What does it mean to be spiritual? The term has kind of become a throw away word for any and every kind of belief in something more than just what can be seen and observed.
But at it’s core, the true meaning is “of the wind or breath.” The same word used to describe Holy Spirit in the New Testament – pneuma. So, the true meaning is “of the Spirit”…with a capital “S”!
So, as we hear Paul’s words today, we must always remember that we come with lenses whose vision has been blurred by 2,000 years of history, and especially our own western history which desires so greatly to compartmentalize and categorize things so that we can master and control them. But we must always remember that this dichotomy is not so nice and neat in most of the rest of the world where the divide between “spiritual” and “physical” often gets blurred. This would have been the environment into which Paul was writing. The gods abounded and sprinkled bits of spiritual into every day life. In fact, one of the greatest threats to the Corinthian Christian community was a belief that taught that the “higher things” belonged to the spiritual life and the “base things” belonged to the physical life. We’ll look at this more when we get to chapter 6, but they were essentially saying, “I can do whatever I want with my body because it’s physical and will pass away. What really matters is my spirit and soul.” They created a dichotomy that didn’t exist in the Jewish understanding of God. To the Jew, everything is Spiritual. All of life is filled with God’s Spirit – that’s why you pray continuously throughout the day whether you’re celebrating a profound revelation or simply thanking God that you’re able to go to the bathroom. So, when we hear “spiritual,” we should hear “Spirit-filled.”
So, what does it mean for us to continue to be Spiritual people with a capital “S”?
Let’s look at 1 Cor 2:6-3:4 to find out. You can open your Bible there if you’d like.
Can I just be real honest with you all? This has been a real discipline for me. I am much more at home studying the gospels or the prophets or even Revelation…believe it or not. I don’t particularly like Paul. Or maybe it would be better to say that I don’t particularly like how many interpret Paul and use what he wrote to build bad theology, which is usually judgmental and divisive. In fact, I have seen this passage that we’re going to look at today used in just that way – to build up a sort of spiritual elitism in which your answer to everything is a self-fulfilling, “Well, we have the Spirit and they don’t.” or “We don’t need to be taught by anyone else because we have the Spirit.” or one of my personal favorites, “Well, I don’t need to think about what you’re asking me to think about because I prayed about it and God told me that I’m right.” Aw snap!!!
This is why Richard Hays says, “The most insidiously divisive forms of elitism will be precisely those that are most ‘spiritual’ in motivation and manifestation” (p.50).
But the more I’ve been studying Paul and his letters and this one in particular, the more I am coming to appreciate him and what he wrote. There’s something really helpful for me about tethering myself to a particular chunk of Scripture because what I’m finding is that I can’t just pick and choose passages to fit what I want to say. Instead, I’m forced to engage them on their own terms and in their own flow. Then again, maybe I just like Paul because he uses a lot of sarcasm and irony like he does in our passage for today.
Okay, so remember that Paul has just finished saying, “I made it a direct point not to stand on any cleverly devised arguments, but to preach one foolish message – Jesus Christ and Him crucified..the crucified Messiah.” But now, in verse 6 he makes an abrupt shift to talk about “a secret wisdom for the mature.” What is he doing? Isn’t he discrediting everything he just wrote? No, he’s using irony and adopting the Corinthians’ language of “wisdom”, and “maturity”, and “spiritual” to beat them at their own game and at the same time to show them how ridiculous the game of jockeying for elite status within the Christian community is. He’s basically saying, “You want wisdom? I got your wisdom right here!” [point to the cross]
Paul begins in vv.6-8 by saying “We do speak wisdom…a secret wisdom of a different age that the rulers (the wise power wielders) of this age didn’t get: that’s why they crucified wisdom. But, to the spiritually mature, the people the Corinthians should be, the message isn’t so secret. It’s the gospel message and plan that God had in mind all along for those who love Him.
Ultimately, in verses 9-13, Paul highlights how foolish it is to boast in one’s own wisdom and understanding about “spiritual” things because any “wisdom” we have comes directly from God’s self-revealing initiative…not our own knowledge. In fact, v.9 makes it clear that it was always God’s intent to reveal Himself in this way to those who love Him. The God who came down. The holy God who loves to reveal Himself in humility, grace, and weakness. That’s worth celebrating friends. That’s worth a “hallelujah!” That’s true Spirituality.
And how does that foolish wisdom come to us? God reveals it to us by His Spirit…Holy Spirit. And we learn several things about Holy Spirit in the following verses.
First of all, Holy Spirit is POWER (v.4) to transform lives. As Gordon Fee says, “The purpose of the Spirit’s coming was not to transport one above the present age, but to empower one to live within it.” (p.96)
I guess that’s why I have a hard time giving alter calls that get you worked up emotionally so that you come sprinting to the front in a heap of tears and moans and lament. I trust God and I trust His goodness. I trust that if we have received His Spirit, He will guide us and convict us and correct us and direct us. I don’t want to soft pedal Jesus, but I don’t want to hard sell Him either. I trust Him and that He will work in His way and in His time. I hope that’s not a cop out. I think it’s a buy in to say, “I’m here for the duration to love you and walk alongside you and let God use me in your life and you in mine.”
In v.10, Paul continues his emphasis by basically saying, “The Spirit, Holy Spirit, is the key. He is the One who searches everything, even the unfathomable depths of God and makes known His thoughts and heart to us.” That’s why Jesus could say that it was better that He went away so that He could send Holy Spirit to perpetually reveal God to us in every time and every place.
Holy Spirit is revelator
Paul goes on in v.11 to point out, using the Greek philosophic principle of “like is known by like,” that only God can know God. Just as only an individual knows his or her true thoughts, so only Holy Spirit comprehends the things of God. Holy Spirit is the perpetual link between God and humanity. So, once again, we shouldn’t expect those without God’s Spirit to understand God. Now, this often gets misused to help us determine who has the gift of God’s Spirit and who does not. Is it only those who have been baptized a certain way? Is it only those who speak in tongues? You can hear it: “What special gift do I need to have to show that I have God’s Spirit?” But Paul’s concern here was not with who in the Christian community had the Spirit and who did not…he assumed that they all did. His concern is with those who have received the Spirit through the gospel message proclaimed, and with those who do not in any way claim to be a part of this new community of Jesus followers.
Holy Spirit is the link to knowing God and God’s ways
Let me get on my soapbox one more time here because this is massive! Very often, especially in our own country, we want to impose “Spiritual” – with a capital S – things on people who do not claim to have anything to do with Holy Spirit. And when they don’t conform to our desires or wishes, we get all up in arms and ticked off and throw a big hissy fit…usually to the utter joy of the national media who has a field day making Christians out to be a bunch of judgmental, losers who whine when they don’t get what they want. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best to effect structural change through the political process. That we shouldn’t vote our conscience and use the right to vote. What I am saying is that I think we need to let go of the pipe dream of a “Christian Nation” and instead embrace the reality that we are forever going to be at odds with those who do not claim to or desire to have the Spirit of God. And, we need to let go of the expectation that a secular, non-Spiritual nation is going to conform its laws and ways to our ways. It’s such a trick of the enemy and proof of our own arrogance that gets us to misuse a passage like this to cause further division and fighting within our own Christian community about who truly has the Spirit and who does not. Maybe, just maybe, if we could get past that argument and see that proof of the Spirit in our lives is humility and grace, we would see how much we need each other…and maybe just maybe…others would see our unity and want the Spirit!!! Come on church!
In v.12, Paul highlights this unity by reminding them, “We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is from God. The Spirit whose purpose is to constantly remind and reveal to us the gift that God has bestowed upon us through unmerited grace in Jesus.” I love even the word “bestowed” because it shows yet again that it’s nothing I can boast in. It means to give graciously, to cancel a debt that is owed, to pardon. It is God’s loving and good and gracious act – the gift of deliverance from the age that is passing away and into the new age that is gaining momentum and expanding and multiplying. Yes!!!
Holy Spirit is gift and gifts giver
Paul continues in vv.13-16 by pointing out that the Spirit is their teacher and the One who helps them make sense of the gift of God. Once again, Paul speaks in pretty stark language here…God’s gift of grace cannot be discerned without God’s Spirit. And spiritual things cannot be discerned by those who are natural. Richard Hays says, “the truth about God is revealed not through philosophy but through prophecy, not through rhetoric but by revelation.” One way of thinking about this is to say that we will understand what is going on in this age, but this age will not understand us.
Holy Spirit is Teacher/Guide into all truth
In verse 16, Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13 which rhetorically asks, “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” And Paul’s conclusion is: “But we have the mind of Christ.” For Paul the “mind of Christ” is synonymous with the “Spirit of Christ.” So, if we have the Spirit, we can know the “secret,” “hidden,” “depths of God.”
Friends, this is a beautiful thing! I don’t want us to lose the power of this statement, “But we have the mind of Christ,” in oversimplification. This is what Paul has been driving at. As part of the new age, “Welcome to the new age…radioactive!”, we participate in God’s continual revelation of Himself through Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, we can actually pray and seek the Lord together and ask for His wisdom and discernment about specific issues in our lives and in our world. When all else fails us, we can say, “But we have the Holy Spirit!!!”
Paul finishes up his point in 3:1-4 by basically saying, “You wanted wisdom, but you weren’t ‘spiritually mature’ enough to discern true wisdom. You didn’t have the Spirit, so I gave you the basics. And guess what? You’re still acting infantile…of the flesh.” He uses a different term here than he did in earlier verses to describe those who are “unspiritual.” He’s not saying that they are unspiritual, he’s saying that they are acting fleshly…acting like those who are of the age that is passing away. And the evidence of their “fleshiness” is that there is still jealousy and quarreling among them about who belongs to Paul or Apollos. He’s saying, “If you were spiritually mature, you would act in love and humility…not in jealousy and quarreling.”
This one is personal. The realization that we have the Spirit of Christ to empower us for change, to reveal God’s heart, to make known God’s gift of grace, and to guide us into truth has made all the difference in my life. I had an experience early on in my marriage with Christy where I was really struggling. My father had just died from cancer and I was trying to make sense of life with the huge void that he left in my heart. I was indecisive, riddled with anxiety and depression, and pretty much wanting to know what my role and place was in the world…if I had one at all. Fortunately, I have a wife who knows what I need more than I do, and she encouraged me to get prayer. I asked two people, Gretsie who I introduced to you last week, and a retired priest Chuck Irish to pray for me. As we prayed, they discerned that I had a split head. In one sense, I was living in fear, despair, and under the control of how others thought I should be living. On the other hand, I was desiring to pursue the things of God: Faith, Hope and Love. As we prayed, I saw in my mind 3 paths behind me and 3 paths in front of me. The 3 behind led to fear, despair and control, while the three in front led to the mind of Christ exemplified by faith, hope and love. The Lord asked me which of those paths I wanted to take, and I told Him I wanted to pursue His mind. It’s hard to explain, but as I prayed into this and declared it to the Lord I experienced a real breakthrough that has shaped my life to this day. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I am much more decisive, hopeful, and joy-filled. My mind continues to be the place where the enemy attacks, and I have had to continue to seek prayer and deliverance from some of these things. But this verse reminds me over and over again, “We have the mind of Christ.” We, not just I, and that’s why we need each other – to help us discern the mind of Christ. This is a scandalously bold claim. But if it’s not true, why does the church exist?
This is a great reminder as we prepare for Lent. We must remember that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. If we go to the wilderness of Lent in our own strength, it will be a miserable time. If we go in the Spirit, we will find life there.
So, where do you need to see evidence of your own Spirituality (Spirit-filled life) today? Do you need to pray for the gift of God’s Spirit in your life? We need filled up…because we’re leaky vessels.