Summary: Our problem is not that we want too much, but too little; our problem is not that we have visions too great, but too small.
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.
Paul gives two warnings in this text with the phrase, “let no one.” He is wrapping up what he has to say about the two-fold problem with the Corinth saints: aligning themselves into parties revolved around church leaders and being enamored with worldly wisdom. He had brought up the first problem in 1:10-12: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
That discussion led him to present the subject of wisdom – the world’s versus God’s – in verse 18 through the end of chapter 2. As he begins chapter 3, he notes that he really cannot go into God’s wisdom with real depth because of the first problem – their taking up sides under the names of church leaders. Thus, the discussion which leads up to now about leaders being no more than servants.
Consider now his concluding remarks about wisdom. Let no one deceive himself. That is a strong word – deceive. It reveals Paul’s impatience with the matter of trying to be wise to the world. It implies dishonesty, even if with oneself. It implies that the real reason a Christian finds the world’s wisdom appealing is not out of “intellectual honesty,” but for other motives, the main one, no doubt, being pride.
He goes on: If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. If a Christian believer really does desire wisdom, then he needs to become what amounts to being a fool as far as the world is concern. If he is proud of appearing wise to the culture of his age, his cure is to turn to the foolishness of the gospel. There he will become truly 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.”
The point of the matter is that the world’s wisdom is foolish to God. Up to this time, Paul has conceded that God’s wisdom appears foolish to man. Now it is time to consider how man’s wisdom appears to God. I am reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis:
What are we to make of Jesus Christ? This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what we are to make of Christ, but what is he to make of us?
What then does God make of man’s wisdom? It is foolishness. Note, there is a big difference between what man makes of God’s wisdom and what God makes of man’s wisdom. To man, God’s wisdom appears foolish; to God, man’s wisdom is foolish; for what God thinks of anything, that is indeed what it truly is.
Paul quotes two scripture verses to present God’s position. The first is from Job 5:13: He catches the wise in their craftiness. Man, in his wisdom, tries to outwit God. Through developing elaborate systems of thought, or usually through mere witticisms, he tries to make God irrelevant, perhaps tame him, or even to kill him in the sense of doing away with the need to believe in him. He may, if he is religious, try to fool God into thinking he is wise or spiritual. Whatever his goal, God catches him in his own trick. Perhaps God exposes him publicly for his hypocrisy or his nonsensical reasoning. Perhaps God waits until the individual appears before him for judgment. Either way, he will be caught and will not be able to fool God with his eloquence.
Furthermore, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile. We humans listen to the eloquence of gifted individuals and are moved by what seems to be great wisdom. St. Augustine spoke of his own love for eloquence and his various pursuits after what he thought to be real wisdom because of the manner in which some teaching might be presented. God is never taken in. He knows from the beginning where a train of thought will end, and that it will always end in futility when it lacks his truth.