Monday, 18 October 2010

How To Please Jesus (Col. 1:9-10)

One of the desires in the hearts of all Christians is the wish to please Jesus. But how can they do so? This concern is the heart of Paul’s petition in these verses and in detailing his petitions he also informs us of the process by which we can have a way of living that fully pleases Jesus.

1. Pleasing Jesus is the purpose of the gospel
We can deduce this detail by noting that Paul prayed this petition for a church that had experienced the power of the gospel (a statement that applies to all faithful churches). The message of salvation had been taken to Colosse by Epaphras and, no doubt, as each of them heard that comment by Paul they would recall what had happened when they heard the sweet story of the Saviour’s love. Most of them had come from a pagan background, and we can imagine their joy when they found the Saviour. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith. So each of the Colossian believers had pleased Jesus when they came to faith in him. Yet having come to faith in Christ, these believers had to keep on developing spiritually in order to continue pleasing him.

2. Pleasing Jesus should be the burden of intercession
Often we are asked to pray for others or we sense a burden from God to pray for them. Sometimes we focus our prayers on certain details connected to a person or project and then anticipate seeing an answer at some stage. Obviously such concerns are always appropriate. Yet Paul here indicates that when we intercede for others, our desire should be that we will want them to please Jesus. Paul had little idea about the current concerns of the people in Colosse – how could he, given that they were hundreds of miles away? Yet this request, connected to pleasing Jesus, was always relevant. In whatever state each of them was in, it was appropriate for Paul to pray that they would please the Saviour. Not only is such a petition relevant, it is also an expression of comprehensive brotherly love. Remember Paul had never met most of the Christians in Colosse. Yet there burned in his heart a longing that they would live in such a way that would please their common Lord. And his desire in this regard was pleasing to Jesus.

3. Pleasing Jesus comes from knowing God’s will
In verse 9, Paul’s desire is that the Colossians will have the knowledge of God’s will. There are three possible options with regard to the meaning of God’s will. One is God’s secret will, his purpose for everything in the universe that has or will exist. Paul does not expect any of the Colossians to get access to God’s secret will because God will not share these details with others.

The second option is God’s specific will for us as individuals. Some Christians are eager to discover what role God has for them and assume that they will be given infallible confirmation. So they pray about their career, or marriage, or house, and often expect to receive specific answers, when usually what provides answers in such areas involves common sense. Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we should not pray for specific matters. I know a man who prayed for a car, and God led another person to give the man a car – an Audi. Yet I cannot deduce from that situation that it is God’s will that every person should get a car in such a way. Even when we pray about particular issues, I don’t think God provides such details all at once, although he can give helps from time to time in discovering what he intends us to do. But the answer may come through the advice of a friend.

So if it is not God’s secret will or his specific will, what will does Paul have in mind? I would suggest it is God’s revealed will. This will is now found in the Bible, but at the time Paul wrote this letter, God had raised up apostles and others with special insight into the plan of salvation and it was the duty of the Christians to endeavour to understand it.

Obviously, the revealed will of God is a big subject and it is impossible for us to consider all of it in this sermon. A summary of it would be something like this: God sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The way of salvation involved his death on the cross where he paid the penalty for sin. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and forty days later he ascended to heaven. From there, he sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and that Spirit enabled Jesus’ apostles to declare the gospel with power. Since then, the gospel has been preached throughout the world, and many sinners have responded to it and joined local communities called churches – these converts try, with God’s help, to obey his commandments despite opposition from spiritual enemies. When these converts die, their souls go to heaven, but when Jesus returns they will be resurrected from the dead. This will be followed by the Day of Judgement when Jesus will give his verdict on the lives of all intelligent creatures, with those who trusted him inheriting the new world and all others being banished to a lost eternity. As I said, a lot more details could be included. The point is that pleasing Jesus involves an increasing knowledge of this revealed will of God. Of course, we gain this knowledge by studying the Bible, and in the process obtain the biblical framework in which we can slot the details of our lives.

It is also the case that the Bible mentions several responses that God wants from us, and these responses will involve conformity to his will. In Romans 12:2, Paul informs his readers, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Our minds, therefore, have to be informed before we can know God’s will.

Another detail given in God’s Word is a principle that covers all our behaviour – Paul instructs the Thessalonians, ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality’ (1 Thess. 4:3). We should not engage in any thoughts or actions that hinder sanctification.

And there is his other reference to the Thessalonians concerning God’s will: ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thess. 5:16-18). If anyone asks about knowing God’s will, reminding them of the three details mention here by Paul is a good start.

4. Pleasing Jesus requires more than knowledge
The world today is bombarded with knowledge about a whole range of subjects – information overload, it is called. What is done with such knowledge? Some merely learn it, some misinterpret it, some apply it to others but not to themselves, and some use it correctly. The same responses are found with regard to knowledge of God’s revealed will. In order to use our knowledge in a right way, Paul says we need spiritual wisdom and understanding. We can put it this way. The devil knows a great deal about God’s revealed will, probably more than the greatest theologians alive. Yet he does not use his knowledge wisely in a spiritual sense.

Where can we get this wisdom and understanding? One answer is to pray for it, as James the Lord’s brother says in his letter: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him’ (James 1:5). This is a straightforward way of attaining wisdom.

Second, we can use a key which explains the whole Bible, and that key is Jesus himself. Remember the incident on the way to Emmaus: the two disconsolate travellers were in need of a proper understanding of the facts they already possessed. Jesus took them through the Old Testament, and ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself’ (Luke 24:27). Jesus was the key for these two persons. Later on, in the Book of Acts, we find a very intelligent, religious man reading the Bible and not understanding it. If we had asked the Ethiopian official about the details, he could have recited them word perfect. But he did not have the key to its meaning. So God sent Philip to the man and he preached to him Jesus, and the man now had the key and could travel home to Ethiopia able to understand the revealed will of God. Spurgeon once said that there was a road to London from every hamlet in England, and similarly there is a road to Jesus from every verse in the Bible. The way to have wisdom and understanding is by prayer and using the key. We can combine both when we ask God to use the Holy Spirit to teach us about Jesus from his Word.

5. Pleasing Jesus involves progress in Christlikeness
The imagery of a walk indicates progress. We now use it in order to describe a meander round a park. But in the ancient world one had to walk to get anywhere. Christlikeness is seen in Paul’s mention of the Lord, which is probably a reference to Jesus, just as the apostle’s use of God in verse 10 refers to the Father. We are to walk in such a way that is pleasing to Christ, and the way that pleases him is imitation of him while depending upon him.

6. Pleasing Jesus leads to fruitful living
Paul’s desire is that the Colossians will bear fruit in every good work. When we think of good works, we picture an individual performing acts of kindness and charity. Yet while these are important activities, they are not what Paul has in mind. Instead we should see good works as the opposite of works of the flesh. Good works refers to every holy activity of a believer.

Paul expects God to ensure that all those who are pleasing Jesus by their lifestyles will continue producing spiritual fruit in all they do. Perhaps we can illustrate it in this way. A believer is like an apple tree and the branches and twigs are his good works (big and small). On every branch and twig there should be apples. Sadly we only have apples on some of them. Paul knew that some of the Colossians were not what they should be. Yet he prayed that they would all become fruit bearers. This is possible, as the psalmist points out concerning aged believers in Psalm 92:

How can we produce fruit in every good work? Imagine that you are doing it for Jesus. When reacting to a situation, ask yourself, What would Jesus say or do, and how would he say or do it? If we are doing something by ourselves, ask how would we do it if Jesus was standing beside us. If we are wondering how to pass the time, ask yourself in what ways Jesus would spend time. Of course, the best way to do something fruitful is to do one thing at a time, and to do it for Jesus.

7. Pleasing Jesus results in knowing God better
According to Jesus in his prayer in John 17:3, the meaning of eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son. The way to increase our knowledge of God is by obedience to the commandments of Jesus. In John 14:23, Jesus promised his disciples: ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ The best place to get to know someone is to live with them. Here Jesus promises the spiritual equivalent – of having God the Father and Jesus himself living in our hearts. We will discover that they are patient teachers, persistent forgivers, faithful promise keepers, and so on.

So Paul, through his prayer, has described for us the way to please Jesus. It involves knowing his revealed will and applying it in a spiritually wise manner to every area of our lives, so that we become fruitful in all that we do and enjoy the company of God. What a wonderful way to live!

Pleasing Jesus was the goal of Paul’s life, as he expressed it in another letter that he wrote during the imprisonment when he wrote to the Colossians. Writing to the Philippians, he says, ‘It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death’ (Phil. 1:20). But how did he get to such an attitude? We can see how if we read the previous verse along with verse 20: ‘Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death’ (Phil. 1:18-20). One important contribution was the prayers of the Philippians. They prayed for him that he would honour Jesus and Paul prayed for them that they would please Jesus. We should do the same for one another.

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