I Corinthians 2:14 — "the things of the Spirit of God"

...and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, Jeremiah 15:16.

I Corinthians 2:14 — "the things of the Spirit of God"

Postby Paul » Wed Mar 09, 2011 9:18 pm

I Corinthains 2:14
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.

Common teaching on the above passage sets out that the things of the Spirit of God refers to salvation, a spiritual illumination in coming to accept Christ, such as Lydia of Thyatira experienced.

Acts 16:14
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Actually, this position is maintained by Christians who hold that the power of God intervening into a person's life in a supernatural manner, such as is commonly found in the bible, has ceased. They affirm that in the present time, being spiritual can only be experienced in worldly ways, just as God primarily is known through the intellect, and the bible is understood by scholarship. However, a careful reading of this verse in context reveals that the things of the Spirit of God in reality refers to the gifts that believers receive from the Holy Spirit.

In the introduction to the epistle, Paul sets out main themes he wants to address — that knowledge and gifts come by grace through Christ, just as he confirmed the witness of who he is in their lives, — and that related to the nature of the knowledge and gifts, there should not be divisions among them, but a unity of judgment.

I Corinthians 1:4-12
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

In their understanding of knowledge, gifts, and divisions, the Corinthians were relying on a Greek sense of wisdom, which left them spiritually immature, judgmental of others, and worldly in their faith. However, spiritual knowledge actually comes through the grace of Jesus Christ and does not create divisions.

I Corinthians 1:17-2:5
For Christ sent me... to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words... For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men.. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise... And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God... And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

Just after the introduction of the epistle, at 1:13, Paul sets out three questions, which he answers in reverse order from 1:14 to 4:7.

I Corinthians 1:13
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul answers the second question in two parts at 1:18-31, and 2:6-3:4. In the first part Paul sets out what he taught previously at Corinth — Christ crucified, how and why. In the second part, Paul explains what he did not teach the Corinthians, which matters relate to spiritual gifts; and at 2:15, Paul actually is defending himself from judgment by them. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. (Note also I Corinthians 4:3,4 — But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

In ancient times, Mediterranean philosophers taught both on exoteric and esoteric doctrine, on its basic and external reality, and on its more profound and hidden aspects. Apparently, the Corinthians accused Paul of only having taught his exoteric doctrine, the cross, while neglecting the esoteric matters, the gifts of the Spirit. Other apostles, I Corinthains 11:5; 12:11, cf. I Corinthains 15:9, then came to the Corinthians and taught on the gifts, but this led to divisions within the church. In I Corinthians, Paul basis his response to the accusation on the stages commonly understood by ancient philosophers for the learning of spiritual doctrine — the beginner, the one making progress, and the mature or perfect person — which he refers to in the first and third categories, as the babes in Christ, or natural men, and the mature, or the spiritual man.

Paul notes that man's wisdom does not teach the things of the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit teaches them himself, for the natural man regards these things as foolishness. Paul could not previously teach the Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit, because as natural men, they were still babes in Christ. The gifts of the Spirit can only be taught to mature believers, but Paul had to feed the Corinthians with milk. However, in this epistle he does teach more fully on the gifts of the Spirit, chapters 12-14.

The main problem Paul was trying to avoid was not the possibility of disagreement over having different opinions on an issue such as spiritual gifts, but that the Corinthians did not know the correct way to disagree, because they were too worldly. Their disagreements were based on envy and strife which caused divisions. Thus, not only would teaching on the gifts of the Spirit have created divisions among them, but their tendency toward envy and strife indicated that they were too immature even to understand matters as spiritual as the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I Corinthians 3:1-4
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

II Corinthians 12:20
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

If the Corinthians had demonstrated the spiritual maturity of being able to disagree without strife and envy, without creating divisions, Paul would have taught them on spiritual gifts earlier. However, teaching on the gifts requires setting aside worldly knowledge and discerning the spiritual things by comparing them to spiritual things to be confirmed.

I Corinthians 2:13
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

The Corinthians had demonstrated that they were not capable of this spiritual way of learning, as they were natural men, inclined to envy, strife, and divisions. They would first have to learn how to be spiritual, in order to learn about the gifts from the Holy Spirit, and to learn how to disagree without envy and strife, but with an emphasis on the unity that comes to all believers because of the crucifixion of Christ.

(This analysis of I Corinthians 2:14 is based on Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, by Charles H. Talbert, Crossroad Publishing Co., New York, 1989, pp. 3-11. This complex commentary sets out ancient literary structuring devices for establishing a train of thought in interpretation.)

M. Paul Webb
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