Interesting Contrasts

1 Corinthians 2:10 - 3:9

 
By Paul Robison

 Someone has written: “After a while, you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul, and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and company doesn't mean security.  After a while, you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and presents aren't promises, and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open, with the grace of an adult, and not the grief of a child.

... After a while, you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much. 
So plant your own garden and decorate your own soil instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.  After a while, you learn you can endure ... And you learn and you learn, with every goodbye, you learn” (Shoftsall in Swindoll).  It takes awhile to mature, doesn't it?  The same is true with growth as a Christian, isn't it?  The apostle Paul states in Colossians 1:28: “Him (or Jesus) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect (or mature) in Christ Jesus.”  Isn't it an amazing thing how the church helps to transform each of us to become more like Christ?  So many different areas contribute to our spiritual growth: our elders, our working together during service projects, our worship, our fellowship meals, our teaching projects, like our gospel meetings and VBS, our visiting places and members together, our Bible classes, our planning sessions, our weddings and funerals, our discussions and prayers in small groups, playing games and having fun together!  All of these areas help us in our spiritual development as we become more mature in our Lord.
 
Paul's first letter to the brethren in Corinth was written to help the brethren there to become more spiritually mature.  Paul knew that they were having problems.  He had heard this from at least three sources: their own letter to him, from three members named Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17), and from some brethren in Chloe's household (1:10).  Paul had left this congregation in about 51 A. D., and now he begins dictating a letter to them in 54 A. D.  We see how Paul tries to help them get their focus back on Jesus in the opening verses.  These young members in the faith had carried their culture’s exaltation of philosophers, eloquent speech, and worldly wisdom right into the church by exalting their favorite preachers and those who had baptized them.  This created cliques in the congregation that were quarreling with each other and claiming that their group was the best.  Paul gets right down to business and says in 1:10 that they should not be divided, but they should be perfectly joined together with a proper focus.  They should focus on unity, not division.  They should focus on Jesus, and not His preachers.  They should focus on revelation, and not rhetoric.  They should focus on Christ crucified (God’s wisdom), and not their culture’s values (worldly wisdom).  Then, Paul encourages them to focus on divine wisdom, which can be seen in His church, in His Son, Jesus, in His messengers, and in His mystery or the Gospel.  In the next section of the letter, Paul continues to focus on God's wisdom and also begins to give a direct response to all those members involved with exalting certain preachers and creating cliques.  In this next section, it is also interesting that we find several contrasts that Paul makes.  These contrasts have been turned into questions for our own reflection.  Let's look at them more closely.
 
Open your Bibles and notice what Paul writes first in 1 Corinthians 2:10-12: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.  For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?  Even so no one knows the things 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 know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”  Paul says in the previous verse that God was preparing some things during the time when the Old Covenant was in effect.  Now these things are part of the mystery of the Gospel and have been revealed to mankind by the Holy Spirit; such things include: Jesus’ ministry, the church, the gift of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, the New Covenant, and the final destinies of heaven and hell.  Paul affirms in the next verses that “like knows like”; just as a person’s spirit knows the hidden things of that person’s life, so the Spirit of God also knows God from the inside out.  In verse 12, Paul is saying that God’s Spirit continues to help Christians know or understand the things that God is now offering us under the New Covenant.  Notice this contrast: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God ….”  That contrast prompts this question: “Are we following the world’s spirit or God’s Spirit?”  The world’s spirit in this case probably refers to the philosophical and rhetorical culture that the Corinthian Christians were carrying right into the church when they exalted their preachers like philosophers, began creating cliques which caused divisions, and began to boast their group was the best.  So we could rephrase our question to ask: “Are we following the culture’s spirit or God’s Spirit?”  Now why is that question even worth asking?  Who has your ear and who helps shape your values?
 
We Americans like to think of ourselves as being independent, but, in reality, we are a very dependent people because we have been become so addicted to our mass media—radios, TVs, movies, videos, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, newspapers, magazines, the Internet.  Now this is not to say that we don’t need to be informed.  Here’s the point—How much time do you spend tuning in to the media’s outlook on the world as opposed to tuning in to the Spirit’s outlook on the world that we find in the Bible?  Does Oprah have more influence over you than Obadiah?  Does Letterman shape your thinking more than Paul’s letters?  If you will look at our Bible reading charts, you will discover that right now only about 25% of us are reading our Bibles regularly?  Are we listening and following our culture’s spirit or God’s Spirit?  Our culture wants us to think that life is gray, confusing, and relative. The Spirit tells us this a little later in this letter to the Corinthians: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).  Let’s strive to follow the clear truths of God’s Spirit found in the New Testament!
 
Now let’s notice another contrast in verse 13: “These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”  The things that Paul preaches and teaches do not come from man’s wisdom, but they come from God’s Holy Spirit.  Only through God’s revelation in the New Testament can anyone be saved.  Aren't you thankful that God gave us those wonderful revelations of salvation and eternal life?  One commentator remarked: “Because the Spirit who reveals is truly God, what He reveals is the truth of God” (Morris).  Through Christ and His apostles’ teachings, Christians learn about spiritual matters through spiritual explanations.  So this prompts the next question: “Are we teaching man’s wisdom or the Spirit’s wisdom?”  Look back at verse 4 where Paul declared: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Are we following Paul’s example here?  When we try to share the Gospel with others, why don't we do all that we can to just open up the Scriptures and to let them speak for themselves?  “For the word of God is living and powerful, and shaper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The words of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament can still touch and move people in powerful ways!  A former drug pusher is now the head of Bible school in Africa, a person who ran around with the wrong crowd in his youth is now the chairman of the Bible department in one of our Christians colleges, a fellow who grew up thinking cars and speed were the only thing to live for is now one of the most powerful preachers in our brotherhood.  What made these tremendous changes?  They would tell you: “Jesus and His teachings transformed our lives!”  Listen carefully to his good observation: “When the hot Word of God is poured over a cold, cold world, things crack, and it is into the brokenness that we [can penetrate, however] big or small [the] piece that we find in front of us, with fire in our bones, to show a frightened world that it is not the heat of the fire that we fear; but the chill that lies ahead if the fire goes out” (Taylor in Rowell).  Are we teaching man’s wisdom or the Spirit’s wisdom?
 
The next contrast is seen in verses 14-16: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.  For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?  But we have the mind of Christ.”  We see immediately here the contrast between the natural man and the spiritual man, the people without the mind of Christ and those with the mind of Christ.  An atheist or a materialist is how we might label this natural man.  Commentators have described this person as one who sees nothing beyond the physical life and material needs, who sees relationships only with a horizontal perspective and no vertical dimension, who sees the world as being totally the product of materialistic causes, and who is oblivious to God and does not possess God’s Spirit.  There were philosophers in Paul’s day who preached and personified this way of looking at life.  To the atheist or materialist, spiritual matters look like foolishness.  They chide Christians with questions like: “Do you still believe they’ll be pie in the sky in the sweet by and by?”  The spiritual man, the Christian, has received God’s Spirit and God’s revelation, and has insights into life that the material man lacks.  By contrast, the spiritual man can form an enlightened judgment on reality based on the Spirit's divine outlook.  Oh yes, the material man will judge the spiritual man as foolish, based on worldly wisdom.  The apostle Paul likes to conclude his arguments by giving the God’s Word the final word, so notice here how he states that no person can understand God’s mind, but Christians have been able to comprehend it better through Christ’s teachings.  We see here too how Paul makes the mind of Christ equivalent to the mind of God.  All this raises the question: “Are we natural people or spiritual people?”  How deeply do we believe the truths of the God’s revelation?  A researcher polled Americans in 1995, 2000, and 2005 and asked if they believed that absolute moral truth existed, that Satan was a real being, that Jesus lived a sinless life, that God is the all powerful and all knowing Creator who still rules over the universe today, and that a person can’t earn heaven.
If people believed those statements, he said that they had a biblical worldview.  If they did not believe those statements, they had a secular worldview.  In all three surveys, there was a consistent response—only 10% of Americans have a biblical worldview.  When those surveyed were from ages 18-23, the percentage dropped to less than half of 1% (Barna). 
“Are we natural people or spiritual people?”
 
The next contrast is seen in 3:1-2: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as canal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.”  Babes in Christ or adults in Christ is the contrast here.  And the question is: “Are we coasting Christians or maturing Christians?”  One commentator made this good remark: “The problem, then, in Corinth, is not that some Christians are not spiritual or do not have the Spirit or mind of Christ.  It is, rather, that though all the Corinthian Christians have the Spirit, they are not living as spiritual persons ought to live.  They are acting like non-Christians, and Paul's basic response is 'Stop!'  Their practice has not caught up with what they have accepted in principle.  Their cultural assumptions have not been critically evaluated in light of their Christian faith [nor have they been transformed by conforming to God’s will]” (Witherington).  The apostle Paul and Apollos had grounded these believers in the first principles, but their actions show that they are reverting back to their pagan focus on envy, jealously, and strife as they exalt their preachers and promote their cliques.  Christians are warned in Hebrews 2:1: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to things we have heard lest we drift away.”  Drifting and coasting—how much energy does that take?  Discerning, evaluating, growing, maturing, carrying a cross, fighting the good fight daily, praying, serving—how much energy does that take?  Coasting Christians want to be served, to sit on comfortable pews, and to let the world go to hell!  Maturing Christians want to render service, to suffer for Christ’s sake in order to make a difference, and to help our world get to heaven!  Do you see their unselfishness?  “Are we coasting Christians or maturing Christians?”
 
The next contrast is seen in verse 3-4: “For you are still carnal.  For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?  For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal?”  Carnal or spiritual is the contrast, and the question is: “Are we quarreling Christians or peace-loving Christians?”  One commentator gave this powerful insight: “This is extremely significant because it means that you can tell what a [member's] relations with God are by looking at his relations with his fellow [Christians].  If he is at variance with his fellow [members], if he is a quarrelsome, argumentative, trouble-making creature, he may be a diligent church attender, he may even be a church office-bearer, but he is not a man of God.  But if a [member] is at one with his fellow [Christians], if his relations with them are marked by love and unity and concord, then he is on the way to being a man of God” (Barclay). “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?  And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).  Remember those three superstar tenors who gave a concert in 1994: Carreras, Pavarotti, and Domingo.  A reporter tied to press the issue of competitiveness among them, and Domingo replied: “You have to put all your concentration into opening your heart to the music.  You can’t be rivals when you’re making music together” (Rowell).  Oh that we would concentrate into opening our hearts to Our Great Commander because we can’t be rivals when we’re marching together for Him!  Are we quarreling Christians or peace-loving Christians?
 
The next contrast is seen in verses 5-6: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”  Paul wanted no party trying to honor him (Coffman).  Paul saw Apollos and himself as fellow servants for Christ or equal farm laborers in God’s field. 
Now who would put slaves and farm hands on pedestals?  The real work is done by God, and preachers and teachers are only the instruments through whom He works.  Well, if the planter and the waterer aren’t that important, then the Paul and Apollos cliques aren’t that important either (Morris)!  One commentator had this good remark: “The important point is that for the Corinthians to define themselves with respect to any human figure, however prominent or beloved, is tantamount to defining themselves as 'the church of men at Corinth', that is, to define themselves in purely human terms; it is to deny their own birthright and to admit, in effect, that their faith rests not on the power of God but on the wisdom of men.  In effect, it is to deny that the Spirit of God empowers them, the very heart of their own claim” (Halladay).  The contrast is between God’s workers and God Himself, and the question is: “Are we exalting preachers or exalting God?”  All preachers are really teammates; we all play under the same Coach.  And most all preachers would readily admit that they pray quite often: “God, if you can’t work through me, then work around me or in spite of me to get Your will accomplished in this congregation.”  Our loyalty should be to God, and not to His messengers (Shelly)!  Let’s be the church of GOD in Prescott (for no human being, except for Jesus, even comes close to God’s wisdom, perfection, justice, and mercy)!  May God bless us to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” as we exalt Him, and not His farm hands (1 Cor. 1:10)!
 
The next contrast is seen in verses 7-9: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”  It is God who gives the increase; it is God who makes the field productive.  One commentator said this about preachers and teachers: “They [are] one in mutual love and respect for each other, one in purpose, one in status as God's servants, and one in their reliance upon the Lord who would reward both” (Coffman).  And did you see how Paul uses God’s name three times in verse 9: God’s fellow workers, God’s field, God’s building?  God’s divine action is where Paul wants these brethren’s focus to be.  The workers and God create the contrast, and the question is: “Are we trusting in our own efforts or in God’s power?”  This question is not asked as an excuse for our laziness so we can be coasting Christians.  No, it is asked because so often we think we have to do all of God’s work, and yet we never ask Him to bless our efforts, to open doors in our area, and to bring about maturity right here in this body that we have not yet imagined!  Let’s remember something—this is His church, and He can bring about the increase in His field in whatever way that He sees best. 

You see, let’s put our trust in His power!  “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21)!
 
Someone has asked:“What does it mean to be grown up in Christ?”  And they replied: “It means such things as being fully developed, [not just in age, but in experience, having had one's faith exercised and tested on the firing line of life].  It means having marks of wisdom, not just knowledge. 
It means having the self-discipline and commitment for an authentic walk with Christ seven days a week.  It means the determination to obey God and to submit to the truth of His Word at any cost.  It means the ability to nourish myself as an individual believer on God's Word.  It means having the compassion to reach out and care for other people whose needs are different from my own.  [It means having the skill to share the Gospel from my own Bible with another.]  It means having the willingness to share in the responsibilities of [my church family].  [It means being generous in my giving.]  And all of these tasks are done with an attitude of a contagious, positive spirit” (Swindoll).  The church can help you to become more like Christ.  Don’t be a natural person any longer, but become a spiritual person right now!  Become a peace-loving Christian who believes in the Spirit’s wisdom, who exalts and trusts God, and who continues to mature each day as you follow Christ.  You can have the mind of Christ too if you will submit your life to His will and His teachings.