The word of the day is “knowledge.” Today we begin reading St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In this passage of Chapter 1:1-2, 7-9, the Apostle writes that he constantly prays for the congregation at Colossae, near Ephesus. As we open this epistle, we immediately note Paul’s special concern and why he wrote the letter. Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (vs. 9).
Paul Confronts False Knowledge
St. Paul writes to refute an early form of the heresy of “Gnosticism.” He refers to this false teaching in Chapter 2:9; “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit according to the tradition of men…” (vs. 2:9).
“Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge.” It held that believers needed a higher perception of spiritual things than the Gospel of Christ proclaimed. In response to this problematic doctrine, Paul prays that Christ will satisfy the Colossians with all the understanding they need. By holding onto the Gospel of Christ, they can live a God-pleasing way of life, do good works, and grow in their relationship with Him (vs. 10).
Different Kinds of Knowledge
As Paul speaks against the deception of Gnosticism, we learn about the different kinds of knowledge that can help us grow in faith and life. The basic word “gnosis” is a term for general knowledge of things earthly or heavenly (Strong’s #1108, 61). But Paul prays for more precise, correct, and complete comprehension of a specific topic. Thus, he prays for “epig’nosis,” that is, thorough familiarity with the Lord’s will (vs. 9) and an increase of the full acquaintance with God (vs. 10) (Strong’s #1922, 95).
Another mode of understanding (sunesthee’o) is based on the root of “putting together.” It denotes penetrating perception (Strong’s #4909, 241). Thus, St. Paul asks the Lord to give the believers at Colossae a keen insight into spiritual things (Strong’s 4907, 241.)
The Ladder of Knowledge
We might think of these forms of knowledge as a ladder of understanding. First, we must have a basic comprehension of the teachings of the Gospel. From this instruction, we gain discernment through the Spirit of the will of God. Then, we acquire insight into spiritual things in the realm of the Spirit.
Finally, we gain the highest form of intelligence, the gift of wisdom. Wisdom (sophi’a) is the fullness of the working knowledge of the divine will and ways. We attain it by experience, through which we gain prudence and good judgment. On this basis, we act with discretion and teach others with discernment (Strong’s #4678, 230).
All of these forms of knowledge are important to our growth in faith and life. However, our comments suggest that there is a necessary progression from one kind to the other. On the one hand, we cannot pretend to have wisdom unless it is based on other ways of knowing. If we claim wisdom prematurely, we will be like “those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight (Isaiah 5:21).
We must remember that there is no graduation from the revelation of Jesus Christ. Thus, St. Paul railed against the Corinthians who put up with those who preached another Jesus than he preached, received a different spirit than they had already received, and proclaimed another gospel that they had not accepted (2 Cor 11:4).
On the other, we cannot grow in the Lord if we do not strive to advance from the basic teachings. Remember that the Apostle said, “Therefore leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1).
So how do we know what stage of knowledge we have reached? St. Paul advises, “For I say… to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but to think soberly as God has dealt to each one’s measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).