RPM, Volume 12, Number 23 June 6 to June 12 2010

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

We are continuing this week in our study of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, picking up at the 6th verse of chapter 2 and working through to the 16th verse of that same chapter. If you were here last week then you will know that we are currently in that portion of 1 Corinthians where Paul is addressing problems he has heard about in the Corinthian congregation and, specifically, he is addressing the problem of division in the church. Apparently, people were forming factions around various teachers and personalities that had risen to prominence in Paul's absence.

In the passage before us this morning, Paul continues to address the Corinthians' divisiveness, as we saw last week, by dealing with some of the wrong-headed thinking that was contributing to their divisions - much of it centering upon a very worldly pursuit and understanding of "wisdom". Indeed, they had so embraced the world's ideas about wisdom that they had begun to doubt the Apostle Paul's own authority and teaching - considering it unimpressive and simplistic and, further, they had even begun to look down upon certain members of their own congregation. All these things Paul has addressed thus far showing that that which the world considers foolish and of no account is, in fact, the very wisdom of God.

In 2:6-16, Paul continues to address their deficient understanding of wisdom as he talks about 1) the NATURE of God's wisdom, 2) the TRANSMISSION and RECEPTION of God's wisdom, and 3) the EFFECTS of 1 God's wisdom. And those three things will be our focus this morning. But, before we look at that, let's pray together....

The first thing I want you to think about is the nature of God's wisdom, i.e., what God's wisdom is like. Now in saying that, let me make a clarification up front: we are not so much talking at this stage about what wisdom IS as much we are talking about what it is like, what are it's characteristics. As we've already seen, the wisdom of God IS all about Christ and IS centered upon his life, death, and resurrection - and the great salvation which God has accomplished through that. That's what the wisdom of God is all about.

However, Paul is not really talking at this stage about the content of God's wisdom as much as he is talking about how God's wisdom operates, and how it is received, what it accomplishes, etc. And the reason for this, it seems to me, is because by examining these particular things the not- of-this-world character of God's wisdom is highlighted, in the hopes that the Corinthians might be shaken from their love affair with the world and with worldly ways of thinking.

So, thinking not so much about the content of wisdom as the nature of God's wisdom, notice what Paul says here about it. For starters, in verse 6 he says it is "not a wisdom of this age" - in other words, the things that God says are wise will not be things which society will ordinarily esteem or value.

Not only will society in general not value God's wisdom as such, but this will be most clearly illustrated by society's leaders - the "rulers of this age" - who will not accept or embrace God's wisdom in the Cross of Christ. In short, the wisdom of God is not POPULIST - it is not like the wisdom that is common to society, and, because it not like the wisdom of society it is not POPULAR - it is not loved by society.

Next, Paul describes God's wisdom as that which is "secret" and "hidden". Now, in order to understand what Paul is talking about here, it is helpful to look at another of Paul's letters - the letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 3:1-12 where he also talks about the wisdom of God which was, at one time, a hidden wisdom. Let me read just a portion of that to you... (Read Ephesians 3:1-6)

In Ephesians 3, you have a discussion of God's hidden wisdom that is the Gospel and, specifically, the fact that through Jesus Christ, the barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down as they become one in Him. This was "hidden"; it was not know by God's people for a time; until the right time came along, in His plan and purpose. However, as Paul's letter shows, it is not hidden anymore and, in that sense has been revealed.

Although God has revealed clearly his plan and purpose through Jesus and those who are "mature" and "spiritual" can see it - nevertheless, there remains a "hidden-ness" to it in that those who are "natural" and "not spiritual" cannot on their own see or grasp the significance of what God has done. And so, the wisdom of God is both no longer hidden (in one sense) AND yet still hidden (in another sense). To the spiritual all things have been laid open, to the unspiritual there remains a blindness to the things of God.

In short, the wisdom of God is not OBVIOUS or attainable by the unaided human mind, which of course is the whole point of verse 14, isn't it? "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." If God's wisdom cannot be discovered but instead can only be revealed by God's Spirit then obviously all those who are "natural" - i.e., those who do not possess the Spirit of God - these people cannot and will not accept the wisdom of God.

Another aspect of God's wisdom which we see in this passage is that it is not native and natural but rather alien and supernatural. As verse 9 points out, it is not a wisdom that has resulted from human investigation - it is not a truth that we discover with our senses. It is not something which we might have thought of or imagined or conceptualized on our own. On the contrary, as verse 10 indicates, that which WE could not have discovered has, nevertheless been revealed to us through the Spirit, the result of a supernatural, not a natural process. It is wisdom that comes from outside of us and does not arise from within us or from within any other person.

Something else that we see about the nature of wisdom in these verses is that it is not a new, innovative, recent truth but is instead ancient. Indeed, it is something that has been decreed from before the foundation of the world. It is not some fly-by-night strategy, it is not something that is fluid and dynamic, it is not something that God is sort of making up as He goes along. It's not "brand new". It's not evolving or morphing or adapting in any way shape or fashion. It just is.

So, here we see a number of things about the nature of God's wisdom:

  • a) it's not populist or popular...
  • b) it WAS hidden, but has now been revealed, and yet is still hidden to some...
  • c) it's not new and improved but old and un-improvable...
  • d) it is not native and natural but alien and supernatural...
  • e) it's something which can't be discovered but can only be revealed.
The thing I especially don't want you to miss about these things is that they all would have been right on target when it came to addressing the problems in Corinth. Why is that? Because many of the Corinthian believers, under the influence of other teachers and their new ideas, had begun to move away from what they first believed to new things which they felt were superior and deeper and an improvement upon that which Paul taught. They felt they had discovered some new truths which had not previously been revealed, which even Paul did not yet have access to. And in doing this they were taking the "hidden-ness" of God's wisdom, which is something which remains as a distinction between spiritual and unspiritual people, and were using it as a distinction among Christians - setting themselves off as those who possessed deeper things which Paul himself did not have.

Even further, the Corinthian believers apparently felt that Paul's way of speaking was, as we saw last week, unimpressive and wanted something more contemporary, more popular, more like what people were used to hearing in Corinth.

So, the way the Corinthians were acting, and the attitudes which they were maintaining were not at all congruent with the nature of God's wisdom, as Paul describes it here. They were very much out of sync; something had gone seriously wrong with Corinthian Christianity.

This situation in Corinth serves as a kind of negative example for the church in our own day. Just as the Corinthians' actions and attitude were not congruent with the nature of God's wisdom, we need to be careful and examine ourselves to see to it that we are not out of step with God's wisdom in any way and to make sure that we do not abandon God's wisdom for that which is worldly, popular, trendy, new, innovative and/or claiming to unlock some great spiritual secret hitherto unknown to all but the super elite Christians. Let's make sure that we don't find ourselves imitating those sorts of patterns and thus find ourselves to be completely out of step with the pattern and nature of God's wisdom.

The second thing I want you to notice is not only the NATURE of God's wisdom but also the TRANSMISSION and RECEPTION of God's wisdom, how God's wisdom has been conveyed to us and how it is received by us. As Paul's words show us, there are several stages to this process.

First, as verse 7 indicates, the wisdom of God has its origins in the decree of God - that is, in his stated plan and purpose, in that "blueprint" which existed within God's mind - a blueprint that took shape, long before the first thing was ever made. As Paul writes, "we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glory." And so we have God's plan, created long ago and hidden for a time.

Then, God's plan, God's "wisdom", was revealed, over time and at the right time, by the Spirit to God's prophets and, most recently for Paul's purposes in this letter, to God's apostles. To be sure, the definitive revelation of God's wisdom came in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ that, of course, brought to light that which had been hidden before. However it was through Christ's APOSTLES that God preserved the record of Christ's life and death and the ongoing significance of that for God's people in every age.

This is what Paul is referring to in verses 9-10, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him - these things God has revealed to US through the Spirit..." Now, what does Paul mean by the word "us" in verse 10? Does he mean "everyone"? Is he referring only to the apostles? Or is he referring to everyone through the apostles?

Well in order to answer that, we will have to think about a few things. For starters, it is interesting to note the change in pronouns that happens in this section. For example, if you look back at chapter 2:1- 5, you see that the pronouns are consistently "I" and "my". Likewise, if you skip down to Chapter 3 and begin reading there, you will notice the re-appearance and renewed prominence of the "I" pronoun.

However, when you read through 2:6-16, it is suddenly all "we" and "us" and not a trace of "I" to be found. Now, commentators have, of course, batted this one back and forth for years but by far the most agreed upon explanation for the change in pronouns here is because it has to do with the nature of the discussion that is taking place. Up to this point, Paul has been talking about himself but in this section has begun speaking about something which is not just true about HIM but about EVERY OTHER apostle and so, not wanting to set himself up as being more special than they, Paul changes his language to reflect that.

So, again, the pronouns change here because Paul is talking at this point about himself and the other apostles through whom God has worked in unique and special ways to secure for God's people the revelation upon which His Church will depend.

Now, of course, you don't reach a conclusion like that only by looking at this passage in isolation. Beyond that, you need to compare it to what is said in other places, as well. For example, when you look back at a passage that we have already seen once before this morning - Ephesians 3 - and back up just a little bit, you see Paul making an important point about the Apostles and prophets, in Ephesians 2:19-21:

So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, kin whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into la holy temple in the Lord.
In making his point about how God has brought all of his people together into the one true church, Paul makes a clear distinction between the "saints and members of the household of God" and the " apostles and prophets" who, together with Christ the cornerstone, form the foundation upon which the church is built. Clearly there is something unique about the role and function of the apostles and prophets in God's scheme of things. It is in light of this fact that Paul's words in Ephesians 3:1-5 come especially to life. Listen to them again...
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, show the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
So, the wisdom of God is something which has its origins in the decree of God, which God then, at the right time, chose to reveal THROUGH his Son and TO his apostles, and then these, in turn, have imparted the wisdom which they have received to the people of God by means of words which God also has given, as 1 Cor 2:13 indicates. Now again, we are helped greatly in seeing this by stepping outside of these verses to compare them with what has been said elsewhere in the NT. A number of passages are helpful here. For starters, there is John 14:25-26...
These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you...
Here we see Jesus comforting his disciples by telling them that after he goes, the Holy Spirit will bring to their remembrance all that he has said to them. Why does Jesus promise this and why does the Spirit do this? Because the disciples would be the human instruments through whom God would author the NT Scriptures.

Next, there is John 16:12-15...

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Here again we see Jesus comforting his disciples by assuring them that the Holy Spirit will declare to them things that they have not yet received, things which he will "reveal to them by the Spirit", to use the language of 1 Corinthians. This too is a foreshadowing of the process of inscripturation.

And finally there's 1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Tim 1:13-14...

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge... Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
As you read Paul's instructions to the young Timothy and you hear him use phrases like "guarding the deposit" and "sound words" what seems abundantly clear is that Paul is here referring to a certain body of doctrine, a fixed revelation - a discrete quantity that was meant to be passed on, faithfully, from one generation to the next. This is the TRUE apostolic succession - not a succession of persons with authority but a succession of doctrine and belief - the passing along of "the good deposit" that Paul is talking about here.

When you read things like that in the NT and you then come back to passages like the one before us this morning, then you see how things seem to fall into place much more easily. In 1 Corinthians 2 we see a pattern which is repeated in number of places and which shows us how God's wisdom has been transmitted to the people of God - by the Spirit, through the Apostles, imparted by words taught by the Spirit.

This, of course, was tremendously important for the Corinthians to hear as they seemed to feel that they were somehow exempt from this pattern of revelation established by God. Rather than submitting to Paul as God's Apostle, and to the revelation that God had provided through him, they were bypassing all of that and acting as if they had their own hotline to heaven. Listen to what Paul says in Chapter 4:6-16:

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me....
Do you see it? These were tremendously important things for the Corinthians to get a hold of. I can hardly think of a truth that is any more significant for the Church today than this. Surely, the Corinthians were not the last Christians to feel as if they had some sort of "direct line" to God which allowed them to bypass God's normal means of revealing himself - through his prophets and apostles, and the revelation given to them, and the words which have embodied and preserved that revelation for us - in the Scriptures. Certainly, they were not the last Christians to think and act like that. I see that sort of thing all the time today.

Another one can be seen in the fact that in the manner of God's transmitting His wisdom to us, we can see His great concern not only that he impart general spiritual truths and principles to us but that he does this by means of particular words, taught by the Spirit. God is not just interested that we get the general idea - inspiration is not just referring to vague theological concepts but actually extends to the very words of Scripture themselves.

Which is why, of course, Paul has so much to say to Timothy about being a good workman who handles accurately the Scriptures. It's not just the ideas that matter in the Bible, the words used to express those ideas matter a great deal and we are not free to dismiss the individual words any more than we are free to dismiss whole concepts or teachings in Scripture.

The third and final thing I want you to notice this morning is not only the nature of God's wisdom and the transmission and reception of God's wisdom but also the effects or consequences of God's wisdom. What does Paul say will be the consequence of the revelation of God's wisdom to the people of God?

I think at least two things can be seen in this passage. Verse 12 says, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God that we might understand the things freely given us by God...." One of the effects of God's wisdom is that it gives understanding to the people of God - understanding of God and ourselves, and the world. The wisdom of God, which is so counter to the world's wisdom, is the only thing that will enable us to have a proper view of our Creator. And it is only when we have a proper view of our Creator that we are in a position to see ourselves properly in relation to him.

By extension, if we have a proper view of our Creator, and thus a proper view of ourselves, then we are in a position to understand our world - not merely at a surface level but at a level which understands the proper relation of things to people and one person to another.

Now, and we're getting a little ahead of ourselves at this stage, later on in this letter Paul will have a great deal to say about what it is that demonstrates that a person is spiritual and mature and is truly understanding as God wants them to - and it is NOT that they have lots of information about God in their heads but that they are loving and serving their brothers and sisters and deferring to one another in sacrificial ways. And so, while Paul does not develop that thought at this stage, it is something that is on the way and his words at this point are preparing the way for what he will say further on.

The second effect of God's wisdom is related to the first: namely, it helps us to have "the mind of Christ" and to exercise discernment in spiritual things. Paul writes in verse 15, "The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one...."

Now, I think we need to be careful to read that in context, otherwise, we might conclude, wrongly, that this passage is saying that the spiritual person - that is, the person in whom God's Spirit dwells, is suddenly an expert on everything from Interior Decorating, to Medicine. That's not what Paul is saying. What he IS saying, however, is that the spiritual person has discernment in spiritual matters that, as verse 14 makes clear, the unspiritual person clearly lacks and thus, is in no position to make value judgments in spiritual matters or about spiritual persons.

This too is a point that would have been especially significant in the Corinthian context since, to their shame, they showed themselves to be severely lacking in the area of spiritual discernment. Here they were, passing judgments on Paul and finding him to have fallen short when, in reality, because they had begun to drift away from God's Wisdom as conveyed to them by Paul, it was THEY who were falling short, THEY who were beginning to reap the effects of that in their declining spiritual discernment and the growing chaos and disorder within the congregation. Paul sees all of those things as a consequence of their taking on board very worldly ideas about wisdom and worldly ways of thinking.

Well, our time is gone and so, as we're "walking out the door", so to speak, let me offer a few further implications that flow from these verses. Perhaps you will have seen some of these already. I certainly hope so....

1) If the wisdom of God is "not of this age" or of the "rulers of this age" then, when what the church is saying starts to sound a whole lot like what Bill Gates is saying, or Warren Buffett, or some other prominent person in our culture - with only slight changes here or there - when that happens then the alarm bells ought to be ringing. When churches begin to look more and more like shopping malls and less and less like a city on a hill, or an emergency room or a staging area, warning lights should be going off all over the place.

2) If the transmission of God's truth to us was all about putting into our hands a specific, content-laden body of truth, then we ought to be asking ourselves how we're doing and what we doing with what we've been given. The baton has been passed to our generation. We are the "faithful ones" about whom Timothy was speaking - are we being faithful to pass on "the good deposit" or are we merely passing on good feelings, fun times and vague generalities about the Faith?

3) If God was concerned about the very words of Scripture - so should we be. We shouldn't wrangle, but neither should we go the other extreme and act like words don't matter.

4) Any conclusions drawn about the importance of truth, and holding on to it, and being faithful to pass it on as you received - any such conclusions - although certainly important, will need to be held somewhat tentatively until we get to 1 Corinthians 13, which will provide some much needed balancing remarks on the whole matter of knowledge and wisdom. For now, let it suffice to say that the ultimate goal for us is not knowledge and understanding as an end in itself but rather the love and sacrificial service of the Gospel that comes THROUGH true knowledge and discernment.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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