The first time I preached this sermon was on December 24, 1961 (when I was twenty-six years old) and the last time was on September 2, 1979. Between those two dates, I delivered it fifteen other times for a total of seventeen. Several times, this was my first message in a pastorate.
My introductory 1961 words follow: As we come to the first Sunday of our work together, permit me to say a few personal things. We are glad to be with you folks. We have come to do the work of the Lord and be a blessing. Call on us anytime you need us and we will come to you. There will be times when we will weep together; there will be times when we will laugh together. I ask for your patience as we become adjusted to the work and seek to formulate a program of work that will not only be a help to those already saved, but will seek to win those who are not saved. I'm going to expect each member to do his very best in these days. Pray for me. There is no substitute for prayer. I'm an old-time Bible believing preacher. I believe in a heart-felt experience with God that will transform a person's life. If anyone feels like shouting in my services, let him shout as long as he walks straight for the Lord when he hits the ground.
Although my work is a teaching ministry today thirty-six years later, my respect for the Word and the work of a local church remain constant. The main points in the sermon which deal with definite needs in a Christian's life are as relevant today as then. Unfortunately, few Christians are prayed for regularly by anyone. My suggestion is that each one who reads Sermon Eleven will read it in the light of praying for fellow believers, especially those in your own family and in your church.
Subject: A Prayer for Christians
Text: Colossians 1:1-12
"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae: Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you. Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have to all the saints. For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof we heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world, and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you since the day ye heard of it, and know the grace of God in truth: As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:".
The apostle Paul was an intercessor. The expression which described his praying was "striving in prayer" (Romans 15:30; Colossians 2:1-2, 4:12) which literally means to the point of exhaustion. He not only won men, women, boys and girls to the Lord Jesus Christ, he provided prayer support for them. As he wrote letters to the churches, he let them know not only that he was praying for them, but the content of his praying.
In our text we find Paul's prayer for the members of the church at Colossae. Paul was in prison in Rome and the occasion of his writing this church at Colossae was a visit to him by Epaphras who seems to have been the founder of the church. He wanted Paul's advice. From him Paul learned all about the condition of the Colossian church: their faith in Jesus Christ, their love to all the saints as well, and that a "dangerous heresy" was making headway in the church. Christ was demoted to the same category of a number of other deities. Subsequently, the theme of the epistle was designed to counter the heresy. The theme was "The Deity and all-sufficiency of Christ."
In verses 9,10,11, we find Paul's prayer for the members of the church at Colossae. Paul's prayers are marvelous and outstanding. No part of his letters are so illustrious, so full of his own soul and passion. We find he was anxious for all the saved ones--all ages, all degrees of Christian maturity. In his prayer, he has in mind very definite needs. Let us note the three major petitions which indicate he has in mind very definite needs for which he is praying.
Be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding
"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Colossians 1:9). This is a prayer for deeper spiritual knowledge, for deeper spiritual insight and understanding of God's will. This knowledge, insight, and understanding comes by knowing God better. Was this not what Moses desired? God was calling him to a special task of service--and Moses said "I don't even know your name." Be sure God will reveal Himself more fully to the one who desires better understanding. This is as true today as it was in Exodus 3:13.
Knowing God better is the antidote for all problems and faults facing a church today. Problems aren't solved by having greater numbers in attendance, building a new building, getting a new pastor, or increasing the budget. When believers LEARN MORE ABOUT GOD and GAIN GREATER SPIRITUAL INSIGHT--all other things will follow. Knowing God's will brings spiritual insights. His will is revealed in the written Word of God. The knowledge needed is not hidden, but is laid out in the Bible. Without a knowledge of the Bible, we can never know God's thoughts, His intentions, and His will. Christian convictions must be based on the Word. God's Word is inspired, God-breathed. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35). In His Sermon on the Mount, He said that not one jot or one tittle of His Word will pass away. How little we know the Bible which has produced confusion and ignorance throughout the Christian world. Our starting place in learning about God's will comes from the Bible. Our marching orders are from the Bible--not from any other source.
In June, 1896, two fast passenger trains met on the same track near New York City. Twenty-eight were killed in the terrible wreck. Amid the cries and groans of the wounded and dying, someone saw the engineer from one of the trains lying pinned under his burning engine waving a yellow piece of paper with his last strength. His dying words were: "Someone gave me the wrong orders."
We need more Christians convictions and understanding about great truths revealed in the Word:
1. About being born again
All are lost without Christ. Men by nature are sinners. In Genesis 3, God told Adam that he would die if he ate the forbidden fruit. He did not die physically; he did not die as a person. But he did die. His spirit died to God when he sinned. Everyone born since Adam has been born dead to God because of Adam's sin. Man is separated from God because of sin. He is a spiritual rebel against God.
In the newspapers awhile ago came the story from California of three young boys, ages six, seven, and nine, killing their father and lying in wait for the mother to return from the grocery store to kill her. Her screams, upon seeing her husband and their father, frightened them and they ran away and hid. When apprehended and asked why they did their deed, they said, "Dad was punishing us for breaking in a garage down the street. We decided to kill our parents and run this house to suit ourselves." This is what has happened in our own hearts. We want to run our lives to suit ourselves.
Jesus said to Nicodemus--"Ye must be born again; except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Jesus explains the two births--physical and spiritual. The new birth occurs when a person trusts Jesus Christ as personal Savior. That which was dead to God becomes alive to God. The Holy Spirit moves into the person's spirit and he is born again!
"For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). For by GRACE are ye saved through faith--and that not of yourselves--it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible's short formula for salvation is found in Acts 20:21 "Testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD, AND FAITH TOWARD OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST." No one enters the kingdom of God without this second birth--no one is a candidate for membership in a local church until he is saved. Faith does not save a person. Rather, faith gets the person to Christ and He saves when the person trusts Him. If you have yet to do this, my prayer is that you will do it today.
2. About the Lordship of Christ
Upon conversion, Jesus is to be the Lord of one's life and not just Savior. The plain truth--JESUS IS LORD became the basic faith of the early Christians. Three names were uppermost on their lips, sometimes singly, sometimes together:
a. He was Jesus--a name that identified Him as man.
b. He was Christ--a name that expressed faith in Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.
c. He was Lord--a name which proclaimed faith in His divine nature. Lord means owner and ruler with the right to command.
A Christian will not do God's will until he recognizes that Jesus must become His Lord. Our Bible tells us of two gardens. Let us look at them.
1. The garden of Eden. "And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed" (Genesis 2:8). In the garden of Eden man prayed, not with lip but with life, "Father, not Thy will, but mine be done." God had made very clear His wish for the behavior of Adam and Eve. The time came, however, in which the desire of man and woman in Eden was at cross-purposes with the will of God. And in this CONFLICT OF WILLS, the created chose their own ways and not the Creator's way; and in its train came SEPARATION, SUFFERING, SORROW, AND HEARTACHE--LIFEBREAK.
2. The garden of Gethsemane. "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Kedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples" (John 18:1). In the garden, Jesus literally prayed, "Father, not my will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). "If Thou be willing, remove this cup from me, NEVERTHELESS". When personal preference and God's will were in CONFLICT, Christ chose God's will. On the heels of that prayer came SALVATION FOR MEN'S SOULS, RECONCILIATION TO GOD, AND TRANSFORMATION OF LIFE--INFINITE GOOD TO ALL AREAS OF HUMAN LIFE.
Though these two gardens are far removed in time from the day in which we live; we go into one of these gardens at decision-making time. IN EVERY INSTANCE IN WHICH OUR WILLS ARE IN CONFLICT WITH THE WILL OF GOD, if the FINAL CHOICE is our will instead of God's will, the decision is a GARDEN OF EDEN DECISION. If the FINAL CHOICE is to accept God's clear will, despite possible great agony of spirit in the consideration, we have made a GETHSEMANE DECISION. "And why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). When we make Him absolute LORD of our lives--we will seek to do the things He commands.
3. About walking in the Spirit
The will of God for every believer is that he be SPIRIT-FILLED which means controlled by the Holy Spirit. When one is saved, the Holy Spirit moves into his spirit. But just because He is resident, does not make Him president! For most of us, we live our lives with self on the throne. The analogy for Spirit-filled is laid out in Ephesians 5:18 which is to contrast the Spirit-filled person with a drunk whose walk and talk are influenced by the drink that is in him. He is controlled by the drink. We are to be influenced and controlled by the Holy Spirit who is in us. When we surrender and yield to Him, Jesus becomes the Lord of our lives. We will then walk in the Spirit, not the flesh. People will see Jesus in us as the fruit of the Spirit, which is love (Galatians 5:22-23).
4. About the local church
In a sense, there is a universal church made up of all saved people characterized as the body of Christ. Of the 116 times, however, that the word church is mentioned in the New Testament, the reference is to a local body of baptized believers organized to carry out the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as His body on earth. Our concern is that the members of this local church will be filled with the knowledge of God's will and will do it.
Who is the HEAD OF THE LOCAL CHURCH? Our Lord. We need to get our marching orders from Him. Every member is just as important AS ANY OTHER PERSON. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit--not our own selfish ambitions--we can move!
The Bible must be preached and explained by the man who stands in the pulpit. The cry of the people--"Is there any Word from the Lord" as it was in Jeremiah 37:17. Preaching the UNDILUTED WORD helps bring SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT.
Jesus must be exalted in the church. In a beautiful home in a well-furnished bedroom on one wall was a faded, life preserver. It was ugly and very distracting. But the owner said, "This is not an ordinary one. It kept me afloat for 10 hours. I look at that the last thing each night and the first thing in the morning that I might be grateful." We need to keep Jesus before us that we might have the spiritual understanding and insight we need. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink.
To be sure, we have many great churches today. But the devil spends more time in the churches than anywhere else. Deadens them! His real center of attack: church buildings have become chancelized; sermons intellectualized; music sterilized; services ritualized; evangelism paralyzed; missions penalized; and sinfulness of sin minimized. The early Christians were known for their poverty and power; while too many of our modern churches are known for their wealth and weakness. We live in an age of guided missiles and misguided men.
Bear genuine Christian fruit
"We also pray that YOUR OUTWARD LIVES, which men see, may bring credit to your Master's Name, and that you may bring joy to His heart by BEARING GENUINE CHRISTIAN FRUIT, that your knowledge of God may grow yet deeper" (Colossians 1:10, Phillips). The need of the hour is for Christians to let lights shine and to live right lives! No wonder the world stands off many times when they look at the church. "Seeing then all these things shall be dissolved WHAT MANNER OF PERSONS OUGHT WE TO BE" (II Peter 3:11)?
Perhaps you heard of the little boy who heard the clock strike 16 times. Certainly it was in need of repair. The boy commented to his father "It never has been this late before." While it is not ours to know "the times or the seasons which the Father hath put into His own power," we do know we are living in critical days.
Maybe you have heard of the lad studying geography while his dad was reading the evening paper. The boy asked his father "Dad, what's the shape of the world?" Without even glancing up from the paper, the father replied, "About the worst shape I ever saw." How the devil is working in the world today! He is deceiving countless millions! Materialism is reigning here in the United States. It is reported that Gandhi said: "I would be a Christian if it were not for Christians."
We must be CONSISTENT in our walk. We cannot afford to be inconsistent. Lost people had rather "see" a sermon than "hear" one. OUR CHURCHES NEED DISCIPLES MORE THAN MEMBERS. We need to walk like The King's children.
We are to bear fruit for the Lord Jesus Christ. The fruit of a Christian is another Christian. Like kind bears like kind. "A true witness deliverth souls" (Proverbs 14:25). Very few TRY to win souls. We seek to visit in homes but many times do not try to win people to the Lord. Everyone is either a soul-winner or a soul-loser. Many sit in the grandstands when they need to be down on the field playing. It was said when Jesus returned to His throne following the completion of His earthly ministry that Gabriel and a vast army of angels gathered to welcome Him home. Gabriel, serving as spokesman for the group inquired, "Lord, did your mission to earth have the success you had anticipated?" "Everything went off just as it had been planned by the Father," Jesus is alleged to have replied. "But what plans have you made for making the message of salvation known to the rest of the world?" The Lord answered--"I have entrusted that task to my disciples on the earth," "But Lord, what if your disciples should fail you?" was logically the next inquiry, "Well if my disciples should fail me, I have no other plan" Jesus concluded. This emphasizes a very important truth: Christ expects each one of us who has been saved to tell all our unsaved relatives and friends about Him that they too may be saved. Our Lord never intended that pastors and missionaries be the only ones to tell the lost about the Savior.
Power for the task
"May He strengthen you, in His GLORIOUS MIGHT, with AMPLE POWER to meet whatever comes with fortitude, patience and joy" (verse 11, The New English Bible)
God has made provision for us to have the strength and power to do His work. The root word translated power is the same for dynamite (Acts 1:8). While Jesus wanted His followers to witness to others about the gospel which is the good news about the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus for our sins (2 Corinthians 15:1-4) He told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came. He would be the power needed.
God makes available to His people the same power which raised Jesus from death. We cannot get along without God's power. Once a newspaper reporter asked William Booth what was wrong with the world--the great old man replied, "The world has tried to get along without God, and it simply can't be done."
When a church relies upon organization--we get what organization can do. When we rely upon eloquence--we get what eloquence can do. When a person relies upon money--we get what money can do. When we rely upon prayer--we get what God can do. "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.' Amen" (Matthew 28: 18-20).
The bigness of the task before us sometimes seems too great for us. "Righteous art Thou O Lord, when I plead with Thee, yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously" (Jeremiah 12:1)? Don't fret! God has great power. A woman who could not keep a pet because she was too poor--kept a plant in her window. She wanted to remember that God was near and at work. God's power is available according to our capacity to receive it. The CLEAN, CONSECRATED VESSEL, God can use.
Can He use us? Will we yield to Him? In an art gallery in the city of Venice, there is a wondrous picture in which a beautiful young woman stands facing a figure of Christ as the artist had conceived Christ. In her hand suspended between her own head and Christ's head--she holds a golden crown. Underneath the picture is written the single question in Italian--"WHOSE HEAD?". This is the supreme question. It always has been. It always will be for you, for me. It is the SUPREME QUESTION OF THE HOUR now.
WHOSE HEAD SHALL WEAR THE CROWN OF OUR LIFE? Ours? Or Christ's? There is a CROSS in every life. There is a CROWN in every life. Christ must have either the cross or the crown. And we will put the crown upon His head or we will put upon Him the cross. We will seize the crown and refuse the cross for ourselves or REFUSE THE CROWN AND TAKE THE CROSS THAT JESUS MAY HAVE THE CROWN. Which will we do?
Mutual prayer support
Paul is the only New Testament writer to ask prayers of others in his behalf. Paul believed beyond a shadow of doubt in the effectiveness of intercessory prayer. As we work hand in hand and heart with heart--pastor and people, let us pray for one another. I pledge I will pray for you. Will you pledge you will pray for me? As we pray for one another, we can trust God to bring success to our labors.