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Colossians 3:15 by Robert Dean
How do we find God's will? Does God always have a specific will for each detail of our life, or, for the issues that don't involve morality or biblical commands? Or is the test of decision making more often related to the process of how we make the decision, than the specific decision itself? In this lesson Pastor Dean continues to answer these and other questions related to knowing God's will and making wise decisions.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:37 mins 38 secs

How to KNOW the Will of God, Part 3. Colossians 3:15


We continue in the third part of a short series in Colossians. Colossians 3:15 uses a turn of the phrase that has often been misunderstood and misapplied in the area of understanding decision making and the will of God. The verse reads: NASB "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." Often that first phrase is taken out of context to mean some way in which we determine how to do God's will in our life and what it is, and that when we have difficult choices or challenging opportunities and when we have options in life that what we do is wait for the peace of God to somehow settle upon our soul, and that is how we know God's will. That is not what this verse is saying. The peace of God here is not talking about an internal, subjective psychological state, it is talking about the state of harmony that was accomplished first as a result of our justification—our harmony with God—and secondly, our harmony with other believers. The letter to the Hebrews says that we are to pursue peace with all men. That is the rule. So what we have here is a statement made by Paul that is parallel to the statement in Hebrews12, that we are to let peace with one another be a guide/rule in all of our behaviours, relationships and actions. 

But this often raises the question: how do we know the will of God? We have been talking about this whole concept of the will of God and that often the way this is taught is that for each and every decision we make in life there is a precise will of God. But we have pointed out in evaluation of that teaching that if we carried that to its logical and inherent conclusion then that would mean that in every decision, whether minor or major, there would be some will of God issue. Do we stop and pray when we do the mundane things of life? Do we pray about which shoe to put on first or what colour dress or tie to wear each day, etc? We would all agree that no, that would be carrying it too far. So there is an inherent sense there that God does not have a specific will on each and every issue. He may, but to say that He does on each and every issue is very different from saying that there are times when God does have a specific will, a specific geographical will, a specific operational will in our lives.

Much of the decision making that we encounter in life is really based not on do we make the "right decision" because once we look at many decisions we make we realise that they are neither morality or immorality, right or wrong, truth or error apply. They are morally and spiritually neutral decisions. Therefore what comes to play is what has been called by some a "wisdom principle," a "wisdom decision." Don't confuse wisdom with common sense because first of all, common sense is exceedingly uncommon, and common sense is often going to be shaped by various cultural values and ideas. But it should be shaped by a biblical worldview. It must be shaped by divine viewpoint in the soul which only comes a s a result of spiritual growth. A spiritual infant may not be aware of all the doctrine, all of the wisdom principles in the Scripture that may apply to a decision, and they may not make a wise decision. They may make a good decision or a better decision, but unless they are seeking counsel from mature believers who may give them some wise insight it may not be the wisest decision.

We see this when we look at various books in the Old Testament that were classified as wisdom literature—Job, some of the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Some even classify Daniel to some degree as part of wisdom literature. We can see that in many cases in Daniel, reflecting upon the decisions that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had to make in the course of their life. Of all the things they had to address the diet issue was one where there was a specific absolute from Scripture. And so they made a decision based on the application of the Word that they were not going to eat the food that was going to be placed in front of them. But then they go beyond that and are faced with a confrontational, complex situation, and this is where we see wisdom applied. Daniel handles the situation in a particularly effective manner as he goes to the chief of the eunuchs and makes a deal with him. It was an application of wisdom. The commit the situation to God and ask that He would work in and through it, but they are not asking for God's direction on each and every step in the process. They took the body of biblical knowledge and truth that they had and applied it to the situation.

We concluded last time with the point that we can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral will. We can't know the specifics of His sovereign will because that is not revealed.

In the New Testament there are over 565 imperative mood verbs from Acts through Jude. If we add various other ways in which a mandate or a prohibition can be expressed then it goes far beyond that. That describes the boundaries. People ask: What is God's will for me? Well first we start with all of these commands and prohibitions. As we are obeying them we are walking by the Spirit, walking in the light, and walking by means of truth as the Scripture describes it. When we are doing that then when we are trusting God we have the confidence that God will be guiding and directing us. But these passages give us that expressed specific will. Romans 2:17, 18; 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB "in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Paul expresses this a little differently in Ephesians 4 he says, "for everything give thanks." If we don't have a mental attitude of gratitude, gratefulness, thankfulness for whatever it is that is going on in our life then we are not in God's will. So that forms a very specific statement. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NASB "For this is the will of God, your sanctification …" The will of God has to do with things that are set apart for the service of God. 2 Corinthians 6:14 NASB "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?" This is about intimate relationships. It isn't talking about just casual friends, business partnerships or associations other than those that would involve such a deep connection that one's morals, values or spiritual beliefs would be impacted by that relationship. It is clearly God's will that we avoid certain kinds of relationships, certain levels of intimacy with unbelievers because of the negative impact that can have.

Usually we become concerned about the will of God in the midst of some momentous decision in life. As people get older they are less concerned about that. They have made the big decisions in life already—where they went to college, who they married, in many cases rearing children. These are the foundational decisions and have already been made. Many in congregations have been married to unbelievers because their parents had never drilled into them, and he pastor had never drilled into them, not to marry an unbeliever. They go off to college or university and marry somebody, and it has a damaging impact on the rest of their life because of the consequences of making one bad decision.

We often make bad decisions not being fully conscious of the fact that they can have such a negative, destructive impact down through the years. So we have to think about those decisions. Even though God may not have a specific, one the dot expression of date this person, not that person, there are still some principles that apply when it comes to making those kinds of decisions. We are living in a fallen world and almost every decision in some sense, though it may be just general, has some application for wisdom principles in making those decisions.

If we are to all things to the glory of God—every aspect of our life is touched by Bible doctrine—there is not anything in our life that is not addressed by the Word of God. It may not be a specific statement; it may simply be a broad general wisdom principle. A great way to learn these is to go through, for example, the book of Proverbs and to classify different Proverbs. A great little exercise with children is to go through Proverbs, classify the proverbs in terms of those that have to do with money, those that have to do with friends and those that have to do with priorities. You could probably come up with 50 different categories that could be used to approach the Proverbs. Then list out all of the verse related to those categories and that gives principles of wisdom for decision making.

We face many decisions, some of which involve a moral or a spiritual issue. Some times they don't have moral or, spiritual issues and sometimes they don't have a specific will of God in relation to either His geographical will or His operational will, so we have these broader categories. When we think about the passages often cited to prove the case that God has a specific geographical will, usually they are God's direction to a prophet of the Old Testament, or possibly the New Testament, telling them to go to a specific location. Up until the time of Jonah was told to take the gospel to Assyria, was there a geographical will for his life? Not anything more than he was to function as a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel. There was no prohibition about going anywhere. He could have travelled to Phoenicia, down into the southern kingdom of Judah; there was no restriction. There was only one time that God told him that he needed to be in a specific location. The rest of the time is when wisdom would be applied.

Since we can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral will before the fact questions about the will of God relate only to revealed information. We can't say we need to buy a piece of land; we need to look at a permanent location. So should we buy this piece of real estate or that piece of real estate? Well God is not going to come along and give us some sort of liver-quiver, some sort of inner buzz to let us know whether it is the right decision or the wrong decision. We have to get all the facts that we can and we have to commit the situation to prayer. We have to pray that God would give us guidance and direction and perhaps intervene if we are making a foolish decision or an unwise decision. On the basis of all the information that we gather then we make the best decision that we can. The fact that negative consequences are the result of our decision doesn't mean we have made the wrong decision. Many times we make the best decision, the wisest decision based on all the facts, and then God uses that to teach us some things. God wanted to teach us those things through negative circumstances, so we can't second guess the decision.

If it was a moral decision or a decision that was motivated from the sin nature, or a decision wherein we were disobedient to Scripture, then, no, we should have made that decision. But if we were walking with the Lord, walking in fellowship, committing the circumstances or situation to God in prayer, and if we were walking in the light on the basis of truth following all the guidelines of Scripture and we make a decision, then we have promises that tell us that God is the one who guides and directs us in making that decision. We just don't know what God's long term consequence is and what He intends. This is why we have promises like Proverbs 3:5, 6 that we are to trust the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. That doesn't mean we don't evaluate it in terms of our understanding but at some point we have to stop and just trust in God that in light of all the facts, in light of everything that we understand from Scripture and from the circumstances this is the best decision. We have to commit that to Him. Then the second verse comes into play: "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." He will keep us from making a stupid or foolish or harmful decision.

That raises a question. Is there one and only one will for every decision, or is the issue in many decisions, a more general concept of biblical wisdom for living. I would say that the wisdom model is the more biblically correct model. Some people have taken that to mean you don't pray, somehow you don't commit it to God's care; and that is not true at all. This isn't a common sense type of position, it is a biblical wisdom position.

Wisdom in the Scripture is not the wisdom of the Greeks or the Europeans, which is more of a philosophical, intellectual ability. Wisdom in the Hebrew mind was a skill, a skill for producing something that was of value, something beautiful that had great value to it. So wisdom in living is a skill that is developed as we go through life. As we make wise decisions we are going to make some wrong decisions, some foolish decisions, and some decisions that aren't as wise as they should have been. But it is a learning process, and so as we grow in our knowledge of Scripture then God gives us the insight from Scripture.

We do have examples in Scripture, such as examples of God's specific individual will. The principle is that when God does something in private—every now and then some say, "I just feel like this is what God wants me to do." Or "God just seems to have confirmed this to me that this is my decision." First of all, we don't think God operates like that today because that would entail some sort of special revelation, and special revelation has ceased. So that probably doesn't apply.

But even in the Scripture where we have examples of God doing something privately with someone He always confirms it through external objective events so that nobody comes along and says, well God put it on my heart to do x, y and z, and claim special revelation. It is different from that. One example is in 1 Samuel 10 when Saul is anointed in private by the prophet Samuel. Then what happened? There were various confirming things that happened. Saul ran into Samuel because he was out looking for a lost donkey. The donkey finds its way home, Saul continues on his way after Samuel anointed him, and along the way he falls in among some prophets. And the Scripture says that the Holy Spirit came over him and they were praising God and prophesying together. Prophesy in that sense is used several times in Scripture to indicate praise to God. Later on in the next couple of chapters he has victory over the enemies of Israel. This is another attestation of the fact that God has anointed and appointed him to be the king of Israel. So there is a whole series of things that happened that confirm the will of God that was accomplished in private. This happens again and again and again.

There are other passages. For example, Jonah 1:1-3. In verse 2 God tells Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." This raises an interesting question, because the Bible doesn't say how this happened. Verse 1 says, "The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying." If we are thinking that this is something between his ears, how do we know that? But that is how a lot of people approach this, they automatically think of this as something that happens internally and subjectively within Jonah's head. How do they know that? Where we have other passages where we are clear what the circumstances are, where "the Lord says," it is external, audible, outside the head. So why is it that we come to the text and assume that that is what it is saying? Because we have been oriented that way somehow, but that is not evident in the text. There are many passages even in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit says to the apostles, to Peter, to Paul, to somebody, to do something. But it doesn't say how He said it. So let's not assume that it is an internal subjective thing. We are not going to assume it is an external thing. We don't know, it doesn't say; don't make that conclusion because the Scripture doesn't see that as important, so we are not told how that happened. What we can look at is passages where it is described a certain way. We can say that is true there and that sets a pattern.

Jonah was specifically told to go to Nineveh, but as has been pointed out this only applied in this particular situation. There are examples in the New Testament. Peter has seen a vision which is a means of special revelation where in that vision he sees a table cloth lowered from heaven and on that was all manner of animals that are determined to be unclean by the Mosaic Law. He is not supposed to touch them or eat them and so as an orthodox Torah-observing Jew Peter says he is not going to eat that. The Lord said He had determined it to be clean, so it is clean. It was not clean because suddenly they had discovered that they had to cook pork to a temperature of 160 degrees so they didn't get some kind of bacteria. This was designed to teach certain spiritual principles, that the Law was no longer in effect, so longer significant or valid.

Acts 10:17 NASB "Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate." In the vision God said there were some men coming, so that was private. What was confirmed? External reality. The men come and look for Simon and go through the episode where they invite him to come to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius.

There are other examples, such as Acts 13:1 NASB "Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was {there,} prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. [2] While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" How did He say that? The indication is that they all heard it, so it is not something that is just internal, something happening in the mind. This was a time of transition, there was still special revelation going on and so there is, we believe, audible direction from God the Holy Spirit at this particular time.

What we see here is that the Scriptures have specific revelation from God when there are specific things that God wants people to do. But many times there are not specifics and there is just the general application of God's Word.

Knowing God's will is based on the knowledge of doctrine, the knowledge of God's Word, what we have in our souls. God the Holy Spirit teaches it and it is through that doctrine that He guides and leads us. Galatians 5:18 NASB "But I say, walk by the Spirit …" We are to walk by means of the Spirit, and He is the one who leads us. It is like following the path. He does that through His Word. An illustration of this comes from the Old Testament in the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the cup bearer to Artaxerxes in Persia, one of the most powerful positions under the King of Persia. As he is observing and learning about what has happened to some of his fellow Jews who have already returned to Jerusalem, realising that the final walls had not been constructed, and that as well they were facing a lot of opposition from the Samaritans and other in the land, he begins to pray about the circumstance. Artaxerxes sees that there is something bothering Nehemiah. There is never any direction from God to Nehemiah as to what he should do. His direction is coming from his understanding of Scripture.

Twice in Nehemiah we come across this interesting phrase where Nehemiah says God put it on his heart to do something. That has an element of special revelation that God gave him twice—2:2; 7:14. In those two passages God gives him specific direction. But everything else that happens is really up to Nehemiah in terms of exercising leadership on the basis of what he has learned from the Word. So that gives us the framework for understanding this wisdom principle which we will conclude with next time.