On Sunday, we considered Romans 8:5, which uses the phrase “the things of the Spirit.” I mentioned that 1 Corinthians 2:14, the only other place in the Bible where this phrase is found, gives us an important clue into what Paul meant by it.
1 Corinthians 2:14 by itself doesn’t give us much help: “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.” Things only begin to clear up when we consider the wider context.
Beginning in verse 6, Paul had been speaking about himself and the other apostles, and how they had been given the Holy Spirit so that they might understand the things God was revealing to them.
In verse 13, he narrows his focus somewhat: not only was the Holy Spirit revealing truth itself to the Apostles, He was revealing to them the very words with which they were to teach this truth. “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
In other words, as the Apostles taught or wrote books like 1 Corinthians and Romans and Galatians and 1 Peter, their very words were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In the second half of verse 13, Paul makes an important qualifier: his teaching ministry is only received by those who themselves have the Spirit. That’s what he means by “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
“Spiritual” in this context doesn’t refer to a special kind of Christian who prays loudly in restaurants and listens to sermon podcasts instead of CBC. Instead, it simply refers to someone who has the Holy Spirit—in other words, a Christian. And it is only to these spiritual people that the Apostles interpret these spiritual truths.
Why is this? Why not teach everybody? The reason comes in verse 14: “The natural person [in other words, a person without the Holy Spirit] 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” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
So let’s make sure we’re piecing this together: in verse 13, he told us that he used Spirit-taught words to interpret (or explain) Spirit-inspired truths to those who have the Spirit. And in verse 14 he says that those without the Spirit do not accept “the things of the Spirit of God.”
It’s like if you overheard someone saying “Mom made roast beef last night, but Billy was too sick to eat supper.” You would understand that “supper” and “roast beef” are talking about one and the same meal. This family (less one unfortunate member) ate roast beef for supper last night.
So it is with 1 Corinthians 2:13-14: when we read that the Apostles imparted spiritual truths using Spirit-taught words to those who are spiritual, but that the natural person does not accept “the things of the Spirit,” we understand that these different phrases are pointing to the same thing. “The things of the Spirit” are those Spirit-inspired truths and words.
And so when Romans 8:5 says that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” we’re safe to assume that Paul had the same idea in mind.
What this means for us today is hopefully obvious: “the things of the Spirit,” these spiritual truths and Spirit-taught words, have been preserved for us in the Bible. Which means that if you and I want to walk by the Spirit, that’s where we need to set our minds.