Paul’s statement is almost startling in both its reach and its simplicity. No other passage in the New Testament claims to tell us how to be completely pleasing to God, so we should look very closely at the characteristics the apostle tells us fulfill this goal. The four things are:
1. Bearing fruit in every good work (vs. 10). Paul makes it clear throughout his epistles that although good works do not save us, God expects us to produce good works as a result of being saved (Titus 3:8, 14, etc.). Throughout the New Testament the expression “good works” primarily refers to works done to help others (Hebrews 13:16, etc.), but it also includes our obedience to God (1 Thessalonians 4:1, Hebrews 13:20-21, etc.). We should also notice Paul’s stress in Colossians 1 is not that “some” good works will please God, but that we are urged to “every good work” – to as many good works as possible!
2. Growing in the knowledge of God (vs. 10). Paul next cites our ongoing growing in the knowledge of God and his ways as being central to our ability to please God. It is only as we come to know God that we can learn to properly love, fear, trust, and obey him (Psalm 147:11). Knowledge itself is of no use without application (1 Corinthians 13:1-2), but growing in knowledge can enable us to better grow in good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The first two points Paul gives for how to please God correspond directly with the apostle Peter’s summary admonition that we should “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, emphasis added). Paul also stresses these same two characteristics elsewhere in his writing (Philippians 1:9), but in Colossians 1 he goes further to add two more points that we need in order to fully please God:
3. Being strengthened by God (vs. 11). This is not strength for its own sake, of course, rather “… that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:11, Ephesians 3:16, etc.). Given what Paul says in this verse, there is no question that this strengthening is actually something God must do in us: “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might,” yet we must make this possible by asking God’s help and trusting him in faith to supply his strength. In that sense, this characteristic includes the quality of faith itself, as the basis of our strength, endurance and patience (Hebrews 11:6).
4. Giving thanks to God (vs. 12). The final characteristic that Paul tells us is pleasing to God is deep gratitude on our part: “… giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” In fact, thankfulness is a theme to which the apostle returns numerous times in this short epistle (Colossians 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2) – in this way reinforcing our understanding of its importance in God’s eyes.
So Paul’s four summary characteristics of believers who truly please God are not what many of us might guess. Humanly, we might suppose that never-failing obedience, great sacrifice, frequent or long periods of prayer, or any number of other things that relate to our own lives might be what please God. But Paul’s four characteristics do not focus on our lives – they are all primarily outward looking toward others and God himself.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the things Paul says greatly please God are all expressions of our love for others and love for God. That is basic enough, but the four specific characteristics Paul enumerates are worthy of our careful study – if we want to please God, they are among the highest goals for which we can aim.