“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…” Colossians 1:9
Every discussion on the will of God gets pretty lively. We all want to know what the next step in life might be. We’re creatures who want to know that the next decision we make will result in success and happiness. Naturally, this explains the popularity of things like horoscopes and palm readers. We crave success and want someone to tell us the next thing to do in order to achieve that.
I wonder if our concept of the will of God has not degenerated into lowering the Heavenly Father down to the level of the common fortune-tellers. I want us to look again at Colossians and see if we’re in need of re-thinking this idea of “the will of God.”
In order to first understand what Paul means in this context, there are a couple of things we need to understand.
1. God is not secretive about his will for his people. I think the concept we have of God is that he will only tell the most dedicated and pious of his people. Only those given a special unction will really know what God’s will is. Or, we think he’ll only tell us what he’s thinking if we spend sufficient time waiting, praying, fasting, crying out, groveling, etc. We need to understand that the Father is very willing to let his people know his will and what they are to do for his glory and their benefit.
2. In the days when the apostles were preaching, there was no lack of people who would confidently preach what the will of God was. In that first century, the religious leadership had the will of God revealed to them (through the Law and the Prophets) and boldly passed that on to the people. God’s will was that they obey the prescribed mandates of the Torah: keeping Sabbath, observe the dietary restrictions, be circumcised, attend the temple functions (three times a year for the men), bring the acceptable sacrifices, tithe, and on and on. Whatever we may say about these things, they were the revealed will of God for the people of Israel.
It is this second point that we need to grasp if we are to understand what Paul is saying. Paul was bringing a message of grace to the world. It was a message proclaiming that it was the will of God that acceptance into his favor came about through faith in his Son, not by the practice of ritual religion.
That was a powerful contradiction to the accepted teaching of the day. God’s will was not considered outside of the ritual, institutional religion represented by the temple system. The religious culture could not conceive of God’s will being described in such a way that excluded religious ritual and did not require righteousness by works of law. The temple was the big box that contained God’s will and no one could see outside of that and no one was willing to ponder the will of God outside of that box.
With his advent, understanding of the will of God was about to take some very radical turns. In saying this, I’m not suggesting that the will of God was “wrong” under the Old Covenant and Jesus came to set that straight. It was always God’s will from the beginning that sinners be justified by the grace found in the Messiah. The fullness of this message took forty years to unfold, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptizer and coming to completion at the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70.
Until that full revelation of God’s will was unveiled in the destruction of the temple, Paul prayed for the believers in Colossae to have understanding of the will of God. They needed to stand firm that the will of God was not as touted by the established, religious leadership of the day. It was not the will of God that acceptance into his loving presence was gained by the temple ritual – Sabbaths, circumcision, sacrifices, tithes, etc. The Old Covenant leadership hammered this at every opportunity (sometimes using real hammers!).
Paul prayed that, in spite of the relentless pressure from the institutional religion of the day, the believers would understand that when they walked in grace, when they embraced the righteousness of Christ as their own, when they believed that they were loved by the Father without any practice whatsoever of legalistic religion, then they were walking squarely in the center of the will of God!
So, today, does God give revelation to Christians about their personal futures? Does he direct them to the college they should attend, the job they should take, or the person they should marry? Does he give signs, words, visions, revelations and assurances about these things? He can if he wants to. Personally, I don’t think it’s the norm. Sometimes, God shows a distinct disinterest in micromanaging our lives.
Sometimes, we take those steps – perhaps with full assurance that God has directed us this way – and the results turn out from being disappointing to downright disastrous. Does this mean we are outside of the will of God? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to tell unless God gives us a clear revelation regarding his will.
This is the point with the will of God. If we’re not sure about something being God’s will because he hasn’t clearly revealed it, then where do we look for unmistakable clarity? Paul is praying that the Colossians will have understanding of will of God in what he has revealed in Jesus Christ.
In essence, Paul is praying, “I want you to know that, even in the midst of the hard times you and your fellow believers around the world are experiencing, the will of God is very clear. His will is that you not be crushed with guilt and condemnation from those who say you’ve abandoned God by leaving the temple worship. It is his will that you rest with assurance that Jesus is faithful as your great high priest and has not abandoned you. It is his will that you rejoice with joy unspeakable and that you abide in the abundant love of the Father through his son Jesus. If you go through suffering (and many of you will), know that there is no suffering so severe that you will be separated from his love in Christ Jesus. It is his will that you embrace this with all your heart.”
Grand Junction, Colorado
I'm reflecting on things I've learned since coming out of the Institutional Church 10 years ago. Here's one of the first lessons I learned: The Sovereignty of God is still a GREAT doctrine.
Here’s a good question: What does the world look like that is governed by Yahweh? The Idealists among us would not hesitate to put these attributes on the list:
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. So many more glorious attributes could be added in honor to a wondrous God who is in total control of his domain. However, Idealism begins to crumble and challenges ensue when we continue the list with things like:
That second half of the list gives a lot of folks fits when trying to defend the idea that the Yahweh of the Bible is truly a king and rules his universe with wisdom, love, justice and compassion. It’s pretty much the foundation to argue that God is NOT sovereign in one way or another.
There’s the argument, “God is not TOTALLY sovereign. Let’s face it, some things he created are just too big for him to handle.”
A variation on this is, “Well, sometimes his enemy, the devil, gets the upper hand and thwarts God’s plans. Sorry, it happens.”
Then there’s, “Well, if he’s sovereign, he must also be exceptionally cruel! How can a loving God let all that evil take place if he has the power to do something about it?”
Those who hold to Yahweh’s sovereignty but want to explain the evil will spin things this way: “Well, sin is still in the world and until that is taken away, evil will still continue until That Day comes when Jesus will return and fix this broken world.”
This is the view that a world in which God is REALLY sovereign is where life is all Disneyland, puppies and unicorns. That is, life should look like the first half of the list after the second half of the list is removed by some future redemptive work by God.
Let’s face it: No one likes the idea that Yahweh CAN be in control – wisely, lovingly, compassionately in control – where tragedy and anguish exist alongside beauty and wonder. Our minds cannot see a connection that true, heavenly wisdom can extract beauty from tragedy.
Let me offer my own perspectives on this.
First, I think those who have the greatest appreciation of God’s wise rule over his universe are those who understand our world as a wild and woolly landscape where frail humans walk continually in a beautiful and majestic albeit volatile and unpredictable world.
When we awake in the morning (if we awake), we step outside into a world where abundant risks and no guarantees exist right alongside a wealth of blessings and glorious opportunities.
Sure, we love the idea of a God who rules lavishing his blessings upon us, keeping us from harm and pain and suffering and ugliness. We really do want life to be all Disneyland, puppies and unicorns. We expect a king who keeps his domain like a sanitized nursery rather than a savage jungle.
We hate the idea that God might just let a tornado demolish our house. Or cancer to eat away at our body. Or death to take our child. Or a hurricane to flatten a city. Or a murderer to slay the innocent.
Let’s face it, it’s much easier to challenge the wisdom of Yahweh than it is find profound wisdom in a tragic act that was fully in the Father’s control.
One of the most powerful expressions of Yahweh’s sovereignty is uttered by Nebuchadnezzar, the man who conquered Judah then ordered it destroyed in 586 B.C. – all in accordance to the will and command of God.
“For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35).
It’s interesting to note the timing of Nebuchadnezzar’s statement. It came after a tragedy, a God-ordained seven year bout of madness. At the end of the seven years, we are told that Nebuchadnezzar "came to his senses."
I wonder if Nebuchadnezzar’s coming to his senses involved the realization of his own frailty in an uncertain world. Preceding his madness, he was enamored by his own sovereignty, power and invincibility. He rejected the idea that anyone – including Yahweh – could be as great as he.
All of a sudden, the world he “created” slipped from his fingers. He was the victim of tragedy. A tragedy in which Yahweh had a hand. Which Yahweh himself ordained. And at the end of it, what lesson did Nebuchadnezzar learn? That even in a royal setting of splendor and majesty, he, like every other creature on earth was weak, frail, mortal and lived in a world where there was no assurance that hard-earned security was guaranteed.
I want to consider the sovereignty of God under the assumption that both good and evil are within his control and a part of his plan. His plan, in a nutshell, was to “demonstrate His own love toward us” in the death of his precious son. Few Christians would argue with this, but fewer take it farther by seeing that the Father’s sacrificial love is to be CONTINUALLY demonstrated in the believers’ love for one another.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
What does the King desire in his domain? That his people be the living, visible manifestation of the love he demonstrated in his son. I suppose that can be done in a world of Disneyland, puppies and unicorns, but love never shines brighter than when put against the backdrop of tragedy. When the King sends tragedy, hardship or injustice, it is an opportunity for his people to display love for one another in a wild world.
In Acts 11, we read of the church in Jerusalem suffering under a tragedy that struck the world at that time.
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea” (vs. 27-29).
Notice they didn’t sit around lamenting, “Why did God do this?” They didn’t start debates on God’s purposes and sovereignty. What did they do? They mobilized to present a living demonstration of the love of God to their brethren suffering in Jerusalem.
Look at it like this: Tragedy is like a blank canvas. In the world of art, no one oohs and aahs over a blank canvas. It’s only after the artist has applied the genius of his mind to brush on the colors, arrange the perspective, depth, contrast and balance does anyone see a true work of art.
Christians, of all people, should never be bewildered or distraught when tragedy strikes. Yes, they will hurt, grieve and shed tears. But that hardship is an opportunity for God’s people to be the colors on the Father’s palette. It’s a chance be the Father’s masterpiece, a portrait of a loving Father applied to the blank canvas of disaster.
Perhaps the reason there are so many critics of God’s sovereignty is because there is so little genuine displays of love among Christians in the modern, American church. An artist is never to be judged by the blank canvas, but by the finished product of his hand. Modern Christians are too ready to leave the canvas blank or unfinished. Perhaps a revival of love among Christians may be the catalyst needed to bring the doctrine of God’s sovereignty back to respectability.
This wild and woolly world ain't for sissies. It ain't for wussies. God does not show his power in stopping the tornadoes, the tragedies, the sufferings, the deaths, etc. He shows his power and goodness in giving us strength through our love for one another in the midst of these things. The tragedies are only the canvas; WE, in our love for others, paint the work of art meant to display the character of God.
That is the way the King rules his world.
Grand Junction, Colorado
When I was young, I wanted nothing more than to be theologically trained and enter the ministry. Then, I'd hoped I would be run out of the church I pastored and wind up in a low-paying retail job. People, I am living the dream! Besides that, I'm part of a small, home fellowship in Grand Junction, Colorado, married to a wonderful woman and we raised three wonderful daughters. One is married to a great guy, one is in nursing school, and our youngest passed away in 2010. Yes, life is good!