Our recent article, Will There Be An Eternal Resurrection Unto ‘Shame And Everlasting Contempt’ For Some Israelites? elicited a comment from one of our readers who wrote,
Yes, we are idiots, truly. If fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, then realizing you are an idiot is a close second.
We would like to agree with this statement — but we would like to agree in a most specific manner. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:18,
Take care that no one deceives himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.
Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that we must “become foolish” — or idiots — so that we may “become wise.” Similarly, Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:2,
If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know
Paul implicitly tells us that we should understand that we do not know anything — and that knowing that one does not know anything might constitute knowing as we “ought to know.” In other words, if we can’t admit to ourselves that we don’t know everything, then we will never know as we ought to know.
I neither know nor think that I know
This is an ancient epistemological problem dating back millennia — captured in the English phrase, “You can’t know what you don’t know.” Ancient philosophers — such as Plato — readily acknowledged the problem to themselves. Thus in 1 Corinthians 1:20 Paul says, “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Then again in 1 Corinthians 3:20 Paul quotes Psalm 94:11 saying, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are useless.”
KNOW ONLY CHRIST
How could “the wisdom of the world” and “the wise” be “foolish” and “useless” if they accurately acknowledge the problem of not being able to know what we don’t know? Because despite acknowledging the problem, philosophers have hitherto failed to actually provide a solution to the problem. They have no reliable way to know what they don’t know — and more importantly — to know what they need to know.
Now we start to gain an appreciation for the devastating attack Paul lays against the wisdom of the world in his epistle to the Corinthians. Paul has not arbitrarily spiritualized knowledge beyond any practicality. No, he is showing us how superior the wisdom of God is in its raw practicality when compared to the uselessness of the wisdom of the world.
Paul provides the solution to the problem in 1 Corinthians 2, where he prefaces it in verses 1-5 by saying,
1 And when I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come as someone superior in speaking ability or wisdom, as I proclaimed to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I also was with you in weakness and fear, and in great trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of mankind, but on the power of God.
Now consider what Paul is saying here — he actively seeks to know nothing except Jesus Christ. That is the ideal to which he is striving. He will forego the wisdom of the world — regarding it as useless — so long as he may retain the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Now if Paul is arguing in the most practical sense that the wisdom of God is better than the wisdom of the world, then we must consider that actively knowing nothing except for the Lord Jesus must somehow constitute the foundation of that practical solution.
In other words, the beginning of knowing what we need to know begins with a casting out of all preconceived notions according to the wisdom of the world — and coming to the Lord Jesus alone as the Divine Source of our understanding. Here Paul tacitly tells us that the Lord Jesus is the ultimate Teacher of philosophy — because through Him alone we may become wise.
After all, the Lord Jesus Himself said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25) — and, “unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
A child’s mind is innocent and unspoiled by the wisdom of the world. A child has not formed opinions and agendas according to the wisdom of the world. A child listens to the words of a parent or teacher as if they spoke the gospel truth. So must we be before the feet of the Lord Jesus — actively seeking to scrub our minds of the world’s wisdom — that we may know only Him and His teaching.
Paul tells the Corinthians he was with them “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4) — which many take to mean that he performed miracles among them. However, the Acts 18 account of Paul’s time in Corinth doesn’t mention any miracles being performed — rather it relates only how Paul debated with the “Judeans and Greeks” (verse 4) — and later “settled there for a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (verse 11)
Therefore, we conclude that the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” was Paul’s teaching — solely focused on persuading them about the Lord Jesus — Who said to Paul, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9–10)
After his preface, Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7,
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
Here Paul almost seems to backtrack on his prior statements — as if aware that the Corinthians might consider his words in verses 1-6 to indeed be foolishness. He says, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature” — attesting that if only the Corinthians grasp what he is saying, they might become wise in the manner in which they seek wisdom. They might, for example, come to know what they don’t know.
Yet Paul says this wisdom is “not of this age nor of the rulers of this age” — and that the wisdom is a “mystery” and “hidden.” In other words, there’s no way the Corinthians could have come to this wisdom without the Lord Jesus — despite perhaps imagining themselves to have come to wisdom by the philosophy of the world.
What a great irony because stoic and platonic philosophers actively seek to align themselves with the anthropomorphic force of order and creation which the stoics call “Logos.” The stoic philosophers especially wrote on the physical nature of creation — and what the implications might be for how the stoic philosopher should order their life. To this end, Paul said in Romans 1:20,
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Stoic philosophy would have very readily agreed on this point which formed one of the cornerstone principles of their belief. Yet in similar way to the epistemological problem we already highlighted — despite being able to acknowledge the problem that they must conform to the will of the Logos — they were powerless to actually guarantee their own conformance to the Logos.
Therefore, when Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2) — in practice he determined to know nothing except for the Logos itself — which is Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3). Again, the Corinthians could not have known the Lord Jesus as Logos merely by their own worldly wisdom.
It was a hidden mystery revealed by the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus — that even those who had the Scripture might not have known it — just as He said to Nicodemus, “You are the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). Then He also said, “all the things that are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44) — and, “You examine the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is those very Scriptures that testify about Me” (John 5:39).
Yes, Christ Jesus is wisdom and knowledge incarnate — for which the Law and prophets provided us only a window — and something into which even “angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:12) Verily, so great was the mystery of the Lord Jesus, that through Him the “multifaceted wisdom of God” would even be made known “through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10)
As a window into the truth of Christ Jesus, the Law is a mere shadow of the eternal and spiritual fulfillment of His wisdom. As such, Paul tells us to “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6) — “For we know that the Law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14) — “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
THE IMPERISHABLE WREATH
Paul then tells us that this hidden mystery of wisdom in the Lord Jesus was “predestined before the ages to our glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:7) He continues in verse 8,
the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
Why would the “rulers of this age” not have “crucified the Lord of glory” if only they had understood? Because they would have understood they were crucifying the very thing which would have led them to what they already sought: true wisdom and glory. Yet not wisdom and glory “of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:6) — but rather of the age to come, which is the Spiritual temple of the congregation of Israel — and the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The wisdom of the world might have led one to compete in anything so as “to obtain a perishable wreath” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Now a wreath in ancient times denoted glory and recognition for victory — yet Paul calls that victory “perishable” because we have all been subjected to the futility of death — as he tells us in Romans 8:20-21,
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Thus the Lord Jesus shows us that our own futility may be “understood by what has been made.” (Romans 1:20) Again, ancient heroes sought to create for themselves a legacy which would transcend their death — because according to the wisdom of the world they acknowledged the futility of their own lives. Yet they were powerless to change it — because a legacy does nothing to guarantee that one might enjoy their legacy. Even if one ensured a legacy — in the end — even their legacy would die.
See how the Lord Jesus subjected us to death — and subjected the “perishable wreath” (1 Corinthians 9:25) to futility — in hope that we would be set free from “slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” To this end, Paul calls the wreath of true wisdom an “imperishable” wreath (1 Corinthians 9:25). In other words, in the Lord Jesus we have glory and recognition for victory to the ends of time and beyond — and we will be alive to enjoy that wreath to its fullest.
See how the Lord Jesus solves every problem acknowledged by the wisdom of the world in the most perfect and eternal way? Thus the “Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are useless.” (1 Corinthians 3:20) And see how generous He is — that He would give us unending glory? Amen, no shame will be found in unending glory.
Thus Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 in verse 9,
but just as it is written: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the human heart, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
At no point could any man ever have — nor ever will he — imagine “all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” So great is God’s glory, that it could only be conveyed to us in copies and shadows. Again, stoic philosophy acknowledged that the reality we experience is a mere shadow — and despite their acknowledgement, they were powerless to see beyond that shadow. Yet Paul tells us that the substance of the shadows “belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)
Yes, in Christ Jesus we see far beyond that shadow — because the substance which the philosophers meditated over belongs to Him — and we come to Him — and He “knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are useless.” (1 Corinthians 3:20)
Truthfully, with our fleshly minds we are able to merely fondle the edges of the true realization of this glory. Yet note the condition given for this inconceivable glory — “All that God has prepared for those who love Him” — just as the Lord Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13,
10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. 13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
Paul tells us that we have received “the Spirit who is from God” — that is, the very Spirit of the Lord Jesus’ Father — the infinite and invisible God who is above all for all eternity. Through having received the Spirit of God, we may know the very thoughts of God — and “know the things freely given to us by God.”
If through the Spirit we may know the thoughts of God — and if God’s knowledge is so perfect that He knows the beginning from the end — and “calls into being things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17) — then through the Spirit we have a knowledge so utterly perfect that the epistemological problem we described has been solved beyond what any worldly wisdom may ever have imagined.
To this end, we must consider how the Spirit may lead us to intuitively understand things without realizing that the full force of the Scripture stands with us. For example, the reader’s comment we cited to begin this essay intuitively welcomed the status of “idiot” upon himself — perhaps not necessarily realizing quite the import of what he was saying. When the Spirit works through us — being “taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13) — our knowledge begins to precede our own fleshly experience.
In other words, through the Spirit not only do we know what we don’t know — but we begin to know before we knew.
Now while the Spirit deduces knowledge within us a kind of a priori knowledge — as is likely the case with the comment we used as example — we must be able to demonstrate that knowledge a posteriori within the Scripture. Therefore — in a way, we offer this article as a posteriori confirmation of that comment — and hopefully proof to the commenter that the Spirit is leading him — if indeed he — and even any of us — will finish the race in the Lord Jesus.
Indeed, if we claim to learn from the Spirit, then we must be able to demonstrate it in the Lord Jesus just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38,
37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Verily, if we imagine ourselves to be spiritual, then it may be demonstrated only in the Lord’s commandment — and by extension our love for Him in keeping His commands (John 14:15) — and by the strict adherence to His word in the Scripture.
TRUE WISDOM IN CHRIST JESUS DOES NOT BOAST IN MEN
1 Corinthians 2:14-16,
14 But a natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But the one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is discerned by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
The “natural” mind set on the things of the flesh cannot discern the things of God — “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7–8)
Yet as we have explained in detail, the Spirit of the Father and the Lord Jesus work in tandem with one another, as Paul says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9) — and the Lord Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Thus Paul says, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) — concluding his premise in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31,
30 But it is due to Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Therefore — if we are to have any wisdom at all, then we should not boast in men — and boast in the doctrines of men — or place our faith in the understanding of men. Some may boast in the knowledge of a man they follow, but Paul says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
It’s fascinating that in 1 Corinthians 1-3 Paul was addressing certain men among the Corinthians who were partial to men. Paul saw people who placed their understanding in the understanding of men — and he exhorted them in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23,
21 So then, no one is to be boasting in people. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
When we boast in men, we short-change ourselves to whom belong all things — whether “present or things to come” — and all knowledge in accordance with the perfect will of God. Instead of relying on the perfect knowledge given to us by the Spirit in Christ, we boast in men and hang our eternal salvation on the hope that man’s knowledge will suffice to save us.
Yet some Christians — such as those who contend that only Israelites will be saved — claim that a knowledge of the Lord Jesus is not even necessary for a man to be saved as long as they are Israelites in the flesh — denying the necessity of Christ as a redeemer to enter the Kingdom. So we exhort any man or woman who boasts in this worldly knowledge of men to become as infants — and to seek to know nothing except the Lord Jesus — that they may become wise.
These are the commands of the Lord Jesus.
LET US ALL BECOME FOOLS
We have already considered how we must become foolish in all things except the Lord Jesus, but let us now consider more practically how Paul said, “[we] must become foolish, so that [we] may become wise.” (1 Corinthians 3:18)
We find a most interesting juxtaposition within the Proverbs of Scripture — where they often describe the dynamics between the fools and the wise. For example Proverbs 1:7,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Or Proverbs 12:1,
One who loves discipline loves knowledge, But one who hates rebuke is stupid.
How can we truly know who is the fool and who is wise according to the Proverbs? As with most teachings in the Scripture, true meaning has been hidden beautifully within a paradox: the one who never considers himself to be the fool is the fool — just as Paul says, “[we] must become foolish, so that [we] may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18) — and the Lord says, “unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
If we are to become wise, we must ever consider ourselves the fool. Proverbs 26:12 says,
Do you see a person wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
In other words, we should seriously reflect upon ourselves and consider, “Do I despise wisdom and instruction?” Or, “Do I hate rebuke and discipline?”
Moreover, If we consider ourselves wise, then we have automatically become the fool. Therefore, let us all actively engage ourselves in convincing ourselves — with the word of God as our aid — that we are indeed fools. We must relentlessly apply ourselves to find foolishness within our own lives and root it out — never considering that we have ever attained to wisdom.
Thus in practice we become fools — and we make ourselves to be fools — so that we may become wise. Then if any call us stupid, fools or idiots, then we may merely reply, “I know — and you don’t know the half of it. May the Lord Jesus save me from my foolishness.”
One day, if we have any wisdom in accordance with the Lord Jesus, it will be confirmed for us by the approval of God — not the approval of men. Paul says that “if anyone loves God, he is known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3) — and “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
One day we will “know fully” even as God knows us fully — and in that knowledge our glory will be like the glory of God (Revelation 21:11). All we have to do is consider ourselves fools — and resolve to know nothing except the Lord Jesus — because “before destruction the heart of a person is haughty, but humility goes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12)
Least of all should we boast in the knowledge of men. The very Logos of the universe — the Lord Jesus Christ Himself — stands ready to provide us with all knowledge — if only we will turn to Him alone.
As a closing thought, it is a testament to the wisdom of the Lord Jesus that through His apostles — whom He taught — we would be fully equipped through Him to overcome the appeal to worldly knowledge — which are Satan’s temptations.
We live in a time in which “many will roam about, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:4) — but simultaneously there will be a “famine….for hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11) Daniel 12:4 says, “many will roam about” — but Amos 8:12 says,
People will stagger from sea to sea And from the north even to the east; They will roam about to seek the word of the Lord, But they will not find it.
We live in a time of preponderance of knowledge. Since roughly the 1970s, the amount of information available to us has increased exponentially. The ancients would gawk at the fact that we have access to thousands — even millions — of times more information than what they ever did.
Furthermore, we have more Scriptural resources than what we have ever had. Yet despite roaming about to seek the word of the Lord, people will not find it. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:3-4,
3 For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
The Lord says in Isaiah 29:13-14,
13….Because this people approaches Me with their words And honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of the commandment of men that is taught; 14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, And the understanding of their men who have understanding will be concealed.
When we look at Paul and Isaiah’s writings, we understand why there would be a famine of knowledge of the Lord — because people sought the wisdom of men in accordance with their own desires — instead of having “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
We err away from the Lord Jesus when we try to see Him through our preconceived notions. We spend our time in the wisdom of men — dangerously trusting that their knowledge will suffice to save us — instead of turning to the Him for our instruction. We have been equipped through Him to withstand this onslaught — so let us turn to Him in sincerity and truth.
Moreover, we conclude that Christianity — under the tutelage of the Lord Jesus — is the most advanced form of philosophy ever known to Adamkind. Each Christian man or woman who resides within the kingdom is a more skilled practitioner of philosophy than Plato himself.
In other words, even though each Christian might not be able to eloquently explain the problems of philosophy according to the impotent wisdom of the world — through a personal faith in the Lord Jesus — and through prayer — they will practice the solution to all philosophical problems according to the omnipotent power of God.
The problems of knowing what we don’t know — and our lives amounting to nothing in death — are so fundamental to life that absolutely everyone — great and small; rich and poor — can identify with them. However, merely being cognizant of — and accurately describing — any problem we might face in life is useless when compared with a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3)
8 “But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would make my plea before God,
9 Who does great and unsearchable things,
Wonders without number.
10 He gives rain on the earth,
And sends water on the fields,
11 So that He sets on high those who are lowly,
And those who mourn are lifted to safety.
12 He frustrates the schemes of the shrewd,
So that their hands cannot attain success.
13 He captures the wise by their own cleverness,
And the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted.
14 By day they meet with darkness,
And grope at noon as in the night.
15 But He saves from the sword of their mouth,
And the poor from the hand of the strong.
16 So the helpless has hope,
And injustice has shut its mouth.