Meditations in Colossians: 17. Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding
Col 1:9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Commentators and translators appear to struggle a little with the word before our highlighted words. Our NIV says ‘through’, some others say ‘in’. I mention this because ‘through’ seems to suggest ‘comes via the means of’ while ‘in’ suggests that ‘His will is found in the midst of all spiritual wisdom. The latter makes wisdom etc. the starting place in which God’s will is found, while the former makes it simply a channel for comprehending God’s will. Perhaps it is a moot point and maybe we’ll consider both.
Let’s take the former first. Paul wants them to come to know God’s will and they will do that as they comprehend spiritual wisdom and understanding. When they work with spiritual wisdom and understanding they will come to see God’s will. In the latter approach, when they comprehend God’s will, they will see that it is full of spiritual wisdom and understanding. In the former it is a means of arriving at God’s will; in the later it is a description of God’s will. As we said, it may be a moot point and whichever it is, it makes us realise the importance of spiritual wisdom and understanding as far as God’s will is concerned. So let’s examine the phrase.
‘Spiritual’ immediately puts us in to the realm of God. Spiritual says this is not human wisdom and understanding; this is not what you or I could dream up. Wisdom means the knowledge of ‘how to do’ and spiritual wisdom is all about how God works, how things work in the kingdom of God, how things work pertaining to our salvation, how things work in the spiritual world. Understanding means insightful appreciation of the meaning of things so we go beyond the surface appreciation of bare facts, beyond how to do things, on to why things work as they do.
Remember Paul has been saying, “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” i.e. we want you to come to the full knowledge of God’s will for you as you learn how all these things work and the Holy Spirit applies specific things to you. Putting it like that, imagine a great pool of knowledge, wisdom and understanding that encompasses everything we suggested in the above paragraph, and as we come to see it, realise what we are seeing, and come to appreciate it, it is as if the Holy Spirit shines on parts of it and applies it specifically to us, so we come to realise how He wants to change us, in what specific ways He wants us to become like Jesus, and what sort of activity He wants to lead us into to serve Him and minister to the body of Christ, the Church, and to the world.
I think that picture brings together the two possibilities we considered first of all. The understanding of His will for us comes via the means of us considering this pool of knowledge, wisdom and understanding (revealed through His word by His Holy Spirit) and as we see the contents of the pool so He applies parts of it to us. The moment we put it like that we find we are into the second understanding, we find His will in the midst of the pool of spiritual wisdom; they are in reality the same.
You may feel this has been a somewhat convoluted argument but I hope behind it all the basics shine through:
- God wants us to come to realise His will for us.
- As we (and He in us) work to understand how He generally works – the facts, the ways and the reasons for His activity – we find He also applies parts of it to us for our specific lives.
- Out of His ‘general will’ (how He works generally) emerges His ‘specific will’ for us.
For instance we come to learn about spiritual gifts, what they are and how they work and why He uses them, and then we find the Spirit emphasises some particular gift in us, which He not only emphasises but increases in us, and we find we ‘have’ a particular gift which may develop into a particular ministry.
To take a completely different aspect of God’s heart, we may learn that He has compassion for the poor, the weak and needy. That is His ‘general will’ but then we find almost a burden building within us about these things and we realise His care and compassion is growing within us that prompts us to reach out to those who are poor and needy ad before we know it, that is the main thrust of our service, which may develop into a full blown ministry of caring for the under-privileged.
Spiritual wisdom becomes the beginning, the means and the end, to us perceiving His will for us, and entering into it. We don’t merely ‘know about’ this particular facet of His will, but we ‘know it’ in as far as we have taken hold of the facts about it, we have been taken on to see how they work, and we have been moved to realise how it all works together. The final phase is when we enter into it by doing the things we have seen. We are then living and working in His will and to His glory. Hallelujah!