United By Wisdom: A Study of 1 Corinthians 2

We’re One Family Because We Have One Message

Review: ABC News recently carried a story of an Indiana man named Dean Sparks who bought an old, rusted, blue 1959 Chevy Bel-Air at an auction in Nebraska. (Do you remember those cars with the big horizontal fin in the rear of them? My parents had one.) Anyway, he towed this rusty old car 800 miles back home, and he started going through all the junk in it. There was a lot of rubbish, but when he unbolted and removed the driver’s seat, something caught his eye. It was an envelope with water damage. It was a letter addressed to Ronnie Waterbury in Pierce, Nebraska. The address was from someone named Beverly but the mice had eaten away the return address. Sparks opened the envelope and found a long-lost love letter, written from one recently-graduated high school senior to another. It was dated February 7, 1963. The writer was Beverly Barber. She was writing to her boyfriend, Ronnie. It started out saying, “Miss you, wish you could write more, but I know you’re busy.” The letter meandered on for a few lines. But it was the last sentence of the letter that stood out. It said: “Let’s get married.” Beverly had underlined those words. Well, Dean Sparks and his wife became Internet detectives, trying to track down the author and recipient of the letter. They discovered that both Ronnie and Beverly are now deceased, but they located the coupe’s son, a man named Wade Waterbury. Dean gave him a call and said, “I bought your dad’s car at a Pierce, Nebraska auction, but you’ll not believe what I found in the front seat. I found a letter from your mom to your dad before they got married.” It became a very emotional conversation. Dean learned that the two young people had indeed gotten married, about a month after that letter was written. They eloped in the same car where the letter was found. After the conversation on the phone, Dean Sparks shipped the letter to Wade Waterbury, priority mail in a big blat rate box with Styrofoam surrounding the delicate, tissue-like paper to protect it. It took Wade a long time to get up the emotions to read this precious love letter in which his mom proposed to his dad, but now he’s having it framed as a family keepsake.

Katrina and I did most of our courting my mail. I was at Wheaton Graduate School and she was at Columbia Bible College, and we were 800 miles apart. I think we still have all those old love letter, and one of these days we’re going to get them out and see what they say.

The art of writing letters is a unique form of communication. It’s the most personal kind of written communication. And it is a sheer flash of genius and inspiration that this is the genre of literature God chose to explain to us how to live the Christian life. In the Old Testament, you have many books of history. From Genesis to Esther you have volumes of history. Then we have five books of poetry. Then we have many books of sermons, which we call the prophets. That’s the Old Testament—history, poetry, and sermons. And then we turn the page to the New Testament and we have biography. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are biographies of Christ; and the book of Acts is largely a biography of Peter and Paul. What were Peter and Paul doing? They were primarily making disciples and planting churches. They were establishing new believers. But now, what would be the best way to teach these new believers how to grow in their faith? What would be the best way to help these new churches solve their problems? For this, God chose the most intimate and personal kind of written communication—the writing of letters. We call these the epistles, but the word epistle simply means letter. When you read 1 Corinthians, for example, you can read it as a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, but you can also read it as a personal letter from God to you. Most of these letters deal with problems. How do we solve the problems that arise in our lives and in our churches?

Well, the Corinthians had many problems. They had virtually every problem a church can have. Paul methodically works through the letter of 1 Corinthians, helping them now what to do in every instance. The first problem involved the deep divisions in the church. In chapter 1, as we saw last week, he said the problem of division occurs when overemphasize personality. They had divided into various camps based on the personalities of the preachers who had impacted them.

Now, in chapter 2 he going to continue along these lines and tell them another aspect of this. At the same time they were overestimating personalities if the messengers they were underestimating the power of they message. And he is going to describe this message as Wisdom. Foolishness divides us, but wisdom unites us. You find a marriage or a church or a company that is torn apart, and you’ll find somewhere there is foolishness. Wise people manage to stick together. Wisdom is a Bible word to describe the knowledge of God applied to human life. You can read a great deal about the wisdom of God in the books of Proverbs and James. But we also have an excellent passage about it here in 1 Corinthians 2, in which Paul describes the Wisdom of God in seven ways.

1. God’s Wisdom is Simple (verses 1-2)

Verse 1-2: And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

That’s what we talked about this morning. The narrative of the cross, coupled with the theological explanations of it in the Scriptures. You can take all the wisdom of heaven and earth, turn it into a liquid, and pour it into the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ is the distillation of all wisdom. This was the way I felt this morning. I was sick. I had some little fever last night that took all my energy. I felt very weak. This morning I didn’t have a lot of strength or emotional energy.  But I was preaching from John 19, on the subject of the cross of Jesus. I just had to trust the Lord to take the power of that message and use it despite my weakness. Whenever we do that, we find that God’s Wisdom is powerful.

2. God’s Wisdom is Powerful (verses 3-5)

Verse 3: I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Several years ago, I went to a town in West Virginia to preach for my friend Dave Tosi, who was pastoring a Baptist church there. One morning we had breakfast in a restaurant and I met the owner. He had inherited the place from his parents. He said that as a young man he had been the town drunk. He was a constant disgrace and embarrassment to his parents. But his brother led him to Christ. “How was your brother saved?” I asked. “He got out of the Navy and one day in a public washroom he found a Gospel tract. He began reading it and was converted to Christ. He led me to Christ, and now I’ve taken over my parents’ restaurant and we have Bible study groups here. Look, I have John 3:16 posted over on the wall.” I’ve seen Gospel tracts in public restrooms. I’ve never left one there and I don’t know that I will. But one man did, and won’t he be surprised to get to heaven and see what came of it? That’s the power of the Wisdom of God.

3. God’s Wisdom is Mysterious (verses 6-7)

Verse 6: We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

The word “mystery,” as the Bible uses the word, speaks of something all planned out and put into place, and then suddenly revealed for all to see.

4. God’s Wisdom is Misunderstood (verse 8)

Verse 8: None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

5. God’s Wisdom is Spirit-Imparted (verses 9-11)

Verse 9: However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love Him—These are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit.

We sometimes here these verses quoted about heaven, but the reference here is to the entire Gospel story, to grace, to all we have in Christ. It has more to do with the first coming of Christ than with his second coming. What Paul is saying is this: When Jesus came the first time, people missed Him. He came to give eternal life. He came to bring peace of heart and mind. He came to reconcile us to God. You can’t discover this by seeing with your eyes or hearing with your ears or conceiving with your minds. Apart from divine revelation, you cannot imagine all that God has for you and me. What God as done is so vast it can only be understood as He reveals it to us by His Spirit.

Verse 10b continues: The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

6. God’s Wisdom is Enriching (verse 12)

Verse 12: What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

7. God’s Wisdom is the Mind of Christ (verse 13-15)

Verse 13: This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Conclusion: Over the years, I’ve heard thousands of sermons, but two of them stand out as masterpieces of oratory. One was in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was at a preaching conference, and a man from Australia was scheduled to preach in the evening sermon. When the moment came, he sat down in a chair on the stage—or maybe he was standing, but, I think, sitting—and for a solid half-minute or minute he was motionless. Then we realized he was waiting for the television cue. They were taping his message for a nationwide across Australia. Then he started, and from his very first word it was mesmerizing. No actor could have delivered the lines better. His voice rose and fell, sometimes cutting the air like thunder and sometimes like a soft whisper. He never opened the Bible that I recall, though he might have quoted some verses. He told stories that kept us spellbound. Then he ended with a flourish, and it was like the stillness after a thunderclap.

The other sermon was at a conference here in America sponsored by the same preaching organization. The speaker was African-American, and he stood behind the pulpit with open Bible and the whole time I was listening to him, I was thinking to myself: “I wish I could preach like that.” It’s as though he had the whole room in his hands. He could toss us up; he could throw us down. It was almost hypnotic; and near the end he got into a cadence like Black preachers can do, and if he had been marching off the side of cliff, we would all have gone with him. It was good biblical message, but the power of the delivery was what astounded me.

The funny thing is this: Although those are the greatest examples of homological oratory I’ve ever heard, I can’t remember what either sermon was about. I can’t even recall the names of the two preachers. Sometimes I wonder if I’m losing my mind and my memory, but all I remember is the tone and timber of their pulsating voices, beating off the walls of the auditoriums like rolling waves of thunder. On the other hand, I can tell you many times when God spoke specifically to my heart though the simple Bible teaching of a man of limited skill. How do we explain it?

It’s not always the great and mighty, it’s not the eloquent and gifted; it’s simply the power of the verses we hold in our hand. As we soak up the Scriptures we are soaking up the wisdom of God, and that leads to unity.

 

 

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