Notes on Prayer: Colossians 1:3; 4:2-3, etc

We conclude our series of studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters with a survey of the remaining letters—beginning with Philemon and Colossians, and then turning to consider the references in the disputed letters of Ephesians and 1 Timothy.

Philemon 4-6, 22

The letter to Philemon was, of course, written to an individual rather to the collective believers of a city or territory. Even so, the references to prayer follow the same pattern of the other letters addressed to congregations. The references occur in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing (exhortation) sections of the letter-body, and are framed specifically in terms of the relationship between Paul and his audience. The prayer references in the thanksgiving (vv. 4-7) could have easily been lifted right out of one of the other Pauline letters.

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor, always making mention of you in my (time)s of speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxai/], hearing of your love and trust which you hold toward the Lord Yeshua and (directed) to all the holy (one)s, so that the communication of your trust might come to be working in (the) knowledge about every good (thing) that (is) in you for (the sake of the) Anointed…” (vv. 4-6)

Several of the features here we have seen repeatedly:

    • Paul refers to making mention of the believers (here, Philemon) to God regularly during his times in prayer
    • He gives thanks because of their faithfulness in response to the Gospel (as it has been reported to him)—trusting in Jesus, demonstrating love, growing in faith and virtue and understanding
    • He expresses the wish that they continue to remain faithful

But Paul’s prayers are only one side of the relationship that he holds (as an apostle) with the congregations—they are also asked to pray for him. And so Paul would request this of Philemon as well, just as he does at the close of the letter:

“…but also make ready for me a place (of lodging) for the stranger, for I hope that, through your speaking out toward (God) [proseuxai/], I shall be given to you as a favor (from God).” (v. 22)

The middle-passive verb xari/zomai means “show favor, give (something) as a favor”; in the passive, it refers to the gift or favor itself. It is related to the verb eu)xariste/w in v. 4, which, in a religious context, refers to the favor shown by God, and the gratitude or thanks that we show to Him (in response) for this favor. Here, the favor God will show, through the cooperation of Philemon in his prayers, is to allow Paul the opportunity to visit him.

Colossians 1:3, 9

The prayer references in Colossians follow the same Pauline pattern. The first references occur in the introduction (exordium), which may be divided into two sections—the first containing the thanksgiving (1:3-8), and the second, Paul’s exhortational prayer-wish for the Colossian believers (1:9-14). The opening reference to prayer in the thanksgiving (v. 3) is virtually identical to the statement in Philemon 4 (cf. above). Notably, the statement in Colossians is given in the first-person plural: “We give thanks to God for (His) good favor…always over you, speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxo/menoi]”. In Colossians, Paul gives particular emphasis to his co-workers and fellow missionaries, and so the plural here is significant (cf. verse 7, and further below).

As is typical for Paul, his thanksgiving effectively takes the form of praise for the faithfulness of the believers he is addressing. Specific mention is made of their trust and love, remaining firm in the truth of the Gospel (vv. 4-5), as also of their growth in virtue and understanding (vv. 6-7), and of unity in the Spirit.

The second prayer-reference in the introduction, correspondingly, comes at the opening of the exhortational prayer-wish in vv. 9ff:

“Through [i.e. because of] this we also, from the day on which we heard (this), do not cease speaking out toward (God) [proseuxo/menoi] over you…” (v. 9a)

Paul’s wish (as a prayer to God) is for the Colossians to continue in faith and virtue, growing further in spiritual knowledge and understanding, etc.:

“…and asking (Him) that you would be filled (with) the knowledge about His will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9b)

The remainder of the prayer-wish—also to be characterized as an intercessory request—is phrased in the typical manner of early Christian ethical instruction and exhortation, of which there certainly are a number of Pauline examples:

“…(for you) to walk about (in a manner) up to a level (worthy) of the Lord, into everything (that is) pleasing (to Him), bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God, being (em)powered in all power, according to the might of His splendor…” (vv. 10-11a)

Also typical of Paul, is the eschatological aspect of this exhortation—a theme that is developed throughout the letter—but nuanced here with a strong dualistic Christological emphasis:

“…(the Father), (hav)ing made us fit for the portion of the lot of the holy (one)s in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the power [e)cousi/a] of darkness and made (us) stand over into the kingdom of His (be)loved Son—in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the putting away of sins” (vv. 12-14)

On the Christological hymn (‘Christ hymn’) that follows in vv. 15-20, cf. my earlier series of notes.

Colossians 4:2-3, 12

The Pauline pattern continues with the prayer-references in the closing (exhortation) section of the letter (4:2-6). Typically, in these sections Paul emphasizes the other side of the prayer relationship between himself and the congregations—namely, that they should regularly be praying for him. He leads into this with a general exhortation for the Colossians to remain firm in prayer:

“In speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], you must be firm toward (it), keeping awake in it with thanks for (His) good favor” (v. 2)

The verb proskartere/w (“be firm/strong toward [something]”) is a key word characterizing the unity of believers in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13; 10:7). Paul also uses it in Romans (12:12; 13:6), and the prayer context of its use in 12:12 is comparable to what we find here. The noun eu)xaristi/a corresponds to the related verb eu)xariste/w in 1:3 (cf. above), emphasizing again the relationship between prayer and the favor God shows to us. As Paul makes clear, there are two aspects to this relationship: (1) we give thanks for the favor God has shown, and (2) we ask that He will continue to show us favor, and that we will act in a manner that is worthy of His favor.

The prayer-emphasis shifts in verse 3:

“…at the same time, also speaking out toward (God) over us, that God would open up for us a door for the account [lo/go$], to speak the secret [musth/rion] of the Anointed, through which I have been bound”

The prayers believers are to make on his behalf typically relate specifically to his missionary work, defined in terms of preaching the Gospel. Here, two key terms are used, in a technical sense, for the Gospel:

    • lo/go$, “account,” that is, a spoken account, shorthand for the expression the “account of God” (Acts 4:31; 6:2, et al)—viz., the account of what God has done through the person of Jesus.
    • musth/rion, “secret” —on this usage, cf. the recent discussion on Rom 16:25-26, as well as my earlier word study series. The Gospel of Christ is a “secret,” hidden throughout all the ages past, and revealed only now, at the present time, through the kerygma (proclamation) by the prophets and apostles of the early Christian mission.

This is a regular theme in Paul’s prayer-references—that believers work together with him (and his fellow missionaries), through their prayers. We have seen repeatedly in our studies the importance of praying for the needs of others, rather than simply for our own needs. It is a key New Testament principle that such selfless and sacrificial prayer is assured of being answered by God.

As in the introduction (cf. above), Paul uses the first-person plural. Sometimes he does this in his letters as a rhetorical device, but here he is specifically including his fellow missionaries and co-workers with him. In the closing that follows in vv. 7-17, Paul mentions ten different persons, among them Epaphras in vv. 12-13. He was mentioned earlier in 1:7, and also in Philemon 23 (both in the context of the prayer-references, cf. above). Epaphras apparently was an apostolic missionary in his own right, and one who would have had much more frequent contact with the congregations of the region. Paul refers to him much as he does to himself, as a “slave” (dou=lo$) of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1). In 1:7 the word is su/ndoulo$ (“slave together with [me/us]”), while in Philem 23 he is called “one taken captive [lit. at spearpoint] together with (me)” (sunaixma/lwto$), i.e. “co-prisoner, fellow prisoner”.

Like Paul, Epaphras’ role as an apostolic missionary led him to pray frequently (and fervently) for the believers of that area. Paul describes this here in v. 12 as “struggling over you in his speaking out toward (G0d) [proseuxai/]”. The verb is a)gwni/zomai (“struggle”), used, viz., in athletic competitions; it is something of a Pauline term, as 6 of the 8 NT occurrences are in the Pauline letters (elsewhere, 1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). The occurrences of the substantive (verbal noun), a)gw/n, used in a similar context, should also be noted—1 Thess 2:2; Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7. In Paul’s usage, the verb alludes to believers (esp. missionaries) laboring—and enduring suffering—for the sake of the Gospel.

 

 

 

May 6: Isaiah 53:11

Isaiah 53:11

“From (the) labor of his soul he shall see and be satisfied,
with his knowledge my just servant shall bring justice for (the) many,
and their crooked (deed)s, he shall carry (them) along.”

This verse continues the theme from verse 10 (cf. the previous note), regarding the Servant’s reward for remaining faithful, enduring the suffering and punishment (from YHWH) on behalf of the people. In v. 10, the promise is that the Servant will see his descendants (“seed”) flourishing; here, the same verb (ha*r*) is used, but in a more general sense. There is no object provided in the MT for what the Servant will “see”, but the Qumran MSS 1QIsaa and 1QIsab include the word roa (“light”)i.e., “…he shall see lightand this reading would seem to be confirmed by the LXX. Whether or not this represents the original text, it probably reflects the sense of the line accurately enough.

The “light” seen by the Servant, and the satisfaction (vb ub^c*) experienced by his soul, indicates his presence in a heavenly/blessed afterlife. This is the reward for the labor (lm*u*) and suffering of his soul during his lifetime. He is now freed from this toil in the afterlife. If the setting of the passage, as suggested, is the heavenly court, then these verses reflect the decision passed down on the Servant’s behalf, in his favor. The announcement is made by YHWH Himself (“my servant”), or in His name.

The second line shows that the Servant, in his new heavenly position, will, in many ways, be continuing the service he performed on earth. That is to say, he will act on the people’s behalf, functioning as their intermediary and intercessor. With his just/right character having been confirmed, before YHWH in the heavenly court, the Servant is now able to establish justice/righteousness for the people of YHWH. Here he is called the “just [qyD!x^] servant” of YHWH (“my just servant,” or “[the] just [one], my servant”). And he will work to make/bring justice (vb qd^x* in the Hiphil causative stem); the religious aspect of this work would be emphasized by translating this verb form as “do righteousness, make righteous”. However, we should perhaps understand the verb here in the fundamental sense of “make right”, in terms of the covenant between YHWH and his people (but cp. the Servant’s role in bringing justice to the nations in 42:1-4). The Servant’s role in establishing the new covenant, likely reflects the role of Moses as the mediator of the first covenant.

It is not entirely clear what the knowledge (“with/by his knowledge”) is through which the Servant will accomplish this work. There are two possibilities: (1) it refers to his knowledge (i.e., the experience, etc) of his suffering, especially its purpose and significance; (2) the focus is on his new heavenly position in the presence of God, which gives to him a new awareness and revelatory knowledge. I would lean toward the first option. Since the emphasis in the entire passage is on the suffering of the Servant, it seems likely that his “knowledge” must be related to it as well. In any case, this knowledge and understanding is fundamentally given to him by YHWH (on this theme elsewhere in Deutero-Isaiah, cf. 40:14; 41:20; 42:16ff; 43:10; 50:4-5; 51:7; 52:6; and cp. 11:2).

In the final line, it is declared that the Servant will carry the “crooked (deed)s” (or “crookedness,” in a general sense) of the people. This continues the motif from earlier in the passage, only here the verb lb^s* refers, not so much to the lifting of a heavy burden, but of transporting it, i.e., carrying it along. In other words, the Servant now does not merely bear the sin of the people, he transports it; likely a sense of expiation is in view herethat is, the sins of the people are taken away. However, this does not apply to all the people, but to the “many” (<yB!r^).

The motif of the “many” was introduced at the beginning of this passage (52:14-15), and is taken up again at the conclusion (53:11-12). The significance is perhaps best understood in light of the traditional “remnant” motif in the Prophets. In a time of great wickedness only a small portion of people are declared holy or righteous, with the implication that only they will survive or be rescued from the judgment. Now, with the dawn of the New Age, and a new covenant established between YHWH and Israel, the situation is reversed: a multitude (“many”) will be righteous and faithful throughout to YHWH. The same even applies, it would seem, to the nations— “many” of them (and their rulers) will come to be holy and righteous in the New Age. This will be discussed further in the next daily note (on v. 12).