1 Corinthians 2:1-14 (Spiritual things discerned by the spiritual)


(1Co 2:1-2 ESV) And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

QUESTION: How well does this passage characterize our preaching? What would happen if this were a fair description of our own preaching today?

QUESTION: What does Paul mean by “Jesus Christ and him crucified”? How might such a sermon sound today?

(1Co 2:3-5 ESV) 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

QUESTION: Why weakness, fear, and trembling? Read the account of Paul’s stay in Corinth in Acts 18.

QUESTION: What does he mean by “demonstration of the Spirit and of power”?

(1Co 2:6-7 ESV) 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. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

Paul admits that he does sometimes teach at a level he calls “wisdom,” and we see it in Romans and other letters he wrote. He calls his teaching “a secret and hidden wisdom of God.” He is not saying that it’s a secret hidden from the church but a secret hidden by God until Jesus was revealed as the Messiah.

Paul only hints here at the idea, but speaks more plainly in Ephesians —

(Eph 3:6 ESV) 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Why does Paul bring up the rulers of this age? Well, because when the Gentiles bow before King Jesus, he’ll have weakened the power of the rulers. The rulers did not realize that through crucifixion — Rome’s ultimate weapon to silence traitors — they empower Jesus to claim a throne above their very own.

(1Co 2:8-10 ESV) 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 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”– 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

Why not crucify Jesus? Because they’ll ultimately be overthrown by the power of the cross.

(Isa 64:1-4 ESV) Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence — 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.

Notice the idea expressed here in Isaiah. God did “awesome things that we did not look for.” God does better than what we expect. We cannot even imagine the goodness that God has in mind for us. We just need to be patient. And this is how it is as so many suffer oppression at the hands of a corrupt government. God will ultimately have his vengeance.

Paul then shifts gears to speak about the Spirit — who knows the deep things of God and reveals them to the church.

(1Co 2:11-12 ESV) 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now 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.

Paul points out that the Spirit has an intimate relationship with God that allows him to share ideas with the church formerly not even suspected. That doesn’t mean that all God’s secrets are revealed. Far from it! But God has given us new understanding freely.

(1Co 2:13 ESV) 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

There is both a translation challenge and an interpretive challenge here. The final clause could also be translated “combining spiritual things with spiritual words.” But I think the ESV gets it right. Their translation seems to fit the flow of thought very well.

Paul is speaking of his role as an apostle. God has given him a body of knowledge to be transmitted by him and the other apostles to the church.

(1Co 2:14 ESV) 14 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 natural man is the man without the Spirit, that is, someone not yet saved. Only the “spiritual” — those who have the Spirit — can understand Paul’s teachings.

QUESTION: Is this true? How well do Christians understand the deep things of God?

NT Wright comments,

He stresses first that the ‘spiritual’ person makes judgments on a different plane to the merely natural one (verse 15), while the judgments that such people make will pass him or her by without effect. The evidence he offers is a quotation from Isaiah 40:13, where the prophet looks at the wider world and asks ‘who has known YHWH’s mind?’, expecting the answer ‘no one’. But if the Messiah has already become for us ‘wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption’ (1:30), then it is not a long step to say that we—that is, those who have the spirit—possess the Messiah’s mind. If that is true, there is no depth of wisdom too deep, no height too high, for us to explore.

Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians.

Paul says spiritual people ought to be able to discern these deep things — emphasis on “ought.”

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to 1 Corinthians 2:1-14 (Spiritual things discerned by the spiritual)

  1. John says:

    QUESTION: What does Paul mean by “Jesus Christ and him crucified”? How might such a sermon sound today?

    A Biblical sermon on “Jesus Christ and him crucified” would be more than proclaiming the necessity of giving mental assent to the words of Paul regarding death of Christ; the meat of the sermon would be the life and words of Jesus found in the gospels.

    We can find many upon many church members in evangelical Christianity who would proclaim with passion their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, yet live with a disconnect to the gospels themselves.

    Not long ago there was video being posted on Facebook of an individual who was begging for money on the streets. Apparently, the maker of the video followed this person to expose them as a fraud, not poor at all, actually living the good life. The people I knew who posted the video were “Christians”, those who would stand up and proclaim with gusto the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, their comments for the video were, “This is why I don’t give to beggars”.

    Was it not Jesus who said “Give to those who beg from you”? Did Jesus ever say or infer that we have the right, even the duty some would claim, of finding out if the beggar is legitimately poor? Did he ever infer that we are be sure we are not being conned? Apparently, when your politics are first, one video trumps the words of Jesus.

    This is only one example. We could find many more. But to proclaim the death of Jesus without learning to die before the physical grave, leaves us in a spiritual one, regardless of how much our minds accept the “correct” doctrinal statement of the gospel.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    Jay writes, “The natural man is the man without the Spirit, that is, someone not yet saved. Only the “spiritual” – those who have the Spirit — can understand Paul’s teachings.”

    And I figure if Paul had meant those who “have the Spirit” is what he would have said if that was what he meant. What he SAID is that only those who are spiritually-minded, not focused on self and things of this earth, understand. (1Co 2:13 ESV) 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

    How greatly to be commended are those who are spiritually-minded. That is, those whose thoughts are not tied up with physical “things” but who are instead focusing on things of the spirit. Some such men and women are not “in Christ,” but nonetheless are thinking spiritually as they face the problems of life on earth. These are the ones most apt to respond to the gospel if they are not already “in Christ.”

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