“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
“The ‘knowledge of God’s will’ is more than simply an insight into how God wants his people to behave: it is an understanding of God’s whole saving purpose in Christ, and hence a knowledge of God himself.’ (NT Wright, p 57)
“For a theist who believes that God’s active purpose determines the ordering of the world, lies behind events on earth, and shapes their consequences, one of the most desirable objectives must be to know God’s will. The corollary, spelled out in the following phrases, is that such knowledge gives insight into and therefore reassurance regarding what happens (often unexpected in human perspective) and helps direct human conduct to accord with that will.” (James Dunn)
‘For this reason’ means something like, ‘because of what I have just said, thus…’. It means Paul had just given reasons for his actions on their behalf, namely, his constant prayers for them. Paul has taken time to reflect on the circumstances of the Christians in Colossae. He has noted that these are people marked by a peculiar love who have been forged in a hostile environment, who have been created by the Gospel. These are people who are like and not like the world. They have dual citizenship: They live in Christ and in Colossae. This unique living arrangement has its own unique set of problems that the apostle insists the Colossians can survive. In fact, he seems to be of the particular opinion that not only will they survive but they will also thrive: They, like the Gospel, will (and must!) bear fruit and grow (see verses 6 & 10).
But his constant prayers, it seems to me, are not merely some form of congratulations or some form of ‘hey I hope these get you through the night and day.’ If Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians it was not necessarily for their moral character or their physical well-being or that they would have some profound philosophical insight into their circumstances or even that they would have wisdom to make ‘hard decisions concerning life’. His prayers carried with them certain specific, precise, and unambiguous goals. This is not to say that the aforementioned categories are wrong or unnecessary or that they should be neglected. To be sure, they have their place as Jesus taught us to pray, “Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…” God’s kingdom people, shaped and formed, expanded and contracted as we are by the person of Jesus, cannot begin to function apart from grounding all aspects of our lives in prayer.
Thus he says, “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God…” Where does our ‘knowledge of the will of God’ come from? This knowledge that Paul is praying for must be the sort of knowledge that comes from some place outside of themselves. And neither is he content that this filling be fleeting or partial. I sense that he desires this knowledge to be complete. There is a divine element here: Paul is not praying for them just any kind of knowledge or wisdom or understanding. Paul is praying for a deep interaction between their brains and the Spirit of God. How else can we properly know the will of God unless it is God who gives us clarity? So he is constantly ‘asking God’ to fill them (for the important motif of fill/fullness in Colossians see 1:9, 19, 24, 25; 2:2, 9, 10; 4:12, 17.)
I think it is significant what Paul prays that they might be filled with. We often asked to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit; Paul prays that the Spirit will fill them with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. In other words, it is not just some spiritual experience that Paul is praying for the Colossians, but rather he is praying for the working of the Spirit in their lives. He wants them to experience the Spirit’s work which is itself a spiritual experience. I can see that, to an extent, a mere filling of the Spirit, progressing to some euphoric experience, could possibly be rather meaningless. But what about being filled with the fruit of the Spirit (Knowledge, wisdom, understanding) so that we might understand the will of God? And if we understand the will of God is this not a ‘Spiritual experience’? Note also the passive nature of the verb ‘to fill:’ we can seek it, but it is God’s prerogative to fill. This is why Paul is constantly praying and asking God to do just that.
Again I have to note that his prayer in this respect is most significant: knowledge of the will of God. This knowledge will be demonstrated in all, spiritual wisdom and understanding. ‘All’ and ‘spiritual’ govern both nouns: ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding.’ In all things the will of God is to be determinative and it is fill us. Not an aspect of our lives is to be lived or thought apart from the will of God. However,
The reason so many Christian’s lives are messed up is because they did not take the time and do the work to discover God’s will for them. If you want to avoid life’s hardships, wrong turns and missteps, then I strongly advise you to find out what God’s will is for your life. (Here)
This is naïve at best. Knowing the will of God in our lives does not prevent hardships, wrong turns and missteps. Nor is the will of God something that we have to ‘find out’ about; the will of God is what God fills us with. There is a profound difference between ‘knowing about’ and being ‘filled with’ something. I defy this silly notion that we have to be slaving away on some great quest to know what God wants us to do or be in life. He has told us what we must ‘do,’ he has demonstrated to us what he expects, and he has shown us the steps he took to make that will known and efficacious. Frankly, the mystery is part of the adventure. Finally, the will of God is not something that is merely ‘for your life.’ The will of God, it seems to me, is far more comprehensive and expansive than the simple things in life that are summed up in one person’s daily decisions. There is a will for our lives but that will is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Our faith rests not in making every choice correctly, which is a dangerous and false doctrine called perfectionism, but in trusting the One who qualifies us (12) and rescues us (13) and redeems us (14) even when we make the wrong choices.
What we must not do, however, is assume here that Paul is constantly praying that God reveal his will for them in the sense that he wants God to tell them what step to take today, what road to travel tomorrow, or what highway to avoid on Friday. It’s not that he is asking God to show them which path to take in order that they can avoid hardships, wrong turns, and missteps. He is rather praying and asking that they will know God’s will which reassures, guards, and protects them regardless of how many missteps they take or hardships they encounter. Christianity is a combination of two lives lived: In Christ and in Colossae. Too many people, Christians foremost among them, wrongly assume that knowing the will of God is equivalent to ‘having all the right answers.’ It is not. I don’t think it is designed to either. Knowing the will of God, being filled with the will of God, means that we are filled with the strength, wisdom, understanding, and motivation to live our lives according to God’s purposes for all life in Christ. Being filled with knowledge of God’s will means having the singular focus of living for God’s purposes in life as opposed to our own.
Filled with the knowledge of God’s will is closely akin to ‘growing in the knowledge of God’ (v 10). What is the end? Well, it is actually several-fold and I will unpack these in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say that when we are fully in tune, constantly reminded of, and always anticipating God’s will in our lives we will a) live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way and bear fruit and grow in knowledge of him (10); b) be strengthened so that we might have great endurance and patience (11); c) give thanks to the Father (12). Knowing God’s will for us in Christ even while we live in Colossae gives us the courage we need to ‘walk about’ (‘live a life worthy’) in a manner that pleases Him in every way. This all, in other words, has something to do with our sanctification in Christ which is an ongoing process that will not culminate until death or the return of Christ.
I wonder if the Colossians were surprised at the contents of Paul’s prayer for them? He doesn’t pray that they will be magically shielded from all sorts of dangers. He doesn’t call down curses on the heads of the so-called ‘visitors.’ He doesn’t pray that God will heal them of all physical maladies and ailments. He doesn’t even pray that they will be protected from danger while they reside in Colossae. Instead, he prays simply that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, that no part of their existence would be left unscathed by his purposes, that they, like water jars filled to the brim with water (see John 2:7) would have no room left in their lives for the will of anyone or anything else. Filled. Completely.
I suppose it would shock most Christians if the preacher came to their hospital bedside and began to pray something like this, but here we see the ordering of priorities in church prayers: What matters? Does sickness and difficulty in life matter? Yes. Should we pray about it? Yes. The real question is not, however, if we should pray about such things but rather what are we going to pray about such things? If we have prayed that God fill us with the knowledge of His will, and He does it, then is there anything else left to pray about at all? I wonder if the church, as naïve as this may sound, can be content with a prayer the content of which is merely “I pray you are filled with the knowledge of His will.” If we are filled with His will then there is no room left not even for our own.