The Source of True Wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

In the last message, we saw that the gospel is all of God.  Therefore, He is to receive all of the glory.  Paul began chapter 2 by explaining that He did not come with excellence of speech or worldly wisdom because he wanted the faith of his hearers  to depend upon the power of God.  As he continues, he maintains that worldly wisdom is useless in grasping the gospel.  For that, he says, we need God’s Spirit.

Every so often I come across a file on my computer that is difficult to recognize.  I’m not sure what program to try to open it with.  If I open it with the wrong program, I can see information there, but it doesn’t make any sense.  In order to understand what it is communicating, you have to read it with the right program.

We find a similar idea in our passage this morning from the Apostle Paul.  Paul says that in order to receive the gospel, we must receive God’s Spirit.  Paul says that we need God’s Spirit if we are to understand the gospel, if we are to have the message of the gospel, and if we are to make the right response to the gospel.

I. His Spirit gives the understanding we need (6-9)  because the message is foreign, and hidden

            A. because the message is foreign
Paul had been saying that his preaching of the gospel was not characterized by training in rhetoric, like others in his day, or by characteristics of human wisdom, but by the power of God.  “Yet,” he says in 1 Cor. 2:6, “among the mature we do impart wisdom.”  Paul was not saying that his message and speaking were anti-intellectual or dumbed-down.  The gospel is a message of wisdom, but a wisdom which is foreign to this age and to its rulers, who are “doomed to pass away” as Paul says at the end of the verse. The wisdom Paul speaks is of God, and was decreed, or predetermined by God “before the ages” according to v. 7 – that is – before time even began.  The gospel is God’s plan of redemption for His people, which He planned from all eternity.  But its wisdom is foreign to the wisdom of this age in which we exist, where sin has twisted the mind of man and blinded him to the gospel.

When Paul speaks of the “rulers of this age” in v. 6, he apparently has in mind the Jewish religious authorities and the pagan Roman authorities, who cooperated to crucify Jesus, to which Paul refers in v. 8.  Paul says in v. 6 that he imparts His message of God’s wisdom “among the mature.”  The word for “mature” was used in the local mystery religions to refer to someone that had been initiated into their mystic rites.  Here it is probably best taken as one who has been initiated into Christianity – that is, who has become a believer in Christ. It seems to be equivalent to the one who is called “spiritual” later in the passage.  It is to believers that Paul speaks this message.  But the message is foreign to wisdom of this age…

            B. because the message is hidden
Paul says in v. 7 that he and his fellow apostles “impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God.”  The Greek word for “secret” is Musterion, from which we get our word “mystery.”  It is used by Paul to refer to the secret thoughts or plans of God that are hidden from our human reason, but revealed by God in a mysterious manner to those who are intended to understand.

Paul says it is “the hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”  The word glory is sometimes applied to us in Scripture to represent all of the benefits of our salvation, including our ultimate glorification by God.  God decided upon His plan of salvation for His people before time even began, and its wisdom was hidden in the counsels of His mind, until He revealed it through His servants.  His plan to redeem His people by sending His only Son to earth is a hidden wisdom, of which the Jewish and Roman rulers showed they were ignorant by crucifying Jesus – the Lord of Glory, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:8.  “The Lord of Glory” is a divine title taken from Ps 24:10.  The Psalmist asks: who is the King of glory?  Answer: the Lord, strong and mighty.  He is the King of glory.  Paul applies it to Christ, the divine Son of God.

The rulers – the most learned and powerful and influential were not able to understand God’s wisdom.  And, Paul shows by quoting the OT (Is 64:4, 65:17) in 1 Cor. 2:9 that his message cannot be discovered by human reason.  It is not contrary to reason.  It is simply beyond the bounds of our reason.  It is beyond what our eyes have seen and what our ears have heard, and anything which has entered into our minds and hearts, because it is foreign to the wisdom of this world and has been hidden from us in the eternal counsels of God.  That is why only the Spirit can give us understanding which we need for the message.

When I was in High School, I studied French as a foreign language.  One of my friends and I used to be obnoxious by using our limited knowledge of French to our advantage in certain situations.  When we were around others who didn’t know French, and we wanted to say something just between the two of us, we would try to say it in French.  We could usually figure out what we wanted to say to each other, but the message was foreign and hidden to those around.  In order to have understanding of what we were saying, they would need for someone to teach them French.

What Paul is saying is that in order for us to be able to receive the message of the gospel and the word of God, we need to be given understanding by the Holy Spirit.  This is the reason we pray for the Holy Spirit to teach us, give us understanding before the preaching and teaching of His word.  We can read the Bible, I can preach to the best of my ability, you can listen intently, but unless the Holy Spirit works to teach us and give us understanding, It is all for naught.  Our first task when we read and study our Bibles, when we come to church or any time we hear God’s word is to pray for the Holy Spirit to work and give us understanding.

When we are attempting to share God’s word with our friends, neighbors, teach it to our children, we need to pray for the work of the Holy Spirit to give them understanding.  The Holy Spirit gives us the understanding we need.

II. His Spirit gives the message we need (10-12)  because of His relationship to God, and to us

           A. because of His relationship to God
Though the wisdom of God in the gospel is foreign to and hidden from human reason, Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:10 that God has revealed His wisdom through the Spirit – specifically the person of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is able to reveal this wisdom because of His relationship with God, namely, that He Himself is God, the third person of the Trinity, equal in His divine nature to the Father and the Son.  We see His personal nature in the fact that He searches all things.  This is not the kind of searching that is seeking knowledge, but a statement of the thorough knowledge which the Spirit possesses.  He is able to penetrate to the depths of all things.  We see the divine nature of the Spirit in that He searches even the deep things of God.

Only a divine being could know the deep things of the infinite and eternal God.  Paul says there is a parallel to the spirit of man – that inward, immaterial part of man, especially in this case his mind.  In 1 Cor. 2:11a he asks…

We can’t look at one another and know exactly what the other is thinking.  We only know what is going on inside if it is revealed to us by the person.  If this is true of our relationship to one another, how much more is it true of our relationship with God, who is invisible, infinite, and eternal?  “So also,” Paul says.. (1 Cor. 2:11b)

The Holy Spirit reveals to us the message of God’s word, because of His relationship with God, and…

            B. because of His relationship to us
Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:12 that he and his fellow apostles, and his fellow Christians, have not received the spirit of the world, but the spirit who is from God.  Those who have been united to Christ and are believers in Him have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them personally.  Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:12 that the purpose of this relationship of the Spirit to us is “that we might understand the things that have been freely given to us by God.”  It is God the Father who has planned our salvation from all eternity.  It is God the Son who has purchased our salvation on the cross and resurrection.  But it is God the Holy Spirit who applies the plan of the Father and the work of the Son to our hearts and lives.  It is through His work that we personally know the things that have been graciously and freely given to us in Christ.  God’s Spirit is the One who alone is able to give us the message of the gospel which we need, because of His relationship to God, and His relationship to us.

Years ago, the movie “Titanic” was a huge box-office success. One of the sparks which led to that movie was that the Titanic was actually found at the bottom of the ocean.  Even though we knew approximately where the Titanic went down, the ocean is so deep and dark to us that we could not see where it was.  Because of the cold and the pressure, it would also be dangerous for anyone to go near to try to find it.  What they used to find the Titanic, and other ships of interest, are small, remote controlled submarines with cameras and special equipment on them.  These submarines are able to establish the relationship with the depths of the ocean floor to see what is there.  They also have a relationship through electronic signals with those on the surface.  Because of these relationships, they are able to give the message to those on the surface of what exists in the depths.

God has given us His word and His Spirit that we might be able to see beyond our normal range of vision, and know Him.  If we have come to know Him, it is not because we are smarter or more insightful than those who do not; it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit by God’s grace.  There is no place for pride on our part.  The Holy Spirit has inspired the words of Scripture so that through them and His work we may come to know God and grow in our relationship with Him.  He gives the message we need, and…

III. His Spirit gives the response we need (13-16)
Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:13 that this wisdom from God which the Spirit has revealed is the same message which he and the other apostles impart, “in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.”  Paul says that since his message finds its source in the Spirit of God rather than the wisdom of men, it should be communicated in a way that is consistent with the work and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, not the ways of men.  In this case –  not dependent on Greek rhetoric, but according to the simple truth and power of God.

Despite his best efforts, however, there is a class of men who will not receive the message of the Spirit.  Paul refers to “the natural person” in 1 Cor. 2:14. NIV translates: “the man without the Spirit.” The word refers to one who lives purely on the material plane, without being touched by the Spirit of God.  He lives under the influence of sinful human nature, rather than the Spirit.  Since he does not have the Spirit of God, he does not receive the things of the Spirit – the message of the gospel and salvation, because they are foolishness to him.  It is foolish to him that God would become a man, and suffer and die on a cross, and that that one would be the Savior of God’s people.  Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:14 not only that the man without the Spirit does not know the things of the Spirit, but he cannot, because they are spiritually discerned.  Man in his natural, sinful state, cannot understand and respond to the message of the gospel which is revealed by the Spirit.  Without the Spirit’s work, his response is to reject it and consider it foolishness.

But “the spiritual person” (who has the Holy Spirit), Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:15, “judges all things.”  The word for “judges” is actually the same word translated “discerned” in the previous verse, and may be better translated that way here.  Then the sense would be that though the one without the spirit is unable to discern the things of the Spirit, the one with the Spirit is able to discern all of the things of the Spirit, though he himself is discerned by no one.  Though the man with the Spirit understands the things of the Spirit, he is misunderstood by those without the Spirit.  He seems very strange to them.  As he understands the things of the Spirit, he gains more and more the mind of God Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul once again quotes from Isaiah in 1 Cor. 2:16…

The man without the Spirit cannot know the mind of the Lord to pass any kind of judgment on His Word.  It is as if he is trying to judge a symphony, and cannot even hear the music.  Paul is bold to say that he and his fellow apostles, and those with the Spirit of God who receive His teaching, have the mind of Christ.  This is the response we need: to receive the message of the Holy Spirit and gain salvation and the mind of Christ.  It is a response for which we need the Holy Spirit’s work, though.

So, as we seek to share God’s word, we need to not only pray for understanding, but for a proper response to it.  It is not enough to understand God’s word, we must receive it as His wisdom and salvation, rather than as foolishness.  So, as we pray for ourselves and our families and our church.  We need to pray that the Holy Spirit would give us the ability to respond faithfully to His word.  As we seek to share the gospel with those who do not yet know God, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit would give them the ability to see its wisdom and not reject it as foolishness.  A person’s response to the message is an indicator of whether the Holy Spirit is at work in them or not.  There is nothing we can say or do to make them receive the message.  There is value in learning a clear gospel presentation so that we can present the truth accurately and clearly. Then Pray for the Holy Spirit’s work.

When Paul first began ministering in Corinth, he experienced much opposition, as he often did in his travels.  At first he had some success reasoning with the Jews and the Greeks in the synagogue.  But when He testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, they opposed Him with blasphemy.  Paul shook off his garments and told them that he would now go to the Gentiles, since they were unwilling to receive His message.  It seems that Paul became discouraged and fearful of what their opposition might bring him in Corinth.  But the Lord spoke to Paul at night in a vision and said to him: “Don’t be afraid.  Keep on Speaking.  Don’t be silent.  I am with you.  No one will attack you.  For I have many people in this city.”  Paul may have asked: “Lord, where are they?  The response I’ve gotten so far is opposition and blasphemy.”  But God knew His people who were there.  His Spirit would be at work to give them the response to Paul’s message.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in our hearts and the hearts of those we love, to whom we seek to minister, that we might receive God’s word, and have life.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit and His work among us.  We pray that we might receive His ministry and give our attention to Your Word and Your work.  Work in our hearts and in the hearts of those to whom we seek to minister, that our work might be fruitful for Your glory.