18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”;20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile. 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
People have different, even opposing ideas about the nature of wisdom. In recognition of this, Paul in this passage, gives us an understanding of some aspects of true wisdom, or spiritual wisdom versus aspects of worldly “wisdom”.
Paul begins in chapter 3 verse 1 by rebuking the believers in the Greek city of Corinth. They were worldly and not spiritual. If Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Brunei, would we fare any better? Are we filled with spiritual wisdom or worldly “wisdom”?
To discern the true answer, we should ask a number of questions. What is worldly wisdom? Paul’s answer in verse 3 is the proof of their worldly wisdom. He rebukes them because of their jealousy and quarrelling amongst themselves. The tried to dress this up in spiritual terms by saying “I follow Paul”, and for others “I follow Apollos”. It is unfortunately very common amongst Christians not to be honest with themselves or others about their sinful worldliness and instead to try and spiritualise it to make it seem much better than it is. Paul saw through those people even when they tried to hide their worldly wisdom by expressing their devotion to him, Apollos or Cephas (Peter). He clearly rebukes them throughout chapter 3.
In our passage today he begins with; “18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.”
In verse 18, Paul makes clear God hates jealousy and quarrelling. Because God hates it, we need to confront it in ourselves. I personally have seen first-hand how quarrelling and jealousy ruin whole churches and have heard stories of other churches that have been ruined.
Paul made it clear he did not want to build an empire to his ego in the church. He did not want to elevate himself above Apollos or any other leader. He just said that in comparison to the greatness of God, neither he nor Apollos were that important. Paul was humble in God’s sight and the sight of the church. Humility is a significant sign of spiritual wisdom, and Paul demonstrated humility in his life. He prioritised the kingdom of God, over any kingdom that others may have considered he was building. He is also careful to give glory to God for any success in his ministry, (see verses 10-15).
Paul says “do not deceive yourselves”. It is very easy for Christians to be deceived. He makes clear in this verse that God’s wisdom, spiritual wisdom is opposite to the “wisdom” all around us in the world. He says we should consider ourselves “fools”, that is perceiving our own need to go to God in prayer for wisdom. Of note, when he says we should be “fools”, he means from the point of view of people of the world. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. We need to see our lack in order for us to go to God for His rich wisdom. Another reason to reject worldly wisdom is because ultimately as Paul says in verse 19-20, it is “futile”. Bragging about ourselves, being jealous of others’ success and quarrelling about it are all futile. They don’t build the Kingdom of God on earth. As Jesus orders us to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness”, we must stay away from trying to build our own kingdoms that diminish His Kingdom on earth. As John the Baptist said; “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30). In order for Christ to be glorified, we have to get out of the way!
In summary, from today’s passage, what aspects of spiritual wisdom are highlighted? Build God’s Kingdom, not your own. Don’t be jealous or quarrel with others. We are warned, our work on earth will be shown for what it is on the Day of Judgment. If it is just about us and our kingdom, ignoring or not prioritising the Kingdom of God, we shall still be saved, but everything we consider riches shall be burned up. We shall be:
“as one escaping through the flames” (See verse 15).
We need to take the long view, God’s view. It is easy to just think of the short term. Things that make us feel good today often do not last. We need to invest in the Kingdom of God. We need to learn and practice His priorities.
Suggested prayer: Heavenly Father, I want right now to humble myself and pray, and seek Your face and turn from any wicked ways (be specific if you need to be). May You hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land. Enable us by Your Spirit to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.