The Humility of the Spiritual Man
Paul set a fine example of humility with respect to understanding and teaching spiritual things:
“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. 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.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
In preaching and teaching about the Christ, Paul did not resort to or rely upon authorities of men. He did not consult with the Greek philosophers or the Jewish scribes, nor did he use such ‘authorities’ as the foundation for the Kingdom message. He relied upon the life and teachings of Jesus himself, and on the power granted by God and dispensed by Jesus – the Spirit of Truth. The reason he limited his sources to the Father and the Christ is so those who listened to him would not become followers of men. That error is the very reason why divisions existed and were developing in the Corinthian congregation. He continues:
“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. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 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. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”–
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Again, Paul was not teaching theories of men; he was teaching the ‘sacred secret’ that the Father revealed through Christ. (See Hold Fast to the Sacred Secret and Foreordained from the Founding of the World for a further discussion of the Sacred Secret.) And he attempts to sober up his readers when he says that he is speaking to those ‘among the mature.’ The spirit is revealing matters that are found only through a search into the ‘deep things of God.’ Spiritual babes cannot receive or comprehend those things. So prepare yourselves, brothers. Paul is about to show you how to understand 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. 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.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:11-12
First, Paul illustrates why human wisdom alone cannot comprehend spiritual matters. He explains that no one can tell you who you are or what you know unless you reveal it to them. No amount of calculating, deducing, reasoning or meditating will allow another man to know you so intimately unless you openly tell them about yourself. It is the same way with spiritual matters. Because spiritual matters originate with the Father, who is a Spirit (John 4:24), the only way we can come to know them is if the Spirit of the Father reveals it. Jesus’ life and teachings are that revelation.
Next, Paul reveals the methodology of understanding the ‘deep things of God:’
“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.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:13
What did Paul mean when he said to “combine spiritual matters with spiritual words?” We believe the phrase carries the meaning that we are to build our spiritual understanding on the foundation of spiritual words – those words taught by the Father, through Jesus, and confirmed by the Spirit of Truth. In other words, the foundation and the source of all spiritual understanding is the spiritual life of Jesus; and we build on that foundation with spiritual words and spiritual ideals. This is made more clear in the following verses:
“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.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:14
Here, Paul refers to the physical man, just man in his natural form. A man who gets up, goes to work, eats meals, enjoys his family and friends, and engages in various entertaining pursuits. Just a typical person, living a typical life, not necessarily bad, just physical – without spiritual conviction. A physical man is not an uncommon man. In fact, he is the most common type of man. We see physical men and women everywhere we go. We might even see one in the mirror.
Paul says that such a person cannot get to know spiritual things because he does not have the capacity to examine them properly. A physical man trusts only what his five senses can perceive. If he can’t see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, or feel it, it simply isn’t real to him. It’s foolishness to him.
But spiritual things are not subject to that kind of testing. You cannot hear faith; you cannot touch love; you cannot taste or smell any of the fruits of the spirit; and you cannot see God. Thus any endeavor to examine spiritual things by physical methods will lead a person to conclude that spiritual things are not real – that they are foolishness. But as Paul said, spiritual things are examined spiritually. So how do we examine things spiritually?
One thing we know about a spiritual examination is that it is different from a physical examination. In other words, whereas a physical examination requires the use of the five senses, a spiritual examination does not. A physical examination can only take you so far because it is dependent on there being tangible things to examine. A spiritual examination begins where a physical examination leaves off because it is not examining tangible things at all.
An illustration might better explain the difference. A physical examination looks at the art; a spiritual examination looks at the artist. A physical examination looks at the science; a spiritual examination looks at the scientist. A physical examination looks at the building; a spiritual examination looks at the builder. In each instance, the physical examination looks only to the results; whereas the spiritual examination looks to the source, the meaning, the value. That is why Paul could say in the next verse:
“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.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:15-16
The mature person who learns to examine things spiritually has joined himself to the Father’s spirit by putting on the mind of Christ – the mind that unites us “in the same line of thought.” Thus, the spiritual man cannot be rightly comprehended by way of any physical method, any more than a physical man could comprehend Jesus.