by Allan Bevere
In the opening of their letter to the Colossians, Paul and Timothy offer specific prayers for the church there: [ene_ptp] …asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God (1:9-10).
In ancient Judaism the knowledge of God’s will is known through the Law of Moses (e.g. Rom. 2:17-20; Bar. 3:24-4:4; Sir. 24:23). Such knowledge is to be had through “spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, wisdom and understanding were two of the three principal intellectual virtues. Unlike what Aristotle called “the moral virtues” which were acquired through education, he believed that the intellectual virtues were given by a combination of nature and nurture, that is, while such virtues could be strengthened through experience and education, it was necessary that a person be given them by “natural endowments” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1143b 8-9; Aristotle will contradict himself on this later in his Ethics).
Paul and Timothy, however, appear to have a more Jewish understanding in mind.
Wisdom and understanding are not given by nature, but are received as divine gifts. Thus, the writers can pray and ask God to grant these “virtues” to the Christians at Colossae. Even though such virtues are divinely received, they can also be nurtured as one travels with Christ and his church along the way of discipleship. Paul prays that the Colossians may be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will.” Such filling suggests movement toward a completed or finished state. Spiritual growth is in mind here. So while knowledge revealed through spiritual wisdom and understanding are divinely given, the believer plays an important role in nurturing those gifts.
Such knowledge “suggests the ability to discern the truth and to make good decisions based on that truth” (Moo, Colossians, p. 94). This knowledge is necessary if the Christians at Colossae are to “bear fruit in every good work.” The imagery of bearing fruit in one’s life is found throughout ancient Jewish literature, particularly in the prophets of the Old Testament (e.g. Isa. 37:31; Jer. 17:8; Ezek. 17:23).
The authors of Colossians are not interested in divine knowledge for its own sake. Rather, it is to aid the Colossians in their life together as the church. The gospel is credible in and of itself, but it only gains credibility as it is demonstrated by individual saints and the church collectively in the good works that bear witness to God’s kingdom. Christian convictions must be revealed in practice (cf. James 2:18). Being credible and living credibly cannot be separated.
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