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