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Power and Perseverance (1:11)

Paul's prayer in Colossians 1 actually frightens some people. It is intimidating to them for one of two reasons (or both): some are afraid they won't have the power to live worthy of the Lord and to bear fruit in every good work, while others fear that once they start out in their efforts to do so they'll end up quitting, they simply won't have the endurance to persevere in what they began. So either the sense of personal weakness and spiritual impotence, on the one hand, or the lack of steadfastness, on the other, often paralyzes people from even trying to live as they know the Lord wants them to.

Thank God for Colossians 1:11! Here Paul continues his prayer by asking God to strengthen them with power and to sustain them in their endeavors.

One of my spiritual mentors, a man named Russ McKnight (now with the Lord), was often heard to say: "Whatever God requires, he provides." Never were words more relevant than they are here. Walking worthy of the Lord and pleasing him is a tall order. Living lives laden with spiritual fruit does not come easily to men and women who are by nature selfish and jealous and ambitious and prideful and . . . well, you get the idea.

Paul knew this. It was his struggle, too. That's why he prayed for the Colossians (and undoubtedly for himself as well) the way he did in v. 11. Let's note seven things about this prayer.

First, Paul does not say "strengthen yourselves," as if the power were inherently ours, resident within us, and we only needed to flip a switch to release it in our pursuit of holiness. You may recall similar words in Ephesians 6:10 where Paul said, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." Needless to say, the key words are "in the Lord" and "in the strength of his might." When he prays, "may you be strengthened", he obviously means "by God"! He could as easily have said it more directly, "Oh, God, I ask that you strengthen these otherwise weak and impotent people to do your will."

Second, there is something of a redundancy in Paul saying, "be strengthened with all power." It's as if he says, "be empowered with power." Well, yes, but with what else might one be empowered if not with power? Surely, Paul chose his words carefully. He knew what he was saying. His point is simply to reinforce the magnitude of what is available to us from God when we ask him.

Third, as if that weren't enough, he prays that we be strengthened with "all" power. This could mean power "of every kind" or the "fullness" of power or perhaps power in the "highest degree." Nothing second-rate here! Paul prays (as we should, too) for the best and most potent and most effective and wide-ranging power possible. God, being omnipotent, is more than up to the task of saying Yes.

Fourth, when God empowers us with maximum power to do his will, he does it "according to his glorious might" (literally, "according to the might of his glory"). Since the word "might" is effectively a synonym for "power", it may even be rendered "according to his majestic power"! In that case we would have something like, "May you be empowered with all power according to his majestic power." Wow! God doesn't do anything second-class.

Fifth, the goal of this empowerment is "endurance" and "patience", the former a reference to persevering in the face of difficult circumstances, the latter a reference to steadfastness that does not retaliate against those who resist us. Events and trials and hardship tempt us to quit, but God grants endurance. People and criticism and injustice tempt us to seek revenge, but God grants patience.

Sixth, as O'Brien reminds us, "this kind of endurance . . . does not derive from personal bravery or stoical fortitude. Rather, as in the OT and later Judaism . . . it is seen to spring from God who is its source" (24). Paul was even more explicit on this point in Romans 15:5 where he describes God as "the God of endurance," i.e., the God from whom endurance ultimately comes. By the way, in that text in Romans Paul makes clear that the means God typically employs when he imparts endurance is the Scriptures (see Romans 15:4)!

Seventh, I don't want to press this point, but we should take note of the present tense in Paul's prayer: "May you be strengthened . . ." We might render it, "May you be continually strengthened" or "strengthened repeatedly". The point is that the strength and power we need is available as the many and varied circumstances and challenges of life are confronted, one after another, day after day.

In sum, there is no addiction God's power cannot break, no sin God's power cannot defeat, no task to which we are called that God's power cannot fulfill, no fruit we are called to bear that God's power cannot produce, no rebellious child God's power cannot restore, no broken marriage God's power cannot reconcile, no physical disease God's power cannot heal. That's why Paul calls it "majestic power"!

As Russ said, so I'll say it again: "Whatever God requires, he provides."

Empowered with you,

Sam