THE SPIRIT’S POWER AND WISDOM
1 Corinthians 2: 1-16
Key Verse 2:4-5
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Now that we have begun our Corinthians study starting last week, we are learning about a consistent theme, which is wisdom. As we learned from Jason’s message last week, we may appear foolish by the world’s standards because we follow Jesus who was crucified. Jesus appeared to be on the losing side of history, but he wasn’t. Jesus won the greatest victory ever won in the history of the world. He won a victory that defeated death and he has given us hope of eternal life! Amen. Now in the second chapter of this book, Paul wants to teach us more about this special kind of wisdom that is quite different from the world’s wisdom. It is actually hidden wisdom that Paul is revealing to us. Do you want to discover this hidden wisdom? Sounds interesting right? Let’s learn from Paul
Part 1, Paul Demonstrates The Spirit’s Wisdom and Power
Corinth was one of the most powerful and influential cities in Greece, among Sparta, Athens, and Thebes. There were many philosophers there, and public debate was common. Watching a famous intellectual speaker give a speech was a popular event. People with good oratory skills were like rockstars of the time. So, Greek culture produced many great thinkers. We all remember the famous thinkers we learned about in middle school. I still remember the famous story how Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, discovered how to calculate the density of the king’s crown to see if it was made of gold. He discovered volume displacement when he sat in his bathtub and saw the water level rise, and the king was really happy with him when he could prove his crown was gold and not fake. So many smart and witty people came out of this intellectual Greek culture. But in this passage we will learn that all the wisdom and knowledge of this world might have a practical benefit for a period of time, but ultimately comes to nothing.
Paul arrived in Corinth with a mission to evangelize these very worldly, intellectual Greek people. But according to verse 1 he did not try to use persuasive words or eloquent speech. It was quite an accomplishment. It wasn’t because he wasn’t prepared, he was prepared. Paul had achieved a high level education and was a famous scholar because he was educated by the famous teacher of the time Gamaliel. Once Paul was invited to speak before King Agrippa and the Governor Festus. Festus must have become frustrated by Paul, he accused Paul of being insane as a result of studying too much. It’s common to see someone losing an argument throw insults like, “you have a screw loose”, or “you are crazy” like Festus did to Paul, some say even worse things than that. It’s almost an admission they lost the argument. Festus lost and wanted to “cancel” Paul right then and there and close his Twitter account too. Their relationship ended on bad terms. Later we see Paul also debated the Jews in Corinth and they got mad and formed a gang and tried to get rid of him. Paul could win debates very well, but he didn’t always win people’s hearts when trying to use persuasive words.
Prior to coming to Corinth Paul had an experience while preaching in Athens. While he was there Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him, they said that Paul was babbling (Acts ch.17). Paul made a great effort to preach and asked why they worshipped so many gods. He also told them about a resurrection, but he did not mention Jesus Christ. It became mostly and ontological debate about religion. No church was established while he was there. In fact, there in Athens there was no historical Christian presence there until the 4th century.
The Greeks already had wisdom! So in Corinth Paul had to take a much different approach. Verse 2 says his focus was to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified while in Corinth, he put his intellectual mind aside there. Paul did not come for any other motive other than to change lives with the gospel of Christ. The gospel message is powerful because it can change people’s hearts. When people hear the gospel message, they realize the great love that God has for them. Jesus died for our sins and has forgiven all of our past mistakes and transgressions, both those we have committed against God and against others. God’s love leads us to faith in Jesus and his salvation. When Paul took this approach of sharing the gospel message, he had great success. Throughout the book of Acts we see Paul lead many to Jesus including Lydia, Titus, Crispus, Timothy, Pricilla and Acquilla and many others. So, Paul had become very effective at sharing the gospel.
People often want to hear something that tickles their ears in church, or they want to hear something about prosperity or something practical that helps their daily life. Wisdom is important, yes. Even Solomon wrote the entire book of Proverbs which is often called, “The Book of Wisdom.” We need our brains and we need wisdom. When you walked into service you didn’t check your brain in at the door. But wisdom cannot change people’s hearts. Even some people can get corrupted by it. There is so much vanity in human wisdom. People think they are cool if they can quote from literature, poetry or philosophy. Citing quotations from Shakespeare, Hemmingway, and Nietzsche. It isn’t influential at all, it is actually noisy - kind of like Facebook memes. Paul realized in his later years as he wrote to the Corinthians in Chapter 13, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Paul realized he is most influential when he has the love of God. It is interesting to see how Paul came full circle, how he first spent most of his life learning and studying so much. Then at a mature point in his life he realized it is God’s love that is most important. He realized God’s love is patient, kind, it does not envy or boast, and it is not proud (1 Cor 13:4). It is quiet and gentle like a baby in a manger. It is sacrificial like Jesus giving his life on the cross. These attributes are not learned by reading book, they are given to us by God’s Spirit. One day we will all be judged, at that time God will not ask us what our level of education is, or if we know the Pythagorean theorem. Rather, he will examine our hearts to see if we have God’s love towards our brothers and sisters and if we shared his love with others. This kind of love comes from knowing Jesus Christ personally, and knowing his grace.
In verse 3, Paul contrasts his approach to sharing the gospel message with the approach of the philosophers of Corinth. It was different because he came to them with fear and trembling. The famous philosophers in Corinth did not have an approach with fear and trembling, but were confident and boastful. Maybe Paul also felt fear and trembling because he knew in Corinth he was going to have a hard time. It was a very dark place spiritually. There was almost no moral center for society, and the prevailing lifestyle was materialism and indulgence. The temples were not places of morality but hedonism and debauchery. At that time it was common to warn people not to go to Corinth because if they go there, they might come back corrupted.
Before going to Corinth Paul must have felt weak and a little intimidated knowing what he was up against. But he went anyway. Paul went depending on God, and put his human wisdom aside. At times we may feel weak, that we cannot overcome a problem, or do what God asks us to do. But it is liberating to just be like Paul, and give all of our weaknesses to God and just let him take over, and then we experience his power. This is God’s grace to us, God’s calling is not based on our abilities or talents or looks.
Paul demonstrated what the Spirit can do when we depend on God. According to 2nd Corinthians Chapter 11 Paul was imprisoned, beaten with rods 3 times, flogged 5 times, shipwrecked 3 times, stoned, and bitten by a viper, all of which he survived. Sounds like a Superman movie, but it isn’t it was the power of God’s Spirit in Paul’s weak, mortal body. After so many difficulties Paul thought of quitting at times, but in Acts 18:9 God appeared to him in a vision, and said “Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent….For I am with you.” So Paul kept on speaking. Ultimately, Paul built many churches, trained leaders like Timothy and Silas, helped countless people know Jesus, and wrote his Epistles who have influenced millions of people. Our struggles are small compared to Paul’s. At times I felt I have an excuse not to deliver a message on Sundays, because I don’t have a Ph.D like others have so I see it as a weakness. But when I depend on God I can carry out this task and God reveals his Word to me. May God help each of you to depend not on your own human strength. But to bring your struggles to God and he will make you strong and his Spirit will be with you.
Part 1 of this passage is summarized by verses 4 and 5, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” Human wisdom is like the house that was built on sand. When a storm came it’s destruction was complete. But God’s power we have in Jesus Christ is like the house built on solid rock that remains standing on a firm foundation.
Part 2, Paul Teaches About the Spirit’s Wisdom
Now let’s look at 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.” Here Paul explains further that the gospel message is actually a message of wisdom. But it is a different kind of wisdom. It is different than the wisdom of the rulers of our age, who achieved their position through shrewdness and political conniving. Indeed today we do not follow this wisdom. What happens to those who follow this kind of wisdom? It says their lives come to nothing, they perish like flowers of the field. It implies they do not receive eternal life, their priorities are backwards and they spent their time and money chasing after the wrong things. So then what type of person can receive God’s wisdom which according to verse 7 is “hidden”? It says in verse 6, those who are “mature” can find it. So does that mean that grey hair helps us find God’s truth? Or if we have a grey beard like Socrates? Some of us might wish that to be true. No, anyone can find this hidden truth if they are spiritually mature, and have a spiritual value system which seeks to know Jesus. Bibles are everywhere, even available for download as an app on our phone. So how is it “hidden”? It is because the Spirit is required to reveal the deep meaning of God’s Word to us. Without the Spirit we are kind of blinded. We are like the Stoics and Epicureans who tried to listen to Paul but just decided he was babbling. I recall at one time wanting to understand God’s word and trying to read the Bible and I could not understand it. I was like Nicodemus asking lots of questions starting with “how” and “why”. I could do calculus but could not get past John chapter 1. But when I opened my heart to God the Spirit revealed God’s word to me and I could understand it and receive God’s revelation.
Verses 10 to 11 teaches what God has planned for us and the heavenly treasure that awaits us, that this is revealed by the Spirit also. We need God’s Holy Spirit to accompany us on our spiritual journey to heaven. Isaiah Chapter 9 calls the Spirit a “Wonderful Counselor.” Do you want to have a Wonderful Counselor? A counselor who is always with you, who knows exactly how to guide your life and help you, and even comforts you during hardships? Then you must ask God for his Spirit. According to this passage God gives his Spirit freely. God’s spirit is free but it is not cheap. To open the door for this Jesus had to shed his precious blood on the cross. So it is very expensive, but God gives it to us freely! Amen! Our God is very generous!
In this passage we see there is a certain intimacy we can have with God in the Spirit. The Spirit can know us and the Spirit will also teach us. One man does not know another man’s thoughts as Paul says. I’d like to know what people are thinking but I don’t. Sometimes I think I can look at them and their expression and guess what they are thinking. Even if I take a guess I still might be wrong. I’d like to know if they are thinking about lunch or if they are listening to my message. Through the Spirit we can be connected to God in a deep way which is amazing. God will know our thoughts and learn about us, and we can learn about him. He wants to know us, and have a relationship with us.
Finally, we learn that by default we are wise people when we believe in Jesus. We obtain both spiritual wisdom and even human wisdom when we are in Christ. We can look around at the people in this room and see there are many people here who have both spiritual wisdom and practical wisdom. This is perhaps the most wise group of people I have ever known in my life. People who know Jesus personally, and also people who know how to raise children properly, and take care of a ministry, and be successful at their careers. These things are the blessings of the Spirit which gives us. In this passage we learn it is very wise to follow Christ and receive eternal life and receive the blessings he gives us. May you receive God’s free gift of his Spirit and be blessed with true, eternal wisdom. Amen