1 Corinthians Ch. 2 – 3 Foundations

1 Corinthians Ch. 2

Reid A Ferguson


A few weeks ago when we began this study – we were introduced to the 1st Century city of Corinth. A thriving multi-port city that had everything one could wish for – at least in earthly terms.

Wealth, art and culture abounded. It was a city that thrived on intellect, success, fame, self-promotion and sex. It didn’t abide fools, bumpkins, or anyone who wasn’t striving for recognition among the social elites.

The Apostle Paul went there to plant the Church of Jesus Christ. To preach the Cross of Jesus to a people who thought they had it all, and a salvation that stood in stark contrast to everything they held dear.

And it worked!

In a culture smug in its superiority – that loved its sports, its politics, its money and its immorality – within 18 months Paul had established a thriving band of Believers. A Church we saw in the opening to this letter that flourished in “all speech and knowledge” – rich with spiritual gifts.

But it was a Church which was also deeply troubled by a host of issues.

Topping the list of those issues was its fractured membership. Beginning to mirror its culture, it was a church which had divided itself up in cliques. Each group clinging to its identification with various figures like Paul himself, Peter, Apollos and even Jesus. Each vying for some measure of recognition and superiority over the others. And Paul seeks to address this problem head on before he even begins to touch on the other matters he was aware of, and that they themselves had written to him about.

And as Jim so ably unfolded for us last time – the first thing Paul does is take aim at what was threatening to tear them apart and lose the witness for Christ in that city. Thus we saw for ourselves as well how God graciously destroys our self-confidence – so that our confidence is in Christ alone. Confidence in their factions, in their heroes, in their intellect, in their goodness, and in their imagined status over and against each other – all of it needed to be abandoned. NEEDS, to be abandoned. For God receives us only in, and because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Church is not rooted in its own perceived wisdom, power, goodness, status or accomplishment. It is founded upon the finished work of Christ to reconcile lost and justly condemned sinners to the Living God through faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the Cross. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.

But Paul’s work in healing these factions has only just begun. In fact, as we turn to chapter 2, we see how he needs to put 3 critical foundation stones in place, before he can tackle the faction problem more directly. That is what brings us to our text this morning.

Now the passage breaks itself up fairly naturally in discussing 3 problems which lurk below the surface. The disease underlying the symptom of division in the Church.

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.
  4. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.

Paul had done his homework. He knew what made Corinthian society hum. And he took aim at it in the very way he approached ministry there. So he reminds his readers and us of the 3 things he intentionally avoided in bringing them the Gospel:

  1. 1 Cor. 2:1-2 He made no impressive presentation:

1 Corinthians 2:1–2 ESV / And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Knowing Corinthian culture and how they placed such great value on people sounding smart and “with it” – he intentionally went in the opposite direction.

He wanted nothing to get in the way of their ultimate need, and his ultimate aim – to reconcile them to God through the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

What did that look like? Paul will recount it in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 ESV / For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Nothing in all the world is more important for anyone to know than these things: Who Jesus is, why He came and what He did. Everything in Biblical Christianity flows out of this incredibly simple declaration.

Paul is a strategist and loves this approach of opposites. On Mars Hill where the culture was all about hearing something new, he stood up and said: “I’m going to tell you about something you already know – but don’t know well enough – your “unknown god.” And here, where high ideas spoken by gifted speakers ruled the day – he started with the simple, unadorned Gospel. He refused to feed into their appetite, but aimed at creating a new one.

He aimed at making no impressive presentation – so as to spotlight the message rather than the medium.

  1. 1 Cor. 2:3 He refused to present himself as an impressive person:

1 Corinthians 2:3 ESV / And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

When Paul got to Corinth, he was arriving after facing a raft of difficulties. Rabid opposition had turned everything to chaos in Philippi. In Thessalonica, a riot broke out and he had to be secretly dispatched. Things at Berea started out better, but then trouble-makers from Thessalonica arrived and the brothers sent him away again. At Athens, the response is tepid.

Years ago I sort of always thought of the Apostle Paul a bit like Yosemite Sam – coming into town guns blazing and taking no prisoners. But then I read this, or 2 Cor. 10:10 where he admits his detractors say his in-person persona is weak and he is not a great orator.

Trauma leaves its mark. At this point Paul was no doubt a bit gun shy. In 1972 I was mowing a lawn when I slipped on the grass and lost a portion of a toe to the power mower. And to this day I cannot see or hear a power mower without a certain inward twinge.

After a number of beatings, riots, threatenings and narrow escapes, can we imagine Paul unfazed? No. Now it didn’t stop him, but it didn’t make him look like much in human terms either. And He let that weakness be seen.

From the text here we gather that he did not try to pass himself off as a person to be admired, followed or emulated – but as a weak and trembling man simply relying on a great Savior. The message, not the man took precedence.

  1. And 3rd, 1 Cor. 2:4 He made no attempts at making the message more plausible – why in earthly wisdom it should be believed.

1 Corinthians 2:4 ESV / and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

The message was sufficient on its own – preached within the Biblical framework. As he would remind us in his letter to the Romans – he was not ashamed of the Gospel because IT – THE MESSAGE – is the very power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16)

The demonstration of its power being nothing other than the changed lives it produced. It raised people from spiritual death to new life in Christ. It caused people to be born again.

Now don’t get me wrong, he never tried to obscure the message or detract from it any other way either. He didn’t work to make it objectionable – just clear and not dependent upon anything other than the Holy Spirit creating life in the hearers by it. Clarity was always a concern. So he says in Colossians 4:3–4 ESV / At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

He made no impressive presentation;

Didn’t advance himself as an impressive person;

And refused to try to make the message plausible – more reasonable – to unaided human reason.

All 3 of which had evidently begun to seep into the Church there from the culture – and were contributing to competition and factions in the Church.

And here is a massive warning needed in our own day.

Christian, do not center your own Christian life around ministries that major on slick presentations, magnetic and persuasive personalities or what might sound like high-flying insights: Keep to the Gospel, the simple, unadorned Gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving work to bring to you the Father in due time – robed in His righteousness.

  1. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.

Now Paul had already mentioned in Ch. 1 that the message of the cross is foolishness to most people, and that God Himself ordered this world so that unassisted by the Spirit, people cannot reason themselves to God’s means of salvation.

We read the same thing in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17  / “When I tried to gain wisdom and to observe the activity on earth— even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or night— then I discerned all that God has done: No one really comprehends what happens on earth. Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it. Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.” NET

But when the Church losses its confidence in the message of the Cross, or, as in this case they were laboring in a culture that put an excessively high premium on logic and human persuasiveness, the temptation is to try and strip away anything from the Gospel which seems contrary to a thoughtful, logical, scientifically oriented mind.

And this has remained a problem in every generation.

So some try to downplay the parts of Scripture which others might find troubling. Let’s deny or modify special creation. Make Noah’s flood merely local. Skip the bits about angelic visitations, Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus walking on the water, etc.. Let’s make our message more palatable to the rational mind and get rid of the supernatural bits. So Jesus dies as a great example but not as an actual substitutionary blood sacrifice in our place. And His resurrection is just a spiritual thing, not physical. Let’s make salvation merely a matter of intellectually assenting to a certain set of religious propositions rather than insisting – like Jesus – that one “must be born again” – when that is an act of God after all and we have no control over it. Let’s make the whole thing plausible to an unregenerate mind. Never mind if it is what the Bible teaches, can we make it sound OK? Can we make it acceptable to people who are still enemies of the Living God?

But it can’t be done – no matter how many times it has been tried. Because it isn’t God’s method. His, is to preach this bare message, and leave it to the Holy Spirit to make it reasonable by opening their eyes to the truth of it all. But that WILL exclude us from certain company. It will not gain the Church its highest acceptance in society. And it will create and artificial elite within the ranks of the Church. The intellectual elite who know better than to buy all this supernatural stuff, but let the hoi polloi cling to it if they need to. And these elite then can rub shoulders with the more sophisticated in society having rejected the stuff of the low-brow, slack-jawed Luddites.

That said – Paul goes on to say we DO NOT speak utter nonsense, but true sense – to the awakened soul. 1 Cor. 2:6-7

1 Corinthians 2:6–7 ESV / Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

The word mature here isn’t meant to bring up the issue of age, but one of capacity.

You can discuss the properties of the visible spectrum all day long with a blind person, but they cannot see that light, even though they can understand every single scientific fact and concept. Apart from the faculty of sight, the facts remain true, but simply talk.

So as our text here says, to those who have been born again, the realities surrounding Christ and the cross make perfect sense, they are realities, not mere theories or ideas. This is the hidden or secret wisdom which He alone imparts to us by opening our eyes. And He designed it this way that our glory comes from Him, from His “well done” on the final day and not from men as though the one with the highest intellect is the most spiritual.

So John Flavel would write: “All other knowledge is natural, but this wholly supernatural, Mat. 11:27. “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The wisest Heathens could never make a discovery of Christ by their deepest searches into nature; the most eagle-eyed philosophers were but children in knowledge, compared with the most illiterate Christians.”

So, 1 Cor. 2:8 goes on

1 Corinthians 2:8 ESV / None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But men cannot know these things with bare intellect – thus 1 Cor. 2:9-10  ESV / But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

The significance of Paul referring to Isa. 64 here is that it is a passage proclaiming the seeming impossible restoration and salvation of God’s people in light of their sin and captivity. No one would ever imagine God could make a way! But out of the hidden depths of His magnificent mercy and grace – He makes a way. And it is the express domain of the Spirit to make that impossibility known to us.

The glories and benefits of the saving work of Jesus Christ – these are the deepest things in the heart and mind of God – 1 Corinthians 2:10–11 ESV / these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

These are what the Spirit of God alone searches out and knows and what He alone reveals to us. And this is why the Spirit of God is given: 1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV / Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

Did you get that last phrase? We must have the Spirit of God within us, in order to understand the things which are freely given to us by God in Christ.

Seeing Jesus for who He is and what He has done; God as Creator; Mankind as created; Mankind as rebelliously fallen; God’s plan of reconciliation; Jesus Christ the substitute and risen Lord; The gift of The Spirit; The truth of The Word; The reality of coming judgment; Resurrection; Heaven and Hell; The Church of the redeemed – only the Spirit knows all of God’s mind, and only the Spirit can bring that light to ours.

Apart from this quickening, this awakening by the Holy Spirit – they remain words we can understand, but realities we do not possess.

This is why there are so many today who claim Christianity in one form or another, who nevertheless live as though the Spirit of God is not in them leading them to love and live in holiness. And why their Christianity consists not in growing into the image of Christ and seeking to walk intimately with Jesus and arrive at an eternal destiny in the presence of their redeeming God – but who are driven more by social issues, bare morality, and a fixation on how God can simply make my life better, or this world a better place.

This is why so many who claim to be Christians and sit in Christian pews week after week are in fact still dead in their trespasses and sins. Because we have made salvation a matter or mere reason, and abandoned the need for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in bring men and women to new life in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

And that brings us to Paul’s 3rd foundation stone:

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.

This obviously is an extension of the previous 2.

Those who have been given the Spirit, have their eyes opened to the truth of all that the Bible teaches – especially in relation to the person and saving work of Jesus Christ – and then we – we instruct one another in THESE things, with the Biblical language and concepts He has given us: 1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV / And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

And here is a most timely word to us. For as it was then, so it is on our own day that people will say “I’m not religious”, or “I don’t subscribe to organized religion”, or “I don’t go to Church”, but: “I’m spiritual.”

But as our text notes we use a Spirit bred vocabulary which the world sometimes tries to borrow, but in fact strips of the meaning God has given to it.

For this is the Biblical reality: No one is “spiritual” unless they have been born again by the Spirit of God, and given new life in Christ – believing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one. No matter how nice, how sensitive, how religious sounding, etc.

Once again the lines become blurred and even the Church can become comprised of a largely unregenerate membership when we accept as “spiritual” that which God says is NOT spiritual – but merely natural.

And when this happens, the words, the ideas, the teachings and methods of people who claim this spirituality, are accepted into the Church and the insistence upon the Gospel, upon regeneration, the authority of God’s Word, upon the pursuit of Christ and eternal life with Him – become mixed, muddled, and eventually lost altogether. It ALWAYS results in one of two things – or both: Legalism, because Christianity becomes external moralism rather than Spirit motivated holiness – or Cross-less political correctness bowing to the trends of the culture.

Biblical words and concepts like redemption, regeneration, salvation, justification, righteousness, holiness, penal substitution, resurrection and even faith and God – all get reinterpreted and robbed of their true significance and power.

The truth is: 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV / The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Evangelism and proselytizing are looked upon askance and as unspiritual because they call people to know they are sinners who need to be redeemed by grace. Biblical truths declare some things are really wrong, some views are really wrong, some lifestyles are really wrong, some religions are really wrong – and people are lost and undone apart from Christ.

But when the Church can no longer differentiate between those who profess Christianity but manifest nothing of His Spirit changing them – bringing the loves into them that the Spirit invariably does for His Word, His people and confidence in the revelation His Word brings – then the Church loses all of its power and authority to preach the Gospel and call men to salvation.

It cannot help but degenerate into a mere social and religious organization – with some priority other than seeing people reconciled to God through the Gospel – and seeking the glory of God in all things through the revelation of Him in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Paul is going to show what this failure looks like as he opens up ch. 3. When spiritual men and women begin to act as though they are still only natural. It brings wicked division.

Now the truth is – the truly spiritual – those supernaturally in Christ, will always be misunderstood by those outside of Christ – no matter what they profess.

1 Corinthians 2:15 ESV / The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.

I saw a movie this week where a little boy of about 10 witnessed a terrible crime. But when he was brought to be questioned by the Police, he was completely uncooperative. At first they chalked it up to shock. But in time they began to suspect he was withholding for some reason – and was being stubborn in not answering a single one of their questions. As exasperation grew and they were about to get really tough on him for his unresponsiveness – one of the Policemen got an idea. And kneeling down before the lad he made a gesture with his hand. And the little boy smiled and gestured back. He wasn’t being stubbornly unresponsive, he was totally deaf, couldn’t read lips, didn’t know sign language. And, he was scared out of his wits. Once they knew his condition, all of his actions made perfect sense. But until then, they were all misinterpreted.

The World, natural men and women, will not understand why we do what we do at times. They cannot. Even though we can fully understand why they do what they do. We were there once too. We know what it was to be blind back then. To be bound in darkness and sin. To think these things of Christ silly and senseless. We get it. They can’t.

So Paul puts a final label on that difference: 1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV / “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

This is the great dividing line in all of humanity – those who have the “mind of Christ” the Spirit of Christ, and those who do not.

As the Church we must be willing to retain the reality that people are not all the same. That there are those who are born again, who have the Spirit and the mind of Christ – those who are spiritual, and those who are not – those who are natural. It does not make the spiritual superior, it only makes them recipients of grace. A grace that moves them to desire the same for the others. It calls us to compassion, understanding, but also to say they cannot be considered as part of the Church so as to have influence in its call, mission or message.

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.

While we’ve made a few applications along the way, let me take a moment to leave us with just a couple of very important takeaways.

  1. Very briefly, do not be taken in by what is so often labeled as “spiritual” out there.

If they will not make a bold profession of saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary atonement on the Cross – accepting the whole of the Word of God as authoritative and true – and pursuing a life of holiness – they are NOT spiritual, but natural. Fallen man apart from Christ. And their lessons and teachings are to be rejected as not having any true spiritual import. Not when it comes to salvation and life in Christ.

I cannot emphasize this enough beloved. It may be clothed in Bible terms, they may say “Jesus” etc. But everything hinges on the true Gospel and submission to Christ as Lord. Apart from that, do not receive them as spiritual authorities in your life.

There are books, programs, shows, podcasts and articles galore which purport to be Christian, but have nothing to do with leading you to greater trust in Jesus, the fullness of His work on the Cross, His Word and growing in Christ – and everything to do with secrets to success, power, money, happiness and well-being – as though they are legitimate after-market add-ons to give you the REAL Christian life. DON’T BUY IT! If they don’t take you back to Christ and the Cross, they are fakes.

2 – And of absolute supreme importance – Let no one ever make you ashamed of or shy away from the simplicity of the Gospel.

No, it doesn’t sound cool. It cannot be made to sound cool and retain its power.

The message of the Cross is that all humankind has rebelled against God the creator by wanting to be lords over our own lives, and that we are guilty and condemned before Him. That we need a savior to rescue us. That salvation is beyond our power to accomplish. And the only savior God has provided is Jesus Christ, God in human flesh – dying on the cross to take the just punishment due to us for our sins. And that His satisfaction of the Father on our behalf must be received by faith in the power of that work alone to reconcile us to the Father. He alone is the truth, the life and the way, and no man can come to the Father but by Him.

And that salvation rests in being reconciled back to God in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Never let that simple message be obscured for any reason. It is in fact foolishness to others until the Spirit uses it to open their eyes. But don’t try to escape the raw reality of it.

You don’t have to make some snazzy presentation.

You don’t have to be a great speaker.

You don’t have to pretend to have everything together, know all the answers or defend every objection.

You just have to state the facts as clearly and simply as possible. And look to the Holy Spirit to make it real to their souls.


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