At the outset of this post, I must offer the caveat that what I have heard and what I was taught may be two different things. The Christianity that I have ingested in my church experience may not be what was intended by those who were teaching.
I have often heard part of Colossians 1:10 quoted where it says, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” When quoted, the emphasis was on the Christian behaving in a “Christian” manner. The test being external conformity to a standard of behavior for the purpose of keeping rules and looking good.
To understand what Paul intended by this phrase, we must look at the context of this saying to get the full meaning.
In the preceding verse, Paul writes:
“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,” (Colossians 1:9, ESV)
From the context, we see that “walking worthy” is a result of spiritual wisdom and spiritual understanding. But this is not the only result. As I read it there are eight results that all work together and can be found in verses 10-12:
- We walk worthy of the Lord (Col 1:10)
- We become pleasing to God (Col 1:10)
- We bear fruit in every good work (Col 1:10)
- We increase in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10)
- We are strengthened with all power (Col 1:11)
- We have endurance and patience with joy (Col 1:11)
- We give thanks to the Father (Col 1:12)
- We share in the inheritance of the saints (Col 1:12)
Like the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, these traits should all be operational, we cannot pick out just one of the results and emphasize it to the exclusion of others. If you are going to encourage someone to “walk worthy” you must also encourage them toward the other items on this list.
If you look at the list, many of the results are primarily internal. Endurance and patience are internal rather than external traits. While the absence of patience can sometimes be detected in another, the presence of it is more difficult to assess.
The point is that any external manifestation of the spiritual wisdom and spiritual understanding should be evidence of an internal reality that makes the external manifestation a true one. We can’t fake it until we make it. The passage in no way encourages us to merely external conformity to a set of rules or a standard of behavior. It is internal transformation that is pointed to as the result.
Without this internal transformation, Christianity is reduced to another form of behavioral modification. While changing the external behavior may have positive benefits, without the internal change, the benefit is temporary and will not bring about the change that the Apostle Paul desires.
So, it is not wrong to encourage someone to “walk worthy of the Lord” as long as we understand that the “worthy” is determined by God and is gauged by the internal and not the external reality. This verse is not a club to be used to bash people into conformity to a list of do’s and don’ts. It is not to be wielded in this way to squelch behaviors that make us feel uncomfortable.
We need to create church environments where it is OK for the outside of a man to reflect what is going on in the inside. We are all a mess and Jesus is in the process of making us less messy. But we should not subvert God’s cleanup process by forcing our self or others into a disingenuous external conformity.