We come to a text that is frequently misused and misapplied. It is a text that requires our careful attention so that we do not misunderstand or misapply what the apostle Paul is teaching. The apostle has been teaching about how he did not come preaching to these Corinthians with lofty speech or wisdom. He did not come to them with persuasive words from human wisdom, but came to them in weakness, fear, and trembling along with a demonstration of the Spirit and power so that their faith would not rest in humans but in the power of God. So our hope is not to be in great oration. Our hope is not to be in worldly wisdom or human perspectives. Our hope is not to be in philosophy, politics, or a particular worldview. So what does our hope rest on and how can we have this hope? The apostle Paul is going to explain this and then we will consider how this is to keep us from division.
The Message The Apostles Proclaim Is Wisdom (2:6-9)
Notice that Paul says that “among the mature we do impart wisdom.” We must ask, “Who are the ‘we’ in this declaration?” Paul cannot be including himself with the Corinthians that they are imparting wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 3:1 he will call these Corinthians not mature and infants in Christ. Further, looking at 1 Corinthians 3:9 we see that Paul keeps himself separate from the Corinthians: “We are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field.” This happens throughout the rest of this section (cf. 3:16; 4:1; 4:6; 4:10). In fact, 1 Corinthians 4:6 identifies who the “we” are: Paul and Apollos. This makes sense because we saw earlier in 1 Corinthians 1:12 that these Corinthians are dividing over which apostle or messenger of God taught them, whether it be Paul, Apollos, or Peter. With this context we see that the “we” is referring to these apostles and preachers who have come to them. Paul is explaining who they are and what they have done.
Therefore, the apostles and preachers of the gospel are imparting wisdom. But they are not doing so in a way that the world recognizes. Only those who believe are going to recognize that what they are teaching is the wisdom of God. Paul calls such believers “mature.” Those who grasp the message that they proclaim is the proclamation of wisdom are mature. What is implied by what Paul says here and later is that the Corinthians thought Paul and his message was immature. Paul combats this by saying that we do impart the wisdom of God and the mature understand this. Their message of wisdom is not the same as the wisdom of this age. Therefore those who accept God’s wisdom do not live according to this world’s ways. Even what the rulers boast in is coming to nothing. From an eternal perspective, these rulers are without significance. The way of the wicked will perish (cf. Psalm 1:6).
But the apostles and preachers of the gospel speak God’s hidden wisdom, which is none other than the message of the cross. This wisdom of God was hidden for a long time in history but is now revealed through the cross. Paul ended his letter to the Romans with that very point:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25–27 ESV)
While the prophets spoke about it, they nor anyone else understood these messages until God did it. Please notice why God did this. According to verse 7, they are proclaiming the hidden wisdom of God “which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” God did this for us. Rulers and authorities did not understand this message. The world did not understand what God was going to do for our glory. So why would we put our hope in the wisdom of the world? Why would we trust in the philosophies and worldviews of the world when it could not comprehend the things of God?
The big point in this paragraph is that humans cannot, of their own power, knowledge, or thinking, come to understand the wisdom of God or the plans of God. You cannot figure it out on your own. The wisdom of God was hidden. You cannot go to a mountain and figure it out. You cannot do anything of your own will to understand what God is doing.
Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4 and Isaiah 65:17 to prove this point. 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”— (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV)
No eye can see, no ear can hear, and no heart can even imagine what God has prepared for our glory to those who love him. So Paul tells these Corinthians that you think you are so smart and so mature. You think you have the world figured out with your values, culture, worldview, and philosophy for life. But none of these things bring you to understand God or what he is doing. Nothing the world has done of its own will or knowledge brings a person closer to God, as much as they claim that it does. The gospel message that the apostles proclaim is the wisdom of God. So how does one come to know the wisdom of God if you cannot understand it by your own knowledge and power?
True Wisdom Is Divinely Revealed (2:10-16)
Only the Spirit can know the depths and wisdom of God. No human can come to it on their own. The apostle Paul proves this in verse 11. Do you know the thoughts of another person by your own power, knowledge, or skill? No, you cannot know the thoughts of another person unless they reveal to you what they are thinking. No matter how well I know you, I can’t know your thoughts. In the same way, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Only God himself knows his own thoughts. The point is that you must have the Spirit of God to know God’s thoughts. It is impossible to know God or understand his ways simply by being human and searching within oneself. Nothing from the wisdom of this age can help. Revelation is required and the agent who brings this revelation is the Spirit of God.
Now here is the point in verse 12. The spirit that the apostles have is not the spirit of the world. They have been given the Spirit of God so that they understand what God has revealed to them. They are not teaching human wisdom (2:13) but spiritual truths that are taught to them from the Spirit. They are expressing spiritual truths revealed in the Spirit’s words. This is the only way to wisdom and the only way to know God.
The natural person does not accept what comes from the Spirit of God because such things are foolishness to them. Notice Paul’s point has come full circle because this is the same conclusion he made in 1:18-25 and 2:10-13. They cannot understand or accept the apostles’ teaching because these are spiritual things and that is not where they are at in their lives. They do not want to know the wisdom of God because they are self-centered and self-focused. The spiritual person listens to the apostles’ words and judges the apostles’ words. Those whose lives are of the Spirit can discern these things but those without the Spirit cannot understand or judge the spiritual person. In its present context, Paul is saying that they are not going to be judged by their worldly thinking and worldly wisdom. They have the Spirit of God and are speaking the wisdom of God, whether they like it or accept it or not. The apostles wrote down the Spirit’s words so that we can read and understand the mind of God (cf. Ephesians 3:3-5).
For us, Christians are constantly told they they are ignorant, narrow, and incapable of understanding the real world. We must realize that these are the criticisms of the world that comes from worldly wisdom. We cannot be moved by what they say. If we are living by the Spirit and depending on the Spirit’s words, then the world is going to criticism what we teach and do because they do not understand the wisdom of God. What we realize is that the people in the world are the ones with the narrow perspective, never tasting grace or enjoying transforming insight. Therefore, it is foolish for us to desire and extol the world’s perspective as it appears that the Corinthians are doing.
Therefore, Paul ends this paragraph by quoting Isaiah 40:13. No one can successfully probe the depths of God’s thoughts, let along match wits with God. We are too finite and too depraved. Paul and the apostles have the authority to teach what they are teaching without regard for the world’s judgment because they have the mind of Christ revealed to them through the Spirit of God.
So what has Paul taught that is to keep us from fighting and prevent division? First, if you are not looking at the scriptures, you do not have the wisdom of God. We cannot apply human wisdom and think that this is helpful in understanding the mind of God. We need to look for, “Thus says the Lord” for us to be right in God’s sight. Leave human wisdom at the door and come with an open mind and heart to the scriptures. Our wisdom about this world will not help us come to know God and his will. The only way to know the thoughts of God is to read what the Spirit revealed to the apostles who wrote it down as our scriptures.
Second, those who depend on human wisdom and do not submit to the wisdom of God as revealed in the scriptures are acting as immature, natural people and not spiritual people. The mature understand this. The spiritual understand this. We will avoid fighting and divisions when we refuse to think and act worldly, but always turn directly to the scriptures. Our lives must be built upon the authority of the scriptures. We look to discover God’s will every time we read the scriptures. Know God’s word. Focus on God’s word. Be renewed in your thinking by God’s word. Live God’s word.