Sixth Sunday after Trinity July 30, 2000
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
226, 294, 381, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. Thus far the holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“How smart am I, really?”—Have you ever asked yourself that question? I think we all wonder, from time to time, about how smart we are compared to the people around us. Recently we found an IQ test you could take on the Internet. I had taken the test and was feeling pretty smug about the score I got—that is, until my wife took the same test and beat my score by a fairly wide margin.
Perhaps you’ve asked that question of yourself: how smart am I?. Some of you no doubt have college degrees. Maybe you even have some sort of post-graduate degree. For many people though, that’s not enough. That’s why “continuing education” is such a popular idea in our culture, and that’s why even senior citizens are going back to college in droves. They’ve asked themselves, “How smart am I really?” and found that the answer is, “Not smart enough, yet.”
Well, if you’ve ever thought that, you may be underestimating yourself! If you’ve got enough Christian faith to bring you to God’s house this morning, then you already possess a very great wisdom—a wisdom you may not have even thought about. This special wisdom is the Apostle Paul’s subject in our text for today. It’s the wisdom of God—the Gospel! If you’ve learned the Good News about Jesus, then, in the words of our theme:
We pick up Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians in the sixth verse of chapter two. He just got done admitting, in verses three and four, that he wasn’t a very smart guy (at least not in terms of human wisdom). “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom…” In terms of personal presence and public speaking, Paul might have gotten a C- or a D. And yet, Paul’s preaching was powerful. Not because Paul himself was powerful, but because the message he preached had a power of its own. In this section, his message is about wisdom.
We speak wisdom among them that are perfect. “Perfect” in the sense of mature, complete, advanced in the faith. Paul’s topic is wisdom, and that’s a subject for grownups—those who are mature. Now, high school graduation is often seen as a sign of maturity. Most graduates are no longer minors; you’re either eighteen now, or you will be very shortly. But Paul’s talking about spiritual maturity, and that’s a whole different story. Have you got spiritual maturity? When you were a little kid, your parents told you Bible stories and taught you about the Lord Jesus, and you believed them—right?—simply because they said so. But as you grow older and move toward independence, you reach a point where you no longer accepted things simply because your parents said so. Spiritual maturity means making that faith your own—it means being personally convinced that what God’s Word says is true, and it means living your life according to that conviction.
If you’ve reached that point of spiritual maturity, then you’re smarter than you think. In fact, Paul says you’ve got a wisdom the most powerful people in the world haven’t got!
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought. The rulers Paul was talking about were the Jewish religious leaders—the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees. They were the PhD’s of the ancient Near East. Paul himself had been educated under them. Everybody in that society looked up to the scribes and Pharisees as the paragons of wisdom and learning. But when it came to the highest wisdom of all—the wisdom of God—these great rulers were completely ignorant. They knew nothing—and they proved their ignorance by nailing Jesus to the cross on Good Friday! Paul says, “None of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Things haven’t changed all that much since then. Today our society looks up to the PhD’s and the college professors, the Harvard MBA’s and the think-tank analysts. They’re considered the most powerful people in the world. They are the rulers of this age! And there’s one thing unites these people: virtually all of them think that the Christian faith is nonsense. Who could be naive and foolish enough to put his trust in the Bible—a musty old book full of myths and fairy tales? Not you, surely? You’re not as dumb as that, aren’t you?! How are you going to answer when those sneers are directed at you? Because they will be, you know! And many a Christian has had his head turned by the skeptical, humanistic atmosphere that pervades our society, particularly at our public universities. Don’t be fooled! You’re smarter than you think! Paul says that if you have a Spirit-worked faith in Christ, you’ve already got a wisdom that’s so superior to any human wisdom that the rulers of this age can’t even conceive of it! Don’t be amazed if the powerful of this world don’t share your faith. In fact, God says you should expect just the opposite: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”—1 Cor 1:26. Gregory the Great once aptly remarked that God didn’t choose scholars to teach the Gospel to fishermen, He chose fishermen to teach the Gospel to scholars.
Is it surprising that so few people have gained the wisdom of God?—Not when you consider that it’s a wisdom kept hidden since the foundation of the world. Paul says, We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world. Today is a day when I might ask all of you this question: What do you want out of life? What will it take to make your future turn out just the way you want it? Will a high paying job fill the bill? A satisfying career? A home of your own, perhaps? A family? In broad terms, I think we can safely say that what we all want out of life is happiness. But it’s pretty hard for a person to be happy in this life if he’s not sure what’s going to happen to him in the next. So what we really need is the assurance of happiness for this life and the next. The only problem is, there’s a big obstacle standing in the way of that goal—an obstacle called “sin.”
For thousands of years, sin and it’s consequences have robbed people of happiness. The finest philosophers of every age have focused their wisdom on finding an answer for sin. Some tried to ignore sin and pretend it didn’t exist. Some acknowledged sin, but said it didn’t matter. Some came up with elaborate systems of good works whereby a person could make up for his own sin (the Pharisees did that in Jesus’ day; the Roman Catholics do it today.) But none of these plans work. None of them really offers the answer to sin.
God knew that if there was to be an answer to our sin, He would have to provide it Himself. So the Lord, in His wisdom, came up a plan. It was a plan so amazing that nobody could have guessed it in a million years. He would send His only Son to earth to sacrifice His life for the sins of the world. To give us the righteousness we needed, Jesus kept God’s Law perfectly, from A to Z. To pay for the sins we’re guilty of, Jesus shed His precious blood on the cross of Calvary.
There’s the answer to sin—the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world. It’s been hidden for all these years, and for most people in this world it remains hidden. Our text says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Not that the Gospel hasn’t been preached freely to all. It has. It’s hidden because this is a wisdom that can’t be found in any laboratory or test tube. No amount of research, no number of advanced degrees from prestigious universities can reveal this secret to a person. That’s what makes you so special. If you’ve got faith—if you possess a simple trust that Jesus is your Savior from sin—then you’re smarter than you think. Because you’ve got a wisdom that can only be revealed through the Holy Spirit!
You know what really bothers me? It’s when people contrast religion and science, as though spiritual knowledge is somehow inferior to so-called “scientific” knowledge. “Oh yes, religion is nice,” they say, “and it has it’s place. But it’s not really about facts, is it, like science is?” The truth is that the Gospel is a fact—a fact so superior to any known science that there’s no way you can learn it on your own. It has to be revealed to you by the Holy Spirit. The Bible says plainly that “no one can say that Jesus Christ is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.”
Many people have been offended by the cross, and have turned away the Holy Spirit when He was knocking at the door of their hearts. But praise God that He has saved you! The Holy Spirit has entered your heart through the preaching of the Gospel. He made a new creature out of you. He’s shown you what Jesus has done for you, and given you faith to trust Him as your Savior. Now you can rest assured that all those wonderful things that God has prepared for those who love Him—are really yours!
Have you achieved anything recently that you’re particularly proud of? Perhaps you’re a young person who has recently graduated from high school. Maybe you’re a businessperson who has earned a big promotion, or an older person who’s recently reached the goal of retirement. Whatever the case, I would ask of you today: don’t forget your greatest achievement, one you didn’t earn, but one which was given to you by God’s grace. Faith. Think about it—what achievement can give you greater peace than your faith in Jesus? Faith gives you peace of conscience through the forgiveness of sins. What career can give you greater power? The humblest Christian who bows his knees in prayer has more power than the president of the United States. What insurance policy can give you greater security? In Christ, your Heavenly Father has promised to provide for all your wants and needs your whole life long. What diploma can give you greater satisfaction than the satisfaction of knowing you’re going to live forever in heaven? You are truly off to a great start. No matter what your calling, God has given you the wisdom to realize that your career will end gloriously, in the eternal happiness of heaven! If you know that—if you only know that—then you’ve got the greatest wisdom it’s possible to achieve. And it may well be true that—you’re smarter than you think! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.