The Wisdom of God Revealed
Topic: Wisdom Passage: 1 Corinthians 2:2–2:16
The Wisdom of God Revealed
We are going through the book of 1 Corinthians and last week we saw that Paul contrasted our natural wisdom with the seemingly foolishness of the gospel. Because our reason is fallen and our wisdom is corrupted by humanistic pride God did an end around our wisdom and devised a means of saving mankind that looks like complete and utter foolishness to natural wisdom. At the cross God outsmarted human wisdom and overpowered His enemies by lavish grace and undeserved forgiveness. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God for salvation.
Paul is pretty hard on human wisdom, but this doesn’t mean that God wants us to check our brains at the door of the church. As we read on in chapter two we see that the gospel is actually a type of wisdom that is deeper and higher and more intricate than anything man could ever devise. Let’s read together:
1 Cor. 2:6-16
Here’s how I would summarize what Paul is saying in this passage:
God’s wisdom is a secret and hidden wisdom that cannot be understood by our natural wisdom but must be supernaturally revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Let’sunpack that one thought at a time.
I. God’s wisdom is a secret and hidden wisdom
This is one of those passages that is easy to pull out of context and abuse. One of the commentaries I read concluded its thoughts on this passage by stating that it has a long and unfortunate history of being misused and misapplied by people in the name of pursuing a “deeper life” or a deeper spirituality. After all, Paul says that the spiritual person will be privy to the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (vs. 7) and in verse 15 says the spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one (vs. 15).
What does Paul mean when he speaks of a “spiritual person”? And of “secret and hidden wisdom from God”? Some people get pretty wacky ideas of what it means to be a spiritual person. I met a guy named Donny when I was a teenager working and living at a Christian ministry. Donny seemed to always be receiving constant messages from God. Often if we invited him to join a bunch of us going out for a burger he would agonize over whether the Lord wanted him to go or not. One time he joyfully accepted, only to come back a few minutes sadly shaking his head that he wasn’t going to be able to go…he had received a new message from God. Donny was a lovable guy and I believe he was a sincere Christian, but his idea of being “spiritual” seemed to keep him in a state of torment as he was so afraid of missing God’s message and doing something God didn’t want him to do.
There have been whole movements that have attracted followers on the premise – and promise – that they will be part of a spiritually elite class of believers who will be privy to special revelations from God that no one else but the people in this small group are receiving. I remember a woman named Diane who was a sweet Christian and a part of a church I attended until she got involved with a group called The Manifest Sons of God and then all of a sudden she got very mystical and wouldn’t set foot in a church. She met with a small group of people who had a corner on spiritual truth and what they did in their meetings and what they taught and believed was shrouded in mystery. When asked about it she claimed that they had found a deeper spiritual life, a higher spiritual plane, and from their superior vantage point they could see that the church was so off that they would have nothing to do with it.
It can be intoxicating to think that you belong to an elite group of people who are on a higher plane than everyone else. There is a seductive pride in belonging to an inner circle that has knowledge and wisdom that normal Christians just don’t have. And, to be honest, in a culture where the average church-goer can struggle with developing relationships that go deeper than talking about the weather and sports, to be welcomed into a small community who are bound together by being special and different and deeper and elite can seem so attractive! And the tragic thing is, by misusing this passage these groups have a built-in insulation from outside input and correction because when Christian friends try to warn you that it’s not healthy and sounds like a cult, well, you realize that they just don’t see what you see. They just don’t know what you know. They just don’t hear what you hear. You can judge them, but they can’t judge you. Isn’t that what verse 15 says?
The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. (vs. 15)
Here’s the ironic thing: these spiritual misuses and abuses of this passage are actually not all that different from the abuses the Corinthians were guilty of. They had grown so wise and so spiritual in their own eyes that they were puffed up with pride. But their spirituality was simply leading them to take pride in their eloquent and lofty rhetoric and mystical spiritual experiences and the church was being torn apart as different groups formed and argued over who was more spiritual than the other.
Paul is correcting their idea of spirituality, not commending it. In fact, in the opening verse of chapter 3 he will tell them that he couldn’t address them as “spiritual people” but rather as carnal, fleshly believers. In essence Paul says, you’re not mature, you’re still wearing diapers!
When we drop this passage back into the context of chapter one and the first five verses of chapter two it’s clear that Paul always sees God’s secret and hidden wisdom as centered in His redemptive plan being revealed in Christ. Oh, it streams outward in a million different ways but at its core, God’s wisdom is the plan of Jesus Christ coming and laying down his life as a sacrifice to save lost sinners. It was hidden until when, in the fullness of time, Christ appeared. It’s hidden from the world now because it’s cloaked in foolishness. The mystery isn’t something deep and mystical in a weird way; we see in Eph. 3 that the mystery is that Christ has made it possible for Jews and Gentiles – people from every tongue and tribe and nation – to come back into relationship with God and with each other. It’s infinitely deep and mysterious but not in a dark, mystical, secretive way, but in a sweet and brilliant and glorious way.
On one hand, the gospel of Jesus Christ is so deep, so intricate, and so wise, that the greatest scholar could spend his life in study and thought and never even begin to plum the depths of God’s wisdom on display through Christ. On the other hand, it is so simple a child can grasp it.
This is an imperfect illustration, but consider for a moment a glorious sunset. We see enough of them that we might take them for granted but think about the vast number of factors that go into making a beautiful sunset and our appreciating it. There is the nuclear fusion process that is constantly taking place at the core of the sun, converting hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei – basically a million hydrogen bombs constantly exploding. There is the fact that this nuclear bomb we know as the sun is placed at just the right distance, approx. 93 million miles away from the earth so that we aren’t too fried or too frozen to enjoy a beautiful sunset. There is the atmospheric layer surrounding the earth that scatters the higher and shorter wavelengths of the visible light spectrum so that the evening sky is lit up in a glorious array of colors. And don’t forget the miracle of our eyes, which are amazingly complicated, but without them we couldn’t see or distinguish the vast and subtle array of colors. And then there is this ability within our souls to enjoy and appreciate beauty. Each of the factors that go into our appreciating a sunset are deeply complex and there are countless more factors that I haven’t mentioned.
But…we don’t need to know all that to stand outside and be in awe of a beautiful sunset. A little child can appreciate its beauty, and an uneducated man can stand transfixed by its glory. So it is with the gospel. The complexities, the intricacies, the infinite layers of God’s redemptive work that was accomplished by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are beyond our capacity to understand. That’s what Paul means when he declares in a beautiful doxology at the end of Romans 11:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
There is no tracing God’s ways, as if we could figure them all out or understand them all. The wisdom of God’s redemptive plan in Christ is infinitely complex, and at the same time, simple enough for the simplest person to grasp it by faith. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. That’s a part of its wisdom and a part of its beauty. So there is great wisdom for us to grow in. But Paul’s second point in this passage is that…
II. God’s wisdom can’t be understood by our natural wisdom
The point Paul is making is that this is a wisdom that is not of this world. It doesn’t look like wisdom to this world because He has wrapped His wisdom in the clothing of utter foolishness. He has wrapped the nuclear fusion of His saving power in the robes of human frailty and weakness. So, for instance, the rulers of the age (and primarily Paul is probably thinking of the rulers who crucified Jesus) didn’t see it. They heard Jesus teach, they saw the miracles Jesus did, they could compare the scriptural prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, but with all that, it didn’t add up to wisdom to them. And this is an important part of this equation – it’s not that their best intellectual efforts couldn’t fathom or conceive of Jesus being the Messiah. It’s that their prideful agenda wouldn’t allow them to consider it, in spite of the evidence. They didn’t like him, they didn’t like the way he confronted their religious hypocrisy, and so their “wisdom” couldn’t see him as the Son of God. They were blind because they chose to be blind.
So verse 8 says, none of the rulers of this age understood this…referring to their inability to grasp who Jesus is, and verse 14 says the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him…referring to their inner agenda that didn’t want to grasp who Jesus is.
Both inability and unwillingness are at work in our flesh. Our natural wisdom can’t grasp God’s wisdom and it doesn’t want to. Years ago I stumbled on a youtube in which a young girl claimed that God was speaking to her through her printer and was calling her as His spokesperson. She asked “God” if she had to be crucified or anything like that, and she said the printer-god responded, “no, that was just Jesus being stupid.”
The bottom line is that our natural wisdom is dead to God, and the gospel is on a spiritual frequency that we cannot see or hear. Even for those who do intellectually grasp even the finer points of the gospel, our flesh has a deep hostility to it. I know a man who can argue the Bible from every direction, he understands the information of the gospel, but he rejects it. He is friendly and engaging, but he has an inner drive to undermine and discredit the idea of Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sin.
Paul says the natural person doesn’t understand…and does not accept…the gospel. Inability to see it and unwillingness to see it go hand in hand. We can never reach God or spiritual truth through our natural wisdom because it is so contaminated with pride. So God bypassed our wisdom so that we would have to humble ourselves to receive His wisdom and we would need His supernatural help to receive His wisdom. That’s Paul’s third point:
III. God’s wisdom in Christ must be supernaturally revealed to us by the Holy Spirit
Verse 9 tells us that what God has prepared for us is beyond anything we’ve thought or imagined or seen or heard. There’s no earthly comp for the heavenly home God is preparing for those who qualify for that home. But the verse tells us that He’s not preparing it for those who are intelligent or wise enough to qualify, He’s preparing it for those who love him. God wants to get our heart before He gets our mind.
And vv. 10-14 emphasizes the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in that. Verse 10 says “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” The treasures of God’s wisdom are beyond our ability to reach, but the Spirit of God takes the treasures of God and brings them to our hearts, not primarily so we can be wiser, but so we love God more and trust His gracious work done for us in Christ.
Back to the sunset
God’s primary purpose in designing glorious sunsets wasn’t so we pluck our eyes out and dissect them to understand how they are able to see color. His primary purpose was that we might see and appreciate the beauty, and in that beauty see His glory and love and worship Him.
The Lord isn’t primarily concerned with us understanding all the complexities of His redemptive plan. He wants us to see and be amazed at the beauty of Christ. To see the beauty of the love of God displayed on the cross. To see the beauty of the justice of God displayed on the cross. To see the mercy and forgiveness that flows from the cross.
I remember talking to a young Muslim man, and he shared that the idea of a weak God dying on the cross was reprehensible to him. Such a God wasn’t beautiful to him at all; he felt such a God was unworthy of his worship. The Spirit opens our eyes to see the beauty of Christ and the reconciliation he brings lost and unworthy sinners. Our fallen minds and hearts are incapable of seeing the glorious beauty of Christ, we need the Spirit to give us light. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Or, as C.S. Lewis put it: I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
This is why in vv. 1-5 Paul says he is resolved to preach Christ and him crucified – to point to the beauty of God’s salvation – and then trust the power of the Spirit to open their eyes to that beauty. When Paul says in vs. 15 that the spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one, he’s not encouraging spiritual smugness and superiority. He’s saying that when our eyes are spiritually opened to see the beauty and glory of Christ, when the light goes on in our hearts, we can also see the spiritual darkness this world lives in, and no matter who tells us that our faith in Christ is worthless, a sham, foolish, we know better. We not only see the glory of Christ, but by it, we see everything else.
The Spirit searches the depths of God and brings that to us, and the end result is verse 16: for who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Being spiritually mature isn’t about being mystical or elite. It isn’t about receiving and deciphering special revelations from God. It certainly isn’t about cutting ourselves off from God’s church and forming little inner circles where we think we’re superior and special. That’s creepy! It’s about growing in the mind of Christ. It’s about growing in humility (not elitist pride). It’s about growing in patience. It’s about growing in love. And joy. And peace. And a servant’s heart towards others. And a hundred other practical characteristics that make us become more like Christ. Believer, being a spiritual person isn’t marked by mystical, mysterious elitist revelations. Spiritual growth and wisdom is marked by the fruit of the Spirit and a growing Christ-likeness in our lives.
As we close, if you’re not a Christian, this isn’t a slam on your intelligence. Your brain is a gift from God. It’s just saying that we can’t reach the truth about God through our intelligence alone. We need – you need – to have the Holy Spirit open your eyes to your need for Jesus Christ and turn the light on so that our natural state of dullness and disinterest in Christ turns into a deep love and faith in him. As we close, you can ask Him to open your eyes and your heart to see the truth and the beauty and glory of Christ.