“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9).
Did you know the steam engine was invented during the life of Christ by a shoemaker in Alexandria, Egypt? Heronas of Alexandria noticed that when water boiled, the steam had energy; so he made a metal ball with nozzles at polar opposites, filled it with water and mounted it on an axle over a fire and watched it spin. He named it “the wind machine” and used to show it off at parties.
In Colossians 1, Paul prayed for the Christians in Colossae, and by extension us, to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This isn’t a difficult thing. Knowledge is simple data, information. We have ready access to the written record of God’s will in Scripture. All of us can be, and many of us are, filled with knowledge of God’s will. If Paul’s prayer had ended there, it hardly would have been worth praying. Knowledge is cheap, easily obtained and often completely useless on its own or dangerous when misapplied. I doubt Paul envisioned the number of Bible Trivia champions who fill our churches when he wrote this.
The tough part comes in the qualifiers. Paul prayed we would possess this knowledge in wisdom and understanding. These are much rarer. Understanding is the ability to see the pattern, to do the puzzle, to fit the data into usable categories. In the story of Heronas, lots of people through the ages have watched a tea kettle boil and seen the pressure of the steam. Heronas not only possessed the data—fire heats water, water boils into steam, steam produces pressure, etc.—he envisioned how this data could fit together into a pattern. We must learn to see handle God’s Word contextually. Some of us are able to do this with the knowledge of God’s Word we possess. While many see Scripture as a series of stories and quotes, Paul wanted us to see how each piece fits together to give a complete picture.
Heronas had remarkable knowledge and understanding, but he lacked wisdom. He could collect the information and form it into a whistling, spinning ball with which to entertain his friends; but it wasn’t for nearly another 2,000 years that anyone had the wisdom to see how to use the steam engine practically to change the world. The popular notion of wisdom is characterized by a poorly dressed man sitting on a cold mountain contemplating questions of no practical moment. This is the opposite of wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to find a practical use for the understanding of the information you have. As did Heronas, this is where we fail. We have the most powerful information in the world, and often we spend much time, thought and effort into categorizing and fitting it together into neat patterns; but it never makes a change in our lives. God’s Word is powerful, and it is wasted when it is not put to practical use. We become curiosities to the world—a subculture to be studied and bring amusement. When we develop the wisdom God wants us to have, we will live out what we know and see in Scripture in every aspect of our lives.