4 Marks of a Worthy Walk
Passage: Colossians 1:10-14
Last week we began studying this paragraph in which Paul reports on his prayer for the Colossians. It is a very personal section of the letter because Paul is expressing his love and sharing his vision for this church.
And in the process he also casts a vision for us of what godliness looks like and how we get there. In a sense Paul gives us map that tells us where we need to go and how to get there. Therefore, we really need to pay attention to this map because sometimes we don’t have a clear sense of where God wants us to go, so we just wander around aimlessly.
Because many Christians don’t have a sense of direction, they thrive spiritually, and they don’t find any joy or satisfaction in their faith because they are frustrated in their efforts to be godly.
They need a goal, and they need to know how to get there, and Colossians 1:9–14 does a phenomenal job of giving us direction. Last week we covered vv. 9–10a, and we saw that the only explicit prayer request is in v. 9b. Paul constantly prayed that the Colossians would “be filled...”
Then v. 10a states the ultimate goal behind the prayer request. God’s will is that we would “walk worthy…” It’s a high goal, but by the grace of God, we can do it. Then with the remainder of the paragraph, Paul expands on what a worthy walk looks like with 4 Greek participles that describe 4 essential marks of a worthy walk.
The first mark is…
Every Kind of Good Work (v. 10)
Verse 10 says that a worthy walk involves “being fruitful in every good work.” This clause concerns the practical expression of our Christian faith. It’s what people see through our words and actions.
There are two sides to this expression. The first side is…
Christian Character and Conduct:
When we think of “bearing fruit,” our minds ought to immediately jump to the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22–23. In this text, Paul summarizes how the Spirit manifests himself in God’s people.
Notice that all of these qualities begin in the heart. A Christian doesn’t just do certain things; he is different. He loves people, his heart is filled with joy, his relationships are characterized by peace, not conflict, he is patient with people’s faults, he treats others with kindness and goodness, he is faithful or dependable, he is gentle in his words and manner, and he isn’t ruled by passion or emotion. He is self-controlled. Therefore, if you want to have a worthy walk, your life must be a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit.
Ultimately, the Spirit produces these qualities, but we are also responsible to develop them. And so maybe as you look at this list you see a couple of qualities that are severely lacking in your life. Don’t dismiss it. Confess it to God and by his grace commit to change because our character and conduct must be different. A worthy walk must manifest itself in these kinds of fruit.
The other side of “bearing fruit in every good work” is…
Ministry to Others:
Because we are surrounded by so many religions that view good works as a means to earn God’s favor, we tend to think of God works as things I do to please God—going to church, praying, or keeping my heart pure. But when the NT talks about good works, the focus is almost always on my service to others (Titus 3:14).
Paul says that a primary example of good works is meeting urgent needs. In other words, good works are acts of service primarily toward fellow Christians but also all people. Therefore, “bearing fruit in every good work,” requires ministering to the people around you. You will speak words of encouragement and exhortation. You will be serving in the church. You will be looking for opportunities to help with practical needs.
This is so important because a fruitful Christian life is never just about God and me. You must do more than keep yourself pure and go to church. A fruitful Christian will be busy building relationships and using them to serve.
Therefore, we must strive to develop the fruit of the Spirit at the very center of our hearts, and then we must express true godliness in how we serve the people around us. The first mark of a worthy walk is good works. Our lives must be a practical demonstration of the character of Christ in every day life.
The second mark of a worthy walk is…
Ever-Increasing Knowledge of God (v. 10)
It’s worth noting that the four main participles are in the present tense, so they all describe ongoing ideas. In this life we will never finish any of them. But the second participle especially emphasizes the need for constant growth because there will always be more we can learn about God.
But before we talk how we increase in the knowledge of God, we should first ask…
What is the knowledge of God?
Here is my attempt at a definition. “The knowledge of God is an appreciation of God’s purity and power, how these things have been applied to me in the gospel, and how they should continue to shape my life.”
The first part is obvious. You can’t know God unless you understand his attributes. You must appreciate his purity, or his moral attributes. He is love, holiness, justice, and graciousness. And you must also appreciate is attributes of power. He is all powerful, all knowing and infinite among other things.
But if knowing God’s attributes was all that’s involved in the knowledge of God, it wouldn’t be a lifelong pursuit. This is where Paul’s prayers in Ephesians are especially helpful (Eph 3:18–19). Paul assumes that God’s love has such depth that comprehending it is a lifelong task because it has so many facets. And we come to understand these facets through the various experiences of life—when we sin, when we experience loss, etc.
And notice what he says about the knowledge of God in his first prayer (Eph 1:17–19). Paul teaches that the knowledge of God involves comprehending the hope and the riches we have received in the gospel and the power he gives to live a transformed life. And he assumes that this comprehension will then change what we love and how we live. The knowledge of God is much more than facts. The truths of God must transfer to our hearts and then to our feet and hands. Only then do we truly know God.
Folks, this foundational to godliness. My freshman year of college, we were required to read The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer. When I opened the book and first began reading, the opening paragraph forever changed how I think about the Christian life. Tozer states, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in the deep heart conceives God to be like.”
Tozer is absolutely right. To know God is to have big thoughts about God and big affections for God that change the way we live.
You must increase in the knowledge of God, which brings us to a second question.
How do I grow in the knowledge of God?
Here is my attempt at a basic answer. We grow in the knowledge of God through the study of Scripture, the illuminating work of the Spirit, and the experience of God’s sanctifying and sustaining grace.
If you are going to know God, you’ve got to study the Bible with a focus on seeing God, not just on seeing what you are supposed to do. Look for God’s descriptions of himself, look at his mighty works of power, look at how he shows grace, and look at how he responds to people and situations. Find out what he is like.
And then pray that God’s Spirit would give you faith to really believe that God is who he says he is and to live in light of it. And then as you struggle to live for him, the depth of your knowledge will continue to grow. As you struggle against sin and cry out for mercy, you will understand God’s grace in a far more profound way than if you never struggled. And when tragedy strikes, and you don’t understand, you will come to appreciate God’s wisdom, compassion, and faithfulness, like you never did before.
I want to urge you not to miss that opportunity. So often when hardship strikes, our only concern is relieving our suffering, and we miss an opportunity to know a new facet of God’s character. Hardship is essential to the knowledge of God. Embrace it and learn from it.
And so a worthy walk requires that we always are increasing in the knowledge of God, and so we need to pray that God’s Spirit would open our eyes and continually grow our knowledge of God because as Tozer says your Christianity will never truly advance beyond your view of God.
The 3rd mark of a worthy walk is…
God-Empowered Endurance (v. 11)
This verse involves a work of God and a work of man. First…
God gives abundant divine strength.
What stands out about this statement is how Paul piles up words about power. The literal reading of the opening is, “with all power empowered.” Both the verb strengthened and the noun might come from the same Greek word dunamis or power. But Paul isn’t talking about my power. The verb is in the passive voice, so he is talking about God empowering us with his power.
And in case we didn’t get the fact that God gives abundant power, he adds “according to His glorious power.” The idea is that we receive power that proceeds from the glory of God. Therefore, we aren’t talking about a little shot in the arm that can’t really do much. Rather, Paul says that Christians can enjoy God’s infinite power as they pursue godliness.
This is an incredible statement about the nature of the Christian life. Sometimes we think that godliness is just about me improving myself through wise strategy and discipline. We plan and we work, and maybe once in a while we say a little prayer in hopes that God gives a little nudge.
The reason we think this way is because we don’t really appreciate how evil our flesh is and how impossible it truly is for a sinner to walk worthy of the Lord. And we need to understand that ME walking worthy of GOD is absurd except for the fact that I live in a sphere of divine power. God gives strength to do what is humanly impossible. Praise God that we can live in his might. Notice secondly that…
God gives strength for the purpose of endurance.
The fact that we enjoy abundant strength does not mean the Christian life is easy. Rather, “patience” and “longsuffering” imply that it is quite difficult. “Patience” translates the Greek term hupomeno, which literally means to remain under. It pictures someone as carrying a heavy load, and as continuing under that load.
In this context the heavy load is all of the hardships and burdens of the Christian life. Pursuing godliness is incredibly difficult as God calls us to deny ourselves and to live for eternity. We also at times will be rejected, hated, or even persecuted for standing for Christ. And when the normal hardships of life hit us, we need endurance to keep trusting God’s wisdom and goodness.
“Longsuffering” translates the Greek term makrothumia. It is typically used for patience with people. We all know that people have problems, and sometimes they really hurt us. It’s hard to not retaliate and to continue to love, but that’s what God calls us to do. We must be willing to “suffer long” under people’s faults.
Together these two terms imply that the path of discipleship is very hard. This is no cakewalk. You need endurance and patience. But praise the Lord that he gives more than enough strength to endure.
And it is worth emphasizing that v. 11 puts the emphasis on God’s strength, not my endurance or patience. This third mark is unique because the participle is not the action of man but of God. We are to bear fruit, increase in knowledge, and give thanks, but God alone gives strength to endure.
And so look to him for strength because the Christian life is impossible. Run to the means of the grace God has provided in his Word, prayer, and the church. Walk in the Spirit by obeying God’s commands and leaning on him. And live a Christian life that is defined by the power of God, not human effort.
Live a life of God-empowered endurance. The 4th mark of a worthy walk is…
Thanksgiving for the Gospel (vv. 12–14)
Most people believe that “with joy” at the end of v. 11 should go with v. 12 rather than v. 11 because the other 3 participles all have a prepositional phrase tied to them. Therefore, Paul says that an essential aspect of a worthy walk is joyful thanksgiving to God.
It might surprise us that Paul includes thanksgiving in this list. When I think about a worthy walk, I naturally think about my actions. Am I eradicating sin and doing good works? But isn’t it interesting that 2 of the marks are not so much concerned with my actions but with my relationship to my Father?
If I want to walk worthy of the Lord, I must know him, and I must joyfully give thanks. Don’t ever let your Christianity become just a series of actions. It is a relationship first and foremost. And one of the most vital aspects of this relationship is that I worship God by joyfully thanking him for his gifts.
Paul then goes on to describe why we should give thanks by describing three incredible blessings of the gospel.
God qualified us for an eternal inheritance (v. 12b).
We ought to understand inheritance here as a reference to the New Jerusalem that God will one day establish at the end of time. Folks, God is going to create new heavens and a new earth. It will be an age that is characterized by “light,” not the darkness that v. 13 says characterizes this age (Rev 21:23). God will be among his people in a way that is impossible for us to comprehend.
And Paul says that a worthy walk requires joyfully giving thanks that God has qualified us for a share in this great inheritance. I could never qualify myself, so God qualified me.
Therefore, I can look forward to someday dwelling in God’s presence and being a partaker or a shareholder in this kingdom. In other words, I’m going to have my own piece of property in the New Jerusalem. I will have a share in this great inheritance. That’s a great reason for joyful thanksgiving. Second…
God transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the Kingdom of Christ (v. 13).
The Greek word that is translated as power is exousia. It speaks of a dominion or authority. It’s used again in v. 16, which tells us that the “power of darkness” in v. 13 refers to the evil reign of Satan and his demons over this world. Second Corinthians 4:3–4 call Satan the “god of this age” who has “blinded” the “minds” of “those who are perishing.
As a result, unbelievers live in a “dominion of darkness.” They don’t see God for who he truly is, and they are dominated by the sin nature and the lies of Satan. It’s very likely that Paul is here drawing on OT language regarding Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery and later from exile in Babylon. In both instances, Israel lived under bondage and oppression. And Paul is saying that the unbeliever also lives in the darkness of slavery.
But the Christian should be filled with joyful thanksgiving because he has been “conveyed” or “transferred” “us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” Again Paul is probably thinking of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land.
And there is a sense in which he says that we are currently members of this Kingdom. We don’t walk in darkness anymore. Our eyes are open to the glory of God, and can live a new life in the power of Christ without slavery to sin.
But someday, Jesus is going to rule from Jerusalem over Israel’s kingdom. And Revelation 20 says that we will reign alongside Christ. This kingdom will be our home, not the broken, dark kingdom of Satan and his demons.
If you are a Christian, you ought to give thanks that you have been rescued from darkness and that you can look forward to something so much better than the darkness of this broken world. We are pilgrims here who are just passing through. And so as you endure the pain of this life and feel the tug of sin and pleasure, remember that something better is coming. Press forward with hope and thankfulness.
The third blessing that should cause us to give thanks is that…
Christ redeemed and forgave us (v. 14).
Notice that v. 14 transitions from the work of the Father to the work of the Son, which is the ultimate means by which we enjoy the blessings in vv. 12, 13.
First, Jesus redeemed us “through His blood.” The language of redemption in the 1st century world almost always brought to mind the picture of slavery, which is very appropriate in light of what v. 13 says about the rule of Satan.
Redemption typically speaks of the payment of a ransom to buy someone out of slavery. Folks, that’s exactly what Jesus did through his blood. He purchased our redemption. Now ultimately, he purchased it from the Father, not Satan because ultimately we need to be redeemed from God’s justice, not Satan’s. But God allows Satan to exercise cruel tyranny over the lost. How we ought to give thanks that we have been freed from this tyranny through the blood bought ransom of Christ.
And because Jesus redeemed us by his blood, we also should give thanks that we enjoy the “forgiveness of sins.” In other words, our sin debt has been completely removed. Psalm 103:12 says my sins are as far away as the east is from the west. I will never face the judgment I deserve, and my debt will never pop up at all throughout all eternity.
Forgiveness is so impactful isn’t it? Whenever I attend a funeral, I’m always interested to see what people remember about their parents. It seems like they always remember a time when they failed Mom or Dad, and they were devastated. But Mom or Dad showed grace, and that child never forgot. It forever shaped how he thought of that parent. We should also be forever changed by God’s forgiveness, and we should give thanks for God’s grace.
But maybe you have never received this grace. You don’t know what it is to fully rest in God’s forgiveness without fear of judgment. God tells us here in his Word that Jesus shed his blood to redeem and forgive us. He took our punishment so that we would never have to. And so come to Christ today in faith. Trust in what he did, not your works, and receive the forgiveness he offers. If you have questions, please find me afterwards because I’d love to talk with you about how you can have your sins forgiven. Don’t leave today under the dominion of darkness; leave in the kingdom of the Son.
For the rest of us, Colossians 1:9–14 calls us to “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him.” Let’s renew our commitment to do just that. And let’s determine to grow in these 4 essential marks of a worthy walk. Bear fruit in every good work. Increase in the knowledge of God. Receive strength for endurance and patience. And live a life of joyful thanksgiving.