Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 We believe so that we might understand

1 Corinthians 2:14-16

14 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. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Not everyone has the wisdom of God, and, in verses 14-16, Paul explains who has it and who does not. The main group who does not is identified by a two-word phrase in Greek that is translated by the NIV as the person without the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). Older translations sometimes say the natural man (KJV, NASB, and ESV has natural person). The NET Bible and HCSB forthrightly say the unbeliever. An unbeliever does not have the Spirit of God dwelling within (Rom. 8:9) and is thus a natural man. Since Paul is stressing the Holy Spirit throughout this section, the NIV has nailed the meaning here.

Paul says three things about the person without the Spirit: they do not accept the things that come from the Spirit; they consider such things foolishness.; they cannot understand such things without the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). This has profound implications for evangelism. We often think wrongly that unbelievers do not understand biblical truth and for that reason they do not believe. So, we try to clarify the biblical truth for them but make little progress. Ben Witherington describes the real problem:

The non-Christian, using his or her natural faculties, is not able to understand or judge spiritual matters (v. 14). They appear to be foolishness. This is a general principle, and probably Paul would say that the only way the non-believer understands enough to accept the gospel in the first place before receiving the Spirit is that the Spirit has already been working unnoticed.[1]

Perhaps a better approach would be to persuade those who need salvation to open their lives to seek God. In Athens, Paul said, God did this [created the world] so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:23). Only those willing to seek the Lord will find him.

The only way for an unbeliever to grasp the truth God has revealed is to start with Christ crucified. When they commit themselves by faith to Jesus Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit and then can understand spiritual things previously beyond their grasp (the person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, 1 Cor. 2:15).

The person who does not have the Spirit cannot make accurate judgments about those who have the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:15). Gordon Fee says, Those whose lives are invaded by the Spirit of God can discern all things, including those without the Spirit; but the inverse is not possible.[2] The answer to the question in 1 Cor. 2:16 is that the Holy Spirit knows the mind of the Lord. Those who belong to Christ have the Spirit and really know Christ.[3] Garland explains that to have the mind of Christ requires putting to death selfish ambitions, humbling oneself, and giving oneself for others.[4]

Fee points out that 1 Cor. 2:1416 has often been abused in the church by some who consider themselves to be so full of the Spirit as to be beyond correction or counsel from others. It has been hijacked by various deeper life or second blessing movements who regularly make a special revelation from the Spirit their final court of appeal.[5] Such actions miss the point and divert attention from the central message of Christ crucified.

Fee powerfully concludes: The gift of the Spirit does not lead to special status among believers; rather, it leads to special status [in relation to] the world. But it should always do so in terms of the centrality of the message of our crucified/risen Savior.[6]

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 128.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 118.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 101.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 102.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 120.

[6] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 120.

Exposition of Romans 1:13–15 — Win Christ’s disciples; equip Christ’s disciples!

When Paul speaks of reaping “some harvest” (Rom. 1:13) among the Roman Christians, perhaps he is looking back to the parable told by Jesus about the four soils (Luke 8:4-15). The only seed that grew and actually yielded a harvest of grain was that which fell on good soil. Perhaps we should regard this parable as a strong hint that it takes some time to know whether our evangelism results in a disciple of Jesus or not.

Either way, our job is to tell the good news about Jesus and build those who become his disciples (Matthew 28:18-19).

(ESV) Romans 1:13–15  I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul continues his efforts to defuse any criticisms of his ministry that might hinder his recipients from listening to his theological arguments about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In view of his extensive ministry among Gentiles in far-flung places, the Roman Christians might have felt slighted by the fact Paul had not visited the capital of the empire.

Once again John Chrysostom (a fourth-century father) offers a helpful set of insights about Paul’s inability to visit Rome sooner (1:13):

Paul does not concern himself with such things [as to why he was impeded], yielding instead to the incomprehensible nature of providence. By doing this he shows the right tone of his soul and also teaches us never to call God to account for what happens, even though what is done seems to trouble the minds of many. For it is the master’s place to command and the servant’s to obey.[1]

When Paul mentions the “Greeks” in 1:14, this term includes all those who considered themselves partakers of Greek culture; for example, the standard Greek lexicon says, “Cultured Romans affected interest in things Greek and would therefore recognize themselves under this term.”[2] We must also recall that due to the conquest of most of the known world by Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Greek language and culture had spread throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.

So, when Paul speaks of “Greeks and . . . barbarians” (1:14), he is effectively saying everyone. The terms “the wise and. . . the foolish” also mean everyone. In saying “I am under obligation” (1:14), Paul uses the present tense and indicative mood to convey the ongoing nature of his moral obligation before God to preach the gospel.

If the idea that Paul is going to “preach the gospel” (1:15) to Roman Christians seems a bit jarring, the problem is in our limited contemporary understanding of this phrase. Moo observes, “In this case, ’preach the gospel’ will refer to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization.”[3] Similarly, Osborne says, “Once more, it is important to realize that gospel in the New Testament included discipleship as well as evangelism.”[4] Paul had a big gospel.

Never shrink the gospel!

Perhaps some of you will remember the Walt Disney film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989); before you scorn the title, consider that the film grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. While shrinking might be comical in a Disney movie, it is serious when it comes to the gospel.

One popular tool for “sharing the gospel” is The Four Spiritual Laws, a brief booklet written by Bill Bright in 1952. While such tools are very useful in explaining the essentials of salvation — as in my own conversion to Christian faith — they often have the unfortunate side-effect of shrinking the gospel to a degree that Paul would find really tiny.

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. You will easily see both evangelism and discipleship in these verses. How would you relate these verses to the broader understanding of the gospel?

2. How might we get better educated on various aspects of salvation? Here are some references to consider: Substitution (Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:14); Justification (Rom. 3:21-26); Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19); Redemption (Eph. 1:7); Expiation (Col. 2:14); Regeneration (Titus 3:5). How do these verses help you to see various aspects of salvation?

Perhaps it will help to think of the gospel as a treasure. You would not want people taking away pieces while you were not looking! Another way the gospel is like a treasure is that we should get busy giving it away to those who need it so desperately!

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas); used by permission.



[1] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 26.

[2] BDAG-3, Hell?n, Greek, q.v.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 63.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 39.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:6

Matthew 7:6
“Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.”
(NET Bible)

Identifying pigs and dogs

For those trained in modern techniques of personal evangelism, it is tempting to press the presentation of the gospel even when the resistance is extreme. For a disciple confronted with entrenched refusal, Jesus has two words: “Do not . . .”

When you review commentaries on the meaning of Matthew 7:6, such words as cryptic and enigmatic often occur. However, analysis of the context and information about cultural background will combine to solve the mystery.

The verse is most easily understood as a balancing statement to what has been said in 7:1-5. David Turner makes the telling observation that Jesus’ disciples must not be judgmental — as described in 7:1-5 — “but neither must they be oblivious to genuinely evil people.”[1]

I hope it is obvious to you that Jesus uses the words dogs and pigs to refer to certain people. Yes indeed, he is making a negative judgment about them even after the warning against harsh judgmentalism! While the disciples must guard against adopting the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees toward others, they must also avoid the other extreme of being naïve. As in so many matters, there are two cliffs where one may fall down, and the wise path for a disciple lies between the two. Jesus is implicitly teaching that his disciples must make the judgmental identification of dogs and pigs when necessary for advancing the gospel of the kingdom.

As to the cultural background of this verse, the Old Testament has hundreds of examples where the literary pattern A-B-B-A is used to make a point with literary style. Here is how Matthew 7:6 looks when arranged that way:

A: Do not give what is holy to dogs

B: or throw your pearls before pigs

B: otherwise they will trample them under their feet

A: and turn and tear you to pieces.

So, in a word order more natural to a 21st-century American, Matthew 7:6 would say: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; otherwise they will turn and tear you to pieces. Do not throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet.” Such a rewriting takes away the literary pattern that would have been quickly decoded by Jesus’ audience.

Turner informs us that dogs were generally wild scavengers in the first century, and pigs were unclean animals according to the law. He adds, “Their use here is as striking metaphors of those who contemptuously and viciously reject the message of the kingdom.”[2]

In our tolerance-ridden times you might doubt that such vicious (human) dogs were a real danger to Jesus and his disciples. Think again! Luke 4:16-30 tells what happened when Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown. Because Jesus refused to work miracles for them, the people became so enraged that “they got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29). Only then did they see a miracle, when “he passed through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30). Notice carefully that he did not remain in Nazareth to press the matter further.

What a Savior!

Any swine or canines in your life?

If you never let on that you are a Christian, then you will probably never encounter a dog. But if you live as a disciple of Jesus and spread the gospel of the kingdom, then you will eventually get a vicious response. Your task as a disciple is not to strongly condemn such people; instead, provide the gospel in a sensitive and caring way and then let God deal with any hardened hearts.

In sharing the gospel with those in your sphere of influence, remember that you are not responsible for their response to the message so long as you take care to be thoughtful and sensitive in your presentation. The issue must not be you; the issue must be Jesus Christ, the one who died for our sins and rose on the third day. He will handle those who forcefully resist his Word.


[1] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 206.

[2] Turner, Matthew, 207.