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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. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 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”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 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. 12 Now we have received not spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this tin words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.4

14 The natural person 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. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

3 But I, brothers,

could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” hare you not being merely human?

1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4 ESV

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We’re going to dive straight into the text today. It’s a large section, and it’s going to take us two weeks to get through it all. So, we’ll deal with the bulk of the text today. Then next week is VBS, and we will be doing a special VBS Sunday. Then the following week, we’ll come back to this passages to discuss some inferences of the text that we will skip today.

This text is about spiritual maturity. Paul contrasts the person who lives according to the world, the unspiritual or natural man, with those who live according to the Spirit, the spiritual person or the spiritually mature.

So, today we are going to look at three truths about the Spiritually mature so that we can gauge our own spiritual maturity as individuals, but more so, that we can understand the purpose of spiritual maturity for the functioning of the church and the mission of God.

The first is that…

The Spiritually Mature Rule the Church

By that, I mean that leaders in the church must be spiritually mature, regardless of how unspiritual their position may seem. But, the negative inference is not true. I’m not saying that if you’re not in leadership you can’t be spiritually mature.

So, I want to remind you of the context of this passage. The Corinthians didn’t have any official rulers or leaders, and so there were factions among them; they were following a couple different teachers, and it was causing infighting.

We know from the text that they lacked spiritual maturity; Paul says,

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4, ESV)

We get this sense of shock from Paul because even after what probably amounts to years or even decades, there are people who are still just babies in their faith; they have no spiritual maturity. That should serve as a warning to those of you who are like me, raised in the church, or you professed Christ decades ago. Age and time spent in the church aren’t in any way a gauge of our spiritual maturity.

Maybe it’s Paul’s fault, then, that the Corinthians aren’t spiritually mature. Remember he didn’t appoint elders or pastors to rule in the church to preach and teach and lead.

Maybe the reason Paul didn’t give them leaders when he planted the church was that there was no one with the spiritual maturity to actually lead. And that makes sense. It’s clear that the Corinthians were not spiritually mature people. They did not know how to live rightly, and they did not make good decisions. Paul says they acted in a merely human way.

I don’t know how you take ‘in a human way.’ But, it seems clear by the context that they wanted their needs met and their preferences catered to. Paul says that to behave in a human way is to have jealousy and strife—dissension, conflict, rivalry. It’s to divide—certainly, not over truth and untruth, that’s a natural division—it’s to divide over preferences and perspectives.

“I follow Paul and he does things this way.”

“Well I follow Apollos and he said to do this.”

That’s very human. We understand that, but spiritual people do not act this way. On the contrary, spiritual people look for unity and understanding of other’s perspectives.

Let’s look more at the unspiritual people in the passage.

Paul says that the unspiritual person,

…does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them. (1 Corinthians 2.14, ESV)

Paul has some very specific things in mind when he says, ‘the things of the Spirit of God,’ that we will address in detail in a couple weeks, [SLOW] but it’s clear here that the unspiritual person does not understand why spiritual people do the things that they do according to the Spirit. In other words, when a spiritual person makes a decision in the church, the unspiritual people perceive it as foolish.

“I don’t understand why we would spend money in this way.”

“I don’t understand why we don’t have these programs.”

“I don’t understand why we say things in such and such a way.”

“I don’t understand why we sing those songs, use that Bible translation, use the website, etc.”

Further, the wisdom of God that the Spirit imparts to the spiritually mature, is hidden from the spiritually immature. Paul says,

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2.7, ESV)

This wisdom of God that comes by the Spirit is what Paul refused to teach to the Corinthians because they were unspiritual. They just couldn’t handle it yet. He says,

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready. (1 Corinthians 3:2, ESV)

Paul says that the unspiritual are like the rulers who crucified Jesus. Paul wrote,

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8, ESV)

The rulers were blinded to the reality of Jesus and the coming glory and they chose instead to live according to the flesh, to do what catered to their preferences, their comforts, their desires.

Look what John said about the rulers of this world.

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:42–43, ESV)

The rulers of the Jews who crucified Jesus, many of them, actually believed that Jesus was the savior and Lord of Israel … and that’s why they wanted to kill him! Because they knew that the Messiah meant a new covenant and a major change to the way that their faith system operates. So, they killed Jesus to try to stop it.

They wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted to operate the same way they had been all of these years and they didn’t want to change, but they still wanted God to work among them. They prayed for revival, but weren’t willing to see God do a new work among them.

They refused to change, working against the Spirit, and that’s the irony of it; because, you can’t be ruled by the Spirit of God and the Spirit of the world. They don’t mix. Paul says,

…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. (1 Corinthians 2:12, ESV)

And yet, the people in the Corinthian church are acting according to the spirit of the world, like natural, unspiritual people, like the rulers who killed Jesus. The Spirit of God stirs up the purposes of God in the hearts of the mature while the immature are consumed with their own purposes, desires, and passions.

Paul makes clear that the spiritually mature people are the ones who ought to judge. They are the ones who are qualified to rule in the church. This is the solution Paul has for the divisions in the church. He writes,

The natural person 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. The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14–15, ESV)

The spiritually mature are the ones who make the decisions for the church because the unspiritual in the church are not capable of making spiritual decisions. And a church must make spiritual decision.

That’s why the author of Hebrews writes,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)

He makes it clear that to begrudgingly follow the leaders of the church or to cause outright division is not just bad for the church but is of no advantage to anyone individually. By God’s design, the church body submits to their leaders, the spiritually mature for the mutual benefit of the body, so that the church will not be divided like the church in Corinth.

This is why Paul can say in chapter 2, verse 16, “But, we have the mind of Christ.” When the spiritually mature are allowed to lead, the church body is unified in thought and mind, ‘We have the mind of Christ.’

And I get it. The natural downside of having leaders who govern the church is that it can seem as if there is no oversight for the leaders, no accountability for the pastors, and so on. And that’s understandable, so Paul deals extensively with that as well.

Not only do the spiritually mature rule the church, but…

The Spiritually Mature Are Ruled by The Spirit

In other words, this is why the spiritually mature rule the church, because it is ultimately the Spirit that leads.

Paul writes,

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. 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. (1 Corinthians 2:11–13, ESV)

For Paul, there is a natural progression. The Spirit of God communicates with the spiritually mature, who then teach truths, according to the Spirit, to those who also have the Spirit in them. That’s a large part of what we do here on Sunday morning as part of our act of worship. [SLOW] We worship God—which means to express devotion to God—by hearing and acting upon the teaching of the Spirit so that we all become more spiritually mature, together.

The Spirit works through the spiritually mature leaders to make the church body more spiritually mature.

Look what Peter says to encourage those who shepherd or pastor churches. He writes,

So I exhort the elders [pastors] among you, as a fellow elder [pastor] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd  [pastor] the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…And when the chief Shepherd [Pastor] appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1–4, ESV)

Here we see that elders in the church are charged to be shepherds, or pastors, who are accountable to the Chief Shepherd or the Chief Pastor, which is Jesus Christ. Notice, the pastors Peter writes to are not accountable to Peter who many consider to have been the first pope. Peter specifically calls himself a ‘fellow elder.’ He has no authority over the other elders in the other churches.

But, there is a chief Shepherd, who is Christ. And he communicates to his under-shepherds, which are the pastors and elders of churches, through his Spirit to direct the people of God towards the mission of God.

So, I want you to understand the way this all plays out.

Paul says that the wisdom of God is freely given to us through the Spirit. Look at this story. Luke tells this story about Paul. He was in a new city sharing about Jesus and he went outside to the river where the Jewish women would gather to pray. So, Paul starts to share with these women about Jesus. Well, there was a successful businesswoman there named Lydia. When Paul shared about Jesus, she believed and so did her whole family and household.

We’re tempted to read that Paul gave this great Gospel presentation to her. Maybe he finally got to use his apologetics class from seminary. But, that’s not what happened. Luke says this,

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14, ESV)

Paul was preaching. But, Lydia wasn’t listening. Not at first. Not until the Lord opened her heart to listen and then she heard and believed.

Now, there are two faculties at work when Lydia comes to follow Jesus, and both are necessary for her to believe. First, Jesus said,

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… (John 6:44, ESV)

It is God who draws people to Himself. That’s clear and undeniable in this text. Just like with Lydia, the Spirit quickens the heart of the individual to hear and believe the Gospel. But, I don’t think that means that God only draws some people because Jesus also said,

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32, ESV)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he did so in part so that he could send the Holy Spirit to draw all people to himself. In other words, to make people spiritual. Jesus told the disciples while he was on earth,

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper [Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: (John 16:7–8, ESV)

The first faculty at work is the Spirit who draws all people to God, just like with Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” But, there’s a second faculty at work. Paul says,

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14–15, ESV)

The Spirit draws, but the individual must also hear the preaching of the good news of Jesus before they can be reconciled to God.

So, this is the way that the Spirit works in salvation laid out pretty clearly.

But this is actually the way the Spirit works all the time. The Spirit quickens your heart to hear and believe the Word of God whenever it is preached preached or read. And you are faced with a decision to believe the word of God and to prayerfully allow the Word to be implanted upon your heart and to motivate the way you live, act, and speak. Or, you can ignore it.

Listen, it’s no accident that the elders or pastors of the church are those who also teach, because the Spirit works on the people through the speaking of the Truth of God. The Spirit works in your hearts through the teaching of the scriptures, the Bible.

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  (Romans 10:17, ESV)

You need to hear the truth and then pray that the Spirit of God will write that truth upon your heart. Too many people listen to sermons looking for what they agree with.

But, when you disagree with the preaching, it might just be the Spirit of God wants to do work in your heart and mind. You may do well to listen to it. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen without change to faulty beliefs.

The Spirit works together in the heart of the people, through the preaching of the Word to give us unity of mind. And that’s not just a human mind, but Paul says,

…we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:16, ESV)

In other words, it’s not your leaders who ultimately lead you. I don’t lead you by preaching today. The Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ leads the church, by his Spirit working through the proclamation of the Scriptures, so that the spiritual among us will agree, what is truly the will of God. Through the Spirit’s working in the declaration of the Word of God, ‘We have the mind of Christ.’

So, there’s one last section of the passage to deal with. The spiritually mature rule the church as they are ruled by the Holy Spirit. But, what is it that the spiritually mature are so concerned with? Or better, what is it that the Spirit of God is so concerned with?

Well…

The Spiritually Mature Are Concerned with The Ends, Not The Means

By that I mean that processes are not as significant as results when it comes to the Kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul writes,

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 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. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:7–10, ESV)

This idea of ‘before the ages’ is a euphemism for before creation. So, what Paul tells us is that there is a secret wisdom that God decreed or envisioned before He ever created anything. Paul says that wisdom is for our glory. The wisdom is for the glory of the church.

We already talked about the rulers of the age. They wouldn’t have killed Jesus if they really knew who he was. Jesus was the Lord of the universe come to save every nation from all evil, even their own depravity.

Then Paul makes this statement, that those who love God get to receive this unimaginable gift. God has prepared something amazing for His people.

At this point, most of us are quick to jump to the idea of heaven. God has created an amazing place for His people to live eternally with Him! Certainly, no one knows anything about that! We can’t even imagine how great that will be! And so on and so forth…  

But, I don’t think that’s the mystery or the secret, at least not all of it.

Notice, Paul goes on to say that the mystery has already been revealed by the Spirit.

So, if this has to do with eternity, why don’t we know when Jesus is returning? Why don’t we know exactly what eternity will be like? Why do Christians disagree about whether the passages in Revelation, Thessalonians, Ezekiel, Daniel and other passages that deal with the end times are literal or figurative? How do I know what to believe?!

When it comes to the means—the way that the end will come about—God has not revealed this clearly in scripture. There are shadows of the means here and there, but they have not clearly been revealed to us.

But, I do believe the mystery has something to do with the end times. I just don’t believe the Spirit tells us how it’s all going to unfold or when it will happen. This revelation has more to do with the actual end not the means.

So when Paul says…

“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… (1 Corinthians 2:7–10, ESV)

…Paul is exclaiming that God has prepared a place for His church.

The mystery has nothing to do with what heaven is like. It has nothing to do with when the end will come. It has nothing to do with all the questionable details of the end times. But, the mystery or secret wisdom does have to do with the end reality. Because the Spirit of God has revealed to us the Gospel—the good news that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins so that we can abandon the cursed Kingdom of this World and enter into God’s eternal Kingdom.

To say that another way, let’s say that we don’t know the means God will use to bring about the end for certain. But, we do know a few things about the end. I’ll tell you the three of the most important things now, but we will discuss these in greater detail in two weeks.

  1. All Nations Will Be Present In God’s Eternal Kingdom
  2. We Will Worship Jesus Christ Forever
  3. God’s Eternal Kingdom is a Place of Perfection

So many people get caught up in division over how the end times will play out, when God has not revealed that clearly to us. But, “We have the mind of Christ.” Therefore, we must unify under the truths that God has clearly revealed to us by His Spirit and that is why I want to go over these in greater detail in the next message.

As we close, I’ll remind you where we started. We started by talking about divisions in the church. And there are very few things worth dividing over. Where we are headed—the end—has already been revealed to us by the Spirit. We are headed for a perfect Kingdom where all nations will gather in the presence of God to worship Jesus forever. That’s the end. We have to agree on that. But, how we get there will be unique to every church in ever time and place, as the Spirit leads us all on our unique journey.

What’s Your Next Step?

So, as your Next Step for today, I’ll ask for your commitment. If you know that you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, then commit to unify under your leaders, and under the clear unarguable truths of the Gospel, seeking unity not division in all things as you work towards the end goal of eternal glory.

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And when you write that on your Next Step card, if there is an area that you have not expressed unity, but have caused division, please write that down so we can all pray specifically as we move towards greater unity.

And maybe you’ve found yourself asking hard questions today.

What if I’m not a spiritual person and I don’t live for the nations, and I don’t want to worship Jesus, and I don’t look forward to perfection?

What if I’m not spiritually mature? What if I don’t want spiritual maturity? What if I like the things I’m doing in the world and I don’t want to give up the things of this world to live like Christ?

Well, if you listened to this whole message and in your heart you have no desire to change and you don’t want what the Bible describes as spirituality, then I’m afraid there’s only one answer. You have no loyalty to Jesus. You see, maybe you were raised in the church, even baptised. But, there is a great chasm that exists between belief in your mind and loyalty to Jesus Christ in your heart. If you are not certain about your spirituality, my encouragement to you is to check the box on your card that says to Commit to Follow Christ and one of our pastors will call you this week to discuss what that looks like.

And, as always, if there is a unique way that the Spirit of God is calling you to apply His Word today, I’d ask you to write that in on your Next Step card and turn it in when the collection comes by at the end of the service.