KEY THOT: There is a vast difference between human wisdom and divine wisdom. While Paul rejects human wisdom, he does not reject wisdom--especially that which comes from God through His Spirit: "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" (v.6). The spiritually immature relies on human wisdom acquired by years of learning and study. But the spiritually mature relies on divine wisdom revealed by the Spirit: "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." (vv. 9-10).
While human wisdom can impart facts, only divine wisdom can impart truths: "And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual" (v.13). In short, we cannot receive spiritual truths except by the Spirit through the human spirit, not the human intellect: "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." (v.11).
Bible knowledge can be acquired by study and learning, but spiritual truth can only be received through the Spirit who reveals spiritual truths in the spiritual facts. The word of God is not in the scriptural facts acquired by the human mind but in the spiritual truths received by the human spirit from the Spirit: "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). The word of God received from the Spirit is dynamic, not static. Two persons reading the same text may receive different revelation from the same Spirit--and this revelation constitutes the prophetic "word of God" to that person or through that person.
The "natural person" (v. 14) refers to those who operates purely at the natural level, basically relying only on their own intellectual capacity. This "natural person" can even be believers (like the Corinthian believers). And they remain "carnal" in their understanding of the faith because they confuse human knowledge with divine wisdom. They have acquired much spiritual knowledge (facts), but not spiritual wisdom (truths), for they operate in the "natural" realm of the human flesh, rather than in realm of the spirit, for "he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." The "natural" believers who rely on their acquired human wisdom cannot fully understand the "spiritual" believers who rely on the revelation of the Spirit because they lack spiritual discernment.
The key to acquiring spiritual rather than natural wisdom is the Holy Spirit. If we rely on our own intellect alone to acquire spiritual knowledge, we end up with spiritual facts rather than spiritual truths. But if we rely on our spirit to receive spiritual truths as revelation of the Holy Spirit, we acquire divine wisdom that helps us become spiritually mature and discerning. That also means we must let go of previously learned presuppositions so that we can listen afresh to what the Spirit is now saying to the churches.
St James gives us a clue as to what kind of wisdom we have:
- 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.
May the Lord grant us wisdom from above, not from below. Amen.