Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Strengthened with all Power

"May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." (Colossians 1:11-12)

From the day that Paul and Timothy heard of the new believers in Colossae, they began to pray regularly for them. Paul wrote this letter to them to encourage them to join with him in prayer, to cooperate in God's work in their lives. In his prayer, Paul describes two of God's purposes for the Colossian believers:

  • Reflecting God's worth
  • Strengthened with all power

Let's focus on the idea of strength, especially as described here in Paul's prayer.

The Greek word translated here as strengthened came from a word meaning force, especially miraculous power, from a word meaning to be able or possible.

Immediately we see that Paul was praying that God would supply something that otherwise would be impossible for the Colossians to develop: supernatural strength. Paul is not urging the Colossian believers to exercise their natural-born strength...he is letting them know what God can do in their lives if they but accept it.

Paul used two forms of the same word. "Strengthened" is the verb form, and "power" is the noun form of the same word. Literally he prayed, "strengthened in every strength." This verse in Colossians in the only instance in which Paul used the verb form. There are many instances, however, of the noun form of the word:

"Mighty", "power" and "miracles" describe supernatural power from God:

"Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (Romans 15:19)
"And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: (Acts 19:12) So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." (Acts 19:11)
"Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases." (Luke 9:1)
"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Supernatural power is beyond our imagination:

"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

"Strength", "power" and "strong" describe God's support in the midst of weakness:

"For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul reinforced his conviction that this strength is found only in God by saying "according to his glorious might."

The word "might" in the Greek is kratos (krat'-os), meaning vigorous, active strength.

From this word we derive our word "democrat", meaning rule (strength) of the people. God vigorously exerts His glorious (very apparent) strength to strengthen believers with every strength. Three times in one brief phrase does Paul mention supernatural strength!

We can say "supernatural" strength because it is clearly not ordinary, human strength that Paul is praying for. "Supernatural" implies super-human or "super-hero" strength, able to leap tall buildings and stop bullets. Is that what Paul expected God to provide for the believers in Colossae? There is nothing in Scripture to cause us to doubt that God can indeed enable humans to become super-human:

  • A rod becomes a serpent (Ex 4:3)
  • -Skin made instantly leprous (Ex 4:6)
  • Water turned into blood (Ex 4:9)
  • Sun and moon stopped (Jos 10:12)
  • A lion slain bare-handed (Jdg 14:6)
  • A stadium destroyed by one blind man (Jdg 16:30)
  • A river divided (2Ki 2:14)
  • A child raised to life (2Ki 4:35)
  • A man resurrected (2Ki 13:21)
  • Water changed to wine (Jn 2:9)
  • Feeding of five thousand (Mt 14:15)
  • Walking on water (Mt 14:25)
  • Poisonous snake rendered impotent (Ac 28:5)

Although God has, and does, provide supernatural power to work miracles, in his letter to the Colossians Paul did not pray for super-human, super-hero strength. He simply asked God to provide supernatural strength for four things:

  • Endurance (cheerful or hopeful constancy, to stay under)
  • Patience (enduring long in the fire)
  • Joyfulness (cheerfulness, calm delight)
  • Thankfulness (grateful, cheered by good favor)

Colossian believers faced situations that required patient, joyful endurance with thankfulness:

"Beware lest any man spoil (lead away as booty, stripped away) you through philosophy (Jewish arguments, literally "friendship with wisdom") and vain deceit (empty delusion, cheated), after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." (Colossians 2:8)
"Let no man beguile you of your reward (defraud, "award the price against") in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind..." (Colossians 2:18)

James wrote about cheerfully enduring trouble:

"My brethren, count it all joy (cheerfulness, calm delight) when ye fall into divers temptations (putting to proof, testing); Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience (cheerful or hopeful constancy, to stay under). But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect (completed, finished) and entire (complete in every part), wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth (defame, scorn by name) not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth (separates thoroughly, withdraws) is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord." (James 1:2-7)
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded." (James 4:8)
"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." (James 4:10)

"Wavering" literally means "through-distinguishing". In this instance it means to reserve the right to judge whether the wisdom you might receive from God is actually wise or not. Imagine a child asking a father for bread, and then shrinking back from it, trying to judge whether it was spoiled or not. The father would frown and say "Before you ask of me, you need to trust that I will only give you what is best." If we have not already settled the issue of whether God is completely good and trustworthy, then we will not trust anything we receive from Him, and we will be left to our own to sort out whatever we encounter.

Here is a paraphrase of James' message that provides a good conclusion to our study of the word "strength", expressed as patient, joyful endurance with thankfulness:

"Dear friends, when difficulties come, don't try to figure out what you can do to make things better. Welcome whatever is going wrong as a chance to more deeply encounter God, to enter community, and to experience transformation.
"If you're not sure how to actually do that, ask God, not for improved circumstances or happier experiences, but for the wisdom to let your suffering draw out your desire for God. When you ask for that, know that He gives generously and never criticizes you for where you are. Believe, don't doubt. If you waiver between wanting the New Way and still clinging to the Old, you'll receive nothing from the Lord.
"It's time, brothers and sisters, to abandon ourselves fully to God. There's a New Way to live. Draw near to God, and He'll draw near to you. He'll meet you, fill you, delight you, and use you to further the great plan of the ages, the Immanuel Agenda. Then we'll all go home." (James 1:2-7; 4:8,10, from "The Pressure's Off", by Larry Crabb, page 217)