The Holy Spirit as a Teacher
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the
Father will send
A verse-by-verse study in 1 Corinthians 2
In the first chapter of Corinthians Paul expresses concern over the factionalism that had divided that church into at least four camps: some claimed allegiance to Paul, others to Apollos, still others to Peter, and one group asserting they were “of Christ.” The second chapter of the epistle forms a portion of his argument against a major cause of these divisions, namely, esteeming the messenger more than the message.
Oratory Means Little – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
The apostle opens by using himself as the example. He could easily have matched wits with the best of his opponents. He had done so with his powerful reasoning on Mars Hill in Athens where he effectively quotes the ancient poets. He had been schooled at Tarsus, an educational center rated by the historian Strabo as superior to even the better-known institutions of Athens and Alexandria. He was familiar with the writings of the Cilician poet Aratus (Acts 17:28), Epimenides (Titus 1:12), and the comic poet Meander from whom he borrows the words of 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Although the term “excellency of speech” may apply to oratorical gifts, it also contains the concept of overpowering reasoning. The testimony of God is not comprehended by the powers of rhetoric or philosophy, but by the power of a changed life, from sin and all its alluring accoutrements to the simple purity of a Christ-like life.
There was one central truth that Paul would present, and that was the salvation secured by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Other, more disputable points of doctrine, were prone to cause division. The doctrine of Christ and him crucified was unifying and profitable for the building up not only of the Corinthian church but the Christian church throughout the centuries.
Paul was noted for his courage. Therefore at first glance it seems odd he would describe himself as approaching them “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” The weakness to which he refers may be his own physical infirmities, but more likely it was the humility with which he approached them, seeking not so much to impress the Corinthians but to be understood by them. The fear and trembling were almost certainly not of concern for his own personal well-being nor yet those emotions born of a lack of confidence, but rather show the high regard he held for properly representing both his God and the truths which had been entrusted to him.
His final contrast was between the wisdom that comes from secular education and worldly philosophy, and the simplicity of truth as revealed by the holy spirit. It was this truth which would be demonstrated by the power of a converted life. Nothing is more powerful than words aptly spoken with full conviction. It was the power of the concept he presented that would enable the Corinthian Christians to stand before the judgment tribunal of God.
Hidden Wisdom – 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
True scriptural wisdom is mean only for “them that are perfect.” The Greek word teleioiv, translated perfect, here has the meaning of “mature.” (Compare its usage here with that in 1 Corinthians 14:20; Philippians 3:15; Ephesians 4:13; and Hebrews 5:16.) Jewish rabbis used this word in their ban on the reading of the first chapter of Genesis and the visions of Ezekiel by those under thirty years of age (Hieron., Tom III, fol. 3.2).
A further clue as to whom Paul meant with this word is found in verse 7 where he says that he speaks this word in “a mystery.” At first glance this may seem to conflict with his earlier comments that he did not use oratorical gifts but simple meaning that the readers could understand. But no such conflict exists. The word “mystery” (musterion, Strong’s 3466) means that which, while hidden from the casual observer, is crystal clear to those who are initiated into its code
Thus the prophecies, doctrines, and types of the Old Testament could not be fully discerned by any except those who had been initiated into Christianity. Once understood, however, new horizons with a depth and richness not previously seen in the Hebrew Bible were revealed.
Even the princes, most notably the religious elite consisting of both Pharisee and Sadducee, were unable to plumb its depths. Similarly today it is not the education of the theological seminaries or the offices of the clergy that reveal the deep things of God. Instead the comprehension of spiritual truths is reserved for those who have the holy spirit, no matter how little such may have in the way of formal education. Thus was the Jewish hierarchy amazed at the boldness and clarity with which Peter and John spoke, esteeming them as “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13).
With spirit-enlightened eyes these initiates into the Christian faith saw a vision of the future which hitherto had not even “entered into the heart of man.” Such wisdom, such an inspiring vista of the future, is unattainable by the fleshly mind, but truly motivates those who are taught by the spirit. Nor are the deep things of God only complex theological concepts; even the most basic perceptions of what lies in store are part of this rich treasure trove.
The Mind of Christ – 1 Corinthians 2:11-16
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
These verses contrast the two spirits and the sphere of knowledge available to each. The spirit of man can only discern those things within his experience, while the spirit of God is open to a far broader range of information. Spiritual things, Paul reasons, can only be discerned by spiritual minds. Human philosophy is within the range of spiritual minds, while spiritual concepts relate to a realm to which man, as a human being, cannot understand.
The spiritual dimensions spoken of in these verses do not relate to those things which exist in the invisible world since scientists have grasped and explained many invisible forces, such as electricity, video transmission, and the like. Rather they refer to the effect of biblical principles on the human being, a new mind-set based on the principles of self-sacrifice and not the preservation of natural life.
These are the spiritual elements that hold the solution to the factionalism that so divided the Corinthian brethren. There was a measure of carnality and selfishness in their desire to prefer one above another. Their adoration of human leadership rather than a desire for spiritual unity of the church collective was the symptom which pointed to the lack of a spiritual mind. This new mental dimension is what Paul calls “the mind of Christ.”
Here is how Paul describes this mind: “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, ASV).
How the Spiritual Mind Works
Paul informs the Corinthians that the spiritual mind operates by “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The word sunkrino (Strong’s 4791), translated “comparing,” can mean “to join or commingle” and thus conveys the thought of joining two thoughts to explain or make clear their meaning. It is often used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew pathar (Strong’s 6622) which means “to unfold, or reveal” (see Genesis 40:8,16,22; 41:12,15). In other words the reader is asked to compare one Scriptural verse with another, and contextually to compare the Old Testament writings with the new Christian realities of the New Testament.
This accords well with Peter’s thought: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20,21, RSV).
Barnes notes that some derive from Paul’s words that “prophecies, besides having a literal signification, have also a hidden and mystical sense which cannot be learned from the prophecies themselves, but is perceived by a peculiar power of insight imparted by the Holy Spirit, enabling men to understand their secondary mysteries.”
Still others, noting that the Greek word for “spiritual” is in the neuter, feel that the noun to be supplied is “men,” thus the rendering “comparing spiritual things with spiritual men.” There is a truth in this as well, that the search for spiritual truth entails the seeking out of the thoughts of other spiritual thoughts by a peer review of one’s interpretations. This agrees with the context of the entire epistle where the apostle stresses that the brethren of the various factions need each other (see 1 Corinthians 4:1-6 where Paul applies the sacredness of stewardship both to Apollos and himself). The advice of Ephesians 4:16 seems especially relevant: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Let all who name the name of Christ fully rely on the holy spirit to rightly interpret the word of God and apply its principles in Christian love, always seeking to put on “the mind of Christ.”