Sunday, October 05, 2008

1 Corinthians 2: 6 - 16 God's Wisdom Revealed by God's Spirit to God's People

You might remember that last week we were looking at the cross. Paul was defending his preaching of the cross which appears foolish and weak to the world. You could be asking – well, is the Christian message unwise? Are we specifically anti-wisdom, against the mind? After all, this is what Richard Dawkins claims - that Christianity, and religions in general are all about superstition and are completely irrational. So is the gospel just superstition?

You’ll be glad to hear that that is not the case. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul goes on to say that there is wisdom in the gospel, God’s wisdom. But it’s not the same as worldly wisdom – rather, it is God’s wisdom, revealed by God’s Spirit, to God’s people. As we’ll see, our reading divides into these three, so let’s take them in turn.

First, in verses 6 – 9, we have God’s wisdom. Paul is saying that the message he proclaims is God’s wisdom. He tells us what it isn’t, and then what it is. ‘It is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.’ (6). Corinth was a city in Greece, where wisdom was prized above everything. Many men would sit around day after day talking and discussing, sharing and promoting wisdom. Actually, some things never change – there’s a group of older men who stand or sit around the square in Dromore talking all day, even now. But in Corinth, it was their business as much as their pleasure. Talking philosophy all the day long. But in their reasoning, they could never find God.

Or think of the rulers of this age. Those who govern nations think that they are wise. In a crisis, they are the ones who seek to solve it through their diplomacy. We have seen this in the discussions about the credit crunch. Gordon Brown flew over to America, yet the man in charge of resolving the problems didn’t even want to speak to him. Yet again, they cannot find God, nor take the place of God, no matter how highly they view themselves.

Look at what Paul says – the rulers of this age are doomed to pass away. Their great worldly wisdom will not save them, because they fail to understand God’s wisdom. Fallen humans cannot by themselves understand God – remember what God says in Isaiah 55: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Is 55:8-9)

In contrast, God’s wisdom is ‘a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.’ (7). Do you see the difference? There is the wisdom of this age, which is time bound, and changes, and ultimately will cease; and there is the wisdom of God which was decreed before the ages, before he created, before the Garden of Eden. And it will stand forever, as God works to bring it to completion. God’s wisdom is eternal, everlasting.

But more than that, look at the remarkable thing Paul says about God’s wisdom – it is ‘for our glory.’ Just what he means is spelt out in verse 9, quoting from Isaiah 64. God’s wisdom is about ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.’

And as if to complete the contrast, Paul shows that the rulers of his age didn’t understand God’s wisdom at all. God’s wisdom was working to bring about salvation through the cross, Christ crucified. And what did the Jewish leaders do? Well, they failed to recognise their Messiah, the failed to understand the Scriptures, and in doing so, fulfilled them by condemning Jesus to death.

What a great description of the Lord Jesus here. ‘The Lord of glory.’

God’s wisdom in the gospel cannot be understood by the rulers of this age. It’s not the same as down to earth common sense. It is secret and hidden. So what hope for us? How can anyone know about God or come to know God? If our grasping up means we will never reach him, then how can we come to know him?

Well, the answer lies with God. God takes the initiative to reveal himself to us, through his Spirit. God’s wisdom is revealed by God’s Spirit. For many of us, the Holy Spirit may be the forgotten person of the Trinity. All our focus is on God the Father, and on the Lord Jesus, and we forget or minimalise the role of the Holy Spirit.

So who is He, and what does He do? Once again, Paul spells out what he is not, and also speaks of who he is. Look at verse 12 with me. ‘Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God.’

Look carefully at what Paul writes here – the Holy Spirit is ‘the Spirit of God’ and the ‘Spirit who is from God.’ The Holy Spirit is God – (of God), and is also personal – ‘who is’ not ‘that is’ or ‘which is’. The Holy Spirit is given by God the Father to us, to help us understand the things freely given to us by God.

Just as we were thinking earlier in the Children’s Talk – we cannot know what someone is thinking unless they tell us. In the same way, we can’t know what God is thinking or planning, unless he reveals it to us. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and our helper as he reveals God’s wisdom to us, through the Scriptures.

All this is the gracious answer to the promise of Jesus in John 16. Turn there with me, please. ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’(John 16:13-15)

These verses from the lips of Jesus have been misunderstood and misused through the centuries. Today, for example, some people will use these words to prop up their own agenda, claiming that the Holy Spirit is guiding us into new truth. But that is not what Jesus was promising here. Rather, the Spirit was given to guide the apostles into all truth, in what Jude calls ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude 3). The authentic teaching, the whole truth of God’s wisdom is contained within the Scriptures today, recorded for us.

Look back at the great mystery of verse 9 – ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’. Without the Holy Spirit revealing this to us in the Scriptures, we could never know the good news of the gospel; or the hope of eternal life; or the joy of sins forgiven; or the blessings of grace poured out to us.

God’s wisdom is revealed by God’s Spirit. As we look at the final section of the chapter, though, we find that there is a contrast in the audience. Not everyone understands the wisdom of God revealed by the Spirit of God. There are two classes of people – natural and spiritual. Now, normally when someone calls you a natural, it’s a complement – so maybe you’re a natural on the piano. Or when it comes to foreign languages, you’re a natural. Here, it’s not so complementary. Look at verse 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.’ So for those without the Spirit, they can neither accept nor understand the things of the Spirit of God. To read the Bible means nothing to them. It’s all just stories or ancient dusty documents with no relevance.

The other possible person is what Paul calls the ‘spiritual person’. Now let’s be clear here. Paul is speaking here about the believer, who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and has the Holy Spirit as Teacher and Guide. There’s a lot of talk these days in our society about people rejecting religion and instead being ‘spiritual’. This has nothing to do with the Spirit of God, and everything to do with crystals and angels and incense and yoga and witches and psychics and astrology and …. Type spiritual into Google, and you’ll find 110 million websites. But all this search for spirituality in the wrong places is like going to a broken cistern or a toilet to drink.

The only truly spiritual person is the person who is full of the Holy Spirit – those who have put their trust in Jesus – remember the verdict in 1:7 – ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift’. As you grow in grace, seek to learn from the Holy Spirit as he teaches you through the Scriptures.

God’s wisdom is revealed by God’s Spirit to God’s people. What an amazing gift we have been given – to know the secret, hidden wisdom of God. Think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:17. ‘Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’ How much easier for believers on this side of the cross, who can clearly see what it means.

Perhaps you have been a Christian for a long time. You tell your friends and neighbours about Jesus, but they just don’t seem to get it. They never understand what you’re saying. God’s word today helps us in our frustration. Without the Spirit, our friends won’t be able to understand spiritual truth. Now that can lead us to two options – despair and stop telling them; or it can lead us to pray fervently that God will show grace to them so that they will hear and understand.

Or perhaps you think of yourself in the natural category. You know you’re not right with God, yet you want to understand these things of God. Speak with Tim or myself at the end. Maybe the Lord is giving you grace today to hear and understand.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 5th October 2008.

1 comment :

  1. God takes the initiative to reveal himself to us, through his Spirit.

    After much suffering!!

    Thank you!

    Peace Be With You