Contention Over Spiritual Elitism

Our understanding of the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians rests upon a contrast between human wisdom and God’s wisdom. Christ became for us wisdom from God (1.30). He is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1.24). We preach Christ crucified because we rest in Christ crucified. We cannot use persuasive words of human wisdom. We preach God’s wisdom in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (2.4).

Contention developed in the church at Corinth because they wanted something more than what Paul offered them. They understood what Christ came to do for their sin. They were saved, spiritual people behaving as unsaved, natural people. The way they saw it is that Paul gave them only milk when they wanted meat. They saw themselves as spiritual and wise, but they quenched and grieved the Holy Spirit by pursuing fleshly, human wisdom. They represent believers who are looking for the higher, mysterious life or the second door of consecration, a form of spiritual elitism.

These are people who are modern-day Gnostics, looking for hidden wisdom. Gnosticism was a problem for the church in the second century. Gnostics believed that they had gained a special kind of spiritual enlightenment, through which they had attained a secret or higher level of knowledge not accessible to the uninitiated.

“Gnostics also tended to emphasize the spiritual realm over the material, often claiming that the material realm is evil and hence to be escaped” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 56).

Those who do not receive the Holy Spirit do not have the wisdom of God found in the crucified Christ. Such people are clinging to a wisdom that is fading away with this present age. But we have received the Holy Spirit. We have the mind of Christ (2.16). All of us. Yet, we might be like the Corinthians in that we have the Holy Spirit, but our condition in life (thinking and doing) does not reflect our position. We are among the spiritual people in the world (2.7-13), but we are behaving carnally. We live life just like those who do not have the Holy Spirit (3.1-4).

As we come into 1 Corinthians 2, Paul’s preaching rests in wisdom from God not man. It is not wisdom found in this present age or wisdom supported by the rulers of this age. Here is how our new section begins…

1 Corinthians 2:6
“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”

The wisdom of this age along with the rulers of this age are coming to nothing. They must make way for the coming age, the Kingdom of God. Such wisdom belongs to those who are mature, namely all who receive the wisdom of God found in the crucified Christ. The mature are not an elite class of Christians; the mature are all Christians. We are complete because we are in Christ and have received the Holy Spirit (2.12). We are spiritual (2.15). It is wisdom for our glory as believers (2.7). It is for those who love God (2.9). It is wisdom revealed to us (2.10). So, those who are mature are all people in Christ. The problem is that we often behave in a way that looks immature. We are complete in Christ; we ought to act like it!

1 Corinthians 2:7–8
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

The wisdom of God is from God and for our glory. We are chosen in Christ. We find refuge in God’s Elect One. We are foolish and weak in the minds of those of this present age. But we must never forget that God is bringing the so-called wise and mighty ones of this present age to nothing (1.26-28). They are ordained for shame; we are ordained for glory. It is a glory we share with the Lord of glory (2.8). Why don’t the wise of this age grasp this wisdom from God? It is because they don’t believe.

We preach this wisdom from God. It is the Gospel or the testimony of God in the crucified Christ. This wisdom is a mystery or hidden wisdom in the eyes of unbelieving people. But this wisdom has been revealed to us. If unbelieving people had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Yet God ordained it so before the ages, even before He created the world.

1 Corinthians 2:9

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

What is Paul citing? How does it fit in with his argument? Paul seems to be citing Isaiah 64.4. Perhaps he adds a thought from Isaiah 65.17 as well. This citation supports the fact that people in the present age do not understand what God accomplished in Christ. The human mind cannot even grasp it. But also, God has prepared a great salvation for those who love him. This, too, is beyond our grasp. What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what has never entered the heart or mind of a man – this is what God has prepared for those who love Him. But now we have these things revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. They have been prepared for us who love God. These things constitute God’s wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:10a
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.

God revealed things prepared for those who love Him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and not through human wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:10b–11
For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. What are the deeps things of God? The deep things are simply the depths of God’s wisdom. It is the mind of Christ (v. 16). Men know their own thinking. God knows His own thinking. If it were not for the Holy Spirit, the mind of man could not meet the mind of God.

1 Corinthians 2:12
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

Here is the heart of this paragraph. The things freely given to us by God are His deep things. They don’t belong to the spiritually elite. The deep things are God’s plan for saving people from sin. It contrasts with the wisdom of the present age. God’s wisdom is revealed to those who love Him. This revelation is given to us by the Holy Spirit because He alone knows the inner secrets of God. We have received the thoughts of God and the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. We do not have the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God. The Corinthian believers need to understand this. They have the Holy Spirit, and He is not from the world. Therefore, they must stop thinking like the world.

1 Corinthians 2:13
“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

Again, the things which were spoken or preached by Paul and other believers in Corinth constituted the wisdom of God. Man’s wisdom doesn’t teach us the wisdom of God, but the Holy Spirit does. “Explaining” is a possible understanding of the Greek participle “comparing” in v. 13. I think the verse is saying that we explain spiritual things through preaching what is taught to us by the Holy Spirit. We receive these spiritual things from the Spirit and pass them on to others.

1 Corinthians 2:14
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The natural man of v. 14 is contrasted the spiritual man in v. 15. These natural people do not receive the things of the Spirit of God. The shame is that the Corinthian believers are acting just like natural people. What do we learn from Paul about natural people?

  1. Natural people do not receive the things of the Spirit of God. It’s not only that natural people are incapable of receiving these things, they utterly reject them.
  2. Natural people do not receive these things because they count them as foolishness. You know who a person is by their response to Christ crucified, the wisdom of God.
  3. Natural people cannot know these things. They do not have the Holy Spirit. These things are spiritually discerned. The Holy Spirit illumines and ignites the Gospel within us. The Corinthian believers were enamored with human wisdom that was unable to discern or make appropriate judgments about what God was doing in reconciling the world to Himself.

1 Corinthians 2:15–16
But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Natural people are unable to understand the things we have received from the Holy Spirit as spiritual people. These things are judged or examined by spiritual people only. Those who have the Spirit can discern God’s ways by following the leading of the indwelling Spirit. The “all things” referred to in v. 15 refer to all the things pertaining to the testimony of God, namely the Gospel. These matters were once concealed but now are revealed through God the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual people are the only people who have the capacity to know all things, including those things that those without the Holy Spirit know. That is, spiritual people can know both spiritual and natural things. But natural people cannot know spiritual things.

Some believers abuse the phrase at the end of v. 15, “Yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.” They believe that they are so full of the Holy Spirit that they are beyond correction or counsel from others in the local church.

The Corinthian believers view themselves as spiritual people who are now examining or judging Paul. Paul knows that truly spiritual people understand what God has done in Christ crucified. Such people are able to discern all things. They can make necessary judgments. They have the mind of Christ. What a shame that the Corinthians act as mere natural people who do not have the Holy Spirit.

Who has really known the mind of the LORD? Who can really match wits with God and instruct Him? Who among the believers in Corinth is so enamored with natural, human wisdom that he is now passing judgment on an apostle? The Corinthians have the mind of Christ but bypass the wisdom of God for human wisdom. Those lacking the Spirit do not have the mind of Christ or the wisdom of God.

Remember that man’s wisdom doesn’t teach us the wisdom of God, but the Holy Spirit does. So, my aim is to explain spiritual things to you through preaching what is taught to me by the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is receiving spiritual things from the Holy Spirit and pass them on to others. These things are freely given to us by God. This should be your aim in life: receiving the things of God in order to pass on the things of God. So, how do we pass on the things of God?

  1. We must develop an appreciation for spiritual things.
  2. We must diligently seek for spiritual things.
  3. We must deliberately apply spiritual things.

Developing Appreciation

We develop an appreciation for spiritual things when we see them as more valuable than anything this world offers. If the knowledge of Christ is truly excellent, then we ought to pursue it. Everything else ought to be counted as refuse when compared to it. The most beneficial thing we can do for our spiritual life is develop an appreciation for spiritual things.

Diligently Seeking

You will work diligently for what you appreciate. This is the inside-out life Jesus spoke of. The Christian life is not passive. You must diligently seek for God’s wisdom as one seeks for hidden treasure. This will mean attentive study of God’s Words. It will mean listening to preaching and taking measures to remember what is taught. It will mean a dependent posture in prayer before the Word of God. We diligently ask, “Father, enlighten me. Open up my understanding.” God will teach us if we have the hearts of dependent children diligently seeking Him. We seek prayerfully or it would be better not to seek at all.

Deliberately Applying

One of the great privileges of preaching is receiving greater and greater understanding of spiritual things. But this knowledge becomes useless and even quite harmful if I never deliberately apply it to both my private and public life. This is integrity or wholeness. Our sole purpose in life is to reflect the glory of God to greater and greater degrees. We are climbing to the heights of God’s love and descending to the depths of God’s wisdom. Our conversion must lead out to strengthening our brothers and sisters around us. We have freely received; we must freely give. Christianity always leads out to giving not merely receiving.

You have received good gifts from Your Father for the good of others around you. Don’t hide your light; let it shine in the midst of a sin-darkened present age. Shine as lights in the world. Hold forth the word of life so that you might show others the way of peace.

Forgive us for the pride we display as we gather more knowledge from Your Word but fail to apply it. Help us to see that we are only beneficial to others …only able to love them as You command, when receive from You to give to them.

Keep us from making Christianity complex and unknowable. Keep us from the novel expressions of Christianity. Help us to stay under the pressures of this life as we look to the glories of the life to come. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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