We are learning some invaluable lessons as we are making our way through Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In the opening of Paul’s letter we learned that the 1st church of Corinth was a divided church. Some liked one pastor while others liked another and there was still another group who said, “We’ll follow Jesus only!” The truth of the matter is the culture of Corinth had invaded the church. The people in the pews were picking preachers like Blake Shelton and John Legend pick singers on The Voice. They were using nothing more than human preference, human wisdom to select winners and losers. As a result, Paul laid into worldly wisdom and made it known that what the world values most is nothing more than foolishness to God. Paul wrote,
19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:19-20 NIV)
In the opening verses of the second chapter, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul reminded the people of Corinth that when he first came to them, and during the 18 months that he was with them, he never adopted the smooth techniques and theatrics of the popular speakers that people flocked to hear in Corinth. Paul said he didn’t come with “eloquence or human wisdom” to try and win them over. Instead, Paul said,
2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV)
If you listen to the talk on the streets today you’ll know that many people believe that we, the followers of Jesus, are closed minded, anti-science, foolish, backwards, uneducated, unintelligent, and misguided. I’m certain that there are plenty of people who are followers of Jesus who would fit that description, just like there are plenty of people who are atheists, agnostics, or of some other faith who would also fit that description. No group of people is identical down the line.
Paul wasn’t anti-wisdom, he was against worldly wisdom. He greatly valued wisdom, all of the writers of the Bible greatly valued wisdom. There is an entire section of the Hebrew Bible that is devoted to wisdom; Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Let me give you just a sample of how highly wisdom is valued in the book of Proverbs. Turn with me to Proverbs 8:10-11 and then we’ll read Proverbs 16:16.
10 Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Proverbs 8:10-11 NIV)
16 How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver! (Proverbs 16:16 NIV)
God’s Word doesn’t instruct us to despise wisdom or to avoid obtaining wisdom, but it teaches us that there are two kinds of wisdom; there’s worldly wisdom and then there is the wisdom that comes from God. As we turn to our next section of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, we’re going to learn about God’s wisdom. Let’s read together.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”– the things God has prepared for those who love him– 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16 NIV)
I’ve got to tell you that we aren’t going to make it through all of our Scripture for this morning…that is unless you’re willing to stay for a few hours. I wanted us to read this entire section, which actually goes through 3:4, so we can get the big picture of what Paul is trying to teach to us. The big picture is this: Godly wisdom is not learned in the halls of academia, it is not reserved for the more intelligent among us, but it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through what the Apostles have written in God’s Word. Everything that we will take a look at for the next couple of weeks will feed back into this one thought. Let’s take a look at verses 6-8 once again.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NIV)
There are two things here in these verses that I want us to focus on for the next few minutes. First of all, in verse 6, Paul says he speaks a message of wisdom among the mature. His message of wisdom is not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age. What is the difference between the wisdom of this age and the wisdom of God, the wisdom Paul is referring to? Anthony Thiselton writes,
There is one kind of so-called wisdom that is pretentious, self-affirming, and seeks to operate by means of human achievements; and there is a God-given, received, revealed wisdom that nurtures and directs the life of the people of God and (in sometimes hidden ways) also the world as God’s creation. (Thiselton, Anthony. 1 Corinthian: A Shorter Exegetical & Pastoral Commentary. pg. 54)
Worldly wisdom is acquired, godly wisdom is revealed. Worldly wisdom is obtained through hard work, godly wisdom is given through humble submission to God. Worldly wisdom pertains to knowledge, knowledge about any given subject, but godly wisdom is as much about how to live as it is what to believe. Worldly wisdom brings power, whereas godly wisdom produces humility and an ever greater dependence on God. There is a distinct difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.
The second thing I want us to notice about these verses is the reference to “the rulers of this age.” Paul says two things about the rulers of this age. First, they are coming to nothing. The word he uses is the same word he used in 1 Corinthians 1:28, “to nullify” or “to bring to nothing.” And then, in verse 8, Paul says none of the rulers of this age understood the wisdom of God. If they had understood God’s wisdom “they would have not crucified the Lord of glory.” There’s a great lesson we can learn from the rulers of this age that Paul points out for us. The rulers of this age, those in power, are coming to nothing.
We see this every time new political leaders come to power in our country. From City Councils to Mayors to Governors to Presidents–the new bring their own ideas and their own way of doing things. Out with the old and in with the new. The rulers of this age are not just political rulers, but those in positions of power, the decision makers in our society and every society who have their own ideas of what’s “right” and “wrong” and what needs to be done. Pastor Doug Goins wrote,
Human wisdom is transitory because, Paul says, its creators are passing away. One of the consistent characteristics of worldly wisdom is that it has a very short shelf life. The current thinking…will soon be set aside for newer theories…God’s wisdom is not a passing fad that is going to change in the next decade. It is truth that remains unchangeable forever. (Goins, Doug. A Crisis of Trusting Their Own Wisdom.)
This is such an insightful understanding of the contrast between worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. God’s wisdom never changes, regardless of the coming and going of one generation to the next, our socio-economic statuses, or our nationality–God’s wisdom never changes. It’s as true today as it was when Jesus was teaching. It’s true in Oklahoma City as well as Okinawa or Oslo. It’s true for the richest man in the world as well as the poorest pauper on the planet. How different is this from the worldly wisdom that we witness change from week-to-week and year-to-year?
Paul also says godly wisdom is a mystery that has been hidden, that none of the rulers of this age understood. If they had, they never would have crucified the Lord of glory. This verse from Paul helps us to understand that the “rulers of this age” are not just political leaders. We know that it was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, along with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day that had Him crucified. The religious “rulers of this age,” the Pharisees and Sadducees, studied the Scriptures day and night and yet they were blinded by their preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would look like, talk like, and act like. Jesus would stand right before them and yet they could not see, they refused to see. In John 5, they confronted Jesus because He healed a man on the Sabbath. Jesus answered them,
37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40 NIV)
Now, I need to point out for us that being a “ruler of this age” doesn’t disqualify someone from gaining the wisdom from God. Having a brilliant mind doesn’t disqualify someone from gaining the wisdom of God. It’s not the position of power or the degrees on the wall that disqualifies anyone from receiving God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is for anyone, from any walk of life, who will humble themselves, open themselves, to receive God’s message of wisdom.
The message of wisdom is not the message of salvation. The message of salvation is for all people, but Paul says the message of wisdom is for “the mature.” Who are “the mature?” That’s a great question! I think we can most easily understand the people Paul has in mind by taking a look at 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. Let’s read it together.
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly– mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NIV)
Paul identified those in the church who were the opposite of mature, he called them “infants in Christ.” The “infants in Christ” were not those who were living by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit. It is important for you and me to understand that there is a difference between coming to faith in Jesus and growing in our relationship with Jesus. Paul knew that many in Corinth were still “infants in Christ” because they were allowing jealousy, quarreling, and division to rule their relationships. Paul asked, “Are you not acting like mere humans?” We can see this same scenario in Peter’s letter to the churches in 1 Peter 2:1-3. Let’s read the Scripture together.
1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3 NIV)
Peter encourages his brothers and sisters in Christ to get rid of “all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” Stop and think with me just for a minute. These characteristics which were prevalent in Peter’s day: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Are they just as prevalent in our own day? It didn’t take you long to answer that question did it? Here’s the other thing I want us to think about: Are they just prevalent in the world or are they not also prevalent in the church? There’s no question about it is there? These characteristics, along with many other destructive characteristics, are everywhere because they are natural human tendencies, they are part of our sin nature. We don’t have to be taught how to be jealous or envious. So what are we to do? Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at one more example of the contrast between being an “infant in Christ’ and being spiritually mature. Turn with me to Galatians 5:15-26.
15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:15-26 NIV)
Like the church in Corinth, the church in Galatia had its problems. Paul said if they bite and devour each other they will be destroyed by each other. What did he urge them to do about their problems? Attend a weekend retreat on forgiveness and unity in the Body of Christ? Read a team building book by Patrick Lencioni or John Maxwell? Sign-up for a Zoom webinar? Hardly. Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Paul didn’t stop there though, he brilliantly pointed out the characteristics of the flesh alongside the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s take a look.
The desires of the flesh are:
- Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
The fruit of the Spirit:
- Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
There’s not a single person listening to me right now that is not well acquainted with the desires of the flesh. We are all too familiar with the desires of the flesh are we not? At the same time, there is not a single person who can produce the fruit of the Spirit in their own life, that’s why it is called the fruit of the Spirit.
What are we to do? Those of us who love Jesus and have given our lives to follow Jesus are just as susceptible to giving in to the desires of the flesh as the rest of the world and that is why we find Paul and the other writers of the New Testament urging us to “grow up into our salvation.” But how are we to do that? I’m so glad you asked. Paul told the folks in Galatia,
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25 NIV)
Instead of giving in to the desires of the flesh we are to live by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.” I love this because it implies that following Jesus is not a one-time walk down the aisle to profess our faith in front of a congregation, but it is a moment-by-moment yielding to and seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit. Let’s backtrack for a moment back to what Peter wrote. What was Peter’s answer for those in the church who were biting and devouring one another? He writes,
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3 NIV)
Like newborn babies we are to crave God’s Word so that we will grow up into maturity. As we spend time in the Word of God, the Holy Spirit of God takes the Word of God and transforms the people of God so that we are constantly growing in the wisdom of God. There is no other recipe for spiritual maturity my friend. I want to invite you this morning to begin to grow in your relationship with Jesus. You may have never made a commitment to Jesus and accepted Him as Lord and Savior…then that’s where you can begin this morning. You may have made a commitment to Jesus years ago, but if you were to get honest with yourself, you are still an “infant in Christ.” Confess that to God and ask Him to begin His work of growing you up in Christ. There may be some people who are listening to me right now and you have grown, you continue to grow in your relationship with Jesus…don’t stop growing! Keep growing until your final day my friend.
November 29, 2020
1 Corinthians 2:6-16