Last night we continued our study of what the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit, looking at one passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. Here are the notes:
We began by reading 1 Corinthians 1:17-25. In this passage Paul’s working with a fundamental problem we humans have: we need saving, but the method God designed to save us, seems either offensive (a “stumbling block”) or foolish (i.e. “dumb” or “weak”) when we first encounter it. And it goes even deeper. The problem isn’t only one of salvation, it’s also a problem in our ability to know God at all. Because Jesus, and what Jesus did, is the way God has revealed himself to us. And if the way he’s revealed himself to us seems either offensive or stupid, then we just aren’t going to understand him…which means we can’t really grasp God.
It’s interesting, because I think a lot of people get the idea that God’s not easy to understand. But people tend think that our main problem is that God’s so big, or so different than us, that we just could never conceive of what he’s like. And the bible does affirm that God is so much bigger, and different enough, than us, that our minds can’t totally get him nailed down. But in passages like this, we see that, actually, God’s bigness or different-ness is not our main problem. The main problem we have is that, when he reveals what he’s like, when he shows us how he thinks, how he does things, the normal human reaction is like—that’s stupid! Or that’s offensive! The main issue we have that keeps us from knowing God is not that we’re small, it’s that we’re, well…evil. It’s not that we don’t know enough facts, it’s that our minds don’t work like his. It’s not that he’s Spirit and we’re flesh, it’s that we just don’t think about things and feel things like he does.
In other words, it’s a relational problem—he’s healthy and we’re messed up, and so, the more he does things for us, and shows us what he’s like, the more humans just tend to think, “nah, it can’t be like that.”
And we Christians have a problem, because, once we’ve come to know God this way, we realize that the message we have to preach runs up against all these same issues. The good news Jesus told us to tell people is actually the good news that God has come to us and shown us who he really is—that’s what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is all about. And we’re going around trying to tell people this and we meet these same reactions—some people think it’s madness, some people think it’s harmful.
Either way, we need a solution. We’re going to get to God’s solution for this, but first Paul gives us a little more insight into how God’s working right now, in chapter 1 verses 26-29. Notice the ideas here. The people of God mirror the message of God—we’re weak and insignificant in the eyes of the beautiful and powerful. God wanted it this way. He wanted the people who preach the message, for the most part, to embody the message by the way they are and the way they preach. So Paul says, “Just like people think our message about a crucified messiah is dumb or offensive, people tend to think the same things about us!”
But in verse 30 he reassures us that we don’t need to worry about all this–Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom for us.
The, in 2:1-5, we see that Paul is pressing deeper into this idea of weakness here. He says that, not only is the message one which the world’s elite think is powerless, and not only is God all about working with people in general who exhibit the same kind of cultural weakness, but Paul personally chose to apply these truths practically in his work as a spreader of the message. How did he do that? By adopting methods for spreading the message that were consistent with the ways God worked in Jesus. In other words, the way he went about spreading the message of God mirrored, or illustrated, the content of the message itself. What he had to talk about was demonstrated by the way he said it.
But look at verse 4. Paul’s turning a corner for us here. God wants us to know—even though the world of people outside of God’s family is going to tend to hear what we have to say as irrelevant, that doesn’t mean that either we, or our message, is weak. Not at all. Paul says that he himself came to them in real power. And I think it’s something that anyone who wants to spread the message of Jesus needs to learn—my life needs to exhibit real spiritual power to back up my message. Verse 5 tells us that God wants it this way—because it will help the people who hear and believe to put their faith on the right things—not cool people with a smart-sounding message, but just God’s power alone. God’s messengers don’t wield the world’s weapons, but we come with something more powerful—God’s power.
And, even though the powers-that-be think our message is foolishness—Paul says, “we have real wisdom too.”
Now see 2:6-13. The wisdom we have is called a “secret and hidden” wisdom of God (v.6). He doesn’t mean that it’s a wisdom God made hard to find (since clearly Jesus came so we could know it), he just means that it hadn’t been revealed until Jesus came, and it remains obscure to those who find it foolish or offensive, precisely because their thinking is so different from God’s thinking. Paul says in verse 8, you can tell people are naturally opposed to how God thinks, because when Jesus showed up as God’s solution, people killed him! Then in verse 9 and 10, Paul gets poetic and quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 64), and then says—yeah, these amazing things the Bible talks about, these awesome, huge, cosmic truths that are past our finding out—God has revealed them to us by his Spirit.
The idea is that, left to ourselves, we don’t have the capacity to understand God’s wisdom, or even the right qualities we would need to grasp the way he works—Only God can understand God. But this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Here’s a great quote I read that sums up what Paul’s getting at: “The Spirit of God becomes the link between God and humanity, the “quality” from God himself who makes the knowing possible…in our reception of the Spirit, we are on intimate terms with none other than God himself, personally and powerfully present, as the one who, in this case, reveals God’s ways to us.” (That’s by Gordon Fee).
So for the last few weeks we’ve already seen that Jesus taught that when we trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes and makes us alive in the fullest possible sense. In other words, when Jesus was on earth, we could say, He was the way God was present to humanity. Now that the Holy Spirit has come, we can say, the Spirit is the way God is present with humanity. In this passage we’re seeing that one of the main things the Holy Spirit does for us is this work of enabling us to really know God.
This works, Paul says in verse 10, because the Spirit has access to “the deep things of God.” There are things about God, and things God knows, that are way beyond our ability to figure out, but they’re not beyond His ability to figure out, because of course, the Holy Spirit is God—and that’s the point of verse 11. “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God,” and the way the Spirit knows the things of God Paul says, is illustrated in the way your spirit knows you. It’s not identical, since the Bible never says the Spirit is the Father, but in terms of being God, the Spirit is as much God as your Spirit is you. So there are barriers and limitations to us, as humans, in our knowing of God, but there aren’t any for the Holy Spirit.
Now in verse 10 when Paul writes that the Spirit knows “the deep things of God,” he doesn’t mean some weird, out-there, extra things that only a few initiated people know—he means, the “deep things” God revealed in Jesus’ life and death—in other words, the Gospel—the things that proved to be too deep for the elite of the world that find them dumb or offensive. So he’s really just explaining how someone could come to grasp what he was talking about in chapter 1… That God would come in human flesh, that the messiah would die on the cross, that Jesus is risen from the dead, that all of that is what is needed to happen for men and women to be saved, these are the deep things of God which he says that natural humanity cannot grasp. But as he says in verse 12, the “deep things of God” are also “the things freely given to us by God” (v.12) in Christ. That’s’ pretty awesome.
Verse 13 brings this all the way home to address the issue of how Christians feel when we face opposition when we try to spread the message about Jesus. Paul says, we don’t need to worry, all we’re telling people are these things God has revealed in Jesus, and when we stick closely to what the scriptures say, we can know that what we preach is God’s wisdom, straight from God the Spirit. We’ve been taught by the Holy Spirit.
Verses 14-16 put an exclamation point on this. Verse 14 says that people who don’t have the Holy Spirit as their teacher won’t understand God’s ways. And Verse 15 says that people who do will be misunderstood. But we can take heart because of verse 16. The answer to Paul’s question there, “who has known the mind of the Lord” is—The Holy Spirit! So if you’re a follower of Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit, or as Paul says it here, you have the mind of Christ. In other words, the Holy Spirit is in us and with us, giving us God’s thoughts, explaining to us what God has shown us in the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus.
This leads us nicely into some reflection on all these things.
First, Christians, you don’t have to listen to people tell you can’t know God or know about him. We can admit, “Sure I’m small. Sure I’m not smart enough figure God out,” but—We do know him. Because…God knows himself, and the Spirit is God, and if you’ve trusted in Jesus, then the Spirit is in you, telling you about God. And there’s even more: God has revealed himself in three ways: His written word (Inspired by the Spirit), Jesus (Anointed by the Spirit), and the Spirit in you. The written word, the Word of God inspired by the Spirit, is outside of our own heads (which is a good thing for us all), and so we have a trustworthy, unchanging source of God’s thoughts that is outside of us, and the Spirit within us as teacher who applies it to us. And so even though we’re small, God is big, and he knows how to tell us things about himself so we can really know him.
Second, if you’ve already seen the logic, and the power, and beauty, and desirability of what God did in Jesus on the cross, how are you going to try to help others see it? Here’s where we tie in with what we read last week. If you remember, Jesus said that the Spirit would come and convict peoples’ hearts—he would be there with us, working to convince people who heard us talk about Jesus that what we said is true. So we don’t have to fear—If I’ve seen the wisdom of God’s salvation in Christ, I can freely tell people about it and trust the Holy Spirit to work on them so that they see it too.
Know this—if you’re going around telling people the big, central truths of the scriptures…you really can be assured that you do know those things about God, and that you’re really telling people the truth.
Third, we don’t need to be ashamed of our message our own weakness. The world’s going to heap scorn on you, but the antidote for that is to depend on the Holy Spirit (2:5), and trust in the knowledge of Christ (2:10), and preach the cross, even though it’s considered foolish.
And here’s one final challenge: Paul wrote that, even though the Corinthians were believers in Jesus, they were starting to think like people that weren’t, and they were starting to miss the wisdom of the God in the cross. So the Spirit teaches Christians that Jesus’ death was necessary, powerful, and beautiful. It seems easy to agree with that on one level. If you don’t see that, you’re not being taught by the Spirit. You might not have the Spirit.
But there’s another layer here for those of us who follow Jesus—and it seems to be exactly where the Corinthian Christians were struggling. Paul says that the way he lived his life, and the way he carried on his ministry, the way he promoted the message of Jesus, had the same character as the crucified Jesus—it looked like it, it felt like it—weakness in the eyes of the world’s beautiful people and foolishness in the eyes of the world’s powerful people. It was offensive madness. So the Corinthians might think they loved the cross—it saved them, after all—but if they rejected Paul’s way of teaching about the cross, or his way of presenting himself to the world or to them, because it wasn’t outwardly beautiful or outwardly powerful or culturally compelling or respectable, then actually, they didn’t understand the cross, and they weren’t being taught by the Spirit, and they weren’t mature. If they needed outward beauty or power, they were thinking like people who didn’t know Jesus.
This is big for us. We know we think we love Jesus and the cross. But what about the way we want our lives to go, and what about the way we want to promote Jesus?
It seems good to spend some time reflecting on this passage and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s teaching, since we know that the main thing he has to reveal, and the main way we meet God’s power, is an apprehension of what the death of Jesus means—and how the cross is the pattern for the way God works?
If you don’t know Jesus , we admit that on first glance the message of Jesus seems weird. He came and told people they were sinners and needed to repent. He said you couldn’t know God’s love unless you got it through what he did by dying on the cross. If you get tempted to reject that as dumb or offensive, maybe just pause for a few minutes and see if you don’t have other thoughts rising in your mind—thoughts like, but actually I know I’m far from God, I know I’ve sinned, and I want forgiveness and I want to be close to God. I want Jesus to be real, and I want to know him. All we’re saying to you is, that’s the Holy Spirit of God leading you to those thoughts. Don’t reject them. Don’t turn away from them. Respond and go with them—he won’t lead you wrong.