Revealed By the Spirit

By Chris Wright

Corinth was a sophisticated, proud, and successful city, which had some star attractions — including public speaking competitions. Oh yes. In those days, for really lively entertainment, you went to listen to people making speeches. The really clever orators could offer to speak on any subject somebody shouted out, and then make a witty and persuasive speech, showing off all kinds of verbal skills and techniques. And then people would judge and reward whoever they thought was the best. It was like an early version of The X-Factor, or Britain’s Got Talent. All good entertainment.

Those who were good at it were called “sophists” — “clever ones” (it’s where we get the word sophisticated). Some of them became famous celebrities, and were treated as models of great wisdom, and made a lot of money. Not a lot has changed, perhaps.

And the new Christian believers in Corinth obviously liked that sort of thing, and found the Apostle Paul rather disappointing in comparison (even though it was Paul who had led them to faith in the first place). Some of them preferred Apollos, who came from the great university city of Alexandria, and probably had a much more polished way of doing his preaching and teaching.

Now it wasn’t because Paul couldn’t speak like that. He was educated too. He would have studied rhetoric. Later in his second letter, he actually mimics those high-flown, boastful speakers with a bit of his own “boasting.” But he chose not to use that “sophisticated,” so-called verbal wisdom. As he tells us in the first five verses of our chapter — he deliberately avoided all that and spoke his message simply and clearly, focusing on the cross of Jesus Christ. And the result was that those who became believers knew they had been persuaded by the power of God and the truth of the gospel, not by Paul’s clever speech or techniques.

But you see, that created another problem. All Paul’s talk about “the foolishness of God” and avoiding “wisdom” might leave the Corinthians thinking that Paul was rejecting every and any kind of wisdom — some kind of anti-intellectual. So Paul now corrects that misunderstanding in the first part of our passage.

Oh yes, he says in verse 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” (1 Cor. 2:6).

Or as J.B. Phillips puts it, “It’s not what is called wisdom by this world, nor by the powers that be who will soon be only the powers that have been.”

The wisdom Paul had brought to Corinth was not the stuff that empty-headed audiences gawped and gasped at down in the town center. No, it was for “the mature” — by which he meant, not some super-clever elite, but simply those who were growing up in their faith in Christ, which ought to be every Christian believer in Corinth — and today. So what was this wisdom Paul is talking about?

Well, that brings us to our first point. Paul means:

I. The mystery of God’s wisdom (2:6-9) — the crucified Lord of glory

Look what Paul says in verse 7: “we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (v. 7).

Now when Paul talks about “a mystery that had been hidden,” we know from other places, when he uses the same language, that he means the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and how they spoke of the great plan and purpose of God. Even way back in the Garden of Eden, God promised that the time would come when a son of Adam and Eve would crush the serpent’s head — that is, defeat and destroy the devil. And then, to Abraham, God promised that through his people, the people of Israel, all nations on earth would be blessed. Through Isaiah, God promised that one day all the ends of the earth would see the salvation of our God. And even that there would be a whole new creation and an end to death, and war, and all other evils.

But how? That was the mystery! The people of Israel knew that God had a plan for the salvation of the world. But nobody knew how God would ever accomplish it. But God knew. And God knew what it would cost — the cost that God himself would bear. For God had planned that he would enter our world in real human flesh. And then, as God incarnate, as God the Son, God would take upon himself all the sin and evil of the world, bear it, suffer it, absorb it, deal with it once and for all. That was the plan of God. And what a plan it was — hidden for ages, beyond even human imagination (as Paul says in verse 9). It was a plan in which God would himself pay the cost of our salvation. It was plan that would lead to the cross, where God reconciled to himself the whole creation of heaven and earth through Christ’s blood, shed on the cross (as Paul says in Colossians).

So you see, in God’s wisdom, the cross was the destination of God’s plan — hidden and mysterious until it actually happened, even though the Old Testament pointed toward it, as Jesus himself warned his disciples, and then taught them after his resurrection: when, as Luke tells us, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” He told them, “This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:45-46).

That’s what the Holy Spirit had also now revealed to Paul. And then Paul throws in a somewhat ironic twist, in verse 8: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8).

He means the religious and political authorities (and the powers of evil working through them). They thought that by crucifying Jesus, they were getting rid of a big troublemaker. But little did they know that by thinking to destroy Christ, they actually fulfilled his mission. Not knowing the purpose of God, they were actually fulfilling it. That’s what Peter told the crowds on the Day of Pentecost (which is today). They had crucified Jesus, but it had been God’s plan all along.

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead” (Acts 2:23-24).

When Jesus prayed to his Father to forgive the Roman soldiers nailing him to the cross because, as he said, “They don’t know what they are doing,” he was right at a very deep level. They had no idea that they were accomplishing the plan of God, to enable them to be forgiven. They didn’t know who it was they were yanking up to hang there till he died. They had no idea that they had crucified “the Lord of glory.” What a paradox: that’s how the Old Testament described the living God himself.

“Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty — he is the King of glory” (Ps. 24:10).

And yet, beyond all imagination, says Paul, it was when God was on the cross that he was reigning as the Lord of glory. That was the astonishing, upside-down, wisdom of God — that God had planned for our salvation, for our glory (as he puts it in verse 7) — and God’s wisdom had planned all this from before the beginning of time. The cross was in the mind of God before the world began.

“But Paul,” we want to cry out, “how do you know all this? Where on earth did you get this understanding? Who told you that this — the cross — was what God planned all along?”

“Ah,” says Paul in verse 10, “let me tell you”: “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10).

So we’ve seen how Paul contrasts the foolish so-called wisdom of this world with the mystery of God’s wisdom — the crucified Lord of glory.

Paul understands the plan of God that led to the cross of Christ, because God had revealed it through his Spirit. And now he explains that further — and it brings us to our second main point.

II. The Ministry of God’s Spirit (2:10-16) — revealing the mind of God

Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the outpouring of God’s Spirit on Jesus’ followers in Acts 2. But God’s Holy Spirit is not just a matter of miraculous wonders, speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Spirit. He is, as the title of today’s sermon puts it, the Spirit of revelation.

Which, of course, is exactly what Jesus had promised. You remember, in his last conversation with his disciples before he was crucified, Jesus told them that he would send the Spirit, to carry on teaching them all that God the Father and the Son wanted them to know. Here’s what Jesus said back then.

When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. … He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:13-15).

And that’s exactly what Paul is saying here in verse 10. It was simply the Holy Spirit doing his job.

Now, as Paul continues to explain this in verses 10-16, I’d like us to see four important points. Here’s the first.

(a) God’s thoughts can be known, because the Holy Spirit reveals them (vs. 11-12).

Paul uses a simple human analogy. Everybody knows their own mind, as we say. Only you know what’s going on inside your own head, your inner thoughts. And even if I say, “I know what you’re thinking” — I could be totally wrong. I really don’t know, unless you tell me. If you speak your mind, then I know your thoughts — or as much as you are prepared to tell me.

And it’s the same with God, says Paul. Only God knows his own mind. And there’s no way we could know the thoughts in the mind of God by ourselves. But the Spirit of God chooses to share God’s thoughts with us. God has spoken his mind through his Holy Spirit. Here it is exactly as Paul says it:

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. 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 (1 Cor. 2:11-12).

Did you get that last bit? God revealed his mind through the Spirit, so we can understand. That is, not understand everything there is to know about everything, including God— but understand what God has freely given — the truth that we need to know, and the truth that is freely available for all of us to know and understand.

This is so contrary to the popular postmodern fashion that really we can’t know any real Truth, that all knowledge is subjective, and relative, and conditioned. And, if there is a God at all, he cannot be known. We just go on seeking and searching and making up our religious theories — but they are all just pious guesswork.

Not so, Paul insists. We can know the truth, even “the deep things of God” — as he says in verse 10. But not because we have found it out by some religious spirituality of our own, but simply because God has revealed it. God’s thoughts can be known, because the Spirit reveals them.

But how has the Spirit done that job of revealing the mind of God? Well, through his Word, which we now have in our Bibles. And that brings us to the next point.

(b) God’s Word can be trusted, because the Holy Spirit taught the words (v. 13).

Now Paul already believed this about the Scriptures of what we call the Old Testament. That’s what he says in 2 Timothy 3:16: that “all scripture is God-breathed.” And it’s what the Apostle Peter says too, when he writes that the “prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). But look now at what Paul says about his own preaching, teaching, and writing — like the letter he is writing to the Corinthians.

“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” (v. 13).

Paul is saying that this is how the Holy Spirit has done his job of teaching Jesus’ disciples all the truth they were to pass on — which is what we now have in our New Testament, of course. The Spirit did not just drop a few concepts and ideas and feelings into their minds, and leave them to make something up in their own words. No, says Paul, God’s truth needs God’s words, to communicate clearly what God wants us to know and believe. That’s what we have in our Bibles — “words taught by the Spirit.”

Now that didn’t take away the varied human personalities of those who gave us these books. We can see just how human Paul was when he gets a bit confused over who he had baptised, back in chapter 1 — where he gets corrected by Stephanas, who was there with him as he was dictating his letter (1:15-16). But through these totally human messengers, God has given us the Word of God in words taught by the Spirit of God.

And that means at least two things: first that we can trust our Bibles. For God himself can be trusted, and what we have in our hands comes from the revealing work of God’s Spirit, every time we open our eyes and ears and hearts to reading the Scriptures.

And second, that we need to pray that God’s Spirit will help us, as we read our Bibles, to understand what he wants to teach us through the words he inspired. Of course, we should make use of whatever good academic tools that are available to us — other books and commentaries, for it is not always easy to understand (as Peter said about some of Paul’s writings). Yes, we should study, but we also need the Spirit who revealed it to be our teacher and guide.

So God’s thoughts can be known, and God’s Word can be trusted.

(c) God-talk can be nonsense, until the Holy Spirit gives understanding (v. 14)

In verse 14, Paul picks up something he’d said earlier in chapter 1 — that those who are not yet believers, who have not yet received God’s Spirit, often find the whole Christian message complete nonsense.

“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” (v. 14).

Don’t be surprised when that happens. If your non-Christian friends just don’t get it when you talk about God and Jesus and the Bible and your faith — that’s no reason to just shut up and hide your faith. No, it’s a motivation to pray that God will send his Spirit to open their eyes and enable them to understand. That’s his job. That’s what Jesus sends him to do. That’s what happens when God turns the light on.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

Let’s pray for that to happen in the hearts of family and friends who don’t yet really understand what the gospel is all about.

And so we come to Paul’s final point. We’ve seen in this passage that God’s thoughts can be known, that God’s Word can be trusted, that God-talk can seem like nonsense without the help of God’s Spirit.

(d) God’s wisdom can be ours, for the Holy Spirit gives us the mind of Christ (v.16)

This is an astonishing climax! Paul quotes again from the prophet Isaiah: “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (Isa. 40:13).

Isaiah is stating the obvious, isn’t he? God doesn’t need us to teach him. God knows his own mind. Indeed as Isaiah will say later, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. They are infinitely higher.

Because Christ has given us his Spirit, who in turn reveals to us the thoughts of God, we can answer that question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” with a humble but confident “We do.” Because “We have the mind of Christ” (v. 16).

At one level, of course, Paul is speaking of himself and the other apostles. But I am sure that Paul would include all believers in this great affirmation.

If we have put our faith in Christ, then, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can know the mind of Christ who dwells within us.

And what should that mean in practice? Maybe you remember those bracelets with WWJD — ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ — on them. Well, having the mind of Christ means asking ourselves as we face each day:

What would Jesus think about this relationship? How would Jesus respond to that problem? What would Jesus say to that person? What would be Jesus’ attitude about what I, or somebody else, has just done? What decision would Jesus come to in this choice that I have to make? That’s what it means to “think like Jesus,” to have the mind of Christ.

May we invite the Holy Spirit, day by day, to enable us to have the mind of Christ.

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