Father God, we do so easily live in fear and unbelief – even after everything Jesus did to rescue us through your great love. So strengthen our timid hearts and minds so that we would put all our trust in the saving grace that is to be found in the cross of Christ. Amen.
Now folks, you would think that if something was a good idea – everyone would just get it, right? I like to think that if a good idea is presented to a bunch of reasonable people (like your good selves) then everyone will understand it and go along with it. But that's not always the case, is it? Like I remember when I discovered that Fiona, my wife had never watched Star Wars. And I was like: "What?! You've never watched Star Wars?! We must do so at once." And incredibly as we watched it that night she fell asleep on the sofa after about 30 minutes. And I'm talking about the first ever film here, ok? Not the prequels!
I think it was around about this time I discovered that Fiona loves Maths. And as she gushed enthusiastically about composite numbers and equilateral triangles and geometric progression – it was stunning how quickly I went from thinking I must be the luckiest man alive to be married to this amazing woman, to wondering whether things were really going to work out. I was amazed! How could anyone not like Star Wars? How could anyone not 'get' how great it is? While she was amazed that I couldn't see the incredible beauty of mathematical formulae. And I reckon we all tend to think a bit like that, don't we?
- We share something amazing we've experienced with a friend or family member…
- Or tell people about a brilliant offer we've discovered…
- Or we pitch what we think is a great idea at work…
And people just don't get it. And they won't get on board with it. We all know how a good idea isn't always accepted… even if it's a good idea.
In a similar way, I'm sure you will have experienced how the message of the cross of Christ – the message that Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and death and judgement and bring us into a living relationship with God forever – the message that the Bible describes as the "good news" of Christianity… gets a seriously mixed reception. And it makes us wonder 'Why?' Why don't folks 'get it'?
Maybe some of us have been around church for a while and if we're honest we have to admit that we don't 'get it' – we know the cross is really important, but we just don't quite understand why. Well as we've been looking at the book of 1 Corinthians over the last two weeks, we've seen that the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth and though God was clearly at work in them, they had big problems:
- The church was messed up because they were pushing Jesus out of the church.
- And we saw last week that one of the ways they were doing that was by losing confidence in the message of the cross of Christ. Their heads had been turned by a spirituality that talked more of power and clever impressive philosophy, rather than the crucified son of God.
So as we dive in at the start of chapter 2 we find Paul reminding them that when he visited them – verse 2 – he:
"…decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
Why? Why would you do that when folks just don't get it Paul? Why would you do that when the message of the cross looks so weak and foolish and unimpressive to so many? To which Paul would say: 'What do we know about it? For true wisdom comes from God, not from man.' That's the first of three points Paul's got for us this morning – so it would be great if you could have 1 Corinthians 2 open in front of you so we can see that:
1. True Wisdom comes from God (v.6-8)
You see the world may dismiss the gospel of Christ as foolish, but Paul insists that his message is in fact wise – take a look at verse 6:
"Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away."
Folks, there are really two kinds of wisdom in our world.
- In the red corner there is the "wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age."
- And in the blue corner there is the "secret and hidden wisdom of God."
And they clash jarringly. So the wisdom of this age says that there are many ways to God and we must not say that anyone is wrong. But then the gospel comes along and says: 'Well actually there's only one way back to God – and that's being forgiven through the death of Jesus his only Son.' There's a clash. Or… the wisdom of the age says that we must make no judgements on how anyone lives or behaves. But then the gospel comes along and says that we are under massive judgement for the way we've treated God and others. And even though the gospel reassures us that Jesus died to take that judgement for us – there's still a clash!
And that's our big problem, isn't it? Our problem is often not with the gospel, the 'good news' of the cross itself, but with the way it clashes with the views of the world of those around us and gets us into awkwardness and argument, disagreement and division – often with the people we love the most. But that doesn't make it untrue. That just makes it uncomfortable. So we're not to be discouraged, because the Apostle Paul says (v.6) that the wisdom of "this age" is here today and gone tomorrow. It is, along with "the rulers of this age", passing away. Their wisdom is simply a 'now' thing.
Last weekend my sister-in-law ran 26.2 miles in what was the hottest London Marathon ever. But in the run up to the Marathon she asked us to guess when the first year women were allowed to run in it was. Any guesses? What do you think? 1984 – I couldn't believe that when I heard it! Before that they wouldn't let women run because they didn't think it was physically possible for women to run that far. But since then, thousands, if not millions of women – including my sister-in-law – have proved the wisdom of that age wrong. It has passed away. Now of course that's the kind small-minded wisdom we want to see pass away, but history is littered with temporary 'wisdom' that seemed much more progressive at the time:
- Like how people back in the 1920s & 30s thought they had learned the lessons of World War 1 and so they started to call it the "war to end all wars" – only for the rest of the 20th Century to be the most bloody in all of human history.
- Or how the French adopted the 10-day week back in 1793 – I'm tired just thinking about that, and am glad it lasted for only a decade.
Folks, every generation likes to think that they've finally arrived and now ooze with enlightened intelligence. But our wisdom, like all human wisdom, has a sell by date. It's for this age only. It will soon pass away. And tragically (verse 6 again), it and those who peddle it will come to nothing in the end. By contrast the Apostle Paul's message of wisdom is God's wisdom (v.7):
"But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory."
I love how space telescopes like the Hubble telescope can peer into space and show us images from millions of years ago because the light takes so long to get back to us. It's an awesome thought – this star has been and gone and we are just catching up. Well do you see? Verse 7 tells us that the gospel idea was devised in the mind of God before time began, and we're just catching up. This plan was once "hidden" in the Old Testament with just hints and promises of the rescuer to come – but it's now an open "secret" thanks to Christ's death and resurrection – and it's designed to steer us where? To "glory"! To our ultimate future in heaven with him.
The wisdom of this age is passing away. But God's wisdom is the key that unlocks eternity for us. Yet we can't understand it by ourselves. Which is my second point:
2. We Can't Understand by Ourselves (v.9-11)
As Paul goes on in verse 8:
"None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
That's pretty shocking, isn't it? The "rulers" of Jesus' time – the best and brightest of the Roman Empire and the Jewish government – crucified the Lord of glory. And when they nailed Jesus to a cross, it was not because they knew him to be the ultimate Time Lord – the key to this glorious future God has in store for us. No they didn't understand… and simply saw him as a threat to their wisdom, their plans. And folks, none of us can understand God's wisdom on our own. That's the point Paul goes onto make in verse 11:
"For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?"
I mean who knows what someone else is thinking? Go on try to guess what I'm thinking about right now. What do you think? I'm tempted to make you guess, but let me tell you – I was dreaming of the day when my beloved Partick Thistle win the champions league. I suspect none of you thought of that. And I suspect that many of you don't even know what a Partick Thistle is – so let me fill you in, they're a football team in Glasgow – and not a very good one at that! The point is though, that we can't discern each other's thoughts, never mind God's. You can launch as many Hubble telescopes into space as you like, but they can't see that far back to "before the ages". You can fill the Universities with PhD students and invest massively in research departments, but you won't work out what God has planned for us in the future. 'But…' the Apostle Paul says, 'We can tell you...' Verses 9-10:
"But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him' – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit."
I was once at a funeral where they started the service by quoting verse 9. What a brilliant time to read something like that. If only they hadn't blown it by leaving off verse 10. You come to the start of the service and the coffin is there in front of you. You're facing death… a dead end… an unknown and you're wondering: 'Does the minister have anything to say?' Well yes he does. He says:
"...no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…"
And then he stops! As if the Christian gospel can only shrug and sigh in the face of death. 'It's all down to our imagination now. We can only guess.' But doesn't it make such a difference if as you stare at the coffin and the minister stands up, he adds in verse 10:
"'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him' – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit."
He says, 'You can't possibly know the future. It's a frightening ignorance at a time like this... but you've come to the very people who can give you the answer.' Arrogance? No, no, no! The Apostle Paul isn't claiming brilliance of his own here. It's not his own reason or intellect that got him the answer – it's revelation. God has revealed it to us, by his Spirit, which leads me to Paul's third and final point:
3. We Can Only Understand by the Spirit (v.10-16)
Now you could sit there all day trying to guess what I'm thinking, but you can only know what's on my mind if I start speaking to you, if I start revealing myself to you. And like any person, we can only know God and what's on his mind if he starts speaking to us and reveals himself to us. The message of wisdom – that the world is crying out for every time a loved one dies – is a message of wisdom that we can understand because… (v.10-11):
"…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."
Have you noticed when you do a Google search, it comes back saying something like: 'Google found 2,450,000 results in 0.54 seconds'? Well Google-schmoogle! The Spirit searches everything! He knows everything! Even the deep things of God. Imagine the mind of God as a vast ocean and the person of the Spirit swims to its deepest depths… and not only finds, but fully comprehends everything God thinks. Now if only he could help us… well he does! As he shares his findings with us – verse 12:
"Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual."
Now "the things freely given us by God" must mean his Son, given to die for us on the cross. And the Spirit teaches the Bible writers like Paul to write these things down, so that we can read them today, and with the Spirit's help understand them and accept them (v.13). Does that feel a bit disempowering to you? Well good, it should do. We're supposed to open our Bibles and think – I haven't got a hope of understanding or accepting this without God's Spirit. Being disempowered is great… because it means we should be ready to ask for help! So if you've been sitting there thinking: 'Ken, I just don't get it. I come to church and I really want to believe. But now you've told me I can't unless God does something for me and so there seems to be nothing I can do.' Well, there is something you can do. Jesus once said this in Luke 11.13:
"If you... know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
So pray and ask God for his Spirit. And since the work of the Spirit is to help us understand and accept what God has said in the Bible, you need at the same time to put yourself on the receiving end of the Bible – so why not talk to me later about doing one of our Explore Courses? And by the way, I'd say the same if you're a Christian experiencing doubts. Keep praying that God would be working in you by his Spirit, and keep yourself on the receiving end of his word – keep reading it, keep going to whatever group you're in, keep coming to church – and be patient as God brings you through the faith-difficulties you've run into. And if you are a believer… be humble. And be grateful. You're not a believer because you climbed your clever ladder to embrace Jesus as Saviour. You didn't figure God out. No! You're a believer because God in his mercy has worked in you by his Spirit to enable you to accept what you'd otherwise have rejected in your folly. You were (v.14):
"The natural person… [who] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
But now you are (v.15-16):
"The spiritual person… [who] judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ."
What's that all about? Well the spiritual person "judges all things" – which is really the same word used for "discern" in verse 14. So verse 15 could read 'the Spiritual person discerns all things, but is himself discerned by no one.' I think this is the best way to understand it. He or she begins to understand, but they are not understood. You see, in the eyes of others, the Christian becomes an enigma to his or her friends who don't know the Spirit. Have you ever experienced that? They can't understand why you do this or why you don't want to do that? Well it's not surprising, because (v.16) they can't understand God's mind! And now they can't understand ours either.
"But we have... the mind of Christ."
Hold on to that truth when you're next embarrassed, frustrated, fed up, exhausted from being misunderstood and always feeling on the outside of things. If this is the reason - "we have the mind of Christ" - and it's all a fog to them, only a fool would swap.
With this book in our hands and God's Spirit in our lives, we're in touch with the mind who created us. So we can know what life's about. We can know what's right and wrong. We can know God's true vision for marriage, society, everything. And above all, we can know and understand that things can only come right as people – one by one – come back to God through Jesus' death on the cross for them. And Paul is saying: 'If God has opened our eyes to all that, then resist the pressure to be ashamed of the gospel, or to change it. Because it's not just another human opinion. It's God's! And ultimately it will lead you to glory!'
Folks – as ever – we need to pray! Let's take a moment on our own to respond to God's word in prayer…
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.