Good Evening. If you have your bibles, please open then with me to the New Testament. The text to which I would like to turn your attention this evening is 1 Corinthians chapter 2. 1 Corinthians chapter 2.
I had intended to finish this chapter last week, but after last week’s sermon I didn’t feel like I had adequately explained Paul’s final statement that “we have the mind of Christ.” So we will again this week look at the end of chapter 2 in an attempt to both tie together a few different strands from the first two chapters, and to really drive home Paul’s main emphasis in this section.
To that end, my plan tonight is to first look at verse 16, then zoom out a little and look at the first two chapters as a whole, then to zoom out even more and look across the bible, and then conclude by applying what we have seen to us in very practical ways. That’s where we are headed, and I guess you will have to be the judge if I actually get us there, but either way, let’s jump into the text.
I’ll read 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, focusing tonight on verse 16:
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.
For those who might be just joining us in our study of 1 Corinthians, Paul has written this letter to a church that was struggling. Their pride and their worldliness and their toleration of serious sin in the church had brought them to a breaking point. They were headed toward disaster, and Paul has begun to gently but clearly rebuke them for their sin.
The first chapter contains one of Paul’s most notable statements about the Christian life. He says that the word of the cross, that is the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified in the place of sinners on the cross, is foolishness to the world, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
And he goes on to further explain that our disposition to that word of the cross is the only thing that distinguishes the wise and the foolish. The wise man will recognize and love the word of the cross, and he will determine for that word of the cross is to be his only boast, his only foundation for life and ministry. Conversely, the fool is actually the one who rejects the word of the cross as foolishness.
But this division between the wise man and the fool is not simply an intellectual decision. It’s not merely a mental ascent to the proper evaluation of the cross based upon cool and rational logic. As we read a moment ago, the natural man does not accept the things of the flesh. It doesn’t happen. Man in his natural, fallen condition doesn’t consider the word of the cross as the very wisdom of God. He sees the cross as pure folly. He derides it. It’s silliness and nonsense.
But not only that, Paul says. He ends verse 14 by stating that the natural man isn’t even ABLE to understand the things of the spirit because they are spiritually discerned. The natural man isn’t just mistaken. He is ill equipped. He lacks the moral ability to even rightly see the things of God.
That’s the state of the natural man, the man born sinful, the man without the Spirit of God in him, and that is our state outside of Christ. Each and every one of us were born that way.
Now, Paul then moves to contrast that natural man with the spiritual man in verses 15 and 16. And the spiritual man, we must remember, is not spiritual because he is especially pious. He’s not naturally a more holy person, a person more attuned to the spiritual realm, or a person who is just a little more divinely minded. The spiritual person is so ONLY because the Spirit of God has invaded his life, and because of the Spirit’s work, that person is now able to discern spiritual things. Let me briefly try to summarize these verses, verses 15-16:
“The spiritual man, [that is] the person changed by the Spirit and called into fellowship with Christ, judges all things, that is, he approves (not merely judges) all the things of the Spirit that he hears taught by the apostles or reads in their writings.
But he himself is judged by one, that is, no natural man approves the faith and life of the spiritual man. [Like we discussed last week], just as the cross and the glory of Christ is a foolishness to natural men, so those who love these things seem fools too. And so spiritual men are judged wrongly by the world. [The world believes that we are fools because we believe the word of the cross.]
[Then on to verse 16, where Paul quotes again from Isaiah], For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? That is, no natural man, apart from the Holy Spirit has any access to the mind of God. Verse 11b: “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
Nevertheless, because the Spirit has been given to us, and has changed our proud rebellion into willing submission, we yearn for the unimaginable glory of God and we see the cross as the very wisdom and power of God. That is, we have the mind of Christ.”
That’s the culmination of Paul’s argumentation in this last chapter and a half. To be wise, to be spiritual, to be full of the Spirit, to have the very mind of Christ, is to see the cross as the wisdom of God.
That’s what it means to have the mind of Christ. It is to evaluate the word of the cross, the message that Jesus Christ has come as the perfect God-man to die in the place of sinful men and women on the cross of Calvary and has been raised three days later in accordance with the scriptures. This is the wisdom of God, the power of God, and the mind of Christ.
And Paul is not novel in his argumentation here. This isn’t something new that Paul was pulling out of his hat. The scriptures themselves make this emphasis, that the cross is the climax of God’s redemptive work, the highpoint of the revelation of wisdom and God’s salvific plan.
Jesus spoke this way often. Turn with me to the gospel of Mark, chapter 8. Mark chapter 8, and we can see exactly how Jesus thought about the cross. What is the mind of Christ, and how does it relate to the cross? That’s a great question for us to start to answer by examining Jesus’s own thoughts about that cross. In Mark chapter 8, Jesus has just fed the 4,000 and healed a blind man, and he says these words in 8:31:
“31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly [Mark Says]. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Jesus was teaching plainly, Mark says, about the fact that he MUST suffer many things and be rejected and killed, and that He would rise after three days. It was no secret. It wasn’t a surprise to him. And he wasn’t beating around the bush. And yet the Disciples didn’t understand.
Now turn one chapter later, to chapter 9, verse 31, where Mark tells us Jesus’s words again: “he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
The mind of Christ is clear. He was focused upon the cross, the climax of God’s redemptive plan, but the disciples didn’t even have categories for that. They didn’t yet have the eyes to see what wisdom God was going to reveal on that cross.
Moving ahead one more chapter, to Mark 10:32, we can see the same thing: the mind of Christ is focused on the cross. Mark 10:32:
“And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.””
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I think the point is significant. If we are to have the mind of Christ, then we need to realize that Christ’s mind was focused on the cross, on what God intended to do on the cross, on what would be affected by the cross.
He wasn’t obsessed with the cross in a sort of morbid or suicidal way. He was no lunatic searching for a way to hasten his own end. Rather, he was compelled by love and sober-minded determination to honor his Father by fulfilling the plan that he had agreed to before the foundation of the world. That eternal covenant of Redemption made before all-time where the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit covenanted together in a glorious plan to redeem sinners through the substitutionary death of the Son on the cross.
Christ knew his role, he knew his mission, and he knew that his ministry would be ultimately fruitless if he were unfaithful to complete the climax of his agreement, which was to die a cursed sinner’s death. He knew this.
And one of the reasons that Jesus knew this was because this coming death was foretold. He wasn’t the first person to know about this; the wisdom of the coming death of the messiah was plastered throughout the Old Testament.
Remember with me Luke 24 and the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. If you want you can turn there to read along, but if not I’ll just tell you again of the story. Luke 24 is after the resurrection, and these two disciples were talking about the things that had just happened in Jerusalem, which included the death of Jesus. And as they are walking, Jesus draws near and asks them what they are talking about. And they respond in verse 18:
““Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [that’s the Old Testament He is speaking of] 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
It was necessary, he said, that the Christ should suffer. The cross was central to the plan of God.
Oh to have been there, to hear the God of all scripture preach a sermon about Himself from the scriptures. He went throughout the Old Testament and interpreted to them how all the scriptures connect to Him. Where do you think He took them?
Do you think he went through the Levitical system and showed how all the sacrifices pointed to him, and how the priests all pointed toward his great work as the great High Priest? Do you think he went through the kings and showed how he is the promised son of David?
Do you think he went through the psalms, and connected his words on the cross:
- Like when he said “I thirst” from the cross, fully tasting the curse and separation that man had earned, and thereby fulfilling the words of Psalm 69;
- Or maybe reminded them of his words, “My God My God why have you forsaken me” fulfilling the words of David from Psalm 22;
- Or did he take them to Psalm 31 “Father into your hands I commit my spirit”?
But he certainly couldn’t finish that great sermon without taking them to Isaiah 53.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
It was the will of the Lord to crush him. In God’s mysterious providence, the moment of apparent defeat became the moment of divine victory. The cross and the grave, the moment of intense shame, became the start of his ascent into glory. The moment of seeming foolishness, in fact, became the moment of Divine wisdom.
That plan, that goal of redemption, that revelation of wisdom on the cross was on Christ’s mind, because it had been on Christ’s mind from all eternity. It had been on his mind in the garden when God promised the coming seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. It was on his mind while Moses and the prophets were writing their scripture. It was on Christ’s mind while he was here in his earthly ministry. And it is on Christ’s mind now.
And I say the cross is on the mind of Christ now because that is the means that he chooses to save sinners. The proclamation of the cross of Christ, as Paul has made clear in this chapter, is the foundation of any Christian ministry, any Christian sermon, and any Christian’s life.
If we are to have the mind of Christ, then we are to have a mind that is constantly drawn back to the cross of Jesus. A mind that interprets events in light of the cross, interprets ideas in light of the cross, and interprets our feelings in light of what we know to be true about the cross. In short, if we’re to be people filled with the spirit and possessing the mind of Christ, then we ought to be cross-centered people. The cross should be evident wherever the people of God are present.
I don’t mean that we wear little crosses. I mean that our behavior, our speech, our motivations, our goals, our marriages, our relationships, and even our affections should all be shaped by and connected to the cross of Jesus.
To that end, I’d like to spend the rest of tonight thinking through some ways that we ought to possess the mind of Christ. What might it look like for us to have the mind of Christ, and to be cross centered people, as Paul is calling us to be.
A first point of application: When the mind of Christ grips us, it changes how we think about our lives. When the mind of Christ grips us, it changes how we think about our lives. Prior to seeing the cross as God’s wisdom, we all lived and believed that this whole life is about us. We lived for my comfort, my peace of mind, my prosperity, my stuff, my pride, my desires. Life was all about ME.
But then God’s spirit worked in our lives and let us see His wisdom at the cross. And we then realized that our whole lives should not be about us, but should be lived instead focused on him. The bible teaches this in many places, but one of the clearest ones is in the book of Romans. Paul spent the first 11 chapters explaining about Christ’s sacrifice, and then in chapter 12 tells us that we should be a sacrifice ourselves.
And what he is doing is building upon imagery from the Old Testament. You see, there were two main sacrifices that the Israelites gave to God. The first was a sacrifice of atonement for sin, and it was propitiatory, that is, it assuaged the wrath of God that was pointed toward their them for their sins. And then, they would give a second sacrifice that was a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God that he had accepted their first sacrifice and forgave their sins. This second sacrifice was a dedicatory sacrifice.
And that’s the language that Paul picks up on in Romans. In light of Christ’s propitiatory and atoning sacrifice explained in the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul says that we should then OURSELVES BE the dedicatory sacrifice. We ARE the sacrifice of thanksgiving. That’s what he is getting at when he says in Romans 12, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
We don’t live holy lives in order that we’d have our sins atoned for. We don’t offer sacrifices and worship SO THAT God will love us. Christ has already earned that on the Cross. We’ve already been forgiven; the propitiatory sacrifice has already been offered. We’ve already been atoned for. Instead, we reflexively offer our entire lives as sacrifices to God himself BECAUSE we have been already saved on the cross.
That’s the good news, and that’s why we need to get the cross right. A mind that has been gripped by Christ, that is focused on the cross, will not try to earn ourselves into heaven, or try to perform good works in order to merit God’s love. Rather, the cross reminds us that we’re already beloved and by Christ, and have nothing left to earn. It’s all been done, and because it has all been done by Christ on the cross, I then am compelled by love to offer my whole life as an offering of thanksgiving in the service of God. I don’t serve in order to be loved; I serve because I have already been loved on the cross.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you if you understand that? Do you know that love? Are you resting and trusting completely in the work of Christ and Christ alone as your salvation? Or are you trying to earn your way into heaven, into his graces, into his good favor by your efforts to be a good person? Do you see your life all about you and your preferences, or is your life a dedicatory sacrifice of thanksgiving to Him?
If you have not trusted in Jesus, if you have not completely surrendered to him and his work on your behalf as your only hope, then know that you are running down the path of sin and death. No man can make himself right with God, and no man is good enough to meet God’s bar of perfection. Come to Jesus tonight, and believe in his message of the cross, and you too can be saved.
And if you are trusting in Christ, then remind yourself regularly of the cross, and He will help you keep your life focused on Him. Your being a living sacrifice for him will be easy if you are constantly reminded of the cross.
If Christ forgave me of so much, how could I keep a grudge against her? If Christ died to wash me of my sin, how could I go back to that sinful habit? If I’ve been filled with the holy spirit, how could I defile myself with this or that old sin?
In short, If Christ gave up everything to give me life, how could I not give up my life for him? When the mind of Christ grips us, it changes how we think about our lives.
Second, not only will the mind of Christ change how we think about our lives, it also removes our snobbery. When the mind of Christ grips us, it removes our snobbery. Snobbery of any kind is so unbecoming of a Christian. It was part of the problem in the Corinthian church. They were being snobs about what kind of speaker they wanted, what kind of rhetorical flair and oratorical opulence they preferred. They were speaker snobs.
To borrow an illustration from an old Scottish preacher, they’d have a real problem with a plain preacher, with somebody like the Old Testament prophet Amos speaking among them:
“Uh, Amos, could you just stand up and tell us a little about yourself. “Yeah, well, I’ve lately just done a little bit of tending fig trees.” “Huh. Well is that it?” “Yeah, mostly, I mean I have done a little shepherding too, but mostly just the figs.”
“Well Amos you’re not helping us out, we’re trying to make some conference flyers here and nobody is going to come and listen to a fig farmer. We need a little more pizazz, a little more flash.”
Evangelicalism today is the same kind of way. You can pick the snobbery, whether it is rhetorical snobbery, intellectual snobbery, class snobbery, racial snobbery, financial snobbery, or doctrinal snobbery, it’s all alive and well in the church today, and whenever you see it in yourself you need to remember that it is totally counter to the cross of Christ.
If we possess the mind of Christ, then any kind of boasting in self is totally undermined. We didn’t affect our own salvation, Christ came and took action. We didn’t embrace the message of the cross because we were so clever or smart. We were unable to, Paul says, apart from the prior work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the wisdom of God to us.
What then is left of our boasting? It is gone. Any gifts I have come from His Hand. Any graces I’ve experienced, come from Him. Any service I’ve given in his name, all come from his Holy Spirit’s work. Indeed, in my own strength, I’d be nothing. As John Newton once wrote:
My grace would soon exhausted be,
But his is boundless as the sea;
Then let me boast, with holy Paul,
That I am nothing, Christ is all.
When the mind of Christ grips us, it removes our boasting and our snobbery.
Third, and related to the previous point, When the mind of Christ grips us, it motivates humble service to others. When the mind of Christ grips us, it motivates humble service.
You don’t have to turn there, but there is another famous passage where Paul connects the mind of Christ with humble service. In Philippians chapter 2 Paul talks about Christ’s mind, which he gives us when we come to him, and how that mind propels us toward humble service. Philippians 2, starting in verse 5:
“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Christ’s mind was dominated by loving service to others, service even unto death. John Stott, who wrote a wonderful book called The Cross of Christ, said that, “What dominated Christ’s mind was not the living of His life but the giving of His life.” What dominated Christ’s mind was not the living of His life but the giving of His life. I find that quite impactful. So often I get all caught up in the living of my life: my schedule, my timeline, my finances, my comfort, my time off, my plans, my priorities.
But Christ was not so. His mind was dominated with the giving of his life, which we saw earlier from Mark. He was constantly working toward, teaching toward, pointing toward the cross. He was instructing others constantly about how he came not to be served, but to serve.
And when a life is really gripped by the mind of Christ, when the cross really takes hold in our lives, we’ll see a growing willingness to humbly serve others. I’ll stop demanding my life take priority, but rather seek to give the place of honor to others. We’ll begin to share our toys with other children, and we’ll use our tongues for building up, and we’ll give away our time and our money to help others, and we’ll begin so spend more time in the hard work of prayer.
In short, When the mind of Christ grips us, it motivates humble service toward others.
Finally, and briefly, When the mind of Christ grips us, it unties our tongues. When the mind of Christ grips us, it unties our tongues.
When I realize that the cross removes the sting of death, that God has declared me to be eternally righteous because of Son’s work on the cross, and that no earthly power can stand against me, then I’ll be willing to use my tongue to declare this message of the cross to others.
I’ll be willing to endure the shame, endure the lecture, endure being ostracized, endure being called a fool. Indeed, if necessary, I’ll be willing to endure the threats and the beatings, just like Peter and John in Acts 4.
Do you remember that story? Peter and John were taken into custody and charged not to speak or to teach at all in the name of Jesus. But they responded, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, but we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. That is the mark of a heart that has been gripped by the cross, and that is a person that has put on the mind of Christ.
I cannot but speak of what I have seen and heard. I want to go to the coffee shop and find just one person to speak to. I want to find one of my neighbors that hasn’t yet heard the gospel from me. I cannot but speak of what I have seen and heard.
In closing, a wise person is a cross-centered person, and a person who has the mind of Christ is focused on the cross. And when we put on that mind of Christ, we’ll be reminded always that we’ve been forgiven of every sin, we’ve been washed of every sin, and we’ve been brought into the very household of God for all of eternity. And when we’re reminded of that good news, we can’t help but to speak of what we have seen and heard.
May that be true of us, as we all seek to put on the mind of Christ. Amen.
 Adapted from a John Piper sermon (“Natural People and Spiritual People,” preached 2/14/1988) on this text: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/natural-people-and-spiritual-people .