The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Church of Corinth that have been preserved for the benefit of the Christian through these last days. One of the more astonishing statements is found at the end of the second chapter of the first letter where he consummates his thought with the statement “but we have the mind of Christ.”
One of the important ways the Christian is distinguished from the unbeliever is found in the way they think about things. The mind is a crucial distinguisher as to the nature of true faith in the believer from all others in the world. We often associate our seeking or wanting things as directed by our desires, but our desires are ultimately formed within our minds and become manifested by desires or how we feel about something. Feelings are not mindless actions but are formed in the mind and find expression in our words and actions. That distinction between the heart and the mind is often indistinguishable in what the Bible seeks to convey.
As we ponder this second chapter of first Corinthians it becomes quickly evident that Paul contrasts two types of thought employed in delivering a message. Paul’s concern is there was a great fascination with worldly things dominating the culture of the church at the expense of the gospel message. He first described in verse 1 how he did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom to declare the testimony of God. In verse 4 he said my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, . . . and in verse 5 he continued that thought so that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men.
Within the Corinth culture was an exposure to many philosophers who were a central attraction to the life in the city. It appears from these two letters that many within the church blended their time in the church with participation in the life of the city. This included participation in the pagan temples in things harmful to the Christian life. Many of these common things to pagan life in Corinth had crept into and compromised the witness of the gospel in the church. Paul is addressing one particular area here where there was an element in the church caught up with a fascination for false philosophy. Greek philosophy ruled the day and there was an emphasis on reason and oratory which sought to seduce the mind with fanciful, novel ideas. Paul confronts this with the language we already cited.
He contrasted the philosophers’ way of speaking to his own by drawing a sharp contrast. He makes it clear that the preaching of the gospel was focused on Jesus Christ and Him crucified in verse 2. It should be understood this does not mean all he would talk about was the cross of Jesus, but everything was to be considered in this world should be viewed through the spectacles of the redemptive work of Christ. It is this principle which sharply distinguishes the Christian world and life view from that of the unbeliever.
When the sinner comes face to face with the holiness of God and he falls to his knees to repent of his sins it is often a focus on a change of heart that is perceived, and that is true. Regeneration, an act by which God through the work of the Holy Spirit raises one to new life, is described in Ezekiel 36:26 where God says, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. But the word repentance is a word that means a change in one’s mind. And Paul recognized this and so he made his appeal to the mind of the hearer. True faith is not something that is purely emotional but is based upon an appeal to one’s reason with the facts of the Word of God. The preaching and defense of the gospel are to be pursued through the thoughtful and reasonable appeal to the conscience of the hearer.
At the same time, in verse 14 Paul revealed that the unbeliever, the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Paul is not saying the unbeliever is unable to understand what the words of the Bible mean, but they are incapable of receiving them as the truth that can set one free from the grips of sin and Satan.
All of this brings us to the key lesson from Paul’s teaching. The Christian must embrace his total dependence upon the working of the Holy Spirit for the Word to be effective in their life and in the life of all who hear the preaching of the gospel. As such, Paul said in verse 4 that my speck and my preaching were . . . in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should be . . . in the power of God. In verse 10 he said that God has revealed the mystery to us through His Spirit. What mystery? The mystery of the redemption of the cross in Christ Jesus.
He develops an interesting argument in verses 10-12 where he spoke to God’s thoughts and wisdom being above or beyond the thoughts of man. Or to put it another way, it is beyond the reach of the mind of man to understand the deep things of God. But he is setting the hearer up. His point is when you seek wisdom in the mind of men you will never truly achieve what you are looking for. Man is not even able to understand basic things about himself apart from the Spirit of God.
The Christian, on the other hand, is given the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand and believe these deep truths revealed by God because (verse 13) we are taught in words which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. This work of the Holy Spirit puts the believer into a different standing in Christ so that he can judge what is true, and yet the judgment of the unbeliever is not able to judge the Christian discerningly. That is why Paul concludes the argument with a rhetorical question echoing Isaiah 40:13, “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” Now Paul’s point becomes clear, the Christian has the mind of Christ in the presence of the Holy Spirit working in him to lead them into all truth. Understanding Paul’s argument here is designed to encourage us as those in Christ to, as Romans 12:2 exhorts, be transformed by the renewing of our mind.