Good morning, please open your bibles to 1st Corinthians. The text to which we will turn our attention this morning is found in chapter two of Paul’s first letter to the church of God in Corinth. We will continue our journey through Paul’s deeply profound and theological letter.
As we mentioned last week, Paul is here in the middle of an extended argument. He has been contrasting the wisdom of this world, or fleshly wisdom, with the true wisdom of God, which is principally seen in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
This wisdom of Christ crucified, Paul says, is the Power of God, and the only sure foundation of his ministry. But the Corinthians, however, have fallen for the temptation of worldliness. They were fighting and arguing and dividing over worldly estimations of wisdom. They were drawn toward impressive rhetoric and eloquent teaching. And the church was rupturing over this. They thought themselves to the wise and mature ones, but in fact they were the infants in the faith, as demonstrated by their falling for the world’s wisdom.
Today we will see Paul address the Spiritual nature of God’s wisdom. Unlike the world’s wisdom, which is obsessed with power and impressive shows of eloquence, the message of the cross is revealed only by the Spirit of God, and it concerns itself not with power, but with humility. Not with dominance, but with submission, submission even unto death.
And we will also see how the temptation that trapped the Corinthians is not relegated to the past. It is alive today. We can fall prey to the enticements of worldly wisdom, and so undermine the cross of its power, Paul says.
Let’s begin by reading our text. 1 Corinthians chapter 2, I’ll begin reading in verse 6, and we’ll focus on verses 10-13. 1 Corinthians 2, starting in verse 6. Hear the word of our Lord:
6 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”—
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.13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.[d]
Let’s begin by looking at verse 10 and seeing the Spirit’s ministry to us. The Spirit’s ministry to us. Verse 10 says, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”
These things, he says. “What things, Paul?” Paul has been previously speaking of the secret and hidden wisdom of God, the wisdom that was veiled to the world, the wisdom that no eye could see, no ear could hear, nor any heart imagine. That’s the wisdom.
And that wisdom has been made clear on the cross. That wisdom, as we discussed last week, has been revealed through the coming of Jesus Christ and through his ministry on behalf of his people. That’s what have been revealed to us. And the fact that it had to be revealed to us shows us something about ourselves. It shows us our natural need. It shows us our natural incapacity. Our inability to grasp wisdom on our own.
Since the entrance of sin into the world through Adam’s disobedience in the garden, every man, woman, and child has had an inability to grasp the things of God. We’re born naturally blind to the wisdom of God. Not to preempt the next sermon, but the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit.
But God has, through his Holy Spirit, revealed this spiritual wisdom to us. He’s given us eyes to see. Theologians will call this “illumination.” That is, it’s like we were sitting in a dark room, unable to see what was around us, unable to grasp the unifying wisdom of God, the wisdom that was hidden in ages past. But now, the Holy Spirit has turned on the lights, he has worked in our hearts to remove the blinders of sin that we had over our eyes.
Now we can see. Now we can know and understand and appreciate and cherish the message of the cross that Paul has been teaching to us. And this illumination can only be achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Man’s wisdom is totally impotent to bring about true illumination. Modern man thinks in his pride that he can solve every problem. He thinks that we can educate mankind out of our problems. If we can just get better schools, better teachers, better curricula, new buildings, new technology, then we can set students on the right path and that would solve crime and poverty and brokenness in society.
Or man will say that politics will solve our problems. If we just got the right people in the right places in government, then we’d solve it. If we could just get the right pieces of legislation in place, the right justices in the right courts, the right leaders, then we’d be going in the right direction. That’s what we need. And if we can make all that happen, then we’d get society going in the right direction again. Then we can save America from the liberals or from the conservatives, as if it was a political theory that was our ultimate problem.
The ultimate problem we have is a sin problem. Sin has blinded our eyes. Sin has brought a curse upon this world. Sin has brought crime and corruption and poverty and brokenness to society. And sin is a spiritual problem. No fleshly solution can remedy this spiritual problem. For a spiritual problem, you need a spiritual solution. And that is what God has provided, Paul says.
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” Not through education. Paul was an educated man. He was trained by one of the most well-known rabbis of his day. He was a scholarly and erudite man, but he knew that none of that meant anything without the Spirit’s work of illumination. No training, no education, no amount of fleshly effort can force a man into the kingdom of God. Only the spirit can do that.
And we need to remember that. We were blind. We were stumbling around in the darkness. We were inept and incompetent, full of sin and seeking the pleasure of this world. That was us. We were unable to even see the glory of God in the wisdom of the Cross. We were in the grave, dead in our sins, wholly unable to resurrect ourselves. Totally unable to extricate ourselves from the curse.
But God has worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He’s turned on the lights. He’s transferred us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his marvelous light. That’s good news. And that good news ought to keep within us two spiritual dispositions: humility and gratitude.
God’s work of illumination through the Holy Spirit ought to keep us humble and grateful. Humble, because we were not the instruments of our salvation, the instruments that made us see. We didn’t educate or legislate or work our way into salvation. God has done it. God has done every bit of it. “What have you now that you have not received?” Paul will elsewhere say, implying an answer of “NOTHING.” You have nothing that was not a gift from God. Therefore, you have no reason to boast. A believer ought to be humble.
But not only that, God’s wisdom also should keep us in a state of constant gratitude. You were blind, with no hope of seeing God’s wisdom, and yet God came and worked in you by his Holy Spirit. God took the initiative. God acted. God saved. And he did so IN SPITE of your inclination AWAY from Him and His wisdom.
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see.
Believers, remind yourselves often of God’s unilateral action in the cross and through his Holy Spirit. And by being reminded of HIS action on your behalf, have within you a renewed spirit of humility and gratitude. The Cross is the garden from which grows a heart of humble thankfulness, and all of this is done only because the Holy Spirit has revealed God’s wisdom to you. That’s the Spirit’s ministry to us.
Second, we’ve seen the Spirit’s ministry to us, now let’s examine the Spirit’s identity. The Holy Spirit’s identity. Paul says in the latter half of verse 10 and verse 11 that, 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.”
Paul here is taking us into God himself. He’s teaching the Corinthians about WHO the Holy Spirit is, and HOW he relates to God. This is getting into the doctrine of the Trinity, specifically the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which is sometimes called Pneumatology, which comes from the Greek work PNEUMA, which means Spirit or breath.
This doctrinal groundwork is important because Paul will later correct the Corinthians and their wrong views of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is laying the foundation of a proper view of the Spirit’s work by grounding it in the proper view of the Spirit’s identity. Or to say it another way, WHO the Spirit is will inform how we understand WHAT the Spirit does. We need to understand WHO the Holy Spirit is, if we are to rightly understand WHAT his ministry is to believers.
So back to the text. The Spirit searches everything, Paul says, which does not mean that the Spirit was previously ignorant of something, and He had to go search it out. Rather, Paul is saying that nothing is outside of the Spirit’s scope of knowledge or vision. He, as we will see explicitly in a moment, is fully God, and as such, has no limitations. If the Spirit is fully God, sharing fully in the divine nature, then he possesses all the qualities that God possesses.
He is omniscient, that is, he knows all things. He is omnipresent, which means that he is everywhere. He searches everything, and nothing is outside of the scope of his vision, unlike man, who is limited by his sight and perceptive abilities. Man can only look in one direction, and he can only do it for a limited time. But the Spirit sees all, and he sees it at all times and in every direction. He’s not limited by space or time, because he is God. The Spirit searches everything.
Paul goes on. He says, “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” Here we have one of the bible’s clearest arguments in favor of the deity of the Holy Spirit. This is a doctrine that it took the church hundreds of years to iron out, but I’m so glad that the Early Church fathers did.
In brief, the scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit shares every bit of the divine nature, the divine essence, as do the Father and the Son. I mentioned this a moment ago, but it is worth repeating because the Corinthians got their doctrine of the Holy Spirit wrong, and churches all over today get the doctrine wrong.
People think that the Holy Spirit is just some sort of impersonal force. Some sort of mystical impulse sent out by God to get his work done in the world. Or even worse, you’ll hear people explicitly teach the heresy of Modalism, which was one of the first heresies that the church encountered and condemned, which teaches that there is only one god, and that that god reveals himself in different modes in scripture. First, he revealed himself as a father. Then he came as a son. And now he has come as a Holy Spirit.
I won’t go into a long defense of the orthodox teachings of the Trinity and why modalism is wrong, but I can give you a couple of brief points by way of rebuttal. First, if Modalism is true, then the cross doesn’t make any sense. Who was dying on the cross and who was accepting the sacrifice? Who raised whom from the death? Without the Trinity, the cross becomes the confusion of God, rather than the wisdom of God.
Second, if modalism is true, then the New Testament authors were totally ignorant of it, because Paul often speaks of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as personally distinct. For example, biblical authors will say that you can sin against the Holy Spirit, you can grieve the Holy Spirit, or you can sin against the Son or the father. This kind of language would make no sense if modalism was true. How can you grieve an impersonal force? You can’t.
Now, moving back to our text, Paul’s argument is clear: the Spirit has revealed God’s wisdom to us, and the Spirit searches the depths of God. And to further explain his point, he uses a human analogy: “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”
Nobody knows what’s going on in your head. Nobody can read your mind. Indeed, even your spouse, the person that knows you the best in the whole world, can’t read your thoughts. Only you know them.
So too, the Spirit of God is fully aware of God’s divine thought life, if I could use human language for such, and because the Spirit can plumb the depths of God, we can be assured of some important things. Let me give us a couple of conclusions from Paul’s argument here about the Spirit.
A first conclusion to be drawn, as I mentioned above, is that the Spirit is fully God, and this is crucial for proper worship. The Spirit is fully God, and this is crucial for proper worship. The Spirit is fully God as much as the Son is and as much as the Father is. And this isn’t some insignificant doctrinal nitpicking. Right thinking about God is necessary for the right worship of God, as the early Church fathers understood. That’s what led them to clarify and fight for these orthodox biblical principles.
Basil of Caesarea wrote the first treatise in church history on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which I encourage you to read sometime, and he did so because he was convinced that pneumatology is crucial for worship. If the Spirit is God, then he’s worthy of our worship, and if he’s not God, then worshipping him is idolatry. Which is it? This is a crucial question for right worship.
We can’t worship a God we don’t know. We can’t worship in Spirit and in Truth when we don’t grasp the truth about who God is. The doctrine of the Spirit’s deity is crucial to our right and proper worship.
A second conclusion that we can draw from Paul’s statements on the Holy Spirit: the Spirit is a faithful witness. The Spirit is a faithful witness. If the Spirit reveals God’s wisdom to us, and the Spirit is fully God’s spirit, then we don’t have to second guess the Spirit’s work of illumination.
We don’t have to doubt the wisdom of what the Spirit has revealed to us, nor do we have to doubt that God’s wisdom is so deep that the Spirit cannot reach it. We can rest securely upon the wisdom revealed by the Holy Spirit. Nothing is too profound for the Spirit to reach, nothing in God’s wisdom is too complex for the spirit to fathom. The Spirit is fully God, and the Spirit a faithful witness. That’s the Spirit’s identity.
Third, we’ve looked at the Spirit’s ministry and the Spirit’s identity, now let’s look at verse 12 and see Our Gift of the Spirit. Our gift of the Spirit. Verse 12 says, “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”
Paul is here heightening the contrast. He’s making explicit the difference between the spiritual and the natural, or the spiritual and the fleshly, we could even say the wise and the foolish of this world. What we’ve been given is not the spirit of the world, not the worldly wisdom he has been unmasking. We’re not filled with worldly philosophy, and we’re not to be led astray by such things.
We’ve been given the Holy Spirit of God himself. The Spirit who is from God, sent by God, one with God, sharing in the divine essence, searching Himself the very deep things of God because He shares in the very same deep things. That’s the Spirit that we’ve been given. That’s the contrasting element that believers have.
It’s not their wisdom and their wit, it’s not that believers are smarter or cleverer or more beautiful or more humble. It’s that they have the Spirit. That’s what makes them distinct from the world, and that’s what makes them able to understand the glorious gospel of God.
They didn’t figure it out on their own. They didn’t intuit it with their keen minds. They were dark of mind themselves, but the Spirit came and He opened their eyes.
That’s what the next part of the verse says, “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, [WHY?] so that we might understand the things freely given us by God”
We’ve not been given divine wisdom and spiritual illumination because we were so wonderful. We were given them by the Spirit for a purpose: So that we might UNDERSTAND. So that we might KNOW. So that we might have certainty.
We weren’t given this Spirit so that we could primarily FEEL, but so that we might UNDERTAND. That we might KNOW. That we might put on the mind of Christ, as he says at the end of the chapter. Christianity is a religion concerned with truth, with knowledge, with what we know to be true, and that is what the gift of the Holy Spirit gives to us: the ability to understand and the know the hidden wisdom of God that has been revealed in Christ crucified.
Do you know this Gospel? To you understand what the Spirit reveals? Have you understood, as Paul describes it, “the things freely given us by God?” These things given to us freely are salvation and all of its benefits, things that can be freely given because Christ was crucified on the cross. He’s earned it all, and thus can give it all freely.
That’s the simply message of God’s wisdom. Man, in his pride, sinned. He violated God’s law. He refused to honor God as such, he stole, he murdered, he engaged in sexual immorality, he lied, he worshipped all the idols of this world, and he loved it all. He had no desire to submit to God. He had no heart for repentance and submission.
But God! But God, scripture says, came to man in his deadness and sin. Came to man while he was dead in his trespasses. And he provided a way for man to be restored. But this wasn’t a self-help plan. Man was dead in sin. He couldn’t help himself. He needed rescuing, and even more than that, He needed resurrecting. And that’s what God has done.
But the mystery of God’s wisdom is that God has done it through great cost to himself. He sent his own Son, Jesus, to die in the place of sinners. That’s good news. Jesus has borne the punishment that was earned by his people. And he’s taken it all, every drop of wrath that was earned by them, and he’s taken it to the grave and buried it forever. And that same Jesus was raised three days later, being a foretaste of what all believers will have one day.
We too will be raised to life, eternal life, if we believe in him. So I ask you: Do you believe in this Christ? If you do, then continue to believe, and praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit who has revealed this truth to you.
But if you do not believe, if you’re still not sure what I am talking about, or if you’re not convinced that what I am saying really is the good news that I think it is, then I encourage you to test the scriptures. Read them for what they say, test the logic of them, lean into them. The scriptures grant you warrant to believe in this Christ, and don’t forsake the investigation until you come away with faith and assurance.
The plan of God, the wisdom of God, is more comprehensive, more consistent, more glorious than any other wisdom this world can offer. No other system, no other philosophy, no other worldview can come close to the consistency or to the expansiveness of God’s wisdom, and you are utterly doomed without it.
Read of Jesus in scripture and hear of his love for sinners. How he loved, without being loved in return. How he served, rather than seeking to be served. How he died, rather than demanding life, so that his people might be forgiven of their pride and their foolishness.
This Jesus is the wisdom of God. Pray to God for the eyes to see. Pray that the Holy Spirit would grant you faith to believe, and by your believing have life in him. That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit: eyes to see the things freely given us by God.
Moving on, so far we have seen the Spirit’s ministry, the spirit’s identity, and the gift of the Spirit to us. Now let’s turn to and see in verse 13, our Spiritual Duty, our Spiritual Duty.
Verse 13 says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual”
This wisdom of ours is explicitly “not imparted [by] words of human wisdom” Paul says. That’s what Paul said of his own ministry above in verse 2: “I decided to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified.” He intentionally decided to forsake human wisdom, the wisdom of this age, the world’s standards of what is true and good and beautiful, and he decided to know only the foolish message of the gospel. That was his calling, and that is the calling of every believer of every age.
That’s why he shifts to the first-person plural in verse 13. He says, “we” impart. He includes himself in this duty. Every believer, every teacher, every preacher is called to proclaim God’s wisdom in a manner consistent with the nature of that wisdom. And if the wisdom is revealed only through the work of the Holy Spirit, then it would be foolish to try and use the world’s wisdom to teach it.
How could spiritual wisdom be imparted through fleshly tactics? How could you manipulate, and cajole, and pressure, and induce someone into belief, when the first prerequisite of their belief is the act of the Holy Spirit working in their heart? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work, it’s not logical, and it undermines the message. That’s what Paul says in chapter 1: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but the preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, LEST THE CROSS BE EMPTIED OF IT’S POWER.”
Using worldly tactics, worldly philosophy, worldly values undermines the gospel. It nullifies the power. It takes a message all about God’s glory and makes it all about man’s glory. It doesn’t just slightly shift the message, it turns it upside down and destroys it.
Churches do this all the time. We can proclaim a message that Jesus wants the broken and the hurting, but when somebody comes in that is broken and hurting in ways that we’re not comfortable with, we ignore them, or ask them to leave.
Churches say they welcome all sinners, but are uncomfortable around the poor, or the addicts, or those people with messy lives, those people who vote differently or who look and speak differently from us.
What we’re doing when we SAY the gospel is for everyone but then treating different kinds of sinners with partiality, what we’re doing is using the world’s wisdom to try and preach a spiritual message. We’re telling people that when they get their act together a little bit more, then then cam come in, which is exactly what the world says. The world says get it together, get your finances straight, get your house in order, get your education done, get your repentance right, then you can participate.
But that’s not the gospel. The Gospel, God’s spiritual wisdom, is that YOU can’t get yourself right enough to come into God’s presence. You can’t clean yourself up enough to earn a seat at the table. God’s gospel is exactly the opposite of the world’s wisdom. Because you couldn’t clean yourself up, God came and died on the cross so that you can be washed. God came to wash you. God came to straighten up you. God came to redeem you. You didn’t do it, in fact you can’t do it. Don’t try to do it.
Come to God and believe this message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s step one. Nobody is outside of that message. Nobody is excluded from that necessity. Everybody must be washed by Jesus if he is to be washed at all. Nobody straightens out their own messy lives apart from faith in Christ.
Do you believe that? Do trust in that spiritual wisdom? If you do, then don’t succumb to the temptation to return to worldly standards. Don’t treat outsiders and sinners with partiality and prejudice. Embrace sinners for what they are: human beings made in God’s image, and as such, each of them is a potential future brother or sister in Christ, no matter how sinful they may be right now.
The only thing that differentiates you from that addict on the street, or the prostitute on the corner, is the fact that God’s spirit has been given to you to enable you to see and believe. And the only thing keeping any great sinner from becoming the next Paul or the next Billy Graham, is the Holy spirit opening his eyes to see the glory of the gospel in Christ crucified.
And if you haven’t believed in this gospel, press into Jesus today. Strain to reach him, work to understand the scriptures. See how scripture calls every man a hell-bound sinner apart from Christ, but how Christ calls for every sinner to come to him and believe. That’s all that’s required of you. Come to him and believe. Come to him and be forgiven. Come to him and be washed and made pure. Come to him and have your past sins removed. Come to him and have your conscience made white.
Come to him and believe, and you too can be made spiritual. That’s our goal. That’s our mission. To have spirit-taught truths, spiritual truths, taught to the spiritual. That was Paul’s mission. That’s our mission.
May God grant us success in our Spiritual Duty.