Sometimes in life we go about things all wrong don’t we? A popular example is weight loss. We decide we want to lose weight so we begin searching for the best weight-loss program out there. And because a lot of people want to lose weight, there are a lot or companies out there prepared to take our money by giving us false hopes of six-pack abs. Due to our desperation, we buy into their ridiculous solutions. We’re willing to believe that if we drink a certain shake for breakfast and lunch we’ll lose weight. Or perhaps we should cut out a whole food group, like carbs. Or maybe we’ll we try to exercise like crazy for one week and then give up when it doesn’t work. But the fact is, we all know what it takes to lose weight – you have to eat healthy and exercise. It’s very simple; we’re just not willing to do it.
In a similar way, we do this with our spiritual lives. We want to grow closer to the Lord, we want to live righteously, and we want to go “deeper” in our faith, so we do what our culture would tell us to do if we want to get better at something – we work harder. And typically what this looks like is Bible study. We go to Sunday school and another elective class on Sunday mornings, we listen to a sermon each week, and we even go to a Growth group, but it seems that not much changes. So we join another Bible study and listen to more Bible teaching on the radio, but we find that we continue to have sinful thoughts and sinful behavior and often we feel like throwing up our hands and just giving up. The problem of course is that Bible study alone does not result in spiritual maturity – we’re seeking the easiest possible solution and then we’re getting frustrated when we don’t see the results we want to see.
This is what was happening with the church in Corinth. They were seeking wisdom, but they were doing so in the wrong way. Although they had committed to Christ and received the Holy Spirit, they were seeking generic or worldly wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. And because they were seeking generic wisdom, which in their day was made up of complicated philosophical ideals, they felt like the gospel message that Paul had delivered to them was too simple. Likely they were embarrassed about the seemingly weak idea of a crucified Messiah and they wanted something more, so they sought out the wisdom of their culture.
Last week we heard Paul compare Godly wisdom to worldly wisdom. In today’s passage he continues along the same lines, but what he focuses on in the remainder of chapter 2 is the necessity of the Holy Spirit in understanding the mind of God. He wants the church to see that while they are seeking wisdom in the world, they are missing the wisdom of God within and around them because they were thinking on an earthly plane rather than a spiritual plane.
This reminds me of the storyline of a sci-fi movie called The Matrix. In this movie, “the matrix” was a computer-generated world that made life seem normal. People could go on believing everything was great, but in reality the world was a mess. In this scene that I’m going to show you, the character named Morpheus is offering the character named Neo the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The blue pill will allow him to continue in the world he has known all his life – the computer-generated, false world where ignorance was bliss and humanity was enslaved to live a lie, but the red pill would open his mind to the real world, which would not come without a price.
Even though it was going to change his life and make it more complicated, Neo chose the red pill. He didn’t want to live in a world where the wool had been pulled over his eyes. He wanted to know what was real – even if it meant some hardship for him. This is what Paul wants for us as followers of Christ. He doesn’t want us to focus on the visible and temporary world around us; he wants us to focus on the invisible, but very real and eternal world or the kingdom of God.
In 1 Cor. 2:6-10 Paul speaks of the hidden reality of the kingdom of God. He says:
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 declare God’s wisdom, a mystery 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: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him— 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
Paul wanted them to understand that while he didn’t come to them preaching with human wisdom (2:1) that didn’t mean that he didn’t come without wisdom. He did in fact come in wisdom, but they didn’t grasp it because it was spiritual wisdom rather than worldly wisdom. Paul refers to God’s secret wisdom as hidden because it was formerly unknown. That is, before Jesus, people of faith knew that God had a plan, but they didn’t understand exactly what it was. But now, God had revealed Himself and His plan in a new way through Jesus. Nonetheless, there were still many people who didn’t understand, or as Paul says, didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear, because they didn’t have the Spirit of God within them.
The Corinthians of course had the Holy Spirit, but they still missed much of what Paul was teaching because they were thinking from a worldly point-of-view rather than in the Spirit. They were frustrated with Paul’s teaching because they wanted something deeper, but the fact was (as Paul will tell them in 3:1) they were not ready for more meaty teachings, they were only ready for milk.
Interestingly, we still find the same thing in the church today. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had people tell me over the years that they wanted to go deeper in the faith, but what they really meant was that they wanted to know more about the Bible. They weren’t applying what they already knew, but they wanted to know more. It’s important that we understand that knowledge, by itself, does not equate to maturity. The Pharisees prove this point for us over and over in Scripture. No one knew Scripture better than them, but they constantly disappointed Jesus with their attitudes and behavior. On the other hand, as Jesus trained His disciples, He taught them Scripture, but He also had them regularly doing ministry.
It’s crucial that we learn from Jesus’ example, because head knowledge is very different than the wisdom we receive when we actually put God’s Word into practice. That’s why using your spiritual gifts to build up the church and sharing your faith and tithing and making disciples are so important – when you do what God has commanded you to do it requires faith. And when you act in obedience and see God come through for you as He has promised He would, your faith is taken to the next level. The path to a deeper life in Christ is through obedience to His commands. And I don’t mean His commands that we abstain from certain things (although those are important), but His commands regarding what we are supposed to be doing as we follow Him. Without obedience, our spiritual life cannot help but be lifeless. Just as a pond that doesn’t have an outlet for the water grows stagnant, we must not only take in God’s Word, but we must live it out as well.
So how can we be sure that our thinking and our worldview is spiritual rather than worldly so we don’t make the same mistakes the Corinthians did? We must focus on our new identity in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The Obedient Follower of Christ
We must learn to be led by the Spirit in all that we do. How does this work? The Navigators have an illustration that I find very helpful regarding how we can live in obedience to God. The illustration is that of a wheel that represents our lives as obedient Christians. Obviously a wheel is meant to roll and keep moving, just as our relationship with Christ is to be active so that we can be obedient and grow.
What do you think would serve as the hubcap, or the center of our lives as Christians?
Yes! Christ – of course. Jesus is to be the priority of our lives when we surrender to Him. But of course, we need to get to know Him better and communicate with Him so that we can be transformed to become more and more like Him.
So, how do we grow in Christ? What two things do you think represent the vertical axis of our lives?
Yes! We connect to God in two primary ways – prayer and Scripture.
But in order to grow, we can’t just learn Scripture and hide in our houses or churches and pray, because God has given us work to do. As we grow in Christ, we are to influence others so that they might share in salvation and the joy of Christian love.
So as we think about how we relate to other people (that’s the horizontal axis in our lives), what two things do you think might represent this part of our faith?
Right – on the one hand we need Christian fellowship so that we can encourage others and hold them accountable and so we can receive the same thing in return. And on the other hand, we must be active in sharing our faith with others as Jesus commanded.
These are the primary things that make up our walk with Christ and allow us to grow in Him, and all of these things require us the Holy Spirit’s assistance. In fact none of these things are possible without the Spirit of God within us. This is what Paul wants the church to understand. The people in the world around them didn’t understand their faith and likely told them that it was foolishness and that they needed to seek worldly wisdom. But Paul wanted them to understand that the things of the world are passing away, so they needed to focus on the wisdom of God, but they would only be able to through the Holy Spirit. He teaches them about this in verses 11-16 saying,
“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so 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, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
In our flesh, we cannot understand the thoughts of God, that’s why we need the Holy Spirit. But we only receive the Holy Spirit when we submit our lives to God and place our faith in Jesus. The Corinthians understood what Paul had taught them when he was with them because they were focusing on their relationship with Christ and in touch with the Spirit, but in his absence they had lost touch with the Spirit and become worldly. I don’t mean that they lost the Spirit altogether, but that they had become stagnant in their faith and out of touch with God because they stopped living in obedience.
Paul is trying to help them understand that if they want to understand and return to the power and wisdom of the gospel that he has taught them, they’re going to have to humble themselves and get back in touch with God through the Holy Spirit. They are going to have to be in the Word and in prayer, they are going to have to recommit to unity in the body of Christ and sharing their faith – then the wisdom of God will begin to make sense again.
For the Corinthians, and I think this is an important issue for us in today’s culture as well, they needed to be disenculturated. Enculturation is the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values. The Corinthians had gone far beyond this and had assimilated to the culture too much – so much so that they didn’t look any different! I believe today’s church often faces that same problem. We must ask ourselves what difference Christ has made in our lives?
-Do we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33) or are we more focused on our comfort?
-Are we making sure that we think on things that are true, noble, right, and pure (Phil. 4:8) or are we allowing zombies, sex, lewdness, and perversion into our minds on a regular basis?
-Are we telling others about Christ or are too worried about our reputation and not making others feel uncomfortable? (Romans 1:16)
-Do we love the Constitution of the United States and the freedoms it promises us more than we love the Word of God and His promises to us?
We desperately need this reminder that Paul is giving to the Corinthian church that we are not of this world! We must take on the mind of Christ and remember that we are His ambassadors in this world, but this is not our home. We must constantly have our thinking and worldview transformed by God’s Word so that our thinking is sufficiently transformed (Rom. 12:2). Our love for God must be strengthened through time with Him daily so that our love of Him is so much greater than our love for the world (1 Jn. 2:15). We must be able to view our world accurately as the realm of Satan’s influence (2 Cor. 4:4) so that we can remember to shine the light of Christ and act as purifying agents (Matt. 5:13-16) in a world gone bad.
We must be people of the Word, people of prayer, and we must live in the fellowship of the Body of Christ so that we can be strengthened to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8) in a world that desperately needs Him.
Yes, Christians, let’s go deeper, but let us recognize that what that means is focusing both vertically unto God and horizontally to those around us as we abide in and follow the Holy Spirit’s lead.