The text on Sunday was especially challenging because there have been so many different ways that it’s been preached and taught. It’s a text that is hotly debated at times and because of that, lots of misunderstanding has happened because of it. Here are a few of those challenges and my reasoning behind preaching it the way I did…
- One of the first ones is an argument that Paul is talking about 2 different types of Christians. Maybe you’ve heard this before…some have said that Paul has made room in this text for the “mature and spiritual” Christian and the “carnal and natural” Christian. This argument has mainly come to fruition because some want to leave room for Christians who say they believe in Jesus, but have yet to make Him truly Lord of their lives. Further, they see this in other places in Scripture with things like when the book of Revelation uses terms like ”to the one who conquers” (Revelation 2-3), making distinctions between Christians. But my argument and others about this is two-fold: 1) nowhere in the Biblical text, is there evidence for 2-classes of Christians (or 3, 4, or any class). Rather, all Christians are put in the category…Christians, children of God, and members of the Bride of Christ; 2) The Corinthian church was a model for what this class-system of Christianity does to a church…it splits it. Paul wrote this letter to this church, pleading with them to put these types of categories away, because they reveal their pride and they do not represent Jesus to the rest of the world.
- Another issue that has come up from this text is the issue of the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” “deep” things of God; and the things that are “spiritually discerned”. Where some have taken this is down mystical, hyper-spiritual place that basically says this: once we’re in Christ…the Holy Spirit then shows us deeper things, secret wisdom, and because they’re spiritually discerned, they are led by the Holy Spirit, but deeper than Christ crucified. The issue with this, I think, is that the secret and hidden wisdom Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1-2, is that Christ is the power and wisdom of God! So, it is impossible for this deeper wisdom to be disconnected to Christ. Further, Hebrews 1:1-3a (ESV) should make us sit up and pay very careful attention to Jesus: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” In my assessment, if Jesus is the final word and revelation from God…we should realize…there is not another revelation from God, like Jesus…He’s the deepest end of the ocean. And when we see that He’s the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature”…what else could we possibly think would be “deeper” or more profound than that? Now, when we speak of being Christ-centric or gospel-central, let’s be very clear: we’re talking about how the entire orb of what’s been revealed to us by Jesus: His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, session as our King, and victorious return has on our lives and what it reveals to us about the glory of God. Why would the Spirit want to reveal anything “deeper” or more “hidden” than that? My response (and I think Paul’s) is…He won’t.
- The last issue that we’ve got to tackle is 1 Corinthians 2:9, where Paul quotes a text from Isaiah: “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-‘“. This verse has often been assumed to mean a couple of different things: 1) No one can imagine what God has planned for His people in heaven. No eye has seen, ear heard, mind thought about or heart imagined what God will do for us. Heaven will be beyond our wildest dreams. 2) In the here and now…God will bless us with gifts, provision, health, wealth, beyond our wildest dreams. If you’re not achieving your dreams, you’re not dreaming big enough dreams. Now, my response to this is something Perry Sorensen (our worship leader) said to me recently: “I read that if you take the text, out of its context, all you’re left with is a con.” We cannot disconnect Paul’s use of this Old Testament reference, from the context he’s using it in. In this context of 1 Corinthians, he’s making a case for the unimaginable, un-thought of, unheard of, unseen, plan of God to save people and reveal Himself to people. Therefore, in the context, it would seem, Paul is saying: no human thought of the plan of utilizing a crucified King to save us; no human mind has the ability to conceive this idea…as John Calvin would say, this is simply too heavenly for man to even consider! Now, can there be an application that states that heaven will be more than we could imagine? Most certainly…but that’s not the meat of this text. My concern with the 2nd idea that some folks believe this text is about is that idea doesn’t bear truthfully across all biblical lines.
Challenges in the Corinthians and in us:
- One major application that I want to keep in front of us, as we study this book, is the spiritual pride that was ripping the Corinthian church apart. They were divided on every line imaginable: leaders, social issues, gifts, church order, resurrection, etc. And I just want to restate something from yesterday: Paul’s going to ask us this question: “what do you have that you have not received?” It’s a question we must keep in the forefront of our thinking…God has saved us; filled with His Spirit; revealed Himself to us; gifted us; given us leaders; opened up His word to us…what do we have that have not received?
- The other thing I think is really important for us is that when the gospel of Christ is not central…other things will divide us. I realize that there are serious social causes out there: abortion, sex trafficking, park beautifying, drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, just to name our fair share…but our involvement in these things are potential outworkings of the gospel but they are not the center. Further, nowhere in Scripture are we told exactly “how” the church is to deal with these social issues (picketing, writing letters, voting a certain way, etc.)…which tells me, we must have a “wholistic” approach to how this stuff gets worked out. But listen very carefully…those outworkings are not to divide us into a “we’re better than you are” attitude or a “you’re not really spiritual or Christian” spirit, if others don’t do what we do…that’s pride…I’m very concerned for this right now in our culture…we’re a “cancel” culture; a “divided” culture…and we had better not bring that into the Bride of Christ.
Quotes I left out:
- “The Corinthians, enamored by wisdom and thinking of themselves as “spiritual” (= “people of the Spirit”), are less than enchanted with Paul’s message, which they regard merely as “milk.” With fine irony Paul demolishes these various misperceptions and false boastings. The gospel of the crucified Messiah is wisdom all right, he affirms, but not of the kind they are now pursuing. True wisdom is indeed for those who are “spiritual,” meaning for those who have the Spirit, who has revealed what God has really accomplished in Christ. Because they do have the Spirit, and thus the mind of Christ, they should have seen the cross for what it is—God’s wisdom—and thereby have been able to make true judgments. But by pursuing wisdom, they are acting just like those without the Spirit, who are likewise pursuing wisdom but see the cross as foolishness. The net result—and the irony—is that they are “spiritual,” yet “unspiritual”; they are pursuing “wisdom,” yet missing the very wisdom of God.” Fee, G. D.
- “Paul is not here rebuilding what he has just torn down; rather he is retooling their understanding of the Spirit and “spirituality” so that they might perceive the truth of what he has been arguing to this point: that everything is predicated on God’s new “upside down” world, where God’s own wisdom has been displayed in the offering of a “crucified Messiah” as the divine remedy for human fallenness. To read the passage otherwise is both a travesty and a disregard for Paul’s own passion for his gospel of a “crucified Messiah,” now raised from the dead.” Fee, G. D.
- “There is one kind of so-called wisdom that is pretentious, self-affirming, and seeks to operate by means of human achievements; and there is a God-given, received, revealed wisdom that nurtures and directs the life of the people of God, and (in sometimes hidden ways) also the world as God’s creation.” Thiselton, A. C.
- “The gift of God’s Spirit transcends the boundaries of the human self. Paul’s redefinition of Spirit (vv. 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14) and spiritual or spiritually (vv. 13, 14, and 15) dominates and shapes the argument in vv. 10–16 and 3:1–4. Only when readers have noted the intimacy or inter-penetration (perichoresis) of the Person of the Holy Spirit and the Being of God (v. 10) can they fully discern Paul’s redefinition of spiritual.” Thiselton, A. C.
- “The wisdom of God as true wisdom: If human discovery is largely a matter of work and achievement while divine revelation comes as a gift, how may we acquire divine wisdom (as Paul and the book of Proverbs enjoin us to do)? Is it, like justification by grace, to be received as a gift but appropriated day by day?” Thiselton, A. C.
All around the globe:
You might know that I have had the privilege over the last few years to work with our denomination (Sovereign Grace Churches) with international churches. Our team is called Sovereign Grace Emerging Nations Team. From Latin America, to the Philippines, and to undisclosed parts of the globe, it is fascinating/exciting to hear what God is doing around the world. If you would like to receive a monthly email with updates on the Sovereign Grace Emerging Nations, please feel free to subscribe here: https://tinyurl.com/sgemergingnations.
Have a great week…