1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER
The Preaching of the Cross. 1 Cor. 2, 1—16. Paul's preaching not in man's wisdom: V. 1. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. V. 2. For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. V. 3. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. V. 4. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, V. 5. that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Paul has praised the preaching of the wisdom of the Cross. He now shows what interest he, in his own person and in his office, has in this message: And I also, brethren, when I came to you, came not according to excellency of speech or wisdom. As it was with the Corinthian Christians, to whom Paul had conveyed the call of the Lord, so it was with Paul himself; they were not wise or influential according to the standard of this world, and therewith agreed that he, too, came without wisdom or strength, having in mind nothing but their spiritual welfare and the glory and praise of the Lord. When he came to Corinth, he did not make his entrance before them in accordance with the expectation which men of the world might have had concerning him, heralded as a man of singular accomplishments in oratory and wisdom and relying upon them for a brilliant success in the great metropolis. Never for a moment was he unconscious of the fact that he was proclaiming to the Corinthians the testimony of God. That was the subject-matter, that was the content of his testimony and message; and this excluded, by its very nature, a show of eloquence and wisdom. The testimony concerning Christ and His salvation is supremely excellent only as it is communicated in all simplicity.
And therefore Paul announces as his motto: For I resolved not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified; or: I did not judge it to be right and proper for me to give any evidence of wisdom among you but only that which concerned Jesus Christ in the climax of His vicarious work, as a condemned criminal on Calvary. Paul might well have taken the results of his studies, his learning in the realm of history, in natural theology, in philosophical systems, in order to parade it before the Corinthians. But all this he cast aside as improper and not apt to serve the Gospel. One fact only he wanted to hold before the eyes of the Corinthians: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as all men's Substitute. "What manner of boasting is this, that he writes of knowing nothing but the crucified Christ? It is a matter such as no reason or human wisdom can comprehend, nor even those that have already studied and learned the Gospel; for it is a wisdom which is powerful, secret, and hidden, and appears like nothing, because He was crucified and gave up all might and power of the Godhead, hangs there like a miserable, forsaken man, and it seems as though God would not help Him; of Him alone I know to say and to preach, says St. Paul." 14) Jesus Christ, the crucified Savior, is the one subject which cannot be exhausted in Gospel-preaching.
The theme, or subject, of his preaching having been announced, Paul describes himself as preacher among his hearers and readers: And I came and was among you in a state of weakness and of fear and of much trembling. The experiences which Paul had just had in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens, before coming to Corinth, had brought him into a state of deep dejection, Acts 18, 5. 9. And his spiritual weakness in this case had been increased by his weak and infirm body, 2 Cor. 10, 1. 10, which was often racked with illness, Gal. 4, 13. 14. He was ever conscious of his want of resources for the task before him, and therefore was troubled with diffidence and timidity, 2 Cor. 7, 5. At least in his own opinion, Paul seems to have lacked the bold appearance, the imposing personality which makes an impression upon the average audience. But the very fact that he came without all artificial expedients served as a foil to bring out all the more strongly the quality of the message with which he was entrusted. For his speech and his preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom; he used no philosophical argumentation, no oratorical tricks; he did not try to make his message plausible by the skill of the trained dialectician. But by that very token the apostle's message was delivered in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of Paul, gave the demonstration of His power, 1 John 5, 6; it was the power of God which was exerted upon the hearts of the hearers when Paul brought his message, 1 Thess. 1, 5. So the demonstration of the Spirit is contrasted with that of mere words, and the demonstration of power with that of mere logical argumentation. And the purpose of Paul in so doing was that the faith of his hearers might not be based upon the wisdom of men, but upon the power of God. If they had merely given assent to his teaching as a fine philosophical system which contained much to render it plausible, their faith would have rested upon treacherous sand. Paul's intention, therefore, was to direct their hearts and minds to the power of God alone, through which they had been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified, that God alone might be glorified in the faith of the Corinthians. Thus Paul has described the beginning of his ministry in Corinth in regard to his bearing, theme, personal feeling, method, and aim.
The Gospel itself true wisdom: V. 6. Howbeit, we speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught; v. 7. but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory, v. 8. which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. V. 9. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. The apostle had said that his Gospel is foolishness according to the standard of this world, but all the while he makes it felt that it is wisdom, God's wisdom: Yet wisdom it is that we speak of among the full-grown, among the mature, that are qualified to understand it, the believers. Let other people decry and condemn the preaching of the Cross as unreasonable, utter nonsense, those whose hearts and minds the Spirit has prepared through faith are able to comprehend its unspeakable wisdom. But it is not a wisdom of this transitory world nor of the rulers of this world that pass away. The wisdom of the Gospel has nothing in common with the results of philosophic study and research, as they are so widely heralded. All the greatness of man's intellectual achievements will share the fate of the secular rulers of this world: they will vanish, their wisdom and power will come to naught. It is rather so that we, Paul and all true preachers of the Gospel, speak the wisdom of God in a mystery; the message of God is a divine secret which only the Spirit of God can reveal, Eph. 3, 3, which remains hidden and incomprehensible for human reason until God opens up its glories and its power. It is this wisdom which God predetermined before the ages, before the foundation of the world and the beginning of time unto our glory. The entire plan of salvation was determined upon by God from eternity, and its final aim and object, as put into execution by Jesus Christ, is the final glory which shall be revealed to the believers in heaven. Of that glory we have a foretaste and guarantee in the blessings of the Gospel at the present time.
The Gospel-message with all its glorious benefits is intended for all men without exception, but it is realized only in the believers, as Paul shows by the contrast: Which wisdom none of the rulers of this present, transitory world knew; for if they had known it, if they had had a proper understanding and conception of its glories, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. If the leaders of the Jews and Pilate had had any inkling of the Gospel-truth, of the message of salvation as it was embodied in Jesus Christ; if they had understood and realized the object of His work; if they had been conscious of the splendor clothing the Lord Jesus as He stood before them, then they would not have condemned Him to death on the cross. Note that the appellation "Lord of Glory" is here applied to Christ according to His human nature. "Therefore the Son of God truly suffered for us, however, according to the property of His human nature, which He assumed into the unity of His divine person and made His own, that He might be able to suffer and be our High Priest for our reconciliation with God." 15) "Therefore that God was crucified and died who became man; not the separate God, but the God united with the humanity; not according to His deity, but according to the human nature which He assumed." 16)
The fact that this wisdom of the Gospel is absolutely beyond the comprehension and understanding of natural man, no matter what learning he has acquired, no matter what position he holds, is substantiated by a passage from the Old Testament: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not come into the heart of man, that God has prepared for them that love Him, Is. 64, 4. The passage is taken from the Advent call and Messianic prophecy which attempts to picture the inexpressible glory of the promised salvation. No man's senses can conceive of, no man's mind and heart can comprehend, the glory, the unspeakable bliss which is contained in the proclamation of redemption as it is revealed to those whose heart has received the gift of faith and is turned toward God in fervent love. It is a magnificence of blessing, undreamed of in former ages, unknown to all men by nature, which comes all prepared to the believers. Salvation is not completed by the faith of man, but its wonderful assurances are appropriated. "Not as though we had loved God before did God in His eternal wisdom of love prepare salvation for us, but because He out of pure grace has prepared that of which our reason has no conception or faintest intimation, therefore His love toward us through the evangelical call has kindled love in our believing hearts, and as such that love Him in the obedience of His Word has He revealed Himself and His gifts, the full preparation of our heritage, to us through His Spirit." 17)
The revelation of the Spirit: V. 10. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. V. 11. For what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God. V. 12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. While the attitude of the rulers of this world, both intellectual and secular, is characterized by an utter lack of understanding of the great things of God, He has to us, being those that love Him, revealed them through the Spirit. The Spirit is God's instrument and agent to bring the proper enlightenment to our hearts. In the case of the apostles the Spirit worked by direct or immediate action when they were engaged in the work of preaching the Gospel, Gal. 1, 12; 1 Pet. 1, 12; and since their days the revelation comes to us through the preaching based upon the Word of the apostles, Heb. 2, 3. This work of revealing the way of salvation can be done by the Spirit; it is the special function of the Spirit, because the Spirit investigates all things, even the depths of God. He has access to, he is familiar with, the innermost thoughts and plans of God. And what He has discovered He discloses to us. Those unexplorable, unfathomable, bottomless depths of God's essence where the gracious will of God for the salvation of mankind lay hidden, the Spirit has made known to us. Note: Since the Spirit has access to the innermost secrets of God, His must be the divine essence, He must be true God. This fact is brought out by the comparison which the apostle introduces: For who among men knows the things of a man, his thoughts and projects, if not the spirit of the man which is in him? No person is able to know the innermost feelings and desires of another unless that person reveals himself to him by word or sign. Even so no one has, by searching, by examining, found out God, had access to His purposes and plans; only the Spirit of God has that knowledge, and therefore can and does reveal Him.
The apostle makes the application of this fact: But we have not received the spirit of the world. That is the spirit whose wisdom God has shown to be foolishness, the spirit which is always ready to crucify the Lord anew, the spirit which is darkened and blinded against the understanding of God. Ours is rather the Spirit which has been bestowed upon us by God, the Spirit of spiritual enlightenment. And the result is that we know, we have a definite, unshakable knowledge of, the gifts which God in His wonderful grace and mercy has bestowed upon us. All these gifts are included in Christ and made possible through the redemption of Christ. These gifts, wonderful as they are, would have been useless to us if the Spirit had not opened the eyes of our understanding to see and accept the unmerited favor of God in Christ through faith. Note that the apostle does not make our possession of these gifts dependent upon our feeling, but upon the knowledge transmitted to us by the Spirit, through the Word.
The Word and spiritual discernment: V. 13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. V. 14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. V. 15. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. V. 16. For who hath known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. The apostle now refers more particularly to his office, including the other apostles in a category with himself. They know the great things of God, and therefore they tell them, proclaim them. And this speaking is done not in words taught by human wisdom, not according to the rules of worldly oratory and logic, but in words taught by the Spirit. Paul thus plainly states that not only his thoughts, but his very words were taught him by the Spirit; he affirms for himself and his fellow-apostles verbal inspiration. In the correct words of Holy Writ we find the clear and correct meaning of God. And the words agree exactly with' the divine content, for Paul says that they place spiritual things side by side with spiritual things, matching the spiritual truth with spiritual phrase. In the teaching of the apostle there is a perfect harmony of subject-matter with the expression in words, with the form of speech as presented to his readers. The language of Scripture correctly represents the thoughts of God as He wanted to make them known to us for our salvation. The Bible thus sets before us the mind and doctrine of God in a clear way, and there is no need of adding human wisdom in any of its parts.
By way of contrast, Paul refers to the un-spiritual: But natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; the unregenerate person, even at his best, rejects the gifts and benefits which the Holy Ghost wants to bestow upon him; his is not merely a neutral, an apathetic feeling, but one of outspoken hostility: he wants nothing to do with them. For folly they are to him, and he cannot perceive them, for a person's estimate of them must proceed from the spiritual side. Where, therefore, there is not a spark of spirituality, where the Spirit of God has not been able to work regeneration, there every human being's judgment will insist upon the utter senselessness of the Gospel-message. "The Gospel appears on trial before the natural men; like the Athenian philosophers, they give it a first hearing, but they have no organon (rule of guidance) to test it by. The inquiry is stultified, at the very beginning, by the incompetence of the jury. The unspiritual are out of court as religious critics; they are deaf men judging music." "The natural man receiveth not (or, as the Greek word properly signifies, grasps not, comprehends not, accepts not) the things of the Spirit, that is, he is not capable of spiritual things; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them. Much less will he truly believe the Gospel, or assent thereto and regard it as truth." 18)
It is different with the believer: But the spiritual person makes an estimate, a test, of everything. Because the believer is imbued with, and governed by, the Spirit, therefore his judgment, as governed by the Spirit, will extend to everything. He can form a correct estimate and judgment of his thoughts, words, and deeds, as to their sinfulness or agreement with the Word and will of God; he may form a correct opinion as to the various conditions and circumstances in life, as to whether certain things belong to the category of things indifferent or whether they must be labeled sinful; he can govern his conscience in such a way as to guard against erring in either direction, lax-ness or severity. And in performing this function of his spiritual life, the spiritual man himself is under no person's judgment. He can well bear the criticism of the world, because such criticism does not strike him in truth. With the Word of God and a good conscience on his side, the Christian can afford to look the whole world in the face, since he is above both criticism and contempt. So firmly may he stand on the basis which alone is true that he may calmly say with Paul: For who has found out the mind of the Lord, Is. 40, 13; who has investigated and examined what the Lord thinks, with the intention of giving Him instructions? No man has ever penetrated that inscrutable wisdom which is evidenced in God's plan of salvation. Every one that attempts to pass judgment upon spiritual persons presumes to be a counselor of the Lord; every one that endeavors to correct the words of the Spirit's teaching presumes to be a teacher of God. To all carnal-minded critics, therefore, we Christians can throw down the challenge: As for us, we have the mind of Christ. Christ lives in us, and His mind rules our mind, enabling us to make the proper estimate of all conditions and circumstances, but that we also look upon the cross of Calvary and upon the whole Gospel not with natural, but with spiritual eyes, that we find the fulness of all wisdom in the mystery of Christ the Crucified. "We have the mind of Christ. That is to be understood, as said above, that we may know and find out that which serves for our salvation. This mind and understanding is faith, that the spiritual man is saved without all works, through the Word only; thereafter he can also judge all things, what is right or wrong; thus he also knows all thoughts and plots of the devil and against what they are directed, namely, that he wants to suppress and extirpate faith and the Word of God and all that is necessary for salvation: all this he knows. So the understanding consists chiefly in this, that I know the will of God, what pleases Him; that I may say whether a thing is right or not.” 19)
Summary. The apostle shows in what spirit he came to Corinth, proves that the Gospel is the wisdom of the mystery of God, and explains how the Spirit reveals this mystery by verbal inspiration in the Gospel, thus enabling the believers to form correct judgments of all human states and affairs.