by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: 1 Corinthians 2 and 3; Hebrews 5 and 6.
If you look at the portion in the first letter to the Corinthians you will be impressed with the notes of emphasis. You will see that, firstly, the word "wisdom" occurs so many times:
1 Corinthians 2:1: "I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom...".
1 Corinthians 2:4: "And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom...".
1 Corinthians 2:5: "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men...".
1 Corinthians 2:6: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among the full-grown; yet a wisdom not of this world...".
1 Corinthians 2:7: "But we speak God's wisdom."
Then, running alongside of that, the corresponding word with its cognates, is "know":
1 Corinthians 2:8 "Which none of the rulers of this world knoweth, for had they known...".
1 Corinthians 2:11: "For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God."
1 Corinthians 2:14: "Now the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them."
1 Corinthians 2:16: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord ...".
Then, in keeping with those two words and their implications, you have such words as "mystery":
1 Corinthians 2:7: "But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery (a secret), even the wisdom that hath been hidden...".
1 Corinthians 2:10: "But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
By just underlining these words you see exactly what it is the Holy Spirit through the apostle is saying and dealing with. It is a matter of spiritual understanding.
In his letter to the Colossians he actually says that phrase in his prayer for them (Col. 1:9). Spiritual wisdom and spiritual understanding is one of the characteristic marks of spiritual maturity, what Paul in Corinthians calls "the full-grown" (R.V. margin).
Let us turn, just to pave our way, to the letter to the Hebrews, and the section there dealing with this matter:
"Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partakes of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But solid food is for full-grown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil... Wherefore let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto full growth" (Heb. 5:11-6:1).
Then, to press on to full growth, necessitates the development of the senses by exercise, and those senses include the sense of spiritual understanding.
What is understanding? Understanding is an intuitive ability to perceive the inner nature of things, and to turn them to practical use. Anybody can grasp a thing that is said. It is possible to know by simply listening and observing. Understanding is something more. Understanding goes back of the thing said, and perceives the inner value of that intuitively, and sees exactly how that can be turned to practical account. It is possible to possess a very great deal of knowledge which is utterly useless, and is never turned to practical account, but understanding is always of practical value. So we are bidden by the wise man, in all our getting to get - not knowledge - but understanding, because of its practical value.
This, then, is what is meant by spiritual understanding. It differs, of course, from natural understanding inasmuch as it requires a spiritual faculty which the natural man does not possess. But what is true in the natural, of an instinctive or intuitive inner perception of values, is true also in the spiritual in another realm, on a higher plain altogether; a spiritual discerning of what is meant, as deeper than what is said.
If you apply that rule to the Corinthian situation, as well as to the situation with the Hebrews, you have got the key to everything in those letters. It is not our purpose to exhaustively do that, but simply to indicate it by a word or two.
Look at the Corinthian situation as we have it in general, and very largely summed up in these earlier chapters, especially chapters 2 and 3. There is a division here between what is natural and what is spiritual. And the apostle was saying that these Corinthians were approaching the things of God in various directions, purely and merely upon that natural (or soulical) plain, and they were trying by merely natural equipment to perceive things, to grasp things. All their judgements and appraisements and their valuations were but human, natural, of the soul, or "soulical". That resulted in their just going so far and never being able to advance beyond that point; and then at that point, because it represented a basic contradiction, all kinds of inconsistencies came in.
Take the matter of truth. Their attitude toward truth, that which Paul calls: "The things of the Spirit of God" and the "hidden wisdom" - their judgements and their appraisements were purely according to the standards of the wisdom of men, the wisdom of this age. And whenever men approach the things of the Spirit of God merely with natural wisdom, you have these two results: you have deadlock, arrest, impasse; and then you have a situation which is very much the opposite of glorifying God and the true testimony of Jesus Christ.
Let us illustrate from the Old Testament in a way familiar to us. We know that the great force which menaced the life of Israel more than any other, was that of the Philistines. The Philistines are always known as "the uncircumcised Philistine", but it seems that their attitude, their relationship, their menace was of a particular kind, namely, they were always trying to become possessed of the deeper secret of Israel's strength and power and glory. If you read again of the Philistines, in any connection, you will find that that is underlying. Was it in the days of the Judges? It comes out so conspicuously in the case of Samson. Samson represents Israel's strength just at that time, a mystery (keep in mind the "mystery" of Corinthians) of strength and glory, and you know how the Philistines laboured to discover that secret, and how eventually they got their hand upon it. And, having got it into their hands, what was the issue? Eventually they brought the poor, weakened, blinded Samson out on the day of their feast, to mock, not Samson, but to set their god Dagon in a place of ascendancy over the God of Israel. They were glorying that day, not merely in the fact that they had weakened this man, but that Dagon had proved greater than Jehovah. That is the tragedy!
Later, we know by various instances, they still pursued that same line of action, with that same motive. The whole story of the Ark in the hands of the Philistines is an unfolding of this principle. The Ark in the temple of Dagon was intended to mean Dagon standing in ascendancy over Jehovah. Then they looked into the Ark. It is the uncircumcised Philistine investigating the secrets of Israel's glory and strength.
When David came in as the instrument raised up to bring that Testimony to its final place of rest in the House of God, the one menace of David's life was the Philistines from the beginning. Goliath vaunted himself against the strength of Israel, but David, in all human, natural weakness and insignificance, embodied a mystery of divine strength. The Philistines are represented by their giant as against that, to destroy that. Later David fell into the trap of Achish, a Philistine king: and what a sorry picture he is, scrabbling at the gate like a madman! You see the principle is running on. The Philistines are getting their hands upon the secret, the mystery of divine strength in Israel.
When at length the Testimony is being brought on its way to final rest, again the snare of the Philistines creeps in with the cart. A Philistine cart superseding the living, Levitical, priestly ministry in the Testimony. And again there is arrest, because Philistine hands secretly, as it were from underneath, have reached out and taken hold upon divine things through, at that moment, the breakdown of spiritual intelligence on the part of David. But finally, when the Ark does come to its rest, the Philistine idea and power is fully and finally dealt with by David.
You see you have a spiritual history. A hidden history of divine glory and power weakened when it gets into natural hands, or when the uncircumcised put their hand upon it. There was a state of confusion and contradiction in Israel every time, revealing an absence of spiritual understanding on the part of God's people; giving advantage to the enemy to veil, becloud and confuse the Testimony of the Lord.
All that is gathered into this Corinthian situation. We know from the Colossian letter that circumcision spiritually interpreted, that is, in the antitype, is the putting away of the whole body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism. And, following on with that Colossian letter: "If ye then be risen with Christ seek those things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God...". Then follows: "Ye have put off the old man... and have put on the new man...". These Corinthians were approaching divine things in an uncircumcised way. The result was the Lord's people in confusion, spiritual growth at a deadlock, under arrest, and a whole set of glaring contradictions. On the other hand, spiritual intelligence is something altogether apart from and superior to natural understanding.
We are not thinking of truth now as doctrine, merely as teaching. It is that living thing which is always of practical value. We have spoken of discerning the practical values lying beneath the doctrine, the thing said, and truth is only of any interest and concern to us surely as it has its living, practical value. It is that deeper, spiritual value of things that we mean when we speak of truth, and these Corinthians were fascinated by something, but they were moving out to grasp, to get that something in an uncircumcised way, by natural means: the wisdom of this world. That is made perfectly clear in a later part of the first letter, where they had such a lust for the manifestation side of spiritual mysteries, the gifts which for them occupied such an important place, simply because they gratified the natural desire for seeing things, being able to demonstrate, to prove. That is man by nature.
What a craving there is to be able to demonstrate the Christian faith by the miraculous and the supernatural, and the door for the occult is open wide and it has rushed into the world. That is only one part of the Corinthian situation, and Paul sought to point out, not that these gifts were in themselves wrong, but to bring them back into their right place and relationship in the spiritual, and to balance gifts with grace.
Here they were, then, appraising truth, judging of spiritual things by the natural mind, and so Paul says: "Babes!" - not full grown! The Spirit of sonship here has not progressed. There is arrest and all this confusion and contradiction.
The same thing is seen in the direction of the vessels of ministry, the men: "Are ye not babes, and speak as men when ye say 'I...'". It is bad enough to begin with "I", that is enough to give anybody away. "I am of Paul... I am of Apollos... I am of Peter... I am of Christ". Natural appraisements, judgements, not only in the direction of divine truth, but in the direction of the vessels of Testimony. Instead of discerning the spiritual and practical values of the deposit in the vessel, everything was circling around the vessel itself. The man's good points and bad points were weighed one against the other, and with some the good points of one man outweighed the good points of another man; or the bad points of one man outweighed the bad points of another man; and so they decided in that way. They liked a certain type, both of men and of ministry. One man is hesitant and has no great gift of utterance, another man is eloquent and fluent, and so, on the face of it, judgements are passed, choices are made, and adherence is established; so that "I" am of this one, "I" am of that one, "I" am of another. There may have been other things, theological things, doctrinal things. There may have been those who were far more partial toward the Gentiles than others, and, therefore, they would gather round Paul and his strong note. Others would be more partial to the Jews, and they would gather round Peter and his ministry to the circumcision; but when all is said, and every consideration is allowed, it is judging on the face of things, and not recognising the inner values and their practical application. That is man, who looks on the outward appearance.
Spiritual maturity, the apostle says, goes far beyond that, and rules that sort of thing right out. Spiritual maturity means an intelligence, an understanding that the vessel may be something which naturally you would find difficulty in accepting, but there is a deposit there, there is something of spiritual value there, and that is the thing upon which to concentrate. It is the way of the majority to judge and apprise with human judgements and appraisements. It is the way of the small minority to look through the vessel to the deposit with an eye that detects and discerns the spiritual values of that ministry. That means, of course, that if it is a minority, few there are who are reaching spiritual maturity.
Not only in the direction of truth and men, but also in the direction of Christ was this going on. In his second letter Paul touches upon that: "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more" (2 Cor. 5:16). There is such a thing as knowing Christ after the flesh, and there is a knowing of Christ after the Spirit. Knowing Christ after the Spirit is going back of the man and back of His words, back of His acts, and discerning the spiritual nature of Christ, the spiritual value behind His words, the spiritual meaning of His acts. That is knowing Christ after the Spirit, and, of course, a great deal more is gathered up into that.
Turning to the letter to the Hebrews we find that what we have been seeing is somewhat born out. Hebrews 12 deals with the training of sons. Hebrews 12:5-6: "...My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art reproved of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth".
That last word in the Greek is more literally and actually: 'whom He receives by Him'. It is not someone whom the Lord receives into His family. This whole chapter points out quite clearly that they are already in the family, and they are being trained in the family. So it is not a matter of being received; it is a matter of having already come into the family being placed, that is, being given the place of responsibility in the family, being recognised as an intelligent member of the family. It is sonship in the fuller meaning.
Going back to the section of Hebrews 5 and 6, which deals with immaturity and going on to full growth, it seems to circle round and turn upon that clause: "Full grown men who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). Here is spiritual understanding. We leave the last three words, and take the principle in a general way. Taking the whole context of this Hebrew letter, in what way does that apply? In the first place it is a matter of discerning inner values, the inner, spiritual, abiding values of all that was in the Mosaic economy. That is comprehensive. This letter passes over the Mosaic economy, the priesthood, the Tabernacle, the vessels, and so on. The apostle is seeking to bring these Hebrew believers to a recognition of how Christ embodies all that spiritually, and all the good of that is found in Him and has all its fulfilment in Him. Now spiritual intelligence, spiritual understanding, is to be able to see in Christ the practical, spiritual value of every fragment of the Mosaic economy. So that, as you look into the Lord Jesus with spiritually enlightened eyes, you are growingly seeing that to the most minute detail of that whole order under Moses, you have a value in Christ for practical spiritual purposes now. The Mosaic economy is not archaic, obsolete, neither is it resolved into a merely formal system, but it is now spiritually throbbing with life in Christ for daily value. And to be able to discern that, and extract that, and live in the good of that represents spiritual maturity, growth, intelligence. We may know all the typology, and yet for it to mean nothing more than mental knowledge.
Are we living in the enjoyment of that, living in the strength of that, living in the good of that? All those Levitical offerings, which sum up in totality the moral excellencies of the Lord Jesus, which satisfy God on our behalf, are we living in the strength of that, in the glory of that? Are we living in the fact that God has found the answer to His very last requirement in man in His Son, and that is for us? Christ was the sweet savour unto God in the place of those of us who can never, never be that, and in Christ we are made a sweet savour. You notice the link in 2 Corinthians 2:14: "But thanks be to God, who leads me on from place to place in the train of His triumph, to celebrate His victory over the enemies of Christ". You may associate with that: "We are a sweet savour...". How do we become a sweet savour unto God? By following in the train of His triumph, that is, in the victory of the cross; it is our spiritual apprehension and enjoyment of all that Calvary meant universally. It brings us into a place of a sweet savour unto God in Christ.
This spiritual intelligence in the letter to the Hebrews went further. It not only taught the inner values of the types, but it saw that all that system, as an earthly religious system, had passed out when Christ came. What He said to the woman at the well of Sychar has been literally fulfilled: "Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father... the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth..." (John 4:21-23). That is, the outward system, whether it be Gerizim in Samaria or Moriah in Jerusalem, is past. "The hour cometh, and now is". What hour? The Son has come! "God, having of old times spoken unto the fathers in the prophets... hath, at the end of these days, spoken unto us in a Son" (Heb. 1:1). It is all in a Son! The "portions" and the "manners" go; the system, the outward, the earthly, as such, passes away and Christ is the Temple, the Priest, the Sacrifice, the Feasts.
This letter to the Hebrews, in its practical outworking, results in the detachment of the saints from an earthly, religious system, and attaches them to Christ in heaven, and "Where two or three are gathered together in My name...". And the effect of that is, in the light of the Old Testament, the Sanctuary, "In every place where I record My Name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee" (Ex. 20:24). That is the Old Testament word. Where is that now in the New Testament? "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name..." and what is true in that respect is true of the whole in every respect, that now things are heavenly and spiritual, and not earthly as a religious system.
The people who are tied up with an earthly, religious system, and have not entered into the spiritual values of this, are children, not full grown, not going on, but limited. Before this letter closes it has something to say about: "Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13). And that, in the light of the whole letter, is saying: "Let us go outside of what is merely an earthly, traditional system, to have our life with and in Christ alone. A spiritual people, a heavenly people, not of this world, with no links whatever with this world, save the link of testimony to it".
That is spiritual intelligence, spiritual understanding, spiritual knowledge, and it is all focused in Christ. It is what Christ is to us that determines the measure of our growth, what we have by the Spirit seen in Christ, seen Christ to be. The Church which is His Body is nothing less than according to the thought of God, "the fullness of HIM that filleth all in all", and to belong to the Church now means to know the fullness of Christ, or to be knowing the fullness of Christ in an increasing and unhindered way. The Lord bring us to be full-grown, going on unto completeness.
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