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Doug Van Meter - 19 February 2023

The Mindset of the Cross (1 Corinthians 2:6–16)

Paul was concerned about the condition of the local church in Corinth. All was not well, and Paul knew the solution: a proper appreciation for the message of the cross. Having addressed the message of the cross (1:18–31) and the messenger of the cross (2:1–5), Paul then wrote about the maturity of the cross (2:6–13). This maturity is inseparable from the mindset of the cross (2:14–16), that is the mind of Christ. Paul points to several characteristics of those with this mindset: (1) They Love God (vv. 6–10); (2) They Listen to God (vv. 11–13); (3) They Learn from God (vv. 14–15); and (4) They Live for God (v. 16).

Scripture References: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

From Series: "1 Corinthians Exposition"

An exposition of 1 Corinthians by Doug Van Meter.

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Recently, loadshedding kicked in at the office and our secretary dutifully turned the key on the generator, which began to purr like a kitten, a noise that, in some ways, has become music to my ears! Anyway, though the generator was running smoothly, and the changeover switch was set to “generator,” we had no power. Being the qualified electricians we are, we restarted the generator and switched the main board off and on again, but still nada. I looked at the generator again, which was still running beautifully. However, I noticed that something significant was missing, something essential: the electrical lead connecting the generator to the building! We had a good chuckle, hooked up the cord, and the lights went on. I thought immediately about 1 Corinthians 2.

In this chapter, Paul expounds the essential teaching that no one can understand the things of God unless they are connected to God. If we do not have the Holy Spirit, we will never be born again, and if we are not born again, we will never grasp the things belonging to the kingdom of God (see John 3:3). We need the Spirit to see the things of God. We need the Spirit to love God. We need the Spirit to listen to God. We need the Spirit to learn from God. And we need the Spirit to live for God. This is the theme of the text before us.

It is more than possible to make the spiritual noises of Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, moral resolutions, professions of faith, responses to an altar call, confession of sin, etc., and yet see no change. That is, we can still find ourselves in spiritual darkness. We need the power of God, mediated by the Spirit of God through the word of God, if our spiritual lights will come on. Only then can we function in this world as God intended. But, as with our generator situation, what should be so obvious, often is not.

Paul was concerned about the condition of the local church in Corinth. All was not well, and Paul knew the solution: a proper appreciation for the message of the cross. Having addressed the message of the cross (1:18–31) and the messenger of the cross (2:1–5), Paul then wrote of the maturity of the cross (2:6–13), which is inseparable from the mindset of the cross (2:14–16), that is the mind of Christ. He points to several characteristics of those with this mindset.

  1. They Love God (vv. 6–10)
  2. They Listen to God (vv. 11–13)
  3. They Learn from God (vv. 14–15)
  4. They Live for God (v. 16)

They Love God

The first characteristic of those who have the mind of Christ is that they love God:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 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”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

Those who have experienced the powerful message of the cross—the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ crucified—are characterised by what we might call a cruciform affection—an affection for God (and for others) that is shaped by the cross. As we live in the shadow of the cross, we in fact live in the shadow of God’s love. And his love reproduces love in us. As John famously said, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:7–19). Paul, quoting Isaiah 64:4, says the same thing.

Paul teaches us that the spiritual person—the person who has the Spirit of God—loves God. This is not merely a sentimental, superficial, Sunday-only love, but rather a deeply affectionate love for God. We see this in vv. 9–10.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4, pointing to the reality that those whom God saves love him in return. His emphasis is that the wonderful insights to God’s people—those who love him—are revealed and given by the Spirit. And “these things,” in context, refer to the cross of Christ. The Spirit of God reveals the message of the cross; that is, our lost, sinful, rebellious condition and yet God’s loving commitment to reconcile us.

But what do we make of this phrase “for those who love him”? That seems out of place. After all, how can God’s enemies love him? Of course, the answer is that they cannot. Paul teaches that, when the Spirit of God enlightens a sinner to the message of the cross and its power to save, when a sinner is born again, their response is love for God. It is impossible to be born again by the Spirit of God, and thereby adopted into God’s family, and not love your heavenly Father. His love assures our love (see 1 John 4:7–19).

The Wise Love Wisely

This love for God, arising from the power of the cross, is true wisdom, the kind of wisdom possessed by the “mature.” It is the wisdom possessed by those who have been saved by Jesus Christ crucified. When the Spirit of God, through the word of God, reconciles a sinner to God by the work of God through the cross of Christ, their affections become cruciform. The cross compels us to love God with deep affection.

Where the Spirit of God has opened eyes to the message of the cross, he has equally opened hearts to love the one who planned and who purchased and who applied the redemption of the cross. This is wisdom. To not love God is the most foolish way to live. One dimensional living is foolish and ultimately futile.

The world loves all the wrong things. Its affections are for those things that are fallen and fading (1 John 2:15–17). This is foolish. To love and to be consumed with that which moths and rust will eat away is the height of folly (Matthew 6:19–24).

The world is immature and therefore not fit to flourish in this world because it loves what God hates: idolatry, self-indulgence, sexual immorality, etc. The Christian, however, who by the Spirit of God has repented of sin and relies fully on Jesus Christ’s death in her place, is able to flourish in a fallen world because her affections are rightly focused. She is able to live two dimensionally. She loves the gospel and therefore she loves God’s word, which points her to the great God of this gospel. She loves holiness more than happiness because God is holy and she wants to please him and to be like him (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15–16). She loves him and therefore is committed to keeping his commandments. And she is grieved to repentance when she disobeys his commandments. She loves spiritual health and is committed to exercising herself for godliness more than exercising for her physical health. She loves God’s people and is grieved to repentance when she offends his people. She loves God and his people therefore serves God’s people. All of this is wise living. All of this is motivated by a maturing mindset that is cruciform.

A Matter of Eternal Life and Eternal Death

This matter of our affections—our love for God—is of eternal, salvific importance for, if you do not love God, you do not belong to God. Let me be more specific: If you do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, then you are accursed by God. If you don’t love the one who was cursed by God for sinners like you, then you are living cursed by God.

Consider Paul’s sobering words as he wraps up this letter: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (16:22–23).

Paul has written this epistle with a judgement of charity, hoping for the best, hoping his recipients are true believers. And yet, as he concludes, he perhaps contemplates all the misbehaviour and error he has addressed, and his pastoral heart and mind are burdened. He realises the danger that some members may be acting like the world—like a “natural person”—as if they do not have the Spirit because in fact they are worldly and natural and do not have the Spirit. The proof is that they do not love the Lord, evidenced in many cases by no love for God’s people.

John teaches us that we love God because he first loved us. If you want to know whether or not God loves you, examine whether you love him. Are your affections shaped by Jesus Christ crucified? If you love him, keeping his commandments will be a priority and, when you break them, you will be grieved to repentance (John 14:15; 1 John 1:5–10). If you love the Lord, you will hate the lusts and the lures and the lies of the world (1 John 2:15–17). If you love the Lord, you will love his people (1 John 5:1), which means you will avoid the kind of frictions and factions and fighting that are so prevalent in this epistle. If you love the Lord, you will love and long for holiness (Hebrews 12:14).

Much more can be said, but the point we must grasp is that, when the Spirit of God opens our eyes to the glory of Jesus Christ and to the grace of him crucified, our affections will be transformed—cruciform—for God saves his people to love him. And if you think that sounds self-centred on God’s part, be thankful for there is no other way to flourish in this world than to love God!

To love God is to experience God. What is better than that? To love God is to hate and avoid sin with its bitter fruit. What’s better than that? To love God is to resist unforgiveness, bitterness, self-indulgence, and idolatries that destroy one’s soul and one’s relationships. What’s better than that? To love God is to focus our affections and aspirations on the one who will never fail us, never wrong us, and never forsake us. What fools we are for not loving God! Finally, this Spirit-wrought love puts us in the wonderful position of receiving more light and experiencing more love. This leads to increased maturity and growth in wisdom. This brings us to our next point.

They Listen to God

Second, those with the mind of Christ listen to God:

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

(1 Corinthians 2:11–12)

Those with the mind of Christ, whose life and love is shaped by Jesus Christ crucified, will manifest a cruciform ability to hear the voice of God. They have the ability to learn two dimensionally.

The Spirit of God, Paul says, knows the thoughts of God (being God himself) and takes these “deep things” of God (10b) and makes them known to the “mature,” that is, to the Christian. These deep things—the message of the cross—are “the things freely given to us by God.” The Christian hears God’s voice pointing him to Christ’s cross. God’s voice is not and audible voice; it is his voice as contained in the written word of God. Like the text before us!

Paul was writing the inspired word of God. He was recording, as it were, the voice of God. This means that the “mature” are expected to hear this voice of God and, of course, to respond affectionately and obediently to it.

I don’t want to belabour a point made previously, but do we appreciate the privilege we have to be able to hearthe voice of God? I don’t mean that our ears are exposed to its words but rather that God’s voice makes sense to our hearts. I do not mean an audible voice but we truly hear and understand these inspired words opening our eyes to the glorious message of the cross.

In 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, Paul describes his own experience of the Spirit enabling him to salvifically hear God’s voice, an experience the believers in Corinth would have also had. Paul wanted these believers to value this work of the Spirit who continued to speak to them. The Lord had given spiritual truths in spiritual words for spiritual people, who have the Spirit of God (v. 13).

Brother and sister, the cruciform (i.e. Christians) listen for God’s word and listen to God’s word. Are you reading your Bible? Do you want to? Are you keen to listen? Beware the biblically illiterate church. Beware the biblically illiterate Christian.

In verse 12 Paul writes that “we have not received the spirit that is of the world but the spirit that is of God.” He contrasts two “voices,” as it were.

The voice of the world says, “There is nothing beyond what can be seen, felt, smelt, or heard,” whereas the Spirit of God says, “There is so much more!” The world’s voice says, “We can live autonomously, making our own rules, living like narcissists, and we will thrive,” whereas the Spirit of God says, “That kind of living will destroy you. Follow Christ and live!” The voice of the world says, “We can earn our way to God’s favour,” whereas the Spirit of God says that only by what God freely and graciously gives can we be saved. The question is, to which spirit are you listening? We can conclude that those with “the mind of Christ,” a mind that is set on Jesus Christ crucified, are mature and maturing and listen to God’s word.

They Learn from God

A third characteristic of those with the mind of Christ is that they learn from God: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (vv. 14-15).

In these verses, Paul continues to drive home the huge distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the cross. He continues to try help the Corinthian believers to live “mature.” He wants them to understand how the message of the cross has made them different from those who reject this message. He wants them to appreciate the spiritual aptitude—their Spirit-provided potential—for living with the mindset of the cross, with the mind of Christ.

In these verses, Paul emphasises the privilege of the “spiritual” person to not only listen to God’s word but to also learn it. That is, they can grasp the explanation of these Spirit-given words. It is this ability that enables us to rise above the wisdom of the world and that equips us to constantly be reminded and encouraged and shaped by God’s free favour to us in Jesus Christ crucified.

Paul contrasts the “natural person” (those “without the Spirit,” CSB) with those who have the Spirit. In doing so, he is preparing his readers for a rebuke, in chapter 3, by reminding them that they are no longer merely “natural persons” and therefore they are without excuse. Because they have the Spirit of God, they should be living like it. They have that aptitude and potential. As do we.

The “natural person” is characterised by that which is sensual. They are merely one dimensional. The word means “of or belonging to breath” or “governed by breath.” That is interesting, for the word “Spirit” means “breath.” Therefore, we can say that the natural person is one who is governed by life as it appears (sensuous, superficial, sentimental) rather than by life as it is revealed by the Spirit of God. Thistleton comments, “Such a person lives on the level of mere human life force (Greek psyche), not in response to the action of the Holy Spirit (pneuma).” That is, they live by the senses rather than by the Spirit. They live one dimensionally, not two dimensionally.

When it comes to reality, the one without the Spirit of God, who has not experienced the power of the cross, is clueless. He or she may be highly educated, greatly skilled, and a success in this world, but when it comes to what really matters, the person apart from the gospel is only one-dimensional. This is what Paul means when he says that “the natural person does not accept [receive, welcome] the things of the Spirit of God.” Rather than the message of the cross making sense, rather than welcoming this glorious truth, they see it, at best, as nice but unnecessary or, worse, as mere “folly.” It makes no sense to the person devoid of the Spirit.

I believe the reason for the plethora of psychologies and psychologists is because of the very dynamic Paul addresses here. Because the world recognises troubles and sorrows and brokenness abounding, it seeks solutions. This is both understandable and often very commendable. But the solutions offered are often governed merely by breath; that is, they are ephemeral and superficial because they do not go to the heart of the matter. I want to avoid being simplistic, but we must come to grips with the reality that what are now labelled syndromes are in many cases actually sin issues.

On a website called Healthline, I found an article describing what is called “Conduct Disorders.” Consider the introductory section:

Conduct disorder is a group of behavioral and emotional problems that usually begins during childhood or adolescence. Children and adolescents with the disorder have difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They may display aggressive, destructive, and deceitful behaviors that can violate the rights of others. Adults and other children may perceive them as “bad” or delinquent rather than as having a mental illness.

Because they are enslaved to a one-dimensional outlook, they base they conclusions on what is observable. I am sympathetic to the reality that some children are extremely defiant. This is a huge burden for parents of those children. But is labelling this a “syndrome” or a “disorder” the best approach? I have no reason to question the compassion and concern of those holding to this worldview, but since the word of God addresses defiance and aggression and vindictiveness as the bitter fruit of a sinful fallen world, we should be looking for solutions from God’s word, not from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I am not discounting that there is much good and needed insight, even from unbelievers, when it comes to certain psychological issues. For instance, many children in our nation suffer from what are called “attachment issues.” This can be serious and heart-breaking both for child and parents. I often pray for those experiencing this trial. Many psychologists offer excellent practical help in this area. Thank God for that. Yet we must not dismiss the reality that since it is a relational problem, a relational disorder, the cross of Jesus Christ must speak to it in some, very significant, way. After all, the cross is about reconciling a relationship. It is about bringing those detached from God into a loving relationship with him. It is about the power of God in bringing those detached to be able to say, “Abba Father.”

The same can be said concerning the transgender debate. The reality is that many struggle with gender identity and we should be compassionate. But we must also not ignore the word of God, which has definite answers to these questions.

My point in raising this is that Christians need to be careful from where they receive their “wisdom.” When it comes to relational, and most behavioural, issues, be careful that the counsel is coming from Spirit of God rather than from the spirit of this world. Biblical counsel is the need for a world that rejects the Bible! It is certainly the need for those who profess they believe the Bible. Related to this, let’s look at v. 15.

An Enigma

Verse 15 should not be interpreted as if to say that, because Christians have God’s Spirit, they are experts on everything or, further, that they can never be corrected by non-Christians. In other words, don’t go to your disciplinary hearing at work armed with this verse! No, what Paul is saying is that, when it comes to the wisdom of the cross, when it comes to the message of the cross, when it comes to understanding ultimate reality of our relationship with God, those with God’s Spirit—Christians—have access to the answers (15a). The “all things” refers to both matters “secular” and “spiritual.” Believers are equipped to flourish in the material world precisely because they are equipped for the spiritual world. And because believers are so fully equipped, they are an enigma to the world (v. 15b). The world just can’t wrap their heads around what is going on with the church! Let me illustrate.

The world does not understand when Christians, with great confidence, share the gospel. Unbelievers think we are eccentric, perhaps even a bit loony. It is an enigma to unbelievers when Christians are committed to raising their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Many unbelievers think that such devotion is fanaticism or cultic. The world does not understand when believers refuse to enter a romantic relationship with unbelievers because the shadow of the cross informs their worldview. It appears strange to the world when Christians refuse an opulent lifestyle because they are seeking first the advancement of God’s kingdom and his righteousness. It perplexes the world when Christians say no to Sunday activities that will interfere with the gathering of the saints, or when a believing woman forgives her adulterous spouse and commits to reconciliation, or when devotion to Christ and his cross results in a young Christian man refusing to engage in sex outside of marriage, or when their Christian friends respond to mistreatment with tenderhearted forgiveness. It appears downright strange to the world that Christians rest in God’s love as their world falls apart.

I trust you get the point. When the cross of Christ shapes your worldview, you have true insight while in the meantime, the world cannot figure you out. That is okay for, after all, better to live in reality than tilting at windmills.

The Christian lives in the full reality of two dimensions: the world as it is seen and the world as God sees. And this makes us an enigma.

The reason for the frictions, factions, failures, and fights in the Corinthian church is because they were living like the world: one dimensionally. The reason for their idolatry, self-indulgence, and immorality is that they were thinking and living one dimensionally. They were not living with the mind of Christ.

Those who live two dimensionally are an enigma to those enslaved to one dimension. How can she show such respect to her husband who treats her so poorly? How can he continue to show such love and patience to his wife who treats him so coldly? How can that child continue to honour her parents who treat her with such disregard? How can he continue to put up with his boss who is so dismissive and demanding? How can she live so contentedly and joyfully though she desperately desires to have children and cannot? How is it that he continues to trust God even though he has lost his health? How is it that those wealthy, highly educated, very successful people are so close to those people who are barely educated, barely getting buy materially, and who will never rise above their present social status? How is it that those people love to gather and love to serve one another even though they sometimes offend and hurt one another? How is it that those people continue to manifest joyful hope in the face of loadshedding, corruption, lack of service delivery, and lamentable economic outlook?

Of course, the answer to all the above is that they have the mind of Christ. They understood a dimension that those without the Spirit of God neither see nor perceive nor understand.

They Live for God

The final characteristic of those who have the mind of Christ is that they live for God: “‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (v. 16).

In this closing verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah 40:13 to make the point that what is unthinkable to most is, in fact, reality for the person who is “of the Spirit.” That person is equipped to know God and to live for him.

In the context of this quotation, Isaiah begins a long “gospel section,” in which he contrasts those who know and love and worship the true God and those who worship and devote themselves to idols. Isaiah describes God in gloriously transcendent terms. In the midst of this, he asks the rhetorical question, “Who has understood the mind of the Lord?” The expectant answer is, “No one.” But then Paul says that we, who have experienced the message of the cross, do! We do have insight into this dimension!

Paul has informed us that the Spirit knows the mind of the Lord, and that he has given this mindset to those whom he indwells. Therefore, unlike the idolators that surround us, Christians can know and live for God. Specifically, we live for God as Jesus Christ lived for God, focused on the cross. And too often, like Peter (Matthew 16:21–23), we stumble over this.

The cross empowers us to live two dimensionally. This is the expectation. The cross was always on the mind of our Lord Jesus. He came to die for sinners as his Father appointed him. He was born in the shadow of the cross (Luke 2:33–35), grew up in the shadow of the cross (John 2), ministered constantly in the shadow of the cross (John 3:14; 12:27–32), and, of course, died on that cross (Acts 2:22–23). It was always on his mind (Philippians 2:5–8). It is what kept him focused as he lived moment by moment for his heavenly Father (John 8:29).

Therefore, those who have received the Holy Spirit are, like their Lord, cross-conscious. They are cruciform in their minds and therefore in their behaviour. This is the maturity Paul was concerned that the Corinthians achieve. It is to be our concern and our commitment as well. Thiselton writes, “Any claim to be ‘spiritual’ has to be measured by the criterion of ‘having the mind of Christ.’”And as Carson explains,

What it means to be “spiritual” is profoundly tied to the cross, and to nothing else…. To be spiritual, in this passage is to enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit and this means understanding and appropriating the message of the cross…. Those who are most mature are most grateful for the cross and keep coming back to it as the measure of God’s love for them and the supreme standard of personal self-denial.

Brothers and sisters, this mindset is a gift of God’s gracious Spirit. It is not optional. Let us therefore set our minds on the things of God, not on the things of man. Let each of us be mature. Let us each live for God because we have the mind of Christ.