Colossians 1:11–12a: A Prayer for Strength and Endurance for the Journey

January 13, 2015

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,
and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, . . .

Paul’s prayer for the good folks at the Colossae church continues with a run-on sentence we are unpacking phrase by phrase.

Just a little textual note here: Early New Testament manuscripts carry few punctuation01.13.15 codex_sinaiticus marks, so sometimes we can’t really tell where one sentence ends and another begins. I have personally seen the Codex Sinaiticus at the British Museum; not only is there no punctuation in that oldest surviving bound text of the NT (dating to the 4th century), there is no small case/upper case differentiation, and no space between words! Everything is in capital letters. I think they were trying to save papyrus. Reading such a document, one is very glad that Koiné Greek was structured not only with verb tenses but declensions (different noun endings depending on its “case,” i.e. function in the sentence).

But back to Paul: his intercession on behalf of this little church is that the people would be strengthened by the force that comes from God’s own power, the sort of dynamism that is glorious. God’s glorious power is characterized by overwhelming goodness and intense light. Out of that Big Bang, God’s “force of nature” is capable of making us mere mortals strong.

The reason to have strength is not so that you can obliterate everything else with a stroke of violence. No, Paul is not praying for brute force, and Christians are not to expect any help from God if they want violent power with which to dominate others. No, the reason to have godly strength is so that you may be prepared, “strengthened,” for the tough challenges ahead. I love N. T. Wright’s comment about this: “A patient and longsuffering spirit [is] the quiet corollary of faith, hope, and love.” God gives his children endurance through impossible situations, and by his Spirit he works the inner transformation that produces a patient person who is empowered by faith, hope, and love.

Many years ago, our family planned a rigorous backpacking trip with friends in the High Sierra Nevada. Our second day called for a trek up and over a 13,000-foot col, covered 01.13.15Lamarck Colwith talus. It was a grueling, long day, a battle from start to finish over difficult terrain, through threatening weather, despite early equipment failures. When we finally got over that notch to the other side, there was no camp space that would accommodate all our tents. While some of us huddled in a tent, others curled up in their sleeping bags against the boulders. As the night wore on, a terrific windstorm blew through the canyon, like a Flight Test wind tunnel. I hardly slept a wink, not only because of the noise but also out of anxiety for those sleeping “outside.” What enabled us to make it through? Inner strength, provided by God, and patience that was far from passive waiting. It was an active, teeth-gritting several hours buffeted in the wind and watching the moon cross the sky. I will never forget it. [We learned upon returning home that everywhere else but that canyon had been inundated with a heavy downpour all night; so guess who, in retrospect, praised God in great joy and thanksgiving!]

This Sierra Nevada scenario is a good example of the sort of endurance and patience Paul was asking for; and not only that, he prayed that we would be able to persevere in joyful thanksgiving! So why are these qualities part of the prayer all people need?

Because life is difficult. Holding on to the Christian faith in a world inhospitable to Jesus and his gospel is hard. Staying on the path is particularly challenging when you are alone. So the word to us sojourners is that strength training is indispensible for our survival off-trail, outside the tent.

I think some people stop going to church because it is just too hard to keep going to a place that upsets them or seems to be in self-destruct mode. But it is not easier to be out on your own, out of fellowship, either! Without the encouragement of fellow travelers, the mutually-helpful problem-solving, and holding on to one another so you don’t blow over, the walk on God’s path is fraught with perils. We need each other. We need God’s strength. We need the practiced discipline that will develop spiritual muscles and a joyful, thankful heart. Through this life, God is our trainer, our energy, our loving Father.

Next time: What has happened to make God’s power, endurance, and patience available to us?

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