Colossians 1:11-12 by Robert Dean
Includes communion service. Throughout the centuries, various “secrets” to the Christian life have been discovered. Why? It is simple: the Christian life isn’t merely difficult, it is impossible! There is no way any human in his own power can fulfill the commandments of God. We need special power. In the Church Age, this is provided by God the Holy Spirit. In this lesson we are looking at various aspects of how God strengthens us in our spiritual life.

How Can We Do This? - Spiritual Power. Colossians 1:11-12


The theme is Colossians is that Jesus Christ is sufficient. That word "sufficient" is an extremely important word. Sometimes it comes across in English as if it is just maybe barely enough but that is not the idea of sufficiency. Sufficiency means that whatever is needed is there; it is always enough, always more than enough. Jesus Christ has provided everything; there is nothing more that can be added to what He did for us on the cross. That is particularly important both at the time that Paul wrote the Colossians epistle to this church at Colosse and at our time because we all fall under the same basic problem, that is, we think there is something we can do to add a little to whatever God does for us. We try to figure out a way that we can add something, we can do something to help God out, that somehow we need to put our two cents worth in. It is faith alone, and that alone means that we are not adding anything to it. The Hebrew Scriptures teach that all of our works of righteousness, i.e. the best that we do, is as filthy rages. That means that there is nothing good even in the best that we have as far as measuring up to God's standard of perfect righteousness is concerned, so that we have to rely in His provision for us, and that provision of righteousness is sufficient, enough. 

It doesn't mean that we are justified in living our life in any way we want to, or in rank sinfulness because God has provided everything for us; it means that because He has given everything for us we don't have to be concerned with somehow trying to measure up to a standard that is frankly just impossible. It is not that works are not important for Paul says, after he talks in Ephesians 2:8, 9 that our salvation is by grace through faith, that we are created as His workmanship for good works; but they are the result, not the cause of our relationship with God. Our good works are based on our understanding of what God has already provided for us.

As Paul has focused on his introductory prayer of gratitude to the Colossians in the first eight verses he then comes back to the point of his prayer in verse 9 NASB "For this reason also, since the day we heard {of it,} we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, [10] so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please {Him} in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." Because you are already saved we are all members of the royal family of God and we are in a position where we are being prepared for something yet future. We walk worthy of the Lord by being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. The primary thing he is asking for is in verse 9: to ask that we might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Then we are to be filled by means of the Holy Spirit.

This is important because as we look at the eleventh verse, Paul says we are to be strengthened with all might/power. The question is, how can we really do this? If we come to understand what is expected of us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, what is expected of us in terms of the standards of the Christian life, and we are not going to water down or rationalize some of these commands, we have to recognize that the spiritual life is impossible. The Christian life is impossible; it is designed that way. We can't do it on our own; we can only do it if we are doing it through the power of God the Holy Spirit and the power of God's Word. So we have to learn how to walk, as Paul says in Galatians 5:16, by means of the Holy Spirit. That is the empowerment of the spiritual life. Other than that we are just trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. The key is understanding this word epignosis [e)pignwsij] which means a full knowledge. It is used in the New Testament where it has to do with a usable spiritual knowledge. It is not knowledge for knowledge sake, it is knowledge for the purpose of walking worthy of the Lord to glorify Him in everything that we do and say.   

So Paul prays first that we might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This is done through three subordinate purposes: that we may walk worthy of the Lord, and we do that by being fruitful in every good work—application of what we learn as we study God's Word; secondly, that we may be strengthened with all power, v. 11. There are two things that give us power in the spiritual life and they work in tandem; you can't have one without the other. One is the Word of God which gives us the content, and one is the Spirit of God who gives us the enablement. But the Spirit of God doesn't work apart from His Word, and His Word doesn't function apart from God the Holy Spirit. The fourth subordinate purpose is that we may be filled with the knowledge of His will, that we give "thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." This begins the basis for Paul's transition where he slips from this into talking about all that God has done for us in and through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this last part where he focuses on God the Father and all that He has done is really fundamental because the more we learn to be grateful people the less we put an emphasis on who we are, on what we do, on what we should have should have because of who we are. The more self-absorbed we are the more arrogant we are; the less self-absorbed we are the more truly humble we are.

The Old Testament teaches that Moses was the most humble man who ever lived. He was a man who led between two and three million rebellious Israelites through the wilderness for a period of forty years. His authority was consistently challenged, there were numerous problems that had to be addressed because of their failure to trust God, and this was extremely difficult. It meant that Moses as a leader had to be an extremely strong and dynamic leader, and he wasn't someone who could be pushed around. So humility doesn't have anything to do with strength or power that one has, or the legitimate exercise of the authority that one has, it has to do with one's orientation to authority, to divine authority.

Colossians 1:11 NASB "strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously." Paul expresses the purpose clause again, this time through the use of the participle. This is his second subordinate purpose; the primary purpose was to be filled with the knowledge of His will. It is the structure of this verse that really helps us to understand it. Just in terms of an overview, we see the primary expression of the purpose here that we are strengthened with all power. That power then is expressed in terms of its basis which is the glorious power of God. So we have the standard which is God's omnipotence. We are strengthened according to an immeasurable amount of power, one that can never be tapped out. Then this is for a goal which is expressed in the last clause, for or toward the end, the ultimate goal, of all patience and longsuffering with joy. One Greek text, the Critical Text which underlies a number of the more recent English translations—NASB, NIV, NEV, and some others—tries to end the sentence after "longsuffering," and then take the phrase "with joy" ["joyously" in the NASB] and attach it to the next verse. We don't think that is particularly correct. It doesn't have anything to do with criticism, it is an editorial decision often influenced by certain theological presuppositions. "With joy" or "joyously" applies to patience and longsuffering, and we will see why.

So we are to be strengthened. The word there translated "strengthened" is the Greek word dunamao [dunamaw], a present passive participle which tells us simply that it is used in an adverbial sense and it is attached to a primary finite verb which goes back to being filled with the knowledge of His Will. These participles attach themselves in the sense of modifying a finite verb. That is what helps us define the structure of the writer's thought. We are to be strengthened with all might. This is a standard idiom that is used in Koine Greek. The might that we are strengthened with is expressed through a cognate noun: dunamao is the verb; dunamis is the noun. The word relates to power, in some places to the ability to do anything, the capability to do anything, the strength to accomplish a particular task. So this was a standard idiom that we are to be strengthened with strength, with power, with ability. The fact that dunamao is a passive participle indicates that we do not contribute to the strengthening, it is a dependence upon God. That is the force of a passive voice. In the passive voice the subject, the individual believers, are receivers of the action, which is to be strengthened. God does the strengthening; we simply receive the action from Him. That can only occur when we are in right relationship with Him through confession of sin and walking by the Holy Spirit.

That might that we are strengthened with comes from the source of God. But God is omnipotent, which refers to the fact that God has all power; He is all-powerful. It refers to the fact that God has the ability to do all that He wills to do. We are strengthened with all might according to a standard, and that standard is the power of His glory, literally. That is omnipotence. This is related to the same thing Paul says in Philippians chapter four, that God will supply all of our needs through His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. He has an unlimited bank account so we can never tap out His bank account; we can never tap out His power. He always has as much power after He provides us power as He had before because His power neither increases nor diminishes; it is unchanging; He is always able to supply us with whatever we need in whatever situation that we face. So it is His power, not our power.

There are several things the Scripture says about the power of God and how it is supplied to us. Two references that are related to each other are found in the opening chapter of Romans and the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians. Romans 1:16 NASB "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation …" That is its end goal, and that refers not to justification, making sure your destiny is heaven, but it is the end game which is the completion of our salvation in glorification in arrival in heaven. In that sense the gospel isn't just the narrow sense of the gospel, the good news of how to be justified by simply believing in Jesus who is the one who died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day, but that the gospel in this fuller sense that Paul uses it refers to the foundation of new life (faith alone in Christ) and the exploitation of that new life through everything else that God provides us with from the moment of salvation. So it is the gospel that is the power of God "for salvation," phase three when we are finally absent from the body and face to face with the Lord; and it is for everyone who believes, not just for some. Everyone has the potential because everyone is blessed with every spiritual blessing at the instant of salvation. And God gives us that power but it is dependent upon our volition whether or not we are going to access it in the way that Scriptures says in being dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 1:18 expresses the same thought in a slightly different way. NASB "For the word [message] of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved (emphasis on the phase two process of sanctification with its ultimate culmination in glorification) it [message of the cross] is the power of God." So the power of God relates to what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross for us, i.e. He paid the penalty for sin for us in full. We don't add anything to that, we simply accept that and at the instant we accept it God the Father legally imputes/credits to us the perfect righteousness of Christ so that His standard is met, and then because that has been accomplished He is free to supply us with every spiritual blessing.

In Colossians 1:11, "according to His glorious power," the word for power is kratos [kratoj]. This is an antiquated Greek word that goes back to the 5th century BC, if not before, but it is not used as much in the Koine period. When it is used in the New Testament it only references the power of God, it never refers to power or ability of a creature. So He strengthens us according to this unlimited standard that we can never ever tap out. This comes to us in the church age through God the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NASB "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Where is another place we can think of where we have these two terms joy and peace found together? Galatians 5:22, 23 when we talk about the fruit of the Spirit. In Romans 15:13 the words "in believing" is not justification faith, it is ongoing faith in terms of the Christian life; "that we may abound in hope," and that indicates the increasing hope or confident expectation. And one again, this is by the power of God the Holy Spirit. It is not by our power plus the Holy Spirit; it is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Just a few verses later Paul uses the same phrase related to the Spirit of God when he references the work that God has done amongst the apostles: v. 19, "in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." So his ministry is energized or empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is the means by which God strengthens us with all of His might.

A parallel passage to Colossians chapter one is found in Ephesians 1:19, 20 where in reference to understanding the power of God. NASB "and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. {These are} in accordance with the working of the strength of His might," and an example of that is in the resurrection: "which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly {places,}" Another passage is 2 Corinthians 12:9 Where Paul has been beset by a demon who is a messenger of Satan. NASB "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." With us, as with Paul, sometimes the thorn in the flesh problem continues so that we can learn to trust me and walk by means of the Spirit in the midst of that problem. God's grace is sufficient; it is more than enough; it will take care of whatever it is that we are facing. Paul's boasting here is that expression of joy. That is why it says "with joy" at the end of Colossians 1:11. Paul's boasting is an expression of that joy that we have, that even in the midst of our weakness or infirmities we see the power of Christ coming in to sustain us and to enable us.

1 Thessalonians 1:5 NASB "for our gospel did not come to you in word [message] only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…"

In 2 Timothy 3:5 Paul recognizes that there is going to be a problem that arises for many within the history of Christianity. NASB "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power …" There will be those who are not relying upon the Lord and they substitute something else so that it appears that they are. So they have a form of godliness, a manifestation, the trappings of spiritual life, but they don't really have it. They are relying on the wrong power.

What we learn as we try to apply the Word is that it is extremely difficult, so some people bail out and go to these other alternatives where they are essentially denying the power of the Holy Spirit because it is tough to learn to walk by means of the Spirit. What we learn from the Scripture is that the spiritual life isn't just difficult or hard, it is impossible. If we are truly serious about living the spiritual life and we look at these various mandates that we have in Scripture about loving one another we learn that it is impossible apart from God the Holy Spirit. We can't have true and lasting peace and stability in our lives, real joy in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, if we are not relying upon the Holy Spirit. He is the one who produces that in our life.

One headline in the British newspaper The Daily Mail said concerning the death of Osama bin Laden, "Rot in Hell." There's a part in all of us that has a certain sympathy for that but the question to be raised is, is that the attitude we should have as a believer? It is not. For example, Ezekiel 18:23 NASB "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?" Are we to take pleasure at the death of bin Laden? That is not the way God thinks; that is not the way Christ thought. Are we to have pleasure in the fact that by our victory in a military operation we bring greater security perhaps to our country? Yes, we should. But at the same time we don't rejoice at the personal death of the wicked. That is a challenge for us as believers. We recognize that someone, no matter how evil they are, no matter how deserving they are, no matter how wicked they've been, they are still according to Scripture a person, a human being created in the image and likeness of God and that Jesus Christ died equally for them and their sins as for us. And God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked but prefers that they should turn from their wicked ways and live.

This is seen in another passage related to Timothy. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 NASB "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, {and} one mediator also between God and men, {the} man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony {given} at the proper time." This is the flip side of Ezekiel 18:23. In terms of the righteousness of God your sins are not any better than bin Laden's sins or Adolf Hitler's sins or Sadaam Hussein's sins. If someone is the enemy of our nation we are to attack them in warfare but with a different mental, attitude. It is not about personal vengeance, it is not a personal vendetta and it is not based on hatred. It is based on warfare, the principles of just warfare, and on providing security for our nation.

The Scriptures are clear that there is a particular attitude that we should have. Jesus expressed this in Matthew 5:43-46 NASB "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on {the} evil and {the} good, and sends rain on {the} righteous and {the} unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?'" If we succumb to hating our enemy and being motivated by revenge and other sinful motivation then we succumb to the destruction of our own spiritual life in the midst of the battle. The Christian life is not hard, it is impossible. We can only have the right kind of attitude if we are walking by the Spirit.

Back to Colossians 1:11, the word "patience" [perseverance] is the Greek word hupomone [u(pomonh] which means to hang in there. It is endurance in the midst of difficulty. makrothumia [makroqumia], which is longsuffering, has to do with being patient as we wait upon the Lord to provide and sustain us. James 1:3-6 NASB "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have {its} perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind." There is a process here. Endurance is important. We are strengthened with His might to the end of endurance because as we learn to endure and trust God in the midst of difficulty that is how we grow to maturity. How do we avoid doubting? How do we avoid being tossed around when we are in the midst of a crisis and trying to handle it by the Word of God? It is because we have gone through prior training. This was the purpose that God gave pastors to the church—Ephesians 4:12, 13 "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying and strengthening of the body of Christ, until we come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God." Why? Ephesians 4:14 NASB "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…"

So when we look at James and James says to ask in faith without doubting, how do we get to that point? We get to that point because we have been trained by a pastor-teacher in how to think, and we learn the knowledge of God's Word. This brings us right back to the purpose and focus of Paul's prayer, which is that we be filled with the knowledge of His will. We have to think in terms of responding and reacting to situations and circumstances by asking: How does the Word of God say I should think and react to this situation?