1 Corinthians 2:1-16

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Week 2 – The Wisdom of Men or the Wisdom of the Spirit?

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

By Harvey Edwards, III

Introduction

            I am a great admirer of Christian apologist William Lane Craig. He is a brilliant thinker, conversant in theology, philosophy, logic, mathematics, chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and physics. He draws from his knowledge in all these fields in his compelling book, Reasonable Faith. I recently watched (parts of) a YouTube debate he had at Notre Dame University with philosopher, neuroscientist, atheist, and podcast host Sam Harris. In my view, after reading Reasonable Faith, it would have been unsurprising to me if Mr. Harris had found Mr. Craig’s arguments so persuasive that he then and there conceded the debate and questioned Mr. Craig as to how he too could immediately become a Christian. It didn’t happen. The strength of Mr. Craig’s arguments and evidence did not sway Mr. Harris in the least, and he seemed to be surrounded by an impervious shield to the spiritual truths shared clearly and sensitively by Mr. Craig—the veracity of which were so obvious to me, a fellow Christian. In the comments section under the video, one person wrote, “Two ships passing each other silently on a cloudy night. No intersection in argument.”

            I also have a friend with whom I took several short-term mission trips to Venezuela. We’ll call him Don. Don is soft-spoken, somewhat shy, and a bit introverted. When it came to sharing the gospel with unbelievers, Don had a straightforward technique. He would pray diligently each night of the trip. The next day, he would fearlessly approach anyone, smile and ask if he could talk with them, and then pull out an Evangicube, and give pretty much the same step-by-step, guided presentation of the gospel while he gradually unfolded the cube. He would then ask the prospect if he would like to receive Jesus as Savior, and more likely than not, the answer would be an enthusiastic yes. With no surprise evident in his countenance, Don would then introduce the new convert to members of the team and to local believers, and then inquire if there were any family members or friends that might want to hear the gospel themselves. His productivity was amazing.

            Craig’s presentation was formidable, but in this case, its truth unperceived. Don’s presentation was incredibly spare and simple, but its truth was overwhelming, bringing many to Christ. What’s going on? Craig understands, and explains it clearly near the end of the first chapter of his book, but in this second chapter of 1 Corinthians, we will encounter an even more comprehensive explanation, directly from the pen of Paul.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 together

Study Questions

  1. What does this passage say about God, who He is, and what He does? (Father, Son, and Spirit)
  2. What does this passage teach me about me?
  3. What comfort/promise/challenge can I take away from this passage?
  4. How will I respond or live differently because of what I’ve read?

Passage Specific Questions

  1. How would you characterize the two types of wisdom Paul describes?
  2. Try to think of a person from your life who is a prototype of each type of wisdom. Describe what made them tick.                     
  3. Can you think of a time you tried to share a spiritual thought, but realized it could not be discerned by the other party?
  4. What concrete things can a Christian do to aid in his or her growth in wisdom?

Commentary

2:1-5 – In the first lesson from this book, we recounted how Paul had heard some troubling reports about problems in the Corinthian fellowship. Some of the problems seemed to be pride-based, with various factions wanting to identify themselves with their particular, favored teachers. Oratorical style, lofty rhetoric, impressive displays of knowledge—all these contributed to one’s image of being wise, and enhanced social status in Greek culture. Paul valued wisdom as well, and will in fact urge his younger brothers and sisters in the faith to make every effort to grow in wisdom, for the problems in their church can never be overcome unless they do. But Paul knows that he first needs to challenge their concept of what actually constitutes true wisdom, and he wastes no time in getting to it.

            In the first five verses, Paul pointedly contrasts his style of teaching with that of the usual Greek orator. In preaching the gospel to the Corinthians, Paul had made no attempt to woo them with “lofty speech or wisdom.” He had no interest in competing with the many professional speakers promoting this or that particular philosophy, nor did he desire to impress them with the depth of his knowledge. Paul knew that such a worldly approach was neither necessary nor helpful, for in the words of commentator Matthew Henry, “divine wisdom needed not to be set off with such human ornaments.” Instead, Paul preached one simple truth, which he described as “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” One truth, to be sure, but made up of two elements—Jesus Christ, the God-man, descended from glory to be born of a woman into the world; but also, him crucified.

            What an unthinkable paradox this must have seemed to the mind of natural man, that a gloriously righteous and omnipotent God would reveal himself in the apparent wretched defeat of the cross! That this thought was abhorrent in both Jewish and Greek culture should not surprise us too much, for it remains an almost insurmountable barrier within some cultures today. Even among Christians, we enthusiastically commemorate joyous Advent—the coming of Immanuel to Earth—while soft-playing the suffering of Easter. But Jesus Christ and him crucified was the true and complete gospel Paul himself had finally received—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so to speak—and that was the only gospel he preached.

            So what style did Paul employ as he preached this simple message? We know from Acts that Paul could be perceived as a very powerful speaker. During his first missionary journey, the men of Lystra upon hearing him speak had even taken him to be Hermès, the Greek god of messages and eloquence, and had tried to worship him. But here he reminds the Corinthians that he preached to them “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” This, assuredly, was not the fear of a hostile response to his message. Rather it was a reverent, holy fear of the Lord, the fear spoken of in the Psalms, appropriate to one keenly aware of his lowliness in relation to God. Paul, an ordinary man, knew that he dared not undertake in his own strength the sacred evangelistic mission he was assigned, relying upon mere human eloquence; his sole hope of success was complete reliance upon the power of the Spirit, which alone can change the heart of man. We can guess that his preaching was straightforward, plain, direct, and convicting.

2:6-16 – In this next section, Paul elaborates further upon the nature of wisdom, which he divides into two categories. There is first the wisdom of “the rulers of this age.” What rulers does Paul mean by this term? Certainly, from context, we know that he is including the Jewish rulers who violated their own rules to condemn Jesus to death. We can also be sure that he means the ruling Romans, who were manipulated into carrying out an unwarranted death sentence by the cruel means of crucifixion. Perhaps “this age” can be interpreted more broadly, to include all human rulers from the time that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden; or even more broadly, to include demons and rebellious, cosmic spirits. Whoever Paul is referring to, they operate according to a restricted, worldly wisdom, a wisdom that we can easily recognize at work in our everyday lives. It isn’t always perverse. In fact, it’s serviceable in many matters and its accumulation and employment are necessary for successfully surviving, developing, and thriving in this world. Parents work hard to instill it in their children. It can be absorbed from watching, listening, relating, working, playing, erring and succeeding. It seems to be primarily oriented towards the preservation of one’s life and health, and after that the promotion of the interests of one’s self, one’s family, one’s tribe, race, interest group, nation, etc.

            But this sort of wisdom, though useful, is woefully insufficient. In fact, if used as the controlling compass for life, it is dangerously defective, and in many ways. First, according to Paul, it is doomed to pass away. It has a logic and purpose birthed not in the heart of God, but in the heart of man, and thus it will pass away with man.  Second, it is ignorant of the overarching plan of the Creator of the universe, a plan “decreed before the ages for our glory.” This plan for the everlasting glory of those who love God exceeds anything that we have ever seen or heard or even imagined, and our participation in it is impossible if our life is guided by only the insufficient “wisdom of this age.” Third, expressly because this wisdom is ignorant of the plan of God, its supposed promotion of self-interest can lead to incredibly stupid and evil actions, even to the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory.” According to both Jesus (on the cross) and Paul, had the rulers of the age only understood this plan of God to share his glory with those who love him, they would not have crucified him. But tragically for them, possessing only the wisdom of this age, that’s exactly what they did.

            In contrast to the “wisdom of this age,” Paul describes a different sort of wisdom, a wisdom he has already begun to impart to the Corinthian church. It has been in existence since “before the ages,” decreed by God for our glory. It is a “secret and hidden wisdom,” issuing from the thoughts of God, which are comprehended only by the Spirit of God, who reveals wonderful things about God’s intent for man to share in his glory. It is not able to be acquired by natural means, and it cannot be discerned as wisdom by natural man. Being centered on the lordship of Christ rather than the lordship of self, it is perceived by natural man as weak and foolish—but what an error that is in view of the spiritually revealed plan of God! Anyone who has been moved by the Spirit’s revelation to make Jesus Lord is immediately enabled to begin discerning this spiritual wisdom; and the more yielded we are in following the Spirit, the greater our capacity to receive more spiritual wisdom, “that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” In this way, babes in Christ, looking at first very much like “people of the flesh,” receive more and more wisdom as they grow up into mature spiritual people, able, like Paul, to interpret “spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” These spiritually mature people have no cause to fear the judgment of men, for their wisdom is imparted by the Spirit directly from the mind of Christ. This true wisdom—not yet found in great quantities among the elect in Corinth, as we shall soon see—is what should be prized, and best of all, is available to all believers who request it.  And it is this wisdom that Paul commends.

The Main Point

True wisdom comes not from the mind of man but from the mind of God. It is Spirit-revealed. It operates in joyful awareness of the decreed plans of God to bless those who love him and it is continually bestowed as we walk in the Spirit. Believers should eagerly seek to grow in this wisdom.

A Few Relevant Scriptures

  • Proverbs 2:6 – The source of true wisdom.
  • James 1:5 – All you have to do is ask!
  • Ephesians 5:15-16 – Put it to use! The days are evil.

One Additional Quote

            “Success in evangelism is simply communicating Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God. For the unbeliever as well as for the believer, it is the testimony of God’s Spirit that ultimately assures him of the truth of Christianity.” William Lane Craig, Chapter 1, Reasonable Faith.

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