Friday, June 13, 2014

1 Corinthians 2: Two Kinds of Wisdom

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1 Cor 2.6-13 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. 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. 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. 

There are two kinds of wisdom exhibited by people: one is from the world and the other from 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" (v.12). Paul says the wisdom believers have received is from the Spirit of God, not the spirit of the world. The difference between the two is the capacity to understand the things of God. When we have spiritual wisdom, we gain a deeper understanding of spiritual truths. But when all we have is worldly wisdom, our spiritual understanding become dull and we lose the ability to comprehend the deeper things of God. These two kinds of wisdom (spiritual and worldly) are mutually exclusive as they produce opposite results.

In fact, James puts the two kinds of wisdom in starker contrast:
  • James 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
So, according to the Apostle James, the distance between the two kinds of wisdom is as far apart as heaven is from earth: one is "from above" and the characteristics of this wisdom is "pure... peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy... good fruits, impartial and sincere." The result is righteousness and peace. In contrast, the "wisdom from below" is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic". The result of this wisdom is jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder and immorality. As Jesus said, "You will know the tree by its fruit" (Mt 7:17).

When a person espousing a particular doctrine is no longer open to reason, we may conclude that whatever spiritual wisdom he may have originally received from God has been tainted by his flesh, so that he becomes inflexible, partial and insincere. But when the wisdom from above is not tainted by the flesh so that it remains pure, then it is open to reason because none can claim to have absolute and perfect revelation. Even Paul admits that he has only partial revelation: "we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 13:9). That is why humility is important because God wants believers to pool their resources together so that we can better discern the whole truth. Like the four proverbial blind men trying to describe the elephant, it is best we learn to be less dogmatic so that we can learn from others.

So if a teaching or doctrine produces a character that is marked by peace, gentleness, openness to reason, showing mercy to others and bearing good fruits of righteousness with impartiality and sincerity in the ways we approach issues, then we will know that the source of that wisdom is from the Spirit of God, not from the human flesh.
 
I have observed a subtle danger that too much of the aims and methods of bible study are geared towards the acquisition of academic knowledge rather spiritual truth. Spiritual truth is received by revelation through prayerful listening to the voice of the Spirit whereas academic knowledge is acquired by research through using the natural mind to extract human wisdom from library tomes. The former enlightens the human spirit, producing teachability and humility, whereas the latter enlarges the human mind producing spiritual pride: "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" (v.14). 

Father, grant us Your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we might discern spiritual truths and bear good fruits of peace, gentleness and righteousness. Amen.

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