4:2 Stay alert or “staying awake” refers to the mental attitude of expectancy and watchfulness.
4:2 alert The Colossians must stay alert for false teachings that contradict the gospel message (Col 2:8). Jesus gave His disciples a similar warning prior to His arrest (Mark 14:38).
thanksgiving See note on Col 3:15.
4:2 being watchful in it. Jesus likewise admonished his disciples to “watch and pray” (Mark 14:38) so that they would not fall into temptation. Thanksgiving leavens prayer, so that it does not become merely a selfish pleading to have one’s desires fulfilled (cf. James 4:1–3).
4:2 Devote yourselves. The Gr. word for “devote” means “to be courageously persistent” or “to hold fast and not let go” and refers here to persistent prayer (Ac 1:14; Ro 12:12; Eph 6:18; 1Th 5:17; cf. Lk 11:5–10; 18:1–8). keeping alert. In its most general sense this means to stay awake while praying. But Paul has in mind the broader implication of staying alert for specific needs about which to pray, rather than being vague and unfocused. Cf. Mt 26:41; Mk 14:38; Lk 21:36.
4:2 Paul encourages the Colossians to be diligent in thanksgiving and prayer, especially praying for himself and his coworkers as they worked at spreading the gospel. Even the apostle Paul requested and needed the prayers of others to support him.
4:2. Paul encourages the believers to continue earnestly in prayer. He knew them to be faithful in the past (1:2), hoped for them to be in the future (1:23) and was now relying intensively on their dedication to prayer. Why else would he include so many personal requests at the end of this letter? And they are to pray vigilantly in attitude of thanksgiving.
4:2 Paul never tires of exhorting the people of God to be diligent in their prayer life. Doubtless one of the regrets we all will have when we get to heaven will be that we did not spend more time in prayer, especially when we will realize the extent to which our prayers were answered. There is a great deal of mystery in connection with the whole subject of prayer, many questions which cannot be answered. But the best attitude for the Christian is not to seek to analyze, dissect, or understand prayer’s deeper mysteries. The best approach is to keep praying in simple faith, leaving aside one’s intellectual doubts.
Not only are we to continue earnestly in prayer, but we are also to be vigilant in it. This immediately reminds us of the Lord Jesus’ request to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” They were not vigilant, and so fell sound asleep. Not only are we to watch against sleep, but also against wandering thoughts, listlessness, and unreality. And we are to watch to see that we are not robbed of time for prayer (Eph. 6:18). Then again, our prayers are to be with thanksgiving. Not only are we to be thankful for past answers to prayer, but in faith we can also thank the Lord for prayers He has not answered. Guy King summarizes nicely: “His love wants the best for us; His wisdom knows the best for us; and His power gets the best for us.”
4:2. Paul not only practiced a mature prayer life (cf. 1:3–12) but he also prescribed it for all believers. They should devote themselves to (lit., “persist, continue in”; cf. Rom. 12:12) prayer. Prayer is not a spiritual luxury; it is essential for growth. Prayer—as vital to one’s spiritual health as breathing is to one’s physical health—should be continual (1 Thes. 5:17), not casual. In his praying, a Christian should be watchful (“alert, aware”) against spiritual drowsiness caused by attention to the world (Matt. 24:42; Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Thes. 5:6) and/or by the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:16; 1 Peter 5:8). Being thankful should always accompany prayer (Phil. 4:6; Col. 1:12; 3:16–17; 1 Thes. 5:18), for it places a believer in the proper attitude before God (cf. Rom. 1:21). Communication: Sharing Our Most with God (v. 2)
Supporting Idea: Believers should pray with diligence, awareness, and thanks.
4:2. Paul has reminded believers that they are identified with an extraordinary Christ who has absolute supremacy. He has called believers (ordinary people) to live their ordinary lives in an extraordinary way. How is the believer to accomplish such a challenging assignment? Is assistance available? Yes. The believer is not alone in a world of temptation and deception. Strength and perspective are always available by looking above in prayer. Paul exhorts believers to pray with (1) diligence, (2) awareness, (3) gratitude.
Prayer should be done with diligence. Devote means “be busily engaged in,” persist in, or give constant attention.” Prayer in the believer’s life is not just an option for occasional emergencies. If believers are to withstand the constant pressures of a fallen and unfriendly world, an attitude of persistence and perseverance in prayer is needed.
Watchful literally means “stay awake” and refers to an attitude of being spiritually alert. Using the same term, Peter encouraged his readers to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8, emphasis added). Believers need to be alert because Satan wants to devour them. Colossians tells believers to be alert because false teachers want to deceive them. Believers need to be aware of the evil forces which seek to tantalize and capture them. If believers wish to be wide awake in their prayer life, the insight of C. S. Lewis can be helpful:
No one in his senses, if he has any power of ordering his own day, would reserve his chief prayers for bedtime—obviously the worst possible hour for any action which needs concentration.… My own plan, when hard pressed, is to seize any time, and place, however unsuitable, in preference to the last waking moment.… The body ought to pray as well as the head” (The Joyful Christian, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1977, 88–89).
Finally, Paul calls believers to thankful prayer. Believers who pray with gratitude for God’s blessing will be less likely to be led astray by the lures and lies of the enemy.
|NASB, NRSV||“devote yourselves to prayer”|
|NKJV||“continue earnestly in prayer”|
|TEV||“be persistent in prayer”|
|NJB||“be persevering in your prayers”|
This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE, “continue to devote yourselves to prayer.” Prayer is not optional. Prayer is crucial for effective Christian living and ministry (cf. Eph. 6:18–19; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:17). If Jesus’, being God’s incarnate, life was characterized by both public and private prayer, how much more do believers need to pray for the gospel, for themselves, and for one another.
|NASB, NRSV, TEV||“keeping alert”|
This is a PRESENT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE functioning as an IMPERATIVE. Prayer takes planning, persistence, and vigilance. It needs to become a lifestyle, not an event.
© “thanksgiving” Notice the three aspects of prayer in v. 2. Also, remember Paul was imprisoned, yet this letter emphasizes “thanksgiving” (cf. 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15–17; 4:2). Biblical truth (world-view) radically change ones perspective on life (cf. Rom. 8:31–39). Thanksgiving is a characteristic of a Spirit-filled life (cf. Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18).
2. As Paul is now approaching the close of the letter he issues certain admonitions of a general nature, as in 3:1–17; with emphasis on the positive, cf. 3:12–17. It is not surprising that, having spoken about the word (3:16), the apostle now stresses the importance of prayer, for word and prayer belong together: in the former God speaks to us, in the latter we to him. Says Paul: Persevere in prayer. Prayer is the most important expression of the new life. As such it is the means of obtaining for ourselves and for others the satisfaction of needs, both physical and spiritual. It is also a divinely appointed weapon against the sinister attack of the devil and his angels, the vehicle for confession of sin, and the instrument whereby the grateful soul pours out its spontaneous adoration before the throne of God on high. Accordingly, perseverance in prayer is urged. See also Acts 1:14; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18. This is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus in which he admonished his disciples to persevere in prayer, and not to lose heart when a petition is not immediately answered (Acts 18:1–8). Paul adds, keeping alert in it. This admonition to remain fully awake in prayer reminds one of Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40, 46. Yet, in these Gospel passages the wakefulness referred to is to be taken more literally, as the respective contexts indicate. What the apostle has in mind is that, while continuing in prayer, the worshiper shall be alive to such matters as: a. his own needs and those of the family, church, country, world, b. the dangers that threaten the Christian community, c. the blessings received and promised, and (last but not least) d. the will of God. Cf. Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Thess. 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 3:2, 3. From the Greek verb which expresses this necessity of being vigilant—a form of grēgoréō (I am awake, I remain alert)—the early Christians coined a favorite proper name: Gregory.
Now when one is deeply and humbly conscious of blessings received and promised he will express his gratitude to God. Hence, Paul continues: with thanksgiving. Cf. Eph. 5:20; 6:18; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:18; and see also above, on Col. 3:15, 17. It is worthy of note that the apostle wedges his admonitions to particular groups (3:18–4:1) in between two reminders to give thanks to God (2:17 and 4:2), as if to say, “Wives, husbands, children. fathers, slaves, masters, obey these instructions spontaneously, prompted by gratitude for the many blessings received.”
It should be borne in mind that the man who issues this directive is a prisoner. However, this prisoner is able to thank God even for his chains (Phil. 1:12–14). Surely, on the basis of the thought expressed so beautifully in Rom. 8:28 the believer can be thankful for whatever happens to him.
A call to pray (4:2)
The first thing we should notice is that 4:2 is certainly a call to pray—a serious call to pray. Indeed it is a call to follow the example of Paul himself, as we heard of his praying at the beginning of the letter.
The power of this call to prayer, however, comes from its context in the letter as a whole, not just from the words here in 4:2, heard as an isolated rule or command. Like all that we have heard through chapter 3 of the letter, the call to pray comes as part of an exposition of the life of faith in Christ Jesus. Paul’s theme is: ‘As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving’ (2:6, 7). That will mean praying.
Why? The answer to that question is: For the same reason that Paul himself had not ceased praying for the believers in Colossae from the day he heard about them (1:9). It is because something absolutely wonderful and extraordinary is going on. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the one through whom and for whom all things have been made, and by his death on the cross God has reconciled all things to him (1:15–20). Through Christ, God is bringing the universe back together again: order out of chaos, peace out of hostility (2:15), reconciliation out of alienation (1:20). Christ among the nations is the hope of glory (1:27)!
That is why Paul prayed, ‘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, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (1:9, 10). Paul prayed, not simply as a spiritual exercise or discipline, and certainly not in order to move an inactive God into action. Paul prayed because of the extraordinary work that God had done and that God was doing.
Yet it is even more than that. The call to pray in 4:2 comes to us because through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ God is turning chaos to order, hostility to peace, alienation to reconciliation in our lives (1:21, 22; 2:5). Praying is a characteristic of the reordered life. The new life in union with Christ in his death and resurrection has been the subject since 3:1. This life (see 3:12–17) is a stark contrast to the chaos (see 3:5–8). Prayer and peace with God go together. God’s enemies do not pray. The reconciled pray; the alienated do not.
In other words, if we have been listening to the teaching of this letter, we will not hear the call to pray in 4:2 as an obligation that condemns and threatens and rouses the sense of guilt, but as a gospel invitation. Listen to the particular way in which the call is expressed.
a. ‘Continue steadfastly’
Continue steadfastly in prayer, says the apostle. Other English translations have ‘Devote yourselves to prayer’ (so tniv). Similar expressions are found a number of times in the New Testament. It is what the apostles did in Acts 6:4: they devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. The three thousand who received the word on the day of Pentecost devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). Indeed it is what Jesus’ disciples were doing immediately after his ascension as they waited in Jerusalem: they were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14).
Paul certainly calls for a commitment to praying. There is also a sense of privilege. When you know and understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, praying is what you do. When we are conscious of what God has done and is doing and will do, we will pray. This is precisely what we heard Paul doing at the beginning of the letter. ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints … 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 …’ (1:3, 9). Now he invites his readers to do likewise: Continue steadfastly in prayer. Devote yourselves to prayer.
b. ‘Being watchful’
What will enable us to heed this call? It requires being watchful in it. Being awake. Praying is not the sleepy activity we may sometimes imagine (and perhaps sometimes practise!). It requires alertness. Yet this is not simply a call not to drift off to sleep as we pray, as the disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:37). As on that occasion, praying requires being awake to what is really happening. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you have been raised with Christ (3:1), that you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3). Keep awake to what is soon to happen. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (3:4).
This characteristic of the Christian life is worth emphasizing. Jesus taught it: ‘Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake’ (Mark 13:35–37); ‘Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming’ (Matt. 24:42); ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation’ (Matt. 26:41).
This wakeful watchfulness is alertness to the realities of which ‘you have heard in … the gospel’ (cf. 1:5). It is keeping our eyes of faith open. It is having the work of God in Christ and in his gospel in our consciousness. When we see life and the world in this brilliant light, when we understand what is going on, then we can properly hear this call to pray.
c. ‘With thanksgiving’
The third element in the call to pray in 4:2 settles the fact that this call is not intended to be guilt-driven. On the contrary, we are to pray with thanksgiving. Being watchful is not a matter of being frightened, or worried, or anxious. On the contrary, like the whole Christian life, praying is energized by thankfulness.
This has been a repeated note through this letter, which has been described as ‘one of the most ‘thankful’ documents in the New Testament’. It began with Paul’s own ‘We always thank God … since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus’ (1:3, 4). Then his prayer for the Colossian believers climaxed with the request that they would be ‘giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light’ (1:12). Indeed the purpose of this letter includes that its readers will ‘abound in thanksgiving’ (2:7). At one point in this letter, Paul simply and starkly says, ‘And be thankful’ (3:15), and then speaks of the ‘thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (3:16). Indeed the Christian life can be summed up as ‘whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (3:17).
The words of 4:2 should move us to be serious about praying, but if we hear these words rightly we will be moved, not by guilt feelings, but by being ‘woken up’ and by thankfulness.
Ver. 2. Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.—We are here instructed to pray with
I.—Earnest perseverance. 1. The word rendered “continue” means to apply with ardour and assiduity to any difficult and laborious thing until you shall have brought it to the wished-for end, and obtained the victory. Two things, therefore, are involved (1) Earnestness, or intention of mind, which is necessary, because (a) occasions for prayer are such as ought to excite the mind seriously and with the whole strength. The magnitude of our intention is wont to correspond with the magnitude of the business in hand. To seek the good things of God perfunctorily. What is this but to mock God? (b) Dead and sleepy prayers from a mind wandering or benumbed neither reach heaven nor move God to hear. Our prayer is a messenger between God and us; but if the messenger loiters or falls asleep, he will neither reach his destination nor effect his business. “With what effrontery,” says Cyprian, “dost thou require to be heard of God, when thou dost not thyself hear thy own voice.” (c) The heart inflamed with this spiritual heat grows soft, and is dilated, and becomes more apt and capable for receiving the Divine gifts. (d) The saints in Scripture thus prayed. Jacob (Gen. 32:28), Moses, the psalmists (James 5:1). (2) Assiduity or frequency (Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17). Not that we are to be ever on our knees, but that the desire of prayer is never laid aside either by weariness of expectation or despair of obtaining it, and that God should be frequently pleaded with. Inducements to this. (a) We have constant causes for prayer—the blessings we have, the blessings we want, and the evils we suffer. (b) Constancy is the most effectual means of obtaining what we seek (Luke 18; Matt. 15). (c) This perseverance greatly contributes to the declaring, increasing, and strengthening of our faith (Psa. 5:3). 2. Instructions. (1) Regarding intention. (a) Whereas we are exhorted to fervour, we must conclude that we are so frigid and torpid as to need a monitor to arouse us (Matt. 26:40). (b) We need the Spirit of prayer (Rom. 8:2). (c) Prayers that are not understood are of little moment, which condemns those of the Papists in an unknown tongue. Paul condemns them (1 Cor. 14:16). Augustine says: “The people ought to understand the prayers of their priests, that they may have their attention fixed upon God by a common feeling.” Even Roman theologians have condemned them. Parisiensis says: “It is reckoned among the follies of that messenger (i.e., prayer) that he neither cares nor thinks of those concerns except this alone, that he offers a petition to God, and is altogether ignorant of what it contains, and what is sought by it. And these things are manifest in all those praying persons who mutter with their lips alone, understanding nothing whatever of those things which the words of their prayers signify.” And Cajetan confesses “that it is better for the edification of the Church,” and founds it on 1 Cor. 14. (2) Regarding perseverance. (a) We must take care not to be drawn away from prayer by pleasure, business, &c. For if you cut the nerves you leave the whole body without motion and strength; so if you set aside prayer, the nerve of the soul, you maim the man and deprive him of spiritual motion. (b) The misery of the ungodly; who, as they are void of faith and love, cannot pray except for form’s sake, and what is more miserable than to be cut off from the fountain of blessedness? Conversely we learn the blessedness of the godly.
II. Watchfulness. 1. Nightly vigils. (1) The Christians of the apostle’s times, on account of their enemies, were often compelled to nocturnal assemblies (Acts 12:12; 20:7). The custom was continued long after the need of it had ceased; but was subsequently abandoned because of abuses. Hence the sermons of the fathers on the vigils of the Nativity, Easter, the Martyrs, &c. (2) Besides these public vigils, holy men sometimes spent sleepless nights in private devotion (Psa. 22:2; 77:6; Acts 16:25; Matt. 26:38–39; 2 Cor. 6:5). 2. The vigils of the mind. The mind is watchful when no ways asleep in sin and worldly things, but always lively. To this we are called by Christ (Mark 13:35–36; Rev. 3:2; 16:15); by Paul (1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Thess. 5:6); by Peter (1 Pet. 5:8). 3. Instructions. Hence is inferred (1) the sottishness of our age: we sleep at prayers in the open day; our fathers spent whole nights in prayer. (2) Our impiety and vanity: for vigils among us are scarcely destined to anything but folly or wickedness. (3) Then he raises his voice to God in vain who sleeps in his life. (4) The prayers of the ungodly are dreams, recited while the heart is asleep in sin.
III. Thanksgiving. 1. Petitioners should be grateful for blessings already granted. Aristotle wisely observed: “A return is required to preserve friendship,” but we can return to God nothing but gratitude (Psa. 116:12). 2. Thanks are due for things (1) deferred: for they are delayed only till a more advantageous time, and that we may esteem them more when bestowed. (2) Denied; because God knew they would be hurtful, and those useful which we deprecated. 3. Hence we are taught (1) that men are more prone to ask or complain than to be thankful. (2) That ungrateful men are not fit to pray. (8) That good and evil must not be measured by our sense, but left to the judgment of God our Father, who will always send us the best things (1 Thess. 5:18). (Bishop Davenant.)
I. Continue. Let not your intercessions be as the morning cloud. How prevalent we are in adversity; but what about prosperity? 1. The duty on the part of (1) convinced sinners. Pray on till the blessing comes. (2) Saints—not only for temporal blessings, but for more faith, holiness, usefulness. The more we pray the riper will be our graces. (3) Churches. Pentecost, as every great revival, was preceded by persevering prayer. 2. This duty need not interfere with others—our business, e.g. Prayer to the neglect of business was sternly condemned by Paul in the case of the Thessalonians. You may not always be in the exercise, but you may always be in the spirit of prayer. If not always shooting your arrows up to heaven, keep your bow well stringed. 3. Reasons for this duty. (1) God will answer. “Ask, and ye shall receive”—not always at once, but in God’s time; pray till that comes. (2) The world will be blessed. Continue, then, to pray till Christ become the universal King. (3) Souls shall be saved. (4) Satan’s castle shall be destroyed—not with one blow of the battering-ram, however. But batter away till it falls.
II. Watch. 1. For you will be drowsy if you watch not. How many men and Churches are asleep in prayer because they do not watch. 2. For as soon as you begin to pray enemies will commence to attack. No one was ever in earnest without finding that the devil was in earnest too. 3. Watch while you pray for propitious events which may help you in the answer to your prayer. We cannot make the wind blow, but we can spread the sails; and when the Spirit comes we may be ready. 4. Watch for fresh arguments for prayer. Heaven’s gate is not to be stormed by one weapon, but by many. 5. Watch for the answers. When you post a letter to your friend you watch for the answer.
III. Give thanks. We should not go to God as mournful beings who plead piteously with a hard master who loves not to give. When you give a penny to a beggar you like to see him smile, and you give at the next application because of previous gratitude. So go to God with a thankful mind. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Some qualities of prayer:—With the Scriptures as our guide we cannot question the obligation or value of prayer. The qualities here spoken of are—
I. Steadfastness (R. V.) (Acts 1:14; 12:5). The word means earnest adherence and attention, whether to a person or a thing. How weary we grow of prayer! How glad some formal worshippers are when the benediction is pronounced. This is a word against—1. Neglectors of God’s worship. 2. Forgetters of private devotion.
II. Watchfulness (Eph. 6:18). 1. Against wandering thoughts. 2. Against unbelief. 3. Against dulness and heaviness.
III. Thankfulness. St. Paul’s idea of this duty may be gathered from the fact that the word he here employs, although rare elsewhere, is found thirty-seven times in his writings, and is often joined to prayer. To be always asking and never thanking cannot be right. Whenever we pray we must utter thanks. (Family Churchman.)
Continuance in prayer:—Anglers, though they have fished many hours and caught nothing, do not therefore break their rod and line, but draw out the hook and look at their bait, which, it may be, was fallen off or not well hung on, and mend it, and then throw it in again. So when thou hast been earnest in thy prayers, and yet received no answer, reflect upon them; consider whether something were not amiss either in thy preparation or thy manner or thy petition. It is possible thou mightest desire stones instead of bread, or forget to deliver thy petition to the only Master of requests, the Lord Jesus, that He might present them to the Father. No wonder, then, thou hast failed. Be diligent to find out the fault, amend it, and then fall to work again with confidence that thou wilt not labour in vain. The archer, if he shoot once, and again, and miss the mark, considereth whether he did not shoot too high or too low, or too much on the right or the left, and then taketh the same arrow again, only reformeth his former error, and winneth the wager. (G. Swinnock, M.A.)
The necessity of persevering prayer:—In the black country of England you who have travelled will have observed fires which never in your recollection have been quenched. I believe there are some which have been kept burning for more than fifty years, both night and day, every day in the year. They are never allowed to go out, because we are informed that the manufacturers would find it amazingly expensive again to get the furnace to its needed red heat. Indeed, the blast furnace, I suppose, would all but ruin the proprietor if it were allowed to go out once every week; he would probably never get it up to its right heat until the time came for letting the fire out again. Now, as with these tremendous furnaces which must burn every day, or else they will be useless, they must be kept burning, or else it will be hard to get them up to the proper heat, so ought it to be in all the Churches of God; they should be as flaming fires both night and day; chaldron after chaldron of the coal of earnestness should be put to the furnace; all the fuel of earnestness which can be gathered from the hearts of men should be cast upon the burning pile. The heavens should be always red with the glorious illumination, and then, then might you expect to see the Church prospering in her Divine business, and hard hearts melted before the fire of the Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The value of constant prayer:—There should run through all our lives the music of continual prayer, heard beneath all our varying occupations like some prolonged deep bass note, that bears up and gives dignity to the lighter melody that rises and falls and changes above it, like the spray on the crest of a great wave. Our lives will then be noble, and grave, and woven into a harmonious unity, when they are based upon continual communion with, continual desire after, and continual submission to, God. If they are not, they will be worth nothing, and will come to nothing. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The power of constant prayer:—Some time ago, on the coast of the Isle of Wight, a woman thought she heard, in the midst of the howling tempest, the voice of a man. She listened; it was repeated; she strained her ear again, and she caught, amid the crack of the blast and the thundering of the winds, another cry for help. She ran at once to the beachmen, who launched their boat, and some three poor mariners who were clinging to the mast were saved. Had that cry been but once, and not again, either she might have doubted as to whether she had heard it at all, or else she would have drawn the melancholy conclusion that they had been swept into the watery waste, and that help would have come too late. So when a man prays but once, either we may think that he cries not at all, or else that his desires are swallowed up in the wild waste of his sins, and he himself is sucked down into the vortex of destruction. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Watchfulness in prayer:—Watch thereunto; as a sentinel suspecting the approach of an enemy; as a watchman guarding the city during the darkness of the night; as a physician attending all the symptoms of a disease; as the keeper of a prison watching an insidious and treacherous criminal. Our hearts need all this care; spiritual enemies are near; the darkness of the soul exposes it to danger; the disease of sin requires a watchful treatment; and the unparalleled deceitfulness of the affections can never safely be trusted for a moment. No; we must watch before prayer in order to dismiss the world from our thoughts, to gather up our minds in God, and to implore the Holy Spirit’s help. We must watch during prayer; to guard against distraction, against the incursions of evil thoughts, against wanderings of mind, and decay of fervour in our supplications. We must watch after prayer, in order that we may act consistently with what we have been imploring of Almighty God, wait His time for answering us, and not lose the visitations of grace; for with God are the moments of life, of mercy, of enlargement, and of gracious consolation. (Bishop D. Wilson.)
The need of watchfulness:—In riding along the south coast of England you may have noticed the old Martello towers in constant succession very near to each other. They are the result of an old scheme of protecting our coast from our ancient enemies. It was supposed that as soon as ever a French ship was seen in the distance the beacon would be fired at the Martello tower, and then, across old England, wherever her sons dwelt, there would flash the fiery signal news that the enemy was at hand, and every man would seize the weapon that was next to him to dash the invader from the shore. Now, we need that the Church of Christ should be guarded with Martello towers of sacred watchers, who shall day and night look out for the attack of the enemy. For the enemy will come; if he come not when we are prayerless, he will surely come when we are prayerful. He will show the cloven hoof as soon as ever we show the bended knee. If our motto be “Prayer,” his watchword will be “Fierce attack.” Watch, then, while ye continue in prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thanksgiving:—Every prayer should be blended with gratitude, without the perfume of which, the incense of devotion lacks one element of fragrance. The sense of need, or the consciousness of sin, may evoke “strong crying and tears,” but the completest prayer rises confident from a grateful heart, which weaves memory into hope, and asks much because it has received much. A true recognition of the lovingkindness of the past has much to do with making our communion sweet, our desires believing, our submission cheerful. Thankfulness is the feather that wings the arrow of prayer—the height from which our souls rise most easily to the sky. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
A day of thanksgiving:—I have heard that in New England, after the Puritans had settled there a long while, they used to have very often a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, till they had so many days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that at last a good senator proposed that they should change it for once, and have a day of thanksgiving. It is of little use to be always fasting; we ought sometimes to give thanks for mercies received. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
2. As one would expect from 1:3ff., these instructions focus on fundamentals: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. It is possible that ‘watchful’ refers obliquely to the church’s ‘watching’ for the Lord’s return; more likely that, as in Matthew 26:41, it means ‘stay awake’, ‘keep alert’. The connection here with thanksgiving (see on 1:3–8, 12b, etc.) may suggest the threefold rhythm: intercession, ‘watching’ for answers to prayer, and thanksgiving when answers appear. As children of the day (see 1 Thess. 5:4–11), Christians are to keep awake, looking out on the sleeping world which, as the object of God’s love, is also to be the object of his people’s ‘devoted’, i.e. regular, steady and thorough prayer.
2. Continue in prayer. He returns to general exhortations, in which we must not expect an exact order, for in that case he would have begun with prayer, but Paul had not an eye to that. Farther, as to prayer, he commends here two things; first, assiduity; secondly, alacrity, or earnest intentness. For, when he says, continue, he exhorts to perseverance, while he makes mention of watching in opposition to coldness, and listlessness.
He adds, thanksgiving, because God must be solicited for present necessity in such a way that, in the mean time, we do not forget favours already received. Farther, we ought not to be so importunate as to murmur, and feel offended if God does not immediately gratify our wishes, but must receive contentedly whatever he gives. Thus a twofold giving o thanks is necessary. As to this point something has also been said in the Epistle to the Philippians. (Phil. 4:6.)
4:2 / The opening verse in this section continues the ideas on corporate worship that were developed in 3:16–18. The summons to devote yourselves to prayer is a theme that is repeated a number of times in the nt (Luke 18:1; Acts 1:14; 1:24; 6:4; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18). This idea of persistence is emphasized by the additional exhortation to be watchful (grēgoreō) and thankful. Thus it is not just the importance of prayer but the manner in which it is offered that is stressed.
This exhortation may be a caution against casualness in prayer. The call to “watchfulness” formed one of the categories of the baptismal (catechetical) instruction that was given to new Christians (cf. Eph. 6:18–20: “Pray … be alert”; 1 Pet. 4:7; “clear minded … pray”; 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert”). Its inclusion in Colossians is another example of traditional material that was taken over and applied to the situation at Colossae.
Prayer is to be offered in thanksgiving. This is the seventh time that thanksgiving is mentioned in the letter (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 16, 17). Both thanksgiving and prayer are appropriate responses of the Christian and should be exercised by the worshiping community as well as by the individual. It is the pattern that Paul followed in the letter as he thanked God for the Colossians (1:3–8) and then prayed specifically for them (1:9–14).
Prayer and the believer (vv. 2)
Does God really answer prayer? If so, God’s Children need to ‘continue [persevere] earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving’. Prayer prevails with God because we are his adopted Children (Gal. 4:6). These words echo the words of our Saviour who taught that ‘men always ought to pray and not lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). Time must be set aside for prayer. Jesus told the parables of the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5–8) and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8) to encourage us to intercede until the answers come.
prayer is a battle: ‘continue earnestly in prayer’. Mental, emotional and physical effort is involved in prayer, and one can feel exhausted by it all. This is because it has to do with the whole person. Thus when we pray the mind is engaged (1 Cor. 14:15), the will is involved (Acts 12:5) and the heart is burdened (James 5:16). This is illustrated both by our Saviour in Gethsemane, where he was ‘exceedingly sorrowful, even to death’ (Matt. 26:38–44), and by Jacob, when he wrestled in prayer at Peniel and would not let Jehovah go until he was blessed by him (Gen. 32:24–31).
prayer is a ministry: ‘being vigilant in it’. Prayer is vital if the ‘spoilers’ are not to corrupt the minds and hearts of the believing members. Satan wants to irritate and distract with disputes, problems, etc., but it is a saint’s duty to bring all these issues to God in prayer. When this is done, Satan will fail and the ‘spoilers’ will not succeed (James 4:8). Prayer cannot be made if you are asleep, as it is wakeful fellowship and communion with the Father through the Son by the help of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 26:40–41a).
prayer brings victory: ‘with thanksgiving’. Prayer brings victory when it is full of thanksgiving. Paul adds the element of thanksgiving deliberately, because praise of this sort ‘imparts spiritual freshness to prayer’ (Carson). Let every Christian be grateful for grace, happy about holiness and delighted with so great a salvation (1 Thes. 5:18). The Fatherhood of God is evident here, and the mystical spiritual relationship which believers have with Christ is emphasized. The best types of prayers are those ‘according to his will’ (1 John 5:14–15). Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to say ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10). Faith tells us that God’s good pleasure is best for us because his wisdom is to be preferred to ours. We need therefore to submit to his will with meekness, while putting away self-will and pride.
Prayer as a Devotion (4:2)
2 Paul urges them to devote themselves to prayer. Marianne Meye Thompson proposes a translation that brings to the fore the emphases of the Greek text: “Prayer—devote yourselves to it.”333 Devotion to, attachment to, and perseverance in prayer—which are the connotations of this verb—are all found in Paul also at Rom 12:12 and Eph 6:18 (see Luke 11:5–8, 9–13; 18:1–8; Jas 5:17; 1 Pet 4:7). Devotion in prayer is a formative process through time apportioned to prayer, disciplined practice over time, and a commitment to prayer as central for the Christian life. Furthermore, as Ephesians 6:18 states, this kind of devotion comes from the Spirit. We need also to guard against driving this summons to prayer into the private life; the context of our unit is surrounded by ecclesial concerns enough to think Paul intends this to be just as much corporate prayer (see Acts 1:14; 4:24–30). While vv. 3–4 reveal that intercession is uppermost in Paul’s mind (cf. Eph 6:18), intercession does not exhaust early Christian prayer devotion. The Jewish practice of prayer entailed set prayers at set times, along with plenty of spontaneous expressions of praise and intercession.336
The final clause in v. 2 generates various translations:
NIV: “being watchful and thankful.”
CEB: “and guard your prayers with thanksgiving.”
I need to lay this out in transliteration: grēgorountes en autē [prayer] en eucharistia. The opening adverbial participle (grēgorountes) expounds “devote” and means to “guard.” Thus, Paul urges them to be devoted to prayer by/in guarding that prayer life, and then that guarding of the prayer life is to be done “in thanksgiving.”340 Is the thanksgiving, then, a modifier of guarding (CEB) or a virtual substantival coordinating parallel to the guarding/being watchful (NIV)? The grammar is in favor of the CEB (“guard your prayers with thanksgiving”) on this one, while the NIV lifts a prepositional adverbial phrase from its verbal modification to a substantival status. The grammar then informs us of this: Paul wants them to devote themselves to prayer and to do so by guarding that prayer life in thanksgiving:
Devotion to prayer
in guarding that prayer
Jesus also urged the disciples to guard the prayer life (cf. Mark 13:32–37 and 14:38). Thanksgiving, of course, is a common theme to Paul (1 Thess 3:9; 1 Cor 14:16; Eph 5:4; Phil 4:6; 2 Cor 4:15; 9:11, 12) and is found in our letter too (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2); one cannot help but think the theme of the lordship of Christ in Colossians 3:17, with its emphasis on thanksgiving, prompts the term here. Broadly speaking, “thanksgiving” describes the response of the one who knows the grace (charis) of God, a grace that transforms them into grace-giving, thankful (eucharistia) people.
2 As was evident in the introductory prayer (Col. 1:3), prayer and thanksgiving can never be dissociated from each other in the Christian life. The remembrance of former mercies not only produces spontaneous praise and worship; it is also a powerful incentive to renewed believing prayer. Our Lord’s words to his disciples, “Keep awake, and pray not to fail in the test” (Mark 14:38 par.), had special relevance to the trial of faith which faced them in the immediate future, but they have a message for his people at all times. He taught his hearers that they “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Men and women of persistent prayer are those who are constantly on the alert,9 alive to the will of God and the need of the world, and ready to give an account of themselves and their stewardship.
2 Earlier in the letter, Paul informed the Colossians that he and Timothy prayed incessantly for them (1:3, 9). In concluding the epistle, he informs the congregation that Epaphras is always agonizing in prayer on their behalf (4:12). Here, the apostle enjoins the assembly to persevere in prayer (cf. Ro 12:12; Eph 6:18; 1 Th 5:17). Paul presupposes the importance of prayer and encourages believers to be at prayer (cf. 1 Co 7:5; Php 4:6). He shared a commitment to prayer with his fellow Jews, including Jesus, and with the early church (Mt 6:5–13; Lk 5:16; Ac 1:14; 2:42; Jas 5:13–18).
The Colossians are to devote themselves to and be “watchful” in prayer. Holding spiritual sleep in abeyance, they are to be alert in prayer and not to succumb to slumber as Jesus’ disciples did in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:40–46). Watchful prayer enables disciples to see what God is doing and to discern what sinister forces might be seeking to undo (cf. 1 Pe 5:8). The eschatological orientation of Paul’s admonition to be watchful in prayer should be noted. The gospel of Luke explicitly conjoins watching and praying with Christ’s coming (Lk 21:36; cf. also Mk 13:32–37), and it is altogether likely that Paul is tapping into this stream of Jesus tradition (so, rightly, Dunn, 262; contra Caird, 210).
In addition to being watchful in prayer, the Colossians are to be “thankful” in their praying. Thanksgiving, a theme woven through this letter, appears here for the final time (cf. 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15–17). Gratitude is a grace that Christian people are to cultivate. Instead of continually complaining to or presuming upon God, believers would do well to recall that we have nothing that we did not receive from God (1 Co 4:7), the One from whom and through whom and to whom all good things flow (Ro 11:36; cf. Jas 1:17). Paul would have concurred with the psalmist: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Ps 92:1 NASB). His admonition to the Thessalonians is applicable to all Christians in all places at all times: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18; cf. Eph 5:20). Thankfulness should be threaded through our lives even as it is throughout this letter.
The Speech of Prayer
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. (4:2)
It is fitting that Paul begins with prayer, because it is the most important speech the new man can utter. Prayer is the strength of the believer’s fellowship with the Lord and the source of his power against Satan and his angels (cf. Eph. 6:18). Through prayer, believers confess their sin, offer praise to God, call on their sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:15–16), and intercede for each other. Prayer from a pure heart (Ps. 66:18) is to be directed to God (Matt. 6:9), consistent with the mind and will of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18), in the name of Christ, and for the glory of the Father (John 14:13).
In 4:2, Paul touches on an often overlooked aspect of prayer, that of perseverance. Devote yourselves is from proskartereō, a compound word made up of kartereō (“to be steadfast,” or “to endure”) with an added preposition that intensifies the meaning. The verb means “to be courageously persistent,” “to hold fast and not let go.” Paul is calling strongly on believers to persist in prayer. They are to “pray at all times” (Eph. 6:18; cf. Luke 18:1), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), and be devoted to prayer (Rom. 12:12). By so doing, they follow the example of Cornelius (Acts 10:2) and the apostles (Acts 6:4).
Praying at all times is not necessarily limited to constant vocalizing of prayers to God. Rather, it refers to a God consciousness that relates every experience in life to Him. That does not, however, obviate the need for persistence and earnestness in prayer. Such persistence is illustrated repeatedly in Scripture. The 120 disciples gathered in the Upper Room “were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). The early church followed their example (cf. Acts 2:42).
Our Lord told two parables illustrating the importance of persistent prayer:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.” (Luke 18:1–8)
And He said to them, “Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he shall answer and say, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.” (Luke 11:5–10)
The point of both those parables is that if unwilling and sinful humans will honor persistence, how much more will our holy, loving heavenly Father?
Virginia Stem Owens wrote the following about wrestling with God in earnest prayer:
Christians have always interpreted the splitting of the temple veil during the crucifixion as symbolic of their liberation from the mediated presence of God. Henceforth they were “free” to approach him directly—which is almost like telling someone he is “free” to stick his head in the lion’s jaws. For once you start praying there is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself before Pharaoh, shipwrecked on a desert island, or in a lion’s den.
This is no cosmic teddy bear we are cuddling up to. As one of the children describes him in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, “he’s not a tame lion.” [Jacques] Ellul is convinced that prayer for persons living in the technological age must be combat, and not just combat with the Evil One, with one’s society, or even one’s divided self, though it is also all of these; it is combat with God. We too must struggle with him just as Jacob did at Peniel where he earned his name Israel—“he who strives with God.” We too must be prepared to say, “I will not let you go till you bless me.”
Consider Moses, again and again intervening between the Israelites and God’s wrath; Abraham praying for Sodom; the widow demanding justice of the unjust judge. But in this combat with God, Ellul cautions, we must be ready to bear the consequences: … “Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint, and he went away lame. However, the most usual experience will be God’s decision to put to work the person who cried out to him.… Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his whole life at stake.”
Awful things happen to people who pray. Their plans are frequently disrupted. They end up in strange places. Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was to go”.… After Mary’s magnificent prayer at the annunciation, she finds herself the pariah of Nazareth society.… How tempting to up the stakes, making prayer merely another consumer product. How embarrassing to have to admit not only that prayer may get you into a prison, as it did Jeremiah, but also that while you’re moldering away in a miry pit there, you may have a long list of lamentations and unanswered questions to present to your Lord. How are we going to tell them they may end up lame and vagrant if they grasp hold of this God? (“Prayer—Into the Lion’s Jaws,” Christianity Today, November 19, 1976, pp. 222–23; italics in the original)
That stands in marked contrast to the glib, self-centered prayers of our day. Much of the contemporary church has lost its reverence for God. He is too often viewed as a sort of cosmic automatic teller machine. If we punch in the right code, He’s obligated to deliver what we want. The Lord might well ask the twentieth-century church what He asked the rebellious priests of Malachi’s day: “ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 1:6).
True prayer often involves struggling and grappling with God, proving to Him the deepest concern of one’s heart. Prayer is to be a persistent, courageous struggle from which the believer may come away limping.
Such prayer gives the believer a holy boldness to pray forcefully when convinced of God’s will, as the following example shows.
In 1540 Luther’s great friend and assistant, Friedrich Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and sent back a reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church.… The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.”
Those words are shocking to us, but they were certainly heartfelt. Although Myconius had already lost the ability to speak when Luther’s letter came, he recovered completely and lived six more years to survive Luther himself by two months.
There is a tension between boldness and waiting on God’s will. That tension is resolved by being persistent, yet accepting God’s answer when it finally comes.
True prayer also involves keeping alert. In its most basic sense, that means to stay awake and not fall asleep during prayer. While in Gethsamane, Jesus “came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’ ” (Matt. 26:40–41). It is impossible to pray while sleeping. Christians should choose times when they are awake and alert to pray.
Paul’s thought here, however, is broader than mere physical alertness. He also means that believers should look for those things about which they ought to be praying. Christians sometimes pray vague, general prayers that are difficult for God to answer because they do not really ask anything specific. To be devoted to prayer requires something specific to pray for. We will never persistently pray for something we are not concerned about. And to be concerned, we must be alert to specific needs.
A third element in prayer is an attitude of thanksgiving. This is the fifth time that Paul has mentioned gratitude in this epistle. Believers are to be grateful for salvation (1:12), for growth (2:6), for fellowship with Christ and His church (3:15), for the opportunity to serve (3:17), and, here, for the guarantee that God will answer prayer in accordance with His purpose. That, of course, is what is best for our good in time and our glory in eternity.
When believers pray, they can begin by being thankful for the following spiritual blessings and privileges. First, believers are to be thankful for God’s presence. In Psalm 75:1, the psalmist writes, “We give thanks to Thee, O God, we give thanks, for Thy name is near.” Second, believers are to be thankful for God’s provision. Adrift at sea in the midst of a raging storm, Paul nevertheless was grateful to God for the food He provided: “He took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all” (Acts 27:35). Third, believers are to be thankful for God’s pardon. Paul said in Romans 6:17, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” Christians should be grateful for their salvation. Fourth, believers are to be thankful for God’s promise: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57; cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). Finally, believers are to be thankful for God’s purpose: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Col 4:2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2015–2016). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Utley, R. J. (1997). Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, then later, Philippians) (Vol. Volume 8, p. 50). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.
 Wright, N. T. (1986). Colossians and Philemon: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 12, p. 155). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 222–223). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (p. 172). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.