Question:

I had someone quote to me I Corinthians 2:14. Does this mean that the natural man will not choose anything that is of a spiritual nature?  I believe that we have a free will to choose what we so desire, but if we were all in times past a natural man, would we desire to choose anything of a spiritual nature?  Does Ephesians 2:2-3 explain what condition that we were in as a natural man? 


Answer:

People often read their assumptions into passages. When you seen someone using a passage to come to a false conclusion, the best thing to do is read that passage in the context it was given. Almost always you will find that the context does not allow the meaning the person wants to give to the isolated passage.

Paul started talking about God's wisdom back in I Corinthians 1:18. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (I Corinthians 1:18-21). Some people reject God's wisdom, even though time after time God has proven Himself wiser than any man. But not everyone rejects it. "For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:22-24). The same message is given to everyone, but you have a difference in acceptance of that message.

Despite being presented by men like Paul, who where not not eloquent in speech (I Corinthians 2:1-5), the wisdom being presented is not lacking. It is recognized by those who are mature in the faith (Hebrews 5:14). Such understanding doesn’t come instantly or even quickly. The depths of God’s wisdom takes time to delve into. God designed His message to require a desire to work at understanding it. God doesn't spoon feed people.

This wisdom does not from this particular era or from leading men of this age. Neither of these will last. This wisdom comes from God and which had been hidden from people in the past. Paul is not claiming that he was preaching in a mysterious fashion or in some fashion that purposely hid God’s message from people. He is only referring to the fact that God keep parts of His plan hidden until the proper time (Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:1-10; Colossians 1:26; I Timothy 3:16). But God’s purpose had been laid out before time. This isn’t a last minute thought or a passing fad. It wasn’t built upon things in this world since it was planned before the world began. No can it be claimed that the leading men in the world shaped it because they didn’t even realize it existed. If they had, they would have not crucified the Christ (Acts 3:17). It is not that they could not have known. The evidence was right before them (John 5:36; 10:25), but they were not willing to accept what they saw.

The wisdom which God has revealed to His people could not have been invented by men. Referring to Isaiah 64:4, Paul points out that it wasn’t something seen before, heard before, or even thought about in the past. But God prepared these very things for the people He loved. The context of the quote, Isaiah 64:1-9, shows that what was longed for was a revelation of God method for saving people from their sins. We are privileged to know these things because God has shown them to us through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13-14). The Spirit of God understands all these things because He has access to the depths of God’s mind, just as the spirit of a man knows his inner most thoughts (Proverbs 14:10; 20:27; 27:19). This is something no man has the right to claim -- we don't know what is in God's mind (Romans 11:33-34).

The apostles were inspired by the Spirit of God, not the world, to know what God was freely offering to man and to then teach others about it (I John 5:20; Matthew 28:18-20). Even in teaching these things, the apostles and prophets were not expressing the mind of God in their own words (Isaiah 54:13; John 6:45). The Spirit of God supplied the words as well; and thus, it is proper to say that God is speaking though it comes through the medium of man (I Thessalonians 4:2).

The exact translation of pneumatikois pneumatika sunkrinontes, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:13) is disputed, but the overall sense of the words is a bit easier. The Greek word sunkrino is used in the Septuagint in Genesis 40:8, 22; and 41:12 to refer to the interpretation of dreams. It means to analyze the meaning of something by both combining it with other things and by separating it into its pieces. Pneumatika refers to spiritual things, while pneumatikois means either spiritual people or spiritual words. Thus Paul is speaking of giving understanding by unfolding and explaining spiritual concepts to spiritual people. An alternative translation is the unfolding and explaining of spiritual truths with spiritual words. Or, as the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary notes, it could be purposely vague to express both ideas in the same phrase. Indeed pneumatikos is used in both senses in verses 14 and 15.

Because of the emphasis on the spiritual, it should not be surprising that those with their minds focused on the world are unable to comprehend these truths. The word translated “natural” is the Greek word psuchikos which refers to the spirit of man, as opposed to the spirit of God. Thus it refers to the thoughts of a man left on his own without God. It was sometimes used by Greek writers to refer to the animalistic thoughts of brutish men and is defined for us in James 3:15-16. To a worldly minded person, God’s truths appear to be foolishness.

But a spiritual man examines everything God has revealed. The Greek work anakrinei means to scrutinize, interrogate, investigate, determine, question, discern, judge, and search. This is the idea behind “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). The spiritual person does a thorough examination of the revelations of God so he can understand them. But, as a result, it changes him to the point that worldly people cannot understand him either (II Peter 4:1-6).

Worldly minded people might desire to teach God's word if they could, but they cannot even understand a spiritually minded man, let alone understand the mind of God. Paul emphasizes the point by quoting from Isaiah 40:13. Christians are spiritually minded people who understand the mind of Jesus because God has imparted His wisdom to them. Worldly minded people don’t understand God or Christians.

So, "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" (I Corinthians 2:14) means a worldly minded person sees God's wisdom as foolishness. He doesn't understand them because his whole approach to the teachings of God is wrong.

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:1-7).

Because of sin, all of us at one time followed the course of this world, but Christians have received the gift of God to leave this world behind. These are the same themes Paul talks about in another letter:

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:1-7).

This change in attitude from following the world to following God is something anyone can make. Yet, God doesn't force it on anyone. We have to make the choice. You cannot be a Christian and follow the world, it just won't work (I Peter 4:1-3).

"Them that perish" is the same as "the natural man" (I Corinthians 1:18). So the natural man cannot understand the truth that is in the Scriptures, but the only ones that can understand are "those who are called", both Greeks and Jews, who have been born of the spirit (I Corinthians 1:18-21). I understand that those who are "the called, born of the Spirit" when they are "new born" understand only the basics of the gospel, and later can develop into the mature stage that can perceive the meat of the gospel, but both the new born and the mature have been born of the Spirit, which eliminates the natural man (Hebrews 5:12-14). The mystery is made known to "the church" (Ephesian 3:10). The mystery is made manifest to "his saints" (Colossians 1:26), not to the natural man. I Timothy 3:16 is referring to the "believing," those who are called, who have been born of the Spirit, who are in the world, but not of the world as the natural man is. In John 5:36, Jesus is saying that his works bear witness of him to those "that are the called", not to the natural man. In John 10:25-26, the natural man will not believe, but only his "sheep." In John 14:26, referring to those who have the Holy Spirit within them, that the world (the natural man) cannot see, verse 17. In John 16:13-14, only to those who have the Holy Spirit within them, not the world (the natural man). I John 5:20, in verse 28 and 19 he is talking about those who are born of God, not the natural man. In John 6:45, verse 46 says only those which is "of God" has seen the Father, not the natural man. I Corinthians 2:13, he is speaking of spiritual things to spiritual people. Paul, in II Thessalonians 3:1-2, is asking his brethren to pray for him that the word may have free course, and that he may be delivered from those who have not faith (the natural man). Paul had no desire to preach to the natural man. Romans 6:1-7, Paul is talking to those "who died to sin." In Ephesians 2:5, even when we were still dead in sins (a natural man), God quickened us together with Christ. The natural man did not change his attitude from following the world,he was still dead in sins, but God quickened him from that attitude. In the book of Proverbs it says that there are seven things that God hates, and at the top of the list is "a proud look." When we are changed by the quickening hand of God, God gets all of the credit, and man gets none. In Isaiah 50:2, is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? Daniel 4:35, And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Your quote "This change in attitude from following the world to following God is something anyone can make". Sounds like, to me, that God is the only one that can make the natural man change, not the natural man himself.

You make an assumption that it is God who changes the man before man seeks God. Yet, this assumption is unsupported by Scriptures.

People are called, but how are they called? You assumed that God does something to those called.

  • "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me" (John 6:44-45). It is people who hear and learn, thus being taught by God who are drawn to Christ. You assume that that a person cannot do so without God's intervention, but that is not taught in this verse.
  • "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father" (John 6:46-47). Only Jesus was from God. This isn't a statement regarding all believers, but about Jesus. You pulled it out of context and created a false conclusion.
  • "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thessalonians 2:13-14). The calling here is by the gospel taught by the apostles. That is the method God chose people for salvation. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21).

"Thus says the LORD: "Where is the certificate of your mother's divorce, Whom I have put away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? For your iniquities you have sold yourselves, And for your transgressions your mother has been put away. Why, when I came, was there no man? Why, when I called, was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Indeed with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink because there is no water, And die of thirst"" (Isaiah 50:1-2).

You pulled a few phrases from Isaiah 50:2, but did not keep it in its context. How did Israel end up in their predicament? It was because of the sins they chose to commit. Was God unable to save them? The answer is no. The reason they were going into captivity wasn't God's fault but their own. If they had chosen to follow God, it was well within God's power to save them. He wasn't going to because none chose to follow Him. A similar statement is found in Isaiah 59:1-2, "Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear."

John 14:26 is also pulled out of context. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). You and I cannot be brought to remember the things Jesus taught because we were not there in the first place. We cannot recall what we did not witness. This is a promise to the apostles. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (I John 1:1-4). This is what Paul was referring to when he said, "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" (I Corinthians 2:12-13). The "we" in this passage refers to the apostles and prophets.

You misquoted Ephesians 3:10, which says, "to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." You claimed that the mystery was made known only to the church. Paul said the mystery of the salvation of the Gentiles was made known by or through the church. The purpose of the church is to tell the world that salvation is available.

You claim that Paul had no desire to preach the word to "the natural man." Yet Paul said, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (I Corinthians 9:22). Since Paul's goal was to save some, it clearly meant that he taught more than who would accept the gospel in hopes of reaching a few how would listen and be converted.

You argued that men have free will, but then claim that men have no choice until God turns a key to give some a choice. This is not supported by God's word. The choice to leave sin is always there. Some, because of their worldly viewpoint, refuse to accept and understand what God is offering, but that is because of their choice in how they approach the word. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:5-6).