A. Paul’s reliance on God’s wisdom.
1. (1-4) How Paul preached to the Corinthians.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
a. When I came to you: Paul’s arrival in Corinth is described in Acts 18. He came and met a Christian couple named Aquila and Priscilla, who were tentmakers by trade, like Paul. He ministered in Corinth for more than a year and a half, supporting himself by tent making.
b. Did not come with excellence of speech: Paul didn’t come as a philosopher or a salesman; he came as a witness (declaring to you the testimony of God).
i. Paul was certainly a man who could reason and debate persuasively, but he didn’t use that approach in preaching of gospel. He made a conscious decision (I determined) to put the emphasis on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul was an ambassador, not a salesman.
ii. In taking this approach, Paul understood he was not catering to what his audience wanted. “Corinth put a premium on the veneer of false rhetoric and thin thinking” (Barclay). He already knew the Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22), but he does not seem to care. He will preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
iii. If a preacher is not careful, he will get in the way of the gospel instead of being a servant of the gospel. They can obscure Jesus by their preaching, either in the presentation or the message. Like the little girl, who when a smaller man was guest speaking could finally see the stained glass window of Jesus behind the pulpit said, “Where’s the man who usually stands there so we can’t see Jesus?”
c. Not to know anything “does not mean that he left all other knowledge aside, but rather that he had the gospel, with its crucified Messiah, as his singular focus and passion while he was among them.” (Fee)
d. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling: Paul was not brimming with self-confidence. Knowing the need and his own limitations made him weak and afraid. Yet it kept him from the poison of self-reliance, all let God’s strength flow.
i. Vincent says the implication of verse three is that his condition grew out of the circumstances in which he found himself in Corinth. Paul’s weakness, fear, and trembling could have been the result of an illness he suffered under while in Corinth, or some (like Calvin) believe it was because of the threat of persecution.
ii. Whatever the exact cause, “So great was his sense of weakness and fear, and so profound his lack of trust in himself that he quaked, he trembled. Those are the secrets of strength in all preaching.” (Morgan)
e. Not with persuasive words: Paul is not rejecting preaching, even persuasive preaching (his sermon before Agrippa in Acts 26 is a remarkable example of persuasive preaching). Paul is rejecting any reliance on the preacher’s ability to persuade with human wisdom.
i. “It is ours to speak the truth boldly, and in every case we shall be a sweet savour unto God; but to temporise in the hope of making converts is to do evil that good may come, and this is never to be thought of for an instant.” (Spurgeon)
f. But in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: Paul knew it is the preacher’s job to preach; it is the Holy Spirit’s job to demonstrate. Paul’s preaching may not have been impressive or persuasive on a human level, but on a spiritual level it had power.
2. (5) The reason for reliance on the Spirit instead of human wisdom.
That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
a. Preaching strategies centered around the wisdom of men - around emotion, entertainment and human personality - may yield response, but not results for the kingdom of God.
i. Many people use slick, entertaining, or even deceptive means to “lure” people into the church, and justify it by saying, “we’re drawing them in and then winning them to Jesus.” But the principle stands: with you draw them with is what you draw them to.
b. If someone’s faith is in the wisdom of men, and not the power of God; if someone can be persuaded into the kingdom by human wisdom, they can be persuaded out of the kingdom by human wisdom also.
B. Paul preaches real wisdom, not the wisdom of men.
1. (6-8) God’s wisdom is not recognized by this age.
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. 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.
a. However, we speak wisdom: Just because Paul would not cater to the Corinthian love of human wisdom does not mean that his message had no wisdom; in fact, there is a vast wealth of wisdom sealed off to everyone except the Christian.
b. Among those who are mature: Who are the mature Paul could speak this wisdom to? Some think the line is drawn between saved and unsaved; others between mature and immature believers.
i. Paul does use the word mature for mature believers in passages like Ephesians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 14:20, and Philippians 3:15. An immature person (such as a baby) doesn’t have the discernment to know what is good to eat and what isn’t. A baby will stick anything into its mouth.
c. The mature recognize God’s wisdom, but the rulers of this age do not. Are the rulers of this age men or demonic powers?
i. This debate goes all the way back to the time of Origen and Chrysostom. On the surface, it seems clear that the rulers of this age must refer to human rulers, because only they didn’t know what they were doing when they incited the crucifixion of Jesus. “Paul habitually ascribes power to the demonic forces, but not ignorance.” (Morris)
ii. However, one could say that demonic powers were ignorant of what would result from the crucifixion of Jesus - the disarming and defeat of demonic powers (Colossians 2:15) - and had they known they were sealing their own doom by inciting the crucifixion, they would not have done it.
iii. No matter who exactly the rulers of this age are, their defeat is certain: who are coming to nothing. Their day is over and the day of Jesus Christ is here!
d. Why did the rulers of this age fail to recognize God’s wisdom? Because it came in a mystery; a “sacred secret” that could only be known by revelation. It is the hidden wisdom that is now revealed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul preaches.
e. Lord of glory: Some scholars consider the Lord of glory the loftiest title Paul ever gave to Jesus. It is certain proof that Paul regarded Jesus as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. It is inconceivable that Paul would give us a title to any lesser being.
2. (9-11) God’s wisdom is known only by the Holy Spirit.
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.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. 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.
a. As it is written: Properly speaking, this is not a strict quotation from the Scriptures. Paul is paraphrasing Isaiah 64:4 to remind us that God’s wisdom and plan is past our finding out on our own.
i. “As it is written is not, in this case, the form of quotation, but is rather equivalent to saying, ‘To use the language of Scripture.’” (Hodge)
b. Eye has not seen: Most people wrongly take the things which God has prepared for those who love Him to mean the things which are waiting for us in heaven. While it is true that we cannot comprehend the greatness of heaven, that isn’t what Paul means here, because verse 10 tells us God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. This glorious thing is has been revealed by the gospel.
i. “These words have been applied to the state of glory in a future world; but certainly they belong to the present state, and express merely the wondrous light, life, and liberty which the Gospel communicates to them that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in that way which the Gospel itself requires.” (Clarke)
ii. Paul is communicating much the same message as Ephesians 3:1-7, where he writes about the mystery of the church, and how the church in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:5)
iii. Before the life and ministry of Jesus, God’s people had a vague understanding of the glory of His work and what it would do for His people. But they really didn’t - they couldn’t - fully understand it ahead of time.
c. Through His Spirit reminds Paul that only the Holy Spirit can tell us about God and His wisdom. This knowledge is unattainable by human wisdom or investigation.
i. No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God: Paul argues from the Greek philosophic premise that like is known only by like. You can guess what your dog is thinking, but you really can’t know unless he was to tell you. Even so, we could guess what God is thinking, and about His wisdom, but we would never know unless He told us.
e. Yes, the deep things of God: In their love of human wisdom, the Corinthians proudly thought Paul was just dealing in “just basics” like the gospel. Paul insists that his message gets to the heart of the deep things of God.
3. (12-13) How we can receive this wisdom.
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. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
a. That we might know: This wisdom comes by the Spirit who is from God, not from the spirit of this world. Since every believer has received . . . the Spirit who is from God, every believer has the access to this spiritual wisdom.
i. This does not mean every believer has equal spiritual wisdom. And it does not mean we will understand all spiritual mysteries. It does mean every believer can understand the basics of the Christian message, which is unattainable (and undesirable) by human wisdom.
b. Comparing spiritual things with spiritual: Christians combine spiritual things with spiritual words; they use words and concepts taught only by the Holy Spirit.
i. Or, Paul may be speaking of the way only a spiritual man can receive spiritual things. “The passage therefore should be thus translated: Explaining spiritual things to spiritual persons.” (Clarke)
4. (14-16) The natural man and the spiritual man.
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. 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.
a. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: The Greek word for natural man is psuchikos. It describes the materialist, who lives as if there were nothing beyond this physical life. This is the kind of life common to all animals.
i. The natural man is where we all start life; the life inherited from Adam. The natural man is unregenerate man, unsaved man.
ii. We have to deal with the material world, so there is nothing inherently sinful in “natural” life. God is not displeased when you have to eat and sleep and work. But life on this level is without spiritual insight; the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.
iii. Spiritual things seem foolishness to the natural man. Why waste time on “spiritual” things when you could be making money or having fun?
b. The natural man doesn’t want the things of God because he regards them as foolishness. What is more, he can’t understand the things of God (even if he wanted to) because they are spiritually discerned. It would be wrong to expect the natural man to see and value spiritual things, just as it would be wrong to expect a corpse to see the material world.
i. The natural man is unsaved. Too many Christians still think like natural men, refusing to spiritually discern things. When our only concern is for “what works” or the “bottom line,” we are not spiritually discerning, and we are thinking like the natural man, even though we might be saved.
c. He who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one: Paul is not saying that every Christian is above every criticism (after all, much of this letter is criticism). The point is clear: no natural man is equipped to judge a spiritual man.
d. Who has known the mind of the Lord: Isaiah 40:13 refers to the mind of Yahweh (translated here as Lord); but Paul has no trouble inserting mind of Christ for mind of the Lord, because Jesus is Yahweh!
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission