Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3

This was another thought assignment for my Biblical Interpretation class, although I think many of you will find this one much more interesting.  It is based upon 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 as well as some specific questions provided by my professor.  Since what I wrote assumes general knowledge of the passage, it may be helpful to read it before continuing to read this post.

We find from 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 that when a believer finds sin in their life the only appropriate response is to turn and seek God with all their heart; when they do they will learn that there is always more to find, discover, and love.

Paul begins by stating in very stark terms that the only way we can understand God or the things of God is through the Spirit of God.  There are echoes of Isaiah 55:8-11 where God says that His thoughts are greater than the thoughts of man and then calls people to abandon their own thoughts in order to embrace His.  Paul goes on to contrast the spiritual person, who learns the thoughts of God directly from the Spirit of God, and the carnal person, who cannot understand the wisdom of God but instead hears it as foolishness.  This is a common theme in Scripture that is often forgotten in the modern church.  John tells the disciples in his first epistle that they have no need for any man to teach them because the anointing they received would teach them all things (1 John 2:27).  This seems to be repeating the explanation Jesus gives for the Spirit’s coming in John 16:13 and follows the same themes as James 1:1-8 and Peter’s interpretation of Joel 2:28-29.

If it is only through the Spirit that we learn anything of God, then the only conceivable posture for a Christian, whether a spiritually immature Corinthian believer or Paul himself, is on their knees begging God to reveal Himself.  Once a person understands that they know nothing except for what they have received, it will constantly drive them to God to receive.  This is in line with the common teaching of the New Testament (and indeed the whole Bible) that God is looking for those who will seek Him (Matt 7:7-8, Heb 11:6, Deut 4:29, Is 55:6-7, as a few instances).  Within the context of 1 Corinthians, this concept is further developed in chapter 8 when Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.”  Clearly, this refers to Paul as much as it refers to the Corinthian believers.  Thus, Paul’s statements regarding the differences between those taught by the Spirit and those who are carnal, worldly, and receive the wisdom as God as foolishness, which could sound pompous, proud, and judgemental (and have often been used by others in such a way), are actually a humble appeal from Paul for those in conflict in Corinth to seek God and the wisdom that He gives.

In the midst of Greek logic and Jewish naturalism, Paul declares that truth comes in neither form.  For Paul, Truth (YHWH) cannot be known through observation or study, rather, He is known when He makes Himself known.  When Paul speaks of spiritual words to spiritual men he is not saying that they are using different words to communicate the gospel, as in a new language or lingo, rather, the spirit (Spirit) behind the words is different, and thus he calls them spiritual words that are communicating spiritual truths to spiritual people.  The reason this can be said at all is because it is not the words that are communicating, but rather the Spirit of God through those words and the people speaking the words (vs 11).  The Spirit must act to reveal God to an individual before that individual can comprehend anything of God.  In this context Paul is showing that this can take place in multiple ways, specifically through the preached word or directly through the teaching of the Spirit.  However, Paul never addresses HOW the Spirit communicates with these “spiritual men”, so the only solid conclusion that we can draw is that there are those capable of receiving from the Spirit and those who are not capable.

Paul then goes on to speak of the carnal man in the beginning of chapter 3.  The carnal man is the one who has not received the Spirit or the words of the Spirit.  He is the one who is a “mere man” and is prone to quarrels, false judgements, and dissension.  There seems to be a dilemma here because Paul refers to the Corinthians as “infants in Christ” while also maintaining that they are “carnal”.  How can this be?  Since we have established that the one who has received the Spirit is spiritually minded and the one who has not received the spirit is fleshly, how can Paul say that they are fleshly but also call them “infants in Christ”?  It would seem that Paul himself is unwilling to completely cast them aside as carnal.  He states it in terms of his own predicament; looking on at them from the outside it appears that they are carnal and not spiritual in any way, but he trusts that they are infants in Christ which is the only reason he still appeals to them as “brothers” at all.  And so he leaves them with a question, “...since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?”  Paul is not yet prepared to make this judgement, so he provides the evidence and asks them to make the judgement themselves.  Based on their actions, Paul is calling the Corinthian church out.  He is saying, in effect, “You know not God nor the things of God.  Your actions betray you.”  And they have no choice but to recognize that what he says is the truth.  Beyond that, Paul is saying to them that he was already aware of it and would have pointed it out to them but their own pride restricted him from doing so.  Conflict was necessary for the real spiritual issues to surface and to allow Paul to address them.

Paul’s warnings here to the Corinthians, as well as his words in Romans 8, show that he considered it impossible to behold God and remain unchanged.  The man who has the Spirit is being consistently given greater revelations of God through the face of Jesus (2 Cor 3:7-18) and is being transformed from one degree of glory to another.  The test as to whether one has received from the Spirit of God is their life, and the warning is to those who think they stand (1 Cor 10:1-13) because the moment one takes their eyes off of Jesus they have already begun to fall, just as Peter began to sink as he walked out to meet Jesus on the sea (Matt 14:22-33).  Like Peter, the only proper response of a spiritual person upon realizing they are falling, is to cry out to God to save them.  In neither context does Paul seem to be suggesting that one ought measure their spirituality against another, rather, he is suggesting that when that person finds areas of weakness they ought to turn but back to Jesus to be refilled, once again, with His Spirit.  Both in 1 Corinthians 2 and Romans 8 Paul is clearly stating that true spiritual transformation will always result in life transformation.  The purpose is not to identify who is spiritual and who is not, but rather to question if I am spiritual or not!

And so, the main thrust of 1 Corinthians 2:2-3:3 is an encouragement for believers in conflict to consider whether they have truly received the words of the Spirit and whether they are living transformed lives.  Whenever a believer sees sin in their heart or life it should cause them to once again fall at the feet of their Savior seeking His Spirit to fill and renew them.

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