On a bed of grass, a chameleon’s skin turns green. On the earth, it becomes brown. The animal changes to match the environment. Many creatures blend into nature with God-given camouflage that suits to aid their survival. It is natural to fit in and adapt to the environment but followers of Christ are new creations, born from God above and transformed within, with values and lifestyles that confront the world and clash with accepted ethical standards. – this is a beautiful imagery that I read in my life application Bible, which reminded me that indeed true believers don’t blend in very well with popular society and culture, and that is why many may feel like they don’t fit in. The followers of Jesus in Corinth certainly did feel this way as they were struggling with their environment. (2)
Corinth was strategically located on the narrow isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus and the Greek mainland. It was founded in 44 B.C. as a Roman colony serving as a residence for freed men from Rome. During the first century A.D., Corinth was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Archaeologists have identified about twenty-six sacred places devoted to various “gods” and “lords” in the remains of first-century Corinth. In a way, it may be said that Corinth is a long distance relative of our Los Angeles as it was a melting pot of diverse influences from East and West: from Roman laws, culture, and religion to Greek religion, philosophy, and art to mystery cults from Egypt and Asia to even some Jews and their religion Judaism. The rich lived alongside the poor, who were the majority. They were the artisans, freedmen, and slaves. Corinth was a major cosmopolitan city, a seaport and a major trade center; hence it was the most important city in Achaia. Very much like in our modern day Los Angeles, it was also filled with idolatry and depravity where journeying philosophers “on-the-road” and unscrupulous counterfeit “spiritual” teachers and healers taught their ways side by side in the streets of Corinth. The mass marketed spirituality in LA and the West as a whole indeed mirrors in some bizarre way the spirituality of the day in ancient Corinth.(1,2,4,5) It was in Corinth where during his second missionary trip, Paul had established one of the first congregations of Jesus. The diverse mixture of “Jew, Greek, slave, free, rich, and poor inevitably led to tensions and internal rivalries.” (5)
1 Corinthians is Apostle Paul’s written response in the form of a letter to the problems in the church in Corinth. This letter was written only about 15 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. It was written during the end of Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus and was Paul’s third contact with this congregation. Paul’s letter was prompted by the disturbing news from Corinth, which consisted of oral reports from Chloe’s household, a letter from the church, and the visit of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.
It was just a bit over a decade after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. Surrounded by corruption and iniquity, the Corinthian followers of Christ Jesus felt the pressure to adapt. And so when Paul was informed of their struggles, like a loving father, he wrote to aid the Corinthian followers by healing their divisions and answering their questions. Like a loving father, he also confronted them about their sin and their need for corrective action and faithful commitment. Today, our society is challenged by the very same old Corinthian problems and so Paul’s letter is quite relevant to our “now”.
Paul starts with a brief introduction (1:1-9) and immediately turns to the question of unity by addressing the most serious problem in the church, its disunity (1:10-4:21). He repeatedly challenges the Corinthians’ unChristlike arrogant understanding of themselves and of Christ’s Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us not to blend with the world and accept its desacralizing values and lifestyles but to live Christ-centered lives. Remarkably, it retains a painstaking contemporary relevance to us. As Asbury commentator George Lyons notes, the cosmopolitan setting of the church, the individualism of its members and their behavioral aberrations, its self-centered spirituality, and its accommodation to culture strikingly mirror today’s church. Paul’s guidance is still up to date, particularly the call for discipleship modeled after the meekness of Christ, love, faithfulness, edification in worship, and permanent marriages…after all, our lives are just too short to be lived for any lesser values.
Paul explains the paradoxical implications of the good news of a crucified Messiah, who through his very suffering, death, and resurrection reconciles us to God. Jesus willingly and fully surrendered to the will of the Father, even though he experienced dread, pain, and even sweat drops of blood in his agony. As Rabbi John Parsons puts it, “He yielded to the Father’s care even in the darkest hours of his persecution and torment…. By giving himself over to God’s care, he was able to love his enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to overcome evil with the greater power of the good. His love was not reciprocally offered; it did not depend on our acceptance, but was grounded in the power of all love. He loves us as we are, even when we were his enemies: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us” (Rom. 5:8).” Hence, Paul’s personal ministry approach was marked by meekness, love and whole hearted Christlike service. As Lyon says, “His (Paul’s) opposition to the gospel of success (or, prosperity gospel present day) and to its superministers arises from their proclamation of “another Jesus.” As we eavesdrop on these ancient letters, we do so with the expectation that we may learn…” how to translate our spiritual commitment into a life of ministry that is consistent with, not a compromise of Jesus. And that is what we see through Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16:
But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:9-16 NET)
Paul’s diagnosis of the Corinthians’ problems is that at the root of their division is their arrogance (see also 1 Cor 4:18-19; 5:2) thus he confronts their arrogant self-estimate and self-empowerment seeking. Many people think they are mature or as some put it “spiritually evolved,” when in fact they don’t even truly know what it means to be spiritual. True spirituality comes from the Spirit of God and not from the spirit of man through various cultural traditions, wise sages, substances you ingest or mystical personal experiences you have. Because people choose not to believe God but to believe themselves, they cannot receive the things of the Spirit which seem like foolishness to them. The unbeliever, who is only a prejudiced believer in himself and a consumer of the “spirituality” of his choice, prefers the things of man that will bring him mystical experiences, self- empowerment, self-realization and the approval of people. Paul, who was a former Jewish Pharisee with Roman citizenship and was fluent and well-educated in Greek, knew how to use the Corinthian “slang” to challenge their egotistical self-image and desire for empowerment. The specific Greek word that he uses in this verse as “mature” is τέλειος or teleios with the literal meaning of “perfect.” Teleios was a technical term of the mystery religions during those times that referred to the fully initiated as opposed to merely casual devotees. It is as if Paul is stating that the claim of the popular kings and wise sages to be spiritual is a claim of the one who has an inflated notion of his status and his Self thus mistakenly “thinks he knows something” and “is standing firm.” As he has written “If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know” (1 Cor. 8:2), “so let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12), and as it is laid out plainly in the verses prior to 2:9, “Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:6-8).
Everyone wants to be wise. Everyone wants to live in “the know” just as in “the now.” We have put wisdom and knowledge on their own pedestal and have made them idols of the modern day evolved human. Yet in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul taught the Corinthians and teaches us that true wisdom is not knowledge, is not insight, is not intelligence, is not some experience. Paul teaches that true wisdom is discernment, which requires the believer to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Because Satan, who is the deceiver, always counterfeits truth, uses half-truth or twists and distorts the truth, he hooks the truth-seeker and so the greatest impact on us occurs when he deceives us by his manipulation of God’s Truth. This is also the time when we need the Holy Spirit’s help the most but we think we need help the least because being fed the counterfeit diet, which is like an appetizing but toxic GMO food, we confidently believe that we are eating the good real healthy thing; and because we know so much in our wisdom we do not let anyone tell us otherwise. That is why we think of God’s wisdom as foolishness and of man’s wisdom as true wisdom. But it is not. Spiritual discernment is true wisdom because it enables us to draw conclusions based on God’s perspective, not ours, to distinguish the correct and incorrect use of Scripture, and to identify and expose false teachings and teachers. In another letter, Galatians Paul beautifully and straightforwardly says, “…if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. (Gal 6:14)”
To better understand 1 Cor 2:9-16, we must look back to verse 8, which is the prelude to those verses and in a strange daunting way speaks to us in our age as it did to the Corinthians in their age: “None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Jesus was misunderstood and rejected by those whom the world considered wise and great, both in the past and in the now. Jesus was put to death by the leaders of Palestine – the High Priest, King Herod, Pilate, the Pharisees and Saducees, AND by the crowd, which was both Jew and Gentile. All this was predicted clearly by Isaiah and Zechariah many years prior: “He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3), and “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon.” ( Zechariah 12:10,11)
In verse 9, we see that in contrast to the wise and great of this world who cannot even conceive the greatness of divine salvation, those who love God know and experience His blessings. In verse 10, Paul speaks of the Spirit who is the one who gives us revelation (“revealed to us by the Spirit”) and the one who “searches everything.” Revelation is firmly tied to illumination and conviction. Illumination and conviction are a result of the direct activity of the Holy Spirit in a person. Stated well by Rev. Terry Cornett, illumination is the work of the Spirit of God that enables us to grasp the meaning of Scripture for “our own life and times.” Apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, God’s revelation cannot be neither understood nor believed. Conviction too is an activity of the Spirit but one that brings for a deep inner awareness of one’s remorse before God. As Rev. Cornett says, “Conviction undermines the sense of self-justification and excuse-making that accompanies human wrong-doing.” Put in simple words, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. Therefore, “true conviction of sin is never a human phenomenon but is always a work of the Spirit of God” (Rev. Cornett). This a good place to briefly mention that as Simone Weil and Barbara Taylor have once said, “All sins are attempts to fill voids” “because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things but only God may fill it” (B. Taylor). Said plainly, sin is the violation of divine purpose and one’s sacredness as a child of God. It is the rejection of God.
The idea of divine searching in verse 10 emphasizes God’s omniscience, especially His power to see what is invisible to humans because “He that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:27). Apostle John says, “He (God’s Spirit) did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25). This does not imply that the Holy Spirit needs to seek knowledge of the Father that He otherwise lacks but rather that the Spirit probes the depths of divine knowledge for our benefit. Jesus himself has said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children” (Matt 11:25).
The words “…so that we may know” in verse 12 stand out, especially to those of us who think we already know. But in the moment of reading these words we are reminded that just because we think we know and understand that may not be so because true understanding is instilled only by God’s decision. These words remind us that “For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus himself has said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:12-15). Jesus is the one who explicitly sends the Spirit to convict the world of sin as he says “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:7-11). (It is important to note that the word “advocate” does not fully convey the greatness of what Jesus was speaking. The word used in the original Greek manuscripts is παράκλητος (Paraclete or paracletos). It can be translated as advocate, helper, comforter, and counselor as it embodies all of these meanings. Hence, finding an adequate translation that will completely sum up the Greek word’s meaning is hard because no single English word has exactly the same range of meaning as the Greek. In the NET bible the translators choose to use the English word “advocate” because as they say, “advocate is someone who “advocates” or supports a position or viewpoint and since this is what the Paraclete will do for the preaching of the disciples…”)
Human eloquence, wisdom, attractiveness and promises of wealth and empowerment seem to so easily hook the seeker as these are life-guiding values for many of this new age we live in. But Paul reminds us that the apostles, teachers, followers of Christ – the whole body of Christ “… we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:13). What he is basically saying is that the truth revealed by the Spirit must be explained in such a way that is harmonious with the Spirit Himself. Apostle Peter in his epistle says, “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
I would like to conclude by drawing attention to the fact that 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 starts with a quotation from Isaiah and ends with a quotation from Isaiah. “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” is a quotation from the Old Testament Isaiah 64:4 and “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him” is from 40:13. These two quotes from two different chapters of Isaiah are not a random use for Paul. Considering chapter 40, biblical commentator Dan Johnson says that “some of the grandest theology in the Bible appears here. The sovereignty of God is portrayed in an exquisite and powerful way…” Chapter 40 is part of Isaiah’s messages to the Jewish exiles and Chapter 64 speaks of their great return and resettlement. Chapter 40 is where Isaiah’s prediction about Babylon had come true. As Isaiah had warned the Jews, in 587 B.C. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem, levels the temple, and takes its treasures and most of its people to Babylon as exiles. In Chapter 64, Isaiah speaks of God’s glory and the future glory God has prepared for his freed people.
Thinking about the habits and tendencies of the young and not-so-young modern day people, I cannot help but think about the thousands of hours that are spent on Facebook and other social media, and in front of the TV, movie, computer and iPhone screens. No longer has one to walk out of his comfortable abode to see poverty, disease, or abuse – you just need to check your Facebook or flip the channel, and it is all there giving you the “feel good” sense about yourself that you are informed and informing others but that is actually a delusionary sense. You think of yourself as a compassionate and well-informed about the world’s depravities person now when in fact you have not even had any real personal touch with the pain of another nor have you laid your very own two hands on another to help pick them up or to heal them. You have simply been a viewer and a consumer of their pain and suffering while actually believing yourself that you have been their wayshower, or helper, or even savior. Modern day media and popular teachers are a good reminder that there are some big vested interests to make you believe in yourself as such in order to control and turn you simply in a puppet in their puppeteers’ hands.
Somehow, reading Apostle Paul’s words I am reminded of how the first universities started. They started as and to this day are one of the biggest control mechanisms. When Aristotle told his private student Alexander the Great, “Kill them all” in regards to the native people in the lands that Alexander conquered, Alexander as a good student answered, “No. I will teach them!” – and what a genius idea that was! And so he built the first universities teaching people Greek, astronomy, and philosophy. Giving people the (false) sense of spirituality, empowerment, righteousness and pleasure by giving them the very sense of superiority, feeling good about themselves, and feeling empowered from their knowledge and the mystical while achieving control over people’s thoughts and intentions, and subverting them to his way without the people even realizing. It also reminds me of many modern day teachers from Chopra to Oprah to Michael Beckwith and Marianne Williamson, who know well how to use the ancient clever techniques to keep the masses following them and so keeping the flow in their bank accounts “following” too.
1 Corinthians teaches us that no matter how powerful and liberating modern day gurus or teachers can be, no one can understand God but by his Spirit and through Jesus, and only as such we have an insight into God. In fact, we have the “mind of Christ.” Those who host anger, belittlement, bewilderment, intolerance, and misinterpretation of what it means to be a Christian (Christ – one), do not see that the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Lord are one and the same, and hence have no authority to teach or examine Him. “By implication, those who accept Paul’s teaching have the blessing of the Spirit and understand the things of God”. (1) They know Christ, and know that He is incomparable.
Who has measured out the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or carefully measured the sky,
or carefully weighed the soil of the earth,
or weighed the mountains in a balance,
or the hills on scales?
Who comprehends the mind of the Lord,
or gives him instruction as his counselor?
From whom does he receive directions?
Who teaches him the correct way to do things,
or imparts knowledge to him,
or instructs him in skillful design?
Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales.
He lifts the coastlands as if they were dust.
~ Isaiah 40:12-16
Teach me, O Lord, the lifestyle prescribed by your statutes, so that I might observe it continually. Give me understanding so that I might observe your law, and keep it with all my heart. Guide me in the path of your commands, for I delight to walk in it. Give me a desire for your rules, rather than for wealth gained unjustly. Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word! ~ Psalm 119:33-37
- My Gospel ministerial studies at TUMI-LA
- KJV life application study bible, commentator’s notes on 1 Corinthians.
- NET bible, Hebrew and Greek translator notes for Isaiah and 1 Corinthians.
- Wesleyan bible commentary available at biblegateaway.com
- Asbury Bible Commentary available at biblegateaway.com
- George Lyons, Asbury Bible Commentary available at biblegateaway.com
- Rev. Terry Cornett, God the Holy Spirit, Capstone curriculum
- Ravi Zacharias work
- NET (New English Translation) Bible, commentary on original earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts
- Rabbi John Parsons, hebrewforchristians.com