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.
It’s hard to imagine knowing God’s will without having spiritual wisdom and understanding, but I think Paul’s extra words to modify this knowledge are necessary, because knowledge and wisdom are two distinct things. Knowledge has to do with facts. Wisdom has to do with applying facts to lifestyle. Knowledge of God’s will without spiritual wisdom is incomplete. Knowing God’s will without the wisdom to live it out is sin—James agrees: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (4:17). Knowledge without wisdom can only lead to pride (1 Cor. 8:1). Though knowledge is absolutely necessary for wisdom—so much so that in most of Paul’s prayers he asks for it specifically—it is not complete without the wisdom and understanding that puts it all together and translates it into action.
Spiritual wisdom essentially is the ability to see reality. That doesn’t explain what I mean very well because reality can be a very ambiguous term. Hopefully this will clear up what I mean: “for we walk by faith, not by sight” — real faith has eyes to see the spiritual reality that our physical eyes cannot see. It sees ultimate reality. Abraham went to live in a foreign land because we was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10)– and that was the ultimate, absolute reality. His physical eyes couldn’t see heaven, but his spiritual eyes could—that’s faith. Wisdom walks like that. We walk by faith, not by sight.
Not only does faith see spiritual reality; it loves spiritual reality. It sees the beauty of God himself and pursues him. It sees the beauty of the unseen, unfulfilled promises of God and pursues them. It seeks the reward of obedience. It is enamored and overwhelmed with God’s glory. Faith enables our spiritual tongue to taste the sweetest morsel in all the universe—and thus we become enthralled with this taste that we continually come back to it for more. That’s what the Psalmist means when he bids us “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Spiritual wisdom is grounded in a faith that sees the fullness of reality—including the glorious goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal reward.
Therefore the exhortation that Paul gives later on in Colossians “seek things that are above, where Christ is” is not only a call to duty. It is like a treasure map to the born-again believer. It is like giving advice for the treasure hunters out there—like saying if you want more of the Treasure, do this: learn to think about the spiritual things in heaven! Wean yourself from being so focused on the temporary, earthly things. Think of sitting next to Christ on his throne! Think of eternity with Him! Faith can see those things. Faith loves those things. Faith is the foundation of the wisdom that sees the fullness of this reality and lives to attain its highest reward in heaven. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6). Central to real faith is the belief that there is a beautiful spiritual reality for those who seek God. There is a reward—and the spiritually wise man wants it. And he doesn’t act out of duty, he acts out of joy. C.S. Lewis said, “A perfect man would never act from sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one.” A man with perfect spiritual wisdom would have spiritual eyes to see reality for what it is, and thus would always want the right thing more than the wrong one.
So in recap, spiritual wisdom is eyes that see the real, eternal, and spiritual consequences of every action (or non-action) and thus lives to attain the highest reward in heaven. That is why, as Paul shows in the verse above, that spiritual wisdom results in “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord.”