Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
22. Prayer for a Worthy Walk
One chief reason why the Holy Spirit has placed on permanent record so many of the prayers of the apostle is that the saints of all succeeding ages might receive instruction from them. The subject matter of their petitions implies and denotes the following things. First, what they requested for the saints are the particular things which Christians in all ages are to especially desire, prize, and seek an increase of. Second, God alone can impart, sustain, and promote such blessings and graces. Third, we too should not only ask for these favors but must diligently strive to realize them. Prayer was never designed to excuse apathy, nor to relieve us of the discharge of our responsibility. We are insincere if we cry to God for certain things and do nothing ourselves to seek and secure them. To request more light from the Word or a fuller understanding of the divine will and not to continue diligently searching the Scriptures and meditating on its contents is reprehensible.
Prayer to Be Regulated by Special Needs
It has been pointed out in earlier chapters that in each instance the substance of the apostle’s prayer was regulated by the particular case or condition of each separate company of saints for which he made supplication. This teaches us that one prayer is more pertinent and suitable to a Christian or a group of Christians at one time or circumstance than another. While having much in common, the various local churches of which we have any account in the New Testament differed in several respects: in their graces, trials, and failures, as the apostles did from one another. Though alike in essentials, they were dissimilar in circumstantials. The church at Colosse was no exception. Instead of its members being harassed by Judaizers, as were the Corinthians, they were in danger of being corrupted by the Gnostics. False teachers were seeking to rob the Corinthians of their liberty in Christ, while austere ascetics and subtle philosophers were endeavoring to deprive the Colossians of that simplicity which is in Christ. Indications of this are found in Colossians 2:4, 8, 18, 20-23. Paul therefore prayed here more concerning the practical aspect of the Christian life.
Paul Not the Planter of the Colossian Church
There is no clear and direct scriptural evidence that Paul was ever in Colossae, and still less that he founded the first Christian assembly there. The general testimony of antiquity favors the view that Epaphras sent by Paul from Ephesus was the one who carried the gospel to that city and organized its church. But the point is not one of any practical importance.
Though Paul was not the planter of this church, he was far from being indifferent to its welfare, nor did he make any difference between it and those he had personally founded. Those who had been converted under others were as dear to him as his own converts. Oh, for more of his large-heartedness. His deep solicitude for the Colossians is evidenced by the trouble he took in writing this epistle to them. A careful reading of its contents makes it evident that it was penned in view of certain errors which extensively prevailed among the churches in that part of Asia Minor. Some knowledge—a general understanding at least—of those errors is necessary in order to correctly interpret some of the details of this epistle. Those errors consisted of a mixture of Grecian philosophy (Col. 2:4-8) and Jewish ceremonialism (Col. 2:16)—a type of Gnosticism which was really a Grecianized form of Oriental mysticism. The chief design of the apostle in this epistle was to assert the superior claims of Christianity over all philosophies, and its independence of the peculiar rites and customs of Judaism.
Thomas Scott’s Summary of This Prayer
The best summary we have met with of this prayer is that furnished by Thomas Scott: "He especially requested that they might be ‘filled’ or ‘completely endowed with’ the knowledge of the will of God: both in respect of His method of saving sinners and their duties to Him and to all men as His redeemed servants; that they might understand the import and spiritual extent of His commandments, and how to obey them in the several relationships, situations and offices which they sustained in the church and in the community, and for the improvement of their different talents. That they might know how to apply general rules to their own particular cases, and so do the work of Christ assigned to each of them in the best manner, from the purest motives and with the happiest effect. Thus they would proceed ‘in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,’ with sagacity and prudent discernment of seasons and opportunities, distinguishing between real excellency and all deceitful appearances; wisely attending to their duties in the most inoffensive and engaging manner without affording their enemies any advantage, or losing opportunities of usefulness out of timidity, or failing of success through want of caution and discretion.
"He was desirous of this especially, that they might habitually behave in a manner worthy of that glorious and holy Lord, whose servants and worshippers they were: not dishonoring Him or His cause by any inconsistency or impropriety of conduct, but acting as become persons so highly favored and Divinely instructed: and that their conduct might be in all respects well-pleasing to Him, while fruitfulness in every kind of good work was connected with a still further increase in the knowledge of God, and of the glory and harmony of His perfections, and a happy experience of His consolations. The apostle and his helpers prayed also that the Colossians might be most abundantly strengthened in all the graces of the new nature with an energy suited to their utmost need, according to the glorious power of God by which He converted, upheld and comforted believers; that so they might be enabled to bear all their tribulations and persecutions with patient submission, persevering constancy, meekness of long-suffering, and joy in the Lord. While, amidst all trials, they gave thanks to the Father of our Lord Jesus, whose special grace had made them meet to partake of the inheritance provided for the saints in the world of perfect light, knowledge, holiness and happiness: at a distance from all ignorance, error, sin, temptation and sorrow."
An Analysis of the Apostle’s Prayer
Before considering it in detail, let us first give a brief analysis of this prayer. (1) Its address: The majority of writers appear to regard this prayer as being one without an address, but this we consider a mistake. It is true that none is found at the beginning of verse 9, but that was not necessary since in verse 3 the apostle had said, "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, :praying always for you." (2) Its supplicators: In contrast with the ‘I’ of Ephesians 1:15 and Philippians 1:9-10, this proceeded from a "we"—Paul himself, Timothy (Phil. 1:1), Epaphras (Col. 1:7) who was with him (Philem. 23), and possibly others. (3) Its occasion, or spring: "For this cause." Probably the saints at Colossae had sent their minister Epaphras to learn the apostle’s mind on certain matters, a summary of which is intimated in this prayer. Moreover, the knowledge of their "love in the Spirit" for them (Col. 1:8) had drawn out their affections, which were now expressed in fervent supplication for them. (4) Its petitions: Request was made that they might be intelligent Christians—pious, strong, and thankful ones.
The Breadth of Paul’s Request for the Saints
Once more we see the breadth or comprehensiveness of the requests which Paul was wont to make for the saints. The "large petitions" which he spread before God were a marked feature of all his approaches to the throne of grace on behalf of God’s people, and it is one which we need to take to heart and emulate. For the saints at Rome he had prayed that God would fill them "with all joy and peace in believing," that they might "abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13). For the Ephesians that they might be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). For the Philippians that "their love might abound more and more" and that they might "be filled with the fruits of righteousness" (Phil. 1:9, 11). So Paul prayed here: that they might not merely have a knowledge of God’s will in wisdom but "be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom." This was not a bare and general request that their conduct should adorn the gospel, but rather that they "might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work." How different is this large-heartedness of the apostle from that cramped spirit which is evident in much of our praying!
The Order of These Petitions
Once more we would press upon the reader the great importance of paying heed to the order of these petitions if he would rightly apprehend and duly appreciate them. Usually this is best accomplished by considering them in their inverse order. We are in no fit condition to be "giving thanks unto the Father" for "the inheritance of the saints in light." In fact, we lack an essential part of the evidence that we have been "made meet" to be partakers of it if we are not exercising "all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness" despite the difficulties and trials of the way. Nor will such graces as those be active unless we first are "strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power." But that, in turn, is dependent upon our "increasing in the knowledge of God." Yet that will not be our happy experience except we "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work." And how can we possibly do that unless we are first filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding?
"For this cause [the declaration of their love] we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you [which is the most effective way of reciprocating Christian affection], and to desire ["make request for you," R.V.] that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 1:9). As intimated above, in order to discern and appreciate the force of this opening petition it is necessary to observe the relation it bears to those that follow: as cause to effect. As our being granted "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him" (Eph. 1:17) is required in order for the eyes of our understanding to be enlightened, that we may know what is "the hope of his calling"; as our being "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16) must precede Christ’s dwelling in our hearts by faith, our being rooted and grounded in love, and our being filled with the fullness of God; and as our love must "abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Phil. 1:10) if we are to approve things that are excellent; so must we be "sincere and without offense" to be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" so that we may "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work."
Paul’s Prayer for the Colossian Saints
"That ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." To be without such knowledge is to be like the captain of a ship starting out on a long voyage without a chart, or for builders to erect a house or factory with no architectural plan to guide them. With rare exceptions, when we read in the Epistles of "the will of God," the reference is to His revealed will and not His secret will, His authoritative will rather than His providential will—His will made known to us in the Scriptures. Neither his understanding, conscience, nor "new nature" is sufficient to serve the Christian as the director of his ways. Only in His Word is God’s authoritative will discovered to us. There alone do we have an all-sufficient and infallible guide—a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. To be filled with the knowledge of the divine will should not only be the main burden of our daily prayers but the principal quest of our lives: to obtain a better, fuller, closer knowledge of what God requires of us. Without that we can neither please nor glorify Him, nor shall we escape the innumerable pitfalls in our path.
This Is a Gradual Process
At least three things are implied by the wording of this opening petition. First, by nature we are devoid of such knowledge: before regeneration we are actuated only by self-will and satanic suggestions—"we have turned every one to his own way" (Isa. 53:6). Second, to become filled with the knowledge of God’s will is a gradual process, for the filling of a vessel is accomplished by degrees, by steady increase. And thus it is with the Christian: "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little." Third, it is our duty to attain to this state, yet constant recourse must be had to the throne of grace for divine assistance. Ignorance is deplorable and inexcusable, yet wisdom comes from above and must be diligently sought. To be "filled with the knowledge of his will" includes a comprehensive and abundant knowledge as well as a well-proportioned one. The apostle here made request for something intensely practical: not speculations about the divine nature, prying into the divine decrees, nor inquisitive explorations of unfulfilled prophecy, but the knowledge of God’s will as it respects the ordering of our daily walk in this world. As one has said: "The knowledge of our duty is the best knowledge." "That the soul be without knowledge . . . is not good" (Prov. 19:2).
The Daily Renewal of Our Consecration
It is a most serious mistake to suppose that at regeneration the understanding is enlightened once for all, that it is so completely illumined as to be in no further need of divine assistance afterward. It is as grave an error to imagine that the surrender of the will to God at conversion was so entire that it is unnecessary for the saint to daily renew his consecration to Him. Such errors are manifestly refuted by a prayer of David’s: "With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments" (Ps. 119:10). Though David had fully yielded himself to the Lord and had made more than ordinary progress in godliness, yet he felt himself to be in deep need of perpetual quickening, directing, and upholding, lest he lose the knowledge he already possessed and backslide from that course upon which he had entered. The truth is that the more experience we have of God’s ways, the more sensible we become of our deplorable proneness to wander from Him. On the other hand, the more we truly seek God with the whole heart, the more our spiritual light will be increased, for by a closer walking with Him we obtain a clearer and fuller apprehension of His holiness; and that in turn makes us more conscious of our defects, for it is in His light that we see light.
Every healthy saint experiences such a longing after a knowledge of God’s will as this prayer breathes. The more knowledge he obtains of God’s will the more he becomes aware of his ignorance. And why is this the case? Because he has acquired a larger concept of his duty. At first Christian consciousness of duty consists more in the general than in its details, more of the outward walk and the external acts of worship, more of quantity than of quality. But before long he discovers that God requires him to regulate the inner man and subdue his soul to Him. In fact, he learns that this is the principal task assigned him. As the believer more and more realizes the breadth of God’s commandment (Ps. 119:96) and the exceeding spirituality of His law ( Romans 7:14), he becomes painfully conscious of how far, far short he falls of discharging his responsibilities, and how sadly he has failed in this and that respect. Nevertheless, such a humbling discovery is evidence that his sense of duty has been enlarged, and that his own inability to perform it is all the more apparent to him.
Walking with God Begets an Enlarged Sense of Duty
As a closer walking with God begets an enlarged sense of duty, it also produces an increased realization of the difficulties attending the performance of it. As the natural man in his youth is full of vigor and hope, and in his inexperience and impetuosity rushes into engagements for which he is unqualified and is forward to rashly embark upon ventures which later he regrets, so the young Christian, on fire with affection and zeal, attempts tasks for which he is not fitted and then smarts for acting presumptuously. But in the school of experience he discovers something of his ignorance, his weakness, the inconstancy of his heart, and learns to distinguish between the natural energy of the flesh and true spirituality. God has made him to know something of wisdom "in the hidden part" (Ps. 51:6), which works in him self-diffidence and holy fear. He becomes more dependent upon God, more diligent in mortifying his lusts, more humble in his approach to the throne of grace, more frequent in crying, "Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law" (Ps. 119:34).
Thus the babe in Christ will not advance very far along the Christian path before he realizes how perfectly suited to his case is the opening petition of this prayer. To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will becomes his ever deepening desire, and that "in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Those added words intimate, first, the sort of knowledge for which the Christian is to pray and strive: not merely a theoretical but an experimental knowledge, not simply in the letter but in the power of it, an inward, affectionate, operative knowledge wrought in the soul by God. As we saw when examining Philippians 1:9, light is needed to direct our activities; instruction is needed that we may act judiciously. Heavenly wisdom is required that love may have a proper sense of the relative worth of objects, and suitable guidance in every instance of its exercise. Holy affections are no more all heat without light than are the rays of the sun, but are induced by spiritual instruction received into the mind. The child of God is graciously affected when he perceives and understands something more than he did formerly of the character of God, the sufficiency of Christ, the glorious things exhibited in the gospel. Such knowledge of those objects produces in him wisdom and spiritual understanding.
Paul’s opening petition was for something more than a bare acquaintance with the divine will; rather it was a request that the saints should be brought to a fuller and more acceptable obedience. The "knowledge" of God’s perceptive and authoritative will is a practical and operative one, evidenced in a worthy walk. The babe in Christ has the principle of obedience in his heart (divinely communicated grace and holiness), but it needs feeding, strengthening, quickening, illuminating, directing, so that the believer may act aright and perform those things which God has appointed, not those which human tradition has invented, or which natural sentiment or personal inclination may dictate. We saw that this came first in the prayer of Ephesians 1: "That God . . . may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge [and "acknowledgment," margin] of him" (Eph. 1:17). It also was made the opening petition for the Philippian saints: "That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all judgment" (Phil. 1:9). Thus we see the prime importance of this blessing.
The Soul Influenced by the Beauty of Divine Things
This petition has respect to an affectionate and operative knowledge, which is increased as the child of God is favored with a better understanding of divine objects. The clearer and fuller are his views of them, the more is his heart drawn out to them. The more we perceive the ineffable beauty of divine things, the more the soul is sensibly influenced by them. Those things on which the Christian’s love is to be placed, particularly the divine precepts, must be discerned in their true nature and excellence before there can be spiritual delight in them. When there is no spiritual understanding of spiritual things, there can be no spiritual pleasure in them. We are deceived if we suppose our love for God’s commandments is increasing unless there is a growing realization of their worth. There can be no growth of spiritual love without an increase of spiritual knowledge. The more a Christian knows the importance and value of God’s rule, the more he will be occupied with it. The defect of much modern religion is that it either attempts to stir the emotions by sentimental appeals, or exhorts the exercise of love without presenting those things which feed love and spontaneously draw it forth.
Faith is fed by knowledge and works by love. Therefore, the fuller and deeper is the soul’s experimental acquaintance with God and the more his affections are drawn out to and centered on Him, the more will faith and love produce that obedience which is honoring to Him. As spiritual knowledge of the Lord, as He is revealed to the heart, causes us to put our trust in Him (Ps. 9:10), as believing sight in Him as our suffering Surety opens the floodgates of evangelical repentance (Zech. 12:10), so a sense of our deep indebtedness to Him, a spirit of gratitude, issues in acceptable obedience. The more we apprehend God’s infinite worthiness, the more we shall strive to walk worthily before Him. The more we behold His excellence, the more our hearts will be warmed toward Him. The more intimate and constant is our communion with Him, the more shall we delight ourselves in Him, and the more tender shall we be of those things which grieve Him. So too the more we perceive of the high sovereignty and majesty of God, the more we shall be awed by and be amenable to His authority, and the more diligent we shall be in cleaving to the only path in which fellowship with Him can be enjoyed—the path of obedience to His blessed will.
What Fellowship with God Consists of
Many today have a most inadequate and defective idea of what fellowship with God consists of. They regard it as a special luxury which is only enjoyed occasionally, whereas it should be experienced regularly. They imagine it is known only when their souls are ecstatically elevated by some uncommonly powerful sermon, during some season of unusual liberty in prayer, or when meditating on some precious portion of the Word. But that is more a time when the saint is aware of the Lord’s having drawn near to and lifted up the light of His countenance upon him, favoring him with a special love token.
But we now have something else in mind. Intimate fellowship with God can be enjoyed not only by one in the cloister but by the housewife while engaged in her domestic tasks and by her husband as he works for his daily bread. God graciously communes with each of His people while they are about their secular duties as they are discharged in obedience to Him.
Only One Way for a Closer Walk with God
What we particularly have in mind are these words: "He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths" (Isa. 2:3). God holds communion with us only in His ways, "the paths of righteousness." We cannot walk with God in a way of self-will and self-pleasing, nor in the broad road trodden by the world. Every step we take in the right way—the way of God’s revealed will—must be one of obedience. But the moment we forsake the path of duty and wander into what Bunyan styles "By-path meadow," we turn away from God, and leave the only place where fellowship with Him may be had.
Wisdom from God Required for Life’s Path
"In all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Those added words intimate not only the sort of knowledge for which the Christian is to pray but also what is necessary in order for him to employ such knowledge to advantage. In this superficial age, knowledge and wisdom are often confounded, yet they are far from being synonymous. There are many learned fools in the world. Frequently the almost illiterate exercise more natural intelligence than does the average university graduate. "Wisdom" is the capacity to make right and good use of knowledge. Even when we have considerable knowledge of God’s will, much wisdom and spiritual understanding are required in order to go in the path of His commandments. Sometimes it is the Christian’s duty to admonish an erring brother, yet he is likely to do him more harm than good unless he speaks discreetly. There is a time and a season for everything, but good judgment and spiritual discernment are requisite in order to recognize them. Much prudence is called for to rightly distinguish between relative duties: to deliberately neglect secular duties in order to feast upon spiritual things, to deprive my family of things which they urgently need in order to give more liberally to the Lord’s cause, to forsake my wife in the evenings to engage in religious activities, betrays an absence of spiritual understanding.
"Cause Me to Know the Way Wherein I Should Walk"
How the believer needs to pray, "Make me to understand the way of thy precepts" (Ps. 119:27). He needs to be taught how to walk in each duty and every detail of conduct! It is not sufficient to have a general, superficial knowledge of the Word: it must be translated into practice, and spiritual insight is required for that, so that we may perceive when and where and how to perform each action. Some are wise in general details but err sadly in particular details. Only that wisdom which comes from above will enable us to order our lives in every relation and situation according to the revealed will of God. "Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law" (Ps. 119:34, 73, 144, 169). See how often David repeated that petition! Many times God’s children are placed in a dilemma when they have to choose between duty and duty—duty to God, to their family, to their neighbors. And wisdom and spiritual understanding are required to show them when the one is to be dispensed with and the other performed, when the inferior is to yield to the superior. Circumstances have to be observed as well as actions that we may know when to "stand still" and when to "go forward." We are not to act on impulse but be regulated by principle.
"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." This is the second thing Paul requested for the saints and there is an inseparable connection between them, for this cannot be realized except the first be actualized. The walks and works of a person are determined, both in quality and quantity, by His ignorance or knowledge of God’s will and by the measure of his wisdom and spiritual understanding. Or to state it another way: Here we are shown the use to which such knowledge is to be put. As another said in a different connection, our aim in getting an understanding of God’s Word is not that we may argue about questions but order our conversation. The Word was not given us to test the sharpness of our wits in disputing. It was given to test the readiness of our obedience in performing. That knowledge of God’s will for which the Christian should pray and labor does not consist of prying into God’s decrees; speculating about the personal relations between the three Persons in the Trinity, or the eternal destiny of those who are cut off in infancy; nor theorizing about the future history of this world under the guise of studying prophecy. Rather that knowledge consists in learning what God requires from us and how we may be enabled to meet those requirements.
The Believer’s Walk
"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord." That is, of Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11, as is always the case except in two or three passages like Acts 4:29; Revelation 11:15). "Walking" is applied in Scripture to the conduct or behavior of persons. It points to the active rather than the passive side of the Christian’s life. It expresses not only motion but voluntary motion in contrast to being carried or dragged. It imports progressive motion, going forward, advancing in holiness. It signifies fixing and holding a steady course in our journey heavenward. "Walking" is in contrast with sitting and lying down, also with aimless meandering. It is keeping to the way which God has marked out for us. But what is meant by "walking worthily," as it should be rendered? Certainly not meritoriously, for it is impossible for the creature to do anything to make God his debtor or entitle him to reward as a matter of justice: "When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10). But no Christian ever did all that he was commanded, and even if he had, his efforts would have been imperfect and unacceptable to God were it not for the mediation of the Redeemer.
"Worthy Is the Lamb"
But we are told, "Worthy is the Lamb" (Rev. 5:12). Is not that the same term? Yes, except that it is in its adjectival form. The Lamb is indeed worthy, infinitely worthy, but no mere creature is so, not even the holy angels, as this very same passage expressly declares. When the question was asked, "Who is worthy to open the book to loose the seals thereof?" we are informed, "And no man in heaven or in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much because no one was found worthy to open and read the book." But there is a worthiness of fitness as well as a worthiness of deservingness, and it is the former which is here in view. To walk worthily of the Lord signifies to conduct ourselves as saints should, to act in accordance with the character of the One whose name we bear and whose followers we profess to be. To walk worthily of the Lord means to conduct ourselves suitably and agreeably to our relation and indebtedness to Him, to carry ourselves as those who are not their own. The same Greek word is rendered "as becometh" in Romans 16:2 and Philippians 1:27.
"As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [or ‘conduct’]" (1 Pet. 1:14-15). Let your daily lives make manifest your change of masters. Formerly you served your lusts, but that was in the days of your ignorance when you were strangers to God. Now that you have enlisted under the banner of the Lord Jesus and have "the knowledge of God’s will," evince it in a practical way: walk becomingly of the Lord. How? "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). And what was that? The mind of self-abnegation—veiling His glory and taking upon Him the form of a servant. The mind of self-abasement—making Himself of "no reputation." The mind of voluntary subjection and unreserved surrender—"He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." How may we do all this? By the life of Christ being reproduced in us so far as our measure and capacity admit, that we may "grow up into him in all things" (Eph. 4:15). How? By making Him our Exemplar. "Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). Only in proportion as we do, shall we "walk worthy of the Lord."
The Christian’s Constant Employment
To "walk worthy of the Lord" is the great task which is assigned the Christian, and it is to be attempted with the utmost seriousness as his principal care, and attended to with unwearied diligence as a matter of the utmost importance. To honor that blessed One whose we are and whom we serve, to so conduct myself that fellow saints glorify God in me (Gal. 1:24), to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (Titus 2:10), should be my supreme quest and business, never to be forgotten or laid aside. The Christian ought to be even more earnest in endeavoring to approve himself to God than they who contend so zealously for the honors of this world and those who devote all their energies to acquiring its riches. We should make it our constant concern to bring no reproach upon the name of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Otherwise we cannot magnify Him nor His cause here upon earth. It is not our talk but our walk that most furthers His interests. People soon forget what we say but they long remember Christlike conduct. Actions speak louder than words. The Lord has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we should "shew forth his praises" or "virtues."
If we are not walking worthily of the Lord, we lack evidence of our title to heaven. Of Enoch it was said that "before his translation [to heaven] he had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Heb. 11:5). That looks back to Genesis 5:24 where we are told that "Enoch walked with God." Therein he "pleased" Him, and that testimony bore witness to his eternal inheritance. Only as holiness is our aim do we have a token and an earnest that heaven is our portion, for without holiness "no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). The merits of Christ alone give anyone title to the inheritance, yet personal holiness confirms that title for us. There is no good hope toward Christ where there is no sincere effort to honor Him: "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3). Only those are fit to live with Him hereafter who are conscientious about walking with Him here. At death we change our place but not our company. "They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy" (Rev. 3:4) — fitly disposed and prepared to do so. On the other hand, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Those who gratify the flesh are necessarily excluded.
"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him" (Col. 2:6). Unless we give the utmost attention to our daily walk and order it by the revealed will of God, we break that covenant which we solemnly entered into with Him at our conversion. It was then that we renounced all other lords, forsook our idols, surrendered ourselves to the righteous claims of the Lord, and promised that thenceforth we would love Him with all our hearts and serve Him with all our strength. We voluntarily and deliberately entered on a course of obedience to Him, where we "choose the things that please" God, and thereby "take hold of his covenant" (Isa. 56:4). Consequently, to return to the pleasing of self, or to seek the favor of men or the applause of the world, is a denial of the covenant and a throwing off of the yoke of Christ which formerly we took upon us. It is a practical denial that we are not our own but bought with a price. Such deplorable backsliding will issue in having a conscience that no longer is "void of offense" but rather accuses and condemns us. The joy of salvation is then lost, the light of God’s countenance is then hid from us, that peace which passes all understanding is no longer our portion. Instead, darkness and doubts possess the heart, the rod of divine chastisement falls heavily upon us, our prayers remain unanswered, relish for the Word is gone.
We cannot enjoy conscious communion with Him unless we walk worthily of the Lord. We cannot have the comfort of His presence in every company or in all conditions. If we consort with the ungodly, the Lord is grieved and will evince His displeasure. If we turn to the pleasures of this world for satisfaction, His smile will be withheld from us. If we indulge the lusts of the flesh, He will say to us as He said to His people of old, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Isa. 59:2). The one who has Christ’s commandments and keeps them proves his love to Him. To this one He says, "I will love him, and manifest myself to him." And again, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:21, 23).
The Christian has been called to the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9). What an inestimable favor is that! How highly it should be valued, how tenderly cherished! The root idea of fellowship is partnership—one having something in common with another. In wondrous love and amazing condescension the Lord Jesus deigned to make the interests of His people His own. That was unspeakable grace on His part, and what does it call for from us? Surely that deepest gratitude should now make His interest ours. We should exercise the utmost circumspection in avoiding everything that would injure His interests; we should now exert ourselves to the utmost in promoting the honor of His name on earth. "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my love, my life, my all!" What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits but to earnestly endeavor to walk worthily of Him.
"Unto All Pleasing"
"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work" (Col. 1:10). Having already pointed out the relation of this petition and its dependence upon the former one, and having explained what we conceive to be the meaning of "walk worthy of the Lord," we turn now to the next clause. Those added words "unto all pleasing" serve both to define and amplify the previous sentence, informing us how we are to walk worthily and the entirety of that duty and privilege. We are to pray and strive to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, not merely on the Sabbath but every day. We must not simply conduct ourselves reverently in the house of prayer but act becomingly in the outside world. Our aim and endeavor must be to approve ourselves to Christ, and please Him not only in those things which are esteemed by common consent, nor in those which are agreeable to us, but also in those things which cross our wills and pinch the flesh. Nothing short of universal and uniform obedience is required of us. Christ died to deliver His people from the curse of the law, but not from the duty of practicing its precepts. He died not to free His people from the service of God but rather that they might be enabled to serve Him acceptably and with peace of conscience and joy of heart.
Two Classes of People in the World
There are but two classes of people in the world, namely, those who are offensive to God, and those who are esteemed by Him. The ones are self-pleasers, the others self-deniers. Therein lies the essential difference between sincere souls and hypocrites: the former honestly endeavor to please Christ, and are regarded by Him as the excellent of the earth (Ps. 16:3); the latter seek the approbation of men and live to gratify self, and therefore are they to God as "a vessel wherein is no pleasure" (Hos. 8:8). There is no other alternative possible but either living to please self or living to please the Lord. No matter what may be their pretensions—what name they go under, what is their creed, how highly they are regarded by their fellows—if self is their "God," they are hateful to the Holy One. Those in whom God delights are the ones who are regulated by His will, who live for His glory, whose daily walk honors Him, who are fruitful in good works. How that simple but discriminating classification serves to expose the empty profession all around us! Tens of thousands call themselves by the name of Christ, but they do not wear His yoke, do not take up their cross (the principle of self-abasement and sacrifice), do not follow His example.
Unless we have fully given ourselves up to God and are genuinely seeking to please Him in all that we do, our supposed conversion was merely a delusion. If the gratifying of our natural desires is our chief pleasure, we are yet in our sins. If we are sowing to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corruption. Make no mistake, dear reader, whoever you are. The Omniscient One cannot be imposed upon, neither will He accept a divided heart. No man can serve two masters. If you think you can placate God by acting piously on the Sabbath, while being thoroughly worldly through the week, you are woefully mistaken. God will not be served with any reserve or limitation, but requires us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength. In order to please Him we have to shun whatever He hates: mortify the flesh, live separate from the world, resist the devil. The Lord will not be served with that which costs us nothing (2 Sam. 24:24).
Can a Fallen, Sinful Creature Please a Holy God?
But is it possible that a mere creature of the earth—a fallen and sinful one at that—can please the great and holy God? Certainly it is. Of Enoch it is recorded that "he pleased God" (Heb. 11:5). That must not be carnalized as though God were subject to emotions; neither must it be emptied of all meaning. The Lord is so infinitely above us that no analogy can be found in human relations. But to aid our feeble perceptions, let us imagine a tutor who has gone to particular pains in instructing one of his scholars. Is he not gratified when he sees him at the top of his class? When parents see their children putting into practice those precepts which they have so lovingly and earnestly instilled into them, do they not rejoice? So, when we act as it becomes His people, we are approved in God’s sight. Said David, "He delivered me [from enemies], because he delighted in me" (2 Sam. 22:20). Those who are upright in the way are His delight (Prov. 15:8). In reality, it is God approving His own handiwork, esteeming that which His Spirit has wrought in us. Nevertheless, we are not passive, but determine and perform as He works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
As there are degrees of wickedness and obnoxiousness to God, so there are degrees of bringing delight to Him. That for which Christians are here taught to pray—and therefore to diligently and constantly strive after—is to so "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing," which includes not walking "in the counsel of the ungodly" (Ps. 1:1) but walking "in the law of the LORD" (Ps. 119:1). We should be concerned to "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4), to "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7), to "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16), to "walk in love" (Eph. 5:2), to "walk circumspectly" (Eph. 5:15).
Approved of God
As an aid in doing this, observe the following rules. First, be always on your guard in avoiding everything that is grievous to God, and in order to do that, cultivate a sense of His presence. If you are on your best behavior when in the company of cherished friends, how much more should you be in the presence of your heavenly Friend! If the knowledge of human onlookers restrains you from acts of sin, how much more should a respect for the Holy One! That was what governed Joseph in Egypt: "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9).
Second, be diligent in choosing those things which God esteems. When Solomon sought wisdom that he might rule Israel righteously, we are told it "pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked that thing" (1 Kings 3:10). The more our hearts are set upon things above, the more we aim at God’s glory, the greater pleasure will He have in us. Third, be wholehearted in your devotedness to the Lord. There must be no picking and choosing among His precepts: no in with one duty and out with another. The whole scope of the Christian life should be a studying to show oneself approved to God: the understanding perceiving what is due to Him, the conscience swayed by His authority, the affections drawn out in adoring homage, the will surrendered to Him. Caleb was one who greatly pleased the Lord, and of him it is recorded that "he wholly followed the LORD God" (Josh. 14:14). Fourth, meditate in God’s law day and night (Ps. 1:2). Make it your constant concern how to serve and honor Him, remembering that He is more pleased with obedience than with your sacrifices and free-will offerings (1 Sam. 15:22). Fifth, maintain a steady dependence upon the Lord, for you have no strength of your own: He must be looked to daily for the needed wisdom and power. Frequent the throne of grace that there you may "find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
Further, if we are to be approved by God, it is by no means sufficient that "we make clean the outside of the cup and platter," although many suppose that is all that matters. "Cleanse first that which is within" (Matthew 23:26) is our Lord’s command. Unfortunately, in this degenerate day such a task is not merely relegated to second place but it is given none at all. The devil seeks to persuade people that they are not responsible for the state of their hearts, that they can no more change them than they can alter the stars in their courses. Such a lie is very agreeable to those who think they are to be carried to heaven on downy beds of ease—and there are few left to disillusion them. But no regenerate soul with God’s Word before him will credit such a falsehood. The divine command is plain: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). That is the principal task set us, for God ever looks at the heart, and there can be no pleasing Him while it is unattended to. Yes, woe be to those who disregard it. He who makes no honest endeavor to cast out sinful thoughts and evil imaginations, who does not mourn over their presence, is a moral leper. He who has no pangs over the workings of unbelief, the cooling of his affections, the surgings of pride, is a stranger to any work of grace in his soul.
"Keep Thy Heart with All Diligence"
Not only does God bid you to keep your heart; He requires you to do it "with all diligence," that is, to make it your main concern and constant care. The Hebrew word for "keep" meant "to guard." Watch over your heart (the soul, or inward man) as a precious treasure, of which thieves are ever ready to rob you. Guard it as a garrison into which enemies will enter if you are not on the alert. Attend to it as a garden in which the Lord would refresh Himself (Song 6:2), removing all weeds and keeping its flowers and spices fragrant. That is, be diligent in mortifying your lusts and in cultivating your graces. The devotions of your lips and the labors of your hands are unacceptable to the Lord if your heart is not right in His sight. What husband would appreciate the domestic attentions of his wife if he had good reasons to believe her affections were alienated from him? God takes note not only of the matter of our actions but the springs from which they proceed, the motives actuating them, as also the manner in which they are done and their motive. If we become slack and careless in any of these respects, it shows that our love has cooled and that we have become weary of God.
God Weighs Our Spirits
The One with whom we have to do "is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed" (1 Sam. 2:3) in the balances of righteousness and truth; whatever is "found wanting" (Dan. 5:27) or is deficient is rejected by Him. "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits" (Prov. 16:2), i.e., that which lies behind the actions, which colors as well as prompts them. Self-love may blind our judgment and make us partial in our own cause, but we cannot deceive the omniscient One. God brings to the test and standard of holiness not only our actions but the attitudes of our spirits which inspired them. "The righteous God trieth the hearts and reins" (Ps. 7:9), that is, the inward principles from which our conduct proceeds. He scrutinizes our affections and motives, whether we are sincere or not. The Lord God is "he that pondereth the heart" (Prov. 24:12), observing all its motives: its most secret intentions are open to Him. He perceives whether your contributions to His cause are made cheerfully or grudgingly. He knows whether your gifts to the poor are made in order to be seen of men and admired by them, or whether they issue from disinterested benevolence. He knows whether your expressions of goodwill and love toward your brethren are feigned or genuine.
Since the Lord looks on and ponders the heart, should not we do so too? Since from the heart proceed the issues of life, should we not make it our chief concern and care? Out of man’s heart proceed all evils mentioned by our Lord in Mark 7:21-22. But it is equally true that out of the heart proceed the fruit described in Galatians 5:22-23. "A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things" (Matthew 12:35), but the good man will not do so unless he diligently resists his inward corruptions and tends and nourishes his graces.
If we are to walk worthily of the Lord "unto all pleasing," we must frequently "search and try our ways" (Lam. 3:40), take our spiritual pulse, and ascertain whether all is well within. We must heed that injunction "Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still" (Ps. 4:4) that we may ascertain our spiritual condition. We must daily attend to that precept "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21) lest anything is allowed that place in our affections which belongs alone to Christ. We must constantly examine our motives and challenge our aims and intentions, for they count most with God. We must "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit"(2 Cor. 7:1).
A Great Lack
Alas, how sadly has the standard been relaxed! How little is now heard, even in centers of orthodoxy, of "walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing"! How very few today are being informed that God requires them to keep their hearts with all diligence, and to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Will not the Lord yet say to many an unfaithful occupant of the modern pulpit, "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right" (Job 42:7)? No wonder the churches are in such a low state of spirituality. But the failure of those in the pulpit does not excuse those in the pew. The individual still has access to God’s Word, and even if there were none others left on earth who respect it, he is responsible to be regulated by its elevated and exacting teachings.
Christian reader, whatever others do or do not, see to it that you turn Colossians 1:10 into daily prayer, and strive to translate it into practice, for the glory of God and your own good. If you are careless about your walk, and indifferent as to whether the state of your heart is pleasing or displeasing to the Lord, His ear will be closed to your prayers! The Scriptures are explicit on that fact: "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in his sight" (1 John 3:22). That cannot be labeled "legalistic," for those are the words of the Holy Spirit. It is not because our obedience is in any way meritorious but because this is the order of things which divine holiness has established. God has appointed an inseparable connection between the acceptableness of our conduct and that of our petitions. If we would have His ear then we must attend to His voice. We cannot expect God to grant our requests while we ignore what He requires of us. Not that our obedience ingratiates us into God’s favor; but it is a necessary adjunct to our receiving favors at His hand. We must delight ourselves in the Lord if we would have Him grant us the desires of our heart (Ps. 37:4).
Keeping His Commandments
As prohibitions always imply the performance of their opposites—as "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13) signifies that man shall use all lawful means to preserve life, and "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Ex. 20:14) obligates man to live chastely—so each positive precept argues its negative. 1 John 3:22 also implies that we shall not receive from God those things we ask of Him if we do not keep His commandments and do not do those things which are pleasing in His sight. If any uncertainty remains on this point, Proverbs 28:9 at once removes it: "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination." God has appointed an inseparable connection between the performance of duty and the enjoyment of privilege. Psalm 66:18 is even more searching, showing again what God requires within as well as without: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." If I countenance and secretly foster any sin, even though I do not practice it, if I view it favorably or even palliate or excuse it, His ear is closed against me. Unsorrowed and unconfessed sins prevent many a prayer from being answered. The Holy One will not wink at sin. Spurgeon said, "For God to accept our devotions while we are delighting in sin, would make Him the God of hypocrites."
The Cultivation of Faith
If we are to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing," we must be most attentive to the cultivation of faith, for "without faith it is impossible to please him" (Heb. 11:6). The more fully and constantly we trust Him, the more we walk by faith, the more will the Lord delight in us. God is pleased when we cling to Him in the darkness, look to Him for the fulfilling of His promises, count upon His loving kindness. But He is displeased when we doubt His Word or suspect His love. Faith in God, in His precepts, in His promises, is the grand and distinguishing principle which is to actuate all our conduct.
"By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually . . . giving thanks to his name. But to do good and communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:15-16). Then let us not be backward in offering them. God loves to hear the songs of His children. The "sweet psalmist of Israel" is how He designated David (2 Sam. 23:1). "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23). Praise is an exalting of God’s name, a proclaiming of His excellence, a publishing of His renown, an adoring of His goodness, a breaking open of the box of our ointment; therefore it is a "sweat savor" to Him, ". . . magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox" (Ps. 69:30-31). How comforting that was for the one who was unable to bring Him a costly offering! Let us be frequently engaged in this delightful exercise of praise, and act like spiritual larks.
Our Conduct and Dealings with Others
But it is not only in the devotional side of our lives that we may give delight to God. Different by far is the teaching of His Word. The Lord takes notice not only of our attitude toward and actions to Himself but also of our conduct and dealings with our fellowmen. We may please Him—and it should be our diligent aim to do so—in the shop, home, factory, office. "A false balance is an abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight" (Prov. 11:1). Under that word balance we are to include all weights and measures, descriptions of articles, and profits from them. Such a verse as that should be carefully pondered and kept constantly in mind by all who are engaged in any form of business, whether they are employers or employees, weighing all their words and deeds. To misrepresent a piece of merchandise, to overcharge, or to deliberately shortchange a customer, is a grievous sin. Though it may escape the notice of men, it is recorded against us by the Holy One, and we shall be made to pay dearly for the same. Contrariwise, to be fair and honest in our trading is pleasing to God "Such as are upright in their way are his delight"
God Refuses the Homage of the Unjust
Not only does God take notice of and record the sins of those who are guilty of unjust and fraudulent practices but He refuses their hypocritical homage. There is no bribing of the divine Judge, nor can He be imposed upon by a pious demeanor in those who wrong their fellows. They who grind the faces of the poor through the week and, equally, those who fail to supply a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay only mock the Lord when they sing His praises and make an offering to His cause on the Sabbath day. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight" (Prov. 15:8). The external acts of worship of those whose business dealings are corrupt are an offense to the Most High, and it is the sacred duty of pastors to announce it. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law [which enjoins loving our neighbor as ourself,] even his prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28:9). We do but deceive ourselves if we imagine God hearkens to our petitions while our everyday lives betray our devotions. On the other hand, "the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth [favorably] behold the upright" (Ps. 11:7). Everything we do either pleases or displeases God.
To walk worthily means to conduct ourselves becomingly, to act agreeably to the Name we bear, to live as those who are not their own. To walk "worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" is to be uniformly and universally obedient, taking no step without the warrant of God’s Word, seeking His approbation and honor in every department and aspect of our lives. "Being fruitful in every good work" is a further extension of the same thought, evincing again how high and holy is the standard at which we should aim continually. Grace is no enemy to good works; it is the promoter and enabler of them. It is utterly vain for us to speak and sing of the wonders of divine grace if we are not plainly exhibiting its lovely fruits. Grace is a principle of operation, a spiritual energizer which causes its possessor to be active in good works and makes him a fruitful branch of the Vine. It is the empty professor who is viewed as a barren tree, a cumberer of the ground. By the miracle of regeneration God makes His people "good trees" and they bear "good fruit." It is their privilege and duty to be "fruitful in every good work," and in order to do so they must constantly endeavor to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing."
Saints of God to Be Fruitful in Good Works
Saints are "trees of righteousness" (Isa. 61:3), the planting of the Lord, and their graces and good works are their fruit. There is a tendency in the minds of some to ascribe all glory to the heavenly Husbandman and virtually reduce the Christian to an automaton. We must distinguish between the fruit-Producer and the fruit-bearer. We are first made trees of the Lord, and then we receive grace from Him, and then by grace we ourselves really do bring forth fruit. We must indeed thankfully own the truth of our Lord’s words "From me is thy fruit found" (Hos. 14:8). But while freely acknowledging that all is of His ordination and gracious enablement, we must not overlook the fact that even here God Himself terms it "thy fruit." Because it is of His origination, that does not alter the fact that it is also of our cooperation. While there may be many who make far too much of man, there are others who make too little of him—less than Scripture does—repudiating his moral agency. We must be careful lest we press too far the figure of the "branch": the branch of the tree has neither rationality, spirituality, nor responsibility; the Christian has all three. God does not produce the fruit independently of us. We are more than pipes through which His energy flows.
The very fact that Paul here prays that the saints might be "fruitful" clearly implies two things: they could not be fruitful without God’s enabling; it was their privilege and duty to be so. We mock God unless we ourselves diligently strive after those spiritual enlargements for which we supplicate Him. We dishonor Him if we suppose we can attain to them in our own strength. When God has renewed a person, He does not henceforth treat him as though he were merely a mechanical entity; rather He communicates to him a gracious willingness to act and stirs him into action; then the saint actually performs the good works. In fruit-bearing we are not passive but active. It is not fruit tied onto us but fruit growing out of us which manifests that we have been grafted into Christ. If the believer’s personal and practical holiness were not the outflowing of his renewed heart, then it would be no evidence (as it is) that spiritual life has been imparted to his soul. Perhaps an evidence that, in one sense, the fruits and good works which I bear are mine, is that I am dissatisfied with and grieve over them. I regret that my love is fickle, my zeal unstable, my best performances defective; if they were God’s fruits and works, independent of me, they would be perfect.
Saints to Walk in Newness of Life
When God in His sovereign benignity communicates grace to a person it is for the purpose of equipping him for the better discharge of his responsibilities. That is to say, grace is given to animate and actuate all the faculties of his soul. And what He works in, we are to work out (Phil. 2:12-13). Having imparted life to His people, He requires them to walk in newness of life. Having bestowed faith on them, He expects that faith to be active in producing good works. Or, following the order of this prayer, if we have been "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" it is in order that we "might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work." Those last words express both variety and abundance. It is not fruitfulness of one kind only, but of every sort. Said the Lord Jesus, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8). Alas, that any of His children should be content if they can just be persuaded that they bear a little fruit and thereby be convinced they belong to His family—setting more store on their own peace than upon their glorifying Him. Little wonder their assurance is so feeble.
Good Fruit Includes and Involves Holy Affections
That word of Christ’s "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" supplies further confirmation of what we have pointed out above. In a very real sense it is the saints’ fruit: "ye bear." Though the fruit indeed comes by divine energizing, notwithstanding it is by their own activity. But observe too and admire the strict accuracy of Scripture. It does not state "that ye produce much fruit," for God is both the original and efficient Cause of the fruit. Mark the beautiful harmony of the two verses: "Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work"; "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." By doing so you exhibit the power and reality of His transforming grace, display the lineaments of His image, reflect the beauty of His holiness. "Much fruit" involves and includes the exercise of all holy affections: not merely some acts of holiness, but the putting forth of every grace in all the variety of their actings, not only inwardly but outwardly as well, laboring to abound in them, and this not spasmodically and only for a season, but steadfastly. As long as we are left on earth, we are to "bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15), persevering in it.
"Being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). Observe that those two things are not separated by a semicolon but are linked together by an "and," the latter being closely connected with and dependent upon the former. "Increasing in the knowledge of God" is the reward of "walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work." Or, if some of our readers prefer the expression, it is the effect of it, though they should not object to the former when Scripture itself declares that "in keeping of them [the divine statutes] there is great reward" (Ps. 19:11)—a considerable part of which consists in a growing acquaintance with and a deeper delight in the Lord. Our Savior said, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). What does it mean to follow Christ but to yield to His authority, practice His precepts, and keep His example before us? The one who does so will not be the loser but the gainer. He will be delivered from the power and misery of sin, and made the recipient of spiritual wisdom, discernment, holiness, and happiness: in a word, he shall enjoy the light of God’s countenance. So the consequence of a sincere endeavor to please the Lord and glorify Him by bearing much fruit will be an increase in our experimental knowledge of God.
An Increase in the Knowledge of God
It is not simply an increase in "knowledge" which is here spoken of but "increasing in the knowledge of God," which is a vastly different thing. This is a kind of knowledge for which the wise of this world have no relish; it is one to which those with empty profession are total strangers. There are many who are keen "Bible students" and eager readers of a certain class of expository and theological works—works which explain types, prophecies, and doctrines, but contain little or nothing that searches the heart and removes carnality—and they become quite learned in the letter of Scripture and in the intellectual apprehension of its contents, yet have no personal, saving, or transforming knowledge of God. A merely theoretical knowledge of God has no effectual influence upon the soul, nor does it exert any beneficial power on one’s daily walk. Nothing but a vital knowledge of God will produce the former, and only a practical knowledge of Him secures the latter. A vital and saving knowledge of God is His personal revelation of Himself to a soul in quickening power, whereby He becomes an awe-inspiring but blessed reality. All uncertainty as to whether He is or as to what He is, is now at an end. That revelation of God creates in the soul a panting after Him, a longing to know more of Him, a yearning to be more fully conformed to Him.
It is not so much increasing in the vital or even the devotional knowledge of God of which our text speaks but rather what that issues in, which, for want of a better term, we designate the practical knowledge of God. The passage before us in Colossians 1:10 is very similar to that word of Christ’s "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17). As the Christian is in earnest about walking becomingly of the Lord, and as he is diligent in performing good works, he discovers by practical experience the wisdom and kindness of God in framing such a rule for him to walk by. He obtains personal proof of "that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2) and is brought into a closer and more steady communion with Him, and procures a deeper appreciation of His excellence. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD" (Hos. 6:3). This is both the appointed way and means for such attainment. If we perform the prescribed duty, we shall receive the promised blessing; if we tread the path of obedience, we shall be rewarded by an increasing and soul-satisfying knowledge of the excellence of our Master.
The School of Christ
This knowledge cannot be acquired by art or taught us by men, no, not even by the ablest "Bible teachers." It can be learned nowhere but in the school of Christ, by practicing His precepts and being fruitful in every good work. Yet this increase in the knowledge of God does not follow automatically upon our performing good works, but only as God Himself is sought—a matter of first moment although frequently overlooked. As there were those who followed Christ during the days of His flesh for the loaves and fishes or because they were eager to witness His miracles, and not because their hearts were set upon Him, so there are some in the religious world today who are active in various forms of good works, yet they do not perform them out of love for or gratitude to Christ. The good works of the Christian must not only be wrought by faith which works by love, but his aim in doing them must be the glory of God. That should be our chief design and end in all duties and ordinances—in reading the Word or in hearing it preached, in prayer, and in every act of obedience: not to rest in the good works, but to learn more of God in them, through them, and from them.
The greatest need and the genuine longing of every regenerate soul is to increase in the knowledge of God. Yet most are slow in discovering the way in which their longing may be realized. Too many turn from the simple and practical to bewilder themselves by that which is mystical and mysterious. It should be obvious to even the babe in Christ that if he forsakes the paths of righteousness he is forsaking God Himself. To know God better we must cleave more to Him, walk closer with Him. Communion with God can only be had in the highway of holiness. The previous clauses of Colossians 1:10 reveal what is required from us in order to gain an increasing knowledge of God. If we are diligent and earnest in seeking to walk worthily of the Lord and to please Him in all things, being fruitful in every good work, the outcome will be a more intimate fellowship with Him, a better acquaintance with His character, an experimental realization that His commandments "are not grievous," daily proofs of His tender patience with our infirmities, and fuller discoveries of Himself to us. "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he is it that loveth me . . . and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). God manifests His delight toward those who delight in Him.
This increasing in the practical knowledge of God is more an intensive thing than an extensive one: that is to say, it is not adding to our store of information about Him but becoming more experimentally acquainted and being powerfully affected with what is already known of Him. It consists not in further discoveries of God’s perfections, as in a livelier appreciation of them. As the Christian earnestly seeks to walk with Him in His ways, he obtains a growing acquaintance with God’s grace in inspiring him, His power in supporting, His faithfulness in renewing, His mercy in restoring, His wisdom in devising, and His love in appointing a course wherein such pleasure is found and whose paths are all peace. This is indeed practical and profitable knowledge. The more we know of God in this way, the more we shall love Him, trust in Him, pray to Him, depend upon Him. But such knowledge is not acquired in a day, nor fully attained in a few short years. We grow into it gradually, little by little, as we make use of both the divine precepts and promises, and from a desire to please and glorify Him, and with the design of having communion with Him.