1 Corinthians 2:1-16
- Why are expectations so important for our ability to experience the presence of God?
- How does our understanding of weakness grant us a deeper appreciation for the gospel?
- If we focus on our weaknesses, what might we miss?
- What is a healthy expectation for the Holy Spirit’s ministry of revealing truth to us? What would an unhealthy expectation look like?
- How can we embrace the Holy Spirit’s ministry of transformation? How might we overlook that ministry?
*This is a transcript generated from the sermon audio. This document has not been edited for spelling, grammar, or exactness.
Well, it’s good to be with all of you today, and I’m glad Corey didn’t mention that he was going to be off this week, because I’m glad to see you all here. Several years ago, Jenny and I were working our way through a series on Netflix, and she had read that the color of the character’s clothing clued you into what was going on in the series. And I was skeptical at first because I had been watching the series for a couple of seasons at that point, and I hadn’t noticed anything. So I was like, that can’t be true. But then all of a sudden, armed with that information, I started paying attention and I started to notice what the characters were wearing and what color it was. One of the characters, for example, always wore purple. Always. Another character started wearing green to represent the greed that she was experiencing as she got involved in a money laundering scheme. Her husband went from a sort of boring beige color palette to predominantly black as he sort of spiraled down and got involved deeper and deeper in the criminal world. So I don’t bring that up so that we can discuss the psychology of our fashion choices. I bring that up because I had utterly and completely failed to notice that pattern that had been there all along. Why was that? Well, I wasn’t paying attention, and in my defense, I wasn’t paying attention because I didn’t expect their clothing color to have any significance. But that changed once I knew to expect the pattern. Then I started paying attention and then I was able to see the pattern that had been there all along. Something similar can happen in our relationship with God. We sometimes miss opportunities to see Him at work because we don’t always expect Him to do something. We know that God is overseeing events in a general way, but as we get involved in the minutiae of our daily lives, we sometimes don’t expect Him to be involved in those details. And that can hinder our relationship because we don’t have the same sense of his presence. We miss out on opportunities to see the work that he’s doing. When we can point to specific ways he’s at work in our lives, we gain a tangible sense of his presence, but we miss that opportunity when we don’t expect Him to do something. At best, we have a vague sense that he might be at work in a general way, but a vague sense of his work leads to a vague sense of his presence. And to counteract that tendency, our passage this morning is going to give us three reasons we can expect God to be at work in us and the world around us.
So if you have your Bibles, go ahead and turn to One Corinthians chapter two. We’re going to look at verses one through 16. If you grab the Bible underneath the seat in front of you. I believe that’s on page 981, Paul says and so it was with me, brothers and sisters, when I came to you. I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom, as I proclaim to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 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, these are the things God has revealed to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 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. 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. 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. 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. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Let’s pray. Lord, we’re grateful for the opportunity to come together as a body of believers. We pray that you would open Your word to us as we look into this passage. And we pray that you would show us the reasons that we can expect you to be at work so that we might have a greater sense of Your presence. We ask all this in Your name. Amen.
So our passage gives us three reasons that we can expect God to be at work.
GOD HAS GIVEN US HIS POWER
And the first reason is that God knows that we don’t have the power to lead someone to faith without Him. And we see that in verses one through five. But before we go, there we need to back up and get a little background for context. From what we can gather from Paul’s letter, many in the Corinthian Church had become enamored with wisdom according to the standards of the society around them. And that put a heavy emphasis on rhetorical skills, speculative philosophy, and novel ideas. And this was making them prideful. It looks like they did not pursue this wisdom for wisdom’s sake, but because they thought it gave them a higher status. And this was causing division within the church because they were in essence touting the wisdom that they had and boasting about it. And suggesting that this somehow made them higher gave them a higher level of spirituality than the other believers. And Paul wants them to understand that this pursuit of worldly wisdom ironically made them foolish. In the second half of the first chapter, Paul reminds them that the Gospel excludes all boasting because we didn’t do anything to earn our salvation. It was all God’s grace. But it’s especially foolish to boast about worldly wisdom because worldly wisdom rejects the cross. So how could the Corinthians embrace something that was so fundamentally opposed to the faith that saved them? From Paul’s perspective, that doesn’t make any sense, and that sets the stage for what he says here. In verses one through five, Paul wants to drive home the fact that we owe everything to God, and he points to his own ministry as an example of that. So in these verses, he readily admits that when he came to Corinth, he did not look impressive, at least not by the standards that they accepted in their society. They loved the philosophers who enthralled the crowds with their rhetorical skills. And in verse one, Paul says, you know what? I fully admit that I didn’t come with that kind of eloquence. And then in verse three, he goes on to say, in fact, I came to you in weakness and in great fear. So what’s Paul talking about? Many scholars think Paul is referring to the rough go of it that he had before he got to Corinth. In Philippi. He had been imprisoned. And when he left Philippi, he went to Thessalonica, where the body of believers had to rush him out in the middle of night because they were afraid of what a mob might do to him. And then he got to berea. And pretty much the same thing happened. They had to rush him out of town because a mob from the Jewish synagogue had formed against him. And then he went to Athens and he had some success with the Gospel, but it was fairly limited. So many scholars think that by the time he gets to Corinth, he’s physically and emotionally beat up. And he looked other scholars think that he was just sort of overwhelmed with the responsibility of evangelizing this large city. But either way, Paul says that despite his weakness and despite his lack of eloquence, his message came with a demonstration of the Spirit and power. So what kind of demonstration was that? Well, some think that Paul worked a lot of miracles. He did a lot of miraculous signs and wonders, but that’s probably not the case, because if he was doing that, if everywhere he went in Corinth he was working miracles, he would have appeared powerful, not weak. So what’s he talking about? He’s probably pointing to the Spirit’s work in leading the Corinthians to faith. In other words, the fact that there was a church in Corinth was evidence that the Spirit had worked through him. But he’s really going one step further. He’s not just crediting the Holy Spirit, he’s going further and suggesting that his weakness was actually a good thing because it pointed people to God and made it clear that their faith rests in God alone, not in human wisdom. So how did that work? Why did his weakness have that effect? Well, I am not a particularly handy person, and pretty much anybody who knows me knows that about me. Well, a while back, the three way switch in our basement wasn’t working. And so I decided to fix it, or at least attempt to fix it. And I went across the street to ask our neighbor Kip if he had an electrical tester so that I could make sure the electricity was off at that switch. Seemed like a good idea for somebody like me, and he said he did. And as he started to walk to go get it, he looked back and asked if I wanted him to help me. And by help, he meant, do you want me to do it for you? I’m not sure if my reputation preceded me or if the look on my face suggested that maybe I wasn’t up to the task. Either way, Kip came over and fixed it for me. So why do I tell you that story? Well, if you knew that the switch didn’t work and you knew my history with repair jobs and you found out that it was now working just fine, you’d have a pretty good idea that Kip or someone else had come over and fixed it for me, because I just don’t have that kind of ability within me. Paul is making a similar point about his ministry. His weakness and lack of eloquence made it clear that he couldn’t take any credit for the fact that the Corinthians had come to faith. He just didn’t have that power within him. So the fact that they did come to faith pointed to God’s power, not his. His weakness highlighted the fact that it was God who did everything, because there’s no way it could have been him. And so as a result, it was clear that the Corinthians faith rested in God’s power, not any wise wisdom or words that might have come from Paul’s mouth. So what should we take away from that? Well, I think it should help us to see more opportunities to share our own faith. In Matthew 28, Jesus gave us the command to go make disciples. And that begins with somebody putting their faith in Christ. So in a real sense, we’re all called to be evangelists even if we’re not called to be missionaries. But I think most of us find that a pretty daunting call because we don’t feel up to the task. We’re worried that somebody might ask some questions that we don’t have the answers to or we’re worried that we’re going to meet such strong resistance and we’re not going to have any idea what to say to remove that resistance. And so as a result, we don’t see a whole lot of opportunities to share our faith because we’re focused on our limitations. But that changes when we realize that our limitations don’t limit the gospel. Jesus called us to go make disciples because God loves the lost. And he issued that call knowing full well that we don’t have the ability to lead anybody to faith any more than Paul did. So what are we to make of that? Well, I think we should expect God to be at work despite our limitations, just as he was at work and Paul despite Paul’s weakness. And what does that do to our perspective on our evangelistic opportunities? I think it ought to expand them because when we stop focusing on our limitations and on God’s power, we’re much more willing to join Him than when we’re focused on what we think that we can’t do. So the bottom line is that God is at work in the world and we should expect to see that. And when we do, it opens up greater opportunities for us to join Him in that work. But we miss out on that if we’re not paying attention because we’re focused on what we think that we can’t do. The bottom line is we need to expect God to be at work in the world because he loves the lost and he knows that we don’t have the power to bring them to faith. So we ought to expect Him to be right there along with us.
GOD HAS GIVEN US HIS HOLY SPIRIT
The second reason we ought to expect God to work is that he’s given us the Holy Spirit. We see that in verses six through 13. Essentially, the Holy Spirit, Paul says, was given to help us understand the things of God. And he goes on to explain how it is that we understand those things. But before we get there, we need to clear up a potential for misunderstanding. In verses six through nine, Paul introduces some terminology that causes some people to think that Paul divides Christians into two classes. So why would people think that? Well, he says that he imparts wisdom to the mature and then goes on to describe that wisdom in terms of a hidden mystery. So many people hear that and think that sounds like Paul saves the deeper truths, the really good stuff for those Christians who have reached a certain level of spirituality. But that’s not the case because if we take the second part of that first, what does Paul mean when he says hidden mystery? That he imparts a hidden mystery? Well, in other places, Paul uses mystery to describe God’s redemptive plan in Colossians or in Ephesians, for example, he describes that plan in terms of God revealing a mystery. And Paul doesn’t mean that we need to look for clues and put them together in order to understand God’s redemptive plan. What he means is from the beginning, god had always planned to save humanity through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. But initially that that plan was not revealed. That has only now been revealed in Christ. So it was previously hidden, but now it has been revealed. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee describes it this way. He says the term mystery ordinarily refers to something formally hidden in God from all human eyes, but now revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit. So all that means is that the hidden mystery that Paul is imparting is in essence the Gospel. And all of that helps us to understand who he’s referring to with the term mature. In essence, he’s referring to all believers. He’s not dividing two class. He’s not drawing a contrast between two classes of Christians. He’s drawing a contrast between Christians and the world. And we see that because he describes the contrast in verses eight and nine as being a contrast between the rulers of this age and those who God loves. And then, as we’ll see in a moment in verses 14 through 16, he describes the contrast in terms of those who have the Spirit and those who don’t. And because all believers have the Spirit, the contrast can’t be between two classes of Christians. It has to be between Christians and unbelievers. So the mature is the one who sees the Gospel as God’s wisdom as opposed to foolishness the way that the world does. So again, the mature is all believers. Some scholars think Paul chooses the word mature to describe believers because the corinthian who thought they were some sort of spiritual elite were using that term to describe themselves. And so Paul turns it around on them and uses it to describe all believers. And then in fact, he goes on to say that in essence, you who think you’re so wise are actually acting immature as if you don’t have the Spirit. That’s why at the start of chapter three, he calls them infants. They’re immature in the sense that they aren’t acting like those who have the Spirit. So he’s sort of tweaking them using their own term against them. So by mature, he’s saying that all believers have been imparted this wisdom, which is in fact the Gospel. So how is it that we are able to have this mystery come to us and understand it. Paul goes on to explain in verses ten through 13 in essence, it’s because of the Holy Spirit’s work in helping us to understand the things of God. So how is it that the Holy Spirit does that? Well, imagine that you had to write a speech for somebody you had never met and you know nothing about. How closely would you think that that speech would correspond to that person’s actual perspective on things? Probably not very close. A spouse might be able to do an okay job of reproducing their spouse’s thoughts on a subject, but even there, there still would be a gap, because we never truly know what is going on in someone else’s mind. There’s always a sense in which it’s a mystery to us that we don’t have full access to their thinking. But the situation is very different for the Holy Spirit and his relation to shift to God’s thoughts. Well, why is that? Why is the Holy Spirit able to search the depths of God? And why is the Spirit the only one who knows God’s thoughts? Well, it’s because the Spirit, too, is God. It’s verses like this that led the early Church to affirm the Trinity. Now, we don’t have the time or space to delve deeply into the doctrine of the Trinity, but from very early on, the Church affirmed the fact that the one true God exists exists in three persons father, Son and Holy Spirit. And although those three are separate persons, there’s such a profound unity among them that they are still one God. And it’s verses like this that led the Church to see that truth. And Paul’s point here is that because the Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit knows God’s thoughts perfectly, and as a result is able to convey those truths to us effectively. So what does that mean for us? Well, I think it means that when we open up God’s word, we ought to expect something to happen, because the Holy Spirit is there working to help us understand it. Now, Paul, in this passage, Paul is primarily talking about the Gospel. But the principle extends to all of God’s wisdom, including as revealed in Scripture. And why do we need the Spirit’s help there? Well, in part it’s because understanding what God is saying in His Word isn’t simply a matter of understanding the words on the page. Understanding includes an openness for us to see how those words apply to our own lives, and the Holy Spirit helps us to break down the resistance we might have to that. Consider Matthew 18, for example, where Peter asks Jesus how many times we ought to forgive someone, and Jesus says we ought to forgive 70 times, seven times. And that’s a figurative way of saying as many times as it takes. We don’t have any trouble understanding the words that are coming out of Jesus mouth there. We struggle to understand why he would say that because we have trouble forgiving someone who has hurt us even once, twice certainly is difficult. But 70 times, seven times, we struggle to hear that as applicable to our life. When we come in contact with somebody we need to forgive, there’s a resistance there, and the Holy Spirit helps us to see that no, that does apply, and he breaks down that resistance so that we are able to receive the passage the way it was intended. And that doesn’t just apply when we open the word at home. It applies what happens here on Sunday when Corey preaches. It’s not just Corey speaking, the Holy Spirit is speaking as well. And so I think that means that we ought to expect the Holy Spirit to direct our attention to certain things that he’s saying. Help us say, oh, yes, I get that now. Oh, I see how that applies. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to have this sort of earth shattering spiritual revelation every Sunday. Sometimes the Holy Spirit just helps us to understand something that we don’t quite know how that applies to us. But then later, that understanding helps us to understand another passage, and that in combination, helps us to understand something else. And then one day we realize that that combined understanding helps us to see God more clearly, understand better what he’s done for us, and our appreciation for Him grows. Sometimes that’s how the Holy Spirit works. But either way, we ought to expect that because the Holy Spirit is at work helping us to understand the wisdom that is inherent in the Gospel and embedded in His Word. And that lays the groundwork and dovetails into the third reason we ought to expect God to be at work.
GOD HAS GIVEN THE ABILITY TO BECOME MORE LIKE CHRIST
He hasn’t just given us the Holy Spirit, he’s given us the Holy Spirit so that we can become more like Christ. And we see that in verses 14 through 16. In those verses, Paul draws a strong contrast between those who have the Spirit and those who don’t. And that’s a common contrast for Paul to draw. For example, in Galatians five, he says that those who are led by the Spirit exhibit love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. In contrast, those who don’t have the Spirit exhibit all sorts of sinful tendencies, including envy, factions, dissension, ambition, fits of rage, jealousy. The bottom line is, the Holy Spirit makes a difference in somebody’s life. When the Holy Spirit is at work in someone, their life looks radically different from the rest of the world. In places in the New Testament, that sort of transformed living is referred to as imitating Christ. In chapter eleven, Paul will go on to tell the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. In Philippians, chapter two, Paul calls us to have the same attitude, the same selfless attitude that Christ exhibited in his sacrifice on the cross. One John, chapter two, says that those who claim to live in Christ ought to live like Christ. So how does that happen? How does that sort of transformed life come about? Well, in Romans twelve, Paul says it begins with a renewed mind. And how does that happen? Well, Paul clues us in here in these last two verses. It’s because of the Holy Spirit’s work giving us the mind of Christ. We mentioned before that the Holy Spirit is at work helping us to understand God’s thoughts as embedded in Scripture. And here, in essence, what Paul is saying is, as the Holy Spirit is expounding God’s thoughts to us, he’s really imparting to us the mind of Christ. How does that happen? Well, these verses have a heavy trinitarian note, just like they did with the Holy Spirit. In verse 16, Paul is alluding to a passage from Isaiah 40 where the mind of the Lord refers to the mind of God to Yahweh. And when he follows that up with the mind of Christ, he’s in essence equating the two, because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all are part of the one true God. When the Holy Spirit helps us to understand God’s wisdom, he’s helping us to understand Christ thoughts, it’s all the same. And that’s significant because it’s not just about understanding what a Bible passage means. It’s not just about having a good idea, a change that we need to be made in life. It’s about becoming more and more like Christ. So we ought to expect the Holy Spirit to be doing things in our life that are directed at that goal. How does that happen? Well, I think one way it happens is that the Holy Spirit leads us into opportunities to put into practice what he’s been teaching. I know that has happened in my life. This week I planned on multiple days to duck out of work a little bit early to spend some time preparing for today. But time and time again I ran into unexpected, almost inexplicable problems that prevented me from doing that. So as a result, I kept feeling like I was farther and farther behind and it was stressing me out. And why was it stressing me out? Well, it didn’t help that my wife was telling everybody she saw, oh, do you know Phil’s preaching? And you can watch it online. Church starts at ten, he’ll probably be on 1015, 1020, something like that. So why was I stressed out? Well, was it because I wanted to make sure that I was expounding God’s word faithfully? Hopefully some of that was in there, but if I’m honest, a lot of it was I didn’t want to get up here and look foolish, like I couldn’t put two thoughts together. I wish I could say that I responded to each of those incidents better than I did, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that they were happening. Why? Well, I spent the whole week reading about the pride that the Corinthians were having, in contrast to Paul’s humble reliance on God’s power. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was going to have opportunities to put that into practice. Each time I ran into one of those problems, it was as if the Holy Spirit was saying, what are you going to do? Are you going to rely on God or are you going to let Your pride get the better of you? Again, I wish I could say that I did a better job with that, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that that was what was going on. And it’s the same for all of us as the Holy Spirit is helping us to understand God’s wisdom as revealed in the Gospel and His Word, whether that’s here on Sunday or that’s in our devotionals throughout the week, we ought to expect that Holy Spirit is going to say, hey, did you notice that? And then during the week to say, hey, do you see how that applies here? Again, not just to get us to have sort of self improvement technique, but so that we can reflect Christ’s image more and more each day. So we began this morning by talking about the importance of paying attention. When we don’t pay attention, we miss opportunities to see God at work. And that affects our relationship with God because we miss opportunities to see Him at work in our life and to have a tangible expression of his presence. Doesn’t have to be that way. We can pay attention. It’s just a matter of whether we expect God to be at work or not. And this morning, Paul gave us at least three reasons that we ought to expect God to be at work. All we have to do is pay attention.
Let’s pray. Lord, we’re grateful that we know that you are at work in our lives. Lord, we ask forgiveness that’s too often we don’t notice that more because we’re not paying attention. Lord, I pray that your spirit would change that. That help us to be on the lookout for the ways that you are at work in the world and in our lives. And Lord, we pray that as we do that, that we would experience Your presence, that we would see greater opportunities to share our faith, and that we would look for opportunities to become more and more like you. We ask all this in Your name. Amen.