At the time Paul wrote these words, the fledgling church in Corinth was trying very hard to understand how accepting God's wisdom in place of human wisdom would change what was of value in their lives and replace what was not.
The church in Corinth was a gifted spiritual church but their effectiveness was being undermined by jealous factions, intellectual arrogance, and selfish ambition. Paul was trying to get them to see the seriousness of their problem and to take corrective action. The difficulty stemmed from their pride in their own ability to solve their problems.
Paul has already contrasted God's wisdom with human wisdom several times in these first three chapters. If we still choose to rely on human wisdom after we've become Christians, then Paul says that we are building with wood, hay, and stubble instead of the imperishable things of gold, silver, and precious stones.
Bruce Collins wrote this on his Meditation for the Week website: “I do not believe that we have to quit thinking to believe God. I am convinced that a good logical person will understand that if the Bible is true, nothing else matters. If it is not true, nothing matters. There is no other religion or philosophy that gets its teaching from one who is eternal and who knows what eternity is all about. Therefore, there is certainly nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing that God is the author of the Bible and that He has revealed Himself and His will to us through it. But that doesn't mean that we will understand every aspect of creation or that we will understand all of the suffering that is in the world. I will never be able to understand why I was born in the lap of luxury in the United States while others were born into adversity in third world countries. But even though we can't understand or explain some of these things, we can believe that God wants devoted hearts to worship him when things make sense; and, even more so, when things do not make sense.”
In 1 Corinthians 3:18-23, Paul continues his warning concerning their attraction to human wisdom. He contrasts the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God. These Corinthian Christians may have been wise by world standards but it only showed them how foolish they were in the sight of God.
He told them to stop exalting men and denying the wisdom from God because it only made them look foolish in the eyes of God. He told them to rely on God’s wisdom and enjoy the resources, riches, and blessings that God gives.
Verses 18-20: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness"; 20. and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."
Paul wanted to make sure they would not be deceived by what appeared to be wise choices but was the wisdom of this world. In verse 18, he tells them it leads to self-deception and they were being deceived: "If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age.. ..Let him become a fool...” means that those who rely on the wisdom of God to direct their lives and shun worldly wisdom seem to be fools to the natural man. There is no way we can become wise in God's ways as long as we consider ourselves wise by worldly standards.
Worldly wisdom is often defined as common sense or reality or accepted practice. However, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we see the fallacy of this kind of thinking and we become open to the spiritual wisdom that God wants to give us by way of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a difficult thing for many people to accept in their hearts and minds to “let him (you) become a fool.” This means the world sees the Christian as a fool when he forsakes worldly standards and takes up the standards set forth by God.
Man’s confidence in human reason has no bounds. Man tries to logically and reasonably fit God into his mold. In his pride, he tries to reach God in his own way and he expects to gain credit for reaching God by his own effort. Many times we hear the religious world make the statement that all roads lead to heaven.
Men have been given their minds to use, but God doesn’t accept man’s terms and it’s only after we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior that our minds are open to the revelations of God.
In this day and age, people feel the need to express their opinion and authority on everything. This is the result of the self-important but deceptive wisdom of this age. It seems there is always a need to prove their superior intellect or abilities and to criticize everything and to win every argument.
In verse 19 Paul makes the point that worldly wisdom has been judged by God to be spiritually foolish. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness." This brings to mind the news commentators and the intellectuals who have taken God out of our schools and universities, the legal profession that has taken God out of government and the editors who write the editorial pages of our newspapers.
Paul had good reason for making these statements. Corinth loved intellectualism. Evidently the Christians of the city had assumed that this wisdom of the world could be blended in with their spiritual life and witness. They didn't understand that the only witness of lasting value comes from God alone. Verse 19 is a quote from Job 5:13: "He catches the wise in their own craftiness...” Craftiness may look wise, but it has an ulterior motive. Job tells us that God can see through it and foil the plans of the wise men of the world.
In verse 20, Paul is quoting from Psalm 94:11. “The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile.” The worst part about worldly wisdom is that it's totally inadequate to bring us to God, even for salvation. It can’t enable us to understand God's heart and mind. The Holy Spirit has to intervene, for us to get saved. In the realm of human relationships, worldly wisdom leaves us without a clue concerning God's design for our life.
There is no argument that the wisdom of the world can sound very reasonable at times, but God warns that it can’t be trusted and that it won't endure the test of time and eternity.
Verses 21-23: “Therefore 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 things present or things to come - all are yours. 23: And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”
Paul mentions the influence of himself, Apollos, and Cephas, all good men of God who gave wonderful spiritual leadership to that church. The problem was that the Corinthians were taken up with these men instead of listening to and acting on the message they preached. The act of following the individual resulted in divisions within the church. This still happens today. If a pastor leaves a church, there are often those who will also leave the church to follow him or who will go to another church in a sort of protest. Don't exalt any human leader, Christian or non-Christian. Never, ever, should human spiritual leadership take the place of the Lord Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 1:31, Paul quoted this verse from Jeremiah: “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD."
The Christian is not to put any man on a pedestal the way the Corinthians were doing. The Creator alone deserves the loyalty of the created.
Verses 21b. “For all things are yours:” This is amazing! “All things are ours!” He repeats it for emphasis in verse 22: “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come - all are yours.” This is not a religious cliché, it's literally true. We have riches that we don't understand or take advantage of. It seems strange that man should choose to be limited to the wisdom of other men when we can have all the wisdom and resources of God. Romans 8:16-17. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17. and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” Romans 8:31-33: “If God is for us, who can be against us? 32. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
God has given us every resource that we can imagine in this inheritance with Jesus Christ and yet, we seem to have trouble accepting them.
Teachers, pastors, and evangelists are wonderful gifts to the body of Christ, but they can never approach the greatness of God Himself. The truths I preach are not original with me. The Lord Himself is the author. It's the Holy Spirit who interprets them and brings them to life in our hearts. “If it’s new, it’s not true. If it’s true, it’s not new.”
Something else Paul mentioned is that the world, the physical universe, is ours. As fellow-heirs with Christ, this whole planet is a possession of God's people. God made it for us originally and even though man has spoiled it and it’s not perfect at the present because of Satan’s presence, it still belongs to us and someday we’ll claim it in all it’s perfection. I believe that even now, we, as Christians, appreciate the wonders of the natural world in ways that non-believers can't.
The next blessing Paul mentioned is that we have life, spiritual, eternal life in Jesus Christ. He lives with us and in us.
The apostle Peter wrote, in 2 Peter 1:3-4. “... His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4. by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
God actually gives us His nature! The power of God and the nature of God have been given to nsider most of them false alarms. I’m afraid that’s the way many people treat Biblical warnings. We have been told for years that the Lord is going to come and I believe that He is going to come and take the believers in Christ from this earth before He begins to judge the earth for rejecting His Son.
The Bible warns over and over that judgment is coming and I believed those warnings. I believe there is a day coming when the horror of God’s judgment on this earth will cause men and women to say to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand ?" Revelation 6:16-17.
There is only one way to escape the storm of God's wrath and that is to take shelter through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." God is still offering salvation by grace through faith in His Son. John 3:18. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”