Colossians 1:9b

All Wisdom & Spiritual Understanding



1. The false teachers who had begun their evil work in Colossae gloried in what they viewed as their special knowledge.

a. They told the Colossian believers that if they followed their teachers, they too could have this special knowledge…

b. Their teachings later developed into Gnosticism… (gnosis was a favorite word of the Gnostics.)

c. Paul prays for the Colossians using the very language of the cult… however, giving it distinctly Christian meaning — true knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

2. Paul’s desire was that the Colossian believers know God’s will.

a. Knowledge: ἐπιγινώσκω – epiginōskō = a full or deep knowledge of; more than a superficial acquaintance;

b. These believers already knew the grace of God in truth. (vs. 6c)

c. They understood well the marvelous, saving grace of God.

d. But now Paul wants them to come to a DEEPER knowledge of spiritual things; to a full knowledge of His will.

3. Paul prays that they would be FILLED with this deep knowledge of God’s will… in other words, that it would have a controlling effect on their lives.

a. God wants us to be intelligent Christians and KNOW His word and will.

b. God wants this knowledge of His will to RULE in our lives… control our decisions… and choices…

c. To be filled with the knowledge of His will means that we must be willing to leave our will behind – not my will but thine be done… (that is a pre-requisite to knowing His will!)

4. Paul takes his prayer request a step further.

a. It is possible to know much about God’s will… to know much about what the Bible says, and still not have the DISCERNMENT to know how to put it to use in real life.
• Knowledge and wisdom are not the same.
• In January 1970, Max Born died. A close friend of Albert Einstein, he was one of the great minds of the twentieth century. In an interview on German television before his death, Born commented: “I’d be happier if we had scientists with less brains and more wisdom.”
• Knowledge and wisdom are not the same.

b. Paul prays for believers to be filled with knowledge… but also that that knowledge would be operative in the sphere of wisdom and spiritual discernment for the believers at Colossae.

c. May this be the prayer request we continually pray for one another too… (this is HOW to pray…)

All Wisdom

1. The term: Wisdom: (Sophia) – the general term for wisdom of all sorts; the general principles of wisdom.

2. The word spiritual that appears before understanding in English grammatically is linked to BOTH wisdom and understanding.

a. This spiritual wisdom stands in contrast to the wisdom of the world…

b. Men of the world have wisdom… in earthly things.
• Men use wisdom to build successful businesses… to build empires… in conducting their earthly lives… and dealing with other people.
• In fact, most of the book of Proverbs deals with wisdom that the unsaved could incorporate into their earthly lives and improve their earthly lives immensely.
• Consider the many proverbs that deal with diligence; the safety that comes from a moral life; avoiding criminals; careful use of one’s tongue; good stewardship with one’s material goods; carefully choosing one’s friends.
• But that is not spiritual wisdom… until it is applied in the spiritual realm.
• The natural man CANNOT understand the spiritual realm. It is foolishness to them. They are dead to the spiritual realm.
• Men in the world have discussed the subject of wisdom and philosophy for centuries… the world has produced many wise philosophers and sages – wise in the ways of the world.
• But that is a different kind of wisdom… one which deals with life on earth… life in the natural realm.
• Paul’s prayer is that believers would have the knowledge of God’s will – and that that knowledge would be governed by spiritual wisdom… the wisdom to know how to put that knowledge to good use for the glory of God.

3. Examples of SPIRITUAL wisdom:

a. Psalm 107:43 – wisdom enables a man to see the lovingkindness of God in the everyday affairs of life.
• Can you see God’s lovingkindness in your declining health?
• Can you see God’s lovingkindness in that bitter experience you just endured?
• Can you see God’s livingkindness in your recent failure… when you fell flat on your face spiritually?
• True, spiritual wisdom enables us to see God’s grace and kindness everywhere and in all things… not just when He rescues us from trouble or tragedy, but even when He allows us to go right THROUGH those deep waters!

b. Hosea 14:9 – the wise understand the ways of the Lord
• Who is wise? The one knows that the ways of the Lord are right…
• The ways of the Lord include… returning to the Lord after a fall (14:1), praising Him (vs. 2), being healed from backsliding (vs. 4), experiencing God as the dew (vs. 5), dwelling under His shadow (vs. 7).
• It is the way of wisdom to realize that we are going to fall on occasion… but wisdom demands we get back up and continue on in the ways of the Lord…
• It was spiritual wisdom that enabled Paul to understand the ways of the Lord when he struggled and failed… and finally cried out, “O wretched man that I am…” – and from that failure LEARN God’s ways… of faith…

c. Psalm 51:6 – a God-taught wisdom is known deep down in our gut… and often through the worst of circumstances…
• In this Psalm David repents of his sin with Bathsheba.
• Through this awful experience David LEARNED wisdom… deep down in his soul… like he never knew wisdom before…
• He now knew experientially how sinful, painful, and damaging his sin really was… that is wisdom… to learn to hate evil and depart from it.
• Nobody has a more thorough, experiential knowledge of the dangers of alcohol than an alcoholic…
• Nobody has a more thorough, experiential knowledge of the awful consequences of immorality than one who has failed in that arena.
• David learned the hard way… that God desires TRUTH in our inner parts… perhaps David had been lying to himself… knowing that he had been lustful, but always believing he was above falling in that area. He learned the ugly truth about himself… way down deep in his soul.
• Through his failure came spiritual wisdom. He learned that lesson… like a little boy who is told 1000 times that the stove is hot… but doesn’t REALLY learn the lesson till after he burns his hand. Burnt hands hurt!
• David learned a spiritual lesson – about being honest with himself about himself… that’s spiritual wisdom.

d. Psalm 90:12 – teach us to number our days… (for the Lord) so we may apply our hearts to wisdom…
• Wisdom must be applied from the heart… not just intellectual data… but knowledge that is applied… right from the heart.
• Wisdom includes an acknowledgement that our days on earth are limited, and it is eternity that really matters.
• It is one thing to know this intellectually (that our days are numbered) – it is quite another thing to LIVE like we knew it… and use our time wisely.
• That’s wisdom… realizing that our time on earth is short… precious… and to be handled with care… and used for the glory of God.

e. Prov. 11:2 – true wisdom is with the lowly… proud men know nothing of this kind of wisdom…
• Wisdom walks humbly with God…not in egotism or self will, but walking humbly and softly before the One who is able to make the simple wise… before the One who is able to shine light and illumination on our spiritual pathway… /
• Wisdom bows humbly and reverentially before God’s Word… in those areas that we don’t understand… or seem hard to believe… or seem contrary to experience… wisdom bows before the inspired Word of God… and lets God be God.
• Wisdom recognizes that that which seems so puzzling to us and so difficult to us is not difficult at all to the Lord.
• Wisdom accepts that… and bows humbly before it…
• Peter tells us that if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, He will exalt us in due time.
• Spiritual wisdom says that the way to be lifted up is to bow down… all our dreams and ambitions in ashes at His feet…
• With the lowly is wisdom… spiritual wisdom.

f. Prov. 9:10 – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of this kind of wisdom.
• Spiritual wisdom begins with the fear of God.
• A godly fear and reverence is the backdrop for all the thoughts, words, motives, goals, and deeds…
• The man with spiritual discernment never steps outside of the realm of godly fear… reverence…

g. Col. 1:28 – it is the responsibility of church leaders to TEACH the saints about wisdom… the ways of wisdom… it is part of maturity.
• Here Paul acknowledges that the saints need to be taught in the ways of wisdom…
• Spiritual wisdom doesn’t just descend on us from on high… like the dew of heaven. It is to be taught… and learned…
• One of the reasons for the local church is that the church leaders – who ought to HAVE discernment… are to teach that discernment to the Body…
• As we study through Colossians, the concept of spiritual wisdom and understanding appears over & over again!
• Col. 3:16 – let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.
• Col. 4:5 – it is our testimony to the world – to walk in wisdom.

h. Jas. 3:13 – spiritual wisdom is SHOWN in a meek, Christ-like life…
• James acknowledges here that problems DO arise among God’s people…
• Sometimes God’s people – yes even in the local church – can bring strife and envy and confusion into the Lord’s House… (vs. 14-15)
• This is the result of applying earthly, sensual wisdom.
• Jas. 3:17 – But God’s wisdom is first pure… etc… this wisdom is characterized by Christ-like qualities…
• Remember that the next time trouble brews in the local church… true wisdom is not to be found in the proud know it all who demands his own way.
• True wisdom is to be found in the humble saint whose wisdom is manifested in purity… peace… gentleness… easily entreated… etc…
• True wisdom is Christ-likeness.
• Remember that the next time trouble brews in your home… or at the office.
• You may not know what to DO right away… the course of action might not be immediately apparent… but what to BE is paramount… that is true wisdom…
• When family problems arise, there is a lot of wisdom in being lowly enough to say, “I don’t know what to do. Let’s ask God for help and guidance. And let’s manifest Christ-like qualities until we KNOW for sure which way to go and what to do…”
• THAT is wisdom from above: meek; humble; God- fearing; humbly seeking wisdom; no partiality; and easily entreated and submissive when God is ready to guide… “speak Lord, for thy servant heareth…”
• Wisdom is more than knowledge. It is a spirit… an attitude… like the wisdom of a little child holding out his hand for his father to lead him along…

5. ALL wisdom…

a. All wisdom refers to all kinds of wisdom…

b. All kinds of applications of spiritual wisdom…

c. Spiritual wisdom needs to be operating in EVERY area of our lives.

d. Is there any area of your Christian life where you DON’T need spiritual understanding? (home; office; getting along with the unsaved; working in the world; dealing with problems in the local church; problems in the family; making decisions;

Spiritual Understanding

1. Understanding: While the term sophia is a more general term for wisdom, this is a more particular, specialized term, referring to discernment… the application of wisdom to real life.

a. Expositors’ defines sunesis as: “the special faculty of intelligence or insight which discriminates between the false and the true and grasps the relations in which things stand to each other.”

b. We might think of this term as discernment… sound judgment… a good sense of smell… able to smell the difference between that which is spiritually healthy and that which is foul and corrupt…

2. Spiritual understanding as discernment:

a. Spiritual understanding is able to SMELL fleshly wisdom (II Cor. 1:12). (I smell something foul in the church growth movement today – using Madison Avenue techniques to get people into the church… marketing Christianity… and molding it and changing it to meet the demands of the market…)

b. Spiritual understanding is able to SEE through the outward show (appearance) of wisdom (Col. 2:23)… and an outward show or a “form” of godliness in the ecumenical movement… getting along with all religions… the awful, corrupting influence of the charismatic movement has penetrated even as far as fundamental circles…

c. Spiritual understanding can SENSE when worship is of the flesh or the Spirit. (Phil. 3:3) I can sense something terribly wrong with the new wave type worship spreading across our country in the past decade or so… worldliness in worship… rock music… casual dress… dumbing down of the sermons… emphasis on entertainment rather than learning God’s Word… and growing in the knowledge of His will…

d. Spiritual understanding can SPOT a counterfeit and isn’t fooled by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness used by false teachers to confuse and ultimately capture ignorant, untaught believers. (Eph. 4:14) Can you spot a counterfeit? Study the original!

e. Spiritual understanding can DISTINGUISH the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. (I John 4:1,6)

f. Ezra 4:3 – Zerubbabel had discernment… when the Jews adversaries offered to help them build the temple, Zerubbabel had the discernment to say, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God…”

g. Neh. 6:2 – Nehemiah had enough discernment to know not to cooperate with Tobiah and Sanballat — he knew they were enemies of God, that they wanted to distract him from the Lord’s work, and to cause him to compromise… Nehemiah knew that they had nothing in common… no basis for working together…

h. Paul was trying to drill some discernment into the heads of the Corinthians by warning them that the enemy attacks through counterfeiting the truth… another gospel, another Jesus, another spirit…

How Spiritual Discernment is Attained:


1. Spiritual understanding is what we commonly refer to as discernment. Not all believers have it… hence Paul constantly prays for discernment for the saints in all the churches.

a. For the Colossian believers (Col. 1:9) – discernment in the will of God… and walking in it…

b. For the Philippian believers (Phil. 1:9-10) [that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment].

c. For the Ephesian believers (Eph. 1:17) – that God would open their eyes with respect to their position in Christ…

2. ASK – through personal prayer (Jas. 1:6-7)

a. God GIVES discernment… but not every believer has discernment. Not every asks.

b. We proudly assume we don’t need spiritual wisdom in this situation or that… until we fail repeatedly…


1. It is necessary to PRAY for discernment, but don’t stop there. Discernment GROWS out of a clear understanding of God’s Word… the knowledge of His will… there are no shortcuts.

a. SEEK – Those who seek wisdom shall find her – if we seek her like those who seek for precious metals (Prov. 2:2-6)
• Dig for it in the word… like gold diggers who are hungry for a deep mine full of gold!
• God feeds us in proportion to our hunger. The hungry soul is fed.
• The soul that feeds on the chaff won’t be hungry for what God offers.

b. STUDY – Through studying the Word of God – coming to a full knowledge of His will in His Word!
• Study to show thyself approved of God!
• Knowledge of God’s will and Word isn’t automatic in the Christian life. We are to study and learn.
• The Bible says that even Jesus had to grow in wisdom…


1. Such wisdom and discernment is only ours through dedication to Christ… an abiding relationship TO Him…

a. Jesus said that “Without Me ye can DO nothing.” But not only can we DO nothing… in another sense, we will not experience true spiritual wisdom either.

b. Col. 2:3 – In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

c. Luke 11:34 – When the eye is single, the whole body shall be full of light… a single eye brings supernatural illumination…

d. When the believer is single-mindedly focused on Christ, he is FULL of illumination… full of wisdom and discernment…

e. I Cor. 1:30 (Cf. vs. 20-21) — in Christ, He (Christ) is made unto us WISDOM…
• Spiritual understanding is not the result of academic study ONLY.
• It is the result of study PLUS a close relationship to Christ… study PLUS a life that revolves around Christ… that is constantly looking unto Jesus… seeking His face… His guidance…
• No wonder the man who wrote Col. 1:9 stated as his life’s goal: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection!”

c. The heavenly-minded believer, focused on Christ and things above, who is filled with or controlled by the knowledge of God’s will, will be discerning in spiritual things.
• He is FILLED with the Holy Spirit… and filled with the knowledge of God’s will…
• This kind of Spirit filling or control is a prerequisite for the knowledge of God’s will to operate in the realm of discernment…
• What a powerful life – when believer is also filled with BOTH knowledge and the discernment to put it to good use… because he is connected to God… filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit.
• Truth is not merely an intellectual pursuit. It involves and requires the intellect, but truth is not fully grasped until it is lived out in the spiritual realm… where it is experienced. Then it becomes ours. That’s when it sinks in.
• That is true wisdom… and spiritual understanding… to KNOW truth… in head, heart and life.

2. Paul was not content to know that the Colossians were saved. Nor was he content to know that they were saved and well taught.

a. It is possible to be saved and to be well taught (intellectually) and not have the discernment to put that knowledge into practice.

b. It is possible (it happens all the time!) for a believer to have much good, Biblically sound doctrine and knowledge in his head, and to be BUSY doing things for God… and omit that close heart communion and relationship to Christ… hence, he will lack discernment.

c. He knows doctrine and is busy serving – and to do it all APART from the realm of spiritual wisdom and understanding.

d. This believer LOOKS like he is a wise and faithful servant… but he may be desperately lacking spiritual wisdom and discernment… and easily tossed to and fro… or become a follower of men…

e. It is possible to be saved, to know much about God’s will – and to lack the discernment to know HOW to use it…

f. Solomon was saved. He had lots of knowledge and wisdom… but did not have the discernment to put it into practice…

g. Phil.1:9 – Paul prayed this for the Philippians: “that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” — knowledge plus discernment to use it wisely…

3. I Cor. 2:14 – The natural man can know nothing of this kind of wisdom and spiritual understanding it is foolishness to him.
• The carnal, worldly minded believer will also scoff at it as foolish.
• I Cor. 2:15 – The spiritual man DISCERNS all things… but is understood by very few people… his wisdom and spiritual understanding is foreign to them… he is discerned of no one.

a. There is a direct connection between being spiritual and being discerning…

b. The spiritual man is yielded… surrendered… walking by faith… leaning on Christ for every step… looking to the Lord… focused on Christ and things above… and thus his whole body is FULL of light… wisdom… discernment…

c. Discernment includes the intellect, but is far more than mere intellect. It is called SPIRITUAL discernment… and is the possession only of a spiritual man.

d. It cannot be possessed by the unsaved… NOR by the carnal Christian.

e. The flesh knows nothing of it. To the carnal mind it is foolishness… this is so even of the carnal Christian.

f. They LAUGH at us and mock us because of some of our practices which stem from spiritual discernment…

g. Phil. 1:9-10 demands that we discriminate between things that mediocre and things that are excellent… and when we sacrifice to chose the excellent things, we are ridiculed…

h. Lev. 10:10 – the Old Testament priests had to teach people the difference between holy and unholy… clean and unclean. Some things were obvious. Other things were not so obvious and required spiritual discernment.

i. We are discriminate and use sound judgment in areas of dress… music… what we read and watch… where we go…

j. The unbelieving liberals mock us. But so do the New Evangelicals!

4. In some circles in Christendom, knowledge is considered a second class citizen… as if knowledge were almost UN-spiritual.

a. In some circles, men glory in ACTION… and care little for thought.
• Men want to know what to DO… and care little for what they should BE…

b. In other circles, believers are more concerned about how they FEEL rather than how they should think…
• Too often we hear Christians say, “I don’t care about theology. I just care about Jesus.”
• Some look at studying and knowledge of theology to be mere academics. Now it CAN be… but it should not be. It ought to be a very SPIRITUAL exercise…
• The charismatic movement today has exalted experience and feelings OVER knowledge.
• They seek to bypass the intellect and aim directly at the heart and emotions.
• Not so with the apostle Paul. He appeals to the head first… so that truth is understood… and THEN and only then can it sink in and affect the heart.
• Bypassing knowledge and learning is not at all spiritual. It is spurious! It is dangerous!
• Here Paul peels off the superficial veneer so all can see how shallow, shameful, and spurious is their claim.

c. Paul prays that believers would be filled with a deep knowledge of the will of God… nothing shallow or superficial about that!

d. Paul prays for believers to be FILLED with knowledge of God’s will IN all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

e. There is nothing unspiritual about studying a book – we are spiritual beings, consisting of intellect, emotion, and will. A spiritual man is spiritual in all areas of life.
• Obtaining spiritual wisdom and understanding is not a mystical experience.
• Rather, it is a stewardship of the intelligence God gave us… and expects us to use.
• Being spiritual does not mean we leave our brains at the front door. We are NOT to “let go” of our mind and emotions and let God take over.
• In fact, the evidence of true spirituality is self control – which includes control over our mind. The Spirit filled man has complete control over all of his mental faculties … and is using his intellect to THINK… reason, test, discriminate, evaluate, compare, analyze, and ultimately judge.

f. Truth is aimed at all three parts of man – but it must enter the head first… then the heart… then the will… order matters.

g. Sometimes believers today shy away from doctrine… from knowledge of the Bible… they view studying theology as useless and as unrelated to life as studying some of the courses they took in college – which information they have never had any practical need for.

h. Not so with doctrine. We will see in the next passage that the purpose of this knowledge is THAT we might walk worthy!

i. Knowledge, wisdom and spiritual understanding are all directly related to our walk.

6. Paul prays for a filling with deep knowledge of God’s will.

a. AND he prays that that knowledge would operate in the SPHERE of spiritual wisdom and understanding.

b. It is one thing to have knowledge – even a deep knowledge.

c. It is another thing to have the spiritual wisdom and understanding (discernment) to put it into practice…

d. This part of the prayer is that the believers would not only have the knowledge, but would KNOW how to apply it! That’s discernment.

7. Discernment is needed in our day and age. (Matt. 10:16)

a. When Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He did so after teaching them for 3½ years. He taught them the knowledge of the will of God.

b. However, He also challenged them to be discerning.

c. He reminded them that they were sheep among wolves. The world is a hostile place to the believer and to Christianity.

d. Wolves tear sheep to pieces and feed off their flesh. That is Jesus’ picture of the relationship between false teachers and the believer.

e. Yet believers today disdain the Biblical concept of separation and seem to embrace anyone who says something nice about Jesus. False teachers look nice – they look like us – but they are really ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing.

f. Therefore the disciple is to be as wise as a serpent… don’t be foolish.

g. And what a great and necessary balance Jesus strikes between on the one hand — the wise cunning of a serpent (which if taken to the extreme could lead to craftiness, trickery, and manipulation) — and on the other hand, the harmless, innocence of a dove (which if taken to an extreme could easily become gullible and be duped).

h. This balance prevents the believer from becoming an extremist… in either direction… balanced discernment!

i. A good part of Christendom today demonstrates a great lack of discernment and is appalling.
• God commands us to be separate from the world and not to be conformed by it. It is our enemy! Friendship with the world is enmity with God.
• Yet most of Christendom today ignores this fact – and has adopted much of the world’s lifestyle… music… and has brought much of the world into the churches.
• AW Tozer wrote a little book back in the 50’s because he saw this incipient form of what we see today. The book was entitled: “The World: Our Playground or Battleground?”
• God didn’t place the church in the world to have fun. Our purpose here is not be “fulfilled and happy.”
• Our purpose here is to represent the TRUTH of Jesus Christ… in a world that is just as hostile to Christ today as the very crowd that 2000 years ago chanted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

8. There are COUNTLESS issues to distract us from God’s purpose for our lives.

a. The Calvinists vs. the Arminian controversy… continues unabated… confusing Christians and dividing churches as it has since the 1500’s!

b. What used to be a relatively simple war to understand in the 1920’s between the fundamentalists and the modernists got a bit more complicated in the late 60’s and 70’s… because it expanded and included a third group: neo evangelicalism.

c. Today, new evangelicalism has morphed into countless varieties…

d. Dispensationalism is under attack from extremes WITHIN the dispensational camp! – progressive dispensationalism and ultra dispensationalism… be discerning…

e. There is the ever-growing problem of the dumbing down of the church… cutting short the preaching of the Word and substituting entertainment… now even comedians…

f. In addition there is the ever growing influence of the charismatic movement – which just a few decades ago was considered the radical fringe… but now seem to exerting their spiritually unhealthy influence virtually everywhere…

g. Church music which was always such a blessing to the churches has now become the most explosive and divisive issue… dividing churches all over the country… who ever would have imagined that rock music would ever be allowed in the churches? Even the world condemned Elvis Presley when he first came on TV in the 50’s. The world immediately recognized the music as sensual and sexual – and he was banned… but the tide turned in the world… and now in the 21st century – that which is far worse is accepted in the churches… and offered to God as a sacrifice?!?

h. People without a good foundation in the Scriptures will be lacking in discernment… will not see the importance of such issues… they will see all of these things as “much ado about nothing… and consequently, will easily be tossed to and fro… by every wind of doctrine and every new fad that comes down the pike.

i. So while some churches choose to swell their ranks by offering an endless series of concerts, shows, videos, plays, skits, comedians, celebrities, and all the latest Christian fads… we choose the old fashioned route: preach the Word… the whole counsel of God… even the parts that might not seem so interesting or exciting…

9. This was exactly the problem the believers faced at Colossae.

a. They faced 3-4 different forms of corruption of the truth.

b. Today, we face hundreds of forms of corruption of the truth… with new ones cropping up every day… and expect this corruption to accelerate in the years ahead.

c. More than ever, our most urgent need is to be praying for spiritual discernment… wisdom and spiritual understanding to keep us safe from the wiles of the devil.

d. It’s worth setting Wednesday nights apart for that!

e. But what do we pray for? Uncle Fred’s sore back; Aunt Millie’s arthritis; Alice’s depression; a better paying job for Tom; new car for Phil…

f. That was definitely NOT the emphasis in any of the recorded prayers of the apostles.

g. Pray for Aunt Millie if she’s sick – but especially pray for God to open the eyes of our understanding and give us spiritual wisdom and discernment… that is our greatest need today… by far!

h. Being healthy and financially stable is good – but it isn’t our greatest need… not by a long shot!

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