1 Corinthians Chapter 2: God’s Wisdom vs. Man’s WisdomJan 31st, 2010 | By admin | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)
1 Corinthians Chapter 2: God’s Wisdom vs. Man’s Wisdom
1 Cor. 2:1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
Verse 1 repeats the same point. Paul took a lot of time on the subject of wisdom, drumming away at the Greeks’ wrong concept. But he introduced one extra thought here: “not with excellency of speech,” that is, oratory. The Greeks wanted to excel in oratory and admired those who did. A powerful, distinct voice was a requirement so that a large audience could hear. Eloquence, an extensive vocabulary, and knowledge of the philosophies were revered. Although a good manner of delivery is helpful, Paul wanted them to see that the message was more important than the messenger.
Paul had the rhetoric and the knowledge, but he had two drawbacks. (1) His voice was not powerful, and (2) he lacked stature. The message is what mattered, and it was quite different from what men were accustomed to hearing. Earlier the people were astonished at the doctrine and message of Jesus, which were different from the teachings and vocabulary of the schooled scribes and Pharisees.
“When I came to you.” Paul had visited Corinth before he wrote this epistle. He was first used by the Lord to start this class while on a missionary journey through Asia Minor and up into Macedonia, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and then Corinth. Some writers feel that this epistle was written from Ephesus and that a visiting brother from Corinth, who happened to be in the area, took the letter to the Corinthians.
Paul was at Ephesus for 3 1/2 years, and it is believed that afterwards, since there was a direct boat link between Ephesus and Corinth—a regular nonstop route back and forth—he took advantage of this means of transportation to go back to see how the class had prospered. When he returned, however, he was shocked to find that conditions were not the best, for many of the brethren were beginning to be adversely affected by the environment of sin and licentiousness in Corinth. While there on this short visit, he did his best to correct the situation, but apparently, he was very gentle in his first recriminations and tried to counsel them as to their responsibilities as Christians. However, instead of seeing Paul as using reasonableness and moderation in exhorting them to correct the problems, the Corinthians interpreted some of his words as weakness. When he wrote (verse 3), “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling,” his words were misunderstood. The “weakness” referred to his previous moderation and gentle counsel, which he now saw were not effective. Hence he would speak in much stronger terms in this epistle. The “fear” and the “trembling” pertained to what he felt was his responsibility. Having established the class at Corinth and then seeing the deterioration, he was heavily burdened as to how to resolve the situation.
To repeat, Paul had thought his counsel during the short visit would correct the problems. But following the visit, those of the house of Chloe, who were visiting Ephesus, told Paul face to face about the circumstances that existed. Paul thought conditions were bad on his short return visit, but they were getting worse.
This first epistle treats at least a dozen acute problems. In fact, 1 Corinthians is the most varied epistle of Paul’s entire writings because it treats all kinds of subjects. He did not write off the top of his head but thought hard about each problem and what advice to give. The resulting epistle is very beneficial for the Church down here at the end of the age, for Paul’s counsel alerts us to certain present dangers.
Paul mentioned that he came not in the manner of his reputation; that is, his doctrine, zeal, and success in converting both Jews and Gentiles to Christ were known. Therefore, when he returned to a location, people gathered, thinking they would be listening to an outstanding orator. And the Greeks sought after wisdom and oratory. Since he was aware of their expectations, he did not want to use oratorical abilities but instead preached with purity and simplicity. Being thoroughly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he spoke with earnestness
and forcefulness and laid the facts on the table with sincerity and power. The simplicity of the gospel was what was needed, rather than stories, which appealed to the Jews. Paul got the point across with no frills. He was determined not to use his capability of language and vocabulary but to present the facts in simplicity and sincerity so that when individuals were converted, they would rely on the gospel, the message, the Word of God (the Old Testament at that time). Paul said he “came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, … [but instead declared] the testimony of God [the way God speaks].”
1 Cor. 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Paul did not mean that he always spoke about Jesus and the Crucifixion. Rather, because the source of all wisdom is Christ, he was determined in all of his thinking and preaching to center the minds of the brethren on the Lord. He did not emphasize Jesus’ greatness in the flesh but the necessity for a Christian to suffer and to be humiliated in the present life. Consequently, when Paul centered the Corinthians on Christ, he was not like the Greek philosophers, who concentrated on their own flesh, appearance, powerful voice, and intellectual knowledge.
Instead Paul concentrated on the knowledge he had of God. Opposite to the thinking of the Greeks, which puffed them up with pride, the Christian must be abased and suffer in the present life in order to be exalted later. Adherence to principle and faithfulness to consecration vows cost the Christian something all his life.
Why did Paul approach the Corinthians with the introductory theme of wisdom and being “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified”? There were two points: (1) Paul did know other subjects but felt it necessary to center their thinking on Jesus. (2) In this epistle, he was addressing their problems. Since it was necessary for Christ to die on the Cross, Paul would have emphasized sin and the need for the forgiveness of sin through repentance. And since it was necessary for the Messiah, who was sent of God, to die in order to establish a foundation for their justification and redemption, he would have brought that point close to the heart of those who were living a very effete life in a sinful city. In exercising forgiveness and mercy on fallen man, God was looking for those who felt the need of a physician. Paul’s power, zeal, and drive were more meaningful than smooth talk.
Paul had certain physical impediments, for he was not tall of stature, he had a problem with his eyesight, and his voice did not have the resonance that was expected of an orator. Although he had the language, the vocabulary, and the sound reasoning that could have been used in any way he wanted, he wisely chose a simple manner. He used guile (strategy) only on those occasions where prejudices existed among people of honest heart.
1 Cor. 2:3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
Why did Paul say he was with the Corinthians “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”? Although there are no details—and in addition to the thought presented earlier— he was apparently sick for a time while at Corinth. And he was even at one time very much depressed and at a low point in his life until he got a message from brethren in another church that revived his spirit (2 Cor. 1:8).
With regard to “fear,” Paul was not a coward. (Remember how he wanted to go into the stadium in Ephesus, where the multitude could have torn him apart—Acts 19:28-30.) A serious physical illness, accompanied by low vitality, can mentally affect a person for a while, and that is probably what happened to Paul. In sickness, one can doubt his own thinking. For example, problems become exaggerated in the mind, causing the individual to question whether he is really doing the Lord’s will, and things that are done wrong are magnified beyond their proper proportion. In such a low, weak spell, Paul could have had this opposite experience.
For another example, consider Jesus, who was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He feared that he would die and thus become extinct, yet this same Jesus had been confident and courageous all during his ministry in his knowledge that the Father was helping him. He had said, “I know that my Father always hears me because I do His will.” His prayers in front of the multitudes showed his closeness to the Father and were not just petitions. In courage, he was unflinching, repeatedly tongue-lashing the scribes and Pharisees with words such as, “Ye whited sepulchers!” He gave no inclination of fearing what man could do to him, but in Gethsemane, he had a different experience and did fear death. Jesus was extremely depressed and low in vitality at that time—so much so that he said he could almost die.
Therefore, it is possible that Paul had a severe illness in Corinth. For the brethren to see the great, powerful Apostle Paul in that weakened condition would have been a humiliating experience that made him even more “little.” Sometimes appearance and weakness improperly lower one in the sight of other people, whereas the message or thinking far exceeds the importance of outer adornments.
1 Cor. 2:4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
Paul preached “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom,” yet he spoke with power to impress the message. He lacked stature and a noble appearance, but he spoke “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” At Lystra, for example, Barnabas was called Jupiter because of his appearance, and Paul was called Mercurius “because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:8-12).
1 Cor. 2:5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Paul’s fear, too, was that the brethren would not have their consecration truly centered in Christ. If their consecration was on the proper basis and Jesus was the motivation of their lives, Paul would have more assurance, when he left them, that they would make their calling and election sure. He did not want the brethren to be dependent on him as a person but on Christ.
Thus he was careful in his ministry, with regard to what he did and said, out of concern that the brethren properly acknowledge Christ as their Head.
How did Paul try to make sure that their “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men”? He reasoned on the Scriptures—that was his “wisdom.” For example, the brethren of Berea did not take for granted that because Paul was an apostle, they should just listen to and believe everything he said. Instead they searched the Scriptures to see if what he said squared with God’s Word. Paul appreciated their diligence and attitude—that they would base their faith structure on the Word of God rather than on the philosophy, or thinking, of men (Acts 17:11).
In chapter 2, as well as in chapter 1, Paul kept ranting on wisdom because that was the basic weakness among the people of Corinth. Their schooling, from youth up, emphasized worldly wisdom, and that train of thought had to be broken before he could go into the bulk of his message a little later. For that reason, Paul prayed, “I [was] determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (verse 2).
In other places—that is, depending on where he was—Paul used a different strategy or technique. For instance, in Athens, which was also in Greece, he called on nature and natural reasoning to introduce his talk, rather than to speak immediately about the Crucifixion. Choosing the topic of “The Unknown God,” he showed that we all come from this one God, and then, eventually, he brought out Christ (Acts 17:23). Note: Paul was not downgrading spiritual wisdom but natural wisdom.
1 Cor. 2:6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect”; that is, God’s mysteries are revealed to those who are mature in their consecrated thinking on His Word. This maturity is not based on age but on development. Paul did not speak “wisdom” at first, for he was more interested in feeding and developing the brethren so that they could mature more and more. As a general rule, the nature of the questions shows somewhat the depth of the sincerity and the development of the one who asks them.
Later Paul gave the Corinthian brethren a little tongue-lashing, saying they should have been more advanced than they were. He wanted to bring them up to a certain point of maturity.
The wisdom of God is made available to the consecrated who are the more mature. Aquila and Priscilla were in the church at Corinth, and no doubt they were quite advanced, for they helped Apollos to see the truth more clearly. Hence one segment in the ecclesia was more advanced than another segment in the knowledge of mysteries, the deeper truths. Stated another way, one must grow and mature in order to receive greater spiritual wisdom.
1 Cor. 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
God has His mysteries and “hidden wisdom,” which are supplied to those who are faithful up to a certain level. “God ordained [the hidden wisdom] before the world [that is, before the Creative Days] unto our [the Church’s] glory [in the future, in the Millennium and beyond into the ages of ages].” The calling of this class is in the present life; their inheritance of the divine nature will be received in the near future.
The irony is that the Greeks desired wisdom and Paul was talking about wisdom, but they were turned off by his appearance, his mannerism, and his style of reasoning. He had the very thing they were searching for—”the wisdom of God.” A person’s prejudice can prevent him from seeing the truth on a matter, the principle being that though seven wise men give a reason, the person is still a fool without an answer (Prov. 26:16). Much depends on the heart condition of the one listening to the truths in Scripture, and prejudice is a big factor.
Paul was saying that he did preach wisdom, but that wisdom was a matter of development. He could speak more of the wisdom of God to those who were mature. What is some of God’s wisdom? The very way the Bible opens tells about the Creator. What other book in the world, then or now, in more than 6,000 years, goes into the detail of the physical creation—its stages, how it was done, and why it was done? God’s plan is shown in the Scriptures. Realizing man had fallen—and because He loved the world—He sent His Son as a Savior. God cannot violate His own principles—He cannot lie, He cannot countenance sin, He has to be approached through the proper channels (the converted speak to Him through Jesus), etc. Not only is God seeking a Bride class for his Son, but also He has in mind the conversion of the world in the next age. That conversion means a resurrection from the dead. What other religion teaches a doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? Other religions believe that at the moment of death, one goes through a door into another life or that the door is shut and a person perishes. They do not have the doctrine that death is a sleep in which there is no consciousness or memory, but that the individual will be awakened in the future, in the Kingdom Age, when Jesus calls and all in their graves come forth (John 5:28). This doctrine was a completely new thought. None of the princes, philosophers, or religions of this world have such a teaching.
1 Cor. 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Comment: Verse 8, plus the witness of the Gospels, proves that, generally speaking, the worldly and religious leaders who crucified Jesus did not know he was the Son of God. Also, Acts 3:17 states, “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.”
Reply: They were not all condemned as a class, only a segment of them. “Many” of the Pharisees, although a minority, relatively speaking, came into the truth in the early Church (John 12:42; Acts 6:7). If the Jews had known Jesus and what he stood for, they would not have crucified him.
1 Cor. 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
1 Cor. 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
The “eye [of natural man] hath not seen, nor ear heard … the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us [the consecrated] by his Spirit.” Paul was paraphrasing Isaiah 64:4 to draw a practical lesson. The public—the natural man and even the believer until he consecrates and is begotten by the Holy Spirit—does not understand the deep mysteries of God. One must come into the “family” in order to grow in such understanding and mysteries. Only the consecrated are entitled to know some of the deep spiritual things.
What has God prepared for “them that love him”? The hope of the high calling is glory, honor, immortality, and to be kings and priests. There is no higher hope. Those who faithfully obey God’s precepts and follow His counsel have the hope of attaining to a state that nothing on this earth can be compared to.
“By his Spirit.” Paul was speaking of God’s Holy Spirit of revealment, understanding, and remembrance. The Bible is the most widely published book in the world, but how many really understand it? It is true that the Bible has been a blessing even superficially, but it takes God’s invisible power to enlighten one as to the significance of even His plainly stated Scriptures. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Not only does this “Spirit,” the mind of Christ, give us the zeal to know the Lord, but it is a consuming zeal so that when we know a little, we want to know a little more, and when we know a little more, we want to know still more. The Holy Spirit searches the deep things, and God rewards those who hunger and thirst after knowledge of Him primarily. “The secret of the LORD is with them that [reverentially] fear him; and he will show them his covenant” (Psa. 25:14).
1 Cor. 2:11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
“For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” Human beings look at one another along the lines of discernment on earthly things. Some people have savvy, meaning they are knowledgeable in the things of the world. They have a political cleverness; they have street knowledge. Through experience and observation, they know the traits and peculiarities of a human being on the earthly plane.
Just as there is this savvy, or “spirit of man,” on the earthly plane, so there is the same thing on the spiritual plane, which is completely separate and distinct from the animal, the physical, the baser instincts of man. Even the better instincts of the natural man cannot reach up to the Holy Spirit of God, which is a revealing spirit.
1 Cor. 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
“We have received … the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” God gives the Christian this special spiritual understanding (“the spirit … of God”), which is separate and distinct from the spirit of the world, and He gives it by grace. If we want to know about God, about His thinking, and if we want to obey Him, He is pleased to satisfy our desires for increased understanding—just as a father is interested in the development of his son. When we approach our desire from that standpoint, God freely gives us understanding. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
1 Cor. 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Verse 13 states the principle by which the Holy Spirit operates; namely, it compares “spiritual things with spiritual” things. The Holy Spirit interprets spiritual truths to those who possess it, giving line upon line and precept upon precept, “here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:10). One who is spiritual (consecrated) can talk to another person who is spiritual (consecrated); they understand each other because they both have the same mind of Christ.
1 Cor. 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Spiritual things are “foolishness” to the natural man, but to the consecrated, they are the opposite (1 Cor. 1:24). The spiritual man receives the things of the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor. 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
“He that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth—KJV margin] all things.” This discernment happens in two ways. Most Christians, if they were adults before consecration, had the spirit of the world (savvy, worldly knowledge) before becoming spiritual. Now they have spiritual understanding, but they also know the wiles and tactics of the Adversary. Having been in the flesh, they know the subtleties of enticement and the dangers of association with the wrong environment. They have the knowledge of what they came out of plus the new field of knowledge—the spiritual things of God. As a result, Christians have quite an education. The worldly person knows only his level of thinking and cannot judge those who are spiritual because he has no understanding along that line.
Comment: As stated in the Expanded Biblical Comments, only those who are spiritual, that is, only those who receive the Holy Spirit, examine or discern “all things,” meaning they are “able to understand and properly estimate both human and spiritual things in the light of the divine plan,” yet they themselves are discerned or understood by no natural man.
“Judgeth” and “judged” are the same Greek word, anakrino, meaning “discerned.” The spiritual man has an advantage in that, to some extent, he can understand both natural things, because he was formerly natural-minded, and spiritual things.
The truth is so far above the head of the natural man that he is not capable of rendering a proper judgment. It is like talking a different language. Because the natural man does not perceive the motives of the consecrated, they seem foolish to him. Only a spiritual person can judge a spiritual person with regard to right and wrong.
1 Cor. 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
“Who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he [God] may instruct him [the individual]?” The answer is, “We (the consecrated) do! God can instruct us because we have the mind of Christ.”
The rhetoric of the schooling Paul received shows in his writing. Before he said, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, but God has revealed spiritual things to us.” Then he asked, “Who knows about God’s mind?” The implied answer is, “We do, for God has instructed us.” Someone natural-minded might accuse us of being presumptuous in saying we know the mind of God, but the Scriptures say that we do.
Paul often used the question method, bringing up a question and then answering it, to stimulate thinking. In Romans 10:6,7, for example, Paul raised a hypothetical question: “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise [the heart of faith speaks this way], Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)
Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) [Has anyone been up in heaven to disclose these things to us?]” We sometimes think, “Oh, if only the Pastor were here, he would explain that subject. But he is up in heaven, and who can go up there to ask him? He is dead according to the flesh, and who can raise him up for that information?” But the information is the Word itself, which was left behind. We do not have to go to heaven or into the grave, for the Bible is right next to us on the table. Likewise, with regard to Christ, we do not have to say, “Oh, if only the Lord were here,” or “It is too bad we did not live at the First Advent so we could have asked Jesus.” From an emotional standpoint, it would have been nice to see Jesus in the flesh, but from a doctrinal standpoint, the needed sayings were recorded for us. And so Paul continued in Romans 10:8,9, “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Believing in Jesus was the crucial message.
Thus Paul raised a question with the Romans and then instructed out of the question. The church at Rome contained both a Roman and a Jewish element, and the mixture caused confusion on where to draw the line. “Do Gentiles have to obey the Law with its ceremonies?” was the issue, and the Jews were offended because the Gentiles were not circumcised. All in the class, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, wanted these questions settled. They thought, “Oh, if only the Lord were here to straighten out this mess.” But the Lord was there, using the Apostle Paul, who said in effect, “The word, which we preach, is that in confessing the Lord Jesus, these barriers are erased. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, since you have confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and believed from your heart, you are all sons of God and on an equal basis.” Paul gave in a nutshell the thinking that would bind together the Jews and the Gentiles so that they would not have doubts or reservations about each other.
Q: Isaiah 40:13 reads, “Who hath directed the spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him?” Here the implied answer is, “No one.” Wouldn’t the emphasis be the same here in verse 16?
A: No. Reading Isaiah 64:4 will help: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Everything is negative in that text, for only God knew prior to the Gospel Age. Now, however, Paul could say, “It is no longer true that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, because God has revealed some of the things He has prepared” (1 Cor. 2:9,10). The Prophet Isaiah was trying to show that the mind of God is so far above us it is as high as the heavens are above the earth, but Paul was saying that is no longer true because God has now revealed some of the deep things of His own thinking. Some of the previously awesome mysteries are being revealed to those who are truly His and who have exercised themselves on spiritual things.
There are different types of reasoning. For example, Jesus used parables to teach lessons, but the chief lesson of every parable was contrary to our human instincts—it was opposite to what we would think. This method brings up very deep, startling truths. In the Parable of the Penny, the early morning laborers worked all day but got the same wage as the individual who worked only one hour. In the Parable of the Pounds, Jesus said, “Unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him” (Luke 19:26). Again the lesson seems to be contrary, for the natural question is, Why should the one who is wealthy or has great abilities be given more? However, those who have more face more temptation not to give it up. Therefore, if they give their all to the Lord, they will be more honored than the faithful poor person because of having sacrificed more. In short, to put more on the altar when there is more to give is a greater sacrifice.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was the “neighbour,” the “good Samaritan,” to the wounded man. The principle of the Law was, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:18).
Therefore, the neighbor would normally be the one who is helped, but in the parable, the one who did the helping (Jesus) was the neighbor. At his First Advent, Jesus went around doing good, restoring sight, healing the lame, preaching righteousness, etc., but the scribes and Pharisees and others criticized him. Through the parable, Jesus wanted the analogy to be drawn that he was the neighbor and that, therefore, the lawyer addressing him should practice the Law and do good and exercise mercy to him. Jesus was saying in effect, “I am your neighbor. Why don’t you treat me as such?” The lawyer was forced to answer the parable correctly, identifying the Samaritan who helped the wounded man as the neighbor, but still the scribes and Pharisees criticized and persecuted Jesus.
Jesus’ technique was to startle the listeners so that they would realize he was no ordinary man.
Paul used a similar technique—raising startling questions and giving startling answers—in order to leave an impression. Something that is said or done too softly is not remembered. “But we have the mind of Christ.” Public ministers of God’s Word should not give an uncertain sound like a little tin horn but should be firm (1 Cor. 14:7,8). They should be well versed in Scripture and speak with a “thus saith the LORD,” being mighty careful to speak according to that Word. For that reason, James cautioned, “My brethren, be not many masters [teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1). Teaching brings responsibility as well as rewards.
(1979, 1997, and 2001 Studies)