Knowledge – Wisdom – Understanding

Thoughts from a message a few weeks ago. By: Pastor Joseph Sowers

Colossians 1:9–12 (ESV) And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

How to start? I had the privilege of bringing a message to God’s people based upon Colossians 1:9 – well, it was supposed to be based on verses 9 through 14 but I only managed to make it through the first “verse”.  While I was preparing and since, I have been pondering how knowledge, wisdom and understanding are intertwined or should I say, should be intertwined, interdependent and supporting each other.

What follows is intended to be more along the lines of what is floating around in my head than an exegesis of the passage above.  It is not authoritative or exhaustive; it is colored by my past experiences and finite thought processes; my hope (desire) is that it will prompt some pondering and good discussions among those who read it.

Let’s define the terms so that we at least attempt to start in the same place.

Knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. (Mac “Smart Lookup”)

Wisdom: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise. (Mac “Smart Lookup”)

Understanding: the ability to understand something; comprehension. (Mac “Smart Lookup”)

In the passage above, wisdom and understanding start with (are based upon) knowledge.  The more we comprehend the knowledge we have the better we can apply that knowledge to our decision-making process.  For me, the more understanding I have, the more I realize I need to continue to gain information to properly apply that knowledge and appear wise.  Each of the three should lead to the desire to increase the other two.  Sadly, at times, knowledge is extolled above the other two or is somehow misconstrued to be equivalent to the others.

There are so many different directions my thoughts have gone in regard to this; so much so, that it might be difficult to get it from my head to the page in a coherent, systematic way.

What if the knowledge I have is false knowledge, how does this impact my understanding and my ability to be wise?  Let me be clear, the Bible is true and the knowledge it gives me, of the triune God and the way to salvation is reliable.  I want to deal with knowledge that we have from outside the Holy Scriptures which may impact the way we view and/or interpret/apply the Scriptures.  This may get messy, but that is okay.

Let’s come to grips with the reality that most, or at least a good portion, of the “knowledge” we have accumulated over our lives may or may not be reliable.  Are we willing to acknowledge that the bulk of our “facts” and “information” have been tainted by people who had a particular “axe to grind” and it is possible the facts and information we have, may not actually be TRUE?  Let that sink in for a moment……have you ever believed something to be true because you heard it from a “reliable” source and you shared the knowledge with others, only to find out later that it was either an outright fabrication or only a small portion of the facts; which if all the facts/information had been shared, a different conclusion would have been reached?  Have you, like me, ever wondered if it is even possible to get facts?  (“Just the facts ma’am” – Joe Friday) Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.”; we are all certain the victors would never shade the facts to make themselves look better, right?  Pilate asked in John18:38 “What is truth?”  Maybe we would be well served to critically ask “is that truth”.  Type in your favorite search engine: “facts that turned out to be false” and you may find several things that you thought were true that, by some accounts, aren’t.  There may even be things you were pretty sure were taught as biblical only to find out – not so much; God helps those who help themselves??

I could go on longer and in different directions about knowledge but, hopefully, the point about the reliability of our knowledge has been made.

If understanding is properly comprehending the facts and wisdom is the proper application in the light of knowledge; I can see how I cannot have true wisdom and understanding if it is based upon knowledge that is false.  Can true understanding and wisdom be had in a world of shifting “facts” and relative truth?  Am I willing to admit that my wisdom is based only on the knowledge I am willing to accept regardless of its validity?  We live in a world full of people who think they are understanding and wise but how can they be, how can we be, if we choose to believe as true, misinformation and lies?  If I am honest, sometimes I am one of those people.

For those of you hoping I was going to end this with an “easy fix”; I apologize for disappointing.  There is no easy fix.  There are things we can do to help guard our hearts and minds, but I assure you it will not be “easy” and definitely not novel.  We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  We need to ask the Lord to compel us to believe and hold to His Word as truth regardless of how hard or often the “truth” of the world tries to hammer away at it.  We need to pray for each other the way Paul prayed for the church at Colossae; we need to pray that we “….may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…”.

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