Corinth was a well-known intellectual centre. It was a cosmopolitan place, and many travelling teachers passed through. They sold wisdom, and charged big fees for it.
The gospel is not what the world would regard as wisdom. Rather, it is foolishness. Yet is is through the ‘folly’ of the cross that God has wrought salvation. There is indeed a true wisdom, but the Corinthians are still relying on the false wisdom of this world, 1 Cor 1:18-19 2:6 3:1.
Paul and the other apostles were not teachers of wisdom, and they did not rely on the methods of such teachers, 1 Cor 2:1-6 3:18-23.
The Corinthians had placed themselves as judges over their ministers. They needed, however, to re-consider their attitude, in the light of the judgement they themselves will have to face, and be prepared to become fools (in the eyes of the world) so that they might become wise. Their calling is not to judge, but to imitate the Saviour and the apostles in suffering, 1 Cor 4:1-13.
The limitations of the mind
It cannot find God, 1 Cor 1:21. If it could, then the cleverest people would also be the most godly. But God is far, far greater than our puny intellects. For a person to show by mere exercise of reason that God exists is like shining a torch to see if the sun exists. See 1 Cor 2:9f. It takes God to reveal God.
It cannot understand the cross, 1 Cor 1:18-19. Then, as now, there were two ways of applying the mind to the questions of religion. The first says, ‘Prove it to me by logic.’ The second says, ‘Give me irrefutable evidence.’ But God will respect our sincere doubts and questions will not bow to our demands. The one to whom God reveals himself is the one who says, ‘I am lost, confused, and guilty.’ We must approach God not with the clenched fist but with the open hand. Jesus was unwilling the give a sign to those who did not want to believe. To the world, God’s ways are weakness and defeat; but in fact they are wisdom and power.
It cannot accept the gospel, 1 Cor 1:21. The human mind is proud, and the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified makes us humble.
The abuses of the mind
Over-reliance on the intellect leads to arrogance, 1 Cor 3:18-19. This can be seen time and time again when the accepted wisdom of one age becomes the nonsense of the next.
Over-reliance on the intellect can lead to a valuing of style over substance, 1 Cor 1:17; (cf. 1 Cor 12:8 ) Lies do not become truth by being dressed in brilliant speech. Aware of this, the Christian communicator will value simplicity.
Over-reliance on the intellect can lead to divisions, 1 Cor 1:12-13 3:1-4. There was a danger, then as now, that people would idolise one or other of their leaders.
So perilous is this disease, that God says, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and thwart the cleverness of the clever,’ 1 Cor 1:19.
The true place of the mind
It leads to an honouring of God, 1 Cor 1:28-31. Unaided wisdom cannot bring you to God, but God has a wisdom of his own which he gives to you. Because this is god’s truth, it makes sense at the deepest level; it provides a unified view of the world. This view of the world has God himself as creator and sustainer; Christ as the centre; the Holy Spirit as teacher and life-giver. We do not look for God in the gaps of scientific knowledge, we find him as Lord of the whole universe.
It focusses on the revelation of God, 1 Cor 2:9-10. The question is not whether the mind is good or bad; the question how we use it. If with our minds we engage the opinions of men, then we perish. If we engage the revelation of God, then we are on the path that leads to light and life. Notice the double emphasis on the Scriptures and the Spirit in 1 Cor 2:9-16.
Its task is to be transformed into the mind of Christ, 1 Cor 2:16. The indwelling Christ changes our outlook so that we have an increasingly Christian view of the world.
See Green, To Corinth With Love, 83-90.