Good morning. The text to which I’d like to focus our attention this morning is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 2. 1st Corinthians chapter 2. On Sunday evenings we have been working our way through this letter of Paul, and it has thus far been a profitable study. In Shawn’s absence I will press ahead in our study from Sunday evenings.
For those who are unfamiliar with the letter, or if you’re like me and you often struggle to remember sermons preached just a week ago, let me remind us by way of review of what Paul has said thus far to the church of God in Corinth. This will be a little longer introduction than normal so that we can all get up to speed, and so that, hopefully, I won’t need to give such a thorough introduction next week when we come back to this same passage.
This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth, a city in Greece that was at this time under Roman control. It was a very cosmopolitan city, full of money, full of commerce, full of transient visitors, and full of temptation. It was the home of the temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love, and that temple was the center of all sorts of sensual enticements, all committed under the guise of them being acts of “worship” to the goddess of love.
The church itself was founded by Paul. He spent at least 18 months there, as we are told in Acts chapter 18. He was their spiritual father in the faith, and as such, he takes great care to craft this letter to the church. The church was in trouble. Among other problems, it had become disunited. Tribalism and factions broke out, and this was disrupting the church. Many of the members were acting prideful and judging others based on their speaking gifts, based on their social status, and based on their economic status. And they were even tolerating severe and public sexual sin in their midst; sin so egregious that even the pagans would have blushed. Major problems.
So Paul writes a letter. He began in chapter 1 with his customary greeting, and then masterfully begins to focus the attention back on Christ, and to lay the foundation for exposing the Corinthians own sin of pride.
He begins in verse 10 what will be a long argument all the way into chapter 3 against factions, or division in the church. Some were, apparently, saying that they followed Paul, some followed Peter, some Apollos, and some said they just follow Christ. And this was stressing the young church. So Paul, through a series of rhetorical questions, begins to show the folly of their division: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Of course not, Paul implies, and so you shouldn’t be divided.
Then he moves into a wonderful series of arguments that all stem from the famous statement in verse 18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This is the controlling principle that guides the rest of chapter 1 all the way into chapter 3. The contrast is between God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. God’s message of the cross vs. the world’s message of power and rhetoric. God’s word of Christ crucified vs. the world’s word of eloquence and philosophy.
Paul goes on to point out how it was the simple message of the cross, the message of Christ crucified that was the ONLY reason that these Corinthians were believers at all. It wasn’t their own wit or cleverness that made them come to believe. It was God working through the simple foolish message of Jesus Christ crucified.
And a simple faith in this simple message is what Paul had built his entire ministry upon. That’s what the start of chapter 2 is all about. Not worldly wisdom. Not clever and enticing speech. Not speculative philosophizing or intellectual spinning. Simple, unadorned preaching of Christ and him crucified, so that their faith would rest not in man’s wisdom, but in God’s power he says.
That’s what Paul has been doing so far in this letter. Now let’s briefly mention where he’s going next.
For the remainder of chapter 2 Paul sets up 3 different contrasts, three different opposing parties and views. The first, which we will look at today, is the contrast between those who receive God’s wisdom and those who do not. Those who receive God’s wisdom and those who do not.
The next two contrasts, which we will look at in subsequent sermons if the Lord wills, are between the Spirit of God and the Spirit of the world in verses 10-13, and a final contrast in verses 14-16 between the natural person and the spiritual person. That’s where Paul is heading, and where we are heading, but before we get there, let’s go back and read closely our text for this morning.
1 Corinthians 2:6-9. 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, eventhe depths of God.
Like I mentioned earlier, Paul has been making it crystal clear to the Corinthians that God’s wisdom has nothing to do with man’s wisdom, and how Paul himself has intentionally rejected anything of man’s wisdom in his ministry.
But, lest Paul be misunderstood as saying that Christians have no wisdom in their message, and that Christianity is just a religion of intentionally unwise fools, Paul now makes a sharp turn in his arguments. Let’s look at verse 6 and see the wisdom of the mature. The wisdom of the mature.
He says in verse 6 that we DO in fact speak wisdom, or impart wisdom. And this wisdom is found among the “mature.” This word mature has been a source of all sorts of confusion in the history of the church. Paul’s words here have sometimes been misinterpreted to teach that Christianity can be divided into two groups: the mature and the immature, with the mature having a special secret wisdom or knowledge, and the immature believers lacking that secret wisdom or knowledge.
But such an interpretation is not only dangerous because it would divide the church into the haves and the have nots, but such an argument doesn’t fit with what Paul is doing here. As will become evident later, the “mature” title must refer to all Christians, those who have embraced by faith the foolish message of Christ and him crucified, over and against those who have rejected the cross and embraced worldly wisdom.
But then we may ask, why would Paul choose the word “mature” to refer to all Christians in this context? The answer most likely is that Paul is using the word “mature” because the Corinthians loved to apply it to themselves. They thought of themselves as the mature ones, as the ones with a true grasp of sound wisdom and doctrine, and Paul they viewed as the immature one with his simple and unimpressive message of Christ crucified.
Now, Paul does later in this letter speak of Christians in categories of mature and immature, but he is here first challenging the categories that the Corinthians are using. “All Christians are ‘mature’ in the sense that they have come to terms with the message of the cross, while others, by definition, have not. They message of Christ crucified is the only fundamental dividing line in the human race.”
The wise of this age, the rulers of this age think and act like they are the wise ones. They think they are the ones with the insight, with the intellectual acumen, with the right view of the world and right assessment of all the world’s problems. But in fact, by their disbelief in the message of the cross, demonstrate the exact opposite. They prove themselves to be fools. And they will further demonstrate that their wisdom is worthless by their fate.
What does Paul say at the end of verse 6? That the rulers of this age are doomed to pass away. This is the same language used in 1:28. Their wisdom will be brought to nothing, it will be nullified, it will share in the same fate that they have, it will pass away.
And the implied conclusion here is this: Why would you Corinthians put your hope in wisdom that is flawed and doomed to pass away? Even if the rulers of this age are influential now, are impressive now, each of them is coming to nothing, and it demeans the church to be enamored with the applause of a lost and dying world. Why would you put your hope in such things that are devoid of any eternal significance? Why would you Corinthians put such stock in things without ultimate value? It makes no sense. It would be the height of foolishness to evaluate according to worldly and fleeting standards.
But that’s exactly what the Corinthians were doing. In claiming to be wise, they became fools. In their boasting in their worldly wisdom and values, the Corinthians were actually evidencing that they had succumbed to the worldly temptation of foolishness. They only thought they were the mature ones, the grown-ups, and that Paul was the infant.
But the reality was that Paul’s simple ministry of preaching Christ crucified in an unadorned, unimpressive manner was true maturity, and the Corinthian choice to clamor for the things that the world desires actually demonstrated their immaturity. Or to use different words, they thought they were the grown-ups and Paul was childish, but in thinking so, they proved themselves to be the childish ones.
This is where we all need to be careful. We can find ourselves acting just like the Corinthians. Satan and our sinful flesh will both will tempt us to believe that we are actually better off than we really are. In our pride, we think we’re the mature ones, and everybody else are the ones that need to grow up. We’ve got our doctrine correct, they need to study their bible more. We’ve got our act together, they’re the ones that need to straighten up.
We begin to act just like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who went to the temple to pray at the same time a tax collector did, and the Pharisee prayed, “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” The Pharisee, the man that looked to the world like he had his act together, who knew how to properly read God’s word, who knew how to worship according to God’s standards and, by all accounts, the one who assuredly had Godly wisdom and was mature, actually proved himself to be the infant.
Why do I say that? Because the passage continues with the tax collector standing at a distance, unable to even look up toward heaven, crying out to God, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” To the eyes of the world, it was the Pharisee who was biblically wise, and the tax collector was the fool. But that is not how Luke ends the story. Jesus says rather, “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the [Pharisee], went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The proud, those who consider themselves to be the mature ones, those who judge wisdom and giftings according to worldly standards, are doing nothing but demonstrating their lack of maturity. They are, at best, babes in the faith.
While true maturity, true wisdom, looks like the tax collector who knew well of his own sinfulness, he knew he needed forgiveness, he knew he needed a savior. That’s true maturity. Have you experienced this in your own life? Do you tend to play the role of the pharisee in the parable? Or do you relate to the tax collector?
As parents, have you proudly thought yourself to be the holy and mature ones in your home, only to have your child say one little word that convicts you to the core?
Perhaps in your pride you have been absolutely sure of something, so sure that you’d bet money on it, only to later be proven wrong, and had to eat a big slice of humble pie?
Or maybe you find yourself like the Corinthians, pridefully judging others and leaving awake of broken relationships and divided friendships?
Gods people have always had to believe in a foolish message in order to be mature. Noah had to believe in a foolish message of coming judgment, and yet by his believing he was saved. Abraham had to believe in God’s foolish message that he would be given a son, even in his old age. And yet by his believing he was counted righteous. Maturity in the Christian life doesn’t look like speaking big theological words and talking about high-level abstract philosophy. It doesn’t look like the Pharisee, who knew how to dress, how to pray, how to act in public. Maturity looks like humble, simple, child-like faith in the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified for your sins. Maturity looks like crying out like the tax collector. And that’s part of the good news of the gospel. Everyone, from the youngest believer to the most seasoned saint, is mature, if they humbly rest in the cross of Christ.
Do you have this kind of faith? Do you have this maturity? Or have you found yourself again playing the part of the fool, acting in immaturity, acting according to worldly standards of pride and boasting in self? If you have, then I encourage you to consider Paul’s message of Christ and him crucified. That’s the only way to receive forgiveness for pride. Humbly believing the message that Christ died in the place of sinners like me and you is the only way to genuine maturity.
It’s not found in college degrees, or in reciting endless prayers, or in giving away money, or in any other good works. True maturity, true wisdom, looks like simple, child-like, resting in Jesus and his work alone for your salvation. Come to him, each of you, no matter how young or how old, and be made mature today through faith in him. That’s the wisdom of the mature.
Next, we’ve looked at the first point, the wisdom of the mature, now let’s look at verse 7 and the description of God’s wisdom. The description of God’s wisdom.
Paul says in verse 7: “ But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”
The wisdom that is spoken of among the mature is a secret and hidden wisdom, Paul says, which does not mean that it is something that we can’t figure out, like a Rubik’s cube or a Gordian knot, nor is God’s wisdom something that we have to dig around and find.
When Paul uses these kinds of words in the New Testament he most often means that something that was unclear in the old testament has been made clear by Christ. Something was hidden, but now it has been revealed. Something was uncertain, but now it has been made certain.
That’s what God has done in the cross. He has taken his plan, which was decreed by him before the ages, Paul says, and he has revealed to all of creation what he had determined to do. That is, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, made a covenant in eternity past that the Son would come and be the savior of his people, that he would live and die in the place of a sinful people of the Father’s choosing, and that the Spirit would then come and apply the benefits of the Son’s work to the hearts of his people.
That’s the mystery that was hidden. How could God choose for himself a SINFUL people, and yet dwell with them forever in perfect holiness? How could God both forgive sin and remain just? That’s what was revealed in the cross, God has become both the just judge and the justifier in Christ, he has both paid the sacrifice to atone, and he has become the atoning sacrifice. All in the cross.
And THAT good news remains hidden to the worldly wise today. Not to preempt next week’s sermon, but the sinful man, the natural man cannot understand the things of the spirit, and so the glory of this plan of redemption is veiled to those who are perishing. They can’t see it.
Which leads to a significant point of application for us. The truth of this passage should drive us to prayer. If the natural man can’t see the wisdom of God, if he cannot naturally comprehend the glorious wisdom of God’s plan of redemption, then we must pray to God.
Pray that the lost may see it, that our children would see it, indeed, that our efforts as a church would in any way be effective is only by God revealing this secret and hidden wisdom to the eyes of unbelievers through the work of his Holy Spirit. We have to pray.
Furthermore, Paul says at the end of verse 7 that this wisdom was decreed before the ages FOR OUR GLORY. What a privilege! What a truth! That God would choose before the foundation of the world a plan that would encompass every one of our needs. A plan that would address every one of our problems. A plan that would ultimately result in our being eternally reunited with our God in a world without sin and death and the curse, a world without loss and pain, a world that lacks everything unpleasant that we personally deserved, and a world that possesses everything pleasant that we had personally forfeited by our sin.
What a privilege for believers, that this plan should result in OUR OWN GLORY, which is put into sharp contrast being situated in the text between the rulers of this age who are being brought to nothing, and Christ who is called our Lord of Glory himself in the next verse.
And what a privilege it is for us believers today to live in the New Covenant era. We don’t live under the old covenant, we don’t live with mere shadows and types of the messiah to come. We don’t have to wonder how God is going to make good on all his promises. We don’t have to question how the Lord of Glory is somehow also going to be a suffering servant. We’ve seen it all on the cross.
We know who the messiah is, we see the wisdom of God in full display in the person of Jesus Christ, and we see the mysterious plan of redemption in glorious color at the cross.
Praise be to God for his glorious wisdom revealed at Calvary. And may we be ever grateful to live on this side of the cross. Let us not act as if the wisdom of God has been unclearly spoken to us. Let us not act as if we’re unsure of what the means of salvation is. We have a message of salvation we can proclaim to a lost world with boldness.
Let us press forward with full assurance and confidence in our Lord of glory, in the plan he has revealed to us, in the wisdom of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. This is, He is, God’s wisdom revealed to us.
Finally, we’ve seen the wisdom of the mature, and the description of God’s wisdom, now let’s look at verse 8 and see the identity of God’s wisdom. The identity of God’s wisdom.
Paul says in verse 8: “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Paul uses language in this verse of the rulers of this age, and that sounds similar to when Paul speaks of elsewhere of the rulers and principalities of darkness, meaning the spiritual forces that are at play in the world. But he’s not taking about that here, as is made clear by his reference to them having crucified Jesus.
Plus, we see in the gospels multiple times that when Jesus confronts a demon, that demon immediately knows who Jesus is. There is no demonic doubt about the identity of Christ. Thus, Paul is talking in this verse about the rulers of this age being those people in places of influence in the world, those who appear to have worldly wisdom, those who the world evaluates as smart and clever and witty and lovers of wisdom.
But Paul contradicts such evaluation by saying that if they had any wisdom at all, they would never have crucified him. They crucified him because they didn’t know him, and by not knowing him, they demonstrate their own lack of wisdom.
We can see this in the gospels. In John 7:28 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and the chief Priests, and he says, “I have not come on my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you DO NOT KNOW.”
Or again in Matthew 13:13, Jesus explains why he speaks in parables by saying, “I speak to them in parables because, seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Though they claimed to have the wisdom, they actually lacked both wisdom and the ability to see the true identity of Jesus.
If they were truly wise, they never would have crucified him. But they did, demonstrating that they know nothing of true wisdom. Claiming to be wise they became fools.
This isn’t just true of Pilate and Herod and Caiaphas. This is also true of any person that rejects the message of the cross. To ignore and despise Christ’s offer of salvation is to do no better than those who sent him to the cross to die. To reject the Lord of Glory’s message of peace is to descend to levels of foolishness that are on par with the ones who nailed Jesus to the tree.
Consider again, throughout the gospels even the demons knew who Jesus was. They have no doubt as to Jesus’s identity. But at least they tremble. But to reject Jesus’s identity as the son of God sent to be the Lord of Glory through his sacrificial death on the cross, is to demonstrate a level of foolishness that not even the demons possess.
Don’t reject his offer. Don’t stand in your foolishness. Don’t ignore the identity of the Lord of Glory who died in the place of sinful men and women. Today can be your day of salvation. Today you can be made mature. Today you can be forgiven of each and every one of your sins, you can be washed clean, you can be restored, you can be set free from the power of sin and death, and all that is needed is belief. Christ will give you all this and more if you would but come to him and confess and believe.
Come today, come and believe, come and be made wise, come and be made mature, come and embark upon a journey toward your own glory that was made possible by our Lord of Glory.
I’ll close with this: in verse 9 Paul quotes from Isaiah 64. He quotes a passage that many people have upon their walls in cute cursive script as an inspirational quote. Many think Paul is talking about Heaven, but he’s not. They think he’s talking about how heaven is going to be so wonderful that we can’t even imagine what it is like. While that may be true, that’s not what Paul is saying here. Paul is taking an old testament passage and saying that that passage has come to fulfillment, that passage has been made clear in the cross.
Paul says, ““What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him””
What is it that no eye has seen and heart could ever imagine? It is the foolish message that the son of God himself would come and be the lord of glory AND ALSO the suffering servant. It is the unbelievable story of God’s chosen Son also being God’s chosen wrath bearer. It’s the truth that the world hates and despises as utter folly, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation. That’s what no heart could ever imagine that God had prepared for those who love him.
All praise be to God.
 D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 47.