Filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding

Filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding

June 13, 2021           Series on Colossians

Proverbs 1:1-7; Colossians 1:9-14; Matthew 7:24-27

Filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding

            Wisdom is said to have three elements; experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

            Wisdom is more than knowledge. There are people who are very well-educated, attended the best colleges and universities in the world, but even with a generous heart one would not consider them wise! Wisdom is more than good judgement. Good judgement considers the consequences of one’s decisions, thinking before acting and speaking and having the tools to make good decisions in a variety of situations. But someone who makes a good decision now and then is not necessarily wise. Experience is an important ingredient of wisdom. Experience cannot be bought and it takes time to gain experience. But one has to admit that even though experience matters, true wisdom is not completely dependent on experience. Young people, without much experience are at times as wise or wiser than people with experience. 

Psychologists therefore see wisdom as the integration of knowledge, experience, and good judgment.

            Wisdom is a common concept in the Bible. In the OT it is a very practical concept. It is not primarily an intellectual ability or being smart. It is the ability to distinguish between good and bad, and it is about knowing your place before God. Human beings are not born with wisdom but the Bible teaches that people learn wisdom, they seek it and they grow in wisdom. We could say Biblical wisdom has to do with your heart and not your brain.

            The New Testament builds on the OT’s view of wisdom. Wisdom has to do with seeing and embracing the reign of Christ. It has to do with knowledge about what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. Wisdom is often contrasted with foolishness. And being foolish in the New Testament is to ignore or reject Jesus’ reign. It is to overlook what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. To live your lives in Jesus, to walk with him is considered to be wise!

            The NewTestament also teaches us that spiritual growth is hindered by foolishness. Kingdom of God people, are called to grow and to increase in wisdom.

            The apostle Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the congregation for what God had done for them, is followed by his intercessory prayer for them. An interesting observation is that what he is thanking God for is the same as what he is asking God for them! The reason why he is doing this is clear: Being a follower of Christ means that you have to become more and more what you already are! Martin Luther in times of doubt and personal struggles had to remind himself that he was baptized. He had found assurance in what God did in his baptism. Luther said that one has to cloth yourself with your baptism. You have to become more and more like one who is baptized. The Gospel that is already bearing fruit in our lives, has to increase its hold on us. Jesus who is our Lord, has to be affirmed as Lord every day. He, who is the Lord of all, has to become Lord over every aspect of my life: my actions, my words, my thoughts, and my view on the world. This is why the apostle Paul is praying for the members of the congregation in Colossae, members who have already been baptized, who have already been redeemed, who have already been rescued from the power of darkness, that the Gospel would bear even more fruit and would renew them.

            The Word of God still requires this of those who are redeemed and rescued. The Word of God still challenges, shapes, and forms us even though we are already God’s people. The assurance that we are already God’s very own, that we are renewed, made whole, that we are saints, this assurance does not mean that there is no need for us to grow in faith, to work and pray for renewal, and to grow in wisdom. If we were ever to think that we have arrived, or that we don’t need to grow, then we miss a crucial Biblical point. We would be foolish to do so.

            Growth takes place when the Spirit of God guides us in deeper wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. I wonder if we pay enough attention to this process? How often do we pray for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding?

            We all agree that we live in a complex world, where it is very hard to distinguish between what is true and false, what is good and evil, and what builds up and what tears down. It is not easy nowadays to know what is right and wrong for the pace and complexity of life have increased dramatically. We don’t have much time to pause and reflect on a topic for the topics change rapidly. So, it is increasingly difficult to form a responsible, informed, and wise opinion on any topic nowadays. What is needed today is wisdom and spiritual sensitivity to be able to discern our world.

              Wisdom, knowledge, understanding are key concepts in the Apostle’s letter (see 1:28, 2:2-3, 3:10, 16, 4:5).  Why are these concepts key and why does the Apostle spend so much time on these?  Well, he warns the congregation against people with strange philosophies, theories and views who want to deceive the congregation (2:8, 18). There are people active in the congregation who want to cause confusion and division and they present themselves as the ones who are wise, with knowledge and insight. They present to the congregation, what we today could call conspiracy theories disguised as wisdom. The congregation understandably did not always know what is true or who to believe or not. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear in the face of deception and confusing: Hold onto what is true! Jesus is real and true wisdom. And true wisdom is to follow him as Lord. True obedience is to follow Christ and to refuse to embrace theories, teachings, and conspiracies. The Apostle writes in 2:2-4: “….that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:8, 2:18, 23). He is in essence saying: “Go back to the basics of your faith!”

            His words were of course relevant back then. They still are today. Let’s admit it. Today there are some very strange ideas, theories and contemporary philosophies floating around. Some theories and ideas are so farfetched and unlikely that it is easy to see what they really are. Others however, have some aspects of truth, or they present themselves in a way that may seem plausible.  And there are some that may even seem wise, they may have the veneer of truth and wisdom. Therefore, they are enticing. Some even come clothed as being Christian. Colossians 2:23 says that “these have indeed an appearance of wisdom……”.  But they are in fact foolish, not worthy of our time and devotion, and outright dangerous! The Apostle prays that the church in Colossae may receive wisdom to be able to discern what is true. We today also wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to know right from wrong, truth from lies, what builds up and what tears down, what unites and what divides.

 And as people of faith, we need wisdom, knowledge, and insight to see these dangerous and deceiving ideas, philosophies and theories. Now there is a particular example that has deceived millions of Christians over the last century in many countries from Brazil to the former Yugoslavia.

            And now it is raising its head in our country. What I am about to point out is neither new, nor am I the first or only theologian who warn against its dangers. The National Council of Churches, Evangelical leaders, mainline Christian denominations from the Lutheran, Presbyterian, UCC and Episcopal churches, as well as the evangelical magazine that Billy Graham started, Christianity Today, warn against its dangers. It presents itself as something that has to do with two things that seem good and harmless: Christian faith and love of nation.

            It is called Christian Nationalism. Christian Nationalism is neither Christian nor is it a healthy love of country. Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the state should take active steps to keep it Christian. Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. Christian nationalists believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square.

Christian nationalists want to define America as a Christian nation and they want the government to promote a specific cultural template as the official culture of the country.  Christian nationalism takes the name of Christ for a worldly political agenda, proclaiming that its program is thepolitical program for every true believer. However, the Biblical view is clear that it is the church, and not the state who is authorized to proclaim the name of Jesus and carry his standard into the world. The message of Jesus is not a tool of political propaganda and the church is not the handmaiden and cheerleader of the state.

            Christianity is a religion focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ, as defined by the Bible and our Creeds. It is the gathering of people “from every nation and tribe and people and language,” who worship Jesus as the Lord (Rev. 7:9), a faith that unites Jews and Greeks, Americans and non-Americans. Christians have always understood that their faith challenge, affect, and transcend their worldly loyalties.

            Christian faith is not the possession of political parties, or a tool for political purposes, or for a worldly or political agenda. What Christian faith requires of all followers of Christ is to love God, love our neighbor and to seek justice.

            Christian nationalism is, by contrast, a political ideology focused on the national identity of one country. It is about raw political power, it is about an earthly kingdom and not about God’s kingdom.

            Now I understand that this can be confusing for we are here because we love God and Christ. And we all love our country. Combining the words Christian and nationalism seems harmless and even good. It, in the words of the Apostle may “…. have indeed an appearance of wisdom.

But this worldview hollows out the work of Christ who died for Jews, Gentiles, men, women, for all people. The body of Christ, the church, is God’s way of saying that God’s love transcends national, political, cultural interest and national borders. It is saying that Christ is the Lord and not Caesar.  

            So, the Apostle Paul’s words are still relevant. We need insight, knowledge, and wisdom to hold onto God’s truth, which is Jesus Christ.  We also need courage to speak out even if when it is hard to do. We need wisdom to be able to distinguish between what is good, holy, pure, right, what builds up, what unites from what is wrong, lies, what tears down, and what divides. We need to also go back to basics: “….that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In Him is all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Amen.