Back to series
Good morning, church. Or at least I can say good morning now—we’ll see how it goes. The tropical storm is starting right now, as I’m recording this. Thanks, 2020.
Anne-Elise showed me an internet meme this week saying, “It’s now hurricane season. Welcome to the fifth level of Jumanji.” Which I think is pretty dead-on. Anne-Elise told me, anything above a cat 1, and she’s out. She’s gonna leave me here in the hot and the dark and come back when I get the a/c back on.
Of course the internet was a dark place this week, because our world is a dark place in which the light of the kingdom of God shines brightly by the grace of God. I’m grateful for the many conversations I’ve had with you this week, church, in small group and on the phone. Our God has given you such compassion and love for the people around you, regardless of race or economic status, and you have such wisdom and creativity in the ways you choose to express that and walk it out. I praise God for you.
Today, we are going to talk about the Holy Spirit and discernment in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, starting in v.6. I’m unreasonably excited about this summer series. I’m like AJ with lizards; I keep telling Anne-Elise, did you see this cool thing about the Holy Spirit! and she’s very gracious to both of us. We started last week on Pentecost talking about how the Holy Spirit is God with us today, with all of us who believe, and he binds us together in unity with the rest of the church universal. Each week through the summer, we are going to focus on a different aspect of the work or person of the Holy Spirit of God. Again, today we are talking about discernment—discerning the Holy Spirit from other spirits in the world and the work of the spirit to give us discernment about spiritual truth.
In 1 Corinthians 2, starting in v.6, Paul writes: [1 Corinthians 2:6-16]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly, Father God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free.
As I said, we’re talking about the spiritual gift of discernment today, which is twofold: discernment is the gift of wisdom and spiritual truth, being able to know the things of God, and also being able to tell the difference between what is of God and what is of the world.
The first thing I want you to see in our passage today is that we can know spiritual truth because we have the Spirit of God. We can know spiritual truth because we have the Spirit of God. Ok, are you ready? We’re going to go really nerdy for a minute, then we’re going to come back up and breathe and talk about AJ for a while. It’s going to be great!
One of the most common things people tell me when we’re having conversations about God, is that they believe in God, but they don’t think we can really know anything about God for sure. They don’t want to take part in organized religion, they don’t really give any weight to ministry or theology, because to say anything about God is just pride. You don’t know. And if you try to change my mind about God, you’re just saying your truth is better than my truth, when no one knows the whole truth. God is too big; he’s too deep, we can’t fathom him, and he’s too far away for us really to be sure of anything we say about him. If you have at all evangelized, expressed your faith, told your story of how you came to believe in God to others—which, you should—you’ve had conversations like this. Theologians call this view religious pluralism, and it’s the dominant worldview among people my age and younger, it’s the Spirit of our age—if you’re thinking of coexist stickers, you’re thinking of the right thing.
One of the most common ways of explaining this thought is to say there are many paths to God, imagining roads up a mountain, but they all run to the same peak. Another one you may have heard, is that we’re all like blind men touching different parts of the elephant, describing it to each other—it’s hard, smooth, and sharp; no! It’s flat, hairy, and rough; no! It’s round, and flexible; and on and on we argue about what God is like, but we’re just experiencing a small piece of a single, enormous being.
And of course we as Christians would agree with part of this. We agree that God is unfathomable. As one theologian expresses, beautifully, “Even in the age to come, when we are freed from the presence of sin, we will never be able fully to understand God, or any one thing about him. God’s incomprehensibility is not due to our sinfulness, but to his infinite greatness. It is because we are finite and he is infinite that we will never be able to fully understand him.”
So it’s not that Christianity teaches that we know everything about God—we will never, even in eternity, know everything about God, because God is too deep, like the oceans. But Christianity does teach that we can know God truly. We don’t know him fully, we haven’t plumbed the depths of the ocean, but we can know him truly—swim on the surface, play on the beach. For those who desire, you can even dive deeply and see extraordinary things you could never have imagined.
Well that’s all fine, you may say, but that’s your path, that’s your one part of the elephant, how could you possibly say anyone else is wrong? But there’s something telling about these two analogies, isn’t there, and all the explanations of pluralism I’ve heard; here’s the rub: in every conception, in every analogy, God is some impersonal thing, some silent beast, a cadaver on the table to be dissected, to quote my old professor, and we are doing everything we can to learn about him—so already, in the question, you’ve assumed something completely contrary to what Christians believe. The God of Christianity is a living person. Truth itself in Christianity is a person. And persons have a tendency to express themselves apart from your senses.
It kind of ruins the analogy, doesn’t it, if the elephant starts saying, hi! I’m an elephant, it’s nice to meet you—you’ve got my trunk there, but come feel my ears, they’re huge! Or if on one of the many paths through life, God comes to meet you, walks with you, tells you his story, carries your burden for you.
And if it seems impossible to know anything about such a huge God, that’s because it is impossible. You’re right! The only way we know anything about God is because he has miraculously, meaning he’s breaking the bonds of possibility, God has miraculously made himself known to us. It is impossible, but God also does impossible things. We have no chance of knowing anything about God apart from his Spirit who miraculously searches the mind of God and reveals it to his children. God is a person. He speaks. That’s the only reason Christians can say we can know spiritual truth—because we have the Spirit of God. It’s not arrogance—we did nothing. We are not smarter, we aren’t more spiritual, certainly not less sinful. We’re his adopted children. That’s the only way we know the Father, and we’re not special even in that, because God loves the whole world, and longs for you to come home, he longs to adopt you as well, as a child.
I’ll give you a different analogy about knowing spiritual truth, one that takes into account the personal nature of the Christian God. Every person you know, is created in the image of God, meaning we are like God in many ways. We are persons, just like him. We feel as he does, and have minds. And most importantly, we can love like him, forgive and restore. We can participate in his work in the world. We can learn a lot about God just by studying his image.
So here’s the analogy: I want you to think about one of the people you love most; I’m thinking of my wife, and she, like God, is infinite in her person. She surprises me every day with new depths of kindness and love for me and for AJ. She is vast, she “contains multitudes.” Every day I learn something new. But just because I haven’t fathomed her, because I can’t know her entirely, doesn’t mean I can’t know her truly. It doesn’t mean I can’t hear someone slander her and say with all confidence—either you’re talking about someone else, or you’re mistaken. My wife is not that way. In fact, let’s go to her, and she can tell you herself who she is, what she thinks, and what she has done in the world. This is the conception of spiritual truth and wisdom in Christianity.
We can know spiritual truth because we have the Spirit of God, the person of the Spirit, the “thing-in-itself”, God miraculously, impossibly with us. The spirit searches the mind of God and reveals it to us, so we are able to know spiritual truth. That’s the first thing I want you to see in our text.
Now, important to this conversation—if I can say a word against Christian arrogance—the second thing I want you to see from our text today is this: Spiritual truth is gifted freely. It’s not earned; it’s gifted, and God is generous. Spiritual truth is gifted freely.
I’m looking at v.12, where Paul writes that the Spirit gives the truth about God to us freely. This gift of discerning spiritual things is just that—a gift. It’s not earned, and it’s never withheld when sought. Take kids, for example. They haven’t earned anything. They aren’t disciplined; they don’t have a great prayer life. But if you’ve ever worked with kids, or if you have a child, you know this—children can be profound in their understanding of God. Which should show us that understand and discernment of spiritual truths are gifts of the Spirit.
Last year or so, we had a death in the family, and AJ was specifically requested to go to the funeral by the grieving father of the man who had died, so that’s how we ended up having dozens of conversations about death with a four-year-old. And there’s a reason why we may have wanted to wait on that—he noticeably struggled and was weighed down by this thought of death. He became very anxious about Annie and I dying and having to live with yet another family, and he became kind of obsessed with the idea of his own death—at the age of four.
One night he admitted to us that he had been feeling all of these things, and he goes, “If I die, will Jesus raise me up, just like he was raised?” We told him, yeah buddy, in the blink of an eye, and he settled into my wife’s lap, and that was the end of his anxiety. He was done worrying once he understood the promise of Christ to resurrect him.
We’ve even had to go the other way with it now, he’s out on the play set doing some horrifically dangerous thing, and he didn’t understand why we told him to stop, because he said if he died, Jesus would raise him up. We’ve had to be like, bro we would still miss you. You dying is still something we want to avoid. Wednesday he looked at me and goes, “What if all three of us die at the same time? Then we’d all be together, and we would be with Jesus!” Like he’d found a loophole. But his little heart is capable of a faith that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to cultivate, which, again, just highlights for me this point that spiritual truth and wisdom is gifted freely.
It is the delight of our Father, rather than any kind of quality in us, that causes us to comprehend his character and person. This is why children, or people with limited mental capabilities, are able to have a faith that makes mine pale in comparison, even after all of my study, all of my pursuit of God. The Holy Spirit has already had to take the profound truth and nature of God—vast, unfathomable—and miraculously bring it down to my level. He’s already made the journey from heaven to earth—we don’t expect him to be able to stoop just three feet further and speak in a language a child could understand?
We have this transactional worldview here in the U.S. that we can’t seem to escape, that we give God our obedience, our worship, our faith, and he trades us his favor, his wisdom, his blessing. No! He gives us these things freely, because he delights to give good gifts to his children. You can’t trade Christian discipline for spiritual truth and discernment.
Now, I’m not saying that deep knowledge is useless—far from it. May I remind you of AJ cheating death on his play set. Knowledge is also a gift of the Spirit, and Paul starts our passage praising God for the wisdom he gives mature believers. There is enormous value to be found in the depths of our faith. I completely disagree with pastors who denounce education and say you just have to believe, take it on faith. Again, knowledge is of extraordinary value to our faith communities—it’s just not the most important thing in a spiritual life. It’s one spiritual gift in a church body full of gifts, and if you don’t use it to serve and build up the people around you, you’ve wasted the gift. And knowledge doesn’t lead you to any more profound truth about God than that which you already knew at the beginning of your Christian faith.
Christianity is not like scientology, where you have to study and pay money to get to the real meat of the faith. The most profound message we have is summed up very well in the phrase, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” which is a song we teach children. We’re not hiding anything—when Paul talks in v.7 about a secret and hidden wisdom, he means it’s hidden from those who don’t have the Spirit of God to reveal it to them. Christ loves you, he died for you, he was raised, he’s coming back for you. That’s the most profound truth we have. God’s excited about what he’s doing in the world. He’s not hiding it—he’s blurting it out the first time he meets you.
I’ve heard people in our church apologize for speaking in small group because they aren’t as knowledgable as others in the church. I get it, it makes sense, but as one of the knowledgable ones, please stop apologizing. You have the same Spirit I do. He gives us all gifts to strengthen the faith of the whole church. Please listen to me, knowing that the Spirit has given it to me to be a teacher in the church, but then please speak up. Because your question, which you’re afraid is a stupid question, just allows me to use my gift of teaching.
Your newer, younger faith, with all its stumblings and misunderstandings, gives me as much joy as seeing my son learn to walk and speak. It’s joy for me to hear you speak, even if you don’t “say it right” because you’re learning and growing in the faith, and that’s exactly what I’m wanting you to do. We’re only going to start having problems if you start thinking you’re grown, again, thinking that knowledge is of no value.
There’s much more to say about this passage, but you know, we have all summer, so the last thing I want you to see from our text today is this: Spiritual truth is not the wisdom of the age, because the Holy Spirit is not the spirit of the age. Spiritual truth is not the wisdom of the age, because the Holy Spirit is not the spirit of the age. Paul writes, “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.”
There was a man in one of the small groups I led previously who was very good about listening to the Spirit of God. He would go places and do things, merely because the Spirit led him to do it, and he saw God do amazing things because of it. He saw God heal people, save people, draw them into community in the church. But then one day he set a meeting with the pastors of the church and told them that he was leaving. He was going to start his own ministry. He told them that he didn’t consider them to be legitimate pastors of the church because they did not speak in tongues, as he did.
I went over to his house and prayed with him, but as we did, I could feel the divisiveness in our conversation—he was looking for ways to mark me as an enemy, I felt like I was being lured into traps of various sorts, and I could feel his anger, though I wasn’t disagreeing with him and was there as a friend. He was arguing as though with strength I could be won over to his side, as though we had sides. At first, I thought that he had changed, that he had stopped listening to the Holy Spirit which had been so faithful to lead him in the way of weakness before, but looking back I realize that he was still listening and obeying the spirit just as faithfully as he always had, only it wasn’t the Holy Spirit leading him. In his privileging of certain gifts of the Spirit, he devalued the giftedness of the people around him, and he could not hear the words of discernment from people gifted with discernment whom God had placed in his life as a gift to him.
Church, please keep in mind, as we talk all summer about the Holy Spirit, and we seek to know more deeply this person of the Trinity—keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit in the world, and the Holy Spirit is not the spirit of this age. Many of the ideas and principles held up very high as wisdom in our time and place are not from the Holy Spirit. Principles like tolerance, independence, self-determination—these stand in direct contrast with the love, community, and submission taught in the scriptures which the Holy Spirit inspired. Spiritual truth is not the wisdom of this age, because the Holy Spirit is not the spirit of this age. God’s wisdom secret and hidden, known only to his Spirit, and by his Spirit, to his children.
This is part of why the community of the church is so important, because we need the giftedness of the people around us to see the full leading of the Holy Spirit, to service, and sound teaching, and healing, and so on. We need each other to be healthy. We need all of the members of our body to be whole, and we desperately need discernment—this gift of the Spirit, where he allows us to know the truth of God and differentiate between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the age, between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the age.
Church, all summer we are going to be talking about the gifts and person of the Holy Spirit, and my prayer for you is the same as Paul’s prayer for his church, that your love for God “may abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
And if you’re not there yet, if you learn about the Spirit of God and long to be a part of what he is doing in the world, I hope that you’ll call me. I hope you’ll reach and and pray with one of us, turn from the spirit of this world with all its anger and divisiveness, with its violence and uncaring, and turn to the Spirit of God who leads us along the way of weakness to the cross of Christ by which we are saved, redeemed, and given a home with a father who loves us.
Pray with me.