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First Corinthians

The Nature of Wisdom

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

The passages about wisdom in the Bible always seem a little dark and obscure – but at root the matter is simple. It is also hard.

  (1 Cor 2:6-16 NIV) 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 speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom 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: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-- {10} but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. {11} For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. {12} We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, 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, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. {14} The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. {15} The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: {16} "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. 


The first and most necessary thing to know about wisdom is that it is, in the Biblical sense, a mystery. Mystery in the Bible does not mean an intellectual puzzle to be solved (as, say, in an English murder mystery). It means something that has been hidden from us.

A matter of revelation

If God hides it from us, then only God can reveal it to us. We cannot discover that which he hides, and it is useless to try.

God is so far above us that our own attempts at discovery are much more likely to produce error than truth. Think of the people who try to discover God on their own. Mystic forces; crystal energies; psychic visions – all conflicting, all leading to the conclusion that God must be a god of contradictions – look at all those smart people with different ideas of what he must be like. But God is not the god of contradictions. Paradox, yes. Contradiction, no.

His desire is for us to know him, for he is love. Therefore he desires that we know him as he is – for that is the best way to know him. In short, he wants us to “get it right the first time.” How can this be done – if he does not reveal himself to us?

That revelation is done in stages, both in our lives (we call it maturing) and in history. Abraham would have been dazzled by Solomon’s Temple; the priests of that Temple would have praised God to see the church; and someday we shall praise him for the new heaven and new earth.

Hiding in plain sight

There are some aspects of God which are hidden in plain sight. It’s interesting to see what happens when we try to interpret those things ourselves, without his help:

We can look up at the stars and see his eternal power. They appear to go on forever; their passage through the skies is a certainty to us.

We can see his divine nature in the world around us. Is there not love in our world? Are we not cared for, as are all living things?

The ancients saw all this too – and created their own gods to explain it. We see it and dispense with the necessity of God, in the name of science.

Without revelation, man cannot know God. Knowledge of him is indeed a mystery.

Destined for our glory

But – praise God – he has decided to reveal himself to us.

This is not an afterthought on his part – rather, it has always been his plan.

This revelation is not something we earned – it is grace itself. For the last and greatest messenger of this revelation was Christ himself, the bearer of God’s grace in the flesh.

God now uses “the foolishness of preaching” – not signs of power – to bring us to know him.

If the messenger is weak, the message had best be powerful. Sending a weak messenger tells you how powerful the message truly is.



The world doesn’t see it that way

If this is so obvious, why isn’t everyone a Christian?

Weak eyes prefer the darkness

Have you ever met someone whose eyes were diseased? Did you notice the thick, dark glasses? The preference for some place in the shade, or indoors? Weak eyes naturally prefer the darkness. It’s just as true spiritually as physically.

If you are one of the rulers of this world – the powerful – you prefer to deal in power. But then the meek Word of God shows himself to be powerful, and therefore you must deny him.

If you are one of the educated of this world – especially with a narrow focus – then your ego gets in the way of your humility.

If you are one given the ability to manipulate other people, you face the one who cannot be manipulated – who denies you.

In all these, the choice comes down to “me, myself and I” versus Jesus Christ. It does for all of us, really. It’s just harder for those with these handicaps.

Wisdom outside its own sphere is folly

Hollywood movie stars do this for us constantly. How often have we heard one star or another declaiming mightily on what’s wrong with this country?

All wisdom, except God’s, is folly outside its own sphere. This applies as much to those who know that science prohibits miracles (when science can only study the repeatable) as to those who make the Bible a science textbook (and miss the word of God).

This most often happens with someone who is a recognized expert in the sphere he just left behind. Remember Linus Pauling and Vitamin C? A Nobel prize winning scientist – but outside his field of study.

This gives rise to a curious phenomena: a simple man, knowing his limits and placing himself in the hands of those who understand, will achieve more than one who is a genius but outside his sphere. You may be the world’s greatest sailor – but I always bring a chart on board with me.

The rulers of this world

Most of us do our learning on the basis of authority. How many of you can really say that the pyramids of Egypt exist? We rely on authority for most of these things. This places a greater responsibility on those in authority – whether in political authority or knowledge authority. It also brings on a greater ego to those who cannot be wrong.

This is the challenge of Christ to the rulers of this world. Those who are supposed to know best are challenged to admit they are sinners. It is often the reaction of the strong and powerful to deny Christ rather than themselves.

Our reaction to the Cross

The Cross is the testing point: how do you react to the Cross?

Can you see with spiritual eyes, or do you say, “what a waste!”

Are you inside the limits of your own wisdom, and therefore know when to ask for help in seeing?

What you really seek, you will really find. If you seek Jesus, he will make himself known to you. If you seek to prove yourself wise instead, he will be hidden from your eyes.


Wisdom must be sought

How can a man understand God? Isn’t he so above us that this would be impossible? Paul tells us that this is not impossible. To understand this, he gives us an analogy:

I may be difficult to understand (ask my wife). But my spirit (me, personally) understands me.

Therefore the spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – understands God, and understands him completely.

But we have the Holy Spirit – and therefore we can understand God.

Satan’s trap

At this point we must be wary of our enemy, Satan. His trap in this is the first one ever sprung on the human race: that evil is enlightening.

Satan tells us to “be experienced.” We should understand the “best of both worlds.” In other words, give evil a try, then you’ll understand it better. You’ll be so much wiser than those goodie-two-shoes. But remember: who understands drunkenness better – the drunk or the paramedic picking him up?

The truth is exactly the opposite. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If there is only one right path – and there is – then if you wish to arrive you had best stay on it. When God gives you a road map, follow it.

The art of listening to the Spirit

How then do I listen to the Spirit? How do I read this road map of God? Paul tells us here:

It requires maturity. This is not something every Christian does the first day. It requires practice and faithfulness.

It requires constancy. You have to stick to it, day by day.

It requires follow-through. When God gives you a command, obey it.

This is what Paul warns us about when he tells us not to “quench the Spirit.” It’s like keeping a flame alive; it must be cared for patiently, constantly and correctly.

The result is glory

Paul tells us that God’s wisdom was destined for our glory. It is by his wisdom that we are glorified; it is by his wisdom that we are changed into the saints of his kingdom.

It was reserved for this time in history; God had this planned from the beginning.

It is a gift of God – one that we must handle rightly.

It is a gift that we will return to him, laying down our crowns of glory at his glorious feet on the day of his return.

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