Paulís Entrance into Corinth
Paulís modus operandi, upon entering a new town, was to go into the Jewish synagogue first. Here he would find a people who were literate in the Old Testament scriptures, with whom he could reason about the passages prophesying of Christ. After the initial hearing of the gospel, the synagogues usually divided; a few followed the Paul and his fellow preachers into the teaching about Jesus, but most refused to the listen to Godís message of redemption and many became violently hostile to the Word. Hence Paul was hastened out of Macedonia before he finally found some permanence in Corinth. "And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath," is Lukeís recounting, "and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:5). The Greeks mentioned were those who actually entered into the synagogue to hear the word of the Lord, but the audience was primarily Jewish. Paul intensified his efforts when Silas and Timothy arrived with a fresh influx of cash, because he could now totally focus on preaching, "solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said, ĎYour blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentilesí " (Acts 18:5,6). And once he went to the Gentiles, then he directly encountered Greek wisdom and the Greek ways of impressing the audiences.
- Simplicity - Many in the church are only one step away from the world, and many of the worldís influences thus deeply impact the church. In his early portions of this epistle to the Corinthian brethren, the apostle really has to challenge Greek philosophy head on and its danger to the message of redemption in Christ. He thus reminds his hearers, "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God" (I Corinthians 2:1). No fancy stuff here; just the straight-forward proclamation of the gospel!
- Paulís determination - The worldís appeal is powerful, and its ways of selling its goods and ideas to the sons of men are often slick and impressive. Paul, in going to the Gentiles of Corinth, had to preset his mind so that he wouldnít fall into the trap of promoting the gospel of God in worldly ways. "For I determined to know nothing among you," he notes, "except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2). (Side note here: Paul did not say that all he knew was Christ crucified; he stated that he determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. "Knowing Christ" includes all the events connected with His resurrection and ascension, as well as His crucifixion.) The apostle was not going to bring Jesus in as a tag-along in his philosophical presentation; he was going to use the frontal approach and preach Christ ó not avoiding the cross, the stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
- The power of God - Paul himself had been persecuted severely on this second missionary journey prior to his arrival in Corinth. "And I was with you in meekness and in fear and in much trembling," he states for the record. "And my message," he adds, "and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:3-5). The truthfulness of Jesusí resurrection cannot be established by human wisdom; it requires the testimony of God. Hence God backed the eyewitness account of the apostles concerning Jesusí resurrection with the miracles coming from the Holy Spirit.
The apostle wants their faith to be real, since salvation is through faith in Christ. Hence he does not want them to confuse the wisdom of men with the power of God. And he desires that the brethren evaluate all future preaching on the same basis!
The Wisdom of God
Only truth-seekers are going to make it to heaven. God allows all kinds of false doctrines and worldly wisdom to exist, knowing that truth-seekers will be able to sift through the errant claims to get to the truth, and that people whose motives werenít pure will be shunted aside. The apostle Paul bluntly explained this to the Thessalonian brethren: "And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (II Thessalonians 2:11,12). In the wisdom of God, the gospel and its simple presentation are designed to accomplish Godís purpose in weeding out those who are not truth-seekers and letting the sons of the kingdom shine.
- Demonstration of the Spirit - If a person accepts the resurrection of Christ today too easily without having thought through its significance, he will accept something contrary to that tomorrow just as easily. Hence the Spirit builds the case for Christ through the history of Abraham and Israel, laying down foreshadows and prophecies pointing to Christ and His kingdom. Regarding Christís resurrection from the dead and His subsequent accession to the throne of glory, these event were witnessed by the apostles, either physically in the case of seeing Christ still in His body for a period of forty days, or by the revelation of the Spirit in connection with the events that occurred in heaven. Not only that, the Holy Spirit verified the eyewitness accounts of the apostles by giving them the ability to perform all manner of attesting miracles. Paul notes, in this connection, that his message and preaching were not at all like the Greeksí presentations of their wisdom, "but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." In his letter to the congregation assembling in Rome, Paul also attributed the rapid spread of the gospel to the miracles and signs accomplished by the Holy Spirit: "For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through," was his annotation, "resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18,19). The resident of the twenty-first century doesnít see the miracles himself, but he easily recognizes that without the testimony of the apostles being backed by the miraculous power of the Spirit, the gospel would have died. "Your faith," asseverates the apostle, "should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
- Speaking Godís wisdom - There is human wisdom, and there is divine wisdom. Human wisdom is by comparison extremely tiny, focused in the wrong direction, and unable to penetrate the spiritual realm. So while Paul makes it clear that he in no way wanted to engage in any sort of sophistry in preaching the gospel, he also wants the brethren to know that Godís wisdom is good and great. "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature," he expounds, "a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away" (I Corinthians 2:6). This wisdom, he said, is for the mature. Interesting! So the brethren have to be "brought up to speed" spiritually in order to be able to process and assimilate this divine wisdom.
Christ "became to us wisdom from God." The saint needs to be educated in what this wisdom is, and what its value is. The wisdom of this age, used by the rulers of this age to establish and maintain their rule, is passing away. But the wisdom of God is eternal. And this is the wisdom the mature saints really desire to possess and use for the glory of God.
The Hidden Wisdom
Sometimes, as the saying goes, things are hidden in plain sight. Thus it is with the wisdom of God. The parables of Jesus, for example, are open and published for anyone to read, in nearly every language in the world. But their meaning is hidden from those who do not really desire to decode a couple of key words, and who do not really make an effort to see what the Lord of the universe is communicating to His disciples. Their meaning is in plain sight, but hidden from those who are spiritually blind. So while God used the signs and wonders to establish that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is risen indeed from the dead and has ascended to the right hand of power, He wants to move those who now believe these truths toward maturity and an understanding of Godís wisdom.
- Worldly wisdom is transitory - It cannot be overstressed how short manís time on earth is. Men and women throw away their eternal souls for the sake of some mad scramble to the top, for a fleeting moment on TV, for their brief moment in the sun. Now a certain type of wisdom is required to get to the top of the heap or to exploit those moments of fame. "This wisdom," said James, "is earthly, natural, demonic" (James 3:15). Paul called it "a wisdom of this age," and a "wisdom of the rulers of this age." To which he immediately added, "who are passing away." Worldly wisdom is transitory. So why would a person pursue such quick emptiness? "Why do you spend money for what is not bread," the prophet Isaiah asked, "and your wages for what does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2).
- Godís wisdom in a mystery - One of the underlying themes of the apostle Paulís writings is that Godís wisdom is hidden, and that it is hidden in Christ. In his epistle to the Colossian brethren, the apostle emphasized what He called "the mystery," Christ in the Spirit, adding "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). In his first letter to the Corinthian brethren, he emphasizes, "We speak Godís wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory" (I Corinthians 2:7). This hidden wisdom, as Paul puts it, is spoken in a mystery, spoken in somewhat of a code, so that the one who wants to understand those secrets has to do the work of ferreting out the meanings. Some of the wisdom is paradoxical, and thus hidden because it is not obvious. For example, Jesus noted, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25). From a "worldly wisdom" perspective, this is stupidity; but when Godís wisdom is understood, it makes perfect sense. Some of the wisdom is hidden because it is spiritual, and cannot be comprehended or valued from the worldly or physical point of view. That the inner man, as another example, beholds the glory of the risen Lord, and is being transformed into that same image, is hidden wisdom, and many people reading that plain sentence still wouldnít have a clue of the value or power of what they just read. And some of the wisdom is from the depths (or heights) of Godís communication, and takes much spiritual education before such topics can even begin to be explored.
"We do speak Godís wisdom among those who are mature," was Paulís annotation. Those of us who want to know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent will press on toward this maturity. Those of us who want to know the power of Christís resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings will diligently peruse the scriptures and pursue the sanctification without which no one will see God. For the rest, Godís wisdom will be hidden in plain sight.
Wisdom to our Glory
God has had His plan in motion "before the foundation of the world." The depths of that concept are incomprehensible to the mind of man, which is "time-dependent" in its operation. But the All Knowing affirms it is true, and based on our belief that Jesus is risen from the dead, we can accept it. In a similar fashion, "Godís wisdom, the hidden wisdom," was "predestined before the ages to our glory!" The author of the epistle to the Hebrew brethren brings forth an interesting point: "For it was fitting for Him," he says of the Christ, "for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). Jesusí purpose, for which He had to suffer greatly to accomplish, was to bring many sons to glory. The hidden wisdom of God has the same purpose; it was predestined before the ages to bring the saints to glory!
- None understood - This wisdom which has been predestined for the glory of Godís people requires that a person pause and reflect a moment on its awesomeness. This wisdom set up a system of justice which necessitated payment or penalty for sin. This wisdom set in motion a system of sacrifices, which would culminate in the death of Christ on the cross and the sprinkling of His blood in heaven as a means of propitiation for mankindís sin. That wisdom included raising Jesus from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Furthermore, that wisdom enveloped the mercy of God, who would through the saintsí obedience to the gospel, forgive their transgressions, raise them up with Christ, and seat them with Him in the heavenly realms ó in the Christian era, so that in the eons to come He might show us the full riches of His grace. This wisdom, then, "none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (I Corinthians 2:8). If they could have had a glimpse of the greatness of Godís strategies, they would have honored Jesus. But, being earthly-focused and self-centered, Roman and Jew combined to put the Lord of glory to death.
- Hidden wisdom prophesied - God, having predestined His wisdom before the ages for our glory, also prophesied that man would not find this hidden wisdom on his own, but that it would have to come through Christ. "Just as it is written," Paul quotes Isaiah, "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9). No one could have contemplated the magnificent things which God has accomplished through Christ, and which are available for those who come under the terms of the New Covenant. The signs that God performed in releasing Israel from Egyptís captivity and "His marvels in the field of Zoan" are small, small compared to what the Almighty executed through Christ. All the Old Testament wonders and all the miracles that Christ performed while sojourning on earth were preparatory for the greatest of all that God accomplished when He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. None of this had "entered the heart of man."
"Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard," are not references to the second coming of Christ and His taking His saints to heaven. These are references to the great blessings found in Christ, as Paul put it in his letter to the Ephesian brethren: God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). The hidden wisdom is now revealed, and God is executing all these things which He prepared "for those who love Him." It is worth our time to make certain we love God, and are called according to His purpose!
Revealed to the Apostles
God has communicated His hidden wisdom to man in a very specific way. It came from Jesus through the Holy Spirit to the apostles. "I have many more things to say to you," said Jesus to the eleven as they made their way to Gethsemane, "but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12,13). And when Jesus prayed on the west side of the Kidron as He approached Gethsemane, He invoked the Father, "I do not ask on behalf of these [apostles] alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word" (John 17:20). Everyone who would ever become a Christian would believe through the words of the apostles. No New Testament prophet, even, would have any new information doctrinally to add to what the apostles taught; they would only be given what had already been loosed on the world through the apostles, and they functioned only because there was no written word and because the apostles were already moving on to other locations. Another name for the new covenant teaching, then, is "the apostlesí doctrine" (Acts 2:42).
- Godís revelation - When Paul spoke of his first preachings of the gospel in Corinth, he used the first person singular. "I did not come," he said, "with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God." But when he broadened the discussion to talk about the wisdom of God in general, he moved to the first person plural. "Yet we do speak wisdom," he notes, "among those who are mature." The "we" is the other apostles and he. So when he speaks of the hidden wisdom which had not entered the heart of man, he uses the plural pronoun again. "For to us," he averred, "God revealed them [things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard] through the Spirit" (I Corinthians 2:10). What any of the rest of us know about "all that God has prepared for those who love Him," we know through what is written. This is how God ensured that the true doctrines continue to move forward, and how He minimizes the amount of confusion resulting from false claimants with their false doctrines.
- The Spiritís role - God revealed these things to the apostles, affirmed Paul, "through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of the man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:10,11). This is a very interesting point. The Holy Spirit is the only One who knows the thoughts of God, and has to search for them! On a much simpler scale, as the spirit of man knows the thoughts of man, in a parallel fashion the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God, and can find them, no matter "how deep" they are! And these thoughts are what are revealed to the apostles through this same Holy Spirit.
"Now we have received," averred the apostle, referring to other apostles as well as himself, "not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given by God" (I Corinthians 2:12). The spirit of the world would result in earthly, natural, and demonic wisdom, or the excesses of Greek sophistry. The grand claim here is that Paul and the others received their revelation directly from the Holy Spirit, and God gave them this information regarding His hidden wisdom and the new covenant so that they could teach it to others. No one today can make this kind of claim; the "we" is limited to the apostles. Hence what we are to know concerning the wonderful wisdom connected with the new covenant is all contained in what is written!
Bible Names for Bible Things
The amount of confusion in this world is staggering, and the obfuscation accelerates every day. And the stakes are high. There are only two possibilities: either there is an "afterlife," or there isnít. If there isnít, nothing matters; if there is, a person better know as much about that as possible. Hence it is that God instituted His plan, His "wisdom predestined before the ages," in order to, among other things, establish that Jesus Christ is indeed God, that He has been raised from the dead, and that He has the information and the authority to clear away all the confusion. "If I told you earthly things," said the Lord during the days of His earthly sojourn to Nicodemus, " and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man" (John 3:12,13). There is an "afterlife." "An hour is coming," said the Lord in another place, "in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His [the Son of Manís] voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28,29). The stakes are high indeed! So God sent forth His Spirit with the information from Jesus to clear away the confusion, and that the sons of men may make an informed decision about their eternities.
- The apostlesí claim - "Now we have received," asseverated Paul, "the Spirit who is from God." That is quite a claim, but a claim that others might make as well. Hence the apostles were able to perform attesting miracles and signs to establish the truthfulness of their claim. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you," Paul would later say to these same Corinthian Christians, "with all perseverance, by wonders and signs and miracles" (II Corinthians 12:12). And the writer of the Hebrews epistle chimes in, speaking of the apostles in these terms: "After it [the great salvation] was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" (Hebrews 2:3,4).
- Communicating Godís things - Paul noted that he and the other apostles had received the Spirit of God, "that we might know the things freely given by God, which," he added, "things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (I Corinthians 2:12,13). The world has its vocabulary for communicating human wisdom, and the Holy Spirit has His vocabulary for communicating spiritual wisdom. The worldís goal is to confuse the vocabulary. The world wants to attribute to people and denominational groups terminology that technically cannot be applied to them: to call people saved when they are not saved; to denote denominations as Christian; to call the savior of their imagination Jesus, and to call their twisted version the gospel. And the world wants to denigrate true Christians and the true church by calling them members of a cult, etc.
What is really important is that we call Bible things by Bible names; false terminology leads to confusion and ultimately false doctrine. The Holy Spirit wrote the terminology of the Bible, and certainly can communicate His spiritual thoughts through spiritual words. Translations faithful to the original languages will still be able to bring the flow of logic from one language to another, and those definitions for key spiritual terms can be determined. "Whoever speaks," encouraged Peter, "let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God" (I Peter 4:11). Let us be faithful in our use of terminology, using words and wisdom from the Holy Spirit rather than making accommodations with the spirit of this world.
The Natural and the Spiritual Man
Adam was not a spiritual man. He was, as Paul described him later in this epistle to the brethren in Achaia, "from the earth, earthy" (I Corinthians 15:47). So God has to begin with what He calls the natural man, and through that produce a spiritual man, as the apostle Paul put it, "the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual" (I Corinthians 15:46). While natural man and the necessities for sustaining him were created in six days, it took God thousands of years of preparation to produce spiritual man. "When the fullness of the time came," the apostle commented to the Galatian brethren, "God sent forth His Son." The groundwork had been laid through the Jews, and the educational, economic, and political conditions were set for the spread of the gospel. Through the redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ, the Father was thus able to send "forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" (Galatians 4:4,6). Those obedient to that gospel come forth from the waters of immersion as "born of the Spirit," and now have the potential to develop into the spiritual people that God has always wanted for His fellowship.
- The apostles - The first "spiritual men" apart from the Lord Jesus Himself were the apostles. Having withstood the tests connected with Jesusí crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, these men were ready for the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts chapter two. Indwelt by the Spirit, strengthened with power from on high, and given the revelation of the essentials of the glorified Christ, these men constituted the first foundation stones of the church of the living God. Overall, they refused to participate in any of the pettiness plaguing mankind as a whole, they laid aside the old self, and they put on the new self and the new nature of "spiritual men." They spoke, then, as they delivered what is styled "the apostlesí doctrine," "in words taught by the Holy Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."
- Problem of the natural man - The major problem the natural man faces is that he does not put the proper value on the truly spiritual concerns. This is why the Almighty worked for thousands of years to prepare mankind as a whole for the responsibilities of sonship in Christ. "But a natural man," says Paul, "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (I Corinthians 2:14). It isnít that the natural man cannot understand the reasoned appeal of the scriptures; it is just that the natural man hasnít put the proper value (appraisal) on the material presented to him to govern himself in a spiritual fashion. It is "foolish," for example, to spend time memorizing the word of God when that same time could be used "productively."
- The spiritual man - What the apostle calls "the spiritual man" has moved over the boundaries separating the man of flesh from the man of the spirit. "But he who is spiritual appraises all things," is Paulís statement, "yet he himself is appraised by no man" (I Corinthians 2:15). Hence he has the ability to put the proper appraisal on what is in front of him. And because he has this ability, wisdom, and focus, no "mere" man is able to put the proper appraisal on him and his actions.
- Seeing as Jesus sees - Mankind as a whole rages against God and against what they perceive as unreasonable strictures on their activities. The fair question is then posed: "For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him?" By contrast, the truly spiritual men such as the apostle Paul can say, "But we have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:16). They see as Jesus sees, because they put the proper spiritual appraisal on things.
Not all saints are yet spiritual men. The goal is to get them to where they really will be walking as Jesus walked.