Topical Scripture: Colossians 1:9-14
The recent Business Week cover caught my eye: “Dream Machines–The future of cars: smart tech, sizzling design, more choices.”
I’ve been fascinated with cars since my father and I built my first Pinewood Derby Cub Scout racer–which still sits on my shelf at home, by the way. My first car was a 1966 Dodge Dart, which wasn’t. You’d hit the gas and it would laugh. It featured manual steering, brakes, windows and locks; vinyl seats which became a summer-time furnace in Houston; a push-button AM radio; and an under-dash air conditioner which dripped ice cold condensation on the floor.
According to the article, the newest cars have a few innovations my Dart did not. Sensors which warn the driver when the car veers out of its lane or heads for a possible accident. Plasma-based technology which releases charged ions into the air conditioner to filter out mold and bacteria. Navigation systems which will soon tell us where the traffic jams and accidents are. Radios which connect to an iPod or memory card. But none of these are the innovation I need most.
Remote door locks have been commonplace for years. But car makers have yet to make one I cannot foul up. I’m constantly pushing the trunk release button when I mean to unlock the doors. I’ve hit the panic button more times than I wish to remember.
Last Thursday morning was the worst yet. I left the 6 a.m. prayer meeting to get my briefcase from my car, walked up to my car, and pushed the remote. I heard the door beep, pulled on the handle, but the door stayed locked. I tried several times. Then I realized I was standing at Bill Rudderow’s car, which is the exact car, make, model, year, and color as mine. My car was eight feet away, beeping at me. My friend Dave Noble walked up, saw me apparently trying to steal a car, and said, “Baylor’s really expensive, isn’t it?”
The day they make a key which unlocks every door I need to open will be a great day in my life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one decision could solve all your problems? Help you with your financial worries, your health issues, your family’s struggles? Guide you at school and work? Give you the wisdom you need for every issue you face? If one key could open every door in your life?
Live in the will of God
Paul has already expressed gratitude for the Colossian Christians–their faith practiced in the presence of Christ and love for all God’s people, motivated by their decision to live for heaven rather than earth. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, when we aim at heaven we get earth thrown in. But even such mature Christians have not yet arrived at their spiritual destination. Paul still intercedes constantly for them: “we have not stopped praying for you” (v. 9a).
Here’s what he prays: “asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will” (v. 9b). “Knowledge” translates the Greek word for “full knowledge which grasps and penetrates into the object.” He prays that they might know fully the will of God for their lives. How will they know it? “Through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
Wisdom is the ability to understand God’s will in all life situations; understanding is the ability to relate truths to each other and construct a coherent world view.
He prays that they understand what God wants them to do in every situation, and how that situation relates to his overall purpose for their lives and world. He wants them to know what to do next, and why. What steps to take, and what ultimate destination to seek. How to live each day, and the purpose for which to live their lives.
Why is understanding God’s practical will and ultimate purpose so important? It is the key which unlocks the following doors:
Then we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way” (v. 10a). Living in his will is the only way to please God.
“Bearing fruit in every good work”–then we reproduce spiritually, helping others follow Jesus.
“Growing in the knowledge of God”–then we grow spiritually, becoming more and more like Jesus.
“Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience”–then we live with his power, enduring all problems and trusting God in all situations.
“Joyfully giving thanks to the Father”–then we live in joyful gratitude every day to the God who has rescued us from the darkness of sin and hell and transferred us into his kingdom, redeeming and forgiving our souls.
Do you want to please God? To help others follow him? To grow spiritually? To live with his power? To live with overflowing joy? Then you must understand and practice God’s practical will and ultimate purpose for your life. If you are, your life will manifest these results. If you are not, you won’t.
Live for the glory of God
So far, so good. But what is the will of God for our lives? What is the overarching purpose for which he intends us, the north on the compass, the destination to which every step should take us?
Colossians was written by Paul to be read out loud, from a scroll, in a single setting. Teachers like me divide it up into sections, but it is best understood as a whole. If we keep reading, we’ll discover the answer.
Paul next offers what I consider the most profound single theological description of Jesus to be found anywhere in Scripture. We’ll study it in detail next week. Here he tells us: What Jesus is: “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (v. 15). What he has done: “by him all things were created” (v. 16). Who he is now: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (vs. 17-18a).
Why? Why did Jesus make all things? Why is he head of the church now? “So that in everything he might have the supremacy” (v. 18b). “In everything” he is to have first place. In everything he is to be glorified. He does all things so that he might be glorified in all things. Glorifying God is the purpose of God, and of his creation. Glorifying God is his will for us. Living for the glory of God is the key which unlocks every door, the answer to every question, the destination for every decision.
God says he created us “for my glory” (Is 43:7). He warns us, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another” (Is 42:8). He tells us, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (Is 48:11).
Think about it–for God to glorify anyone above himself would be idolatry. For us to glorify anyone above the all-perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal God would be foolishness. For us to live for anyone or anything but God is to live for that which is finite and fallen. Every person you know will sin. Every possession you acquire will decay. Your body will die and it will all be gone. Living for God’s glory is what is best for us. It is the way to the fulfillment and joy God created us to experience. So the Bible commands, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Right now God is working to glorify himself. He is using and blessing those of us who will live for his glory. And he is using those of us who will not, in spite of ourselves. Moses took God’s glory for himself, so God raised up Joshua to conquer the Promised Land. The authorities stoned Stephen to death, so God used his martyrdom to convert Saul into Paul. Rome exiled John to Patmos, so God gave him the Revelation. The enemy crucified Jesus, so God raised him from the dead.
In this new year, God will use you, or God will bless you. The choice is yours.
How do we live in God’s will, making every decision in light of his ultimate purpose for our lives? Living in ways which please God, lead others to him, grow to be like him, experience his awesome power and live in gratitude and joy? By choosing to live for the glory of God.
How do we do this?
First, obviously, refuse all that dishonors God. We know when we sin and come short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). We know when our thoughts, words, and actions break his will and heart. Take a spiritual inventory. Ask the Spirit to reveal to you anything which displeases God. Write it down, confess it, and throw it away. Come clean with God.
Second, decide to do good things for God’s glory. Here the enemy is especially deceptive. If he cannot get us to do wrong things, he’ll get us to do good things for the wrong reason. For instance, worship for God’s glory. Miller Cunningham will lead us into God’s presence each week, but we must want to go there. Worship is about God, not us. It’s about his glory, not my desires. It is for him alone, the audience of One. It’s a good thing to come to church for worship. It’s a God thing to do it for his glory. Decide that you will do good things for his glory alone.
Third, examine your motives all through your day. Right now, am I teaching to impress you or God? Are you in worship to impress us or him? Ask before your next expenditure, or decision, or action–why am I doing this? For most of us, the glory of God is more about why we do things than what we do.
Last, trust God to help you. He wants to use and bless your life for his glory, even more than you do. Ask him to show you how, and he will. Ask his Spirit to keep you from wrong things, or from good things which are not God things. Ask his Spirit to show you how to glorify him with your life and work, your friendships and relationships, every moment and every day. And he will.
Living for God’s glory is the key which opens every door in life. I can tell you it’s so, because I’ve tried most of the others.
I’ve told you that my greatest personal fear is that I will misuse my life, that when I stand before God he will tell me that I missed his purpose for my existence. All of my adolescent and adult life I’ve wanted to know what God wanted me to do with my time and opportunities.
Knowing that I am to be a pastor isn’t specific enough. How am I to spend my time? Visiting the sick? Counseling the hurting? Evangelizing the lost? Preparing to teach, preach, and write? Leading the church?
As I told you last week, the Lord has recently called me back to his first purpose for my work: to be a “theological middleman” who translates scholarship into practice, who uses academic resources to build the church and Kingdom. But even that isn’t enough. Even that purpose is missing something, a sense of fulfillment and significance and joy. Even in that I don’t feel that I’m pleasing God, reproducing myself, growing in Christ, living in joy as I should.
Here’s the reason: my ultimate purpose is to glorify God. To glorify God by using theology to build the Kingdom. To glorify God by doing the work he has given me to do. To do this not for your sake or our church’s sake or my sake, but for his. That’s the key that opens every door, that fits every lock. Will you use it for yours?