Colossians 3:15 by Robert Dean
We come to know the will of God through the accumulated wisdom of His Word. God no longer gives special revelation and examples of our set of circumstances may not be in Scripture. Learn the different categories of God’s will with illustrations from Scripture. Peace in this verse is the vertical peace of reconciliation which brings the horizontal peace within the Body of Christ. The real question in every life is, “How can I best serve God with my life?” With that focus, prayer and trust, the will of God is no longer a guessing game.

How to KNOW the Will of God - Part 4: Wisdom. Colossians 3:15


We have been going through a short sort of sub-series on how to understand the will of God. How do we know the will of God in our life? How do we know what God wants us to do? How do we go through a process of decision making in coming to understanding God's will? In doing this, this is a concept that has come to be known as the wisdom approach to studying God's Word and determining God's will in our life. The point here is that God guides and directs us only through His Word overtly, and that covertly He may guide and direct us in other ways but He is no longer in the process or business of giving special revelation. The issue today is not doing what was done in the Old Testament time or during the early church—seeking God's direct revelatory will for certain circumstances—but to take His Word that we have learned and studies and being able to apply that in the issues of our own lives so that God would be glorified.

Colossians 3:15 is a verse that sounds and has been taken by many to be a divine guidance passage. NASB "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." This is an example of how verses are often  chopped in half, how often verses and phrases are taken out of context and which sound good as a stand-alone sentence, but that is not what the context indicates as being discussed. As has been pointed out in the introduction of these four messages, this is to be understood not as the peace of God in the sense of internal calm or tranquillity because somehow now we have hit upon the right decision and God lets us know it is the right decision because He gives us this internal peace. The idea here rather is that the peace that we have is an external peace, a peace within the body of Christ. It is related to the teaching of reconciliation in Scripture, that we have been reconciled with God so that there is a vertical reconciliation that has taken place, and because of that vertical reconciliation and peace with God there is a horizontal peace with God that is related to others in the body of Christ. Sin is not an issue between us and God and sin should not be an issue between us and other believers. And we are to take this objective reality of the peace of God and apply that in our personal relationships. This is not talking about a principle of decision making in terms of what I should do with my life and is God going to give me peace with this decision, but it is that we are to pursue peace, as the writer of Hebrews says, with all men.

This is indicated in the second half of the verse where it is talking about our being called into one body. The focal point, the context of Colossians, starting in about verse 12, is on forgiveness to one another, loving one another and implementing the objective reality of the peace that we have with one another in terms of our personal relationships.

But that does raise the question: How do we know God's will? So we have been addressing this as a counterpoint to what is often taught on this subject, that God has a perfect will for EVERY decision in life. We emphasise that word because this is often how this is taught, that whatever the decision is that we have to make in life God has one and only one will for that. What we have been pointing out is that that is not what we see in the Scripture because the Scripture does not tell us in the revelatory passages what we should do in each and every day—what we should eat, what we should not eat (specifics under the Mosaic Law, but not today), in the church age it becomes our responsibility to decide how we can wisely eat. Just because God doesn't say it is wrong doesn't mean it is healthy or wise to eat everything. The Scripture doesn't tell us it is not wise, it gives us general principles that we are to then apply in each of our lives. The Bible doesn't teach that God had a specific thing in each and every situation, in every situation, a specific will for us. In fact, this is really a form of mysticism. It is the idea that for every decision God is somehow going to reveal to me in some way what decision I should make. But that involves special revelation.

Special revelation is a theological term that describes God directly intervening in the normal course of life by communicating something to man apart from the canon of Scripture. The canon of Scripture is one form of special revelation but the form we are talking about here would be something in addition to Scripture.

The issue now is not one related to making a decision in terms of the specifics but in terms of taking everything that God has given us and from that foundation applying that in the decisions that we make. Hebrews 12:14, "Pursue peace with all men," is part of God's will. It is an overt statement, except that this is like a lot of aspects of God's overt statements of His will that a lot of people are uncomfortable with: "I can't pursue peace with so and so." Well, why are you even concerned about the will of God in areas that God doesn't address when you are not willing to submit to the will of God in areas He specifically addresses? The point here is simply that God in His Word gives us hundreds and hundreds of commandments and prohibitions, and that defines the boundary of His will.

Knowing God's will is based on this knowledge of doctrine that has been assimilated in the soul, that God the Holy Spirit teaches us doctrine and through that He guides and leads us. It is God the Holy Spirit who works in a covert way rather than an overt way. An overt way is where some sort of special revelation would be involved. A covert way is a way that is secret, a way that is not perceived by us, until the events are over with. Then we look back at the events and the course of decision making that we made and we recognise that even though at the time we may not have been consciously aware (probably never consciously aware) how God the Holy Spirit was orchestrating circumstances and events we can look back on it and see that He was.

When we approach decisions, though, we don't know about these factors. All we know is what the Word of God has told us and what we have learned. And in the process of learning we accumulate what Scripture calls wisdom. Wisdom is not something that is easily learned. Wisdom in Scripture is not like overt, objective principles that in cases of X you always do Y. There are certain elements of that but generally wisdom applies where there is no direct statement of Scripture. You are not facing a decision that involves a moral issue, a decision that involves a specifically overtly spiritual issue—although that affects everything at some level; you are facing a decision that appears from every overt vantage point to be something of a neutral issue: whether or not you should work for this company of that company, whether you should live in this city or that city, whether or that you should go to this university or that university, buy this house or that house, etc. None of the factors here or that present themselves to you necessarily involve a moral issue. If they do, and they have to compromise spiritual standards in this area, then you know that that is not a positive for making that decision.

The concept of wisdom in Scripture is the concept related to the skilful application of God's Word, and that may be applied in a number of different ways. This ultimately, though, is under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. Scripture says that we are to walk by means of the Holy Spirit, and He is the one then who guides and directs us. We can only walk by the Spirit if we are walking in accordance with God's Word.

Some of the passages that touch on this would be: Colossians 4:12 NASB "Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God." The word "labouring" is the Greek word agonizo [a)gonizw] which is the idea of intensely working towards something. It has come over into English as "agony." It involves someone who is doing something intensely and purposefully, and Epaphras is labouring intensely in his prayers. Paul is just emphasising that he is praying consistently for this congregation, for the purpose that they may "stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God." The word "perfect" is teleios [teleioj] indicating maturity, and the word "fully assured" is a word based on pleroo [plhrow] and it has the idea of being full or complete or sufficient. In other words, what Epaphras is praying for is that the members of this congregation would reach spiritual maturity, continue to grow and not fall by the wayside. And the way that this happens is "in all the will of God." The means of growth is by knowing the will of God. We know from other passages that the means of growth is the Word of God, and so the place of knowing the will of God is in His Word, not through some sort of external, mystical insight into God's plan or God directly revealing something to us.

Romans 12:2 is another passage that indicates an objective sense of the will of God as revealed in the Scripture. We are not to be conformed to the world, i.e. the zeitgeist or the spirit of the age, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our thinking for the purpose that our lives demonstrate what the will of God is; that by walking according to the revealed standards of God's we demonstrate that that is what is good and acceptable and perfect, or that which brings to maturity or completion.

Ephesians 5:17 NASB "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." This precedes another important verse, verse 18, "be filled with the Spirit." What is important about verse 17 is that in the context of Ephesians 5 there is the emphasis on being wise and the use of time, and then it is contrasted with not being foolish. These are not absolutely distinct categories, they are generally broader categories than right or wrong. Some things are wiser than other things; there is more of a sliding scale there. Some things are more foolish than other things. So how do we avoid being foolish? We have to understand what the will of the Lord is. And in the context of Ephesians 5 that is walking in the truth again, it is following the objective revelation of God.

Ephesians 6:6, we are not to work for our employers or masters by way of eye service or men pleasers. NASB "not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart," i.e. obeying Scripture and totally and completely serving Christ, recognising that whoever we work for we are not working for them we are really working for Christ in that position.

All of that is to demonstrate that the will of God is something that we can know. It is not a guessing game, it is something we can know and we can know it because God has already revealed it to us in His Word.

It is through God the Holy Spirit, though, that we come to really implement that in our life. As we learn doctrine, learn what the Scripture teaches, the Holy Spirit is the one who stores that in our souls. This is the whole process the Scripture talks about—walk by means of the Spirit, walking in the truth, walking in the light. It is God the Holy Spirit who is the one who, as we walk by the Spirit, takes the Word and He helps us to understand it and stores that in our souls so that at the time we need to apply it He is the one who works to bring it to our attention so that we can then apply it. It is that realm of application that is what the Bible talks about in terms of wisdom.

Along with specific teaching for specific situations—and there are clearly those in the Scripture—there is also doctrine which just produces wisdom. It gives a framework of thinking. Illustration: We make a lot of decisions in life. We have made many decisions and by the grace of God have not felt the consequences of many of our wrong and foolish decisions. And by God's grace we have on occasion made wise decisions in applying God's Word. An irony in the whole process of decision is that many of the most determinative decisions, the most significant decisions that we make, are made before we are 21 years old when we don't have much wisdom and we have a lot of foolishness. We make decisions related to career choices, decisions related to how we respond to authority, to our involvement in church, spirituality, marriage, children, and many other things today that have incredible consequences for the rest of our life. It is possible to make some decisions before we are 21 that it really does limit future options. On the other hand, there are opportunities to make extremely wise decisions before 21 or 22 that open up tremendous vistas of opportunity later on in life. So when we are growing up, and this is what parental training is about, we need to develop a framework of thinking about life so that out of that framework we make wise decisions rather than foolish decisions. Often what is seen as Christians respond to the pressures of the world around us to conform to it in terms of ideals, in terms of careers and many other things, is that in the decisions that we make that are determinative—such as where we are going to go to college, what we are going to study in college, what kind of career we are going to pursue—we get caught up in answering a lot of questions when we don't pay attention to the ultimate question that we should be concerned about as believers. That is, how can I best serve God with my life?

So when my question is how I can go to college, get a good education, and make good money, that is maybe going to have a different answer than the question of where I can best serve God with my life. The result may not be seen in the answers to those two questions for ten or fifteen years, but if you pursue the career goal (without knocking high education) we can make choices to go to X university instead of Y university that put us in a different geographical area, a different social area, under different influences some of which may be good and some not, and in a place where we don't have any opportunity for Christian fellowship, biblical teaching to keep our focus on the ultimate priorities. And ten or fifteen years down the road we are saying, where did I mess up, why isn't my life what I thought it would be when I was eighteen or nineteen years old? The reason is that some decisions that were made that did not appear to be morally or spiritually significant were not answered with wisdom but with a sort of self-absorbed foolishness that is now bearing bad fruit. So we need to be very concerned about this whole concept, especially in teaching young people, about how we make wise decisions, and that wisdom comes out of a framework, a building as it were; and if we think about it as a gardener, it is packing the soul with the right kind of soil so that it produces a certain kind of decision making and maybe not too many weeds. If we don't have that as part of the mix in the soul when we make decisions then we are not always going to make the right decisions because there is not enough of God's Word in our soul to orient us in the right decision.

So a wisdom decision is related to the application of doctrine to a decision where the test is not always the final decision. In other words, are we going to make the right decision or the wrong decision? The issue is how we make the decision, the process—taking it before God, making sure that the questions we are asking in relation to the decision relate to a biblical scale of values and priorities and not in terms of what might be called the world's standards of personal success and achievement. We focus on God's spiritual success and achievement. It is this store of doctrine and this framework that gives us the discernment to recognise when some decisions may involve a distinct geographic or a distinct operational will from God. That only comes from maturity, and if we are practicing in the small decisions the principles of seeking God's will and applying wisdom to those decisions then later in life when it comes to significant decisions we have built a pattern and a framework for doing that.

The geographical will of God relates to operating in a specific location. For example, Jonah is Nineveh; Paul in Rome. God did not overtly reveal to Nehemiah in Nehemiah chapter one that Nehemiah should go to Jerusalem. That was a wisdom decision. Out of all of the knowledge that Nehemiah had out of God's Word, when he looked at what was going on in Jerusalem—the fortifications not being completed, the city was defenceless, and no progress was being made—from his framework of the knowledge of Scripture he knew that that was not what God wanted. So he went to the Lord in prayer as to what could be done. He is not thinking, Lord, do you want me to go to Jerusalem and finish the wall? That question is never asked. Instead what he prays is that God would give him wisdom in bringing this attention to the king and then when he does that the king sends him. So we see how God is working behind the scenes and moves Nehemiah there, but it is not because Nehemiah says he wants to decide whether he should go there or not. So that is the difference between a directive revelation of God—Jonah, go to Nineveh; Paul, go to Rome—or a non-directive approach.

The next point relates to the operational will of God, which includes how we use our spiritual gifts and natural talents and abilities. We all are born with certain natural talents and abilities. Then we have spiritual gifts. Some people say they don't have the spiritual gift of singing. That is not a spiritual gift. Unbelievers can sing. We may have a natural talent of music and the ability to sing and then that is wedded with a spiritual gift of service. And so we can serve in the congregation by singing in the choir or being an anchor point within the congregation on singing. That is how we serve the Lord. There are lots of different ways in which we serve the Lord with a spiritual gift that entails and utilises natural gifts as well, and these are brought together. But ultimately the question is, what is the best way for me to utilise my natural gifts and my spiritual gifts for the ministry within the body? Because spiritual gifts are given to every individual for the purpose of ministering to one another, not outside the church but within the local body. So the question needs to be, how do I think I can best utilisze my natural gifts, my spiritual gifts to serve the body? That is the operational will of God.

An example from Scripture of how these three categories of God's will work that we have been talking about in terms of God's revealed will, His permissive will and His overriding will. In Numbers 22 Baalam is the prophet for hire. He is probably an Old Testament believer but he utilising whatever abilities he has in an extremely illegitimate manner. He is charging for it, making money for it, and maybe he is using some occult arts in the process, and he has developed a reputation. This is at the time that the Israelites are at the end of their forty years of discipline in the desert and are beginning to move north on the east side of the Jordan river valley toward the Territory of Moab, and they are going to enter into the land that God has promised them. The Moabites are under the leadership of Balak who is threatened by this approaching mob of two to three-million people moving through the wilderness and he thinks they are going to attack him. He wants to destroy them and so using a pagan mentality is going to get Balaam to come and curse the Jews so that they will not be successful in attacking him.

As this unfolds because God is omniscient and aware of what is going on some direct revelation is going to be given to Balaam. Numbers 22:9 NASB "Then God came to Balaam and said, 'Who are these men with you?'" Balaam tells Him who are and God said, direct revelation, [12] "…"Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed." It doesn't get any more clear than that. What is God's will for Balaam's life? At this point in time it is not to go with the people who invited him and not to curse Israel. But Balaam has his own volition and he is looking at the money. He really wants to go with them and so he is going to try to work out some sort of compromise.

Numbers 22:13 NASB "So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak's leaders, 'Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.' [14] The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak and said, 'Balaam refused to come with us.'" They understand that Balaam really wants to and so they entice him with a little more money. This time God comes to him and gives him permission. This isn't what God in His revealed will really wants Balaam to do. The first command is really the overriding command: I don't want you to go. But Balaam is going to exercise his volition now and is going to go anyway, so God gives him permission to go but still keeps the restrictions in place. But just because God allows something to happen doesn't mean it is right. God's highest will is for the right decisions based on Scripture to be followed. Anything less than that, which is wrong or evil or sinful, is simply the result of God's permissive will. He allows people to make bad decisions but God isn't validating those bad decisions.

If we listen carefully to the way people say things, something happens and it is not really what they think is the best thing, and they try to comfort themselves: Well that's God's will. No, God allowed that crafty, sinful, horrible thing to happen. But don't try to comfort yourself by thinking that that makes it any better. They are trying to somehow accept a wrong situation, but it is still a wrong situation. God's permissive will means that He allows evil things to happen. That is not because He wants in a moral, right sense for those thing to happen. So don't try to blame God for bad things. What you have just done is blame God for man's evil decisions. You can't do that.

So this is the permissive will of God but there are still moral restrictions on this will. Numbers 22:20 NASB "God came to Balaam at night and said to him, 'If the men have come to call you, rise up {and} go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do.'" You are not going to be able to say anything that I don't allow. Then we have the overruling will of God that happens later on, and that is that Balaam is going to go along and try to curse them but God doesn't let him. God overrules his volition at key times. He doesn't overrule every bad decision that people make. The angel of the Lord appears later on to block Balaam's actions reminds him again that he is not going to be able to say anything unless the Lord allows him to.

The point here is that even if you make a wrong decision related to God's geographic will or His operational will, God's overriding will kicks in an resolves the problem. We can't miss out on God's will—just like Jonah. Let's say you really want to do God's will and God is His sovereign will (which He hasn't revealed to you) would like for you to go to this location rather than that location. You sit down and pray, you consult with friends, you do everything you know you should do. You decide to do A instead of B. But God wants you to do B. Everything is going to shut down on A and it is going to end of where all you can do is B. You don't have to guess it ahead of time and try to figure that out; you just trust in the Lord, do the best you can, and God is going to direct your paths.

We see this same kind of principle in Acts 15:6-22 where we see Paul and Barnabas making decisions, notice how they do it. They don't pray, they don't ask, God shall we go back and revisit? It is "It seems best to us," and so they just make a decision to go back and revisit those cities to re-establish things that are going on there.

Acts chapter fifteen is where we have what is called the Jerusalem Council meeting. Again and again we see them making certain kinds of decisions. In 15:25 when the Council makes its final decision, it doesn't say this is God's will. They don't say God told us to do this. They say, "It seemed good to us." Three verses later: [28] "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials." What they have done is they have taken all of the information and have come to a decision. They don't this is what God told them to do. So that is a wisdom approach to the Scriptures.

Every incident of the specific will of God that we have in Scripture we only know because there is special revelation involved. The point is, don't expect God to be doing something He is not doing anymore. He is no longer in the process of giving specific revelation. He has given that to us and He wants to know what we will do with it. That is the test. Are we will to study the Word and let it become so much a part of our life that we can make wise decisions, or not? That is the issue.

In the Old Testament are also a couple of cases with Nehemiah. He has an interesting phrase: "God put this in my heart." He is not making a specific revelatory claim, but after the fact he realises that God was guiding and directing him, and that those thoughts that he had and the ideas that he had really had their source in God. It seemed that God had put those things on his mind. Nehemiah 2:2; 7:5. But most of the other decision making that Nehemiah makes he makes on the basis of just applying the Word to the circumstances that he found.

In conclusion what we should take away from this is that when we face decisions in life there are two kinds of decision basically. There is one kind which has been referred to as moral decisions or immoral decisions. These are decisions that involve clear biblical revelation of what is right and what is wrong. And that is God's clearly revealed will. Then there are other decisions in other areas of life that don't involve specifics of God's revelation. They don't involve specific statements of something being right ands something being wrong. So we recognise that in those decisions what we are doing is we are taking from the whole realm of doctrine that is in our soul and are applying it then to those specific situations.