BACKGROUND OF THE LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS
The Town of Colossae
The town of Colossae was a small and insignificant town in the Roman province of Asia (which is modern day Turkey), about 150 km east of the capital city of Ephesus. The church at Colossae was started by Epaphras who was a seminary student of the Apostle Paul when Paul was teaching in Ephesus during his 3 year stay there. Paul never visited the Colossians before since he typically traveled to the larger cities. At the time of this writing, Paul is imprisoned in Rome and Epaphras has visited him and reported on some of the progress and happenings at the church in Colossae. From prison in Rome, Paul wrote this letter to encourage them to persevere in the true faith.
The Purpose of the Letter
We see Paul thanking God for their faith as they had received the gospel, but he also wants to address some problems at the church. False teachers were introducing a number of false teachings, and in doing so they were undermining the sufficiency found in Christ. The false teachers promised spiritual fullness but in reality were separating themselves from the only true source of spiritual power: the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of God is to be found and the one through whom God is reconciling the world to himself. In this letter Paul focuses on Christ as preeminent because our entire faith rests in Christ. Salvation is found in no one else but Christ. It is not “Christ plus” like the Galatians’ error, but it is “Christ only”.
Let’s quickly go through the opening of this letter to understand the context of this opening section. Paul starts his letter in verses 1 and 2 with his usual greeting, then in verses 3 to 7 he gives thanks to God that the Colossians’ have faith in Christ and that their faith is demonstrated by their love for the saints. He thanks God that there is fruit being produced as the whole world is bearing fruit as the gospel spreads. We see that the Colossians’ haven’t completely strayed from the gospel of grace and they are demonstrating a true conversion.
The Importance of Paul’s Opening Prayer
From verse 9 to 14 he shares with them the different things he has been asking for in his prayers. The opening prayers in Paul’s letters generally bring out the major points of discussion in his letter. Here we see Paul making a specific prayer request that hints at the specific problem the Colossians were facing. The Colossians’ were facing pressures from false teachers that offered what they would call “wisdom,” but their wisdom was not spiritual wisdom but worldly wisdom. Paul prays that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will, and not to be filled up with the knowledge that would ultimately lead them away from Christ. From the first time that Paul heard of their reception of the gospel he has prayed for this, and now because of this threat of the false teachers, their good start and genuine progress should lead to a renewed effort. This is very important to remember. The point of the letter and Paul’s prayer is that to combat false teachings and to persevere in the faith, the Colossians must be aware of and convinced of the preeminence and all sufficiency of Christ.
Tonight, we’ll be focusing on verse 9 as Paul starts to describe his prayer for the believers at Colossae. “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.”
POINT 1: FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL.
The first thing I want us to see is that we must be filled with the knowledge of his will and this filling comes from above.
What is the Knowledge of God’s Will?
When Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, how exactly are we to understand God’s will in this context? We use the term “God’s will” to talk about our particular direction for life. Paul doesn’t use it this way. The knowledge of God’s will is a deep understanding of God’s plan and purposes. Paul specifically is referring to the purpose of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, his preeminence and all that he means for the universe. This becomes clear as we read the rest of the letter and the focus on Christ demonstrating that the purposes of God are fulfilled in him. That is, God’s will has been revealed in Christ.
Filled with the Knowledge of God: Consumed
Notice the verb “filled.” It carries the idea of being completely consumed by this divine knowledge and suggests that such knowledge would pervade all of one’s being—our thoughts, plans, actions, and affections. The knowledge of God’s purposes in Christ is such an all encompassing knowledge that it overwhelms with its greatness and affects every area of life. Being filled doesn’t mean that we can be filled in such a way that we completely understand the wonders of God in Christ. It is more like us taking a glass to the ocean. We can fill our glass with water from the ocean and the glass would be filled. Yet we haven’t even begun to touch a fraction of the oceans depths. Just as we can’t contain the oceans in a glass, so is the knowledge of Christ so immense and measureless.
Filled with the Knowledge of God: No Admixture
Being filled with something also implies purity. If I give you a glass filled with water, you don’t expect a glass 3/4 full of mud topped up with water. If we are filled with the wisdom and understanding of God we should not be satisfied with 3/4 of our lives filled with worldly wisdom and pursuits topped up with a little spirituality. May it never be. May God fill us with his wisdom and replace our sinful ways.
Passive Voice of Filled
The verb “filled” is also special in another way. The verb is in the passive voice, meaning that the subject is being acted upon and is not the one doing the acting. In other words, this filling is not done by us but is a work of grace done by God. Paul prays for it on their behalf and we must pray to be filled with this same knowledge.
What the Filling from Above is not
We can see why the “filling” must come from God since it is only God who can open the eyes and minds and fill us with this knowledge from above. Don’t misunderstand me, this is not some magical filling done by God, it is not some emotional euphoria or some Matrix like program that gets uploaded into our heads. The means that God uses to fill us with true knowledge is found in the Scriptures, in the local church, through prayer and diligent study. It is an act of God that we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to see the significance of the Scriptures and to see the significance of Christ. Some people read the Scriptures and conclude it is foolishness, but to those of us who are God’s children, we see the wisdom of God and are awestruck by the person of Christ. Our minds and our joy are fixed on Christ.
Filled from Above by Unceasing Prayer
So we see that the knowledge of God’s will is knowledge of his purposes and plan in Christ and this knowledge comes from above. How can we achieve this? Notice how Paul says that he has not ceased to pray for them to be filled with this knowledge. Typically when we think of unceasing prayer we imagine the impossibility of praying constantly all day, every day. But what Paul is saying is that he did not quit praying for them. He continued to pray for them on a regular basis without quitting. We must do the same. We must not quit praying and asking God to be filled with the knowledge of his will. This life is full of rough and discouraging times, but we must not quit seeking God to be filled with this knowledge.
Relation Between Thanksgiving and Prayer (Conversion and Knowledge)
The ESV starts verse 9 with “And so,” and the NASB renders it as “for this reason.” This ties verses 9 to 14 with Paul’s thanksgiving in verses 3 to 8. So because of the things that Paul and Timothy are thankful for in verses 3 to 8, namely, their faith in Christ, Paul and Timothy have not ceased to pray for them from the first day they heard about their. After receiving the gospel, there is no sitting back on our laurels because we are safe, but instead there must be an effort to be consumed by the knowledge of Christ. Not to be satisfied without the grace, love and power God offers to his children.
POINT 2: SPIRITUAL WISDOM.
The second important thing to notice about this verse is the type of wisdom that is found in the knowledge of God’s will. It says “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Spiritual wisdom. The wisdom found in Christ is not of this world. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 puts it this way, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The wisdom of God. This is wisdom that is born from above; it is not of this world. It cannot even be understood but rather is folly to those of the world.
Spirtual Wisdom is From Above and the Content is Christ
So this spiritual wisdom and understanding is from God and the content of this wisdom is Christ and the good news found in him. The Colossians’ were in danger of listening to the wisdom of the world that was being promoted at their time.
The World has its “Wisdom”
We too are bombarded by false wisdom in our day and age. It is not the same errors that the Colossian church faced but they are just as dangerous and are false replacements for the wisdom found in Christ.
False Wisdom 1: We are all good people
The world says that we are good people and we do wrong when we are put into a bad situation. Or in other words, we are a product of our upbringing. My parents, my teachers, my friends are why I am the way that I am. I can’t help it! But the wisdom of God says that we sin because … we are sinners. Sin proceeds from our heart, not into our heart. We don’t need excuses for our sin; we need Christ to forgive our sin.
False Wisdom 1b: Circumstances dictate behavior
Perhaps we complain about our circumstances. But when we blame our circumstances we are blaming the sovereign God of wrong. James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Now we might not say “I’m being tempted by God,” but like the world we’ll complain about our circumstances and blame them for the sin that we commit. Like Adam, when confronted with sin says to God, “You gave me this woman!” We might not be blaming God directly, but instead blame our circumstances. But who has ordained our circumstances? When we blame our circumstances for our sin, we are blaming God. But James says that we are tempted when we are carried away and enticed by our own lust. And in God’s wisdom, Christ provides forgiveness and the only way of rescue from our own lust and sin.
False Wisdom 2: Universalism
Another form of worldly wisdom that has come up in the last few weeks is the wisdom that teaches that people are generally good and are OK and are on their way to heaven. But just as the wisdom of God is not found in this world but is found in Christ, our standard for goodness is not found in this world, our standard is Christ. Worldly wisdom teaches that everyone but the vilest of monsters are on their way to heaven, spiritual wisdom teaches that we are all vile compared to God who is holy, holy, holy. But by the mercy of God, our judge and our standard, is also our savior. He is the preeminent lord of all and has rescued us from this present evil age.
False Wisdom 3: Love ourselves
The world also teaches us to love ourselves. We have to take care of #1. Spiritual wisdom teaches that we have no life apart from our creator. And Christ, being our creator and the lord of the universe has taught us to serve, not to be served.
Conclusion: Worldly Wisdom vs. Spiritual Wisdom in Christ
The world has many other forms of wisdom that prove to be folly in God’s eyes. We are not only in danger of worldly wisdom from outside the church, but we are in danger of Americanized Christianity and our modern culture leading us away from Christ. We must examine ourselves and exhort each other to watch out for the wisdom of this age. We must pray that we would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The wisdom found in Christ’s death and resurrection, his substitutionary sacrifice for our sin and his lordship and preeminence over all creation. Let us fix our minds on Christ and explore the depth and riches of who he is. Let us root up the wisdom of this world and abide in Christ for he is the power and the wisdom of God.