1 Corinthians 2:6-16
6 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. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 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”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 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. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 
Most of us have heard the phrase many times, “Knowledge is power.” I had a professor in college who used to tell us frequently that it’s what you don’t know that can get you killed. Just like in our modern Western culture, the city of Corinth had that same view. They had an extremely high view of empirical and philosophical knowledge. Paul does not use the word “knowledge” in his letter to the Corinthians. Instead, he uses their own word that encompasses the ideas of philosophical and empirical knowledge, “sophia” (wisdom). But he turns that idol upside down: God’s wisdom has nothing to do with human power and everything to do with human weakness.
Over the centuries since Paul wrote this letter, many Christians have reacted to what Paul wrote here by tending to demonize the power of human knowledge and scientific observation. Some have even concluded that there must be a separation between Christianity and human intellect. For those believers, anti-intellectualism is spirituality. They divide matters into two separate categories of heart and head. The Apostle Paul cannot be forced into such categories. His writings display wealth of human intellectual study combined with true spiritual passion for the facts of the gospel. This passage of his letter informs us and the Corinthians what Jesus followers ought to do to properly approach knowledge so that corporately they reflect what a gospel community should look like. We’ll consider this text under three headings: knowing the present age; knowing God; gaining a new knowledge.
KNOWING THE PRESENT AGE
Being a hub center for trade in the Roman Empire, the city of Corinth possessed a great deal of knowledge from many other cultures around the world. In that sense, they are much like we are. We live in an age where vast amounts of information are available to us within the time it takes for us to tap our fingers on our smart phones. We know more data about this world than any other culture that has preceded us. In an effort to uphold the doctrine that knowledge is not limited to that which can be scientifically observed and quantified, some Christians tend to downplay the truth of scientific knowledge. Sadly, this denies the image of God in mankind that includes man’s ability to think, speak, and rationally observe the world around us.
Sciences and philosophy are part of God’s creation ordinances to cultivate and steward the earth he gave us. “The Bible says that the mind is a gift to be cultivated and a means by which people can love and worship God. In this way God can affirm the legitimacy of work in finance, medicine, engineering, microbiology, philosophy, mathematics, education, and many other fields.” Human research and learning are God-glorifying pursuits. But scripture also addresses the flip-side to this equation. Human wisdom has its limits.
In fact, Paul writes to the Corinthians that human knowledge is limited in at least three ways. First, in verses 6 and 7, he says that human knowledge is limited by our life spans. “6 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. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” We only have so much time. The Library of Congress houses “more than 39 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages” and “more than 73 million manuscripts.” Even if you’re an ambitious reader, you would have to ignore tens of thousands of books and read selectively over your entire lifetime to make the smallest dent in that reading list. You only have so much time. Learning has its limits. When you pass away, most of your knowledge will pass with you. Even the philosophical rulers of this age, the patrons whom the Corinthians anxiously followed, will die and their knowledge will pass away.
Second, Paul limits human knowledge by pointing out that we have limited sensory capacity:
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, /nor the heart of man imagined, /what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
Most likely Paul’s “citation” is an amalgamation of OT texts that had been joined together and reflected on in the existing Jewish literature of Paul’s day, since this is not a direct quote of Isaiah 64:4 (upon which it is loosely based). In other words, some things are beyond our human limitations to perceive. The limits of our senses do not limit the reality, only our perception of reality. Certain things cannot be completely perceived by the five senses. Those things must be revealed by God. We could, for example, divide life into categories of plant life, animal life, and human life. Plants are able to respond to sunlight because it’s necessary for them to produce food. Animals can experience site, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Your dog’s or cat’s ability to perceive things is greater than that of your houseplant.
Humans have even higher sense perceptions. We can perceive certain realities that animals cannot. Humans have a spiritual, eternal perception of life that animals do not have. In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the preacher sings, “11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Man has a nagging sense of eternal things that he cannot understand. Similarly, Paul writes that an understanding of this present age can only give human beings a limited amount of knowledge. Only God can produce a supernatural, spiritual, awareness.
Third, Paul says our human understanding is limited by our lack of access. “11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” Apart from ourselves, it is impossible for us to fully know anyone. You can read an autobiography of someone famous, but you will really only know what they choose to disclose about themselves. The Bible’s acceptance of human wisdom and understanding within the sphere of God’s common goodness can offend the religious person.
The Bible’s honesty about the limits of human knowledge can offend the rationalist. In this way, the Bible affirms human understanding as remarkable but not comprehensive. “We do not inhabit the world as a collection of data that needs to be sorted or a spreadsheet of facts that needs to be organized. We live within our limitations as personal, sensing, dynamic beings. What we need in order to live well is an understanding or a knowledge that is both intellectually rigorous and deeply personal.”
The Bible presents God as the only one capable of expanding the human borders of understanding and comprehension. This is the main point of Paul’s argument. By their own experience of the Spirit of God, the Corinthians consider themselves to be “spiritual.” Apparently, they thought of spirituality mostly in terms of ecstasy and experience, which has led some of them to deny the physical body on the one hand, and to a sense of “having arrived” (cf. 4:8), on the other. This was destroying their perception of grace, something crucial to gospel community. What Paul is about to do is to present the Spirit as the key to the proper understanding of the gospel itself, especially of his preaching (v. 13) and their own gifts (v. 12); and in this context, as always, the gospel, God’s wisdom, is the message of salvation through the crucified one.
As he notes in verse 7, God’s understanding is not limited by time. “7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” God’s wisdom predates human timebound existence and has eternally done so. The phrase “ages for our glory” looks forward to an eternal future. The understanding of God is not limited by sensory perception, “9 …What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
He writes in verses 10-12
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 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. 12 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.
The concept of a personal God was nearly impossible for the Corinthians to understand. The Greco-Roman gods were impersonal, capricious beings – mere extensions of humanity with all the lusts, egos, rivalries, and vengefulness of earthly people. Their gods were distant and disinterested. The idea that there was only one all-powerful, sovereign God was completely foreign to their culture. If God were distant, then he could merely be an idea or set of data; such a god becomes a simple decision (“Do I believe in God”). But a personal God would be a present reality with which they must reckon. We can read God’s autobiography and gain knowledge of who he says he is and what he says he is done without the Holy Spirt. But that would not be personal knowledge or experience of God.
Knowing God is different from knowing about God. Paul argues that one cannot understand God unless one comes to know God personally. True wisdom is inner, personal understanding. To know God, we must enter into his world and come to him on his own terms. In arguing this to the Corinthians, Paul uses their cultural language against them. He uses the words “wisdom” and “foolishness” because the Corinthians worshiped the idea of wisdom. He uses the word “weakness” because they loved power, strength, and glory. It seemed foolish for the Savior to die on a cross for people who had a right-side-up version of what they thought was real. An understanding of God is different from an understanding of this age because a relationship with God is dynamic and deeply personal.
Greek culture had an admirable desire to observe and find order in the universe. They emphasized only what they could rationally verify as real and focused more on the present than the future, de-emphasizing emotions, and suffering. Verse 10 shows Paul’s argument that God is not a detached, impersonal force, “10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” God sent us the Holy Spirit because informational knowing is different from personal knowing. The Spirit of God becomes the link between God and humanity, the “quality” from God himself who makes the knowing possible.
GAINING NEW KNOWLEDGE
There is no way any human can enter into the Godhead to understand God’s culture. We are finite and sinful, making God far beyond our reach. It’s impossible for human beings to get to know God personally because we don’t have the access, or the means left to ourselves. So, how can we enter into the life of God to actually know him? How can our knowledge of God become personal? The good news is that God condescended and entered into OUR culture. “The limited does not need to transcend its limits in order to reach enlightenment; the limitlessly-enlightened one needs to enter the limitations of space and time in order to communicate himself. The only way to know God personally is to know that we have been known personally by God.”
It is the Holy Spirit who works within us. Paul writes in verses 11 and 12, “11 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. 12 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.” The spirit knows the inner workings of God in the same way a person knows himself or herself – but even better. It is this Spirit that God freely gives to all who trust into the self-substituting perfectly-lived life and blood-shedding death of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit gives us “the mind of Christ” (v. 16).
Paul’s argument is consummated in verse 13, “13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” What Paul preached was given by the Spirit of God for those who possess the Spirit of God. He preached neither a better nor worse gospel than Peter and Apollos because all of them were led by the Spirit.
Then, in verses 14 through 16, he states the negative side of the argument, “14 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. 15 The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” The gospel is foolishness to those without the Spirit because it is utterly upside-down. The natural person only understands “the wisdom of this age” (v. 6). As Gordon Fee explains:
Paul is still pursuing the argument of 1:18–2:5, where the preaching of Christ crucified, God’s wisdom, is rejected as foolishness by those who are perishing (1:18, 23). People are revealed for who they are by their response to the cross; to see it as foolishness means to stand over against God and his ways—and to stand under his judgment as without his Spirit and therefore apart from “what he has freely given us.”
For Paul, “to be spiritual” and “to discern spiritually” simply mean to have the Spirit, who so endows and enables. You cannot know God if you are not known by the Holy Spirit. When I was young, I was taught that believers in the Old Testament did not have the Holy Spirit, that he only came to dwell in believers at Pentecost. Can you see how Paul, in this section, blows apart that argument? If you do not have the Spirit you cannot know God and that has been the fundamental religious fact of salvation since Adam’s fall in the garden. Pentecost was the visible separation of those who were natural from those who are spiritual. But it was NOT the coming of the Holy Spirit, who has always been with God’s people as their ONLY means of knowing and communing with God until the removal of sin in the new heavens and the new earth.
We have to receive a new understanding from God who, Paul writes, needs no instruction (v. 16). The Holy Spirit renovates the way we understand things about God, ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. He gives us the eyes, ears, and imagination to know what “God has prepared for those who love him” (v. 9). What that tells us is that knowing God – gaining a new understanding of his upside-down plan – is a work of God from top to bottom. We may approach God with humility because he first humbled himself to approach us. God has already come for us and wants to know us and to be known by us. God’s love for us is expressed to us in his initiating grace that does not wait around for us to show interest. And what are his terms? There are no terms because it’s entirely his work from beginning to end.
You might stay at a distance and analyze Jesus like Nikodemus did in John 3. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions; but you will never get your answers until you enter into the life of Christ. God does not ask us to adjust to him so that we can understand him. Instead, he sent out his unique Son so that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we may be able to understand what it means to have a personal relationship with God. It might be that the personal nature of God frightens some people. They don’t want God all up in their business invading their privacy. But God does not intend to make us afraid. He desires to give hope to those who are in need. He does not want to burden us, but to unshackle us from desperate self-centeredness and self-worship. The God who adjusts himself for you has only the best of intentions for you.
His terms are radical and refreshing and joyful. If we want to know the mind of Christ, then we will need to pursue this relationship in which God is actively involved in changing us from the inside out. Our identity is in the condescending, adjusting work of Jesus who died on the cross to give us hope, so that we have the mind of Christ.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 2:6–16.
 Um, 44. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, 109.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ec 3:11.
 Um, 46. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, 110.
 Id. 48.
 Fee, 110.
 Um, 49. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, 116–117.