For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (1:9)
For this reason refers to the favorable report Paul had received from Epaphras (v. 8). Since the day Paul heard that report, he had been praying for the Colossians. It may seem unnecessary to pray for those who are doing well. Much of our prayer time focuses on those who are struggling, facing difficulties, or fallen into sin or physical distress. Paul, however, knew that the knowledge that others are progressing in the faith should never lead us to stop praying for them. Rather, it should encourage prayer for their greater progress. The enemy may reserve his strongest opposition for those who have the most potential for expanding God’s cause in the world.
Such unceasing or recurring prayer (1 Thess. 5:17) demands first of all an attitude of God-consciousness. That does not mean to be constantly in the act of verbal prayer, but to view everything in life in relation to God. For example, if we meet someone, we immediately consider where they stand with God. If we hear of something bad happening, we react by praying for God to act in the situation because we know He cares. If we hear of something good that has happened, we respond with immediate praise to God for it because we know He is glorified. When Paul looked around his world, everything he saw prompted him to prayer in some way. When he thought of or heard about one of his beloved churches, it moved him toward communion with God.
Nehemiah is an example of one who prayed without ceasing. After King Artaxerxes demanded the reason for his sadness, Nehemiah told him of the destruction of Jerusalem. Asked by the king for his request, he prayed a quick, brief prayer before replying (Neh. 2:4). In the midst of a stressful situation, Nehemiah was conscious of God’s character and purposes.
A second aspect of unceasing prayer is people-consciousness. We cannot effectively pray for people unless we are aware of their needs. Paul exhorted the Colossians to keep alert in prayer (4:2), while to the Ephesians he wrote, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).
The two elements of praying without ceasing came together in Paul’s prayer life. His love for God led him to seek unbroken communion with Him. His love for people drove him to unceasing prayer on their behalf. The prayers of Paul recorded in his letters are a precious legacy. They reveal his heart and are models for us to emulate. This text records the first of those prayers.
Paul’s petition is that the Colossians be filled with the knowledge of His will. Plēroō (filled) means to be completely filled, or totally controlled. The disciples’ hearts were filled with sorrow when Jesus told them of His departure (John 16:6). Luke 5:26 tells us the crowd was filled with fear after Jesus healed the paralytic. The scribes and Pharisees were filled with rage after Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 6:11). The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31), while Stephen was full of faith (Acts 6:5). In each case they were totally under the control of what filled them.
Paul wants the Colossians to be totally controlled by knowledge. Epignōsis (knowledge) consists of the normal Greek word for knowledge (gnōsis) with an added preposition (epi), which intensifies the meaning. The knowledge Paul wants the Colossians to have is a deep and thorough knowledge.
Knowledge is a central theme in Paul’s writings. He said of the Corinthians, “In everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:5). He prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” would give the Ephesians “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). To the Philippians he wrote, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). In Colossians 2:3 we learn that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. Our new self “is being renewed to a true knowledge” (Col. 3:10). As those verses indicate, true biblical knowledge is not speculative but issues in obedience.
The denial of absolutes, particularly in the area of morals, characterizes our society. Without a source of authority to provide absolute standards, virtually anything goes. What moral values are enforced are often arbitrary, based merely on human opinion. But for the Christian the authoritative Word of God provides absolutes. Those absolutes are the basis upon which all truth about God and all standards of faith and conduct are set. Because knowledge of those absolutes is the basis for correct behavior and ultimate judgment, it is crucial that Christians know God’s revealed truth. Ignorance is not bliss, nor can anyone please God on the basis of principles they do not know.
So the Bible views knowledge of doctrinal absolutes as foundational to godly living. Most of Paul’s letters begin by laying a doctrinal foundation before giving practical exhortations. For example, Paul gives eleven chapters of doctrine in Romans before turning to godly living in chapter 12. Galatians 1–4 are doctrinal, chapters 5 and 6 practical. The first three chapters of Ephesians detail our position in Christ, while the last three urge us to live accordingly. Philippians and Colossians also conform to the same pattern of doctrine preceding practical exhortations. Godly living is directly linked in Scripture to knowledge of doctrinal truth.
The Bible warns of the danger of a lack of knowledge. Proverbs 19:2 says that “it is not good for a person to be without knowledge.” It was for lack of knowledge that Israel went into exile (Isa. 5:13), and God says in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” First Corinthians 14:20 warns us, “Do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature.” Ephesians 4:13–14 tells us that lack of knowledge produces “children tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Verse 18 describes unbelievers as “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them.”
How does a person obtain knowledge? First, he must desire it. In John 7:17 Jesus says, “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.” That thought is echoed in Hosea 6:3, “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” Second, he must depend on the Holy Spirit. It is through Him that we know the things God has revealed to us (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10–12). Finally, he must study the Scriptures, for they make the believer “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Perhaps the most graphic text related to the pursuit of divine truth is Job 28.
Paul prays that the knowledge we have would be of His will. God’s will is not a secret; He has revealed it in His Word. For example, it is God’s desire that a person be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Once a person is saved, it is God’s will that he be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:17–18 says, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Furthermore, sanctification is God’s will: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). God also wills that the believer be submissive to the government. Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution … for such is the will of God” (1 Pet. 2:13, 15). Suffering may also be God’s will for the believer: “Let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:19). Finally, giving thanks is God’s will. Paul writes, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Having the knowledge of God’s Word control our minds is the key to righteous living. What controls your thoughts will control your behavior. Self-control is a result of mind-control, which is dependent on knowledge. Knowledge of God’s Word will lead to all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Though the terms wisdom and understanding may be synonymous, sophia (wisdom) may be the broader of the two terms. It refers to the ability to collect and concisely organize principles from Scripture. Sunesis (understanding) could be a more specialized term, referring to the application of those principles to everyday life. Both sophia and sunesis are spiritual; they deal in the nonphysical realm and have the Holy Spirit as their source.
Believing, submissive Bible study leads to the knowledge of God’s will. A mind saturated with such knowledge will also be able to comprehend general principles of godly behavior. With that wisdom will come understanding of how to apply those principles to the situations of life. That progression will inevitably result in godly character and practice.
9. For this cause we also. As he has previously shewn his affection for them in his thanksgivings, so he now shews it still farther in the earnestness of his prayers in their behalf. And, assuredly, the more that the grace of God is conspicuous in any, we ought in that proportion specially to love and esteem them, and to be concerned as to their welfare. But what does he pray for in their behalf? That they may know God more fully; by which he indirectly intimates, that something is still wanting in them, that he may prepare the way for imparting instruction to them, and may secure their attention to a fuller statement of doctrine. For those who think that they have already attained everything that is worthy of being known, despise and disdain everything farther that is presented to them. Hence he removes from the Colossians an impression of this nature, lest it should be a hinderance in the way of their cheerfully making progress, and allowing what had been begun in them to receive an additional polish. But what knowledge does he desire in their behalf? The knowledge of the divine will, by which expression he sets aside all inventions of men, and all speculations that are at variance with the word of God. For his will is not to be sought anywhere else than in his word.
He adds—in all wisdom; by which he intimates that the will of God, of which he had made mention, was the only rule of right knowledge. For if any one is desirous simply to know those things which it has pleased God to reveal, that is the man who accurately knows what it is to be truly wise. If we desire anything beyond that, this will be nothing else than to be foolish, by not keeping within due bounds. By the word συνέσεως, which we render prudentiam, (prudence,) I understand—that discrimination which proceeds from intelligence. Both are called spiritual by Paul, because they are not attained in any other way than by the guidance of the Spirit. For the animal man does not perceive the things that are of God. (1 Cor. 2:14.) So long as men are regulated by their own carnal perceptions, they have also their own wisdom, but it is of such a nature as is mere vanity, however much they may delight themselves in it. We see what sort of theology there is under the Papacy, what is contained in the books of philosophers, and what wisdom profane men hold in estimation. Let us, however, bear in mind, that the wisdom which is alone commended by Paul is comprehended in the will of God.
Perpetual Prayer for the Colossians to Fully Know God’s Will (1:9)
9 At the outset of this section, Paul tells his recipients that from the day he was informed about their response to the gospel in general and their love in the Spirit in particular he has been in perpetual prayer for them. Paul considered prayer to be a vital part of his life in and ministry for Christ (cf. v. 3). To be sure, “Apart from prayer, life as a redeemed bondservant of Christ was both inconceivable and impossible” (W. B. Hunter, “Prayer,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993], 725). Paul informs the fellowship that he has been asking God to fill them “with the knowledge of [God’s] will” (cf. v. 1). More than for factual knowledge about God, Paul has been praying that the Colossians will have a true knowledge of God and will receive direction from God. The knowledge Paul covets for these Christians is characterized by spiritual wisdom and understanding. Language of fullness, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding recurs in Colossians. In fact, the letter contends that divine revelation and spiritual wisdom converge and culminate in Christ. In essence, Paul is prayerful that the Colossian believers will be filled with the fullness of God in Christ. No substitutes or supplements will suffice for the One who “is all, and is in all” (3:11).
Paul teaches them how to pray
Paul had a prayer longing (v. 9a). ‘We … do not cease to pray for you’. The news that Epaphras brought produced ‘an upsurge of prayer’. Paul was committed to the task of intercession, and his prayer here teaches us how to pray well. He shows the Colossians that they should pray God’s thoughts after him and pray with the Bible in their hands, because prayer according to God’s will is prayer made ‘in the Spirit’ (Eph. 6:18) and ‘with the understanding’ (1 Cor. 14:15). Paul’s intercession clearly illustrates this mode of prayer. As they follow the pattern of Paul’s prayers they will learn what the content of acceptable prayer should be. Christians often pray for earthly things while Paul prays here for spiritual and heavenly things. Paul puts praying in perspective and gives the Colossians the big picture; he lays before them the really important issues.
There are two models of prayer in the New Testament. The first is individual prayer, where the stress is on personal intercession and private devotion from the heart (Matt. 6:5–15). The second model is corporate prayer, where the stress is on plural watchfulness and joint intercession. It may appear that the former is what we have here in these verses, but the ‘we’ phrases (vv. 3 and 9) tell us that, when Paul prays for the Church at Colosse, he does not pray alone; rather he prays for the Colossians in the company of others. Prayer is talking face to face with God. The Greek word for prayer speaks of talking to God and is never used of petitions to men. Local Churches are meant to have times of corporate prayer. Believers are meant to pray with one another. To neglect this fact is to miss the blessing promised, because there are some things men will not receive unless they ask for them (Luke 11:9–11). Private and corporate times of prayer demonstrate life and maturity in a believer. As effective intercession is very demanding, commitment to praying with others is of great help.
Paul teaches them what to pray
What was it that the Holy Spirit led Paul to request? There are four things of importance.
he prays for fullness (v. 9b). Paul prays that they would be ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’. The second-century Gnostic sects loved words like ‘fullness’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’, and claimed them as their own. They were key words for the ‘spoilers’, too. However the apostle prays that the saints in Colosse will possess the real thing, not in part, but in fullness. Christians need to know ‘what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Rom. 12:1f.) and ‘understand what the will of the Lord is’ (Eph. 5:17).
1:9 / The request that God fill (lit., “that you might be filled, plērōthēte), suggests that there is some spiritual vacuum that needs to be corrected. It is the same idea expressed in 4:12 with reference to Epaphras, whose concern for the Colossians was that they stand firm, “mature” (peplērophorēmenoi) and fully convinced, in complete obedience to God’s will.
The filling is to be with the knowledge of God’s will and not some type of speculative or intellectual gnōsis (“knowledge”) so characteristic of the false teachers. Wisdom (sophia) and understanding (synesis) likewise are not some abstract intellectual concepts from the Greek world but attributes that God’s Spirit gives. As spiritual gifts from God, they enable God’s people to live abundant, fruitful, and obedient lives in accordance with his will. Paul’s readers need spiritual wisdom to determine God’s will for their lives; they need spiritual understanding to apply God’s will to specific situations in life.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 142–143). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.