An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 5)

M.A. Rudge

In the next section (2:6-3:4), the apostle commences with the subject of Divine wisdom, the wisdom which he and his fellow-apostles spoke by Divine revelation, "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect." (2:6). In the word order of the original text, the opening part of verse 6 forms the subject matter of verses 6-16 - "wisdom (vv. 6-9) we speak (vv. 10-13) among them that are perfect" (vv. 14-16). Chapter 3:1-4 makes an application of these verses to the situation at Corinth.

The wisdom which has come to us through Divine revelation is (i) "not the wisdom of this world (age), nor of the princes of this world (age), that comes to nought." This wisdom is not the product of any specially enlightened age in human history, neither can it be attributed to any human genius or political philosophy which world-rulers continue to tell us will bring in a golden age. The wisdom of the political process is destined to come to nothing. This is one good reason why Christians should not become involved in politics. (ii) It is "the wisdom of God" as distinct from wisdom from any human source. (iii) It is the wisdom of God "in a mystery," i.e. in a mystery form which is only understood by the initiated, "them that are perfect", and cannot be comprehended apart from Divine revelation and Divinely bestowed, spiritual faculties (Ephes. 1:8,17). (iv) It is "even the hidden wisdom," something which was previously undisclosed until the time when God was pleased to reveal it and even now that it has been revealed it is hidden from "the wise and prudent" of this world. (v.) Paul speaks of Divine wisdom in relation to eternal counsels and the object which it has in view, "which God ordained before the world (ages) unto our glory." (v.7). Christ is "the Lord of (the) glory", and everything has been brought into existence to serve the purpose of His glory, with a secondary feature of our being brought to share in it, in association with Him and in order to glorify Him. (vi.) The pronoun "which," "which none of the princes of this world knew," continues the subject of Divine wisdom. The fact that "the princes of this world," the representatives of human wisdom at its highest level, "crucified the Lord of (the) glory," is the fullest exposure of the inability of the human mind to apprehend Divine wisdom. When the revelation of eternal counsels was realized in time and revealed in Christ, the rulers of the age not only failed to recognize Him but in their utter blindness they condemned Him to the most shameful form of death, they "crucified the Lord of glory." This is the final stamp upon human wisdom as folly.

In verse 9 the apostle describes Divine wisdom in eternal counsels as ‘the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Again, human wisdom is set aside, as he makes the point that these things are not known through the normal learning process, through the natural powers of observation, hearing, scientific investigation or indeed, anything arising out of the heart of man, "but God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: ... . " (v.10). Verse 10 commences the subsection, "we speak". Paul is referring to the words used by Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets, "for to us God uncovered them through the agency of His Spirit" (KS Wuest). Cp. Ephes 3:1-7. He is speaking of the verbal inspiration of Scripture and the way in which the Spirit of God has overruled to ensure that Spirit-inspired and Spirit-taught words have been communicated in the exact words in which they are now found in the New Testament, "which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth but (in words) which the Holy Spirit teacheth comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (v.13). This highlights an important principle that spiritual truths can only be communicated by spiritual means and in spiritual language to spiritual persons, "them that are perfect" (v.6). "He that is spiritual" (v.15). The natural man does not receive them and cannot know them and the carnal believer is not in a spiritual state to appreciate them and benefit from them either. This was the difficulty at Corinth, and the truth which the apostle now faces them with in chapter 3, verses 1-4. "This wisdom we have [the mind of Christ] but I could not declare it to you."

In chapter 2, the contrast is drawn between the "natural" unregenerate man and the "spiritual" man (2:14,15). "He that is spiritual" (v.15), is the believer viewed characteristically, the normal Christian life. The distinction is now made between the spiritual man and the carnal man. In contrast to the spiritual man the carnal man is a believer "in Christ" (3:1), but his spiritual life is influenced by what he or she is naturally, i.e. the flesh and he lacks the spiritual maturity to assimilate the more "solid food" of advanced teaching. This is something which is expected of "babes in Christ" but when it marks believers, who have been given the time and opportunity to be taught the mind of God, it is a serious matter. Paul is probably speaking of the early days at Corinth in verse 2a, but they were still not able to assimilate more advanced teaching and were still in a state of babyhood, five years later. Whilst we should not be over-occupied with spiritual attainment, a comparison with the past is a most searching exercise for all believers. Spirituality is not static. It is a vital living experience of Christ and the word of God in daily living, which can only be attained through the assimilation of the word of God into the life by practical obedience and is only maintained through self-judgment, spiritual exercise and continued obedience.

As we conclude this section and its application to the first three sections, we can see why Paul has spent so much time dealing with the subject of the natural mind and human wisdom. It is the mind which is the most important factor in our spiritual development. It is here that judgments are made and attitudes are formed, which dictate the whole of the way in which we live our lives. "The mind controls the affections (the heart), the affections control the will and the will controls the life" (W. Trew).