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Receiving the Truth of God

Michael Hardt

1 Corinthians 2

At first sight, it is a little hard to see why this chapter is placed between chapter 1 and chapter 3 of this letter: 

  • Chapter 1 mentions party spirit and the beginning of divisions. The Corinthians said: ‘I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ’ (v. 12). 
  • Chapter 3 continues the theme: ‘For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?’ (v. 4). 
  • Chapter 2, however, seems to deal with unrelated topics such as inspiration, the deep things of God, that which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, etc. 

But a little examination shows that all is in perfect order and God is, of course, always right. His wisdom shines, even in the way His communications are arranged.

Chapter 2, essentially, deals with the question of how the truth comes to believers. Three stages are identified: 

  • Inspiration: The apostles received, directly from God, the things that no eye had seen, no ear had heard but God had prepared for those that love Him (v. 9). What was the process involved? ‘God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit’ (v. 10). And let us never forget that only the Spirit of God is able to know, and to communicate, what is ‘the depths of God’ and ‘the things of God’ (vs. 10, 11). 
  • Communication: Through these communications received from the Spirit the apostles were in a position to know these things (v. 12) and to communicate them: ‘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. 13). The apostles passed on the truth received, word by word. This truth is often referred to as verbal inspiration. 
  • Reception: The third stage in the process is that of reception. The truth being fixed in divinely inspired words and letters is one thing; its reception into the heart is quite another. To natural man it is impossible: ‘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. 14). But does this mean that every believer is in a position to take in the thoughts and wisdom of God? By no means. One must not only be born again. Even being indwelt by the Spirit will not do. To take in the truth, one needs to be spiritual: ‘The spiritual discerns all things’ (v. 15). 

This last stage is where the Corinthians had failed, and without realising it. They were not spiritual but carnal (3:1). They were immature, could not handle solid food and, instead, needed ‘milk’ (3:2). How could Paul tell? It was very simple: ‘Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?’ (3:3). Don’t we all, and necessarily, walk as men? Not in the sense in which the expression is used here. Walking as men means without reference to God and His wisdom and teaching, the flesh unjudged. This was the deeper reason for the party spirit and contention among them: ‘For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?’ (v. 4).

In a nutshell, Paul had set out how the truth of God comes to us. In each of the three stages it is a work of the Spirit. All glory belongs to God (cf. 1:31). The Corinthians had no part to play in the first two stages: God had given the truth to the apostles and the apostles had communicated it (first orally and later in writing). The problem lay in the third stage, the reception of the truth. This is where the Corinthians were involved — and had failed!

Now we understand the reason for the digression of chapter 2. The Corinthians most likely pleased themselves in forming parties and imitating the ways of men and the wisdom of the world. The reality was that, in doing so, they only demonstrated that their minds were not formed by divine truth which, in turn, laid bare their carnal state. 

Seeing this line of argument not only helps us to take in the train of thought in this section of the epistle but also searches our hearts. By grace we are no longer ‘natural men’. We have been quickened. But are we spiritual? Do we allow the Spirit to act? To do this we need to expose ourselves to the light of the Scriptures and judge, in that light, what is contrary to God’s mind. The measure in which we do this is the measure in which the Spirit will be able to fill us and to teach us the deep things of God. 

Surely, it must be worthwhile. It keeps us from going astray. And it is an immense privilege to know the things ‘which none of the princes of this age knew … but according as it is written, Things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man’s heart, which God has prepared for them that love him’ (2:8–9). 

Why should we experiment with the world’s wisdom, the ‘wisdom’ of people who, clearly, had no clue, as Paul puts it: ‘for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (v. 8)? This would be looking for wisdom in the wrong place, and the result would be to ‘walk according to man’ (3:3). There is wisdom on offer that is far better far: ‘Christ Jesus, who has been made to us wisdom from God’ (1:30).