The Mind of Christ

A look at 1 Corinthians 2

If somebody came to you and asked you to come to dinner, what time would you show up?  It all depends on how you were raised, what part of country you were raised in, and even your parent’s ethnic origin.  Sometimes “dinner” refers to the meal at midday.  Other times “dinner” is the meal we eat in the evening.  The key is understanding what the word “dinner” means to the person using it.

The same thing is true of the Holy Spirit and understanding what His work is in our lives and in our church.  If Christians are to live in unity and be at peace with one another, knowing the work of the Holy Spirit is essential.

1.  A little background

Key in understanding “the mind of Christ” and the ministry of the Holy Spirit begins with what Paul wrote back in 1:17,

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

The Apostle’s point is a simple one.  Salvation is wholly a work of God, a result of what Jesus did on the Cross.  Because of this, Paul came to the Corinthians relying, not on his own knowledge or abilities,which were considerable,  but on the Holy Spirit, and when he preached to them, he did so simply, taking great care to keep the focus on Jesus, not on himself.

That’s the context for the opening verses of chapter 2:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed 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 fear, and with much 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 men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (verses 1-5)

These are amazing words, coming from one as learned as Paul was.  He was, in fact, highly educated, probably more educated than any of the proud Corinthians.  Yet he made a conscious decision that, when he came and preached to them, he would do so in a simple way.  He could have framed the Gospel in human terms, relying solely on his own abilities and education, but he decided to rely on “divine revelation,” the mind of Christ.

Paul, however, is not anti-education.  When Paul says,  I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified, we must be careful to not wrongly apply that phrase.  Paul would know nothing but Christ in contrast to the philosophies running rampant in the pagan city of Corinth, and that had been so popular among the Christians in the Corinthian church.  To know Christ alone was to show the useless pride of those spouting heathen philosophies, which did nothing to advance man’s spiritual state.  Only the Cross of Jesus could change a life, and this is the message Paul is trying to put across here.  It was the message of the Cross that transformed Paul’s life and put him on a course of full-time ministry for Christ.

The first five verses show Paul to be a very humble man who, despite his great education and amassed knowledge, found it necessary to depend completely on Christ.  What a lesson to all of us; no amount of human achievement can take the place of or do the work of Christ in our lives.  Years later, Paul would write a similar thing to his friends in Philippi:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

In verse five, Paul gives the reason for his simple presentation of the Gospel and for his complete reliance on the Holy Spirit.  The gift of faith does not begin with human wisdom or understanding and its continues presence in ones life is not dependent on human wisdom or understanding.   In fact, Jesus said something significant:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  (John 16:13)

The fact is, if faith depended on human wisdom or understanding, it would disappear.  That’s why one’s faith depends on God’s power, and that power is the result of the preaching of the Word.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.  (Romans 10:17)

2.  Human knowledge vs. divine revelation, 2:6-8

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom 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.

Paul, as if to head off an accusation that he was anti-education, makes the statement in verse six that he did speak a message of wisdom, but it was not man’s wisdom, it was the wisdom of God, revealed through the Holy Spirit, to him and the other disciples.  The thing about God’s wisdom is that is is understood only by those who belong to Christ.

This is an important thought in Paul’s writings.  The more mature one is in their faith, the more they will understand the things of God.  It is as though the wisdom that comes from God is not something that can be taught so much as it is discerned  by those who are “mature.”  The Greek word used here is teleioi and refers to one who has reached a goal, and in this case one who is spiritually mature.

In stark contrast to man’s wisdom, Paul says it comes to nothing.  He means that those who rely on that kind of wisdom experience only futility.  Donald Metz:

Man’s knowledge cannot bring about the redemption of the race, nor can it achieve peace, prosperity, and permanent security for us.

Verse seven is one of those verses people love to quote but don’t understand.   Darby’s translation is helpful:

But we speak God’s wisdom in  mystery

God’s wisdom, Paul wrote, is a mystery, or “hidden in mystery.”  Paul was not suggesting that the wisdom of God is a puzzle or a riddle or contained in secret codes, or even that the things of God are difficult to understand.  For Paul, God’s wisdom was only a mystery to people who tried to grasp it using human methods.  Again, Metz’s comments shed some light on this issue surrounding God’s “mysterious wisdom.”

Paul used the term mystery (mysterion) in the sense that human reason was unable to penetrate or discover it.  Paul also used the term in the sense of something hidden from the person not initiated into the group.

That so-called “initiation” is the moment of rebirth.  At that moment, the things of God become clearer and clearer as one grows in their faith into Christian maturity.  This is why the wisdom of God’s Word is a “secret” wisdom:  those who reject Christ cannot understand it.

The intricacy and power of God’s wisdom lies in the fact that it was in His mind in eternity past.  The Gospel–the plan of man’s redemption, the Cross of Christ, which Paul is referencing–was not some hastily planned way to save man.  It was, in fact, a carefully plotted and planned event before the dawn of time.

Those who crucified Christ could not see God’s wisdom, for if they had, they would not have crucified Him.  That is striking indictment on the religious rulers of the day; men who knew the Scriptures and taught them!  This further shows one can have all the tools, but without knowing how to handle the tools, they are worthless.

3.  Hoisted by their own petard, verse 9

However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him”

Verse 9 is important, but a lot of people skip right over it.  It is actually a quote from Isaiah 64:4, and what Paul is saying is actually very simple, profound, and damning all at the same time.  Let’s consider the quote from Isaiah, because here differs from the wording in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Hebrew text looks like this:

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has  perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

Why the discrepancy?  Some scholars see Paul quoting from memory the Isaiah passage and mixing in three other references:  Isaiah 52:15; 65:17; Jeremiah 3:16.  Paul is making reference to three parts of the human body:  eyes, ears, and mind (or heart) in negative terms.  God’s wisdom (“what God has prepared”) refers to His plan of salvation.  Knowledge of that plan does not originate in the words of a sermon or the advice of another man.  It cannot be discerned using the natural parts of the human body, like the eyes, ears, or the mind.  Like the religious leaders who crucified Jesus, a person can read the Bible, study the Scriptures, but without being led by the Holy Spirit–without being born again–the essential plan of God’s redemption will be lost.  Individuals like that may grasp Biblical history and wondrous Biblical concepts like “love thy neighbor” and the like, but the meaning of the Cross and its implications for mankind will not be seen or understood.

A great source of comfort to the Corinthians, and to readers today, is the final phrase, for Paul informs his readers in no uncertain terms of what God has prepared for those who love Him:  salvation.   Elsewhere, Paul wrote:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

The power of verse nine is that God has done two things.  First, God is the originator of our salvation.  And second, we love Him.  God’s plan of salvation is wholly His own and He gives this gift to whomever He wills, regardless of their merit.  This plan has been revealed in His Word from the beginning, but in the fullness of time and with the coming of Christ, the marvelous plan of salvation has been made crystal clear.  The demonstration of our love to God occurs when we realize all that He did for us because then, and only then, have we grown sufficiently in our faith to see the Truth.  The more you know about God, the more you love Him, and the more your eyes are opened.

4.  The hinge, verse 10a

but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

This is the verse that ties all of what Paul has been saying together.  The plan of salvation, the ways of God, the truth of God’s Word have been revealed to all believers by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit prepares us to receive the truth of the Gospel and leads us to Christ.  Note the depth of what Paul has said:  God the Father reveals the work of the the Son upon the Cross by the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is at work the plan of salvation.  All man does is receive it.

The only person who can tell us the truth about God is the Holy Spirit.  The mind of Christ can only be achieved when we are mature in our faith and when we are listening what the Spirit is saying to us.

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