Human wisdom and God’s wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-16)

Last week in our series through 1 Cor 1-4 we saw how the Corinthians were divided around leaders, because they were bringing the world’s status values into the church. Paul refused to play the game, deliberately avoiding the kind of showy public speaking they craved. It meant he was compared unfavourably with other Christian preachers, like Apollos. Paul defended his tactic by pointing out that God refuses to pander to human pretensions, and most of the time chooses to work through the unpretentious. God’s wisdom runs counter to human “wisdom”.

And that’s what drives the next section of the letter – read it now (1 Cor 2:6-16).

This passage is an argument for rejecting the world’s wisdom and embracing God’s “foolish” wisdom. Will we buy into the world’s value system because it seems attractive and advantageous in the here and now? Or will we trust God’s wisdom, which seems foolish to the world, because it turns the world’s status system upside down?

Firstly, we see Paul giving some reasons for rejecting the world’s wisdom.

2:6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

The world’s wisdom is temporary. Although it may be of benefit in fitting in and making the best of society as it stands now, God is the one who’s really in charge. The present world will not last.

2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Human wisdom is opposed to God’s wisdom – they crucified wisdom incarnate! It shows that they don’t recognise true wisdom when they see it.

2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Only God can give the enlightenment needed to recognise his wisdom, through his Spirit. Human wisdom brings no benefit, because it is incapable of recognising God’s truth. Its pretensions blind it to the simplicity of God’s wisdom.

By contrast, God’s wisdom is for those who are enlightened – who can see through the world’s status games.

2:6a,7 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature…  we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

It is a privilege to have received this wisdom, as it’s been kept especially for us throughout history until Christ’s coming.

2:9-10a However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

Paul quotes Isaiah, again showing that this is how God has worked in the past, revealing his counter-intuitive truth supernaturally. This enlightenment through the Spirit is described as a great privilege:

2: 10b-13 The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

The only one (humanly speaking) who can truly understand us and make us known to others is ourselves. Similarly, only God can truly understand God and explain him. For this reason God has given us his Spirit, so we can know and understand God’s thoughts!  As Paul concludes,

2:16b We have the mind of Christ.

All this reminds us that no matter how eloquent human wisdom may sound, it’s still human wisdom; how can it hope to explain God? The gospel, after all, is not a construction based on human thought and experience (like, say, Confucianism); it’s a revelation of truth that runs counter to every human instinct.

Further, our understanding of the world is limited. We’re part of the world, so how can we truly be a neutral observer? We have the finite knowledge of a creature, not the infinite knowledge of the Creator.

When it comes down to it, we can’t come up with the gospel on our own. That’s why it appears “foolish” to outsiders. But to us, who have the mind of Christ, the enlightenment of the Spirit, and who are being saved, it is indeed “the power of God.”

To think about

We are called to give a rational defence for our faith (e.g. 1 Pet 3:15; Acts 17:2-3). But how often do we attempt to “reason” people into faith when, according to Paul, special enlightenment of the Spirit is needed? Without in any way neglecting rational argument, how will you approach sharing the gospel message in light of today’s passage?

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