Category Archives: Maturity

Study 8 – 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Judgments and Justification

Discussion Question

A child runs to you and cries, “Johnny won’t let me play with his lego!” What would you, as a responsible grown up, say to this child?

Background

The Corinthian church has been described as the church of God in Corinth because they have been called by God to be holy. However, Paul has addressed the first issue among them namely: they are boasting about human wisdom and not simply growing as a church in the knowledge of the gospel. Secondly, Paul rebukes the church for putting up with, and even celebrating evil in their midst. They have welcomed worldly wisdom and they have welcomed worldly activity – or even worse than the world. It seems that the church in Corinth have not grasped the unique and special gift that they have received by God through grace. Their thinking needs to change.

Read 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with menr 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Taking your disagreements to the world (1-6)
  • As it is, you are not looking like saved people (7-11)

Taking your disagreements to the world (1-6)

“…do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” It is difficult to apply this passage universally since we live in a unified culture which promotes the legal system for everyone. What Paul wants to get across, however, is that Christians have the mind of Christ and know what is right and wrong and so we ought not to default to going to the law to settle disputes. I shouldn’t think that Paul nor we should teach that we live outside the law. That is not the point of Paul’s words. He is reacting to the disputes and quarrels among the church and asking them if they don’t see the silliness of running to lawyers over matters that brothers or sisters in Christ could not settle on their own. They are acting like a small club that exists in the more superior realm of society. Paul wants them to think more soberly about who they are in the world and in the context of eternal judgement.

“…or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30; John 5:22. The exact understanding of this will not be clear until the end of times I’m afraid. But we, as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), are not to think too lowly of what we have inherited in Christ! When we have followed him, we have judged him to be king over all and especially over us! This is heavenly wisdom and we will participate somehow in the future. Again, the mechanics and details of what this means is a mystery. Paul, however, is tapping into a privilege that we should own and adopt and think twice before taking matters to the officials of this world to decide for us!

“…are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” Again, put things into perspective and see that we have the mind of Christ (2:16), the Spirit of God is in us (2:12) and we are apparently going to judge with Jesus one day. We ought to be sober-minded about this statement since the details of what that means is yet to be disclosed but we must embrace the logic of what Paul is saying – don’t regard yourselves as incapable of sorting out your own disputes. We need to pursue the same mind (1:10) – being in fellowship together with God’s Son (1:9). We’ve got this!

“…we will judge angels…” Just to repeat: this is interesting stuff that we need to accept in order to understand Paul’s argument but how this will come about is a mystery. We should remember, however, that angels are not guiltless by definition. The fallen angels are still angels! The basis of judgment will be determined by who is for the kingdom of God and who is against. John 9:39 expresses that judgement is about those who see and those who do not see. Paul has already given us a little demonstration of judgement in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (esp. Verse 3). Any privilege given to us can be abused and misused because it is misunderstood and misapplied. Paul is giving us a high responsibility and wants the church in Corinth to grow up. Give an idiot a gun and they will shoot themselves. Give a wise person a gun and they will use it respectfully. We are being told that our place in the kingdom of God is not as strangers and intruders but as sharing in the glory of God on judgment day. It’s time now for us to meditate on this and grow up.

“…do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?” If life outside the church follows rules that do not accord with holiness and truth then why would we go there for rulings? We live in a very Christianised society and many laws fit squarely with Christian views. But what cases would people in fellowship together in the church would need to go to court over? Surely disputes and differences can be resolved way before courts are needed. I should just note here that there are areas that should be settled by our courts which include divorces and rulings over property and such – BUT – the principal Paul is giving us is that there are plenty of matters that we can talk about and resolve before things go pear-shaped. If everybody in the church were putting the kingdom of God first and one another’s interests before themselves then we could do amazing things together!

“I say this to shame you.” In 4:14, Paul soothed the readers by saying that he is not trying to shame them with regard to being divisive over who is the best leader! But now, he wants them to be ashamed of running to the authority of unbelievers to resolve matters that could have been handled amongst themselves. The former incident is folly that needed gentle guidance but this matter must be stopped.

“…and this in front of unbelievers!” The church of God consists of people who have declared Jesus as Lord and desire to grow in their understanding of him and of fellowship toward one another. What kind of message would we tell if we take one another to court? Paul is not telling us to hide our disputes or cover up illegal activity, but that brothers and sisters in Christ ought to be better than that! Things that have been covered up in any church organisation in the past should never have been covered up or looked past or whatever has happened. Paul is talking about trivial matters (Verse 2) and not about serious things that definitely need to be dealt with according to both wise church policy and civil law. I hope that is clear enough.

As we close this first half of the text, let’s understand that the people of God need to grow themselves up and understand what an enormous privilege it is to be part of God’s kingdom. Paul wants us to stop being like little children who immediately run to the teacher when someone won’t share their toy. A child is taught to use their words to talk to the other child and come to an agreement on the matter without involving some outside authority over trivial matters. Know what privilege we have in Christ and develop wise approaches to relationships.

As it is, you are not looking like saved people (7-11)

“…means you have been completely defeated already.” Paul says that they have crossed a line. This is not a grey area but a clear indication that they are not living like the church of God that they have been called to be. Their hearts and minds are not operating on a gospel level. They do not behave like kids of the kingdom! Paul goes on…

“Why not rather be wronged…cheated?” How alien does that suggestion sound to you? Is it so far removed from what you could ever imaging happening? Could you just let something go and allow someone else to get more than you did? Or overlook someone else’s exaggeration when they describe their ministry and forget to mention what you contributed? Or that you always seem to bring more than others bring? Has the gospel made an impact on you? The gospel that speaks of you getting all the riches of God at the cost of God’s Son. The gospel that speaks of how little you really deserve but you get it all anyway.

“Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong…wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Rather than displaying grace and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, Paul accuses some of retaliation, fighting, quarreling and returning evil with evil. This is not right. God has saved us by his blood and called us to be holy as he is holy. We are not saved by being good people but we are not saved in order to continue as people of this world – as mere humans (3:3)!

“Do not be deceived… sexually immoral… idolaters… adulterers… men who have sex with men… thieves… greedy… drunkards… slanderers… swindlers… will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” We must keep reading on to Verse 11 (which we will) to keep the gospel in view but let’s just stop at this list for a second. Some of these items are stereotypically wrong. But some of these items have moved in our culture from evil to beautiful. I’m not going to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to this list because I think the passage has said it. But think about adultery. This is clearly a sin and is given its own place in the ten commandments. And yet, our movies and songs and comedies are able to paint adultery as acceptable as long as it is true love! What!!!? Now, what about greed?! We live in a consume and throw away society. Seeking joy in more stuff is not Christ living. Stealing is not acceptable – unless you can do it without getting caught or in a way that everybody else does. Alcohol comes with many dangers and addiction is the worst. I would like people suffering from alcohol addiction to meditate on Verse 11 and keep getting help. The point, though, is that these things are not our life anymore. We can stumble and struggle with every one of the things in this list – the struggle does not disqualify us – but if we are at home in them then we are not at home in the kingdom of God.

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Memory verse that! What do they say? God wants you to come to him as you are – but don’t expect to stay as you are. Or it’s ok to not be ok – it’s not ok to stay that way. We are the washed ones. Without blemish or stain (Colossians 1:22). We are the sanctified ones. Made holy by God because of Christ’s holiness and by the renewing of our minds through the word of God (John 17:19; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). We are the justified ones. Righteous because Jesus has made us so (Romans 3:24; 5:1; Romans 8:1, 30). Don’t overlook the fact that it is through Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God that we are justified and not through works or through any other pathway to God. Jesus is the way! This is what we believe or else we will all be condemned.

What did we learn?

Praise God that he will judge us according to what Christ has done and not on our failure to be holy. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Let us then live as redeemed people who will inherit the kingdom of God. If we will inherit the kingdom of God then why would we bother fighting for what we feel are our rights in this world!

Now what?

Topic A: Seeing the people we go to church and Growth Group with as saved people we will share eternity with. Look at one another in your Growth Group. Potentially, everyone you see will be in heaven for eternity sharing in the kingdom of God! Do we talk and pray about what to be doing in this life with that eternal view? How can we pursue kingdom living together? This group have (hopefully) come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and they have truly understood the grace of God. They are a very unique bunch of people. People whom God loves dearly and cherishes. Do you have that same view of the people in your group? The person sitting next to you will judge angels one day!

Topic B: How do you take serious matters of dispute or hurt and deal with them in the Christian church? Remember that we are not talking about illegal activity that should be dealt with in civil court but about disputes of wrongdoing or being cheated at a trivial level. Discuss some wise strategies for dealing with things that cause a break in fellowship.

Topic C: We are the washed, sanctified and justified ones. Be sure about your salvation. It is by grace that you have been saved through faith. Truly understanding the grace of God is the most important lesson you will ever learn in your life! No exception. Do you understand what it means to be saved by grace? Does everybody in your group understand this? Looking at the list of wrongs in Verses 9 and 10 will cause all of us to be shamed but some, perhaps, more than others. We all need to be taught about the cross of Christ and be lead to a repentance that leads to forgiveness. Once forgiven, we need to hear the gospel again and again and again. Be sure that you and your group understand the gospel and have accepted it by faith.

Study 5 – 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

Building Believers

Discussion Question

If you could build anything in your backyard, what would you build and why?

The connection here is to the building of the church by Paul.

Background

In Chapter 3 Paul returns to his concerns in 1:10-17 about quarrels and divisions. He seeks to provide a solid theological understanding of WHO they are and WHOSE they are so they might put off their worldly and immature ways of thinking and grow up in Christ. He will implore them not to abandon or ignore the human leaders they have followed but to recognise that human leaders build on God’s work, according to God’s plans towards God’s goals.  The key urging from this chapter is really in 3.21 – no more boasting about human leaders! God is central to your life, death and every breath.

Talk of the temple in 3:16-17 requires some careful consideration. The temple/ tabernacle was the place where God dwelt in the midst of Israel and at which God related to his people (remember our study in Leviticus!). It was a mobile tent until the days of Solomon when he built a glorious and enormous temple in which God’s people could worship God. But as Israel forgot God the temple was overrun by injustice and idolatry. After the glory days of Solomon, evil godless kings closed the doors, destroyed the altars and killed the priests; eventually it was destroyed. In the later OT (cf Haggai) people long for a new temple to be built of greater glory than the first. As the NT opens, Jesus says he is that temple (John 2:13-25). Jesus is the place where God reveals himself, through whom God relates with his people and in whom his people worship. Now Paul takes this a step further and says “you yourselves are God’s temple”. In light of the background, that is a pretty incredible thought.

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

3 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

What did you see?

Structure

  • God’s servants do God’s work among God’s people (3.1-9)
  • The builders and their building (3.10-15)
  • The temple and a warning (3.16-17)
  • Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

God’s Servants do God’s Work among God’s People (3.1-9)

“Brothers and Sisters…” Paul is addressing the Corinthian Christians but he is getting them to recall his former ministry among them when he addressed them. There is a softness to his rebuke – you’re brothers and sisters but you’re being idiotic!  

“…people who live by the Spirit…” This is a great little description of Christian people (who have the Spirit of God in them (2:12) and who keep in step with the spirit (Eph 5:16)) connects into the end of chapter 2 where Paul contrasted Spirit-filled judgements and worldly judgements. The end of chapter 2 prepared us for Paul’s stinging rebuke here in 3:1-4)

“I gave you milk, not solid food”  Sometimes people have tried to be definitive about what milk content is vs solid (meaty) content. Is it plain gospel vs difficult doctrinal issues (like election or the Trinity?). In my experience this has happened so people can make a judgement about the content of this or that sermon, or church or the ability of a preacher. “He preaches milk!” This thinking is just the Corinthian error in another form. I don’t think it is helpful (or the point of this passage) for us to try and work out what teaching is milk and what is meat.  Rather, the issue is, are we still worldly like the Corinthians or walking in the Spirit?

“…mere humans…” Get your group to recall the discussion you had on 2:13, 15-6.

“…servants through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task…” Here is the introduction of Paul’s argument. Humans are but tools in the hands of God, servants assigned a task by the master, the Lord. They don’t decide on their work, the Lord gives them a ministry to do (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). There is no indication of anything mystical or miraculous here, just that they are preachers of God’s gospel. Therefore they should not be exalted but the Lord should be. The servant word here is the word used of deacons in 1 Tim 3:8 and not the “slave” word.

“…God has been making it grow…only God who makes things grow.” Always pause and look carefully when you see repeated ideas close together. Often this will be the key point of teaching the author wants you to grasp. In this case, the power in ministry is not in the preacher or personality or persuasive power of the person but in God who makes things grow. God makes Christians. God grows Christians. God saves Christian. He just uses people to do the preaching and teaching work.  Our attention should not be fastened on people but on the Lord they serve.

“…each be rewarded according to their own labour…” There are several passages in the NT that indicate a specific reward for those who labour for Christ. But the reward is never clearly stated; of course this has not stopped people from guessing! Some say a better place in heaven, some say a better experience of heaven, some say something else. I say, wait until you get there and see. Note though that the issue is not fruitfulness or success but reward is for labour. This makes sense as it is God who makes things grow and human ministry is done in God’s strength for God’s purposes according to God’s plans for God’s glory.

“…co-workers…” The translation of this verse in the NIV hides a profound reality that God is mentioned three times emphatically. It might read “God’s co-workers are we, God’s field, God’s building you are.” Humans are put at the end of the sentence to emphasise strongly that human instruments do not matter but God is all in all. The field/ building language prepares us for what comes next.

The Builders and their Building (3.10-15)

“builder…building…builds…”  The big question in this section is what is being built and thus what is this building. Some think it refers to a body of doctrine or understanding (linked to the milk/meat point); others think it is the church itself. Likely, neither are out of view for the church is built through right teaching both numerically and in maturity. That building takes place by the proclamation of the Gospel and the Word of God which Paul and others are doing. All this is founded on Jesus Christ who was first preached by Paul – thus he is the one who laid a foundation!

“gold, sliver, stones, wood, hay, straw…” Again, people like to try to identify all the different component parts here and define what is a good building material and what is bad. I think this misses the point. Paul is listing a variety of building materials (in two groups – flammable and inflammable) in order to point out that quality of building will be shown up on the Day. Leaders with Jesus as the foundation can still do a bad job.

“Day…” The day of judgement when Christ returns. When he comes the true character of the building work will be revealed and the efforts of the builder revealed for what they are. Again quality not quantity is what counts. Faithfulness to the foundations is key.

“Reward… burned… saved… flames.” All those being addressed here are Christian and will be saved. But the reality is that some builders do dodgy work. Some will receive a reward (see previous discussion) and some will not. The quality of ministry is what is key. People should not engage as a co-worker of God without ensuring they build carefully, wisely and in accordance with God’s plans. (It is possible that Paul is laying the ground work for future rebuke of leaders who will not deal with sin in the community [cf. 1 Corinthians 5]) Note that there is no inkling here that purgatory is being referred to. Purgatory is a late invention of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Temple and a Warning (3.16-17)

“Temple… Spirit…”  See the Background for an initial discussion of temple. If Paul had teachers and preachers in view, he now ensures the whole church is engaged in this discussion and that they see themselves as being at least somewhat responsible for the sort of teaching (building etc) going on among them. They can’t just blame others for their errors but they need to ensure that they as God’s temple are being built well. (Again, this may prepare for the future rebuke in chapter 5).

…God will destroy that person.” Here Paul’s attention is also turned to unbelievers who may come into the church and seek to do it damage. Some teachers are false teachers who do not know the Gospel or the God who owns the Gospel or the God who works in the midst of his people.

“You together are that temple”  No Christian is an island and no Christian can claim to be the place where God dwells but it is the church that Paul is referring to. The church is the dwelling place of God by his Spirit in his Word. This elevates the importance of the building, the importance of protecting the building, the importance of building well and the importance of carefully receiving good building as the church.  It is God’s work but we are all held responsible for our own actions.

Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

“Do not deceive yourselves.”  Paul now clearly is addressing the church and calling on them to see clearly who they are and whose they are and who it is who is working in their midst. They ought not think they are wise for the decisions they have made about how to do church but their wisdom comes only through Christ as they are built on the foundation that is Christ.

“He catches the wise…. The Lord knows that the thoughts…”  It is worth looking up Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to see the broader context of these verses. They underline the reality that no human leader has ever been wiser or better than God. Humanity is characterised by foolishness. God is characterised by wisdom.

“No more boasting…”  This is Paul at both his elegant and furious best. Simple language making a profound point.

“All things are yours…”  This seems like a strange way to conclude this section. You might expect Paul to say “Glory only in God!” But he actually does something more profound – he points out how the Corinthians are ripping themselves off by lining up behind only one teacher when in fact all things (not just all teachers) but everything is theirs in Christ! This may hark back to 1:7. Either way, far from making themselves wiser by choosing one teacher they are impoverishing themselves.  For when you are in Christ you have conquered all that assails you and possess all that is needed for wisdom and life.

“…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God!”  The story does not end with the great possessions we have by faith in Christ but with the reality that we belong to Christ! Wow! You are not your own master stumbling in weakness, you belong to the Lord of the universe and have his strength and power and wisdom as yours. And as one who is in Christ, you are connected ultimately with God. Perhaps this is the great final rebuke or the great final encouragement – either way – STOP lining up behind human leaders and line up with the one who owns you! God in Christ!

 

What did we learn?

You have been saved by Christ. You belong to Christ. Human leaders lead for Christ and lead you toward Christ. Stop focussing on human leaders and start being who you are – God’s building and temple – and live in all he has given you which is much more than any human can give you!

Now what?

Topic A: Are you Spiritual or Worldly? You could have a discussion about this or spend some time sharing with each other about whether you are growing as a Christian and pursuing godliness or not and if not, why not. What is holding you back? How might you change where you are? What needs to happen that you might say you are ready for the meat and living by the Spirit?

Topic B: What is the danger of treating preachers as celebrities and do you do that? How do we see this danger in our context in Sydney, in Campbelltown, in our church? How do we protect against it? How can we encourage our ministers not to take on celebrity status and enable them to keep viewing themselves as Paul views himself?  

Topic C: Living with the reality that all things are yours. Are you short-changing yourself and not living life fully focussed on Christ? The world and life and death are all yours in Christ. Are you living like that is the case? Are you seeking satisfaction in other things in the world? Are you treating Jesus as someone to be tacked onto your life or as the one who is the centre of your life and who is your life?

Study 4 – 1 Corinthians 2:4-16

Words, Spirit and the Mind of Christ

Discussion Question

What would you say are the benefits of being a Christian?

Background

Paul opened his letter to the Corinthians with praise to God because they lack no spiritual gift from Him. They were called into His kingdom by grace and are therefore holy people. The first issue raised, however, is the issue of division in the church which Paul is addressing with them. They are not behaving like the holy people of God, united in mind and thought, but like people of this world. They judge their preachers on the basis of eloquence and persuasion but Paul explains to them that the cross of Christ is all the power that they need. We do not believe the gospel because of beautiful language, but because of the extraordinary God who has revealed the truth to us. Paul is not speaking about human wisdom that they should have confidence in but the truth about God – namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.

We reflected on how the message of the cross is the wisdom of God and also the power of God. The gospel is somehow described as the Spirit’s power.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:4-16

4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

6 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 declare God’s wisdom, a mystery 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:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so 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, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

What did you see?

Structure

  • The Spirit’s power at work in the gospel (4-5)
  • God has revealed his age old mystery to us by his Spirit (6-10a)
  • Who can know the mind of God but God himself?! (10b-12)
  • Who can understand the mind of God but those who have been given the Spirit (13-16)

In this section, Paul says one simple thing in four different ways: the gospel is brought to us and taught to us by the Spirit of God and no human can claim to have discovered it by their own intelligence. It’s as if he’s saying: no person is a mind reader and if you want to know the mind of God then you need the Spirit of God. If you know the mind of God, it’s because you have been given the Spirit of God.

The Spirit’s power at work in the gospel (4-5)

“My message and my preaching…a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…” Paul lands his previous section on the point that the message of God, (the message of the cross, the testimony about God), originates with God and not man. To further make this point, he shows how it is even delivered to us by God himself. So, when Paul preaches, he is not making up words of wisdom on his own but he is recounting the message of the cross of Christ. I do wonder what people mean when they say “that guy can really preach!” It’s likely that it points to a charismatic and persuasive word of intelligence rather than an exclamation that they heard the word of God through that guy.

“…the Spirit’s power…” Colossians 1:3-9 helps to understand what Paul means here. In that passage, Paul praises God because he can see the results of the gospel working out in the lives of the Colossian church. They received the message of the cross taught properly and they truly understood the grace of God and so understood the hope of eternity. What flowed from that was a life of faith and love. Paul attributes all of that to the work of the Spirit because that is the power of the gospel!

“…so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” No single church, preacher or theological movement ought to take central stage to your faith. When we grow in maturity and when we turn to God in faith, that is the work of God. A healthy church, a faithful preacher, a godly Growth Group are all means of grace but not the authority or master of it. The flip side of this coin is that you must listen for the wisdom of God in your life. This, as Paul has argued, comes from hearing the true gospel and truly understanding the cross of Christ. Flee from gurus and run to the power of the cross.

Now, it’s good to just pause and recognise that there is plenty of wisdom and value in what humans say. It’s good to have doctors and financial advisors and counselors of all sorts but none of them will lead you to salvation and the cure of sin. Self-help books can contain plenty of useful things; psychologists and psychology books are very useful for helping us move forward in our maturity but they will only give us scaffolding for the immediate. Our faith must stand on the power of God.

God has revealed his age old mystery to us by his Spirit (6-10a)

“We do, however, speak a message…” Just because the gospel is the revelation of God from God, it is also something that we hear because people speak it! Hebrews 1:1 says that in the past, God spoke to the human race in many and various ways, but now, he has spoken to us by his Son. We preach Jesus Christ and the cross of Christ and this is the message that we speak.

“…a message of wisdom among the mature…” This word, mature, is about reaching the goal we were meant or designed for. It’s like declaring that those who are not growing in Christ have a stunted growth! Check out these references for a similar use of the word mature: Eph 4:13; Php 3:15; Col 4:12; Heb 5:14; 6:1; Jas 1:4. The mature are those who are hearing the gospel of God and responding in faith.

“…but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” To not mature, it is to not pursuing Christ. The air and flavour of this world is not to pursue Christ and they will not mature in the way that the New Testament describes it. If anyone is offended by this definition of maturity, it must be remembered that Paul is talking about hearing the wisdom of God and that maturity is describing the intention for which God designed the human race! It follows, therefore, that if we seek to mature ourselves apart from the way that God has designed us then we can call it maturity but it is not! It would be like a plant trying to convince you that it would mature far better if it were taken out of the pot and placed on the sandy beach in the sun.

“…God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” God had a plan from the beginning but it was kept secret until the proper time. The word mystery does not refer to something mysterious or mystical, but to something that is a secret. Clues have been handed from God to this earth via the prophets but when Jesus Christ was revealed, God’s great plan was also made known. Ephesians 1:9-10; Romans 16:25. God is patient with his plans. His view of history and human destiny is both authoritative and complete. Our view is so micro and self absorbed. His plans are to include us in glory. This is part of the maturity that God speaks of. Our lives are not to be in pursuit of joy but in pursuit of maturity found only in Christ which is for our own glory.

“None of the rulers of this age…” 1 Cor 1:20; and 1:6 give us the context of what this age refers to. It is humanity this side of heaven. Paul can talk of the people at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and the people in his time as the same age that you and I live in right now. It is the age where many are perishing but those who God has called, who believe in the cross of Christ as the wisdom of God who are being saved.

“None… understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” It’s ironic that we needed to be blind to the plans of God (the mystery) for us to put Jesus to death. If we had seen the plan clearly, we would treat Jesus as God and not crucify him. But then, that would indicate that we could reach holiness and wisdom without the cross.

“What no eye has seen…heard…conceived…God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul alludes to Isaiah 64:4 and reuses the message there to apply it to the post-cross age. Although he doesn’t directly quote from Isaiah, the message is the same. We are not talking about human philosophy when we talk about God and his message of the cross. We are talking about the real and living God who made everything. The revelation of God has not evolved over time through the subconsciousness of the human race. Paul couldn’t get any clearer about this. No person could have made up this stuff! But God has been plotting away since the beginning of time to bring us salvation through the death of Christ and the promise of eternal glory.

PS – I have heard verse 9 used as a kind of whisper about heaven to come. That is, no-one has seen it or can possibly imagine what heaven will be like – but God knows and it will be beautiful. What spoils this narrow interpretation is the way that Verse 10 begins…

“These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” God is not talking about a secret that is still a secret. He is talking about the mystery of how he is going to make his church holy, righteous and wise. All is done in Christ.

 

Who can know the mind of God but God himself?! (10b-12)

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” Verse 11 makes it clear that this is the Spirit of God AKA the Holy Spirit. Nobody can know the deep things of God apart from God himself. The Holy Spirit is therefore God.

“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” Who do you really know apart from yourself. Now you might say that you don’t know yourself very well and would love someone to figure you out and let you know! True. But, look at or think about your closest and dearest friend(s). How much do you know them? You never know their thoughts until they speak them or write them! Nobody can ever know me truly like I know me. I will continue to value other people’s insights into my psyche – but my thoughts are my thoughts. My pains are my pains. My emotions are my emotions. Don’t get me started on the things that come to our minds when we are asleep! How to begin to explain what your mind conjured up as a believable story during the night. And then when we speak our mind, is it often only a fraction of what went on inside our brain?

“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Again, we cannot begin to guess what God is thinking. But what if he revealed to us his thoughts and plans by his Spirit?

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” We have been given access to the plans and thoughts of God. Notice how Paul explains that the message of the cross is a window into the mind of God. No person has conceived this. The Spirit has revealed that Jesus death on the cross was our substitutionary atonement.

 

Who can understand the mind of God but those who have been given the Spirit (13-16)

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” You could take this sentence out of context in order to show that God gives Spirit words that no person could have invented or understood and therefore show that speaking in tongues of angels is promoted here. But let’s not take it out of context hey? Paul has been talking about audible and understandable words which make up the message of the gospel but that reveal the secret plans of God from eternity. In other words, Paul is saying that this gospel message is not made up but has been give to us by God. The message of 2:4-2:16 is quite repetitive. What’s being challenged by Paul is human wisdom, not human language.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept…cannot understand…because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Recall that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the church was described as called. And in 1:26-31 we were reminded that God chose who he would reveal his will to and include in his church. Understanding the gospel with acceptance is a work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus described to Nichodemus (John 3) that the Spirit can’t be seen but His work is plain to see. And in Colossians 1:3-9, Paul can tell that the Spirit of God has been at work because they have responded to the gospel. That is why the gospel is described as the power of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:5).

“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments…” This is a verse to keep in your pocket for good theological discussion! When we come to understand the gospel, we can say that it is we who considered the words, weighed up the evidence and the options and made a judgment call on what to do next BUT only a person with the Spirit can make such a judgment call because only they can consider it as wisdom from God.

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” The rhetorical answer is no one, correct? Paul has already concluded that nobody can know the mind of God except God himself. Well…

“But we have the mind of Christ.” Boom! The gift of the Holy Spirit is such an important one that gives us the knowledge of God. Without the gift of the Spirit, we would be blind and stupid fools. Unable to discern the mind of God. But with the Spirit in us, we have the mind of Christ. That is, we are able to be wise and grow in wisdom. The fruit of this is character. The Spirit brings us the gospel of grace, allows us to understand it and conclude that this is right. The Spirit of God then transforms our minds to know the mind of God more and more. And the Spirit of God enables us to discern between right and wrong. This is called maturing in Christ.

What did we learn?

The Spirit of God is like a conduit to the mind of God. He opens our eyes to behold the beauty in the cross and the wisdom in the gospel. No human can possibly conceive the things that God has known and thought for all time. But the Spirit of God is God’s gift to those who love him – indeed the means to loving him. A preacher’s words are no mere words since they uncover, discuss, persuade and exhort the people of God to know the mind of God.

Now what?

Topic A: Turn sermons and daily bible readings into an act of worship. This passage is reminding us about the great privilege we are given when we receive the Spirit of God. We ought to regard the bible and times spent listening to Spirit-filled preachers as moments of the wisdom of God being revealed to us. How often have you skipped reading the bible this week? Are you conscious that you are skipping time spent listening to God?

Topic B: Being thankful for the Holy Spirit. Proof of the Spirit dwelling in you is that you truly understand the grace of God and are growing in maturity. Those who have the Spirit of God living in them have the mind of Christ, are holy and chosen by God to be his people. You are a child of God with God’s commitment to grow you. The Spirit of God is teaching you.

Topic C: Conscious of the foreign nature of this world/age. If it is only those who have the Spirit who can know the mind of God, then everybody else does not and cannot know the mind of God. Yet the majority of people, especially the rulers of this age, do not know God’s mind and will regard the gospel, the church and the cross as foolish. It is important to be aware of this chasm we are living amongst. When interacting with the people of this world, be aware that many do not have the mind of Christ. Knowing this does not make us superior. Knowing this gives us an alert mind to the dangers of thought we live with.