Every one of us understands that the normal course of development is for a child to move from simple thinking to more complex reasoning. They should move from basic skills (such and crawling and walking) and learn to do more complex skills (running, skipping, jumping, climbing). A child that fails to mature in this way is not healthy. If the child does not mature in this way we take them to the Doctor because we recognize that there is a problem. These children are called handicapped because they do not develop as they should.
As we move to study Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 the Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to mature in faith rather than to stay where they are and suffer a spiritual handicap.
As you recall, Paul had been addressing the party spirit that existed in the church. People in the church were gathering in little cliques. Paul rebuked the people and told them that they should be following Christ and not individuals. Last week we looked at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. Paul continued his discussion by pointing out that the church must not be distracted in their message. We must remember that there are two very different worldviews in society. The secular worldview does not understand the Christian/Biblical worldview. We will not change society with our arguments but by bringing them to Christ who alone can change the hearts and minds of people.
Today, Paul is continuing this same conversation. In arguing that we must present the simple Gospel he was not meaning that the gospel is simplistic or that Christians should not grow in their understanding of the truth. In fact, it is just the opposite. A believer should be maturing in their thinking. You can see what are current text is driving at by looking at the wrap-up in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4
Brothers, 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 men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
In other words, if we are living in the Spirit we will be one in the body of Christ. If we are not living in the Spirit we will indulge petty divisions. Paul wanted the Corinthians (and us) to move on to maturity.
MATURITY IS NOT THE WISDOM OF THIS AGE
Let’s go back to our text. Paul begins by saying,
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that there was much to learn in the Christian faith. The marvelous thing about the gospel is that is it simple enough for a child but profound enough that even the finest theologian cannot fully probe its depth.
We need to understand however that spiritual maturity and academic knowledge are not the same thing. You can have a ton of education and still be a spiritual infant. You can be thought of as brilliant in the world and still not have a spiritual clue. You can even teach in a Seminary and not have spiritual wisdom.
This is important to understand. All around us worldly smart people denounce Christianity. I was reading this week that director Larry Charles and Liberal political pundit Bill Maher have made a movie titled, “Religulous” (a combination of religious and ridiculous). Charles is quick to say that the film is not just a good-natured spoof. He says while some films ‘poke gentle fun’ at religion, he and Maher hope to ‘stab it to death’”.
I have no doubt that these two men are smart men. They certainly have minds full of knowledge. However, they don’t get it. In fact, Paul tells us that they “cannot” understand. Look at verse 14,
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Paul said that these people CANNOT understand the truth. It is foolishness to him. The Greek adjective for “foolish” refers to someone on whom truth, duty, and excellence do not produce their proper effect. To these people, the message of the gospel is absurd, ridiculous and distasteful. Maher may rightly pinpoint excesses and absurdities in the way the Christian faith is presented and practiced, but he won’t be able to grasp the real message of the gospel.
As we seek spiritual maturity we must not mistake the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God’s Spirit. Practically,
- Just because you are a success in the world, doesn’t make you a success before God
- Just because you are called an expert doesn’t mean you know what you are talking about
- Just because you have degrees behind your name doesn’t mean you have the Spirit in your heart and mind.
- Just because you work/preach in a church or in a Seminary, does not mean that you know the mind of God.
It’s important that we keep this clear in our head. Paul says the “rulers of this age” are coming to nothing. They are headed no where.
MATURE WISDOM ORIGINATES WITH GOD
In verse 7-9 Paul wrote,
No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
The wisdom that is possessed by matured believers is something different from the world because it is something you can’t learn from reason . . . it is something that God must disclose. Because of sin, we are unable to grasp God’s wisdom. Our eyes our blinded and God must reveal the truth to us.
In verse 9 Paul says God’s design and plan is something no man could imagine or think up. It is something that is better than anything the world can offer. It is something that even confounds and runs counter to contemporary wisdom. Think about it,
- The world tells us to indulge our desires to find happiness, God tells us to control our desires so we can know joy.
- The world tells us to fight, exact judgment, and get revenge because if you don’t you will be called a wimp; God’s wisdom tells us to love our enemies and to extend forgiveness to others. For then we will be called a child of God.
- The world says we should do whatever we can get away with; afterall, everyone is doing it; God’s wisdom says, “we will all face judgment for every idle thought and hidden deed” (i.e. we won’t “get away with anything”).
- The world says medals, trophies, possessions, and titles is what is most significant; God’s wisdom says character and commitment are the most important things.
MATURE WISDOM IS GIVEN BY GOD’S SPIRIT
Paul tells us that “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”(10) Paul explains this concept with an analogy. He points out that even your spouse or best friend does not know the “real you” (even though sometimes I’m sure my wife is reading my mind). The only way people can know what I am actually thinking is if I tell them.
In the same way, says Paul, the only One who truly knows God is His Spirit. The incredible truth of the Bible is that God gives us His Spirit when we acknowledge and repent of our sin and put our hope and trust in Christ. In John 14 Jesus taught His disciples about the Holy Spirit. He said,
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14: 16-17)
In John 16 Jesus continued his instruction,
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16:13-15)
Jesus said the Holy Spirit would live in us and help us to know the mind and wisdom of God. When we become a follower of Jesus Christ; when we recognize that Jesus is God in human form who leads us to forgiveness, intimacy and new life; the Holy Spirit is given to us to help us. The Holy Spirit guides us, empowers us and equips us to serve the Lord. Paul taught that the Holy Spirit is given to everyone who believes. In fact, in the book of Romans, Paul said the person who does not have the Spirit does not really belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).
The general work of God’s Spirit in regard to spiritual wisdom can be summarized with three words: Revelation, Inspiration, and Illumination. REVELATION obviously means to reveal, “unveil”, or uncover something. In this case, the Holy Spirit, in a sense “pulls back the curtain on God.”
Do you remember that climactic scene in the Wizard of OZ? Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion have all made their way to see the “great and mighty OZ”. Oz appears as a giant head surrounded by smoke and he spoke with a booming voice. Everyone is intimidated. Toto the dog got away and pulled back a curtain and reveals a man who looks a little like a Professor, who is working all the controls to give us the “illusion” of the Great and Mighty Oz. Toto “revealed” the true OZ.
Though the analogy is crass and painfully limited, the Holy Spirit reveals the true and living God. However, unlike in OZ, what we discover is not a lesser being trying to fool us but we find a God who is Greater and more Majestic than we could ever imagine. In some ways, it is just the opposite of the Wizard of Oz. Most people see a weak and limited God and the Holy Spirit reveals to us the Great and Powerful Lord of the Universe.
The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the glory of Creation. He helps us to see God in the person and work of Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us begin to grasp the nature of God’s holiness and the necessity of payment for sin. We are introduced in a new way to the nature of God’s love.
INSPIRATION speaks of God working in and through the writers of the Bible so that their words were nothing less than the Words of God. They were written with the human personality of the author but God watched over the process so that the very words that were spoken truly revealed God’s character. In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul told us all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and because of that fact it was profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
In 2 Peter 1;20-21 Peter echoed this same belief,
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Inspiration is why we call the Bible “The Word of God”. In the Words of the Bible, God speaks to us with clarity. In the Bible, God reveals Himself to us through His inspired Word.
Though the Bible is a light to our path we often need additional illumination. Not every part of the Bible is equally clear to those who read. We struggle at certain points to understand what is going on. The third thing the Holy Spirit does is give us Illumination.
Let me draw another word picture. If you take an advanced math class you may find that you need a tutor. You may have been good at math up to this point but when letters and symbols start replacing numbers you are confused. You need help to learn to think differently. The tutor’s job is to give you illumination, or to help you understand.
The Holy Spirit not only has inspired the Bible (written the text book), the Holy Spirit is also there as our tutor to help us understand the deep and difficult things of God’s Word and God’s actions. Hopefully all of you have been reading in the Bible and all of a sudden it is like a light is switched on; what was unclear suddenly becomes powerfully clear.
Paul argues that people of the world cannot “judge” the believer (like Bill Maher does) because the non-believer doesn’t understand. He is limited in his knowledge. On the other hand it is the believer who is the one who can see things clearly.
How does this relate to conflict? Paul wanted the church to understand that if they were living by the Holy Spirit they cannot entertain the spirit of competition with other believers. The Spirit of God does not tear apart the body of Christ by divisions. The concern of the body is the glory of God not the petty parties of men.
Is it possible that the reason there are so many churches experiencing conflict and division is because spiritual maturity is sorely lacking in our day? I think so. As I sit down and dare to read some of the works of the men of God who lived a few hundred years ago, I find myself overwhelmed. They had a much deeper hold of the truths of God. They knew Him in deep ways that anchored them in horrible times. They had a deep faith that led them to start a new country that was based on their desire for religious freedom. It was a faith that dared to live differently from the rest of the world.
Where is that kind of mature faith today? Someone has said that in the great depth of God’s greatness the church is filled with ankle-deep believers. Frankly, we are too distracted. We spend our time and energy running after the trinkets of the world. The whispers of God’s Spirit can’t be heard because there is little quiet time in our lives. The television is on, our ipod is playing, the cell phone is ringing or we’re watching videos on YouTube. We no longer know how to “be still and know that He is God”. In all our activity, we have drowned out the whisper of the Spirit that God has planted in us.
So let’s try to be practical. Here are some simple suggestions for how we can “stop being bottle-fed believers” and move toward maturity in our spiritual lives.
- Make sure you are truly part of God’s family. In other words, determine whether you are just a church-goer or whether or not you have really put your trust in the transforming power of Jesus Christ. If you have not admitted your sin, repented, and turned to Christ for salvation and new life . . . you need to start there.
- Set aside some quiet time daily to read and meditate on God’s Word. Turn off the television, log off the Internet, get free from distractions and open your hearts and God’s Word. Don’t simply read your assignment every day . . . take time to quietly listen to the Word. Ask, “What is God trying to teach me about Himself? And ”What does God want me to do differently or how does He want me to think differently in my life?” Give the Holy Spirit a chance to illumine your mind with the inspired Word of God.
- Dare to reach stretch your mind. A child will never learn to walk if he is content to keep crawling. Somewhere along the line he has to dare to pull himself up and take a few steps. In the same way, a believer needs to dare to read a book or get involved in a class that with stretch him/her a little bit. Dare to do what the Bible tells you. Reach outside your comfort zone. Dare to talk to an unbeliever. Dig for answers to your honest questions. Dare to practice the truth. It may be hard at first, you may even fall down. Don’t give up! Keep getting back up! You’ll eventually make progress toward spiritual maturity.
- Spend time with other mature believers. This is why worship and Sunday School are so valuable. It allows us to learn in community where people can help each other grow in the faith.
- Keep working at prayer. The mature believer understands that prayer is less about asking for stuff and more about spending time with God. Prayer is about developing a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. In prayer God’s Spirit often reveals things to us we would not have seen any other way. In prayer the Holy Spirit can be specific and personal. Use prayer time to build a real relationship with God. Make growth and maturity a priority in your praying.
Sometimes we think of a mature believer as a person who has mastered certain Biblical facts. Too often these people are like the Pharisees. They are proud, distant, and judgmental. This is not spiritual maturity! Spiritual maturity is a deep understanding of God that results in humility, compassion, consistency, spiritual strength, and a deep awareness of God’s incredible grace,
In church conflict both sides often feel like they are the ones who are spiritually mature and are right to be contentious over the issue. I believe Paul is implying that neither side is mature . . . for if they were, they wouldn’t be fighting in the first place.