Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread; Defining the
Part of the definition was that the church has been “called” by God.
So the next concern is how the recognition of this calling comes through the Spirit (ch2 vv6-13).
v6 In the previous chapter, Paul was describing the Wisdom of God in negative terms, as something which was “not the wisdom of the world”.
Since it was not the wisdom of the world, it could not be known by human wisdom.
This also means, as he now adds, that it could not be known by “the rulers of this world”.
There’s a long-standing debate about the meaning of this phrase.
He tells us later that they crucified the Lord of glory.
One school of thought believes that he’s referring to spiritual powers.
These are mentioned in Ephesians, which refers to the ARCHON who dominates the air (Ephesians ch2 v2) and to the different kinds of rulers “in
heavenly places” (Ephesians ch6 v12).
But every part of Paul’s description in this verse can also be understood of human rulers.
He calls them the ARCHONS, and Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem that they and their ARCHONTES acted in ignorance in the killing of Jesus (Acts ch3
He says they are “of this AEON”, and he says the same thing about the “wise” in the previous chapter, that they are the debaters “of this
AEON” (ch1 v20).
He says they will be “brought to nothing”, and he says the same thing in the previous chapter about the “wise and powerful”, in human terms,
who are to be displaced by the “low and despised “(ch1 v28).
So there is no real reason why these comments about the “rulers” should not be taken as a continuation of the first chapter’s criticisms of
human wisdom and power.
We can test this conclusion by considering what Paul says about them in v8
Why would the rulers not
have crucified Jesus if they had understood God’s Wisdom?
For those who take the rulers to be spiritual powers, the traditional explanation is that “understanding” God’s intention would have warned them
that the plan was a danger to themselves.
They would have detected the ambush and found a way to escape it.
This explanation might be applicable to human rulers as well, but I think there’s a better alternative.
The immediate cause of the crucifixion was the hostility of the rulers.
But the hostility of human rulers would surely be the consequence of their ignorance of God’s Wisdom.
If they had been capable of understanding God’s Wisdom, then they would have known God.
And if they had known God, they must have ceased to be hostile.
And if they were no longer hostile, it would follow that “they would not have crucified the Lord”
Meanwhile it seems to me that the “spiritual powers” explanation breaks down on the other side of the question;
If they did not recognise the mission of Jesus, why would they bother
to put him to death?
There was no obvious reason for them to be taking special action against an unknown human.
Whereas the human rulers had easily understandable human motives (he was getting in the way).
We learn from v9, finally, how their failure illustrates the point that the heart of man
cannot conceive the plans of God, which seems to
settle the matter.
That comment can only be relevant if the rulers have the hearts of men.
v7 Moving on to the positive understanding of God’s Wisdom;
What has God planned, and how do we know about what God has planned?
On the first point, the purpose of God’s Wisdom was that we should be “glorified”, brought closer to himself.
This was a decision made “before the ages”, but kept “hidden” by the fact that it was inaccessible to human wisdom.
So the disclosure of God’s purpose now is the revelation of a “mystery”.
In the religious language of the time, a “mystery” was a piece of secret knowledge, revealed only to a select few.
In the case of this mystery, the select few are the Christians who understand the message of the gospel.
(In the previous verse, Paul called them “the mature”, “the perfect”, meaning those who are not following the wisdom of this world.)
v10 How can we know about these things?
They’re not accessible to human wisdom, and so not known to the wise and the powerful, but to us
(placed emphatically) God has revealed
The knowledge comes to us by the Spirit, because the Spirit knows everything about God.
v11 We need to consider carefully how
the Spirit acquires this knowledge.
It can be compared with the way that a man’s own spirit knows everything that a man knows.
For in just the same way (HOUTOS KAI) the Spirit knows everything that God knows.
Paul does not mean to say that the two relationships are identical; the Spirit of God is not to God exactly what a man’s spirit is to a man.
But the point is that the two relationships are as close
. That is how the Spirit’s knowledge of God can be so complete.
This comparison makes it impossible for us to detach the Spirit from God, dismissing it as a “force” or an agent.
For your own spirit is not a force or an agent. Your spirit is you, and that is how your spirit knows what you know.
If the Spirit of God knows what God knows in the same way that your own spirit knows what you know, then the Spirit must be God.
vv12-13 So our understanding of the gifts of God comes from the fact that we have received the Spirit of God, who knows everything that God knows.
Whereas if we had received a spirit “of the world”, we would only know what the world knows.
This means that the teaching of the gospel is about interpreting “spiritual things to spiritual people” (at least that’s probably the best
translation of a slightly ambiguous phrase).
In other words, the understanding of God’s Wisdom is possible because, and only because, the Spirit of God is present at both ends of the
transaction; when the teacher is teaching in “words taught by the Spirit”, the truth in the words is recognised by the Spirit already received by
the people who hear them.
This would seem to explain what Paul meant at the beginning of the chapter, when he told the Corinthians that his preaching had not been “in
plausible words of wisdom”, but had been presented to them “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (vv4-5).
That is, presumably, the Spirit’s power to bring conviction.
v14 Since the knowledge of these things comes through the Spirit, it cannot be known to a man who doesn’t have the Spirit’s help.
And that is why “the wise men of this world”, as Paul was telling us in the previous chapter, can only regard God’s Wisdom as “folly”.
We can now tie together the teaching of these two chapters in this way;
We learn in the first chapter that God called the church, and that he called the church through the event of the Cross, a great paradox which the
world cannot understand.
The message of the second chapter is that we cannot(therefore) know about this calling, or gain any understanding of the Cross, except through the
Spirit of God.
Therefore the “calling” of the church is something which only becomes possible through the Spirit.