The Christian Life: God's Will

5. Knowing God's Will: What Is Spiritual Wisdom?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Spiritual wisdom is God's way of providing at least ninety percent of the guidance believers need each day.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part five of a series. Read part four.

Spiritual wisdom, as the Holy Spirit defines it in Colossians chapter one, is God's way of providing the greatest portion of the guidance believers need each day.

In our study of the believer's knowledge of the will of God, we are considering seven truths that we find in the original language of Colossians 1:9-12, seven propositions that build upon one another:

  1. Believing the Gospel of Christ is what makes knowledge of God's will possible.
  2. Precise and correct knowledge of God's will is possible.
  3. Precise and correct knowledge of God's will comes because of two things - prayer and study of the Word of God.
  4. Knowledge of God's will involves wisdom in the general sense.
  5. Knowledge of God's will involves understanding in the specific sense, and it is an understanding that involves joining various aspects of God's revelation together in the mind.
  6. The Christian's knowledge of God's will is superior to the world's false and speculative knowledge and wisdom.
  7. Knowledge of God's will has a specific purpose.

Thus far we have studied the first three. In our last article, we talked about what the Bible means by proper prayer. We examined the model prayer given to us by our Lord in Matthew chapter six. We saw that the theme of the entire prayer is submission - "hallowed be Thy name" - "Thy kingdom come" - "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven." Our minds and sprits must be properly oriented before we ask anything of God in prayer. Your spiritual compass must point to true north, the direction of desiring and seeking after accurate, complete, abundant knowledge of the will of God with a heart desiring to submit to it. That is the attitude you need to have as you ask anything of God in prayer, and as you open your Bible to study and absorb the truth of His Word: Father, I want You to be exalted. I want Christ to be truly preeminent in my life. I want Your will to be done, Your kingdom to have the priority, because I know that there is absolutely nothing better.

We also saw that we need to prayerfully make profitable use of Scripture - for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that each of us may be thoroughly equipped to not only know God's will, but to do it. Finally, we saw that there are three principles of God's guidance. First of all, God guides primarily through Scripture. The Book tells us how to think and how to live. God also guides through circumstances, through providence. He is working all things together for His glory and for our good. But we also saw that God's guidance through circumstances never contradicts His guidance from the unchangeable Scriptures.

And therefore, if you think your circumstances dictate that you need to do something that is contrary to Scripture, you are making circumstances your authority instead of Scripture. Scripture must govern our comprehension of the circumstances in which God places us. Circumstances are never an excuse to compromise the Scriptural way of thinking and conducting our lives. Every Christian must first and always be a Scripture-driven Christian.

The Nature of Spiritual Wisdom

This brings us to the fourth declaration we find in Colossians 1:9 - Knowledge of God's will involves wisdom in the general sense. In other words, it has to do with general principles.

In order for us to understand what the Apostle Paul is saying about this, we need to remember once again some of the cultural background of the book of Colossians. The Colossian believers were dealing with serious challenges to their new-found Christian faith. One of them was the false teaching of an early form of Gnosticism. The false teachers promised the Colossian believers that they could be part of an exclusive "in" group possessing special knowledge that was not to be found in Scripture. These false teachers used words like knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual understanding, so Paul used those very words in his letter to make his case against them.

False teachers are like their father the Devil. They misappropriate the Bible's vocabulary, but they do not use the Bible's definitions. The Biblical definitions of the terms Paul used were well established in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Psalms in particular, and the early chapters of Proverbs, are full of the terms "knowledge" - "wisdom" - and "understanding." And they give the definitions of those words as Paul by divine inspiration uses them in Colossians.

Look, for example, at Proverbs chapter two, beginning at verse one, where all three of these terms occur:

1. My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you,

2. So that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding;

3. Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding,

4. If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures;

5. Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

6. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding;

7. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;

8. He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints.

9. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path.

10. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul,

11. Discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you.

Spiritual Sophia

In Colossians 1:9, as we have it in our English Bibles, Paul says the he is praying that the believers will be filled with the knowledge of God's will "in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." In the original language, the adjective "spiritual" actually applies to both nouns, wisdom and understanding. Paul is really saying, "in all spiritual wisdom, and in all spiritual understanding."

Knowing God's will involves wisdom in the general sense. That is the meaning of the word he uses here in the original language. It is the word sophia, which means broad and general wisdom.

The Greeks and later pagans worshipped a goddess named Sophia - the goddess of wisdom. In the second century the Gnostics would come to teach the ultimate blasphemy, that the goddess Sophia was the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. They would teach blasphemy against the Spirit.

But even a century before this would happen, Paul was making it clear to the Colossian believers that they were to have no part in this pagan idolatry of wisdom. True wisdom, Paul says, comes from God. That is what I am praying for will be yours, he says in verse nine. Do not let anyone cheat you out of true wisdom, God's wisdom, the Bible's wisdom, by drawing you away into this mixture of pagan philosophy and Christianity, he says later on in chapter two, verses eight and eighteen. Paul is praying that they will be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom.

The sense of this word sophia in the original language has to do with discernment with regard to general principles. This is the understanding that the general will of God for believers is given to us clearly in the Bible, and in all the necessary detail. The Bible gives us the general sense of right and wrong. The Bible gives us the general sense of what pleases God and does not please God. The Bible gives us the general understanding of what constitutes sound doctrine, and what constitutes heresy. The Bible gives us the general understanding of what is right and proper in the life and worship of the church, and what is not. Paul deals with those things in some detail in Colossians chapter two.

Also, the Bible gives us the general sense of how we should conduct our lives as Christians - how the Christian mind should think, what Christian character looks like, how a Christian is to conduct himself before unbelievers, how a Christian is to conduct himself in the home, how the Christian is to conduct himself in the workplace, how the Christian is to conduct himself in relation to other believers. Paul deals with these matters in more detail in chapters three and four.

At Least Ninety Percent of the Answers

Dear Christian friend, if you understand the general principles of God's Word, if you read it and study it so that the Bible's way of thinking becomes your way of thinking - you will probably have at least ninety percent of the answers to your questions about what the will of God is for your life.

Am I making a decision, am I following a path, that conforms to the general principles for Christian life, thinking, and conduct that are laid down in the pages of Scripture? Asking and answering those kinds of questions based on the authority of the Word of God is what the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul calls spiritual wisdom. The overwhelming majority of the decisions we need to make as Christians are clearly governed by this kind of wisdom - an understanding of the general principles that are to be found throughout the Word of God, expressed consistently and without any deviation or contradiction from Genesis to Revelation.

But in this verse the Holy Spirit also speaks of spiritual understanding. This is a significantly different term that reveals an additional aspect of how Christians are to know the will of God. We shall take that up in our next study.



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