It is a leap of audacity to presume to know another person’s desires. Personhood is so unique, complex, and mysterious that to pin down in irreducible words the desires of a person who is other than you, is to risk outrage and embarrassment. What we ourselves most deeply desire often escapes us. If all was limpid and unequivocal, the Delphic maxim, “Know thyself”, would have never caught on. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah indicates how insurmountable this short admonition is, when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is incurable; who can know it?” (17:9). If we can hardly know our own heart, how can we know the heart of another? And when this claim of knowing is in reference to God and His desire, we are bordering on ontological infringement of the highest degree.
Or are we?
Two passages of Scripture help us.
The things of God also no one has known except the Spirit of God. But we have received… the Spirit which is from God, that we may know.
–1 Corinthians 2:11-12
In other words, we can speak confidently and accurately about God because God has revealed Himself. In the words of Hilary of Poitiers, “Let us concede to God the knowledge about Himself, and let us humbly submit to His words with reverent awe. For He is a competent witness for Himself who is not known except by Himself.”
Paul isn’t content to leave matters at telling us we have an abstract ability to know God’s desire through the Spirit; he goes on to tell us exactly what that desire actually is. Ephesians 1, Hebrews 10, and Romans 12 are three epicenters of this ground shattering revelation. However, near the end of his ministry, Paul leaves us with a rather more plebeian statement of God’s desire. It may not seem as lofty as the first three, but all those are predicated upon this one.
God desires all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth.
–1 Timothy 2:4
This verse shows the post-salvation desire of God. After salvation, God desires that each believer come to the full knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις) of the truth. Wuest’s Expanded Translation renders this as “a precise and experiential knowledge of the truth.” This is not the apprehension of truth that is required for salvation, but that which is required to adequately participate in God’s economy. This is because, as Watchman Nee says, “If there is no comprehension of God’s plan, there is no possibility for God’s work.”
I recently dug through the New Testament to see what it says about our experience of the truth. Here are 10 maxims I came up with. I ordered them according to what I believe is a somewhat linear development. But as with all things spiritual, we never graduate from the fundamentals. The last point indicates that the truth doesn’t remain in our head, but is expressed in our living. This is because truth refers to more than just doctrine; it is the reality behind it.
10 Stages of our Experience of the Truth
- Hear the truth—Eph 1:13
- Love the truth—2 Thes 2:10
- Buy the truth—Prov 23:23
- Obey the truth—1 Pet 1:22; Gal 5:7
- Know the truth—John 8:32; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 1:12
- Speak the truth—Eph 4:25; John 8:45; 2 Tim 2:15; Gal 4:16; John 5:33; 18:37; Gal 2:1-5; 1 Tim 6:12
- Walk in the truth—3 John 1:3-4; 2 Pet 2:2
- Practice the truth—1 John 1:6
- Be constituted with the truth—1 Tim 3:15
- Manifest the truth—2 Cor 4:2
1. Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity, 1.18
2. Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the will of God in relation to Christ and the church. In Ephesians 1, it is to have the church as a Body for the enlargement and expression of Christ. In Hebrews 10, it is to have Christ as the replacement of all the animal sacrifices and offerings, that we may enjoy Him as our all in all. In Romans 12, it is to have the believers in Christ practice the Body life in function and living.
3. Watchman Nee, CWWN, Vol. 9, “The Present Testimony (2)”, p. 287