The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians restates many of the same principles that Jesus taught the disciples about the Holy Spirit in His last few minutes on earth. Paul wrote about God revealing Himself to man through His Spirit, about the Holy Spirit being uniquely qualified to teach us about God, and about it being impossible to know the things of God without the Holy Spirit teaching us. But Paul’s words are not redundant. They give us a unique perspective into these truths and help us understand them better.
Paul introduces the subject matter by contrasting the wisdom that God teaches and the wisdom that man teaches (1 Cor. 2:1–8). His main point is that God’s wisdom is not commonly known to man, though the wise of this world think they are intelligent. The proof that they are not as smart as they think is the fact that they crucified the Lord (1 Cor. 2:8). They wouldn’t have done it if they had known who He was. Using this as his backdrop, Paul goes on to explain why it makes sense that those without God would not possess the wisdom of God:
But as it is written:
“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.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:9–10)
These verses teach us that, unlike earthly wisdom, spiritual understanding does not come to us through our physical senses. It does not come in through our eyes (as when we read a book). Nor does it come in through our ears (as when we hear a lecture). Nor does it come in through our hearts (as when we have a high emotional experience). And while it is true that God uses physical things and events to aid in His teaching, they are not His primary means of teaching us. God’s primary means of teaching us is by direct revelation through His Spirit.
Paul then goes into more detail about the things God reveals to us:
For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 2:10–11)
It makes sense that God would choose to reveal Himself (and all other spiritual truths) to us by His Spirit because no one knows God better than God knows Himself. When the Holy Spirit communicates with us, He draws from His own knowledge of the deep things of God. He does not need anyone to teach Him about the things of God because He already knows them. In fact, no one knows them better than He does. He is God’s Spirit. And just as no one knows a man better than he knows himself, so too, no one knows God better than God knows Himself (1 Cor. 2:11).
Jesus said essentially the same thing about the Holy Spirit when He said:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13–15)
Some people take the occasion of Jesus’ words in John 16:13 to preach that the Holy Spirit is an inferior member of the trinity. They focus on the statement, “He will not speak on His own authority,” and they turn it into a limitation of the Holy Spirit’s speaking role in our lives. Yet Jesus said the same thing about Himself (John 12:49; 14:10), and nobody applies that flawed logic to Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the verses that immediately follow (John 16:14–15), we do not see limitations put on the Holy Spirit’s speaking role. We see that the Holy Spirit has all Jesus’ resources at His disposal, and He shares those things with us. Since Jesus’ resources include everything God owns, and since God owns everything, the Holy Spirit’s resource base from which He draws is infinite. Therefore, Jesus’ words do not limit the Holy Spirit in any way. To the contrary, Jesus specifically defined the scope of the Holy Spirit’s “declarations” to include “all things.”
The apostle Paul understood the scope of the Holy Spirit’s speaking role:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Cor. 2:12–13)
God gave us His Spirit so “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us” by Him (verse 12). In other words, He came to live in our hearts so that we might learn spiritual things directly from Him. And with His Spirit in our hearts, that is exactly what we do. With Him in our hearts, we have shared in His wisdom and His knowledge. With Him in our hearts, we have come to know that we are heirs of glorious things now and of even more glorious things to come. With Him in our hearts, we have seen glimpses of His inherent glory. Based on His testimony, we are confident that when we shed these skins of flesh, we will see His glory more fully.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything we need to know:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26)
The Bible says that in Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). And the Bible says the Holy Spirit teaches us “all things” (John 14:26). Therefore, we may conclude that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes known all Jesus’ hidden treasures. By Him, we come to know “the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). By Him, we come to know “the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering” (Rom. 2:4). By Him, we come to know “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). By Him, we come to know “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33). By Him, we come to know “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). By Him, we come to know “the riches of His glory” (Rom. 9:23; Eph. 3:16). By Him, we come to know “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:14–16)
To people who have not received the Spirit of God into their hearts, the wisdom taught to us by God’s Holy Spirit is a mystery that is hidden from their sight (1 Cor. 2:6–8). They do not possess the spiritual faculties necessary to process spiritual things. As a result, it is literally impossible for them to understand the things that we cherish (1 Cor. 2:14). No amount of effort on our parts and no amount of intelligence on their parts will compensate for what is lacking in their lives. Until God gives them new life in Christ, spiritual things will always be a mystery to them and will always seem foolish. It is completely unreasonable for us to expect anything else of them.
But, as we consider the fact that we possess spiritual faculties that some people don’t, it is important for us to understand these faculties are not something we earn or develop or create or lose through human effort or by being good or bad. The ability to receive, evaluate, and understand spiritual things (including the ability to know God), along with the ability to place all these things in context with other spiritual things, is given to us when we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. These things are a gift from God, and He has made them part of our spiritual DNA.
Think for a moment about how blessed of God we are. In His high priestly prayer Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Of His own accord, He has chosen to honor us with His presence, with His Spirit, with His life, with His love, and with the knowledge of His glory. To lost people, these things must seem to be the most foolish claims of Christianity. But to us, the redeemed of God, they are our greatest treasures. And we can testify to the world that knowing Him is the great blessing He said it would be. And having already experienced some of the blessings of knowing Him, we cherish His choice to make our hearts His home, and we look forward with excitement and anticipation to the things He will reveal to us about Himself in the future.