The point of much of this chapter is that the method God uses to bring the Gospel and the message of the Gospel must match. If God's goals are spiritual, so are His methods.
Verse 1, "not with excellency"
The word "excellency," huperocheen, is translated as "authority" in I Timothy 2:2. Paul is saying that he did not come to them emphasizing his position as an apostle or leader in the church. Paul certainly had authority, but what he said when he was in Corinth was truth that stood on its own merits and was not dependent on his authority. Any faithful believer should see the problem with the Corinthian church and present the same solution. The issue is spiritually clear, and any spiritual person would say the same thing to them that he did.
"the testimony of God"
This phrase means that what Paul declared to them is God's testimony and not his own personal wisdom.
1. This phrase can be understood as the testimony that belongs to God because it is about Him. It is not just some made up philosophy or clever fiction. Paul tells what God actually did in history. The word "testimony" is martyrion which emphasizes giving up. This is what God did in Jesus Christ (John 15:13, II Cor. 8:9, Phil. 2:7,8).
2. This phrase can also be understood as the testimony which God Himself makes. God Himself is talking to them. They do not accept or reject Paul. They accept or reject God (II Cor. 5:20).
Verse 2, "determined not to know...save Jesus Christ..."
This does not mean that the historical event of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is all that Paul talked about, but that it was the theme or hope of all that he said. Whether he talked about Christ's return or an Old Testament passage, it all related somehow to the cross.
The determination Paul expressed here meant that he spent time and energy to do this. It was his interest. He was deliberate in how he proceeded.
"and him crucified"
This phrase, which accompanies the words "Jesus Christ," could be rendered "crucified though He was." It implies that Paul declared Jesus Christ as someone who appeared weak and defeated in the world's eyes. Paul did not engage in some great selling job. He did not have to dress up the message to attract people. He just brought the truth and let the chips fall where the may. The death was ugly and horrid because our sins were. Jesus Christ on the cross represented us who are weak. But the full story goes on to victory as Paul expands in Chapter 15.
Verse 3, "in weakness"
This refers to his infirmities (II Cor. 11:30, "infirmities"; II Cor. 12:5,9 (twice),l0 "weakness", "infirmities"). Paul, as all of us are, was a weak human vessel (II Cor. 4:7). He seemed to have made a particularly poor physical impression among the Corinthians (II Cor. 10:10, 11:6).
Paul knows what is at stake spiritually. This word refers to his concern that they believe what he says for fear that the wrath of God will be visited upon them (Luke 12:6; II Cor. 5:11).
This refers to the proper attitude of a sinner before Almighty God (Mark 5:33; Eph. 6:5). Knowing the appointment sinners have with an authority who is all powerful and who is a judge, Paul trembles for them as he brings the Gospel to them. Also, from Philippians 2:12,13, this word refers to the attitude of amazement and awe toward an Almighty God who continues to do His will in us. Christians, motivated by a spiritual insight to the great spiritual calamity of man, ask as they bring the Gospel: "Who is sufficient for this?" (II Cor. 2:16) The answer is in II Cor. 3:5, "God is our help."
Our witness is always an attempt to please God and not man. Paul was not much of a person to look at (II Cor. 10:10), but his goal and method was the very best (II Cor. 10:12). This is the standard for all men (I Cor. 1:31). I Thessalonians 2:3-11 is a guide to properly assess a bringer of the Gospel.
"but in demonstration...power"
It is true that Paul as an apostle had special power (Rom. 15:19; Heb. 2:3,4). But here he refers to the dunamis or power of the Gospel, to save (Rom. 1:16). It was clear that Paul was bringing the true Gospel, for it was working in sinful rebellious hearts and making people humble and obedient.
The view of the whole verse is that the Gospel was not brought in a sweet, inoffensive way. Paul talked about sin, wrath, repentance, blood, and hell, yet people were saved. That is the great demonstration of the Spirit (II Cor. 3:3; Titus 3:5).
Verse 5 "That"
The purpose or objective behind the method of bringing the Gospel in the way he did will now be presented.
Actually the word is "be." So Paul is saying, "I do not want your faith to be a result of the wisdom of men. For if it was, that is all it is worth, and it will not protect you from the wrath of God." Only a spiritual message brought in a faithful way shows the greatest concern for others. If Paul brought only God's wisdom, God's way, then any faith they have is a result of God's power working in them. The method in which the Gospel is presented serves to insure that the content of the message accomplishes its purpose.
The weakness and vanity of man's methods is easy to see. Sometimes men can create a kind of trust in what they say, in part because of what they say, and in part because of how they say it. Then as time goes on, another more eloquent man might come along and sway hearers in another way. The ideas of man are a transitory fashion. Only the true Gospel continues (notice Acts 5:34-39).
Verse 6 "perfect"
This is not a word that primarily refers to how much or how little sin there is in their life. It can refer to those things which have no sin such as The Father (Matt. 5:48), His will (Rom. 12:2), or the Bible (James 1:25), but here the sense is more of maturity or completeness. The idea is that Paul brings the Gospel. And the ones who really understand it are those who have learned to be as obedient in the way Jesus did (Heb. 5:9, "perfect"). Through their experiences as Christians, they have matured or grown up, being now reliable and faithful to God (Heb. 5:14, "full age").
Ultimately, this word refers to all believers, since believers are perfect in their souls when they are saved. They should mature or show spiritual life more and more in their ability to deal with issues of good and evil. Notice also that the perfect ones are put in contrast to those "of this world" (or unbelievers), rather than those who are less mature. All believers are mature in the sense that the Holy Spirit dwells in them.
"princes of the world"
This refers not just to the political rulers of the world, but to all those who are under Satan's control, such as false ministers of the gospel or false brethren whose trademark is that they are "of this world", that is, materially minded, rather than spiritually minded. They are those who rule under the prince of the world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
"come to nought"
This refers to judgment (Rom. 6:6, "might be destroyed"; II Thess. 2:8, "shall destroy").Verse 7, "mystery"
This does not mean something unknowable or something only understood by a secret initiation. Rather, it is a synonym for the whole Gospel (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3,6,9; I Tim. 3:16). Using this particular word to describe the Gospel emphasizes the fact that it cannot be understood by unbelievers. For the Gospel must be revealed by God. No man can figure it out. (Incidently, this shows that the word "perfect" in verse 6 must refer to all believers, because both words, "mystery" and "perfect" refer to the same people.) The Gospel requires spiritual insight to understand it, a faculty given only as part of salvation. Since I Corinthians 1:30 describes Christ as wisdom, then 2:6 and 7 really are saying, "We speak Christ in a mystery." This is a repetition of 1:18, which says that those who are perishing do not understand Christ as the Savior they need. Those who are saved know who He is, for they see Him in the Bible (John 5:39). But for the rest, such wisdom is...
God hides the truth from those who are lost. One device He uses is their desire to worship this world (II Cor. 4:3,4). God uses the very thing the unbelievers desire to seal them in their sin.
"which God ordained before the world"
The wisdom of God is a mystery because it is His deliberate work designed by Him alone before creation. It requires revelation for any man to know it. That mystery, in other words that Gospel of grace, is not a vague, mysterious parenthesis in time which God will someday set aside s He returns to another original plan. Rather, it is what He always had in mind and which He reveals to whom he wills (Matt. 11:25-27).
Verse 8, "would not have crucified"
This verse is not saying that if they realized who Jesus was they would not have crucified Him. After all, Satan knows and believes, but still opposes Him. Rather, they would have "known" only if they were saved and given spiritual sight (John 17:3, "known" = saved). But that was not God's plan. In fact, the word "Lord" is used to emphasize that amid all their terrible rebellion, Jesus was still Lord. That is, the Lord used their rebellion and lack of insight as a tool. Pilate and the leaders of Israel were allowed to proceed in their hateful plans. The result was a crucified Savior who paid for the sins of His people (Acts 2:36; 4:26,27; Rom. 11:11).
Those rebellious people, as Satan and as people today, may have known some facts about the Gospel. But since they only had natural senses, they could not know spiritual truth. The point is, left to themselves, they acted naturally. They acted as a natural conclusion to their materialistic impulse. They acted not with spiritual insight, but only with physical thinking.
Verse 9, "written"
This verse was "written" hundreds of years before in Isaiah 64:4. The context in Isaiah is of the mightiness of God (verse 1), the sinfulness of man and man's inability to do anything about it (verses 6-8).
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear..."
This is a statement of fact. The physical eyes and ears of men cannot perceive what God has purposed. Man cannot understand and receive the Gospel by material senses: "not by the wisdom of men" (I Cor. 2:5) nor by "the wisdom of this world." (I Cor 2:6) Man's abilities "came to nought" in the worst way That is, they cannot show a man how to escape the wrath of God.
The central point of the verse is seen in the verbs and in comparing it with verse 10. What the natural senses cannot perceive, the Spirit of God must reveal. There is no material way to bring the Gospel to a person's heart. Therefore:
1. What we bring with a view to appealing to a person's material senses is not the true Gospel.
2. What we receive that appeals to our material senses is not the true Gospel.
We must focus on a spiritual message, delivered faithfully, trusting God to do His spiritual work in the listeners as He wills. When the Gospel has an effect, it is because of God's power and not due to the wisdom of men (verse 4). The Gospel is God's testimony anyway (verse 1), and He will deliver it according to His own method (verse 7).
This verse is sometimes quoted as a support for the idea that the blessings of God are so great that no one can possibly comprehend them. It is true that the blessings of God are immeasurably great. But the verse is focusing upon the unbeliever whose only inventory of measuring equipment is his physical senses. The believer, on the other hand, has faculties with which he can begin to appreciate the spiritual work of God on his behalf. A believer has spiritual senses with which he can understand the "things" that are prepared by God (verse 12).
Verse 10, "But God hath revealed by (through) the Spirit"
Spiritual truth can only be ours if we are equipped with the Holy Spirit to receive it. Also we receive, by means of the Holy Spirit, only the truth that God decides to give us. This phrase is not talking about a mysterious transfer of information, but the propositional truth consisting of discrete sentences in the Bible. The truth is there for all men to read. But only spiritual people can understand it because the Holy Spirit is a requirement to understand (verse 12).
There is, throughout the whole Bible, a consistent tie between the Holy Spirit and the idea of wisdom from God, especially as displayed in Scriptures. See for example Exodus 31:3; II Samuel 23:2; II Kings 2:15; Isaiah 11:2; 61:1; Joel 2 and Acts 2; John 14:16,17,26; 16:13; Hebrews 3:7; 9:8 and many more.
"for the Spirit...of God"
The Spirit is God Himself, who alone knows and can impart the wisdom and knowledge of God which are part of the deep things of God (Rom. 11:33).
Verse 11, "For what man...in him?"
The answer is "no one." Only the spirit of the man knows the things of a man. Animals have an animal mind and know the things of animals. Man has a man's mind and knows the things of man.
God has God's mind, and He alone knows the things of God. Verse 9 says the normal, human, physical equipment is not capable of discerning God's intentions and plans. This verse points out why that is so.
Verse 12, "Now we have received...the spirit which is of (out of) God...that we might know the things"
This verse explains why verse 10 is so. God has revealed His things to us because He has given us His Spirit. This means that we are saved (Rom. 8:15,16). Spiritual knowledge is a gift of God and accompanies salvation. In fact, we should expect a person who is saved to demonstrate spiritual understanding. If someone does not begin to see things as God sees them, then he can wonder if he is saved. Salvation goes beyond the removal of sin and its penalty. Salvation's purpose is to give the redeemed the spiritual equipment to understand God's spiritual will and do it.
"spirit of the world"
This refers to the limited capabilities of the world, which are useless in trying to know God. The world can offer no help in understanding the Bible. The more we are sensitive to the things of the world, the less sensitive we are to the spiritual truth in the Word. A sensitivity to the spirit of the world results in wrong conclusions from the Bible: wrong views of salvation, election, free will, man's depravity, rewards and judgment, divorce, gift of tongues, authority in the church, etc.
Verse 13, "Which things also we speak"
Paul spoke about spiritual things, things he received from the Spirit of God. The content of his message was spiritual.
"not in words which man's..."
Paul forsook the human training he received (Phil. 3:4-8) and consulted with no one (Gal. 1:11,12). His method matched the message. He relied entirely upon the Holy Spirit to help him. Man's wisdom is full of words that explain nothing: self meditation, common sense, historical and cultural perspectives, higher criticism, scientific analysis in its distorted form, earth bound philosophies, etc. (II Tim. 3:7).
How does the Holy Spirit do this? By ...
Spiritual things are God's things (John 4:24). God's things are in the Bible (John 6:63). Therefore, the Holy Spirit teaches us by prompting us to compare the Bible with the Bible. The Holy Spirit teaches through that method. We must use all of the Bible or we will not receive spiritual insight. We must use only the Bible, or we will not receive spiritual insight. It is work to compare, and it takes time. Along with our ability to compare Scripture, God provides the desire to compare as well.
Why does God use the Holy Spirit to bring truth? Why does God create faith as the way to truth? Why is there a spiritual requirement? Why not give man a glimpse of heaven and hell, and with that experience expect man to understand? The answer is in this verse. Man cannot know spiritual things such as the will of God. More than that, man does not want spiritual things. Man thinks they are foolishness. Man prefers the material world and his own stubborn will. God has given man an amazing amount of information in His Word. The problem is man does not want to look at it (Luke 16:31).
"But the natural man receiveth not...God"
The natural man (he who has only a natural part and has no spiritual part and is not saved) does not want the things that the Spirit of God offers.
"for they are foolishness unto him"
Actually the idea of the verb is that "they keep on being foolish." No matter how hard he tries or what he does to seek God, the things of the Spirit will be foolish to him today and foolish to him tomorrow. This will be always be true unless some external agency intercedes. The natural man will always consider the spiritual Gospel to be a ridiculous hope in something that does not exist and an unnecessary limitation on his earthly desires.
"neither can he know them"
The word "them" refers to "things of the Spirit" in this verse, or "spiritual things" of verse 13. It does not refer to "men" or "people" as some teachers say. The natural man has no choice on his own. The word "can" is the word dunamis, "power." To the previous fact that man's natural faculties are not the right equipment to receive the things of God, this phrase adds the fact that he has no power to exercise any equipment he might have. Essentially, this refers to the fact that in himself, natural man does not have the power found in the Gospel. He is unsaved and has no power to do God's will (Rom. 8:7,8). He is more than just spiritually deficient. He is spiritually dead until he is saved by grace (Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 2:13).
"because they are spiritually discerned"
The verb "discerned," anakrinetai, does not mean to study something to gain insight but to judge or examine (Luke 23:14, examine for truth). The natural man can never make a judgment in spiritual matters. The natural man can never be a true witness of the Gospel, for that means to bring a spiritual message in a spiritually lawful way (not appealing to the natural part of man). It requires the grace of God to see spiritual things and deliver them in a spiritually faithful way (Matt. 11:25-27; John 9:39-41). Not only does a man's natural blindness to spiritual things lead him to mock the Gospel, it also reveals him to be spiritually impotent and seals him in his sin. As he rejects the Gospel, the Gospel also rejects him.
This is a difficult verse to understand as written in the King James version of the Bible. Perhaps the following analysis will help: the actual Greek words are followed in parenthesis by a literal English equivalent.
"ho de pneumatikos (But the thing, or one spiritual) + anakrinei (discerns, judges) + men (1, first of all) + panta (all things) + autos (he, it) + de (the) + hup (upon) + oudenos (no no, double no, nothing) + anakrinetai (to be discerned, judged, is being discerned)"
The verse can be written this way: But first of all, spirituality discerns all things, otherwise nothing is discerned.
This verse is a statement of a principle or summary. The idea is that a spiritual view point is superior to all other view points. In fact it is the only view point that gains any understanding at all.
Verse 16, "For who...him?
The answer to the question is "no one." No man can instruct God. Only the redeemed know the mind of God to the extent that God has revealed Himself to them. The question is from Isaiah 40:13, in which the focus is upon the judgment of God upon all men for their sin (verse 12) and their insignificant power to do anything about it. This is presented in sharp contrast to man's attempt to judge the Gospel as foolishness. Natural man has the audacity to think he can make meaningful judgments about spiritual things such as who God is and what His will is.
This verse testifies to the supreme sovereignty of God over all men in His ability to understand and do things. Who can instruct God as if He needed either an education or correction in His judgment? True spiritual wisdom is completely in the hands of God, not just in what He knows, but in what He does as well. The same verse is quoted in Romans 11:34. It declares that the complete work of salvation is in the hand of God alone. There is no cooperation or partnership with men in what He does.
"we have the mind of Christ"
Natural man cannot understand God's plans or motives. But believers can because they have "the mind of Christ." This phrase refers to more than just an intellectual ability. It refers also to the person's heart attitude and action (Phil. 2:3-8). In other words, we have a mind to walk faithfully to those things which God has revealed to us. God's glory can be seen with the physical eye only in the lives of His true believers because they can act according to His will.
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