This series grew out of our Colossians Greek Reading Videos. Each post expounds practical or devotional points from the text that become evident especially when translating directly from the Greek. We hope these posts help convince you that Greek matters!
How can we please God? Colossians 1:9-12 is a complex passage with lots of participles and prepositional phrases. One could translate each clause and read it well enough, but analyzing the paragraph as a whole enables us to see what the major idea of the passage is and how Paul develops that idea.
After Paul tells his readers that he always thanks God for their faith, hope, and love, he continues on that basis (Διὰ τοῦτο, “because of this”) to say that he never ceases praying and asking “that you might be filled” (ἵνα πληρωθῆτε) with the knowledge of God’s will. The following ἐν clause could give the manner of being filled (wisely and intelligently), or more likely the means by which the filling occurs: by means of wisdom and spiritual insight. The fact that πληρωθῆτε is passive shows us that the Colossians cannot conjure up wisdom and spiritual knowledge themselves, but God must grant it to them, thereby filling them with the knowledge of his will.
Next comes the main idea of the passage: περιπατῆσαι is an infinitive of purpose and explains the purpose of the Colossians being filled with the knowledge of God’s will: “in order to walk worthily of the Lord.” So the ultimate purpose for which Paul prays is that God would enable them to walk worthily of him. As we will see, all that follows expresses the outcome or the means of accomplishing this worthy lifestyle, so we can say that we have arrived at the ultimate purpose for which Paul is concerned: that they walk worthily of the Lord.
Five clauses modify περιπατῆσαι. The first expresses the goal of the worthy walk: εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν, “unto all desire to please [God].” The following four participial phrases could be adverbial participles of means or result. Whether they are resultant or not, it is clear that (1) ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες (“bearing fruit in every good work”), (2) αὐξανόμενοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ (“increasing in the knowledge of God”), (3) ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ (“being strengthened with all strength according to his glorious might”) and (4) μετὰ χαρᾶς εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρι (“with joy giving thanks to the Father”) are all ways by which we can walk worthily of the Lord. For that reason, it’s likely that they all four express means.
Now what have we learned about pleasing God?
First, walking worthily of the Lord to please him is the ultimate purpose of Paul’s prayer. The means by which that is accomplished is that God fills them with the knowledge of his will by giving them wisdom and spiritual insight. If that is the ultimate goal of Paul’s prayer, then perhaps there’s something to learn about the priorities of our prayers. Perhaps we too should be asking more frequently that God would give others wisdom and spiritual insight so that they could walk worthily and faithfully. And don’t miss that Paul says he never ceases to pray this for them; he asks for God to fill them with the knowledge of his will in every prayer he makes for them.Walking worthily of the Lord to please him is the ultimate purpose of Paul's prayer Click To Tweet
Second, Paul lists four specific ways we can walk worthily of the Lord. Three of these are active in sense (αὐξανόμενοι is passive, but active in meaning) and thus express our responsibility. We are to bear fruit in every good work, which echoes Jesus’ teaching that we will know true disciples by their fruit. We are to actively pursue a deeper knowledge of God. And we are to continually give thanks with joy to the Father who has qualified us for a share of the inheritance of the saints. The fourth means by which we walk worthily of the Lord is passive: “being strengthened with all strength according to his glorious might.” And don’t forget that it is initially God’s granting us wisdom and spiritual insight that enables us to live worthily. So God’s part in the process is foundational and indispensible: he must grant us wisdom, spiritual insight, and empowerment that measures up to his glorious might.
So if we want to please God, we first need his gracious enabling gifts, and then we must actively seek to live in ways these various ways that honor the Lord. That is what Paul was most concerned about in his prayers for the Colossians, and that is certainly one of the things we should be most concerned about in our own.
Read the rest of our “Greek Matters” posts.