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TEXT: I Corinthians 2:1-16
SUBJECT: True and False Knowledge
Other than Judaism, nothing threatened the Early Church more than Gnosticism. 'Gnosticism' comes from the Greek word meaning, 'I know', and this is what the Gnostics prided themselves on: knowing things-knowing things ordinary Christians did not know.
They found this hidden wisdom in one of two ways: with their heads or with their hearts. The brainier ones reasoned out the mysteries of God; the more intuitive simply felt it somewhere deep in the soul. But, however they got this secret knowledge, they had it; others didn't and never would.
The practical results of Gnosticism are pride, contempt, and division. If some people in the church 'get it' and others don't, those who do will congratulate themselves, look down on the others, and form a 'know-it-all' club. If you read I Corinthians you'll see this is what's going on, and what Paul spends almost all of his time and effort trying to correct.
The divide in Corinth is not between Jews and Gentiles, as it was in most other places at the time, but between people 'in-the-know' and people 'out-of-the know'. Between people who were not content with the simple Gospel and the people who were.
Is Paul against knowledge? No, he isn't. He himself is an educated man, and when he needs to he shows it. What he's against is knowledge without a cross planted in the middle of it! What does this mean? Well, what does the Cross mean? The Cross means, in Jesus Christ, God humbled Himself; He gave up His wishes and comfort to secure the welfare of others, and the others He died for, for the most part, are inferior people, ignorant people, not the 'geniuses' and 'mystics' the Gnostic party admired so much.
In other words, the Cross stands for putting others first, even, or especially when they know less than you do. This is the kind of knowledge Paul was for: Crucified knowledge. Not the sort of knowledge that puffs up as he has it a bit later, but the kind that builds up.
Where did the Corinthians first hear the Gospel? They heard it from Paul. It was his Gospel that saved them, not the fancy Gospel they were flirting with. What was the centerpiece of this Gospel, the one that saved them? Paul tells us in v.2. It is-
Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The message was no more popular then than it is today. Talk 'religion' and people will listen; preach the Gospel and they won't. The Jews were offended by it, and the Greeks called it foolish. Paul was not surprised by the responses. He was not a silly young preacher, full of himself, assuming that everyone would wonder at his gifts and flock to his ministry! He knew what he is in for if he preached the plain Gospel, and he still preached it.
It was this plain message that saved the Jews and Pagans in Corinth. Since it did, why are some in the church looking down on its simplicity as if it were unworthy of their respect? Beneath the dignity of an educated person?
Not only was Paul's message centered on the cross, but so were his methods of preaching. Charles Spurgeon tells the funny story of a preacher he once saw fervently inviting people to Christ while standing in a boxer's pose! I'm sure this was a mistake on the unknown preacher's part, but Paul didn't make it. His message and his method were congruent; they 'went together'.
What does 'preaching the cross' look like in the pulpit? It doesn't look like human wisdom or excellence of speech. As a learned man and well-trained in public speaking, Paul could have used these methods, but didn't. He wouldn't gussy up the scandal of the cross with fine phrases and an impressive pulpit bearing.
Paul's life matched his preaching. Like most people, the Corinthians were looking for a strong man brimming with self-confidence, a natural born leader. What Paul gave them was-
Weakness and fear and trembling.
His weakness was physical; he was sick and tired and beaten up. The fear and trembling were emotional. He had so much to do, so little time to do it, and there was so much opposition! Paul felt himself altogether inadequate!
In feeling and acting and looking this way, he was bearing witness to the cross. The cross is not a symbol of power, but of weakness; it doesn't communicate honor, but shame. The cross stands-not for being served-but for serving, and giving up your life for others!
By preaching and living this way, Paul was demonstrating the power of God's Spirit. If he had offered 'eternal life' without a cross, people would have beat down his door to get it! Getting people to 'Come and live' does not require Divine Grace. But the message of the Gospel is, 'Come and die!' Nobody's going to respond to that without the Holy Spirit at work in him.
And remember, Paul preached and lived this way, not because he couldn't have made himself and his message more attractive, but because he wanted the Corinthians to put their trust in God and His Gospel-and not in man-made knowledge and beautiful words!
Most of the Corinthians were idolaters by birth and habit; all their lives they-
Worshiped and served the creature,
More than the Creator.
This is the problem with knowledge and eloquence. They're creatures, good in their place, but when they get out of their place, they become idols. Paul wanted to free the Corinthians from false gods by introducing them to the One True God who is not revealed in human wisdom and charisma, but in-
Jesus Christ and Him+ crucified.
WHO'S GOT GOD'S WISDOM
The second half of the chapter begins in v.6, and the most important word in that verse is also the one we're most likely to ignore, we-
We speak wisdom.
Who's Paul referring to? If you read the rest of the verse, you'll see-
We speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor the rulers of this age who are coming to nothing.
The we is not the 'worldly wise' (pagan rulers, for example), or even rank-and-file Christians. The Christians are not speaking here, but are spoken to. Who's speaking? Paul and his associates, either the Apostles or, more likely, men like Timothy, Titus, and Sosthenes, Paul's agents. They're the ones who have the wisdom of God and are speaking it!
This wisdom used to be hidden. It was in God's mind before He created the world, and that's where it stayed a very long time. But now it's out! How did it get out? Nobody 'discovered' it-figured it out with his brain or felt it in his heart. It was revealed, and what was revealed was the Gospel.
It wasn't revealed to the rulers of this world; if it had been, they wouldn't have crucified the Lord. Why not? Not because they would have 'loved' Him if they'd known who He was, but because, in trying to destroy Jesus, they destroyed themselves! At the weakest moment in His life, when Jesus hung limp on the cross, He was, at the same time-
Disarming principalities and powers, and making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
And not through human wisdom and power, but through God's wisdom and power, which-to the naked eye-look an awful lot like weakness and folly!
What does the Gospel reveal? It reveals things-
Eye has not seen,
Ear has not heard,
Or entered into the heart of man.
What are these unseen, unheard, and unimagined things?
The things that have been freely given to us by God!
Here again, a little word matters, us. Though these things were not revealed to every Christian, they are given to every Christian! We all have the forgiveness of sin, we're all justified, adopted, sanctified; and one day, we'll all be glorified. This is not all we have in Christ, but it's enough to stagger us with gratitude-and to free us from the stupid craving to solve mysteries, uncover hidden things, and make people oooh and aaah at our cleverness!
This kind of thinking will not impress unsaved people. To them, the Gospel itself, Gospel-thinking and Gospel-living seem ludicrous. How can weakness be strength? How can folly be wisdom? How can you find your life by losing it?
Their confusion is easily explained. This is spiritual thinking and the only kind of thinking they do is natural. No wonder they don't 'get it', and no wonder they pass judgment on those who do, but the judgment misses the mark.
They don't have mind of Christ: we do, and not because we're smarter than they are, but because it's been give to us in the Gospel and received by faith.
Knowledge matters. No one can read the Bible and say it doesn't. The Proverb says-
Wisdom is the principal thing,
Therefore, get wisdom, and
With all your getting, get
The prophet traces Israel's apostasy to its ignorance-
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
Because you have rejected knowledge, I [God]
will reject you.
Peter commands us to grow in knowledge, and Paul urges us to study to show ourselves approved to God. Jesus goes so far as to equate knowledge-knowing God and Christ to life eternal.
But the knowledge they all commend is not secret knowledge, hidden, occult knowledge, knowledge so mysterious that only geniuses and mystics can grasp it, but the Gospel-God's great love for us in Christ and all it brings us.
This is the knowledge that gives peace and joy and usefulness. Other kinds of knowledge puff up; Gospel knowledge builds up.
Let us, therefore, repent of any pride we feel in possibly knowing more than other Christians! God has not given us the knowledge we have to lift ourselves above others; He has given it to us to serve them.
Let us commit ourselves to majoring on the major. To not spend the bulk of our time pursing the meaning of Gog and Magog, but of serving the Lord and loving our neighbor.
Let us always be Gospel centered. For whatever else the Bible teaches and whatever we can figure out on our own, what matters most is the Gospel.
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