living within us, we have the capacity to know the mind of God. We have been given the privilege of understanding the things of God. And it is primarily through the Word of God that He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Paul was not praying for a mere intellectual knowledge of God, but an experiential, personal and intimate understanding of who He was and all that He was doing in their lives and in the world around them.

But Paul’s prayer for a growing knowledge of God had an ulterior motive. He wanted to see their hearts enlightened. For Paul, the heart was representative of the individual’s entire inner being. He knew that as they grew to know God better, they would be radically and totally transformed from the inside out. It is as we come to know God, that we truly come to know ourselves and the world around us. A clearer and more concise understanding of God gives allows us to comprehend truth and of view the world as it really is. It is as we have our understanding enlightened that we begin to see that this world is not all there is. There is more. Much more.

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 – Ephesians 1:18 ESV

…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe… – Ephesians 1:19 ESV

Paul wanted them to know the hope to which God had called them. He knew that they were going to experience difficulties in this life. He knew that their faith journey was going to be rough at times. So he wanted them to fully understand that God’s divine plan for them included their future glorification. He wanted them to know that God’s power was great enough and His promise reliable enough to see them through any circumstance they may encounter in this life. God’s “immeasurable greatness” was working on their behalf at all times. And just so they would know how immeasurable that greatness really way, Paul described it for them.

…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:19-20 ESV

The very power that raised Jesus from the dead and allowed Him to return to His rightful place at His Father’s side, is the power working on behalf of every believer. It is the power that will one day make possible our own glorification and the redemption of our bodies. What God did for Jesus, He will do for us. And He is already sanctifying us, transforming us into the likeness of His Son, day by day, through the power of His Spirit and according to His divine redemptive plan. Paul wanted his readers to know that God was in complete control. His Son was at His side and interceding on behalf of His body, the church.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV

As we come to know God better, we come to trust Him more fully. We grow in our understanding of His sovereignty and His Son’s work on our behalf. We are His people. We are the temple of His Spirit. And as Peter reminds us, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). God is at work in us. He is doing great work through us. He has great plans for us. And the better we know Him, the more we will trust Him to do what He has promised.

 

Advertisements

In the Fullness of Time.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:1-7 ESV

Here in chapter four, Paul continues to contrast law and grace. More specifically, he will show how faith alone is the means by which men must be saved. And to make his point, he uses yet another analogy. He has already compared the law to a jail, imprisoning everything under sin (Galatians 2:22). He also referred to it as a guardian, watching over us and managing our affairs until Christ came. The Greek word he used was παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which “was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class” (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Here in chapter four, he uses the term, “guardian” again, but it is a different Greek word. It is ἐπίτροπος (epitropos) and it referred to “one to whose care or honor anything has been instructed” (“G2012 – epitropos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was commonly used to refer to a steward or overseer of one’s estate or children. Paul also compares the law to a manager. He uses the Greek word, οἰκονόμος (oikonomos), which referred to a steward, manager or superintendent, who was responsible for overseeing the affairs of another (“G3623 – oikonomos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

In Paul’s day, this guardian or overseer was appointed by a father and given the responsibility to care for his child and oversee his well-being and manage his inheritance. This, as Paul points out, was to be the arrangement “until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:2 ESV). In a sense, the son was no different than a slave as long as he was under the responsibility of his guardian or steward. He was expected to do exactly what the guardian told him to do. He had no access to his inheritance, except through the guardian, who managed all his affairs. He was under the watchful eye of his guardian at all times, until the day set by his father arrived.

Paul tells his readers that this was their former situation. They were under the guardianship of the law until faith came (Galatians 3:23). Up until the time that Jesus came, they had been “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3 ESV). Paul does not explain what he means by this phrase, but it most certainly conveys the idea of the limited understanding available to men without the help of God. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). Without the Spirit of God in them, men cannot understand the truths of God. They are incapable. Paul went on to say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Those without Christ are limited in their understanding. They are stunted in their understanding, incapable of grasping the truth about God or the mysteries of spirituality. In speaking of the coming Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him” (John 14:17 NLT). Paul also said that “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT).

Man, no matter how smart he may be, cannot understand or comprehend the truth regarding God. He is “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” But Paul reminds his readers that, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4 ESV). At just the right time, according to His eternal plan, God sent Jesus “to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5 ESV). The amazing thing is that God, in His mercy and kindness, chose to adopt those who were not even His own. The audience to whom Paul was writing was made up primarily of Gentiles. They had not been part of the chosen people of God. They were outsiders, aliens and strangers to the family of God. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But he went on to tell them the good news that “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).

The amazing thing, Paul tells his readers, is that they were now sons and daughters of God. Because He had sent His Son into the world, “born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4 ESV), and His Son had kept the law to perfection, He had qualified Himself to be the sinless substitute to die in the place of sinful men. He took our place on the cross and died the death we deserved, so that we might be redeemed and restored to a right relationship with God. And those who place their faith in Christ become sons of God and receive the Spirit of God, which gives them the right to call on God as their Father. They are miraculously transformed from slaves to sons. They become princes, instead of paupers, and heirs of all the riches of God’s grace. But Paul’s point was that none of this was possible through the keeping of the law. Sonship was not achievable through hard work. The inheritance was not accessible through diligent rule-keeping. It was the gift of God made possible through faith in the Son of God and His sacrificial death on the cross. Man cannot earn a right standing with God. He cannot merit God’s favor through hard work. In fact, Paul will go on to say that, before placing their faith in Christ, his audience didn’t even know God (Galatians 4:8). They had been incapable of knowing God. They were enemies of God. And so were we. You cannot pursue that which you do not know. Natural man cannot know the things of God. Sinful men cannot seek the things of God. But God, in His great mercy and kindness, sent His Son to make Himself known.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

 

 

Stay the Course.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. – 2 Peter 3:14-18

Peter wraps up his letter by encouraging his readers to stay diligent and dedicated to the truth they have been taught. Peter understands that the delay in Christ’s return can be difficult to understand and cause many to begin to doubt whether it is really going to happen. He also knows that living a godly life is not easy, and that watching the lost sin and not only get away with it, but thoroughly enjoy it, can be frustrating. But he wants his readers to stay committed and to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). As Peter has already stated, God’s seeming delay in sending back His Son is purposeful. He has a reason and His timing is perfect. Peter reminds them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15 ESV). In other words, rather than mistakenly concluding that there is no judgment at all, as the false teachers were doing, Peter wants them to see God’s delay from a different perspective. The longer God waited, the more time there was for people to come to faith in Christ. Not only that, it provided believers with more time to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior. In other words, it provided ample time for the divine process of sanctification to take place. If Jesus had died simply to take us to heaven, He would have done so the minute we placed our faith in Him. But our salvation was to be followed by our sanctification, our growth into Christ-likeness. That meant that we were to remain behind.

When Peter tells his readers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation,” he is echoing the words of Paul. He even admits so. In his letter to the Romans, Paul warns his audience, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). Paul was writing to believers. He wanted them to understand just how patient God was, how gracious He was being with them, giving them time to continue the process of salvation. Part of what God is doing, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is exposing those areas of sin in our lives that need to be confessed. He is constantly saving us from ourselves and redeeming us from the vestiges of the sin-filled lives we once lived. He is in the process of transforming us into the likeness of His Son. He has already justified us, declaring us positionally righteous in His sight. But now He is sanctifying us, making us practically righteous, by removing our old nature and replacing it with a new nature. Paul puts it this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So Peter tells his readers to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). He wanted them to know that Christ was coming again, contrary to popular opinion and the teaching of “the ignorant and unstable.” The false teachers twisted the Scriptures to make them say what they wanted to hear. But Peter warned that God was faithful and His Word was reliable. So they were to live their lives without spot or blemish, unlike the false teachers who he describes as being “blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions” (2 Peter 2:13 ESV). Peter didn’t want to see believers carried away by the tempting promises and slick sounding words of the false teachers. He wanted to prevent them from being “carried away with the error of lawless people” (2 Peter 3:17 ESV). And the antidote for spiritual error has always been spiritual growth. That is why he told them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

When we first come to know Christ, our understanding of Him is minimal at best. We accept Him as our Savior, but there is probably little else that we know about Him. We do not fully understand the magnitude of what He has done. We have a minimal understanding of and appreciation for grace. Our knowledge and awareness of all that He accomplished for us on the cross is nominal at best. That is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

…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, 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. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

We are to grow up in our salvation. We are to increase in our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done. We are to constantly expand our understanding of God’s will for us as we read His Word and listen to the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit within us. Spiritual growth is non-optional for believers. We find admonitions to grow all throughout the New Testament.

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. – 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrew 5:12 NLT

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. – Hebrews 6:1 NLT

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. – 1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT

We must stay the course. We must run the race to win. We must complete the task set before us. We must finish strong. As Peter stated earlier in this same letter, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). We can live godly lives in the midst of ungodliness. We can live righteous lives while surrounded by unrighteousness. We can live Christ-like lives among those who deny Him. But it requires growth. It requires constant dependence upon the One who saved us and a trust that He is continually sanctifying us.

Wtih knowledge comes responsbility.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” – Romans 2:17-24 ESV

As a Jew, Paul had no qualms addressing his attention to his Jewish brothers and sisters. He was a former Pharisee and a passionate student of the Hebrew Scriptures. On one occasion, having been arrested in Jerusalem and accused of speaking out against the Jewish people and the temple, Paul addressed the crowd and said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today” (Acts 22:3 NLT). In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul had given his Hebrew credentials by stating, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin — a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:5-6 NLT). So Paul knew what he was talking about when he addressed the attitudes and spiritual status of the Jewish people. Which is why he was able to say, “[you] rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law.” There was a certain degree of pride in their hearts related to their special designation as God’s chosen people. But this pride led to an arrogance and boastful certainty that they were above the fray, free from judgment and immune to God’s wrath. But Paul had already warned them that, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16 ESV)

Yes, they were God’s chosen people. Yes, they had a unique relationship with Him and had been given His law, provided with the sacrificial system, and could brag about having the temple, where God’s presence dwelt. But Paul makes it clear that all of that is not enough. They relied on God. They boasted about their relationship with Him. They knew His will as revealed in the law and even taught others to obey it. They say themselves as guides to the blind, lights to those in darkness, instructors of the foolish and teachers of children. But the problem was that they were hypocrites. They failed to live up to their own standards. They demanded from others a strict adherence to the law that they themselves were incapable of keeping. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 52:5 reads, “On account of you my name is continually blasphemed among the Gentiles.” Over the centuries, the actions of the Jews revealed a blatant disregard for God and His law. They were guilty of rebellion and unfaithfulness to His will and His ways. They boasted in the law, but dishonored God by breaking the law. They were without excuse. They had a knowledge of God, but what they knew about Him failed to turn into obedience to Him. Hundreds of years earlier, God had accused the people of Israel of their blatant hypocrisy. “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Even Jesus had quoted this same passage when addressing the Pharisees of His day. “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:6-9 ESV).

Knowledge can be a wonderful thing. The knowledge of God can be life-transformative. Knowing God’s Word can be beneficial to life. But there is a huge difference between knowing and doing. It was James who wrote, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:25 NLT). Knowing the law of God is useless if you fail to keep it. Having a encyclopedic understanding of God is worthless if you choose to ignore His will. The Jews were putting their hope and trust in their pedigree. They were counting on the fact that they were Jews. But Paul wanted them to know that their knowledge of God and their awareness of His law only made them more responsible and culpable. There were going to have to let go of all of that and place their trust in Christ. Back in his letter the Philippians, Paul follows up his impressive list of accomplishments as a Jew with the following words: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NLT). There is only one thing worth knowing: Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is an awareness of our own sin and our desperate need for a Savior that really counts. Every other form of knowledge is useless and worthless.

Struggling In Prayer.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. – Colossians 4:12 ESV

We all struggle with prayer at times. It comes with the territory. Prayer can be hard. But the kind of struggle we’re going to talk about in this blog is something a bit different than finding prayer hard to do. The word Paul uses in the Greek is agōnizomai and you can see that it is where we get our English words agony and agonize. In Paul’s day it was a word typically used when referring to someone entered into gymnastic games. It had to do with competition, contending, fighting, or laboring against an opponent of difficulty. It also carried the meaning “to endeavour with strenuous zeal.” So when Paul said Epaphras was “always struggling” in his prayers on behalf of the believers in Colosse, he wasn’t inferring that Epaphras had a hard time praying. He meant that this young man’s prayer life was marked by agonizing effort and energetic zeal. Paul had evidently seen and heard him pray. He had been an eye-witness to the determination and dedication behind the prayers of Epaphras. I have a feeling his prayers were much more than just “Lord, would you bless the people in Colosse.” He didn’t just ask God to be with them and watch over them. Paul says that the overriding theme of his prayers was that they would “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Epaphras was a Greek who had become a follower of Jesus Christ and had played a significant role in helping to establish the church in Colosse. “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant” (Colossians 1:5-7 ESV). Epaphras had a vested interest in the health of the church in Colosse. He wanted it to thrive. So he prayed for “God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God” (NLT). His was not just a short, sweet prayer offered on a one-time basis, but an ongoing, persevering petition that was accompanied by an intense desire to see God answer. Epaphras wanted to see them mature in their faith and grow in their knowledge of God’s will for them. It is essentially the same prayer Paul prayed for them at the very beginning of his letter. “So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 NLT). And Paul gave the end result that would accompany God’s answer to his prayer: “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT).

Paul and Epaphras both knew what the believers in Colosse needed. They needed more of God. They needed God to mature them by revealing His will to them. They desperately needed to know what God wanted them to know and do. With that knowledge and the Holy Spirit’s help, they would have what they needed to live lives that honored and pleased God.

Do we agonize and labor prayerfully for that to happen among the believers with whom we worship and serve? Do we go to the mat with God, pleading that He will reveal His will to our loved ones and friends, asking that He make them strong and perfect? Are we concerned enough for the spiritual maturity that we pray fervently and repeatedly that they know and follow the whole will of God? For Epaphras, praying for his friends in Colosse was a labor of love. He did it gladly. He did it tirelessly. Because he was not going to be content until he saw God’s answer in the form of lives that pleased and honored Him. We could stand to struggle a bit more in our prayer lives. Not with prayer itself, but in the content and focus of our prayers. We should so desire what God desires, that we are not content until we see His will done in the lives of those we love. God’s desire for each of His children is their growth in Christ-likeness. He wants to see them mature. He wants to see them living within His will. We should want the same thing. And we should not stop praying for it until we see God’s answer appear in transformed lives that bring glory and honor to Him.

The Knowledge of Him.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him… – Ephesians 1:15-17 ESV

Ephesians 1:15-22

Paul’s prayers were personal and practical, but in a spiritual sort of way. His prayers cut to the chase, aiming straight for the heart of the issue in the lives of those for whom he prayed. The theme of his prayers tended to revolve around their spiritual maturity and the ongoing development of their relationship with God. And Paul was not just content to pray for these things and leave them up to God. He had been willing to play his part, having helped start many of the churches to whom he wrote and writing his letters filled with instruction, encouragement and, at times, admonition and correction. Paul was not a glass-half-empty kind of guy, who always saw the negative side of everything. He was optimistic and always encouraged when he heard good reports regarding the congregations to whom he ministered. In the case of the brothers and sisters at Ephesus, he had received news of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints. This report caused him to thank God. He knew this was evidence of the work of God in their lives. What a much-needed reminder for those of us who tend to see the faults and the failures, while overlooking the obvious activity of God in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was not afraid to point out spiritual short-comings, but he was always eager to look for God-sightings in the lives of others. Evidence of spiritual transformation did not go unnoticed by Paul and his gratitude to God never went unexpressed.

Paul was not only thankful to God for His work in the lives of the people of God, he was thankful to God for those individuals. He told them, “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Ephesians 1:16 ESV). He was grateful to God for them. He legitimately loved them and that love flowed out in the form of regular, heart-felt prayer for them. He wanted to see their faith and love increase, and he knew that the key to that happening was for their knowledge of God to increase, which is why he prayed: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17 ESV). His request was that God’s Spirit, the Spirit of truth, would provide them with wisdom and revelation when it comes to their knowledge of God. The idea of revelation has to do with disclosing of truth or making the unknown known. Paul knew that those for whom he prayed would need the Spirit’s help in discerning the truth regarding God. In his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12 ESV). In a sense, Jesus made God known to man. He made it possible for men to have a right relationship with God and know and experience His love, grace and mercy. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to know God better and better.

What Paul knew was that every believer needs one thing and one thing only – more knowledge of God. Jesus Christ restored our relationship with God. He made it possible for us to enter into God’s presence. The Holy Spirit now provides us with the ability to grow in our knowledge of God. And that increasing knowledge of Him is what informs us of His will and transforms us into the likeness of His Son as we willingly submit ourselves to that will. It is interesting to think about all the times we have prayed for God to remove someone from a difficult situation or to relieve them of a particular burden. But did we stop to think that God may be trying to reveal Himself to them in the midst of what they are going through? Did we ever consider that God might be wanting to give them His Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him and that is His purpose behind their trial or difficulty? The people to whom Paul wrote in Ephesus were not immune to problems. They were new converts to Christ living in a hostile environment. Christianity was still new and novel and those who professed faith in Christ were often treated with hostility and resentment. Paul knew any hope they had for survival was based on their knowledge of God. Knowledge of God would provide them with knowledge of His will. They would better understand and appreciate His love. They would be better equipped to recognize His power and put their faith in it when times got tough. A growing knowledge of God is the greatest need of every believer. It is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. Jesus put it this way: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). So our prayer for one another should be that we grow to know God better and better – experientially, not just academically. Knowing God is more important than trying to please God. Knowing God is better than attempting to serve God. Getting to know God is more vital to our spiritual well-being than getting things from God.

God’s Will. Your Walk.

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, 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. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

Colossians 1:9-14

Sometimes my prayers can lack focus. Not only does my mind wander when I pray, but even in those moments when I successfully manage to give God my undivided attention, the content of my prayers can be all over the map. It can be hard to know what to pray. If I’m not careful, I can find my prayers becoming somewhat robotic and rote, making the same requests for the same individuals day after day. One of the things I like about the prayers of Paul found in his letters, is that they were focused prayers. He wasn’t distracted by external issues, but seemed to go straight to the heart of what was really necessary and needed. His prayers always seemed to be spiritually-focused, not materially-minded. In his own life he had learned the secret of contentment. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13 ESV). He had learned to be content with Christ. Everything else that had at one time been so important to him – his career, his reputation, his financial status – had taken a backseat to his relationship with Christ. He wrote, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT).
So when Paul prayed for others., he focused his prayers on their spiritual condition. He prayed that the believers in Colossae would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. that would be the source of the spiritual wisdom and understanding they would need in their daily lives. And he knew that knowing God’s will was the key to their ability to live spiritually healthy lives. Knowing God’s will was going to be essential if they were going to live lives that were worthy of their calling as God’s children. We all know what we want to do. Our will is no secret to us. But God’s will can sometimes be difficult to discern. So Paul asked God to make His will known to those for whom he prayed. Why? Because Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” He knew that their knowledge of God’s will and their willful obedience to it would produce fruitfulness. Jesus called it abiding. He told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). To abide is to remain, to rest in and depend on, just like a branch does with the vine. It submits its will to the vine and allows the vine to produce fruit through it. Knowing God’s will and submitting to it is what makes us fruitful. It produces a life that is pleasing to God. A branch that refused to abide is useless. It loses its capacity for fruit-bearing. Failure to abide is when I determine to do my will instead of God’s. It’s when my agenda takes the place of His. Paul knew that was a danger for every believer. So he prayed that they would know the will of God and live according to it, so that they could bear fruit in every good work. Jesus said bearing fruit brings glory to God. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV). But it requires abiding in Christ and a submissive obedience to the will of God.

And Paul prayed this prayer because he knew that, ultimately, knowledge of and obedience to the will of God produces a growing awareness of who God is. If we know God’s will and obey it, we will develop a deeper intimacy with Him. Not only will we grow in our knowledge of His will, we will grow in our knowledge of Him. “All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT). Knowing God is the objective. He wants us to know Him better. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants to deepen the relationship between He and us. That is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:5 ESV). The apostle john wrote, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). Jesus Christ has made God known to us. He has made it possible for us to know God, the one true god. But that knowledge is to increase daily. As we learn His will, we get exposed to His heart, His nature, and His incredible love for man. As we live within His will, we discover just how faithful, true, trustworthy, loving, wise, and powerful He really is. And like Paul, we learn to say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The Privilege of Knowing God.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. – 1 John 5:20 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

John closes his letter with a strong note of affirmation: “We know that the Son of God has come.” John has given his own personal testimony to that fact, along with the testimonies of the three very reliable witnesses, not to mention God Himself. The evidence is more than sufficient to prove that Jesus not only came, but that He was and is the Son of God. He existed before the creation of the world with God. Not only that, He played a major part in the creation of the world. John begins his gospel with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV). The deity of Jesus is essential to the plan of salvation. Without it, mankind’s sin problem remains unchanged. We are left with the ever-present reality of sin in our lives and the complete incapacity to refrain from sin or remove the guilt and sentence of death associated with it. There were those in John’s day who believed that Jesus simply came to show us a better way to live. He came to give us a more enlightened moral code by which to conduct our lives. But Jesus’ entire life led to the cross, where He sacrificed Himself for the sins of mankind. He atoned for man’s sin by offering Himself as a worthy, sinless sacrifice. And as a result, when anyone places their faith in Him as their Savior and sin substitute, they receive not only cleansing from sin, but His righteousness. In other words, Jesus didn’t just pay our debt off and bring our balance to zero. That would still have left us spiritually penniless and helpless. No, what Jesus did was give us His righteousness. He replaced our indebtedness to God with the wealth of His righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Not only that, He provided a way for us to know God and experience fellowship with Him for the very first time in our lives.

We can know the one, true God. No longer are we left to try and conjure up our own version of God or find something else that might act as a stand-in for Him. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can actually, legitimately know God. We can come into His presence. And when we do, we come as His children, not groveling, fearful debtors. He looks on us as His own children. He sees us as righteous, because our sins have all been paid for in full – past, present and future. We no longer have to try and earn His favor. We don’t have to attempt to measure up and keep our sin-quotient below 50 percent. Yes, we are to live holy lives, because that is what He has called us to. But we don’t do it out of a sense of obligation or in order to earn His love and favor. We do it gladly, out of love for Him. And we do it in the strength He has provided us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Our testimony can be that of Paul’s, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us. The Spirit of God has taken up a permanent residence within each and every believer.

But the main point John leaves us with as he closes out his letter is that “we may know him who is true.” By coming to know Jesus as Savior, we come to know God the Father. There is no other way. Any other attempt to come to know God will fall short. It will end in idolatry, a false form of God. Rather than the true God, man will always end up worshiping false gods – apart from Christ. John wants us to know that Jesus makes it possible for us to know the one true God and experience eternal life. But one of the false perceptions among many believers is that eternal life is somehow a commodity. It is some kind of future reward reserved for those who make the right choice and place their faith in Jesus. But Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Knowing God and Jesus is eternal life. It is the reward. A relationship with God and His Son is the prize. But do we value it? Do we fully appreciate the remarkable reality that we can have an intimate, experiential knowledge of God – right here, right now? Jesus has made it possible for us to know and understand the infinite, indefinable, all-powerful God of the universe. Through the living word, Jesus; and the written Word, the Scriptures; and the indwelling Spirit; we can know and understand God. We can come to comprehend His character and nature. We can grow in our knowledge of Him. We can increasingly see His incredible love for us and respond in kind. Rather than seeing Him as distant, detached and difficult to understand, we can know and love Him. And we don’t have to wait for heaven in order to start. What an incredible privilege.

I Know That I Know.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. – 1 John 2:3 ESV

The knowledge of God is far more than an academic or cognitive kind of knowledge. You can know details and even personal information about the Prime Minister of England or the President of the United States, but that doesn’t mean you know them. You simply know something about them. You have no personal knowledge of them and cannot claim to have a close relationship with them. Sadly, this describes the relationship that many have who claim to know God. Their knowledge is Book-knowledge, fed to them from the pulpit or Sunday School classroom, or passed on to them by their parents. If you were to ask them if they know God, they would say, “Of course, I know Him.” They could probably tell you facts and details about God, concerning His character, His creation of the world, His miracles recorded in the Bible, and even His offer of salvation made available through belief in His Son. But according to the apostle John, the proof of their knowledge of God would be far more simple and conclusive. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3 ESV). In other words, obedience is the true test of our knowledge of God. But we must be careful here. John is not telling us that obedience is the way to come to know God. He is not saying that you have to obey God in order to know Him. No, John is telling us that obedience is a proof of our knowledge of God. It is how we can know that we truly do know Him. The kind of knowledge John speaks of is intimate and experiential, not academic. He uses the Greek word, ginōskō, which was a Jewish idiom referring to sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This isn’t some kind of a head-knowledge. It is an intimate awareness of God’s involvement in one’s life. Because the only way we can keep His commandments is IF we know Him. It is His power, made available to us through the presence of His Spirit, that makes it possible for us to live in obedience to His will. It is our relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ, that makes a life of obedience, a life of righteousness, possible. So when John states, “whoever says he abides in him [Christ], ought to walk in the same way in which he [Christ] walked” (1 John 3:6 ESV), We can and should live our lives as Jesus lived His – humbly, sacrificially, and in complete obedience to the Father’s will. No, we cannot live our lives completely without sin, as He did, but we can live in obedience. Because we know God, we can put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13). Paul tells us, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). We can live differently and distinctively. We can say yes to God and no to sin. Again, Paul writes, “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Romans 6:13 NLT).

We can know that we know God, that we have a relationship with Him, when we see the remarkable change take place in our character that is only possible through the redemptive work of His Son. When we come to know Christ as our Savior, we receive a new nature, a new capacity to live in obedience to the will of God. He sets us free from slavery to sin and provides us with the freedom to live in willing obedience to God. “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (Romans 6:20-22 NLT). When we obey God, we don’t get the credit, He does. What we get is the assurance that we know Him. “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). I know Him. He knows me. Not only that, He loves me. And He empowers me to live righteously, even when surrounded by unrighteousness. He has given me His Spirit to help me do battle with my own sin nature. I don’t have to give in to sinful desires. I don’t have to fall for every temptation that comes my way. I can walk like Jesus walked. And when I do, I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I know God. Over in his gospel, John recorded a fascinating statement from the lips of Jesus. It was part of His prayer that He prayed to the Father not long before His trials and crucifixion. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Eternal life is NOT simply heaven. It is not an opulent residence reserved for us somewhere in the future. It is the knowledge of God and His Son. It is a relationship with the Creator of the Universe and the King of kings and Lord of lords. And I can know that I know them because I can see their life-transforming power at work in my life – right here, right now. And THAT is eternal life.