Summary: In today's lesson we learn that God's wisdom is superior to the world's wisdom.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is a clear understanding that God’s wisdom is superior to the world’s wisdom. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Shun Worldly Wisdom.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 3:18-23:
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:18–23)
A story is told about a theological student who came to the great nineteenth century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon one day. The student was very concerned that he could not understand the meaning of certain verses in the Bible.
Apparently, Spurgeon replied kindly but firmly, “Young man, allow me to give you this word of advice. Give the Lord credit for knowing things you don’t understand.”
We all struggle to understand certain verses or parts of the Bible, don’t we? And God’s wisdom is far superior to ours, isn’t it? Job said in Job 12:13, “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.”
When the Bible talks about wisdom it is talking about living in light of God’s truth. Wisdom is the “ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding.” The apostle Paul declared that the message of the cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. But to those who believe, said Paul, this “foolishness of God” is in fact “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18–25).
Against the wisdom of God Paul contrasted “the wisdom of this world” (1:20; 3:19), “human wisdom” (2:4), “the wisdom of men” (2:5), “the wisdom of this age” (2:6), and “man’s wisdom” (2:13).
The biblical concept of wisdom, therefore, is quite different from the world’s view of wisdom, which sought through philosophy and human rational thought to determine the mysteries of existence and the universe. The first principle of biblical wisdom is that people should humble themselves before God in reverence and worship, obedient to his commands.
In the passage we are looking at today (3:18-23), the apostle Paul brings his first argument to a conclusion. He wants the Corinthian believers to understand that God’s wisdom is superior to the world’s wisdom.
And so, in today’s lesson we learn that God’s wisdom is superior to the world’s wisdom.
Let’s use the following outline for today’s lesson:
1. The Deception of Believers (3:18-20)
2. The Discipleship of Believers (3:21-23)
I. The Deception of Believers (3:18-20)
First, let’s notice the deception of believers.
Paul has just warned the believers in the church at Corinth about holding a wrong view of the ministry and particularly of church leadership. Now he cautions them about deception. The deception he cautions them about is a wrong view of wisdom.
A. The Command about Deception (3:18a)
First, observe the command about deception.
Paul said in verse 18a, “Let no one deceive himself.”
Someone has said, “The one who can deceive us the quickest is our own self.” We are especially prone to deception about our assessment of our wisdom. We think we are particularly smart when in fact we may be really dumb.
The Corinthian believers had fooled themselves into thinking that they were doing the right thing by exalting worldly wisdom to support their positions against each other. In their culture such behavior seemed reasonable. After all, everyone else in Corinth threw his or her support behind one of the great philosophers of the day. So, why not do as all the other Corinthians do and support either Paul or Apollos or Peter?
B. The Cause of Deception (3:18b)
Second, observe the cause of deception.
Paul said in verse 18b, “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age. . . .”
The Greek word for age means “the system of practices and standards associated with secular society (that is, without reference to any demands or requirements of God).” And so Paul challenged the Corinthians to realize that though they thought they were wise, they were not in fact taking God into account in their thinking.
This has been a very common problem throughout the ages. People are wonderfully converted to Christ. They become part of the church. The church gets established. Over the years it may even flourish in gospel priorities. But then, things seem to become rather routine, rote, and ordinary. After some time others come along and they challenge the old way of thinking. There are new ways to think about God and spiritual matters. After all, they say, we are now living in an enlightened age. So, in comes higher criticism. In comes liberal theology. In comes liberation theology. In comes prosperity theology. In comes everything but gospel theology. And once again people think that they are wise in this age.