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LIBERTY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DIVINITY

Colossians 1:9–14: A Model for Intercessory Prayer to Eliminate Bias

Submitted to Dr. Fernando Abella, Assistant Professor of Practical Studies

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

RTCH 500

Research, Writing, and Ministry Preparation

by

Leah Vintila

July 17, 2016

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Contents

Introduction............ ........................................................................................................................1

Context of Paul's Prayer for the Colossians ................................................................................1

Historical Context ................................................................................................................1

Canonical Context................................................................................................................3

Comparison to other Pauline Prayers...................................................................................4

Meaning of Paul's Prayer for the Colossians ..............................................................................4

Intended Purpose .................................................................................................................5

Significance of Intercessory Prayer..............................................................................................5

Modern Viewpoints on Intercessory Prayer ........................................................................6

Significance of Paul's Prayer in Contrast to Modern Viewpoints .......................................8

Life Application of Colossians 1:9-12 as a Model Prayer.................................................. 8

Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................9

Bibliography .................................................................................................................................11

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Introduction

Intercessory prayer is an important part of our Christian fellowship within the body of

believers. Throughout the Pauline letters we see examples of intercessory prayers that should

form the basis of our prayer life today. Yet, all too often, our prayers for others can be self-

directed towards what we believe the best response from God should be for a particular prayer

need or where we believe the direction of one's life should be headed.

This paper will examine Paul’s prayers as used in the context of the cultural influences of

that day with a focus on the prevailing purpose of his prayer over the Colossians. It will further

make a comparison of those historical influences to our current cultural influences and examine

the inadequacy of most intercessory prayer practices of today which incur a natural bias.

Through the use of Colossians 1:9–14 as a model for intercessory prayer, we will find that we

can eliminate the natural bias that is sometimes present in praying our will for other’s lives and

instead can align our prayers toward Christian growth and ultimately God’s will which should be

the goal of all prayer for others.

Context of Paul's Prayer for the Colossians

Historical Context

To begin the evaluation of Colossians 1:9-14, we must first examine the context in which

this prayer was written. Later, we will use this context as it relates to the environment that we

live in today. From a historical standpoint, we know that this text was written by Paul during his

first Roman Imprisonment. It is interesting to note that Paul did not personally plant the church

at Colossae, but it is instead believed that one of Paul’s students from Ephesus likely started this

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church1. Studying Paul’s role in Colossae even further, we see that he likely had not even visited

this church as noted in Colossians 2:1 in which Paul writes of not having met them personally. If

Paul did meet some of the Colossians, it is believed that he did so just passing through on his

second or third missionary journey, but did not do any formal missionary work there2.

So why would Paul write a formal letter to a church of which he had no formal oversight

or relationship? He did so because of his ownership gospel in which he recognized himself as

“an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” and those in Colossae as “faithful brothers and

sisters in Christ” (Col 1:1-2 NIV)3. Paul took such ownership because of what was occurring in

Colossae at the time. We find when we study this church that they had embraced the gospel and

stood firm upon their faith in Christ and their love for one another. Paul specifically thanks God

for this in his letter to them rather than congratulating them as he acknowledged and wanted

them to recognize also, that this level of faith and love can only come from God.4 This was

especially significant because of the second thing that was occurring in Colossae, which was a

rise in false teachings stemming from a Greek culture that embraced philosophy combined with

Judaism. The result of this cultural uprising has been termed the “J-G virus” which stood for the

Judaistic Gnosticism which took on the worst of both the Jewish and the Greek mindsets. 5 The

beliefs of the Judaistic Gnosticism movement included the thought that salvation can only be

obtained through superior intellect and that faith was useless as there was no materialistic proof

of the belief. This movement denied Christ as a deity and instead promoted worship of angels as

1
H.L. Wilmington, Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, 1982), 474.
2
Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Michigan; Zondervan, 1959),
3
Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New International Version.
4
Dillon T. Thornton, "Colossians 1:1-14 The Fruit of the Gospel," The Expository Times 124, no. 9
(2013): 438.
5
Wilmington, Wilmington’s Guide, 475.

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intermediaries between God and man while continuing Jewish observances of dietary

restrictions, Sabbath days and circumcision6. To further include the Greek culture, it also allowed

for a focus on focus on stoicism and Epicureanism, both of which were philosophically prevalent

at the time7. Thus, with the combination of such errant beliefs, one can clearly see why this could

be considered a virus. Paul recognized it as deadly, spreading very quickly, and contributing to

heresy within the church, thus he wrote to the Colossians and subsequently offered a prayer for

them that specifically focuses a spiritual counterattack on the threat that this movement posed.

Canonical Context

From the standpoint of the culture that was prevailing historically, we can see why Paul

felt it necessary to write to this letter to the church in Colossae and will further see why he felt it

necessary to write this specific prayer for them. What we find from a canonical context is that

while other Pauline letters were written for various other purposes, such as the letter to the

Romans highlighting justification in Christ, 1 Corinthians focusing on enrichment in Christ, 2

Corinthians centering on comfort in Christ and Galatians upon freedom in Christ, this letter was

written to affirm our completeness in Christ8. This was necessary because society was promoting

completeness in superior knowledge, thus Paul was offering intercessory prayer against this as

the first part of this letter. We see evidence of this in the opening request of Paul’s prayer in

which he asks that the Colossians be filled with knowledge using the Greek word epignósis

which means “a precise and correct knowledge” in contrast to the knowledge others believed to

6
Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook. 621.
7
Wilmington, Wilmington’s Guide, 475.
8
Ibid, 475.

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be superior9. Furthermore, Paul prays for this knowledge specifically to be of God’s will which

also was in contrast to the Jewish heretics who were not following God’s will.

Comparison to other Pauline Prayers

When we step back and broaden our view to look at Paul’s prayers in general, we see that

while he did provide specific prayers to specific churches with great purpose, his prayers were

not specific to any bias towards his will for the church, but instead for God’s will. We see a

distinct commonality in his prayers that we will find form the basis of a model for how our

intercessory prayer should be today. For example, in Ephesians 1:16-19, we also see prayers for

spiritual wisdom and knowledge of His calling. In Philippians 1:9-12, Paul also prays for “real

knowledge” in order that the church may “approve the things that are excellent”. Thus, we can

see that while Paul’s prayer for the Colossians was specific to their church, it had a prevailing

message as part of a bigger theme of growing in Christ, a theme that certainly should be part of

our intercessory prayers today.

Meaning of Paul's Prayer for the Colossians

As previously noted, the Colossian church was very centered on faith and love with

evidence of much fruit-bearing. Paul’s purpose in writing to them was both to encourage this

practice to continue and to discourage them from following any false teachings of the Judaistic

Gnosticism movement. This movement was quickly spreading and Paul knew that the Colossians

9
James Strong, Strong’s Concordance, accessed August 4, 2016, http://www.biblestudytools.com/
concordances/strongs-exhaustive-concordance/.

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could be in need of wisdom and strength against it, therefore he not only writes to them, but lets

them know that he was in constant prayer for them as we see in verse 9.10

Intended Purpose

Aside from the general purpose of simply writing to the Colossians of the prayer he had

for them, Paul was very specific about the things for which he prayed. His intended purpose

through this prayer was not simply that Christ would hold them steadfast against the strong

movement of society with its false teachings, but he very specifically prayed for things

associated with a deepened spiritual growth. He understood that the deeper the Colossians grew

in their knowledge and wisdom of God’s will, the greater their fruit-bearing would be to the full

glory of God as a result of their Christ-centered actions. Paul also recognized that to fully live

out the life worthy of the Lord, the Colossians would need strength and endurance, especially in

light of the worldly culture that was pressing in so fiercely in Colossae. Thus, Paul very

specifically prayed for each of these attributes rather than praying that God would protect them

from such influences and ensuing heresy. In essence, he prayed for them to think properly and to

walk worthily. 11

Significance of Intercessory Prayer

In order to fully study Paul’s prayer to the Colossians as an intercessory model, we first

need to consider the significance of intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer, or the action of

praying for another person or group, is significant because it allows us to join intimacy with God

for several purposes. First, we are united with God in fellowship with Christ to have our hearts

opened to the needs of others. As part of this intimacy, we also share in the victory of Christ’s

10
Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible: Acts to Revelation, (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991),
604.
11
Thornton, “Fruit of the Gospel,” 439

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sufferings through Gospel grace which is the foundation of our faith through prayer. As Max

Thurian stated “By prayer we are united to Christ in His resurrection. Prayer makes us partakers

of His victory and gives us profound inner assurance of the fulfillment of faith.” Furthermore,

intercessory prayer allows us to share in thanksgiving of which communion itself has its

foundation. We share in this thanksgiving with others, thus communion of the saints occurs

through intercessory prayer, not as a result of a specific answer to prayer, but instead because of

the very nature that our prayers can be lifted up before God as a result of saving grace. Finally

and perhaps most importantly, intercessory prayer allows us to participate in the work that God is

already doing in the lives of others12.

Modern Viewpoints on Intercessory Prayer

Despite the purity of intercessory prayer as designed, society seems to have reduced this

type of prayer into an ask-and-receive action. John 16:23-24 is often quoted as people take this

scripture to mean exactly what they would like for it to state. This verse states “…my Father will

give you whatever you ask in my name…Ask and you will receive…” and many believers make

the false assumption that our will can somehow change God’s will if asked for in Jesus’ name. In

this, humans take on ownership of saying exactly the right thing to make God respond, which is,

of course, not a part of how intercessory prayer was created. It defeats the purpose of prayer

when we take on any responsibility for God’s will and in essence, negates His sovereignty. 13 As

previously stated, through intercessory prayer we get to participate with God in the lives of

others through communion with Him, but His answer is based solely on what will ultimately

12
Max Thurian, "Intercessory Prayer and Communion in God and Within the Church," The Ecumenical
Review 30, no. 4 (1978): 346-347
13
Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Live a Praying Life, (New Hope Publishers, 2010), 24.

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bring glory to the Son. Yes, God will always answer our prayers, but sometimes the answer

might be no or even not yet versus the yes we are so longing to hear in response to the requests

we lay before Him. 14

One place answered prayers are most often sought is in healing. Many intercessory

prayers are said in pleading to God to cure an illness in which another might be suffering.

Humans deeply feel the pain of death and often try as hard as they can to pray away cancers or

some other terminal condition. And at times, those prayers are heard and answered. Other

times, the prayers are seemingly not answered and the one being prayed over ultimately dies.

The question then becomes “Does God answer prayers for healing?” Many research studies have

been conducted on the subject, both from the medical community and from religious groups.

The hope of many Christians is that medical science can, in fact, prove the existence of God

through formal prayer studies.15 In a comprehensive review of 16 medical studies conducted on

intercessory prayer, Wendy Cage concluded that there was no proof that intercessory prayer

could be studied and proved to be effective as a medical intervention. Of the 16 studies, only six

showed a positive effect of prayer.16 This does not mean that God does not answer prayers for

healing, however; it simply means that there is not a positive correlation using scientific methods

showing that all intercessory prayer produced healing effects. Thus we arrive back at the rightful

conclusion that prayers will be answered according to the Father’s will and plan based upon what

God knows to be best, rather than human desires or preferences17. We also arrive at the

14
Dean, Live a Praying Life, 26.
15
Wendy Cadge, "Saying Your Prayers, Constructing Your Religions: Medical Studies of Intercessory
Prayer," The Journal of Religion 89, no. 3 (2009): 321.
16
Ibid, 305-307.
17
Thurian, “Intercessory Prayer”, 348

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conclusion that the modern viewpoint on intercessory prayer is largely one based upon specific

tangible outcomes.

Significance of Paul's Prayer in Contrast to Modern Viewpoints

As we return to Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1, we see a strong difference in the

intercessory prayer being offered by Paul versus that which is frequently offered under today’s

modern viewpoint. Paul’s prayer, while very specific to that which he was asking, was based not

on his own will, but on God’s will and those attributes that would align themselves with God’s

will for the Colossians. In this prayer, Paul specifically prayed that they would come to know

the knowledge of God’s will and that knowledge would then lead to worthy deeds which would

produce fruit and further knowledge of Him. J.G. Van der Watt describes this as “the spiral of

sanctification” which is demonstrated through the deepening knowledge of Christ which leads to

greater Christ-centeredness. 18 Paul recognized the greater good in sanctification above simply

removing the opposition, and knew that God’s will also would be for the same based upon

biblical precepts. Likewise, our prayers for others should be equally centered upon those things

that align with God’s will with the understanding that His purposes far exceed our personal

desires.

Life Application of Colossians 1:9-12 as a Model Prayer

Based upon what we know about the historical times in which Paul wrote his prayer to

the Colossians, we can clearly see a parallel to many of the same circumstances today. Many

false teachings are prevalent in the world and even in many churches. There is a level of self-

centeredness in society today that can be likened to the culture in Colossae which was centered

18
J.D. Van der Witt, Van der Watt, J.G. "Colossians 1:3-12 Considered as an Exordium," Journal of
Theology for Southern Africa 57 (1986): 32-42.

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on achieving superiority. Thus, Paul’s prayer for the Colossians should still apply to Christians

today. Christians should desire those around them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will

so that they may live a life worthy of Him, not specific to what the person praying desires, but

instead pleasing to God in every way based upon His will that He shares through the Holy Spirit

with the individual. But knowing God’s will is not enough. Believers need to grow closer in

their walk with Christ and deeper in their relationship with Him. To this end, Paul prayed that the

Colossians would grow in the knowledge of God and would further be strengthened in order to

have great endurance, patience, and joyful thanksgiving, which are all attributes of the

fruitfulness that is seen when one abides in Christ. As Max Thurian stated, “It is a confident

proclamation that those supported by Christian prayer are steadily being led towards the

formation and growth of Christ within them19.” We should want exactly that for our family,

friends, and all of whom we pray, that they would grow in Christ to be most able to endure

whatever they may face even if God chooses to allow a storm rather than preventing it. Paul’s

prayer in Colossians gives an ideal model for this type of prayer.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Paul’s prayer to the Colossians serves as a good example for modern

intercessory prayer for several reasons. First, it focuses on the Father’s will and not that of the

person praying which eliminates the natural bias sometimes present in prayers for the needs of

others. Second, it aims the prayer toward the attributes needed in a given situation to be able to

equip the one in whom the prayers are being uplifted. In this, the prayer is redirected towards

Christ who provides such things through the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, fruitfulness occurs as a

19
Thurian, “Intercessory Prayer”, 347

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result of the equipping, and actions are then prompted by faith. Likewise, a maturing of faith

leads to greater sanctification which in turn will ultimately lead to greater glorification of Christ

according to His grace. This has always been and always will always be the will of the Father,

and thus our prayers for others should be lifted up as in the model that Paul left for us.

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Bibliography
Baird, William. "Review of Paul's Intercessory Prayers: The Significance of the Intercessory
Prayer Passages in the Letters of St Paul" Journal of Biblical Literature 93, no. 4 (1974):
632-634.

Cadge, Wendy. "Saying Your Prayers, Constructing Your Religions: Medical Studies of
Intercessory Prayer" The Journal of Religion 89, no. 3 (2009): 299-327.

Dean, Jennifer Kennedy. Live a Praying Life. Birmingham: New Hope Publishers, 2010.

Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook. Michigan: Zondervan, 1959.

Henry, Matthew. Acts to Revelation. Vol 7 in Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible.
Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

Hewitt, Thomas F. "Redefinition of Intercessory Prayer in Contemporary Theology"


Perspectives in Religious Studies 2, no. 1 (1975): 64-79.

McGee, J. Vernon. Though the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, Inc.,
1983.

Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: New American Standard Bible.
1995. Accessed August 4, 2016. http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/strongs-
exhaustive-concordance/.

Thornton, Dillon T. "Colossians 1:1-14 The Fruit of the Gospel" The Expository Times 124, no.
9 (2013): 438-440.

Thurian, Max. "Intercessory Prayer and Communion in God and Within the Church" The
Ecumenical Review 30, no. 4 (1978): 346-354.

Van der Watt, J.G. "Colossians 1:3-12 Considered as an Exordium" Journal of Theology for
Southern Africa 57 (1986): 32-42.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington's Guide to the Bible. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982.