Colossians 1:9-11 by Robert Dean
Paul expresses four purposes for his prayers in these verses. The first two are related in an important way. The first purpose is that we might be filled with the knowledge of His will. The second is to walk worthy of the Lord. However, these are related in that we are to be filled with the knowledge of His will so that we may walk worthy. The knowledge of God's will is not an end in itself. It is related to the application of that will to our thinking and living. This is expressed through two key terms: wisdom and understanding. These words are often described in terms of the Greek connotation. However, Paul and the other apostles would not have thought of them in the Greek cultural sense, but in terms of the Hebrew meaning in the Old Testament. In this lesson we learn what the biblical or divine viewpoint of wisdom and understanding is.

Four Things to Pray For. Colossians 1:9-11


We are going to touch on these four things that the apostle Paul is praying for which should be a pattern and a model for us in our own prayer life. The focus of chapter 1:3-12 focuses upon the apostle's prayer for the Colossian church. In these prayers that we have recorded in Scripture we get a pattern, a model for how to pray, what to pray for and where the priorities should be in prayer. It is important for us to pay attention to them. In verses 3-8 we saw that Paul's focus was on gratitude to God. It is our priority in prayer to express our gratitude to God for what He has accomplished in the life of believers. He expresses thankfulness for their spiritual growth and the fact that they are bearing fruit, that God is producing something in their life. This is a priority, not just for other people but a priority for each of us that we should be praying for our own spiritual growth and that God might produce fruit in us. Fruit in the Scripture has several different applications. Generally it talks about production in some way. It can be production in some contexts in terms of the fruit that is seen in some congregations where it is talking about evangelism. In other passages fruit reflects character qualities that are transformed by God the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, as per Galatians 5:22, 23. Then we have fruit that is sometimes spoken of in terms of financial assistance that was given, especially when Paul was taking up a collection to take back to Jerusalem to help those who were suffering through the famine. So fruit has a wide variety of aspects to it. So we are not to think of it like some people do just in terms of overt behavior. When you get into that sometimes we see some people become fruit inspectors, something that is typical of what is described as Lordship salvation, which describes a way of looking at the gospel that if you are truly saved you are going to see certain overt manifestations of change in your life. This is a shallow and superficial approach to fruit and is also a legalistic and heretical approach to salvation because it introduces works through the back door rather than through the front door.

Scripture teaches that justification is one thing and sanctification, spiritual growth, character transformation is another. Justification is when we trust in Jesus Christ as our savior, and while we receive a new nature and we become a new creature in Christ that does not inevitably produce growth or fruit. That means our volition has to be engaged, we have to study God's Word, God the Holy Spirit works in our life in order for that to be manifest. So those are distinct, but in Lordship salvation they are viewed as being so closely interconnected that justification automatically produces some measure of experiential sanctification.

Paul also expresses his gratitude for the Colossians that they have studied and assimilated God's Word into their thinking and into their living. The focal point is that it becomes manifest in our lives so that there is a change that takes place. It is not something that we manufacture artificially, which unfortunately happens with a lot of people in a lot of congregations, emphasizing just an overt change rather than the priority of spiritual growth that leads to that overt change.

Then in verse 9 Paul comes back to what he is praying for, and in these verses down through verse 12 we have four distinct purposes that he expresses for his prayer life. We are going to moves from his prayer of gratitude to the reason that we should be moved to gratitude. This passage may seem fairly simple to some of us. Actually, if we compare it in a lot of different English translations we will see that there is a variety of ways in which these are paragraphed and the sentences are punctuated and where the commas and all the other things come into play, because it is not always that clear in the Greek how this should be structured. It is a complicated sentence structure for which the apostle Paul is known. 

In Colossians 1:9, 10 we see the first two things that the apostle Paul prayed for, the first two purposes that he expresses for his prayer. One thing to note here. Sometimes we think we can't pray that (whatever it is) for that person, that is up to their volition; I can't pray for that. The apostle Paul said to pray for things like that, because he is ultimately praying that God would indeed put that person in an environment or circumstances, or whatever, where they would be forced (not forcing their volition) or have their options limited and putting them in a situation and circumstances that would move them in that direction. So Paul prays for these things; he prays that they would grow spiritually. We know that ultimately that depends on an individual's volition, so why is he praying to God? Because you can't make the same error an accountant has made and confuse divine causation with human causation. And we can pray to God to act in certain ways in people's lives to bring about circumstances to move them in specific directions, and that is what Paul is doing in these passages.

Colossians 1:9 NASB "For this reason also, since the day we heard {of it,} we have not ceased to pray for you…" And the first thing they pray for as expressed by the purpose clause—hina [i(na]— is "and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…" The word "filled" is the Greek pleroo [plhrow], the same word as in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled by means of the Holy Spirit. The content of the filling is expressed here, it is "the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." That comes from God's Word. That is made more clear in Colossians 3:16 when he says, NASB "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…" That passage from Colossians 3:16ff compared to Ephesians 5:18ff shows the interconnection between the two, that the content of the Word and one who gives the power, the energy, the understanding is the Holy Spirit. When we are in a right relationship to Him He utilizes the Word towards our spiritual growth and spiritual advance. When we are out of fellowship then the Holy Spirit isn't inoperative, He is just operating in other areas of our life not producing that spiritual growth and advance.

So the first thing that Paul prays for is that they will be filled with the knowledge of His will. That is towards the secondary objective which the second purpose that he expresses in v. 10, which is that they "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord." He is not just concerned about the fact that you know a lot of doctrine, that you know the Word, that you understand a lot of principles, that you have memorized 5000 Bible verses, but that this all towards another goal or objective and that is that we live in a manner that is worthy of all that God has done for us. We are not living that way to gain grace, we are living that way because as we come to understand the fullness of the grace that God has given us we are moved through gratitude to live for Him in light of the purposes for which He has saved us. We were saved for the purpose of good works, i.e. walking by means of the Spirit and applying doctrine and glorifying God in our life. 

Lastly, the purpose for prayer is to give thanks to the Father, that we might have real gratitude towards God. Gratitude is based on humility, and gratitude and humility are mutually exclusive to pride and arrogance. We have to understand why this emphasis on gratitude because it puts us in a right orientation to the authority of God and to the plan of God.

We have seen in verse 9 that we are to be filled with the knowledge of His will. The Greek word used there for knowledge is epignosis [e)pignwsij], the word that was not used in classical Greek. It first show up in Koine Greek and Paul is just taking a little jab at his opponents there among the Colossians. Some people say they were Gnostics but Gnosticism didn't really come into vogue for another 50-100 years. But the ideas that were present in Gnosticism were floating around the Greek culture for several hundred years before it coalesced into full-blown Gnosticism and they put this emphasis on knowledge. They really had an arrogance problem with intellectual superiority. These ideas came into Christianity where people put an emphasis on knowledge for knowledge's sake. That has often plagued Christianity down through the ages because Christians are not immune to the trends of the culture around them and there are often people who put such an emphasis on knowledge for knowledge's sake that is smacks of some sort of neo-Gnosticism. Then we will see a reaction into the church, which we have seen over the last forty or fifty years, that becomes anti-knowledge, anti-rational, anti-doctrinal, and that we need to put an emphasis on our feelings, on our psychological wellbeing, on our emotion, so that we are "emotionally whole." Those ideas really come out of the culture just as much as other ideas do and they have their source in ideas of contemporary psychology and sociology which brings up various ideas on the role of men and the role of women and what we produced is an even more effeminate culture and an effeminate church setting. This is seen in a lot of the songs that are sung in what is referred to as contemporary worship. Look back to many of the classic hymns and a number of them were set to marches. There is a strong masculine tone to the music of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. But in the 20th century and the contemporary setting there is a more effeminate tone to a lot of contemporary songs, and they are much more subjective and much more focused on the individual worshipper and his expression of his emotion and emotional state. This just further increases the feminization of the church and is a real attack on masculine leadership in the church as well as in the culture.

Knowledge is something that the Scriptures emphasize, not for its own sake but that it is only through the knowledge of God's Word that we know God's will and we can think as God would have us think; and that demands study, a focus upon God's Word. So the apostle Paul says that we are to be filled with the knowledge of His will, this epignosis which is a full knowledge and it only becomes epignosis because of the role of the Holy Spirit in our life. 

We want to go back and look at how we are filled with the knowledge of His will and what wisdom and spiritual understanding is. The thinking ability of our soul is described by the Greek word nous [nouj] which is the word for mind. This is our thought world. Then there is another word that is used in Scripture that focuses more on the center of our thinking and that is the Greek word kardia [kardia] translated "heart." In Scripture when we see the word "heart" it never refers metaphorically or idiomatically for the organ that pumps blood through our body. It is used in a way similar to our English idiom when we refer to the heart of the matter; it is talking about the very center or core of something. So the metaphor here has to do with going to the real core or center of something, and therefore the kardia is the place where our core belief system, our core value system is. It is out of the heart, the Scripture says, that come the issues of life.

What we see in terms of a biblical or Scriptural description of how spiritual learning takes place is we have in the church age a pastor-teacher. Teaching is how the pastor functions. The pastoral metaphor is Scripture is really one of leadership, leadership through teaching. That is really the essence of the pastor-teacher role in Scripture. He is the one who guides, directs, teaches and warns through Scripture. So the pastor teaches under the ministry of the Holy Spirit and when the audience is being filled by means of the Spirit the role of the Holy Spirit is to make teaching clear. We all know there are difficult things in Scripture, so if we come out of Bible class some night and say well that was about as clear as mud that doesn't mean we weren't filled with the Spirit, it just means that this was a tough piece of steak and we are going to have to chew on it for a while under the ministry of the Holy Spirit before it really becomes clear to us. Sometimes we have to hear things 75 or 100 times in the process of growth, just like any other area of learning, before it really becomes clear to us. What the Holy Spirit does is make the truth understandable to us. He doesn't understand it for you; that is mysticism. Then we have a basic choice to make: do we believe it or not? We can't believe something we don't understand. Belief is a cognitive concept and if you don't understand something you can't believe it. Believing is that first volitional decision: am I going to believe that what the Bible says is true in whatever area of doctrine it might be? Then that is what goes into our soul at a level of basic academic knowledge or, what is referred to in the Greek by the Greek term gnosis [gnwsij]. We understand it; we believe it; it is part of our thinking. The first volitional decision just has to be to study and make it understandable, to work at it to understand it. Then the second volitional decision to make there, after we understand it, is to believe it. This is when it gets converted to epignosis [e)pignwsij] or full knowledge and the Holy Spirit stores that in our soul.

In any area of life we learn thousands and thousands of pieces of data and we only apply a small percentage of it. So we store all this doctrine in our soul but that is not the end game. That is what Paul is talking about here in terms of the process of being filled, but then when he comes to being filled with wisdom and understanding that has to do with applying what has been stored. When we come to situations and circumstances and we come to decisions and challenges in life then we have to apply it. So we take this knowledge that is usable and now we have to decide whether or not to apply it. This is the third time that we have to engage our volition. We apply it, and that is wisdom.

1.  Under the filling of the Spirit we have to decide whether or not we are going to study the Word. That is the first volitional decision.

2.  Having studied it we then have to decide whether we believe it. That is the second volitional decision and at that point it becomes epignosis. This is usable then, potentially ours for spiritual growth.

3.  Then we have to make the last decision, and that is to apply it. Just because it is epignosis and we believe it under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit does not mean that we automatically apply it. Some people have that idea, and they think is what the filling of the Spirit is, that of we are full of the Spirit He just somehow disengages our volition and overrides it. That is the problem with that word "control." It is more influence, not control. We have to make that volitional decision to apply doctrine in that particular circumstance. 

How doe we get from epignosis to wisdom? That comes through the process of meditation. Meditation isn't the eastern concept of meditation which in eastern religions is more the idea of emptying your mind. In the Scripture, when we look at the words in the Old Testament it has to do with focus or concentration on something; thinking through what the Word of God says. It is not just going to Bible class and taking notes but realizing that is just the means to an end and that what we need to do is then go and think about what it is that we have learned from the Word, so that in that process God the Holy Spirit uses that to help us understand application.

There are four different Hebrew words used which are translated "meditation" in our English Bibles. The first is amar, which is a standard word for to say or to speak. But it also has the meaning of saying something to yourself, and that is when it is translated "meditate." We are talking to ourselves. We have conversations in our mind about how we are going to make certain decisions and what we are going to do, and so in this sense we are taking the Word of God and are rehearsing it in our minds; we are thinking about what it means and about its implications. That is one of the great values of memorizing Scripture because it means you have to say those phrases over and over again as you are working through the process of memorizing. And as you are saying them over and over again you are thinking about what they mean.

The second word is baqar which means to seek or to enquire. So what you are doing now is thinking in an investigative sense in terms of the meaning and implications of what we learn from God's Word. We want to drill down into what these promises and these verses mean.

The third word is hagah which means to utter or to mutter, to moan, to meditate, to devise or to plot. It is very similar to the word amar but it is thinking about something; it is working through the structure of these things that we have learned in God's Word to apply them.

Fourth, the primary word that is used (though these others are used a lot) is siach, which means to meditate, to muse, to commune, to speak, sometimes even to complain. It has the idea of rehearsing something over and over in our mind, to talk to one's self about something. It is something that we chew over mentally. So we are mandated in many passages to meditate. It is a focus toward application and understanding.

When we look at Colossians 1:9 we see that Paul prays for all those at Colosse: "…you may be filled with [with reference to] the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." The word "spiritual" is an adjective and it applies to both wisdom and understanding.

Chokmah is the Hebrew word for wisdom and bin is the word for "understanding." Bin means to decide between something and it has to do with decision-making and understanding the issues so that you can choose and make good biblical decisions. Chokmah in the Jewish world was very different from sophos [sofoj] in the Greek world which had more to do with academic knowledge, intellectual attainment and sophistication, understanding of philosophy, and trying to unravel all of the confusing things about reality on the basis of human reason alone. But that is not the Jewish concept of wisdom. The Jewish concepts were much more concrete whereas the Greek concepts were more abstract. For the Jews chokmah was skill, skill at taking academic knowledge about something and applying it is a way that produced something of beauty, something that had a tremendous attractiveness. When we apply that to the Christian life it has to do with application. God is working in us to produce something that brings glory to Him. So the application of His Word in our life is designed to produce something that reflects His glory, something that is beautiful and something that reflects the sophistication and the complexity of God's plan and purposes and who He is.

Understanding, on the other hand, precedes wisdom because understanding has more to do with discernment and application in decision-making. It has to do with critical thinking about the details and the challenges and decisions of life, whereas chokmah has to do with the skillful application of doctrine to the details, challenges and decisions of life.

The Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are all referred to as wisdom literature. Proverbs has a lot to say about wisdom and understanding.

  A.  The starting point: Proverbs 1:7 NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…" What is the fear of the Lord? This isn't being afraid of God. It has to do with subordination, submission to His authority. We recognize that God has created everything, things are the way they are because God said so, and if we don't live in accordance with how God made things then things can get pretty bad. We are not going to operate on arrogance and think that we are the creator and are going to define all reality; God is the one who has defined reality. It has to do with respect for God in that sense, a healthy respect. This is the starting point of knowledge. Why is that? Because if we are not subordinated to God's authority there is no humility there; we are on arrogance. If we are on arrogance then we can't learn anything. An arrogant student who thinks he knows everything is a terrible pain in the gluteous maximus for his teacher because he thinks he knows better. So to learn anything there has to be a measure of humility, and the more humility the more the potential for learning. The fear of the Lord here is an expression of orientation to God's authority—grace orientation, humility, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge—"… Fools despise wisdom and instruction."  Fools reject the authority of God; they despise wisdom and instruction and in their place will substitute a pseudo wisdom, an intellectualized academic type of wisdom, but it is not wisdom in the biblical sense. 

Proverbs 9:10 builds on that. NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Notice: wisdom, knowledge, understanding; they all connect to one another. Wisdom and understanding are more related to application. In the parallelism of verse 10 the fear of the Lord is parallel to knowledge of the Holy One. So knowledge of the Holy One here isn't understanding His attributes, it is related to understanding His authority. 

  B.  The prerequisite for wisdom is humility. If flows from the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 11:2 NASB "When pride comes, then comes dishonor [shame], But with the humble is wisdom." When we operate apart from God's Word it is always going to end up in shame, but humility under the authority of God produces wisdom.

Proverbs 15:33 NASB "The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor {comes} humility." This is why you can't learn leadership at the top. A good leader is a good follower, because if you don't understand principles of authority which you learn through submission to authority, and learn humility, you can't be a good leader. A good leader is not arrogant; a good leader has to understand authority.

Proverbs 22:4 NASB "The reward of humility {and} the fear of the LORD Are riches, honor and life." Proper understanding of who we are and submission to God's authority is the key to genuine prosperity in life. This refers to soul prosperity, not necessarily physical prosperity.

  C.  The emphasis in the Proverbs is on the priority of wisdom. Proverbs 4:7 NASB "The beginning of wisdom {is:} Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding." Wisdom is the principle thing, not our material possessions. It is more important than anything else in life. Wisdom is the principle thing, therefore get wisdom. "And with all your acquiring, get understanding." That is just another way of saying that in the process of pursuing wisdom you get and acquire understanding, which has to do with decision-making; wisdom has to do with application.

Proverbs 23:23 NASB "Buy truth, and do not sell {it,} {Get} wisdom and instruction and understanding." That is the priority.

  D.  Wisdom has value. Proverbs 8:11 NASB "For wisdom is better than jewels; And all desirable things cannot compare with her." Whatever your top ten list is for what you want at Christmas or your birthday or whatever it is, nothing compares to your knowledge and application of God's Word.

Proverbs 19:8 NASB "He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good."

  E.  There is only one source of wisdom. Proverbs 2:6, 7 NASB "For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth {come} knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; {He is} a shield to those who walk in integrity." So only through the study of God's Word, through the filling of the Spirit, learning and applying, it do with have wisdom and understanding.

  F.  Biblical wisdom is the only hope for meaning and happiness in life. Proverbs 3:13 NASB "How blessed [happy] is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding." Without it life is just a pursuit of our own self-absorption and self-indulgence, and that doesn't bring happiness at all.

In terms of spiritual understanding two verses in the Proverbs apply. Proverbs 10:13 NASB "On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod [divine discipline] is for the back of him who lacks understanding." Proverbs 14:33 NASB "Wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding, But in the hearts of fools it is made known."

So when we look Colossians 1:9 Paul is praying that we might be filled with the knowledge of His will, i.e. knowing God's Word, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And this is for the purpose that we can walk worth of the Lord. What we have seen here is the first of these priorities of prayer. And then in Colossians 1:10 NASB "so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord," which is the second purpose.