Wisdom and Understanding

PMT 2014-048b by Don Strickland.

Colossians 1:9 reads:

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Verse 9 begins the second half of Paul’s preface which was originally stated in verse 3. In that verse Paul said he was thankful and praying for the Colossians. Paul then outlines the reasons for his thanksgiving in verses 4-8. And now with verses 9-11, Paul ends the letter’s preface with a discussion about his prayers for those at Colossae.
When we last studied this verse, we looked at Paul’s discussion of prayer and God’s illuminating his people through the use of prayer. This time we will take time to consider the remainder of the verse to see what God may teach us through it. Let’s begin.

Even as believers, our knowledge may be true, but it will also be limited. We see an example of this fact with Apollos, where we are told he was teaching the truth concerning John the Baptist, but he was then quietly pulled aside and it was “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18.26). And thus Paul prays that believers would be “be filled with the knowledge of His will”.

Not only do our finite minds have limited knowledge, we can also only take God’s illumination in limited amounts (Mk 4.33). If God were to dump everything about Him on us at once, we would be overwhelmed. But since we come to receive the knowledge of the will of God by degrees, we must constantly take advantage of the opportunities to get it. Sunday worship services, listening to sermons on the radio or the internet, and reading God’s Word and good books are all ways to improve our knowledge of God.

After we take advantage of the opportunities God gives us to learn more about Him, we then must retain what has been revealed to us. The knowledge of God, like learning math, builds upon itself. A vessel with an open hole in the bottom of it can never be filled. Likewise, our minds cannot be filled with the knowledge of God’s will (and Word), if we do not retain what God has given us. As James recounts the person who looks into a mirror and then forgets what he looks like (Jm 1.23-25), so we, by forgetting and letting slip out of our minds the good things we have received, do decline in all good duties.

In Revelation 3.3, Christ Himself told those in the church located in Sardis to recover from their spiritual decay by remembering what they had “received and heard” concerning God. Memory is a precious gift in itself, but we can do things that help us remember, like taking notes, journaling, or memorizing Scripture. And while repetition may seem something of a dull drudgery at the time, Scripture praises that method as a help to us (see Phil 3.1 and 2Pt 3.1).

While the knowledge of God may come to us by degrees, we are not to look for it in just small amounts. Paul tells the Colossians that he wants them to be filled. Life is so complicated. We need to be filled, so do not be content with small portions of knowledge about God’s will. Those who work in computers or technology are always having to learn more to keep up with the rapid advances in their field. And think about how much more we know now about God than we did last year, or five years ago, or ten years ago. God has been teaching us!

Of what does this knowledge of God consist? Paul says it is “wisdom and understanding” – all wisdom and understanding. The “all” does not mean “all kinds of” wisdom and understanding. Paul is referring to our having wisdom and understanding in its fullest measure. Thus, Paul is praying that they will be completely filled with the full measure of wisdom and understanding.

Since wisdom is contextually connected here to God’s will, the reference here is to gaining wisdom from God’s Word. Men are said to lack wisdom if they reject God’s Word (Jer 8.9). However, the mind that is taught of God’s will through His Word is being cleared and unburdened of mental dullness, unbelief, ignorance, and vanity. That mind is further able to soundly and truly to apprehend, to acknowledge, and embrace the known truth in God’s Word.

Consider Psalm 119.98-100, “Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, For Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Thy precepts.” What gives the Psalmist more wisdom than his enemies? He takes ownership of God’s Word. What gives him more insight than his teachers? He meditates on God’s Word. How has he gained more understanding than his elders? He follows God’s Word.

Did you see the three step progression there? You claim His words as your own. You internalize them. And then you follow them. There is time and effort involved in these steps. But those steps, if followed carefully, will give you more wisdom than the devious, more insight than the educated, and more understanding than the experienced.

But notice that both “wisdom” and “understanding” are referred to in the verses from Psalm 119. Wisdom comes from making God’s words your own. Whereas understanding refers to keeping God’s words in your own life. It is not sufficient just to know and embrace God’s Word. We must also apply it to our own lives in particular ways. The Psalmist’s path was guided by the light he received from God’s Word. It is not to be just informational, though it is that. It is also to be put into action. Knowing the commandments will do one little good without living them out in your own life.

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