Relevance is Irrelevant (Part 8)
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul repeatedly points to the preaching of the deliberately unadorned gospel as the essence of Christian ministry. In the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 2, Paul points to his own pattern of ministry to prove that the mere preaching of the gospel is what demonstrates the power of the Spirit of God.
In 1 Cor 2:6-12, Paul is describing the nature of the message proclaimed. He says in verse 6 that the message of the cross is a wisdom, but not according to this world. This world’s wisdom is passing away. The wisdom of God is on another level, not appealing to the vain imagination of sinful men. This world’s thinkers try to discover the ways of God by their own ruined “wisdom,” and in so doing they reject the wisdom that comes only through divine revelation. Paul points out in verse 7 that the wisdom he declares is not passing away–indeed, the wisdom of the Gospel is eternal wisdom. On the other hand, this eternal wisdom is hidden to men who reject the wisdom that comes through divine revelation. And if we need any proof of this fatal rejection, the blindness of sinful men is seen most clearly in their rejection of that Wisdom personified–the crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). In real history, we have the most convincing evidence of man’s rejection of divinely revealed wisdom. We killed the Lord of glory!
In 1 Cor 2:9, Paul tells us that the Scriptures themselves reveal this conflict between God’s wisdom that comes only through a divine revealed message and the human wisdom that comes as men vainly and blindly struggle to invent their own “realities” apart from revelation.
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”— (ESV)
Paul quotes Isaiah the prophet to show us that God’s plan boggles the minds of men. Isaiah 64:4 teaches us that man could never have dreamt up the great works God had planned for those who love him. No eye has seen it, no ear has heard it, no heart has even imagined it.
And who could have? Who could have ever thought up a plan as brilliant as the gospel of Christ? That the eternal undying, omnipresent, omnipotent Son of God would become incarnate, taking to himself a human nature, walk among men in the most humble fashion, die by the hands of sinners on a Roman cross, only to rise again three days later in order to save lowly, slimy, worthless, rebellious, apathetic worms of sinners like us? Who could have thought that by dying the Son of God would take all our sins on himself—that every hurtful word, every rebellious sigh, every covetous glance, every fleshly indulgence, every contemptuous thought for God and his worship, would be put on him who knew no sin. Who could have ever conceived that he would bear the penalty for our sin? Who could have imagined that those hopeless sinners who would merely believe in him would be given an exalted status of sons of God and inheritors of the kingdom? And not only this, but that God, because of what Christ did, would fix his love on us so, such that nothing would separate us from him who loved us? We could have ever thought this up! No, only our eternal loving God could have from all eternity ordained a plan to redeem lost mankind.
We know what kind of religions men invent on their own. Man-made religions emphasize human pride and glory, works-salvation, or some twisted kind of ascetic escapism from the world God has made. Other versions of man-made religion provide health, wealth, and prosperity in the present or offer some vague elysium state ushered in by man and his precious little technologies. Still others promise freedom to pursue the misty passions of concupiscence and the lusts of the flesh. But the divinely revealed message is of another cloth. It is manifestly of a supernatural origin–here alone we are promised reconciliation with God through sins forgiven, the blessing of communion with the Triune God through the sacrificial blood of the lamb of God, and a holy life transformed exclusively for the glory of God and only through the grace of God.
In verse 9 Paul is saying that the Old Testament itself authoritatively teaches us that divine wisdom is outside the capacities of the empty minds of men. Where then does it come from? Paul provides the answer in verse 10:
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (ESV)
The message of the cross, the gospel of the Lord of glory, Paul says, come from the Spirit. It’s not invented by man, but it’s revealed by the Spirit. Not only is this glorious message revealed by the Spirit, but it is revealed “to us.” In the original “to us” comes first in verse 10 as a point of emphasis. Not to the high or mighty, but to lowly Christians has the Spirit of God come revealing the gospel. Such an honor, of course, is no cause for pride. On the contrary, the Spirit reveals the message to us. He’s the one who receives the glory.
How then can we reliably know that this message is true? Paul points to the doctrine of the Trinity. He says that the Spirit searches the deep things of God. Paul doesn’t mean that the Spirit is finding out new things, but as the third person of the Trinity he has access to this infinitely wide deep of God’s knowledge. The wisdom of God comes only through the divine revelation given by the Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, let us take greater comfort in these Scripture truths. They ought to give us a confidence in our evangelistic efforts. Paul is telling us here that in the gospel of Jesus Christ we something beyond humanity’s wildest dreams. Might it be that our tendency to adulterate the gospel with relevant tactics is a result of our own unbelief in the unfathomable blessings that come through Christ? What “sprucing up” could it possibly need? Should we expect those who are blinded by their own man-made religion to accept that message that comes only through the Spirit of God? I know for myself that I often need to have my own eyes reopened to the great things God has prepared for me through powerful message of Jesus crucified. I suspect that if we were more enthralled with these things ourselves, we would spend much less time strategizing how to make the gospel relevant. We have the world’s best water for those dying of thirst. We have the living bread for those who are gorging themselves and still hungry. We have the only soul-satisfying God for those whose souls are seeking to have their greatest and highest desires fulfilled.
About Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).