Grab your Bibles and get ready to dig deeper into some amazing truths that God gives to us here in these first few chapters of 1 Corinthians! I want to focus in on a few passages and a bigger truth found all throughout Scripture. The topic is apologetics (defending our faith), and one of the main points when it comes to defending the Christian faith is knowing where we get knowledge. This question is actually a term called epistemology. Epistemology is simply the study of knowledge: where does it come from, and how do we get it? For the Christian, our epistemology is revelational, meaning we have knowledge through what God has revealed to us. Our knowledge is totally dependent upon God’s revelation of truth. Now for the rest of the world--the unbelieving world--their knowledge is also dependent upon what God has revealed as truth; however, in their sin, they suppress this fact in the futility of their own minds. Now we see this truth all throughout Scripture, but I want to share a few verses before we dig into our passage in 1 Corinthians.
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
You see, according to God, if you do not start with Him, you cannot even begin to have true knowledge. Now the usual argument is that many unbelievers are smart; they seem to have knowledge and do well, even while they deny God. This is true; men who suppress the truth of God can still, as far as worldly standards, go look wise and seem to have knowledge. The key here is that when they have denied God or if they do not start by acknowledging God, then they cannot be certain of the wisdom and knowledge they have.
Let me unpack this a bit more. When men deny God, they are left with their own minds or their own reasoning as the ultimate standard by which they decide and understand or know all things. Now because mankind is made in the image of God and because God has placed His law in the hearts of man, men who deny God can still have/use logic and reasoning. They can still live with morals and learn things that make them seem wise. What they cannot do is be certain of any truth they think they have, because they cannot justify how they know things. They are left in a world of certain uncertainty. Here’s what I mean: If man is the ultimate standard of knowledge (what man has decided is right and true and moral), then in their limited knowledge (man is a finite creature without exhaustive knowledge of all things), man could be proved to be wrong by the very things they don’t know. If your knowledge is limited, then what you don’t know could prove what you think you know to be wrong.
Years ago, my dad was on a business trip in Florida. While driving in a school zone on a Saturday, he got pulled over for speeding. When he argued with the officer, he said, “It’s a Saturday, and there are no kids present, so the 25 MPH limit isn’t enforced.” The officer looked at his driver’s license and said, “Perhaps in California that’s the law; however, you are in Florida, and ANY time you are in a school zone, the speed limit is 25.” Then the officer said, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, Mr. Scott.” I hope you see the connection. My dad believed that children had to be present and it had to be a school day for the speed limit of 25 MPH to be enforced. What he didn’t know in his limited knowledge was that in Florida, they have different school zone laws, and although he thought he knew and was obeying the speed limit law, what he didn’t know proved what he thought he knew to be wrong.
This truth that limited knowledge stops you from being certain about anything is a universal truth. It applies to everyone everywhere. The only way to have certainty of truth is to receive truth via revelation from an all-knowing source. God is the only all-knowing being that exists. The Scriptures reveal to us that He knows the past, present, and future and will not learn things He doesn’t already know. His knowledge is exhaustive; there is no lack--not just because He knows the future, but also because He controls the future. God is omniscient and sovereign. He is all-knowing, and He is in control of all things. This is why if you do not start with God, you cannot begin to have true knowledge. The Bible also says that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of knowledge.
Colossians 2:1-15 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
There are so many rich truths here in this passage, so let’s break it down with a few key verses, then turn to our Corinthians passage to see all of this tie together. Verse 3 says that all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. If you have denied God and denied Jesus, then you don’t have access to any of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The next verse says don’t be deluded by plausible arguments. If the argument doesn’t start with Christ as the foundation, then it utterly lacks wisdom and knowledge. Verse 7 shows that we who have been given faith are to remain rooted in Christ. Verse 8 shows us that we must not let empty, deceitful human philosophy enslave us. This philosophy is rooted in man’s traditions and the elemental spirits of this world and NOT according to Christ, where all wisdom and knowledge is hidden. Verse 13 then reveals to us that while we were dead in sin, God made us alive together with Christ Jesus. God did this through Jesus’s sacrificial atoning death on the cross and His victorious resurrection from the dead. One key note here is that you must realize that God caused you to believe in Him. God raised you from the dead when you were dead in your trespasses. In sin, you and I were incapable of believing in God. We needed God to intervene and cause us to be born again.
Now here is why this is a key point when it comes to human knowledge. If you had decided on your own that God was true and therefore you would believe in Him, then you are in the same boat as the unbeliever. You see, if God is true because you decided He was, then in your limited knowledge, what you do not know could prove what you think you know to be wrong. We claim that the unbeliever is his own ultimate standard, meaning they may say science or logic is what they use to decide what’s true; however, who has decided that science or logic are the standard? Well, of course they have, so ultimately it is whatever they decide to use as a standard, and that still makes them the ultimate standard. For the Christian, this must be different. And indeed it is; if you were the deciding factor in your faith, then you remain you own ultimate standard. However, that is not what the Bible says is the case. God’s word over and over again says that God was the one who caused you to believe. This is true because He is the only ultimate standard. He must be, or in our limited knowledge we could find out we don’t really know what we know. Since God is unlimited in knowledge, He can never be wrong; therefore, we can see through His word that He saved us, He caused us to believe, and the reason we believe in God is not because we decided to do it, but rather because He caused us to have faith. When we see this truth, we begin to understand that our epistemology is revelational: We know what we know and can be certain of it because the all-knowing God has revealed truth to us.
Let’s look at our passage now in 1 Corinthians to see this truth!
1 Cor. 1:18-31 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
The section we are focusing on describes how the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. Notice it’s to those who are being saved, not those who are saving themselves. The passage continues with God explaining how His wisdom will destroy the world’s so-called wisdom and how God chooses to use what the world calls foolish to shame those who think they are wise. Again, it’s very clear: If you do not start with God, you cannot begin to have wisdom. Let’s continue in chapter 2:
1 Cor. 2:6-14 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. 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. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
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.
Again, God reveals to us through His word how we have been given knowledge. God revealed the truth of His salvation and wisdom to us who believe through the work of the Holy Spirit. We only come to knowledge of truth in God through His work--not our own minds. In fact, verse 14 really brings clarity to this: “The natural person [the one dead in his/her sin] 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.” You see, unless the Holy Spirit gives you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is not dead in its sin, then you are not able to understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned. You need God, and He must give you faith:
Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
And when He does, you then are united in Christ and are able to understand the riches of knowledge (insofar as God reveals them to you) in Jesus. This is so vital for the Christian to know, because apart from God, the things of Scripture can really seem crazy. I mean, a donkey talked to a human (Numbers 22:28), an axe head floated (2 Kings 6:6), and a dead man rose from the dead (gospels). If we do not believe that God exists, then these things would be utterly impossible, and we could not understand them. We should find it as no surprise that man in sin who suppress the truth of God (Romans 1:18) will also find these things foolish. God must be the One who causes us to see these truths and believe, because His very own word says that we cannot accept the things of God apart from His indwelling Holy Spirit.
This can be summed up this way: Unless you are God and have exhaustive knowledge of all things (which you aren’t), then what you don’t know causes you to be uncertain of what you think you know. If you are uncertain of what you think you know, then do you REALLY know it? If you said, “My shoe size is 13, but I could be wrong,” then do you know for certain that your shoe size is 13? I hope you see my point. You cannot have certainty of truth unless you rely upon revelation from God, who has exhaustive knowledge and therefore the ability to reveal truth to you! God’s word is our source of truth. Jesus’ final prayer for His disciples to God in John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Where have you gone to find truth and morality? Is it God’s word? If not, how can you repent and press on to, as Romans 12:2 reads, “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
We do this by holding fast to God’s word--our only source of truth. Where our thinking does not line up with what God has revealed we do not become wise in our own eyes; rather, we repent and turn and ask God to give us wisdom without doubting, and God, who gives generously to all without reproach, will give it to you (James 1:5).
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC
*Special thanks to Steven Obert who blessed us in writing this week’s study.