Chapter Two The Deep Things Of God

Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-8)

The book of Acts gives an account of Paul’s entry into Corinth. After a year and a half of earnest work there he left behind a church that was blessed with every spiritual gift, but when he first went into that brilliant but godless city, the apostle’s soul was deeply stirred. He found that the people of Corinth not only gloried in human ability and human attainment and made much of the various arts; they also deified human lust and they knew nothing of the true God.

A few days before entering Corinth, he had been in Athens. There he had gone by invitation to the place where the philosophers, the intelligentsia, gathered “to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21), and where at their own request he attempted to explain the message of the gospel. However, they did not permit him to come to the crucial point, for they interrupted him as soon as he spoke of a Savior who died and was raised again, and they refused to listen to any further explanation. Probably a more eloquent sermon was never preached than that which the apostle delivered on Mars hill, yet the results were somewhat meager. There were a few who “clave unto him, and believed” (17:34), but the great majority turned away, rejecting him and his proclamation.

From Athens Paul went to Corinth. I do not believe there is any reason to think that he felt he had made a mistake in preaching as he did at Athens. His rule was this: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). At Athens he was addressing men of the highest culture and he realized that he had to present the message in a way that he hoped would appeal to them. But upon going to Corinth he put aside, as far as he possibly could, everything that was merely human and went in absolute dependence upon the Spirit of God with one great message: “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

He later wrote to the Corinthians, “I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.” He realized it was quite possible with the flowers of rhetoric to cover up, to obscure the shame of the cross, so he did not permit himself any flights of fancy or of the imagination in presenting the glad tidings. He seriously, earnestly, solemnly, as became a man who stood between the living and the dead, preached the message of the cross in all simplicity, for he had “determined not to know any thing among [the Corinthians], save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

That should be the method of any servant of God, for after all, there is no other message that will avail for the salvation of sinners or the edification of God’s beloved people. Everything centers in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”—that is the person and the work. The person of Christ was always presented in apostolic preaching. Men were not asked to believe a creed or to subscribe to a system of doctrine, but they were asked to receive a person, and that person was the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think we make a mistake if we suppose that just pinning our faith to a verse of Scripture will save us. I wonder how many have deceived themselves in that way. I hear people speak of knowing that they are saved, and when they are asked why they know, they reply, “Because I believe John 3:16,” or “Because I believe John 5:24”; then I look for some evidence of a new life in them and I do not find it. They never appear at a prayer meeting, but if there is a social affair, they are present. Apparently they have no real interest in the Word of God, for they never attend a Bible study. They have time for anything that ministers to the flesh, but very little time for spiritual food. I tremble for them because I cannot think of anything more dreadful than for one to go through life thinking that he is really saved and then at the end to be suddenly ushered into eternity where he will wake up forever lost.

You see, believing a text does not save anybody. Believing in Christ saves all who trust Him. I believed every text in the Bible before I was converted. I never thought of doubting one of them until after I was converted. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but as a lad I believed all that I was told; I accepted all of the Bible as the Word of the living God, but I was not saved. Some years after I was converted I became perplexed over certain things and began to doubt; the doubts led me to a deeper investigation and then my faith was confirmed. But in all those years before I was saved, I believed everything in the Bible. Yet I had never been regenerated; I had never received a new nature. I was lost and if I had died in my sins, I could have quoted hundreds of Bible texts—I could have repeated chapter after chapter of Holy Scripture in the flames of Hell—while bewailing the fact that I had never been acquainted with the person that these passages of Scripture glorified.

Do not make any mistake here, for it is one that can never be remedied if you go into eternity resting on a false hope. Examine your foundation. Ask yourself, Is Christ Himself precious to me? If He is, why do I not enjoy His Word more? Why do I not love to spend more time with Him in prayer? Why is there so much frivolity and levity and carelessness in my life? Why do I do so many things that I know the Lord Jesus would never do? Do I really love Him? Remember, He said: “If a man love me, he will keep my words”; “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:23, 15).

What is the use of professing to be a Christian if there is no evidence of salvation in my life? What is the use of speaking of the new birth, or of talking about having eternal life if I live the same kind of life that tens of thousands of respectable Christless men and women live all around me? There is no difference between my life and theirs. If, however, I have opened my heart’s door to Christ and received Him, He has come to dwell in me and that has changed everything about my life. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

So we preach the person (“Jesus Christ”) and the work (“him crucified”). Some just say, “We preach Christ,” but the Christ who lived on earth for those thirty-three wonderful years could never have saved one poor sinner apart from His death. When Jesus Christ was crucified, it was as though God said, “That cross, the symbol of shame and agony, will become the great altar upon which will be offered the one supreme sacrifice that atones for the sin of the world.”

The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ throws into relief several tremendous facts. For one thing, it emphasizes the wickedness, the corruption, the vileness of man. Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; He was here in the world that His hands had made, and His own creatures cried, “Away with Him! Crucify Him!” Could there be any worse commentary on the iniquity of the human heart than that? Man, as far as he was capable, was guilty of the awful crime of deicide; he murdered God, drove Him out of His own universe.

Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, no God.” The King James version reads, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,” but that translation is not exact. Many a man who admits there is a God says, “No God,” and that is what the verse really tells us in the Hebrew. The fool says, “No God for me.” In other words, “I do not want God to come into my life; I do not want to be troubled about God; I want to take my own way, to do my own will.” And because men were set on having their own way, they nailed the Christ of God to a cross. If there is anything that reveals what man is, Christ’s crucifixion does.

Stand in faith by that cross; see the blessed Savior suffering, dying there; see the nails on which He hangs and the blood dripping from those awful wounds; see the thorns crushed on His sacred brow and the blood enwrapping His naked body as with a crimson shroud. That is what sin has done, the sin that is in your heart and in mine. That scene shouts the story of the wickedness and the deceitfulness of our hearts. The men who thronged about that cross and cried out in derision, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40), were not different from us; their hearts were like our hearts. They were representative men. We may see ourselves among them.

The cross brought out and declared all the malignity that was in the heart of man, but it also proclaimed the infinite love that was in the heart of God. One might well have understood if God, looking down on that scene, had let loose the thunders of His wrath and the lightnings of His judgment and had destroyed that throng in a moment. One might have expected Him to say, as He did so long ago, “My spirit shall not always strive with man…I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:3,7). But He didn’t. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). When man cast Him out and nailed Him to a tree, God in infinite love for sinners made His soul an offering for sin. What wonderful evidence of God’s love for sinners is seen in that cross!

In the light of that cross how can men still go on doing the things, living in the sins, that led to it? The cross of Christ casts its light on everything that men glory in in this world and outshines all this glory, so that the apostle could say elsewhere, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). Did you ever think of the cross in that way? You profess to be a Christian and you say that you owe everything for eternity to the One whom the world rejected, but what effect does that have on your life? Do you still have fellowship with the world that cast Him out? Do you still participate in the things that characterize that world?

One day a Christian decided to go see a questionable movie. He walked down the street toward the theater, came to the very entrance, even stepped up and bought his ticket, and then the next moment a thought came flashing into his mind: If I go in there, I “crucify…the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:6). He tore his ticket up, ran from the place, and was thankful to be delivered.

If a Christian goes back into the things of the world from which the death of Christ has separated him, he is denying the cross of Christ. If we understood this, what a separated people we would be! We would do away with all our dilly-dallying with the world and its folly. We would realize that we owe too much to the One whom the world rejected to be a part of the world system that has thus treated the eternal Lover of our souls.

Paul was determined to preach Christ crucified, but he said to the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” I think every preacher feels a little bit like that. Often as I think of facing an audience, my heart fails and my spirit cries out, “O Lord, what can I do? What can I say? Suppose I should make a mistake. Suppose I should give the wrong message. How dire the effect might be on some! I would never be able to undo the consequences for eternity!” I can see Paul bowing before God every time he contemplated going out to preach the Word, and crying out, “O Lord, keep me from mistakes. Let me have just the right word. Let me be Thy messenger. Save me from trying to attract attention to myself. Save me from glorifying man.”

Paul continued, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The apostle recognized the fact that there is such a thing as meeting man on the soul-plane. A preacher might depend on that which simply appeals to the human mind, and finding that at the right psychological moment he has gotten a grip on the audience by telling a tender story, he might ask for decisions; and when the people respond, he might say, “There now, what a lot of people have come to Christ!” But perhaps in that crowd not one conscience has been reached nor one soul convicted of his sins.

Paul was afraid of that. He said in effect, “I do not want to preach in such a way that my human effort will persuade men. I am depending on the Holy Spirit of God and divine power to do the work.” In the Epistle the apostle gave the Corinthians his reason: “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” If a person makes a profession of salvation on the strength of a discourse that has simply stirred his emotions and made him feel that he ought to do something, and if he has been stirred because of his admiration for the preacher, what will happen when the preacher is gone? When the new convert’s emotions are no longer stirred, he will find himself wondering whether he is converted or not, and whether there is any reality in the message or not. He felt so different under the spell of that emotion and now he does not feel that way at all. If, however, the Holy Spirit of God has presented Christ to him and he has received Him, he does not have to worry about his feelings. He is saved, and saved for eternity. His faith stands not “in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” The truly converted person can rest on His sure testimony.

The apostle did not mean that we have nothing but the simplicity of the gospel message to give to men; we seek also to lead believers into the deep things of God. “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” Paul said. What does that mean? Did you ever see a perfect Christian? Surely not in the absolute sense. Paul meant perfect in the sense of “well-developed.” When he talked to the unsaved or to young believers, he had one message, and when he talked to mature saints he sought to lead them further into the wisdom of God. He did that in this Epistle and elsewhere.

When Paul said, “We speak wisdom,” he was not referring to “the wisdom of this world.” Christianity is a divine revelation, not a human theory. The apostle said, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom.” The mystery is hidden from the Christless, but the Spirit of God reveals it to believers. There are rich treasures of wisdom, wonderful truths for a preacher to make known, for in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). And as we go on with Him, we enter into a depth of understanding that the world knows nothing about.

This wisdom, Paul told the Corinthians, is something “which none of the princes of this world knew.” If they had only known that the man who stood in Pilate’s judgment hall that day—so meek, so lowly, answering never a word as He was vehemently accused— was God manifest in the flesh, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” And so God meets mankind on the ground of ignorance and says in effect, “I am going to excuse your ignorance, but there is one thing I will never excuse. After I enlighten you and present My Son to you, if you do not receive Him, I will never excuse that.” Men are excused because the light has not come, but they are not excused when the light has come. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

I am not saying that God will not judge sin wherever it is found; I am simply saying that He holds men responsible for the knowledge of His truth that they have, and not for what has never come to them. “All have sinned” and all are “guilty before God” (Romans 3:23, 19), but judgment will be according to works and rendered in perfect righteousness.

When one trusts the Lord Jesus, he is delivered forever from judgment. What a wonderful thing it is to know Him—“Jesus Christ, and him crucified”!

Divine Revelation (1 Corinthians 2:9-13)

The apostle declared that in making known the gospel he sought to use simplicity of speech, but when it came to opening up the truth of God to believers, he spoke of deep things that form the hidden wisdom of God, wonderfully precious things that cannot be given to the world at large. Just as the world has its various schools of philosophy, its intellectual pursuits to which the average man on the street does not pay much attention, God’s deep things are not for the world outside; they are for those who have already received the gospel message.

The Lord Jesus Himself warned His disciples against casting pearls before swine. What did He mean by that? Simply this: the unsaved man, the man who has never been regenerated, has no more ability to appreciate, enter into, or enjoy spiritual unfoldings than swine have to set a value on beautiful pearls. Therefore the message for the unsaved is the gospel; but to the Lord’s own people He would impart hidden wisdom.

“None of the princes of this world” who “crucified the Lord of glory” knew that wisdom. “It is written,” Paul said, “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.” The apostle was quoting from Isaiah 64:4. The singular thing is that a great many people stop at the end of this Old Testament quotation in 1 Corinthians 2:9 and say, “You know we cannot understand; we cannot be expected to understand or enter into the things that God hath prepared for us, because the Word tells us, ‘Eye hath not seen…’” And so they settle back and conclude that we must be content to be ignorant of these things, for God has said that they are not for us to know.

But let us look at that passage in the Old Testament and see the context in which it is found. The English translation of the Hebrew reads, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” The quote in the New Testament is the translation of the Greek version of the Old Testament—hence the difference in words, though the meaning is exactly the same. Isaiah was telling us that no man apart from divine revelation can understand what God has in store for His people in times to come. That was true in Old Testament days, but now God has revealed Himself in the person of His Son and given the revelation of the new covenant in the Gospels and the Epistles, so when we read the New Testament, we must not stop at 1 Corinthians 2:9.

We must not be content to take for granted that we are still where God’s people were in the Old Testament days, for that is the very thing the apostle told us is not the case. He went on to say, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (italics added). In other words, the Old Testament speaks of times when there were great and wonderful mysteries that were kept hidden from all men; even the prophets themselves, enlightened as they were, knew nothing of the special truths of this dispensation, but God has made them known now.

Read the books of the Old Testament; read the Psalms, for instance, which give you the highest inspiration of the saints before the veil was rent. You get no inkling there of the heavenly calling or of believers entering through the rent veil into the very presence of God without a priest officiating as a go-between. You read nothing of Christ exalted at God’s right hand, or of believers linked with Christ and thus able to say that God “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).

In the Old Testament we read of the preparation time. There God’s people are presented as children going to school, learning through symbols and types and shadows, but with no realization of the wonderful truths now made known, and therefore Isaiah could say, “Eye hath not seen…” But all that has changed today. Now our eyes do see, our ears do hear, and our hearts should be able to comprehend the glorious things that God has prepared for those joined to Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit,” Paul said.

We still need the Old Testament, for things were written there “for our learning” (Romans 15:4). When we read the Old Testament, we see the exercises of the people of God in years gone by, but we do not stay there; we learn important lessons, but we move on to the full revelation that God has given in the new dispensation. It is here our souls revel in the precious truths now made known.

Christians sometimes imagine that if they come to God in worship, singing the very words of Holy Scripture—as some of our friends do who sing the Psalms—their worship is of a higher character than that of Christians who sing what they call manmade hymns. Yet we might gather together and sing the Psalms week after week and year after year and always be conscious of the fact that we are singing the very words of Scripture, and there would not be a syllable that would give us our place within “the holiest” as “accepted in the beloved” (Hebrews 10:19; Ephesians 1:6). You will find that where Christians are content thus to approach God in worship, they have no realization of the fullness of the Christian’s position. They could not, because the Psalms as all other Old Testament Scriptures lead us up to the door, but they do not carry us inside into the fullest blessing. Therefore you will generally find that people who are wedded to the Psalms, precious as they are, are a legal people, knowing very little of the fullness of grace, and most of them are content to go through life thinking it is altogether too much to believe that a man can be saved and know it in this life. They think that if they go on trusting and hoping, perhaps God will give them dying grace at last.

A good old Scottish woman said, “We will not sing any of these manmade hymns; we will sing just the Psalms of David to the tunes that David wrote!” The fact is that a Spirit-taught Christian today can enjoy in a hymn precious and wonderful truths that would have been amazing to David, truths of which he knew absolutely nothing. What a wonderful thing it is to think that we live in the dispensation of the grace of God!

By the Holy Spirit, God has now revealed things formerly hidden, “for the Spirit searcheth all things,” Paul told the Corinthians, “yea, the deep things of God.” “The Spirit searcheth” may seem like a peculiar expression. The Holy Spirit is One with the Father and with the Son. Our Lord Jesus put the trinity all on a level of equality when He told His disciples to teach and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We would not think of substituting the name of a created being, of baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the blessed virgin Mary or in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy apostles. We could not do that, for we would be putting God’s creatures on a level with Himself. When we say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” everything is in keeping because all are coequal and coeternal.

In what sense then does the Holy Spirit have to search to find out the mind of the Lord? In Himself the Holy Spirit does not need to search; He does not have to study to learn the mind of God. But the marvelous thought is that in our dispensation the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us, and it is through Him that we do the searching and the studying, and the Spirit of God opens the truth of God to us.

You might say, “I do not know how some folks get such wonderful things out of their Bibles. I do not get them out of mine. I know I ought to read my Bible, and I do read it, perhaps a chapter a day, but I do not have much appetite for it. I do not get much out of it.” I will tell you why. The reason is that you do not sit down with your Bible in a self-judged, humble spirit, putting out of your life everything carnal, everything worldly, everything unholy, and then depend absolutely on the Holy Spirit who dwells within you to search the Scriptures for you and open the truth of God to you. God has given you the Holy Spirit for that very purpose. The Lord Jesus Christ said:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (John 16:13-14).

If a poor, simple, ignorant Christian who can barely read or write sits down with his Bible and reads it in dependence on the Holy Spirit of God, he will get more out of a given passage of Scripture than will a doctor of divinity or a doctor of psychology with a lot of learned tomes about him who depends on his intellect instead of the Holy Spirit. I am afraid that many of us are absolutely careless of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are trying to make our own way through the world, trying to find out what is right and wrong in spiritual things instead of handing over everything to the Spirit of God and depending on Him to guide and lead and unfold the Scriptures. He came to do this very thing and He delights to fulfill this mission.

The Holy Spirit knows everything that goes on in the mind of God. Is not that a wonderful thought? Paul strikingly illustrated this truth for the Corinthians: “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.” What did the apostle mean by “the spirit of man”? Materialists tell us that the spirit of a man is the breath of a man, for in Greek and Hebrew the same word may be translated “spirit,” “air,” “breath,” “wind.” They say the spirit has no personality. If that were true, would it not be absurd for the apostle to speak as he does here? If we substituted the word “breath” for “spirit,” the verse would read, “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the breath of man which is in him?” Is it your breath that knows things? Is it your breath that reasons and weighs evidence? Surely not. It is the spirit of a man. And what is the spirit of a man? It is the real man.

When God created man, He created him a spirit living in a human body and therefore God is called “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9). God is a Spirit and man is a spirit and therefore in that sense even unregenerated men are God’s sons. The spirit is the personality. It is that which differentiates him from the lower creation and enables him to think, to weigh evidence, to reason, to investigate.

I cannot read your thoughts; you cannot read my thoughts. There are people who profess to be able to do so, but they always make a botch of it. We try to read people’s minds by studying their faces and as a result we often accuse them of things that are not so, as Eli falsely accused Hannah. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” I might talk as humbly as possible and you might be foolish enough to go away thinking, “What a lowly man that is,” and all the time I might be a kind of Uriah Heep with a false humility. Someone else might seem to you to be proud while in reality he might be very humble. So Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).

If my human spirit knows what is going on in my mind, do you not see Paul’s argument? The Holy Spirit knows everything that goes on in the mind of God. And He has chosen to make these things known to us. I can make known my thoughts to you, and you can make yours known to me. Likewise the Holy Spirit of God makes known the thoughts of God to us. “Now 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.”

This blessed Holy Spirit has been received by believers. He has come to indwell us, to control us, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and in order that we might understand the truth. That is the secret of learning the Bible: if you come to the Book and study it in dependence on the Holy Spirit who dwells within you, He will make the truth clear. But let me give you another secret: He won’t do that if you are grieving Him. As long as the Spirit is happy within you because you are living in a godly, unworldly, consistent manner, it is His delight to take the things of Christ and open them up for you. But the moment you give yourself to unholy thoughts or worldly behavior, the moment you yield to carnality or to things contrary to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom you are called on to represent here, you grieve the Spirit of God. Then instead of the Holy Spirit being free to do what He delights to do—that is, to show you the things of Christ—He has to take the time to show you your failures and sins and shortcomings in order to bring you to the point of repentance and confession where you will seek to put everything right before God. So the secret of getting the mind of God as you study His Word is to live in the power of an ungrieved Spirit and to go to the Book in dependence on Him.

We have received the Holy Spirit “that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” We have these things here, but do we know them? It is one thing to have a vast amount of knowledge shut up between the covers of a book; it is another thing really to know it. You may have a large library. Everything in all those books is yours. But it is quite another thing to make all that accumulation of knowledge yours practically. It requires diligent study and careful reading. The same is true of God’s wonderful Library, the Bible. We need the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we meditate on its wondrous truths, for only by depending on Him can we enter into the Bible’s treasures.

This Book was not written by men; they were just used as penmen. It was given by God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). What folly to expect to understand it just by approaching it from a carnal or intellectual standpoint! That is not the way to know God’s truth. He has given it to me, but if I am to appreciate it, the Spirit must open it up, and I must walk in the Spirit.

Some people wonder what we mean when we speak of the verbal inspiration of the Bible. There are those who talk of the Bible being inspired in the sense that God gave to the writers of the different books certain thoughts and they embodied them in their own language to suit themselves, but that is not the truth of inspiration as taught in the Book. Referring to its content, Paul said, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth.” The penmen did not take divine truths and write them down in their own words. They expressed divine truths in the words that the Holy Spirit gave. He gave the words as well as the thoughts. Verbal inspiration means inspiration of the words. If the Bible is inspired at all, it is inspired in its words, and that is what the apostle insisted on. If when you study this Book you recognize the fact that the words were given by God, you will have such a conception of the wonder of the Book that you will delight in lingering over every syllable.

Often when I have studied the Book and one little word has seemed to jump out at me, I have looked up the original meaning in the Hebrew or the Greek, found out what the root was, and discovered that there was no other word that would have expressed that truth. The Bible is like God Himself—perfect.

Paul concluded this passage with an expression that is a bit peculiar, and theologians have had a great many different views about it: “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The expression may suggest a comparison of one divinely-imparted line of truth with some other opening-up of eternal verities. That perhaps was the thought that the translators had in mind, and it is a good thought, but there is something deeper than that in the Greek.

Another translation reads, “Expounding spiritual things to spiritual minds,” which surely is an important idea. If men are not spiritual, they cannot take in spiritual truth. One might endeavor to give them the deepest and most wonderful revelation from the Word of God, but they would not be able to understand it.

Here is an illustration from the natural sphere: I heard a man once tell of going to hear Jenny Lind, the famous “Swedish nightingale” who eventually gave up the concert stage for love of Christ. Beside the man sat a sea captain who had paid five dollars for his ticket, but who drowsed and slumbered all through the concert. He came out of curiosity to see the noted singer, but he had no ear for music and was unable to appreciate her remarkable voice. To enjoy music, one must have music in his own soul. Similarly, to understand spiritual things, one must be living a spiritual life; he must be born again and be walking in the Spirit.

A third translation reads, “Communicating spiritual things by spiritual methods,” or “by spiritual words.” This rendering might be better, for the expression is not exactly personal in the Greek; it does not necessarily refer to individuals. What it suggests is that it is the business of servants of Christ to communicate spiritual things by spiritual methods. They should not stoop to the cheap claptrap methods of the world as they seek to expound the Word of God, but in a reverent way and with suitable words they should explain the testimony that the Holy Spirit Himself has given men. May God give to each one of us a deeper appreciation of the marvelous revelation that we have in His Word.

Natural and Spiritual Men (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

In 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:8 Paul presented three kinds of men to us: the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual. We often say that there are only two classes of people in the world: those who are regenerated and those who are not, or to put it another way, those who are saved and those who are lost. Of course that distinction stands, but here in chapters 2 and 3 the apostle divided mankind into three classes. He began in 2:14-16 by introducing two of these classes: the natural man and the spiritual man.

Who is the natural man? We read that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural man has only experienced natural birth. Our Lord Jesus said in John 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh [that is the natural man]; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit [that is the genesis of the spiritual man].”

But the word translated “natural” in 1 Corinthians 2:14 does not merely mean “of the flesh.” It is the adjective form of the Greek word meaning “psyche,” which refers to the soul. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the apostle Paul said, “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He was showing that man is tripartite. The spirit, the highest part of man, is that which differentiates him from the lower creation and gives him intelligence above that of the brute. By the spirit man reasons and weighs evidence, and by the spirit he is able to listen to the voice of God. The second part of man is the soul or the psyche.

Someone has well said that when God created man, he was like a three-story house—the lower story being the body; the second story being the soul, the seat of his natural instincts and emotions; and the third story being the spirit, the highest part of man from which he could look up to God. But when man sinned there was a moral earthquake and the top story fell down into the basement. That disaster left the soul in the pre-eminent place instead of the spirit and left him a natural man.

When you remember that the soul is the seat of man’s emotional nature, you will realize that the natural man is a creature led not by conscience, and not by an enlightened spirit, but by his own affections and desires. Every sin appeals in some way to the emotions of the natural heart. We sin because we think we will find a measure of satisfaction in that sin. Sin is always selfish and the natural man is a selfish being. He is self-centered, for the soul is the self. The natural man therefore is the man who lives the self-life, the man whose spirit has never been quickened into newness of life. His spirit is still a captive down there in the basement, if you will.

You can see at once whether the label “natural man” applies to you. What is your motive in life? Are you living to glorify God or are you living to enjoy yourself? Are you seeking your own desires or are you seeking to please the Lord Jesus Christ? As every saved person looks back to the old life, he can say:

I lived for myself, for myself alone,
For myself and none beside;
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
And as if He had never died.

The natural man may outwardly be a good man, a gracious man, a courteous man, and a kind man as long as he can have his own way. He lives for himself, but he learns as he goes through life that honesty is the best policy, that he is happier when he is honest— and therefore many an unregenerate man is a model of integrity. He gets a degree of happiness out of meeting the needs of other people; there is a glow of warmth in his heart when he hands something to a needy person and that person responds, “God bless you, sir; you don’t know how much good you are doing.” The natural man may find a certain satisfaction in doing good, and yet have no thought of living for God, no thought of glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some natural men grovel in things that are debasing; their appetites lead them into licentiousness and drunkenness. Other natural men take what has been called the clean side of the broad way, but it still is the way that leads to destruction. If you walk down that broad way, you will find all classes and conditions of people—some openly immoral, some vicious, some abominably unclean, some eminently respectable, some admired by their fellows. Some on that broad way are very religious and feel that they are doing the right thing when they wend their way to a great cathedral or a little chapel, as the case may be. They sit in a Christian, Jewish, or some other kind of service and are affected by the music; if the preacher happens to be eloquent and appealing, they enjoy listening to him, and sometimes even if he is not eloquent, if he is earnest they like to listen to him.

When Charles Spurgeon was at the height of his fame as one of the greatest preachers of the gospel, many unbelievers thronged to hear him; many men who rejected Christianity delighted to listen to his sermons. On one occasion a well-known infidel was returning from Spurgeon’s meeting and he met a friend who said, “Where have you been today?”

“I have been to hear the great preacher Charles Spurgeon,” the infidel said.

“You surprise me,” said his friend; “you do not believe a word he says.”

“No, I do not, but he does, you know; and I get a certain amount of satisfaction in listening to a man preach as though he really believed what he was preaching.”

So it is very possible that one may value earnestness and intensity, be outwardly good, conduct his business with integrity, be kind and benevolent, have a certain amount of religious feeling, and yet be a natural man.

What is needed to bring a man out of that state? He needs a new nature, a renewing of the mind; he needs to be born of God. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The natural man at his best with all his amiability and respectability cannot understand divine things.

If you talk to him of the wondrous truths of the Word of God, he will look at you in amazement and say, “I do not see the importance of those things.” If you tell him that God became man for our redemption, that He was born of a virgin, he will smile tolerantly and say, “If you get any comfort in believing that, all right, but I cannot accept such a biological miracle.” If you tell him that Christ died for our sins on Calvary’s cross, that there He shed His blood for our redemption, he will smile again and say, “Rather an old-fashioned idea, that idea of blood atonement. I notice in my studies it has quite a large place in all the ancient religions, but of course I do not see it at all.” As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:3, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.”

If you talk to the natural man about the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, he will say, “Of course it does not make very much difference whether His body rose; that is a small thing. His principles have been resurrected after being rejected by the men of His day, and those principles abide. If we follow the rules He laid down, everything will be all right.”

It is only as the Spirit of God lays hold of the natural man and enables him to see his lost condition that the gospel appeals to him. Believing it, he ceases to be a natural man; he is no longer to be placed in that category. He may be a babe in Christ, but he is a Christian.

As you think of the category of Christian, you may ask, “Are all Christians alike?” Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 3:1 seem to suggest that there are two classes of Christians: the spiritual and the carnal.

Who are the spiritual? They are those who walk in a spiritual way, who are guided by the Spirit of God. The highest part of man is in ascendancy in a spiritual man. Self does not predominate in him, for he lives to glorify Christ.

Paul said, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (2:15). The word translated “judgeth” here is translated “discerned” in 2:14, so verse 15 could be rendered, “He that is spiritual discerneth all things, yet he himself is discerned of no man.” What did the apostle mean? He meant that the spiritual man is able to see the difference between what is of God and what is of man, between what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit, and between what is of the new nature and what is of the old nature.

The spiritual man is discerning, but he cannot be discerned. Other men cannot understand him if they are not spiritual. They say, “He is a strange kind of man. He does not seem to be actuated by the same motives as other men. He is not dominated by the principles that dominate other men.” Sometimes they even say, as they did in Hosea’s day, “The spiritual man is mad” (Hosea 9:7); in other words, “He is not normal.” Of course he is not normal according to the present world’s value system, for he is controlled by a higher power. One of those old New England philosophers wrote, “If I do not seem to keep step with others, it is because I am listening to a different drumbeat,” and if a man of God does not seem to keep step with the carnal and the worldly and the Christless, the reason is that his ear is attuned to Heaven and he is getting his instructions from above.

I remember reading a long time ago a little poem that seems to me to bring out very preciously what should characterize the spiritual man:

There is no glory halo around his devoted head,
No luster marks the sacred path in which his footsteps tread;
But holiness is graven upon his thoughtful brow,
And all his steps are ordered in the light of heaven e’en now.
He often is peculiar and oft misunderstood,
And yet his power is felt by both the evil and the good,
And he doth live in touch with heaven a life of faith and prayer,
His hope, his confidence, his joy, his all are centered there.

Would you like to be a spiritual man or a spiritual woman? If you would, there is a price to pay. You must surrender your own will; you must yield yourself unreservedly to the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. That means putting an end to all human ambitions. Thenceforth it will make no difference what men may think or say, for you will have only One to please, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some Christians talk a lot about surrender and spirituality, but they reveal by their demeanor the carnality that controls them. Paul went on to describe carnality in chapter 3.