1 Corinthians, Part 1


Paul wrote a number of letters to the large metropolitan church in Corinth. That congregation was in trouble and needed some helpful advice, and it was up to Paul to set them straight.

In chapters 2 and 3, the great apostle writes about three different kinds of people: the person without the Spirit; the person with the Spirit; and infants in Christ.

The person without the Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:14 is a profound verse, and we’ll spend most of our time looking at it and it’s context –

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. (TNIV)

The non-Christian, or the person without the Spirit, is incapable of understanding “the things that come from the Spirit of God.” What that means is explained in the verses that preceded verse 14.

Paul had been, more or less, defending his preaching and reminding the Corinthians about the basics of Christian doctrine.

Dear brothers, even when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message. For I decided that I would speak only of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. I came to you in weakness-timid and trembling. And my preaching was very plain, not with a lot of oratory and human wisdom, but the Holy Spirit’s power was in my words, proving to those who heard them that the message was from God. I did this because I wanted your faith to stand firmly upon God, not on man’s great ideas. (1 Corinthians 2:1 – 5 TLB)

There arose in the Corinthian church a misunderstanding: Paul did not preach his own ideas while he was with them. The truth was the exact opposite, as Paul pointed out. In fact, he did NOT come to them using “lofty” words and “brilliant ideas.” That’s quite a statement for him to make. He was a highly educated man; a man of broad scholarship and wide learning. But he made a conscious decision to frame his preaching of the Gospel using only divine revelation. Preaching God’s way is always the simplest way to preach, and that was the first characteristic of the apostle’s preaching: it was simple; it was just the Word of God. God have given Paul the Gospel and Paul in turn gave it to the people in Corinth. He didn’t use theological double-talk or oratorical tricks. He side-stepped human philosophy in favor of the simple Word of God.

Here’s the second characteristic of Paul preaching: it was simply Christ-centered. He didn’t tell a lot of stories to prop up the simplicity of Christ crucified. Morris comments:

Preaching the gospel is not delivering edifying discourses, beautifully put together. It is bearing witness to what God has done in Christ for man’s salvation.

Paul’s preaching was also marked by things like concern. The concern was for the people of the Corinthian church, located in a completely pagan and corrupt city. He wasn’t afraid to preach the Gospel there, but at the same time he was aware of the duty he had to perform.

He preaching was also marked with power, that is, the power of the Spirit. Paul understood something many preachers today would do well to remember: a spiritual work must be done by spiritual means. With that in mind, he simply preached the Gospel, in the power of the Spirit. His preaching was not designed to impress people but to win converts and to ground them in the Word of God through the power of the Spirit. This is important. An experience based only on a moving talk or clever arguments can be replaced by the same kind of message from somebody else. But, the Gospel of the Cross of Christ is an objective truth from God’s unchanging and unchangeable Word, given in love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The person without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can’t makes sense of the Gospel. To him, it’s essentially gibberish. It’s gibberish because the Gospel – God’s Word – didn’t originate in the mind of any man but in the mind of God.

No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Corinthians 2:7 TNIV)

God’s wisdom cannot be comprehended by the sinful mind because it’s a “mystery.” As Paul used it, the word “mystery” is not something mysterious or a “who-done-it” story. It’s not a secret. The word “mystery” as used in the Bible refers to something which was not known in the past but is now revealed, and Paul wrote that “we declare” this mystery; the “we” being himself and the other apostles who were preaching the Gospel of the Cross. So Paul’s “philosophy” is God’s wisdom as it pertains to the Cross.

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—these things God has prepared for those who love him”— for God has revealed them to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10 TNIV)

Those two verses tell us something incredibly profound that is very disturbing to the modern liberal. According to Paul, there are just some things a person cannot learn using their senses. There are certain deep, spiritual truths that cannot be learned through reading (the eyes) or through hearing (the ears). There are certain things that no human being can grasp simply by human means. So nobody can “find” God by looking for Him and nobody can “learn themselves into salvation.” The things which God has prepared for those who love Him cannot be learned; they are revealed to a person through the Holy Spirit because only the Spirit knows the deep things of God.
That brings us to verse 14 and “the person without the Spirit,” or as the KJV says, “the natural man.” This unfortunate person cannot receive the things of God. Now, he may hear the things of God or he may read the things of God but without the work of the Holy Spirit, they are foolishness to him. The unsaved person finds the preaching of the Cross foolishness; the idea that one must be “born again” is foolishness to him.

The person with the Spirit

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments… (1 Corinthians 2:15 TNIV)

Remember why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and this verse will make all the sense in the world to you. He was writing to people caught up in their own pride and boasting.  Here in this church, the wealthy, powerful, and talented people had come to trust in themselves rather than in God. That’s not to say all wealthy and powerful people are in need of these kinds of admonitions, but the temptation for a person with talent and means to rely on those things rather than on God is a great one.

The unsaved person is totally unable to receive God’s Word, but the spiritual man – the born again person – can. The unsaved person judges the Word against the conclusions of his own bias because he doesn’t have the Spirit. By contrast, to the person with the Spirit, the things of the Spirit are plain. The Spiritual person is the opposite to the person without the Spirit because he is a new creation in Christ. His old life – his unspiritual self – is gone, having been replaced with a new nature and having been filled with the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would “teach them all things” (John 14:26).

This verse goes one step further than we’d expect, however. Not only can Spirit-filled people grasp spiritual things, but they are also capable of making judgments about “all things.” Does Paul mean to say that Christians are smarter than non-Christians? 1 Corinthians is a letter of contrasts: Worldly versus Spiritual, immature versus mature, and so on. The Spiritual person may or may not be more educated than a person without the Spirit, but he has something extra operating in his life: wisdom from above. It’s wisdom and discernment Paul is talking about here. The natural man doesn’t think straight about many things because he is unable to comprehend their true nature and purpose. This person is unable to see things in perspective because he either magnifies these things out of all proportion or their significance escapes him. The spiritual man, though, is able to see things in perspective, judging them against the standard of God’s Word. James wrote about exactly the same thing, but he used different terminology –

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13 – 17 TNIV)

But there’s more. If you think that’s surprising, how about this: The Christian, the spiritual man, is able to “judge,” that is, “investigate and value aright” the unsaved man, but not vice versa. When the unsaved make judgements of the saved, they’re wrong and make fools of themselves. It can’t be otherwise; he knows nothing of spiritual things, so how can he know anything about spiritual people? That’s why, for example, your unsaved friends and co-workers or even family members think you’re odd when you give generously to your church or when you go to church two or three times a week, or when you abstain from certain activities when they don’t see anything wrong with them.

To buttress this view of the saved versus the unsaved, Paul writes that what was true of God is also true of God’s people –

…for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16 TNIV)

Infants in Christ

The third type of person on earth is introduced in chapter three –

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:1 – 3 TNIV)

Are all Christians wise like the ones Paul wrote about? The evidence of our own experiences says no; there are plenty of Christians as dull witted as non-Christians. How is this possible?  The answer is simple: There are Christians who are worldly; they behave like people without the spirit, and Paul refers to these folks as “worldly,” or “mere infants in Christ.” These are what J. Vernon McGee calls “they unnatural Christian” or “the unnatural man.”

We learned about the natural man, also we learned about the spiritual man – whom we might call the supernatural man. Here we have the unnatural man. He is unnatural because while he is a Christian, he is still carnal.

The so-called carnal Christian, the “infant in Christ,” is the Christian who hasn’t grown up spiritually and by his worldly behavior he shows that he lacks spiritual discernment. This isn’t because he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling within; it’s because he is not growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. This happens when a Christian has little or no relationship with the Word of God and the Body of Christ. The worldly Christian has the ability to be a wise believer, but no desire to do what he has to do to achieve that wisdom. A baby has the desire to be an adult and to do adult things, but he has to do the things to get there – like drinking milk and eating healthy and getting exercise, and so on.

Lenski’s comments are priceless:

A person of this kind may be “in Christ” yet such a one ought to change this (worldly) condition as soon as possible. To have too much flesh is to have too little of the Spirit or the new life in Christ. Unless the flesh is greatly reduced and the Spirit increased, the latter will soon be smothered and killed.

These “infants in Christ” drove Paul crazy. Here was a prophet; a preacher of the Word whose desire was the desire of every preacher: To lead his congregation deeper into the things of God. But he couldn’t do that with these people! They hadn’t grown up, as evidenced by their baby-like behavior. This put Paul’s ministry with them in a kind of holding pattern. He had to continue spoon-feeing them spiritual baby food because they weren’t ready for the real meat-and-potatoes of the Word.

The logical question we should be asking ourselves is this: What kind of person am I?

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