Monday, October 09, 2006

"...will teach you all things..." from the perspective of 1 Corinthians

Continuing on from the previous post, I have been examining the various passages in Scripture that expound upon Jesus' promises in John that the Holy Spirit will teach a believer "all things" and guide a believer in "all truth". In light of the cessationist/continuationist debate, as a major part of my examination of these texts, I have been paying particularly close attention to the issues of inclusiveness and exclusivity, particularly in regard to the use of pronouns, "you", "we", "us" etc... As I have been examining these texts carefully to see whom they include and exclude in regard to these promises, it has become clear to me that these passages contradict the cessationist idea that these promises were exclusive to the apostles or exclusive to "pre-canon" believers. To interpret these promises as being exclusive to the apostles or to "pre-canon" believers requires that one super-impose an interpretation of exclusivity onto these passages that is not in any way apparent from the passages themselves.

In am interested in the cessationist/continuationist debate because I am interested in the claims that are being made on how the Holy Spirit relates to our minds and hearts as believers. I have been articulating a continuationist position that Jesus'promise that the Holy Spirit will teach his disciples "all things" in John 14:26 is a time-transcendent promise for all believers. With this in mind, I am interested in the relationship that the doctrinal truth of the Gospel and the Bible canon has to our "learning all things". What are "all things"? How do we learn them? What does the Spirit teach? How does the Spirit teach? What does the Holy Spirit help us interpret and how? What is our role in this process? How does this edify us? How does this affect our ministry to others?

As I wrestle with these questions, I want to examine 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

(6) We do, however speak of a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (7) No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (8) None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (9) However, as it is written:

"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"

(10) But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

Is the "us" in verse 10 inclusive to all of Paul's readers or is it exclusive only to Paul or perhaps only to the "mature"? The "we" in verse 6 starts out as though Paul is referring specifically to his fellow apostles and teachers, as Paul has just talked about his initial preaching ministry to his Corinthian readers in the verses just preceding verse 6. As the text progresses, the use of "we" and "us" operates in the tension between two tandem division - we, the believers vs. non-believers and we, the mature believers vs. immature believers. The other tension in the text is the idea of "centrality" - that the text can have a central more dominant meaning without necessarily excluding other less dominant meanings.

So what has been prepared? The central meaning of that which has "been prepared" is the glory that God has prepared for those who love him. Paul makes specific reference to what has been "destined for our glory" and that the "Lord of glory" was crucified -- in contrast with the "rulers of this age" who have an earthly, profaned form of glory. The reality of the glory that is a secret that is withheld from the "rulers of this age". This idea of glory is the central, though not the exclusive meaning of "what God has prepared for those who love him".

What is the wisdom among the mature? It is the understanding that this glory has been prepared by God for those who love him. The wisdom informs a believer as to the glory that has been prepared for him, and the very fact that the believer has this wisdom is to the believer's glory. As it will be clearer later, the understanding of the glory that God has provided to those who love him is a central feature, not an exclusive feature, of the wisdom.

To whom has "it" been revealed ("it" being the understanding that God is preparing glory for those who love him)? Who is "us" -- is "us" exclusive to the "mature" among believers or is it inclusive to all believers? The answer is best understood as both/and. Though the wisdom among the mature has been more completely revealed to the "mature" and understood more completely by the mature, the principle has been revealed at least to some degree to anyone who is a believer, because the principle is central to the Gospel.

Moving on:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (11) for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In ths same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (12) We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what has been freely given us.

In verse 12, Paul is saying that the purpose for a believer having received the Spirit is for him to freely understand "what" has been given to believers. So what is the "what" that has been "freely given"? This "what" would be the glory that God has prepared for those who love him. As I stated above, the "glory" is a central feature of "what has been freely given" though it is not an exclusive feature. "What has been freely given" can be understood to include all of the ways that a believer is endowed with the present and future blessings of a relationship with God.

So what is it about this that "we" may understand? Verse 12 does not preclude the idea that the Spirit of God endows a believer with the understanding, however rudimentary, of the glory of God that has been prepared for him, thereby separating him from the unbelievers who have the "spirit of the world". However, that is not the central meaning. Here, "that we may understand" is not referring to a one time event of one's understanding that neatly separates into a before and after -- as in before one is a believer and then after. Rather, Paul is referring to a continually unfolding process in the life of a mature believer. The central meaning of verse 12, in the context of verses 10 and 11, is that the mature believer learns "all things" from the Spirit of God to ever more deeply understand all that God has prepared for him and freely given him -- as an ongoing process. As Paul will expound on, the "mature" here is synonymous with the "spiritual man".

In regard to the tandem division of believer vs. unbeliever/mature vs. immature operating in verse 12, the "we" is best understood as being inclusive to all believers in potential but specific to mature believers in practice. In the larger context of 1 Corinthians, the immature Corinthians are not yet operating as mature, spiritual men, in the fullest sense of the idea.

Moving on:

(13) This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

This "we" in verse 13 is specific to those whom Paul counts as fellow apostles and teachers at the time, though the principle is not limited to Paul's time. In the verses that follow, Paul extends the principle to characterize a generic "spiritual man" -- something that he expected all of this immature readers to grow into.

(14) the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (15) The spiritual man makes judgements about all things, but himself is not subject to any man's judgement.

(16) "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?"

But we have the mind of Christ.

Here, Paul is outlining the anatomy of spiritual judgement making by specifically linking together the role of the Spirit to teach "all things" and the spiritual man's role to make judgments about "all things". Here, the spiritual man's understanding of "all things" is the result of a participatory process that involves a) the Spirit teaching and endowing the spiritual man with the capacity to discern what is being taught, and b) the man, in turn, discerning what is being taught and making judgements based on what he has learned. The Spirit is not operating through the spiritual man as an oracle or some other form of "possession". Rather, in this exchange between Spirit and spiritual man, God is engaging and teaching the man as God's Spirit, ie. the mind of Christ, interacts with the man's spirit. While teaching is the Spirit's role, discerning what is being taught is the man's role. This discernment is an act on the part of the man, as he actively and consciously engages his spirit with the Spirit.

It is by his spiritual endowment by the Spirit that the spiritual man is able to discern, and it is the lack of this endowment that an unspiritual man cannot discern. It is in applying his ability to discern on a continual basis that the spiritual man continually discerns to learn things from the Spirit and is able to make "judgments about all things".

Taking this understanding of the verse that immediately follow verse 12 back to verse 12, how is it that the spiritual man's learning all things and making judgments in all things relates to his understanding what God has freely given him? It is my interpretation that the spiritual man learns all things from the Spirit so that he can understand how all things relate to God and how God relates to all things. In this way, the spiritual man understands how God and His glory is woven into all aspects of life, wisdom, circumstances and knowledge. It is in learning all things from the Spirit for this stated purpose that the spiritual man is able to make judgements that correctly contextualize and appropriated the glory of God in the midst of all things. It is this constant process of learning from the Spirit -- aka being instructed by the mind of Christ -- and discerning what is being taught to him, that the spiritual man ever more truly and deeply understands all that God has prepared for him. The fruit of this process is that the spiritual man is edified with wisdom for his own benefit and for the benefit of other believers.

To summarize my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, it is via the Spirit in a spiritual man whereby he is made privy to the thoughts of God, aka the mind of Christ, and is instructed about all things. From this, a spiritual man (or woman) can understand God and his relationship with God in the contexts of all things and can make Godly judgments about all things. With this understanding of the passage, the "wisdom among the mature" is both a) the understanding of the glory and other blessings that God has prepared for those who love him and b) the ongoing process of being instructed in all things by the Spirit.

My extrapolations : Making judgements in all things requires a twofold learning by the spiritual man: a) to learn what the new things are and b) to learn how these things relate to the truth of the Gospel. It is this twofold learning that a spiritual man gains as he is instructed by the "mind of Christ" that allows him to make judgments. This twofold learning requires a particular effort of discernment on the part of the spiritual man to find the synthesis between what is new and the truth of the Gospel that has already been revealed. As the spiritual man engages in this, it is the Holy Spirit who endows the spiritual man with the impetus and the ability to discern along these lines and endows him with the wisdom and insight into all things, which is the reward of his effort.

Connections to 1 John: The "what" that "has been given to us" that Paul talks about in verse 12 bears a similarity to the "truth" that John talks about in 1 John 2:20-21. In their respective contexts, both the "what" and the "truth" were things that their readers already had, and yet they still needed to learn about "all things" from the Holy Spirit. Both texts indicate a process of being illuminated by the Spirit that is centered around helping a believer understand "all things" in the context of the revealed truth of the Gospel. While John, in 1 John, examines learning about "all things" in the context of needing to "test the spirits", Paul examines learning about "all things" in the context of a spiritual man interacting in his spirit with the mind of Christ via the Holy Spirit.

What I will explore later: In regard to Paul's teaching that follows in the passage, this passage of verse 2:6-16 in 1 Corinthians was intended to steer the immature Corinthians away from their immature form judging that was based on elevating one man on a pedestal above another and toward the spiritual, mature form of judging that would successfully and faithfully build on the foundation that Paul had laid among the Corinthians as an "expert builder".

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