June 2, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
The Wisdom of God
1 Corinthians 2
I just got back yesterday from Florida—I was at the Foursquare Convention in Orlando. It was a great convention, and I tacked on a day at the end to play. So Friday, David and Michael and I went with our friend Joel Howard to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. It was awesome—lots of incredible hi-tech rides. But the most fun of all might have been the simplest thing: getting splashed.
During lunch, we sat at watched as kids lined up to get splashed by one of the rides as it crashed into water. Here’s a short video that gives you a taste.
Our favorite moment was when a middle school girl clutching big stuffed animal wandered unawares into the area and wondered why everyone was lined up. She stopped to watch and had no idea what was coming…and got drenched.
We laughed our heads off. So did she. At a theme park filled with multi-million dollar hi-tech rides, watching people get splashed was as fun as anything!
It’s the simple things, isn’t it? The best things are often the simplest, and that’s true of the gospel, as we’ll see in 1 Corinthians 2 today.
Welcome to a Glorious Mess! This summer, we are reading and discussing Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church—a church that was a glorious mess. Today, we’re in chapter 2. In the first four chapters, Paul addresses the issue of their quarreling and divisiveness. People were aligning with their favorite speakers: “I follow Paul.” “I follow Apollos.” “I follow Rick Warren.” “I follow Mark Driscoll.”
I told you last week that rhetoric—the art of persuasive public speaking—was the art form of the day, and that traveling speakers were like rock stars. Each proclaimed his own philosophy (wisdom: Gk. Sophia); the more pompous and eloquent, the better. The Corinthians taste for this art had evidently led them to unfavorably compare Paul and his message to others. Compared to these rock star speakers and their eloquent philosophies, Paul and his message seemed weak and foolish.
In chapter 2, he addresses this and continues to push them back to Jesus and the gospel as the center of their unity. This is a difficult chapter and I won’t be able to answer every question; so I’ll focus on the big ideas in Paul’s argument.
The Big Idea: The gospel of Jesus is the wisdom of God. Go deeper by getting simpler.
Paul says that he came to them not with human wisdom, but the wisdom of God.
1. Not human wisdom. 1-5
The first five verses are the conclusion to Paul’s argument that he began in chapter 1. He contrasts the wisdom of God with human wisdom, and shows that the message of Christ crucified is foolishness to the world, but is the wisdom of God. Then he shows that the recipients of the message illustrate that God uses the weak and foolish to confound the wise. So the message, then the recipients, and finally, the messenger (Paul) also reflects God’s rejection of worldly wisdom.
1 Corinthians 2
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
Remember, he is still addressing their divisions. “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” based on the persuasiveness, wisdom and eloquence of their message. Paul is still pointing them to Jesus and the gospel; they are united in Jesus and the gospel, not in anyone’s impressive philosophy or eloquent teaching.
So Paul contrasts himself with the popular rhetoricians. They used their ability to win followers for themselves; in contrast, Paul wanted only to win followers for Jesus. The divisions in the church came because they rallied around their favorite speaker; Paul wanted them to simply follow Jesus.
So Paul wasn’t trying to wow them with his ability. He came not with eloquence or men’s wisdom. He came with the simple story of Jesus crucified, and with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. He wasn’t relying on himself, his own speaking ability or persuasive powers. He was relying on the gospel and the power of God.
A couple things:
Some pastors have read this as an argument for lack of preparation or poor presentation. They believe that Paul’s words mean we shouldn’t try to be good speakers.
ILL: I heard about a pastor who said, “I don’t prepare my sermons; I just trust the Lord for a miracle every Sunday.” I wonder if his church thought his sermons were miracles!
It reminds me of the Miracle Pie Company. The motto on all their trucks was, “If it’s a good pie, it’s a Miracle!”
A pastor who doesn’t work hard at preparation will be saying the same thing about his sermons!
Paul is not suggesting that Christian teachers or preachers just wing it, or that we should not try to be good at what we do. What he is rejecting is not good preaching, or persuasive preaching, but self-promotion and self-reliance. Good teaching or preaching should draw attention to Jesus, not the preacher. The rhetoricians attracted followers to themselves; Paul attracted followers to Jesus. That is what all good preaching does, and that is Paul’s point.
Another thing: Paul reminds us that the power is in the message, not the messenger. The simple Gospel is God’s wisdom and is powerful.
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
The gospel is the power of God to save people. The power is in the message—the simple story of Jesus—not in the messenger.
Many of us are reluctant to share the gospel because we feel like we don’t know enough and can’t answer every question or objection. Or we feel like we’re not good talkers. But it’s not about you; it’s about the gospel—the gospel is the power of God.
ILL: When I was in college, I was studying late one night for finals, and about midnight felt the need to take a break. I was studying the Bible, and I wanted to share with someone. So I went outside and prayed, “Lord, if You want me to share the gospel, bring someone along.” I started walking and before long a young hippie asked me if I had any spare change–he was hungry. I offered to buy him a burger and coke at the nearby Dairy Queen. As he ate, we talked, and I shared the good news of Jesus. He didn’t seem very interested or receptive. When he finished, he thanked me and left and I headed back to my dorm, grateful for the chance to share, but thinking that it fell on deaf ears.
Three years later, I had just finished speaking at Faith Center when a young man approached me and asked if I recognized him. I didn’t. He reminded me of the night I bought a burger and coke for a young hippie–that was him! After he left me, he hitchhiked to Eureka, California, but he couldn’t get the story of Jesus out of his head. So in Eureka, he went to a church, gave his life to Jesus, and now, three years later, was in Bible college!
God uses the simple story of Jesus to save people—so just tell the story. Share the gospel simply and honestly and God’s power goes to work.
Paul did not come with men’s wisdom. But that is not to say that he had no wisdom to share.
2. But God’s wisdom. 6-16
Paul quickly follows his comments about not speaking wise words with this: we do have wisdom to share—but it is God’s wisdom, not man’s. He describes God’s secret wisdom, which is revealed by the Spirit.
God’s secret wisdom. 6-10
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. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Corinthians valued wisdom, and Paul didn’t want them to think that he had none. The Christian message is not anti-intellectual or anti-wisdom. But he wanted them to know that his message was the wisdom of God, not men. It was “not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” Instead it was “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
What was this secret wisdom? It was the gospel, the message of Christ crucified. What does he mean that it is “secret”? The Greek word is mysterion; we get the word “mystery” from it, and it is often translated as “mystery”. We think of a mystery as something hidden that still needs to be solved. But Paul always uses the word to mean that God’s plan was hidden, but now has been revealed in Christ. So God’s secret wisdom isn’t a secret anymore; it has been revealed in Jesus: it is the good news that “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) It is the message of Christ crucified.
The rulers of this age (Paul seems to have the political powers in mind) clearly did not understand God’s wisdom. If they had, they would not have crucified Jesus, which ultimately means the end of their rule and the beginning of God’s kingdom. They had no idea what they were doing and how it played into God’s plan. But it wasn’t just them; no one had imagined it—no human mind had conceived what God had prepared for those who love him. But now it has been revealed to us by the Spirit.
This means that God’s wisdom, his plan to save us, is so different from our wisdom that no one would have guessed, no one would have imagined or planned it this way! It is contrary to human wisdom, our human ways of thinking, which is why God must reveal it to us.
ILL: We’ve all had to learn things that were counter-intuitive, that we’d never think of it on our own; we have to be told.
A biker was riding along a California beach when suddenly the sky opened above his head and in a booming voice the Lord said, “Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish.”
The biker pulled over and said, “Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can ride over anytime I want.”
The Lord said, “Your request is materialistic. I can do it, but it is hard for Me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of something that would honor and glorify Me.”
The biker thought about it for a long time. Finally he said, “Lord I wish that I could understand my wife. I want to know how she feels inside, what she’s thinking when she gives me the silent treatment, why she cries, what she really means when she says nothing is wrong, and how I can make her truly happy.”
The Lord replied, “You want two lanes or four on that bridge?”
Here’s the point of the corny joke. There are things you can’t know about your spouse unless they choose to reveal them. Your spouse (husband or wife) won’t know what you really think or feel unless you tell them. We’re not mind-readers! The only way to really understand someone is if they reveal themselves to you.
This is especially true of God, whose thoughts are high above ours.
Isaiah 55:8–9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours that there is no way we can know them on our own. We can only know God’s thoughts if He chooses to reveal them.
The good news is that God has revealed Himself to us in Christ, and by His Spirit. Which leads to the final point: God’s secret wisdom is revealed by the Spirit.
B. Revealed by the Spirit. 11-16
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
Paul uses the same example that I just used—well, without the corny joke. We can’t know what another person is thinking unless they tell us. And the same is true with God. The only person who truly knows what I’m thinking at any given moment is me. Or in Paul’s words, “who knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man within him.” My spirit—the inner me—is the only one who knows my thoughts. In the same way, the only one who knows the thoughts of God is the Spirit of God.
Here’s the good news: “we have received the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” God has given us His Spirit so that we can know Him, and know His thoughts. It is the Holy Spirit who enlightens us and reveals God to us.
This means that we need the Holy Spirit—big time! Only the Holy Spirit can reveal God, help us know God. We need the Holy Spirit to know God—and the good news is that Jesus not only takes away our sin, but He also gives us the Holy Spirit! Here is how John the Baptist described Jesus.
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
John uses two matching phrases to describe Jesus. He is the one who takes away our sin and the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. He takes away and He gives. He takes away our sin—you are forgiven and reconciled to God. He gives us the Holy Spirit—you are empowered and you can know God personally.
Paul concludes by quoting Isaiah 40:13, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”—a rhetorical question—the answer is “no one.” And then he stuns us by saying, “We do. We have the mind of Christ.” We are able to know God’s thoughts—not because we are brighter or better, but because of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us.
First, you can know God. Really know Him…personally. The gospel is about what God has done for us in Christ. Jesus gave His life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He takes away our sin. You are fully forgiven, deeply loved, and completely accepted because of Christ. But it doesn’t stop there. The gospel is much more than just taking away our sin.
God gives us Himself. He invites us into a relationship! This is why He gives us the Holy Spirit—so that we can truly know Him. God is now living inside us, by His Spirit, helping us know God and empowering us to follow.
ILL: Let me illustrate it for you this way.
Do you remember the story of King David and son Absalom? Absalom had taken revenge on his brother Amnon—he killed Amnon for raping his sister Tamar. Absalom fled for his life. After several years, David forgave Absalom and invited him home. But…David refused to see him. Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without ever seeing the face of the king, his father. His sin was forgiven, but they had no relationship.
I’ve seen this happen in other relationships. Someone forgives another person, but the relationship isn’t restored. They have no relationship.
Some people treat being a Christian this way. Their sins are forgiven, but they have no relationship with God. They are living in Jerusalem but without seeing the face of the King. This is not what God intended. He not only forgives our sin, but gives us the Holy Spirit to live within us so that we can know Him.
Do you have a relationship with God? Do you have “the mind of Christ”—is the Holy Spirit helping you each day know God personally? My advice: ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. I do it every day. Here’s why.
There’s more to God than you know now. There’s more of God’s love and power to be experienced. God is infinite and eternal, and no matter how much you know, how much you’ve experienced, there’s more! A lot more! The Christian life is the every day adventure of getting to know God more. There’s more…so ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit every day!
Second, you go deeper by getting simpler. God’s wisdom is the message of the cross—not some esoteric mystery that only a few can understand. Unity, Paul reminds them, is found in the simple message of Jesus, not the complex schemes of human wisdom.
ILL: Swiss theologian Karl Barth is arguably the most influential theologian of the 20th Century. He was brilliant. In 1931 he began the first book of his massive Church Dogmatics. It grew year by year out of his class lectures; though incomplete, it eventually filled 12 volumes of 500-700 pages each. Did I say he was brilliant?
In 1962, Karl Barth was at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago during his only lecture tour of the U.S. After his lecture, during the Q&A time, a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth said, “Yes, I can. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The gospel stands in stark contrast to the complex systems of human philosophy. Paul’s message was Christ crucified and raised. This simple gospel is the wisdom of God and the power of God to save us.