The Promise of God's Perspective (I Corinthians 2:1-16)
Topic: I Corinthians Passage: 1 Corinthians 2:1–2:16
The Spirit of Promise
The Promise of God's Perspective
I Corinthians 2
February 22nd, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. The Red Pill
The 1999 film, "The Matrix", could be easily dismissed by most people as simply yet another high-octane, shoot-em-up, fantasy flick. From one perspective, that's what it is. But in contrast to many films that fit in this category, The Matrix was constructed around a variety of religious and philosophical themes.
I'm not necessarily recommending the film, but I always find it interesting when a film explores these kinds of concepts.
One of these themes has to do with the idea of spiritual blindness to what it true and real. You see, in the film, the Matrix is an artificial, computer-generated reality constructed to enslave human beings. Listen to how one of the main characters, Morpheus, a man who has escaped the illusion of the Matrix, listen as he explains all this to Neo, who is eventually presented as the Messianic figure of the story.
Morpheus: ...The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth.
Neo : What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison...for your mind....Unfortunately,
no one can be...told what the Matrix is...you have to see it for yourself.
Morpheus opens a container which holds two pills : a blue one, and a red one. He puts one in each hand, and holds them out to Neo.
Morpheus : This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.....You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up and believe...whatever you want to believe. You take the red
pill.....you stay in wonderland...and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Neo pauses for an instant, then reaches for the red pill. He swallows it down with a glass of water, and looks at Morpheus.
Morpheus : Remember...all I'm offering you is the truth : nothing more.
Now, I can't offer you a red pill this morning. So what will it be that open our eyes to the truth? Turn with me this morning to I Corinthians 2.
II. Review: I Corinthians 2:1-5
Let's do this. In order to review where we've been over the past several weeks, let's look at the truths that Paul weaves through the first six verses of I Corinthians 2. If you have been with us this month, listen to what Paul writes here as I read:
And I, when I came to you, brothers,ï»¿ did not come proclaiming to you the testimonyï»¿ of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
This morning we conclude our study of "the Spirit of the Promise", the Holy Spirit that has been given to those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. Now, most of the ideas that we have been learning about in regard to the Spirit are evident in Paul's words here.
Just as the Holy Spirit has been sent to bear witness to Jesus Christ, Paul reminds the Corinthians that his work among them was focused on Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Just as the Holy Spirit was given so that we might belong fully to God through faith, Paul wants his readers to know that their faith has to belong fully to God, and not to the world's wisdom.
And just as the Holy Spirit was given in order to empower us to be conduits for the life of Jesus, we see Paul affirming that his ministry among them was a demonstration of the Spirit's power, which is the power of God.
III. The Passage: "The Things of the Spirit" (2:6-16)
But let's keep reading in this chapter in order to discover more about the role of God's Spirit, about the purpose of the Holy Spirit in the life of God's people.
A. A Secret and Hidden Wisdom (2:6-9)
Look at what Paul goes on to say in verses 6-9:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-
One of the things that is clear from these verses is that Paul is trying to correct the Corinthians in regard to the issue of true wisdom. Like most Greeks, the Corinthians were easily drawn to the charisma and public speaking skills of traveling teachers who promoted themselves and pedaled their wisdom from town to town. But Paul has rejected the "wisdom of men" in verse 5. And yet, that doesn't mean he is not interested in wisdom.
As he tells them here in verse 6, he is imparting wisdom, but the wisdom he is declaring is "a secret and hidden wisdom"; it is wisdom that "God decreed before the ages for our glory".
And notice that it is not a wisdom based on human intuition or ideals. Paul tells us here that even "the rulers of this age" (in both verses 6 and 8), the best, the brightest, those who possessed worldly power, even they could not understand this wisdom of God. And because of their inability to grasp the wisdom of God, they condemned God himself, God in human flesh. And they are, according to verse 6, doomed to pass away.
Paul confirms the hidden-ness of this wisdom in verse 9, with what may be a very loose translation of Psalm 64:4. What God is doing, God's plan, is nothing that human beings would ever imagine or anticipate.
But notice what seems to be somewhat of a contradiction in this passage: Paul is "imparting", he is "speaking", he is making known, a wisdom that is "secret and hidden". So how does Paul understand? How can we understand?
B. Revealed by the Spirit (2:10-12)
Move down to verse 10:
...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 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.
God's secret and hidden wisdom has been revealed by God's Spirit. Look at how Paul describes the work of God's Spirit in verse 12. He has been given to followers of Christ so "that we might understand the things freely given us by God." Paul is telling the Corinthians, "What the rulers of this age could not understand, you can because of the Holy Spirit."
Paul explains why this is the case in verse 11 by comparing the Spirit of God with the spirit of man. That which is within you, in your spirit, your thoughts and desires, can only be known fully by you. In the same way the wisdom of God, that is, God's thoughts and desires are known only by His Spirit...but...they are freely given to us. Isn't that amazing?
And the tense of the Greek verb in verse 12, the verb "understand" is the perfect tense, which means that it is a completed action with results. Understanding is given, but that understanding has continuing consequences.
Notice as well that unlike the traveling wisdom teachers who profited from their trade, who demanded payment for their priceless wisdom, the wisdom of God himself is given to us freely through the Spirit.
So what does all of this mean in terms of the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God; in terms of God's people and the world?
C. The Spiritual vs. the Natural (2:13-16)
Look at how Paul goes on clarifying the dichotomy, the tension that he's already begun to express:
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 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. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
We see here is that Paul comes back around to the truth he expressed in verse 6. The Spirit of God reveals the wisdom of God through "words", words that are "imparted". But these words are words taught by the Spirit, not according to any human wisdom.
The last half of verse 13 literally reads: "taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual things with spiritual." That last "spiritual" might mean "spiritual things" again, or it might mean "spiritual ones", "spiritual people". The context here could really go either way. But what is clear is that the Spirit is using the words spoken by Paul to accomplish a spiritual work.
In verse 14, Paul drives all this home by describing human beings in their natural condition. The phrase "natural person" comes from a phrase that we could literally translate, "the man of this earthly state". Later on, in I Corinthians 15 Paul uses this word several times to refer to the body we have now, in contrast to the spiritual body we will have when Christ returns.
Jude uses this same term in describing "worldly people, devoid of the Spirit." (Jude 19) In every passage it is used, it is set in contrast to that which is spiritual or eternal or heavenly.
Without the Spirit, the wisdom of God is not only not "understood" as we saw in verse 8, and also here at the end of verse 14. It is, in fact, foolishness.
Therefore, while the person taught by the Spirit is able to "judge all things", that is, able to understand things as they truly are, he or she cannot be judged by the natural person because they are spiritually blinded. As one commentator put it, "the unspiritual are out of court as religious critics; they are deaf men judging music."
The quote from Isaiah 40 in verse 16 simply confirms human inability to understand the things of God apart from the Spirit of God. But by the Spirit of God, those who believe now have "the mind of Christ".
IV. Living with the Mind of Christ
This morning, as we consider once again the work of the Holy Spirit, I think the question we need to ask in light of this passage is "what does it mean that the Spirit reveals these things to us" (v. 10); or "what does it mean for us to understand the things freely given to us by God?" (v. 12); or "what does it mean to be taught by the Spirit?" (v. 13); or "what does it mean to accept the things of the Spirit?" (v. 14)
I think that many people see in this passage a distinction between those inside our churches and those outside our churches. Those inside our churches have received the truth as the truth. They get it. That's why they're at church. They can now talk about and study and counsel others with spiritual things, biblical things. But that's not really what Paul's talking about here.
Listen to one man's story in light of these things:
"I was born into a mainline Christian family. Both parents were heavily involved in Christian education. Thereby, I learned the Bible by stories and snippets. I was baptized as an infant so I was confirmed in the faith as a teen. Our confirmation class was asked to corporately profess Christ before the congregation when we were presented. Thereby, in the minds of everyone (but my own), I was considered a Christian."
"I tried to do everything I believed that was Christian in behavior, but again by man's standard. I was a good boy until I was eighteen. Then I realized how phony my religion was. I could drink myself sick on Saturday and teach Sunday School on Sunday. It was in my twenties when I searched for a genuine faith in Christ, but in all the wrong places. I joined a "Christian" commune where I met [my wife] and we married and worked for the commune for six years."
"But it wasn't until we left the commune that we discovered an opportunity to volunteer to be house parents to missionary children [on the other side of the world]...[In that distant land, he writes...] We rubbed shoulders with true evangelical Christians who were serving Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We would go to their Bible studies as a neat thing to do, mostly because we liked their songs and their fellowship."
"It was because of their faith that I realized I was not a Christian." As this brother puts it, he and his wife were eventually lead "to confess our sins to God and profess Christ as our Savior." He goes on to write, "I knew that at that moment that my sins were forgiven and I found what I was seeking all my life."
Here's a man brought up in the church. Here's a man whose parents were leaders in Christian education. Here's a man publicly confirmed as a Christian. Here's a man who lived and worked in a community of confessed Christians for six years. Here's a man who went to the other side of the world in order to serve God's people. And yet he did not truly understand the truth until he was taught by the Spirit with spiritual words imparted by spiritual people.
For many of us that story could be our story. It's actually our brother, Phil Smith's story, but many of you can confirm the fact that being taught by the Spirit is about more than intellectually agreeing with certain ideas and identifying with others who do the same.
Others see this passage as basically teaching that the Holy Spirit is our ultimate Bible study tool. That we can now "interpret" Scripture accurately and comprehensively because the Spirit is teaching us. But I can give you a list of names of men and women who can explain Scripture more accurately and more comprehensively than you or I might ever be able to do; the problem is these people are not Christians.
Some think this passage is about a deeper kind of mystical experience. But Paul is not talking about some deeper life guided by promptings and voices and impressions.
If we look at I Corinthians 2 in its context, we discover two important ideas that help us make sense of what Paul is saying.
Listen to what he writes in the opening chapter of this letter:
I appeal to you, brothers,ï»¿ by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." (I Corinthians 1:10-12)
Now listen to how Paul comes back to this issue in chapter 3:
For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? (I Corinthians 3:3, 4)
This issue of divisions and quarreling in the church leads Paul to make this statement in the latter half of chapter 1:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)
The remainder of chapter one and the opening verses of chapter two are simply an explanation of that very idea.
What I'm saying is that the context of our passage the describes the revealing work, the teaching work of the Holy Spirit is not given to a group of people who were tempted to leave the church and disassociate themselves with Christianity; this passage was not written for people who were having a tough time filling in the answers in Paul's latest Bible study booklet or make the right confession; this teaching was not given to people who were deficient in miracles and mysticism, or to people who were not sensitive to the Spirit's impressions.
No, these truths about the things of the Spirit being revealed by the Spirit were written to people who could not get along with each other. This was given to people who were being conformed to the world's ideas about strength and success. It was given to people who were downplaying and marginalizing Christ's death on a criminal's cross because it was too negative; it was not affirming enough.
You see, the Holy Spirit is the promise of God's perspective, and having God's perspective means now seeing everything and living every moment in light of the cross of Jesus Christ.
We might express it this way:
The Spirit of God enables us to accept the wisdom God revealed in the cross of Jesus, which means that we can stake our lives on the fact that the world is not right, we are not capable, and God is not limited.
This is what Paul is talking about when he says in Ephesians 1: "having the eyes of your hearts enlightened" (1:18). This is what Jesus did in Luke 24 when it says, "he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45).
Paul wants them to understand that without the Holy Spirit revealing to us the things of God, we may mentally grasp and even emotionally respond to the truth about the love of Christ, but we will never receive them in such a way that we will stake our lives on them by living like Jesus.
This is precisely why he sums it all up the way he does in verse 16. Even though we, in our own basic, broken condition cannot begin to grasp the mind of the Lord, through the gift of and the work of the Spirit of God, we have "the mind of Christ".
And the mind of Christ is not simply about theological skill or biblical knowledge or godly opinions or church attendance or mystical experiences. It is about thinking like Jesus Christ; and thus, it is about living like Jesus Christ.
In subscribing to the wisdom of the world, the Corinthians were failing to learn the Spirit's lessons. They were failing to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, in order to think the thoughts of Jesus, in order to love one another with a self-abandoning, self-emptying love.
You see, we may be interested in a God who dies for us because of love, but without the Spirit, we consider it foolish to die for each other every day. We may respond positively to Jesus who bore our punishment, but without the Spirit, we consider it foolish to turn the other cheek when someone hurts us. We may weep in light of a Savior who denied himself in order to suffer for our sins, but without the Spirit, we consider it foolish to deny our desires and suffer because we cannot have this or that. We might sing of a man who put His life on the line believing that God would triumph, but without the Spirit, we consider it foolish to believe that God can really work when things seems hopeless.
In fact, you may hear and get and agree with the words I'm saying right now, but without the Spirit of God, they will not do what they are intended to do in you and through you. I might as well be reading the telephone book to you. And it ultimately doesn't matter how I craft my words or how clever or persuasive I think I am. If I do not believe that all of this is really the Spirit's work, I am only serving my own ego, and no one else.
The goal of studying God's word is not simply that we know God's thoughts or proclaim God's thoughts even agree with God's thoughts. The goal of studying in light of the Spirit's work is that we would think God's thoughts.
"But we have the mind of Christ".
V. The Necessity of the Spirit
What have we learned over the course of the last four weeks? I hope that we've learned and embraced the fact that without the work of the Holy Spirit, we would have and we would be nothing.
The Spirit is the very present promise of all God's promises to us. We may sometimes think of God out there and Christ back then, but the Spirit of God is right here and right now. It is the Spirit that makes the reality of God, the reality of Jesus Christ a reality in our hearts.
If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, the Spirit is the sap. If Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep, the Spirit is the shepherd's voice and the shepherd's staff. If Jesus is the sower and we are the field, the Spirit is the sun and rain.
The Spirit of God enables us to live in the purposes of God that the Son of God has made possible.
Listen again, as we come full circle, listen again to how everything we've talked about this past month is revealed by Jesus himself in John 14 and 15:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you..."If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me... 26 "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." (John 14:15-17, 23, 24; 15:26)
More in The Spirit of Promise
March 15, 2009The Promise of God's Power (Ephesians 3:14-21)
February 8, 2009The Promise of God's Purchase (Ephesians 1:13, 14)
February 1, 2009The Promise of God's Purpose (John 15:26, 27)