The apostle Paul planted the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey approximately in 51-52 A.D. From Athens, where he preached the gospel to the thinkers and philosophers in Areophagus, he then proceeds to Corinth where he met Aquila and Prescila. At first, he preached about Christ in a Jewish synagogue there, but after sometime, the Jewish religious leaders got jealous of him and invented all sorts of lies against him until he was kicked out of the synagogue. Paul continued to preach outside the synagogue and a number of people, both Greek and Jews, put their faith in Christ.
Paul stayed in Corinth for one year and six months. Compared to the usual number of years dedicated by church planters for planting a church in a specific location, this is quite short. Nevertheless, Paul left the church of Corinth with a confidence that the believers in there will mature spiritually as a church.
To Paul’s dismay, two to three years after he left Corinth, he received reports that the church is in chaos for multiple reasons like divisions, sexual immorality, abuse of sacrament, obsession with spiritual gift, personal attacks against him and many more. It was believed by other scholars that before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, there was a prior letter that he sent to them which did not survive. And then he wrote to them this epistle to address the issues in Corinth and to point them all to the wisdom of the cross.
One of the most pressing issues in the church of Corinth is the divisions among the members. Some of them says that hey follow Apollos, others follow Peter, others follow Paul and then others follow Christ.
The reason why the church in Corinth has this problem is because they still think and act like the people around them. They don’t understand that church is one body under Christ and is not like any other earthly organization that can be divided by factions. The reason why they have this worldly view of the church is because they are still heavily influenced by worldly wisdom and the popular philosophies around them.
Because of this, Paul attacked worldly wisdom in the first chapter of the epistle by demonstrating that man cannot know God through human wisdom but only through the foolishness of the preaching of the gospel. By this, God destroyed the wisdom of the wise and thwarted the discernment of the discerning. He made foolish the wisdom of this world by choosing to save and reveal the gospel to the foolish of this world to shame the wise. Truly, even the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.
A Different Wisdom
Lest his readers think that Paul is against wisdom, he told the believers in Corinth that they also impart wisdom. However, this wisdom is different from the wisdom of the world which makes them immature.
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.
In order to understand this passage, we have to clarify certain terms first such as who are the mature, what is the wisdom being referred to and who are the rules of this age?
It should be pointed out that in the first chapter, Paul is using the words I to refer to himself. But in chapter 2, he started using the term we. The word “we” do not mean all of the believers, but instead pertains to the other apostles and apostolic teachers.
There can be different interpretations on the word mature. The Greek word used here is teleios which means fully grown, adult, or of full age. Other bible translations translated it as “perfect”. The term mature here has been interpreted by commentators differently. Others think that this pertains to all believers while others interpret this as pertaining to matured Christians.
In order to better understand its meaning, we have to look for its contrast and parallels in the epistle. The word mature is in contrast with the infants in Christ in chapter 3 verse 1. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” if the opposite of mature is infant in Christ, then we can say that the mature are the ones who are mature in Christ.
The words mature and infants in Christ has several parallels in 1 Corinthians such as the natural person and the spiritual person in verse 14 and 15. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.”
These words are also parallel to spiritual people and people of the flesh in Chapter 3 verse 1. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh…” The people of the flesh are the ones who are still participating in jealousy and strife, and are behaving in a sinful human way.
The mature, the spiritual person or the spiritual people are the ones who are fed with solid food while the infant in Christ, the natural person or the people of the flesh are the ones who are fed only with pure milk in chapter 3 verse 2. “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready”
Taking all of these in consideration, we can come up with the conclusion that the mature are mature Christians who can accept the things of the Spirit of God and can understand or spiritually discern them. These are the believers who can feed solid food instead of just pure milk. They are mature enough to not engage in jealousy and strife like the unbelievers around them. They are believers who are not only mature in doctrine but also in practice. They Christians who are acting like real Christians.
On the other hand, the infant in Christ are persons identifying themselves as Christians but behave and think otherwise. They are not just lacking in application but also in knowledge and understanding. That is why they cannot receive the things of the spirit and they cannot understand them because those things are spiritually discerned.
But what about the milk and solid food? By answering this question, we will also be able to identify what is the wisdom that Paul and the other apostles impart to the mature. If the parallel of wisdom is solid food, then what is the parallel of pure milk? The answer is none because pure milk and solid food both pertain to the wisdom of God. The difference is that, the wisdom of God that Paul is pertaining to in verse 6 is the full counsel of God which involves the full scope of the God’s teaching on the salvation of man and the application of the wisdom of the cross to everyday life, while pure milk only pertains to the doctrine of the gospel.
We came to this conclusion because we can see in the first chapter of the epistle that the word wisdom has been mentioned already as the wisdom of God when Paul talked about God’s plan of redemption that excludes worldly wisdom as a means to reach Him. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
Christ was also called the power and the wisdom of God in Chapter 1 verse 24. “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And in verse 30 “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption”.
So here, we can see that the wisdom of God pertains to God’s whole plan of redemption and the culmination of this plan in Jesus Christ. But then we will also see in chapter 2 verse 16 that we have the mind of Christ and this also relates to wisdom. If we have the mind of Christ then we have the idea how to live like Christ as a human. So this covers the practical aspect of the cross.
I mentioned before that Paul wants to redefine wisdom, and he did it by saying first what wisdom is not. He said that the wisdom they impart is not the wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age who are doomed to pass away. When he said this age, he pertains to the present world order characterized by worldliness and wickedness which will soon be replaced by the new world order after our Lord Jesus arrives.
But what about the rules of this age? Some commentators said that this pertains to only evil earthly rulers. However, in Jewish apocalyptic literature, the term rulers of this age also pertains to supernatural entities who influence wicked rulers like that which were mentioned in Ephesian 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So the wisdom that Paul and the apostles impart to the mature Christians is not like the wisdom of the evil rulers and the supernatural forces of darkness that are behind them. Their wisdom is self-regarding and self-preserving, yet useless because in the end they are all doomed to pass away and their own wisdom cannot save them.
But the wisdom that Paul impart is the secret and hidden wisdom of God which was decreed before the ages for our glory. The Greek word used for secret here is the word mysterion where we derive the English word mystery. Sometimes we understand mystery as something that is too profound that our mind cannot grasp or fathom them like the doctrine of the Trinity. But that is not the use of mysterion here. Mystery simply means something that is hidden in previous ages but is now revealed. So in other words, the wisdom of God is a revealed mystery. In 1 Peter 1:10-12 we can read that the prophets of old carefully inquired about the details of God’s plan of salvation. Even the angels longed to look into this mystery but it was never revealed to them in their time. But now, the mystery is revealed to us through the preaching of the Gospel.
This revealed mystery of the wisdom of God in our redemption is not an afterthought but was decreed by God from before the foundation of the world. And the end goal of this decree of God is our glory, meaning our ultimate good. This ultimate good will be fully realized when Christ returns and we are all transformed to His image in our glorification. This is the main difference of the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. Because of the wisdom of the world, the rulers of the present age are doomed to pass away, but we, who are considered the foolish of this world, are destined for glory by the wisdom of God.
And then verse 8 says, None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. So even the rulers of this age, including the Satan and his demons, where not able to predict and understand the plan of God for our salvation, that’s why they were not able to intercept it. That is how mysterious and hidden the wisdom of God is, that even the forces are lost in it. If the mysterious wisdom of God was not accessible to spiritual beings, all the more it was not accessible to men until God decided to reveal it through Christ.
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
This verse was often mistaken as pertaining to heaven, but clearly it is not. This version is an allusion from Isaiah 64:4. The “What” here pertains to the wisdom of God in the salvation of his elect which was pertained to as those who love him. This only means that God’s plan of salvation was imperceivable. No one has thought of it, and no one saw it coming.
Such is the wisdom of God. It is unlike the wisdom of the world which does not benefit its possessor. It is a revealed mystery, inconceivable not only to men but even to angels and demons. It is not an afterthought but carefully planned by the omniscient and infinitely wise God from before the foundation of the world for the ultimate good of his people.
A Different Source
Apostle Paul goes then to explain the source of this wisdom. This wisdom was revealed to us, meaning the apostles, through the Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus said “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
This verse was not meant for all believers. Jesus was talking to the apostles here, and he is saying that when He is gone, He will send God the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truth to them. The Holy Spirit will not directly communicate truth to all believers. He will indwell all believers and illuminate the word of God for them but He will not handover truths to all of them because not all believers are agents of revelation. Because if that is the case, all of us can add any revelation to the Bible.
God the Holy Spirit was able to reveal to the Apostles and prophets the things of God because he has access to the very depths of the mind of God, because He is one with the Father and the Son. It does not necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit has to search first before He can know the depths of the mind of God. This only means that He has complete access to all that is going on in the mind of God the Father and God the Son because they are actually one.
Then Paul made an argument from the least to the greatest. He said that if in a man, no one really knows his own thoughts but his spirit, that same goes with God. No one really knows the mind of God but His Holy Spirit.
Paul proceed to say that “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” The spirit of the world does not necessarily pertain to the spirit of Satan but rather to the spirit of human or worldly wisdom. In the previous verse, the role of the Spirit of God is to reveal to the apostles the things of God. This time the apostle Paul is saying that they have received the Spirit of God to help them understand the things of God that was revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. This activity of the Holy Spirit does not pertain to revelation of truth but the illumination of truth so that the apostles would understand the wisdom that they received.
And lastly, how did Paul and the other apostles impart the wisdom of God that that they received from the Spirit and that they understood through the Spirit? The answer is by means of words. Paul and the other apostles imparted wisdom to the mature Christians not by laying of hands or an esoteric transfer of knowledge. The wisdom of God was not uploaded to the mind of the believers like as USB flash drive, but rather, it is a slow and tedious process of teaching, explaining and interpreting the spiritual truths to spiritual people who are able to receive and absorb it.
Right now, we don’t have apostles around us to relay to us the wisdom of God by means of words. But in God’s faithfulness and care for His people, He willed that the message that is being imparted by the apostles and prophets by words be preserved in writing and is now available to us as the Bible.
The Roman Catholic church did not deem the Scripture as absolutely necessary source of divine revelation because they have traditions. They believe that God can speak to the church through the traditions that are being handed from one generation to another.
The Anabaptist on the other hand do not consider the Scripture necessary because they believe that they have the Holy Spirit with them and he will reveal truth to them directly without the use of any medium.
Now, some Christians would say “I don’t need doctrines” or “I don’t need the Bible, all I need is Jesus”. But the question is, without the Scripture, how would you know Jesus? If you say that Jesus is your Lord, how would Jesus govern your life without the Scripture.
In our study of the 1 Corinthians 2:6-13, we saw there that the full counsel of God which tells us how to be saved and how to live like people who are saved are imparted to us through words which are now recorded in the Canon of Scripture.
The wisdom of God is not something that people can access without the Scripture. It is not something that we can achieve by introspection or empty meditation. Its is not something that we can arrive as by sheer reason nor by just observing the created order. Without the Spirit revealing it to us through the Holy Scripture, it is totally impossible for us to obtain the wisdom of God which is necessary for our salvation and our maturity as believers.
When I was young, I was able to watch documentaries about Buddhist monks who meditated for years to the point that they died doing it and their body mummified. They said that these monks have reached the nirvana which is heaven, and they have attained access to the knowledge of god, whoever god they are referring to. That time, I admired and respected them for their self-discipline which brought them to that blessed state.
However, now that I have understood that it is impossible to attain the knowledge of God and even get to heaven without His word, I can’t help but pity the monks. What a waste of time and life. They spent basically all of their life, with tremendous self-discipline, to meditate and empty their minds and look inside them to find God and the meaning and purpose of their life but they found nothing. They wasted their time for nothing and they wasted their lives for nothing. But sometimes the folly of the fools knows no bounds. Even though these monks are mummified and 100% dead, the followers of their religion claims that they are only in a deep state of meditation and not dead. This display of unimaginable foolishness is very ironic for a group of people who are claiming to have attained wisdom through their meditations.
Some people today claim that they are spiritual even though they are not religious. They divorce spirituality from the God and the Scripture. They equate spirituality with being conscious with their own souls and sometimes by having spiritual connection with the nature around them. Again, this pagan thinking and should not be found among Christians.
Though the Bible says that we can know something about God by looking at the created order such as His existence, power, goodness and wisdom, but this is not enough for us to have a saving knowledge of God. The things that we can know about God by looking at the created order is called natural revelation. Yes, we can know that God is powerful when we look at the great things He created like the sun, the planets, and the galaxies, but we cannot arrive to a conclusion that we are all sinners and totally depraved, and that we need redemption form God by looking at this heavenly bodies.
We can see God’s wisdom and goodness when we see how he designed and created the plants and animals, and how our organs function, but we cannot know that Christ died for our sins by looking at these things. Natural revelation can only give us a knowledge of God that is enough to condemn for having no excuse for our rebellion. However, in order to attain a saving knowledge of God, we need special revelation which we can find from the Scripture alone and nowhere else. This is why the Scripture is totally necessary.
Same thing goes with out maturity as Christians. We cannot expect ourselves to be mature if we will not read and study the Scripture. True believers are dependent on the word of God for nourishment and maturity in the same way that man needs to eat food every day. Matthew 4:4 says, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” As Christians, we should not substitute feeding on the word of God with other things, may they be good things. Our Bible studies must constantly be centered on the word of God and not become a meeting where we just share our problems and our personal life stories. Christians are nourished by the word of God and not by inspiring stories. 1 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The Scripture is absolutely necessary for the salvation of people. Sometimes Christians excuse themselves from sharing the word of God to unbelievers by saying that they will just share the gospel through their lives. They think that by being a salt and light in their schools or workplaces, people around them will be automatically converted to Christ.
While it is true that living a holy life in the midst of this crooked generation glorious God and leads people to God, our good works alone cannot save people. We should remember that people are saved through faith by hearing the gospel of Christ. Technically speaking, you can only share the gospel through words and not actions. Faith, in order to become a saving faith, must have a content. As Romans 10:14-15 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!””
ZCRC Imus, let us always remember that we have in our hands (meaning the Bibles we are holding) the wisdom of God which to us is a revealed mystery. The word of God is absolutely necessary for us to be saved and to mature as Christians. Prophets of old and angels have longed to see the full scope of God’s plan for the redemption of His elect but was never shown to them. But now, everything that is necessary for our salvation and maturity has been revealed to us, so let us be grateful to God and not waste this precious gift by ignoring His word.