1. Review the assignment on the concept of “division.”
2. Where was the division coming from?
3. Who was dividing?
4. Over what were they dividing?
The Wisdom of the Message (I Corinthians 1:18-25)
“Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:6-11).
One message brings about two conflicting responses. One group sees the gospel as foolishness while to another it is the power of God (Romans 1:16). The difference is not in the message but in those listening. The division is created between the perishing and the saved (II Corinthians 2:15-16)..
God chose this means of bringing salvation to confound those who think they are wise (Isaiah 29:14). On the surface it would appear to men that God’s method of delivery is weak. It depends on men convincing other men about the importance of Christ being crucified for the sins of men. God just doesn’t do things the way men think these ought to be done. He brings judgment on men in ways they don’t expect.
Paul asks a series of questions that alludes in a general way back to Isaiah 33:18. In that passage God challenges the Assyrians who had planned out their assault on Jerusalem. Despite all the planning, Sennacherib was sent fleeing in terror when God wiped out a great portion of his army in one night. Paul is hinting that God is doing it again with the gospel message. People think they are so clever, yet time and again God manages to make them look foolish. The wise men, those who have deep knowledge of the law (the scribes), and those spend time in philosophy (the debaters) all are made to look foolish. Each sets themselves up in some fashion to bring down God’s truth and always fail (II Corinthians 10:3-6).
Because men, through their concept of wisdom, do not arrive at a knowledge of God (John 1:10; Romans 1:20-21), God was pleased to select a method which appears foolish to men to save men through belief (Luke 10:21). The reason men reject God’s teaching is because it isn’t what they were expecting. Jews tend to demand miraculous signs, though even when signs were shown, they rejected them because they did not point to what they wanted to believe (Matthew 12:38; 16:1; Luke 11:16; 12:54-56). The Greeks tend to demand deep philosophy (Acts 17:21). While deep discourse does exist in the gospel message, these too are rejected because they do not match what the philosophers demand (Acts 17:32). But what God gives men is a message concerning a crucified Savior. To Jews this was a stumbling block because they refused to accept Jesus as their Savior (Isaiah 8:14-15; Matthew 21:42). To the Greeks this was foolishness because this isn’t how they imagined the world could be saved.
Yet to people who respond to the message, Jews and Greeks alike, the Gospel is seen as the power of God (Romans 1:16). One message bringing a division between the worldly and the spiritual, thus demonstrating the wisdom of God. In other words, Paul is stating that what both the Jews and Greeks were seeking are found by believers to exist in the Gospel message. What to men appears to be foolishness instead demonstrates the wisdom of God’s method. What appears to men to be weak instead demonstrates God’s power to save men (II Corinthians 13:4).
1. Has the demand for signs continued? What religions chase after signs in order that they might believe?
2. Has the demand for wisdom or philosophy continued? What religions chase after intellectual discussions?
The Purpose of Saving Through Preaching (I Corinthians 1:26-31)
The wisdom of God’s method is seen in the response it gains. When we look at who responds to the gospel message, we don’t often see great intellectuals, wealthy, or powerful people submitting themselves to the will of God (James 2:5). This demonstrates that God’s ability to save does not depend on men’s intellect, wealth, or power. It does not mean that no intellectual, rich, or powerful man could be saved. Paul is only pointing out that few in these categories wish to be saved. God purposely select methods to save people which do not require or appeal to the intellectuals, the rich, or the powerful in order to emphasize that man cannot save himself (Psalm 8:2).
God used the apparently foolish, the weak, and the despised to overthrow the current order of things created by men (Acts 17:6). God creates things from what did not exist before (Romans 4:17), which is often why He takes men off-guard, such as with the saving of the Gentiles (Romans 9:25; I Peter 2:10). The end result is that man cannot take credit in his salvation; the glory belongs wholly to God (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:8-10).
But Christians are in Christ because of God. And Christ is our source of wisdom from God. Thus, Christians do not make the claim of being wise in and of themselves, but that they are taught wisdom through Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:1-3). Christ is our source of righteousness. Again, Christians do not claim to be righteous in and of themselves, but that they learn righteousness through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25-26; II Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). Christ is our source of sanctification. Not that we are holy in and of ourselves, but that we are taught holiness through Jesus Christ (John 17:17-19; Ephesians 4:24; 5:26). Finally, Jesus is our redemption. Not that we can buy ourselves back, but that we gain redemption through the efforts of Jesus Christ, our Savior (John 11:25; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:8-10; I Peter 1:18-19). Therefore, none of our glory is in ourselves or in other men. All glory belongs to God (Psalms 115:1; Isaiah 45:25; Jeremiah 9:23-24; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:3).
Literary Styles: Contrasts
Paul makes heavy use of contrasts between people’s expectations and what God gave. The use of contrasting words, such as wisdom versus foolishness and power versus weakness, give emphasis to the degree of separation between the way men think and God thinks. The style lends itself to a subtle degree of sarcasm as it is shown that the best minds in the world are unable to recognize what is directly in front of them.
The ultimate contrast is the paradox. This is when two ideas, which at first seem contradictory, are placed together and, with greater thought, are seen to be related. The paradox is another method of engaging the reader’s mind, forcing him to reread statements and think about them on a deeper level. “The things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are” (I Corinthians 1:28) is an example of a paradox. The very existence of paradoxes in Paul’s discussion on wisdom demonstrates that the gospel is not as simplistic as some might make it out to be.
How Paul Followed that Purpose (I Corinthians 2:1-5)
When Paul was in Corinth, he did not attract followers by his eloquence or wisdom (II Corinthians 10:10). He came to declare the gospel and he kept the message simple, here returning to the topic he initially brought up in I Corinthians 1:17. He kept his message focused on Jesus and his death.
Paul knew he was not a great orator and though we are awed by the boldness of Paul’s letters, Paul reminds us that he had fears to overcome (Acts 18:9-10; II Corinthians 7:5). What caught the Corinthians’ attention was not the man, Paul, but the power of God working through him (Romans 15:19; II Corinthians 12:12; I Thessalonians 1:5). As a result their faith was not in Paul or the wisdom of some man but in the power of God (II Corinthians 4:7).
Why the Leaders of the World did not Understand (I Corinthians 2:6-16)
Despite the method of presentation, 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.
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 one 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 (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 is it God 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 get to the point that they would teach God 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.
1. Frequently you hear people argue a change in morality by arguing that the writers in the New Testament didn’t understand the world the way we do now. Thus they were prejudice against women, homosexuals, etc. because of their culture. How does Paul’s claims match up with these arguments?
2. If the leaders of the world had known what God had been planning, why wouldn’t they have crucified Jesus?
3. What are some ways people of the world dismiss the teachings of God, thinking their own ideas to be superior?
4. Some religions claim that the Bible cannot be understood unless God chooses to a measure of His Spirit to a person in a direct fashion. Is such an understanding required by what Paul has written here?
5. What contrasts do you see Paul making in chapter 2?