Walking Worthy: An Analysis of Colossians 1:9-14

by Robert Lyon | May 16, 2020 | Articles

This is the third part of a textual analysis series in the book of Colossians. Read part 1 | Read part 2


As we make the transition from Paul’s thanksgiving (vv. 3-8) to his prayer (vv. 9-14), it is important to see the link between the two passages. Paul begins his prayer in verse 9 with, “And so” (ESV) or “For this reason” (NIV). In his commentary, Bible scholar N.T. Wright notes that we shouldn’t miss this crucial link:

It is because of what God has already done that Paul can pray with confidence for what God will do. Having begun a work of grace, God will continue and complete it (see Phil. 1:6).

This transitional phrase introducing Paul’s prayer is critical. Paul has just rejoiced that the church has received the gospel and has proven that it had powerful, fruit-bearing effects among them. For this reason, Paul has “not ceased to pray” (v. 9), expecting that the grace of God would continue to manifest in their lives. In what way? The central way in this text is found in verse 10:to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”—the Lord who is the central glory of the gospel.

Study Question: Read slowly through this passage two or three times, meditating on what Paul is asking God to give the Colossians. Make a list of Paul’s requests. Do any of his requests specifically impact your heart in this season? Incorporate these requests into prayers for yourself, your family, your friends, and your church this week and beyond.

Walking in the Bible

In the Bible, one’s walk connotes one’s lifestyle, or “manner of life” (Phil. 1:27). From the beginning of Scripture to the end, the people of God are exhorted to walk a certain way.

Study Question: Look for similar uses of the word or idea of “walk” in the Bible. First look for other instances in Colossians. Then expand into the rest of Scripture (refer to Ex. 18:20; Lev. 18:4; Deut. 13:4; Ps. 1:1; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:12). Together, what do these texts communicate about God’s desire for your walk? How often are God’s interests for your walk on your mind each day?

Paul’s specific desire in verse 10 is for the Colossians’ walk to be in a “manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”

What does this mean?

By saying walk “worthy of the Lord,” Paul isn’t denying grace and calling the church to curry God’s favor. No, Paul is relying upon grace and calling the church to live in light of what God has made possible for them—a life that increasingly conforms to the life of Jesus, our Creator and Lord (Col. 3:10). What’s more, this kind of life will enjoy the Lord’s pleasure. What a gift.

But with this end in mind, we need to ask two questions, which Paul later answers for us in his prayer:

  1. How do we walk this way?
  2. What does this walk look like?

Foundation: How Do We Walk This Way?

In verse 9, Paul gives us the means by which one can achieve a walk worthy of the Lord Jesus. What is it? It is the knowledge of God’s will. Take a look:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him… (Col. 1:9-10a)

Here are two things to meditate on regarding the knowledge of God’s will:

  • God must fill us with it. We see from this passage that knowledge of God’s will must come from him. It does not arise within us—we do not conjure it up nor should we equate our own human knowledge with God’s. God must grant us knowledge of his will—by both providing revelation and applying that revelation to our minds and hearts by his Spirit.
  • It consists of spiritual wisdom and understanding. Furthermore, the knowledge of God’s will is not a divine implanting of abstract ideas in some remote mental space. Rather, the knowledge of God’s will consists of two practical things: (1) spiritual wisdom and (2) spiritual understanding. Doug Moo says that “[t]his combination thus suggests the ability to discern the truth and to make good decisions based on that truth.” And the spiritual nature of these two things derives from their origin: the Holy Spirit.

Next, note the logic between verse 9 and verse 10.

Located at the beginning of verse 10 is the phrase “so as to.” This short phrase signals a relationship between the person being filled with knowledge and that same person walking in a manner worthy of the Lord. He or she who is filled will walk this way. That’s critical.

So, this brings us to two questions. First, where does one find the knowledge of God’s will, that the Spirit may apply it?

Friends, it is profoundly simple: the Bible.

The Bible, as we emphasized in our meditation of Colossians 1:1-2, is the authoritative word of the living God. The Bible is the well we all must draw from if God is to grant the grace of this all-encompassing and fruitful “spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Second, why is the Bible alone sufficient for these things?

In the Bible alone we come to know God—and know him rightly. Knowing his Word, his promises, his past acts of judgment, his covenants, his creation, who we are in light of him, what he delights in and what he hates, and how all of this comes together to bring glory to the crucified and risen Christ is imperative for cultivating a walk that bears gospel fruit.

Nowhere else is the knowledge of God’s will revealed. There is no guidebook, no personality assessment, no secret guru, no plan of strict asceticism, and no catalog of rules and regulations that has the power to both reveal Christ and “equip you for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). In Christ, as he is revealed and proclaimed in the Bible, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). His word is the foundation for lives that seek to imitate him.

Study Question: What is your view of God’s Word, and what role does it play in your daily life? If your diet of Scripture has diminished or your affections for the Word have grown dim, seek the Lord’s grace—that he might revive your pursuit of his will in his Word. Make Paul’s prayer in verses 9-10 a daily request. Also, try praying through Psalm 19:7-13 or through Psalm 119—psalms that explicitly exult in and savor God’s word.

Essentials: What Does Walking Worthy Look Like?

Now that we understand the foundation of a worthy walk (v. 9), what does this kind of walk look like? In the verses following Paul’s main prayer (v. 10), he prays that four things would adorn the Colossians’ walk (vv. 11-14). I am going to list them as prayer requests, so that we, like Paul, can plead with God for these graces—both for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters in Christ: 

  • Father, as we walk, may we bear fruit in every good work (v. 10c).
  • Father, as we walk, increase our knowledge of your will and grant us the discipline to keep pursuing more spiritual wisdom and understanding in your Word (v. 10c).
  • Father, we are utterly weak and helpless as we meet trials of various kinds every day. Strengthen us with your power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (v. 11).
  • Finally, Father, we ask that your awesome mercy and grace toward us in the gospel would never cease to fill our minds and hearts—thank you for taking action: you rescued and redeemed us as we walked helplessly in the “domain of darkness,” by transferring us to the kingdom of your beloved Son, in whom “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 12-14).

God desires that his people—those who are in Christ (vv. 1-2) and have been transformed by the gospel (vv. 3-8)—walk according to the Lord of this gospel. This walk is equipped by his Word and is adorned by God with knowledge, good works, patience, endurance, and lifelong awe toward the Father’s grace in the gospel. Isn’t this wonderful?

Study Questions:

  • Consider how amazing verse 11 is. What do you need God’s powerful endurance and patience for in this season? Do you need to be strengthened for a certain task? Do you need to be given patience amidst trying circumstances? Take whatever it is to the Lord and ask him to strengthen you with all power “according to his glorious might.”
  • In our study of verses 3-8, we noted the way Paul thanked God that the gospel had come to the Colossians. But, considering verses 12-14, how does Paul view the gospel’s continued influence upon those who already believe it? What aspects of the gospel are found here?