If you just read the first part of 1Corinthians, you could come away with the impression that Paul said the gospel really is foolish and weak. Not at all! This is only the way the world perceives the gospel. In chapter 2, Paul revealed that weakness and simplicity are not the end of the story but the beginning. It is through the weakness of proclaiming the gospel that the wisdom and power of God are made manifest. The world regards God’s wisdom as foolish because it is incapable of comprehending or accepting its truths. God’s wisdom is a mystery which the unsaved cannot grasp, and no one would have known apart from divine revelation. Through His Spirit, God has revealed Himself to people. The Spirit who searches the depths of God has been given in a special way to the apostles. Through those inspired men, divine thoughts had been translated into divine words. Those who possess the Spirit by faith in Christ can appraise the spiritual truths of Scripture. Those who are unsaved, and thus without the Spirit, cannot. No wonder they think God’s wisdom is foolish. They cannot understand it—or God. But we who have the Scriptures and the Spirit have the mind of Christ.
Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mindimagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1Corinthians 2:6-9
At verse 6, Paul changed from the first person singular (“I”) to the first person plural (“we”). Verses 1-6 spoke of Paul’s mind set, message, and methods when he first came to Corinth with the gospel. In verse 6, Paul spoke for more than just himself. I understand the “we” to refer principally to the apostles. As further developments in this letter and 2 Corinthians will show, the real struggle was not with Corinthian cliques, each of which had chosen to follow a different apostle, but with those in Corinth who had turned from the apostles to other teachers, of which some will prove to be “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
What was the Corinthians’ beef with Paul that they chose to follow other leadership? It is Paul’s “simplistic” devotion to Christ crucified. Paul has chosen to be a one-note Sally and continue to stress that which was offensive to both Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, for a Corinthian Christian to identify with the apostle Paul was to embrace that which is foolish and weak to the unbelieving mind of his era. To identify with Paul and his preaching was to become a fool in the eyes of the world. Fools were without status. So some were tempted to identify with new leaders whose methods and message were far more acceptable. Associating with them gave one a much higher status.
They weren’t unlike Christians today.
Paul didn’t deny that his message and methods were foolish. In fact, he emphasized that is was. But in moving to the first person plural (“we”), Paul linked himself, his message, and his methods with all of the other apostles. Paul’s message and methods were no different from those of his fellow apostles. He spoke with and for all the apostles as he admonished the Corinthians.
At verse 6, Paul made another shift in his emphasis. Up to this point, Paul had granted the fact that his gospel was foolish and weak. Now he began to clarify and expand his instruction. The apostolic gospel is foolish and weak to unbelievers, but it is neither foolish nor weak in the sight of God. Neither should it be regarded as foolish nor weak in the sight of the saints. In verse 6, Paul insisted that the apostles did speak wisdom. This wisdom is not for all, however. There were two groups from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld. The first group is those who was immature (verse 6). In chapter 3, verse 1, Paul plainly told the Corinthians they were “men of flesh,” “babes in Christ,” and in verse 3, he contended that they still remained in the same condition. Did the Corinthians chafe because Paul’s message was too simple? The problem was not with Paul or his colleagues; the problem was with the Corinthians. They could handle a more indepth gospel.
The second group from whom apostolic wisdom is withheld is unbelievers (2:6). Paul said the wisdom the apostles preach is not of “this age.” Consequently, the rulers of “this age” are not able to grasp it. Even those who are the wisest and most powerful people of this age are unable to grasp it. This is evident at the cross of Calvary. There, at the cross, the rulers of this age rejected Jesus as the Messiah as God’s means of salvation. God’s “wisdom”was never more clearly manifested to men than in the person of Jesus Christ, but the best of this age were not able to see it. It is obvious that they did not receive this “Wisdom” because they crucified Him.
Paul’s words here help us to distinguish between God’s wisdom and worldly wisdom. God’s wisdom was revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ at His first coming, but the world rejected Him and the wisdom He manifested. The wisdom of God is “eternal wisdom,” a wisdom established in eternity past yet to be fully implemented when Christ’s kingdom is established on the earth. The wisdom of this world is “empirical wisdom,” based upon that which can be seen and heard and touched. The wisdom of God cannot seen by the naked eye, heard with the ears, fathomed by the natural mind. It surpasses even man’s imagination. It is other worldly. This should not come as a surprise to the Christian. The prophet Isaiah indicated as much in the citation which Paul included in verse 9.
God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 1Corinthians 2:10-13
Paul has just shown us why God’s wisdom, which the apostles proclaimed, is rejected by the great but unbelieving men of this age. Men of this age are limited to temporal, human wisdom. They cannot grasp God’s eternal wisdom. They cannot see, hear, or comprehend the things of God. How then can mere mortals ever know God’s wisdom?
In verses 10-13, Paul expounded the doctrines of inspiration and revelation whereby God has made His wisdom known through the apostles who have inscripturated the “depths of God.”
How can men really know a God Who cannot be seen and whose provisions are beyond human thought? The answer: through the Holy Spirit, who has imparted the knowledge of God to and through the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of God.” Just as man’s human spirit knows the deep thoughts of the man, so the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, knows the intimate things of God. When the Lord Jesus was on Earth, He spoke many things to His disciples which they did not understand or even remember. Jesus told them that after His departure, He would send His Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not only call the things He had spoken to their remembrance, He would also enable them to understand them so that they could record them for others. In addition, the Spirit would reveal things to come, things of the coming age (see John 14:25-26; John 16:12-15)
Paul had already spoken of the wisdom of God as a mystery (1 Corinthians 2:7). A mystery is something God reveals concerning the future, which is not fully grasped before its fulfillment because it is beyond human comprehension. The apostles played a unique role as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). After God has completed a work that was formerly a mystery, He fully disclosed that mystery through one of His apostles. Paul was surely one of the great “mystery apostles” in that it was his privilege to speak of several mysteries. In the Book of Ephesians, Paul spoke of the privilege God had given him as an apostle to reveal some of these mysteries (Ephesians 1:3-14; 3:1-13; 5:32).
In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, Paul described the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to His disciples (remember that Paul was divinely added as the twelfth apostle). Man, Paul said, could never know God on his own, but God has chosen to make Himself known through His Word and through His Spirit. His Spirit was given to the apostles in a special way so that the things of God might be inscripturated, divinely inspired and recorded as a part of the Bible. The apostles have been given the Spirit in this unique way so they “might know the things freely given to us by God” and might communicate them to us. The Spirit superintended this process by “combining spiritual thoughts (“the depths of God,” verse 10) with spiritual words” (the words of Holy Scripture).
Here is a very crucial difference between the true apostles and false apostles. The apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did! False apostles claimed to speak for God, and they did not! God can be known intimately because He has chosen to disclose His innermost thoughts and being to men by means of His Spirit working through the apostles, resulting in the New Testament Scriptures. To reject the apostles and their teaching as the “wisdom of God” is to reject God, for they are the only ones through whom God has chosen to disclose Himself. Is the gospel simplistic? It is because God’s way of salvation is simplistic—one way (Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6). To reject the apostles’ teaching is to reject the God Who disclosed Himself to men through them.
The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1Corinthians 2:14-16
God has disclosed Himself to men through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knows the intimate things of God and, by inspiring the apostles, has translated spiritual thoughts about God into spiritual words—the New Testament. Yet the unbeliever seems blinded to the truth contained in God’s Word. How can some find a rich source of revelation in the Bible which enables them to know God more intimately, while others find the Scriptures a senseless mixture of writings which cannot even be understood? Why are some drawn to the Scriptures and others repulsed by them?
The difference is the presence or the absence of the Holy Spirit. We see in verses 10-13 that Paul spoke of the Spirit’s work in conveying God’s thoughts to men by inspiring the apostles to convey spiritual thoughts through spiritual words, that which comes down to us as the New Testament. Now, in verses 14-16, Paul wrote of the work of the Spirit, enabling men and women to understand the Scriptures and know the mind of God.
Previously, Paul had divided mankind into two groups:
- those who trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for their eternal salvation, and
- those who do not, who cannot understand the wisdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
True wisdom cannot be grasped by those who are unsaved, by those who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them illuminating the truth of the Scriptures so they can know the deep things of God. True wisdom speaks of things which pertain to a future age and of things which no man has ever seen, or heard, or is even able to imagine. The only way this kind of wisdom can be known is for men to trust in Jesus Christ so that their spiritual eyes may be opened to see the wonders of the wisdom of God and the world to come.
The Christian is called “spiritual” (verse 15) by Paul. Most often, we understand the term “spiritual” to refer to those who are mature, who manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Paul seemed to use it to refer to those who possess the Spirit, who live in the realm of the Holy Spirit because they have trusted in Jesus Christ. The one who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to grasp and to appraise both temporal and eternal matters. Paul said the Christian who possesses the Holy Spirit is able to “appraise all things” earthly and eternal, things pertaining to this age and the next.
While the Christian—“he who is spiritual”—is able to appraise all things and thus to understand the beliefs and the behavior of the unsaved, the unsaved (“natural”) man is unable to understand the Christian (“he who is spiritual”). No wonder Christians are misunderstood and even persecuted. No wonder they are considered foolish and weak. This is the best the unaided mind of the natural man can do.
Paul closed this section of the letter with the words of Isaiah 40:13: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). These words sum up the difference between the non-Christian and the Christian. God has revealed Himself to all men in the person of Christ and in the Scriptures (verses 10-13). The Scriptures make no sense to the unbeliever. This is because it is impossible for the unbeliever to grasp the things of God apart from the Spirit of God. Who can know the mind of the Lord? No one can, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Word of God through the apostles and in illuminating the Scriptures to the individual believer.
In contrast to the unbeliever, who is oblivious to the mind of God, the Christian can say confidently, “We have the mind of Christ.” The “we” may refer either to the apostles, who alone can speak the “mind of Christ,” or more generally, of all the saints who possess the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. It is through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the “mind of Christ” is conveyed to the saints. The Christian has both the Word of God and the witness of His Spirit, the Author of that Word. What more can one ask for than this?
This final statement sums up the vast difference of opinion which exists between Christians and unbelievers over “wisdom.” The unbeliever is incapable of understanding God’s wisdom and so is confined to a very limited, distorted temporal wisdom. The Christian has the means for knowing the mind of God and thus has access to the wisdom of God. The Christian should not be surprised by the reaction of the unbeliever to the preaching of the gospel. Christians should not forsake the vast wisdom God has made available to us in order to pursue the wisdom which the world seeks.
Men can come to know God in only one way—through His Word and through His Spirit. There are many different beliefs about God, but there is only one true God. This is the God Who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. All views of God which originate with men, rather than with God, are false. All views of God which come from some other source than the Bible are false. It does not matter how you would like to think of God. Paul’s words inform us that the way we think about God is certain to be wrong, for true wisdom comes from above, not from below. True wisdom flows from God to men, not from men God-ward. The Bible reveals to us a God that we would not have imagined, a God whom we would not have wanted, a God whom we would not have received. Apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God, we could never have come to know God.