Legitimate Wisdom
Tim Temple


A couple of weeks ago, as some of you know, my family and I were on vacation down on the Gulf Coast on Mustang Island, and one of the sights that we could see off shore as we looked out from the condominium was several offshore oil rigs. It was interesting to see those rigs. It didn't look like there was too much activity. They were too far away for us to see for sure, but the way things are in the oil business, they were probably not very active. It was interesting to see them out there in the distance, though. Later on at the end of the week, as we were leaving the island, we drove past a large equipment yard where the derricks from some of those offshore oil rigs were stored. They were gigantic, interesting things to see as we drove past. As I noticed the relative size of those derricks in relation to the rig as a whole, it dawned on me that what we had seen offshore was only a very small part of the overall rig that was out there, and that what was below the surface was several times bigger than what appeared above the surface. The reason I am mentioning that is that as I reflected on this passage about the wisdom of God, I have realized that that is a good illustration of the wisdom of God–that what we see on the surface is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. There is a great deal more that we do not see of the wisdom of God than that which is exposed.

The significant thing is that God has given those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior the ability to see below the surface and to learn the depths of the wisdom of God. What a privilege it is for us not to just know the basic facts about Christ, the things that are sort of common knowledge among human beings in general, but also to be able to understand the very depths of the wisdom of God.


That is what these verses are going to tell us about today. We are going to deal with the wisdom of God. Because of that, Paul has been telling the Corinthians that they should put their faith in the wisdom of God and not in the wisdom of men. In verse 5, which we talked about in our last lesson, he said that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. If you have been with us in this series of studies, you know that the problem in Corinth was the problem that we have in churches today, which was the problem of exalting men, the problem of (in Corinth) choosing sides, developing little groups built around men. Of course, we do that same thing to one degree or another today.

What we have seen thus far in the letter of I Corinthians is that the men whom God uses to deliver His message, no matter how effectively they may deliver it, are simply God's messenger boys. They are expected by God to do a good job delivering the message, but we must be careful to constantly remember that it is God's message, not the messenger boy's message. If things are going to be as they should be in the church, if Christ is going to be Lord of the church, we must continue to keep our eyes on the Lord and not on the messenger; we must continually remember that it is the Lord's message and not just the messenger's message.

Conversely, the message that we who are God's messengers need to constantly keep remembering is that it is our job to deliver God's message and not our message. It is our responsibility to deliver the Word of God; and that is one of the reasons, as I have mentioned before, why our practice here at Abilene Bible Church is to study the Word of God together. Rather than hearing what I think about the Word of God, our focus, our purpose is to study the Scripture, so we just try to move through it on a systematic basis. That is an essential part of focusing our attention on the Lord and keeping our eyes off the messenger.

As we come to these verses today, Paul realizes, as he gives this message, that some might interpret what he has been saying about the danger of the wisdom of men that to become a Christian one has to commit intellectual suicide or that maybe there is something wrong with being intelligent or well educated, that maybe there is something unspiritual about being well-read or about knowing what is going on around us. So in these verses which we look at today he is going to explain the legitimate use of wisdom. In verse 6, he tells us that we speak wisdom among those who are mature, so there is a legitimate use of wisdom. We need to be very careful that we understand what that is.

The Presence of Divine Wisdom

We are calling this section of the chapter “The Presence of Divine Wisdom”. Although Paul downplays the use of human wisdom, Christians are able to speak with great wisdom, so in verses 6 and 7, Paul gives the description of wisdom. I Corinthians, chapter 2, in verse 6, he first describes it from the negative standpoint:

I Corinthians 2

6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

Paul says, “We do deal with wisdom, but it is not the wisdom of this age.” There is something different about the wisdom that we deal with. It is not the wisdom of this age, first of all. In other words, it is not the wisdom that we use in handling the Word of God in relating to the world around us. It is not just the wisdom that is derived from human thinkers and human scholars. Human wisdom, for example, would tell us that it is reasonable that if a person does the best he can, he ought to get into Heaven. In fact, that is the underlying, prevailing philosophy of righteousness in the world today. That makes a great deal of sense. It is entirely realistic; it is entirely reasonable, but it is human reason. By the same token, human wisdom would tell us that it is not reasonable that God would pay for our sins to the tune of killing His own Son to pay for the sins of those who are legitimately sinful. That just doesn't make sense. It is not reasonable. Yet, that is exactly what the Word of God tells us that God did. The Word of God tells us that we have a relationship to God and we have hope of Heaven not because of the good works that we do. Good works have a place, but it is not in getting us into Heaven, and the Word of God tells us that the reason that we are able to go to Heaven is that God paid for our sins Himself, the very One we have sinned against. He paid for our sins Himself, and He did it by sacrificing His Son. That is not reasonable from a human standpoint, but that is the wisdom of God.

Various Forms of Human Wisdom

In Paul's day, human wisdom took the form of Gnosticism, the worship of knowledge. It took the form of mysticism, the fact that knowledge is just sort of a fuzzy kind of thing that we mull our way through. It took the form of astrology, various kinds of philosophies which were prevalent in the Greek world of Paul's day. Paul said, “We do deal with wisdom, but not the wisdom of the world.” Of course, the Romans to whom Paul was writing were very famous for their philosophy, for their emphasis on education.

He also says in verse 6:

I Corinthians 2

6Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

In the phrase, “the princes of this world”, I think Paul has in mind something like we might say today–“the in crowd”. It is not the wisdom of the intellectually elite. Think for a minute, and you will recognize that in our society today there is a group of intellectuals, the names of whom most of us would agree on, who are the accepted intellects of our day; they are the accepted wise men of our day. Some of those men are believers in Jesus Christ; most of them are not. Paul says that the same thing was true in his day: The wisdom that we teach is not the wisdom of the intellectually elite; it is not the wisdom of the “in” crowd. Beyond the group of intellectuals, there is a kind of floating, prevailing philosophy that is usually referred to as “they say” or “the experts say”. When we use terms like that, we may not have any particular expert in mind, we may not have any particular group of people in mind, but we are referring to the accepted wisdom of the day. Paul says, “We deal with wisdom, but it is not necessarily what 'they' say or what is the accepted philosophy of the day.” So this is the wisdom described from a negative standpoint.

We hear a lot of talk today in the church about making the Gospel relevant, making the Word of God relevant. If you ever had the agony of going to a preacher's conference, to a pastor's conference–be glad you are not a pastor; you don't have to sit through those things–sometimes those things come down to nothing more than finding ways to make the Bible relevant. That is unscriptural. God doesn't tell us to find ways to make the Bible relevant; he says, “Preach the Word. Be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort.” The Word of God will take care of itself, so the wisdom that we preach –it is a wisdom, it is a vast wisdom–is not the wisdom or our day and age or of Paul's day and age. It is not the religion of man, not the wisdom of man.

The Hidden Wisdom of God

In verse 7, Paul explains this wisdom of God from a positive standpoint. Each of the things that he says about the wisdom of God serves as an explanation of why the unsaved can't understand it. Notice in verse 7:

I Corinthians 2

7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

I want to point out several things in this one verse about the positive aspect, positive description of the wisdom of God. First of all, unbelievers, those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, cannot understand the wisdom of God. They only see the tip of the iceberg, and Paul has said in chapter 1 that it is foolishness to them. It doesn't make any sense that God would forgive people by crucifying his own son. From a positive standpoint, it is the wisdom of God; it is not the wisdom of men. This is the Bible's claim throughout, that this is God's Book; this is God's truth. We have had a whole series of studies on the subject of apologetics, which deals with the ways that we can know that this is God's truth. For example, the claim of history is the fact that the key factor in the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is something that has been attested by over 500 witnesses who were alive and saw Jesus Christ after His resurrection; it is a matter of historical fact. That fact that it is God's Word is legitimized by the consistency of the book. Here we have sixty-six books written by forty or so authors over a period of nearly two thousand years, and there is no contradiction within them. There is no contradiction of philosophy; there is not even any contradiction of historical fact. Things like that show us that this is God's Word, God's truth.

Wisdom Foreordained

Notice he also says in verse 7, it is the hidden wisdom of God, and that is why so many people can't understand it. He has revealed it to believers. But notice this:

I Corinthians 2

7…which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

You see, the wisdom of God is not just something that God came up with. The truth of the Gospel is not just something that God had to scramble and come up with when Jesus got crucified, when people rejected Jesus and things didn't go like He had planned and He didn't bring in the Kingdom, then God got busy right quick and arranged to save people who believed in Jesus Christ–no, not at all. The fact that Jesus Christ would pay for our sins, Paul says here, was ordained before the ages. Listen, when God created the human race, He knew that we would be sinful. He knew that we would need a Savior, and He created us knowing that. Before the ages, before creation, He planned what He would do about that. So the Gospel is not foolishness, as the world would say. It is not just something that the Apostle Paul dreamed up or that Peter dreamed up or that Martin Luther or John Calvin or some religious leader of our day dreamed up. This is the wisdom of God, and it was settled before the ages. He has foreordained.

Notice the last line in verse 7:

I Corinthians 2

7… ordained before the world unto our glory:

What does he mean by that? Think about this for a minute. What a glorious thing it is that we can actually know the God of the universe! What a wonderful thing it is that we can be related to our Creator, that we can be related on a father/son basis to our Savior, and that we have the anticipation of spending eternity in a perfect environment in the presence of our Creator. That is glorious! God did all of these things with us in mind. The wisdom of God is such that He planned and provided for us all of those things even before we needed them, certainly before we realized we would need them.

Mystery of Wisdom Revealed

There is a hymn that we sing sometimes, the words of which say, “Oh, that will be glory for me when all my sorrows and trials are over and I am safe on that beautiful shore, oh, that will be glory for me.” God had that in mind when He revealed His wisdom to us in this life, and then more importantly in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he says something else here about this wisdom in verse 7 and that is:

I Corinthians 2

7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom…

The word “mystery” is not what comes to mind. When we speak the word “mystery”, Agatha Christie comes to mind for those of you who are intellectual maybe. For the rest of us, maybe Perry Mason comes to mind. But that is not what the word “mystery” means. In the Greek, it is the word musterion , which means something that has not been revealed until a certain time, something that is true but is not revealed until a certain time. You can see how that kind of fits in with our English word “mystery”, but the word musterion is talking more about the solution. What Paul is telling us is that God planned this before the ages for our glory, but He didn't reveal it until Jesus Christ came. That is why we are accused of believing in something that is hastily derived; that is why God is sometimes accused of just scrambling around and finding some way to overcome the death of Christ. No, it was planned before creation, but it was not revealed until a certain point in time, and that was when Jesus Christ came.

Have you ever stopped to think what a wonderful blessing it is, what a wonderful privilege it is to live in this age after the Cross when the mystery has been revealed? The people in the Old Testament knew that God was going to take care of them and that God was going to allow them to be in Heaven, but they didn't have nearly the idea of how that was going to happen that we have. It was still a mystery to them. It was something that they were very foggy about the details of, but the wisdom of God has now been revealed to us, and it is revealed to anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior–the revelation of the fact that we can know Him personally and that we can have fellowship with Him. What a privilege it is, I say again, to live in this day of revealed mystery.

Incidentally, there are about twelve mysteries referred to in the New Testament. If you are looking for a project for your own personal Bible study, it might be a profitable project to study the word “mysteries” or the concept of the mysteries that are revealed in the New Testament that were God's plan all along. For example, the Rapture is a mystery. The fact that at some point in the future, maybe today, Christ is going to appear in the air and those of us who are still living when that happens are going to be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. That is one of the mysteries that is only revealed in the New Testament. The mystery of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the fact that the Holy Spirit will come and live within us as believers, is something that the Old Testament believers didn't know anything about, but God has now revealed that to us.

One of those mysteries is the wisdom of God, the fact that we can be personally related to Jesus Christ. That is the description of God's wisdom, not the wisdom of the world. It is not the wisdom of the “in” crowd; it is not the wisdom of the intellectual. It is something far greater than that. It is the wisdom of God Himself, which He has planned since the beginning.

Dispensing of God's Wisdom

Then in verses 8-12, Paul explains the dispensing of this wisdom. If we understand how wonderful this wisdom is, what a surpassing wisdom it is, why fool around with a wisdom which changes from generation to generation when we can have a wisdom which has been in existence from before creation? How do we get that wisdom? That is what he talks about in verses 8-12–the dispensing of this wisdom. How does one go about gaining it? Well, again he starts with a negative standpoint in verses 8 and 9. First, verse 8 tells us that it is not by means of man's wisdom or education. Verse 8, speaking about that wisdom:

I Corinthians 2

8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Think carefully with me for just a minute. What I am saying from this verse is that God's wisdom does not come from intellect or from education. The reason I am saying that is the reference to the princes of this world. He clarifies that by saying that they were the ones who crucified the Lord of glory. Those men who were instrumental in bringing Jesus Christ to His crucifixion, those men who demanded a trial and who saw to it that Jesus wound up on the Cross, were men who were probably more highly educated than almost anyone that we know of today.

One of the several things that those rabbis, those religious leaders, had to do to be recognized as a rabbi, to be a member of the Sanhedrin, which was kind of the religious ruling body, was to have memorized the entire Old Testament. That would eliminate almost everyone in this room today; it eliminates me, I'll tell you. Think about the mental ability of a man who could memorize the entire Old Testament. That was even before we had the chapter and verse divisions. Those men were educated men; they had memorized the entire Bible under conditions more difficult than we would ever have if we attempted to do that ourselves. Besides that, they were also schooled in all of the rabbinical writings, all of what the other rabbis had written before their time. They were intelligent men, and they wound up crucifying the Son of God. If human intelligence and human discipline produced God's wisdom, those men certainly would have had it; but Paul says, “None of them knew it.” If they had known it, they wouldn't have crucified the Lord of glory.

Verse 8 shows that wisdom does not come from education, but verse 9 shows that neither does it come from senses of intellect in general. He says:

I Corinthians 2

9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

He says, you see, in verse 8 that education doesn't provide the wisdom of God. Now in verse 9 he says that it is not even possible to know the wisdom of God with our human senses–“eye hath not seen, nor ear heard”. “Neither have entered into the heart of man”–the word “heart” here is a word that is used to refer to the intellectual aspect of the inner man. So it is not something that we could comprehend if we sat down to focus our attention from every conceivable standpoint.

Wisdom Revealed By the Holy Spirit

We do not get wisdom from education or intellect or the senses, so how does it come? Verses 10-12 describe the dispensing of wisdom from the positive standpoint. First, verse 10 tells us that God simply reveals it to us. Notice verse 10:

I Corinthians 2

10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

How does God reveal it? Well, the first clue to God's wisdom is the Gospel. The Gospel declares the fact that we are sinners, that we have fallen short of the glory of God, that the best we can do does not measure up to the level of God's righteousness; but the wonderful truth is that God has paid for those sins that we have committed. He bridged the righteousness gap by means of Jesus Christ, and He put our sins on Jesus Christ. Because He paid for our sins, Jesus Christ is satisfied with that. That is the Gospel, and that is the first glimmer that we have about the wisdom of God. It is totally different from the way men would do things, but it is what God reveals to us. That is the beginning of the wisdom of God, and God reveals it to us with the Gospel, but He goes on to say He reveals them to us through His Spirit. You see, it is not enough just to hear the Gospel; it is the important fact that the Holy Spirit opens the heart and the eyes and the ears of the recipient of the Gospel.

Have you ever stopped to think about why we pray for missionaries? Why do we pray for pastors? Why do we pray for those who are giving out the Gospel? It is simply because the physical hearing of the Gospel is not enough. That is essential. It has got to get into the human senses in some way, but what we are praying is not that those guys won't forget their speech, but that the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of those hearers and will draw men to Himself. That is what verse 10 tells us. God has revealed Him to us through His Spirit. Men speak the words of the Gospel, but the Holy Spirit opens the heart and mind. That has tremendous implications.

Let me just remind those of you who are giving out the Gospel that I think one of the reasons that many of us don't witness like we ought to is that we think, “I could never make anyone understand that. I just can't speak clearly enough; I just can't explain myself. I know what I believe, but I am not sure I can explain it to anyone else.” Listen, you just ask God to give you the courage to say whatever you can say and recognize what verse 10 says: God reveals these things through His Spirit. God can take whatever stumbling word you or I say–we ought to strive to do the best we can, but for some of us the best we can is just sort of stumbling and mumbling–and He is the One who reveals the truth. It doesn't matter how eloquent you are or how highly educated you are. Remember, we just got through saying that is not where God's wisdom comes from. God's wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit taking the words that you and I say and penetrating the hearts of others.

There is something else about that, and that is that when you have given the Gospel to someone, you don't need to pound and pull and shove and find someway to drag them into a decision. Sometimes we need to be careful that the person really does understand what we are saying, and we need to exhort people to accept Christ. Many Sundays at the Lord's Table, I will say, “We exhort you to accept Jesus Christ today. Today is the day of salvation.” We ought to do that, but by the same token, remember it is the Holy Spirit who will draw those people to Himself. We don't have to use all kinds of gimmicks like singing fourteen verses of an invitation hymn or a whole lot of tears and crying or all kinds of things like that. Our responsibility is to give the message as best we can, even if that is in a stumbling kind of way, and the Holy Spirit will open the hearts and minds of those to whom we speak. That is where God's wisdom comes from.

Deep Things of God Revealed

Very quickly let me try to wrap this up. A beautiful truth is in verse 11, and it is summarized in verse 12:

I Corinthians 2

11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

Now, I have been talking about giving out the Gospel, but this verse applies to taking the Word of God, the Gospel and all of the other things that the Word of God says, into our own hearts and lives. What this tells us is that God enables us to understand the Gospel the first time we hear it, but then after we accept it, the Holy Spirit keeps on revealing the Word of God to us. Notice the illustration that He uses here:

I Corinthians 2

11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?…

Think with me about that for just a minute. No one knows except me what is going on in my heart and mind. Even right now as I speak to you, you can hear what I am saying, but we all know that it is possible for me to be talking to you and thinking about other things. For example, how many pink dresses and blouses and shirts there are in this group. All kinds of things might be on my mind, and you wouldn't know that. By the same token, I realized a long time ago that you could sit in the pew and be looking straight at me–I learned this growing up in a pastor's home–and think about what you are going to do next week. No one knows your heart and your mind except you. We can know a lot about each other, and we can know generally what someone else is thinking if we know them long enough and well enough; but essentially no one else but you knows your spirit. That is what verse 11 says, and the same thing is true of God, he says. Only the Spirit of God knows the things of God. Now look at verse 12:

I Corinthians 2

12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

Do you see what that verse says? That verse says that it is possible for you to know God better than you know your own wife or your own husband or your parents or your children. I can't give you my spirit. There is no way I can reveal to you what I am thinking and feeling even if I wanted to. There are times when we might want to reveal ourselves fully to another person, but we can't do that. God has done that of Himself to us; God has given us His Spirit. Verse 11 says that the Spirit of God knows all the things about God. What a fantastic privilege! You see, we have the privilege of knowing God fully. How little we take advantage of that. The Spirit of God will reveal to us all the things of God, even the deep things of God, all the things that God has prepared for us. That is our privilege because God has given us His Spirit.

Importance of Personal Study

As we conclude, going back to our illustration of the offshore oil rig, the foolishness of the Gospel isn't foolish at all. It is a very deep, beautiful truth, but we need be careful to realize that becoming a Christian, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, is not all there is. It is all we need to get to Heaven, but in terms of our illustration, that is just getting our feet wet. To really know the wisdom of God, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to open our minds to all the truths that are in His Word, and that means studying His Word.

How much time do you spend every day any given day even reading the Word of God? Just ask yourself that question. Let me put it this way: Do you spend as much time reading the Bible as you do reading the newspaper? Do you spend as much time reading the Bible as you do listening to the news on television? Do you spend as much time reading the Bible as you do on your chores around the house? The reason I am asking those questions is that our common answer is, “I just don't have the time.” In fact, sometimes we say, “Oh, I would like to study the Bible, but I just don't have the time.” It is interesting to me how we can find so much time to do so many other things, and we don't find time for the very wisdom of God that He will enable us to understand better than we can understand even our own family members because He gives us His Spirit.

I am afraid that there are many Christians who stand at the water's edge, maybe with their feet in the water, and gaze at the tip of the iceberg but never go any deeper than that. If you will give the control of your mind and your heart to the Holy Spirit, if you will ask God to teach you about Himself, He will gladly do that. That is His purpose, that we come to know Him and that we come to enjoy the glory that He has prepared for us from the foundation of the world. It is up to you. He is waiting to reveal Himself to you as fully as is possible, more fully than is possible for us to know each other.

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