Become a Fool that You may be Wise
Parkdale Grace Fellowship
Sunday AM, May 18, 2008
1 Corinthians 3:18-23
Become a Fool That You May be Wise
Continuing his confrontation of the problems plaguing the young church at Corinth Paul is now going to summarize and conclude the arguments he began back in chapter one addressing the divisions in the church and their misguided attraction to the wisdom of the world rather than the wisdom of God.
“Let no one deceive [or delude] himself.” If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age it is a delusion, don’t believe it. Many of the Corinthian believers considered themselves to be wise because of their accumulation of knowledge. The city of Corinth was a major center of learning and of Greek philosophy. And they believed they were spiritual because the gifts of the Spirit were at work among them. And this was one of their main problems as a church; they were puffed up with pride and looked down at other believers who they perceived to be inferior to themselves. But in reality they had nothing to be proud about. What they considered to be wisdom was in reality foolishness and what they believed to be evidence of their spirituality (their spiritual gifts) was in reality only evidence of God’s grace and mercy bestowed upon an undeserving people.
Let’s go back to the opening line of verse 18, “Let no one deceive himself”. This passage speaks just as much to believers today as it did back then. What is the deception that we must beware of? It is the deception of measuring our wisdom against the standard of the world.
“If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age . . .” This age refers to that which is temporal and passing away as opposed to that which is eternal. It refers to the wisdom of the world as opposed to the wisdom of God. In other words this passage opens by saying that if anyone among you seems to be wise by the standards of the world it is a delusion, don’t believe it. For, according to verse 19, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
This is a trap that many believers fall into when we look to the corporate business world to show us how to run and manage the ministry of the church. Those who are most successful in business are very often held up as the role model for wise church leadership. But we ignore the word of God which warns us not to deceive ourselves, for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. God’s ways are not man’s ways.
The delusion of the wisdom of this age is a trap we fall into when our Bible colleges and seminaries look to the secular universities as the standard of academic excellence that we should strive to measure up to. We are deceived when our Bible schools seek to get the approval and accreditation of these secular institutions which deny the existence of God, who deny the existence of moral absolutes and teach evolution and humanism. The Bible clearly says that “the fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God.’” (Ps. 14:1; Ps. 53:1) Therefore we are deceived when we emulate as being wise those whom God has declared to be fools. Many of our Bible colleges and seminaries today no longer teach the gospel or the Bible because they are trying to measure up to the world’s standard for education. Today if a Bible school does not give degrees that are recognized by the secular institutions many Christians look down upon them as being inferior. But look at what the Bible says in verse 18, “. . . Let him become foolish by the standards of this age in order that he may become truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (Translation by C.K.Barrett)
We deceive ourselves when we require our Christian counselors to be trained in and to practice secular psychology believing it to be wisdom. We deceive ourselves when we believe that our children, in order to get a good education, must be taught the humanistic curriculum of a godless government. “For has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:20) We are deluded when as parents we put more confidence in modern child psychology for training our children than in the ancient principles of God’s word. We are deceived when we think it wise to follow our materialistic world’s advice concerning financial planning rather than to follow God’s word about not laying up for ourselves treasure on earth. In fact we are deceived anytime we lean upon our own understanding, or the understanding of others, rather than trusting in the Lord with all of our heart to direct our paths. (Prov. 3:5-6)
Notice God’s prescription in verse 18 for moving from worldly wisdom (which is actually foolishness) to begin living by true godly wisdom. “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool [by the standards of this age] that he may become wise.” The key to true wisdom is to embrace the cross of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:20-25 “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Notice that we cannot advance from human wisdom to spiritual wisdom by adding to our human wisdom new spiritual truths. We must forsake and abandon the human wisdom completely in order to acquire God’s wisdom. (C.K. Barrett, p. 94) We cannot mix human wisdom and God’s wisdom. This same truth is stated in a different context in Philippians chapter 3.
Philippians 3:3-9 “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh . . . 7But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things . . . [notice now that it was necessary to abandon and lose one in order to obtain and possess the other:] “and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, [this principle is still true if we insert “not having my own wisdom which is from the world”] but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness [wisdom] which is from God by faith”.
The wisdom of this world cannot be improved or developed to become the wisdom of God; it must be utterly abandoned. (C.K. Barrett, p. 94) God has no place for worldly wisdom but will ultimately destroy it. 1 Corinthians 1:19 “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 1 Corinthians 2:6 “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”
Look at the example of Moses. “At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:20-22
It is significant to notice that after 40 years of being educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians Moses was unfit to give spiritual leadership to the nation of Israel. God had to take him away from the world, into the backside of the wilderness for 40 years of re-education in the wisdom of God.
The same thing happened to Saul, who was wise by Jewish standards, but when he came to Christ he had to spend three years in the Arabian desert and another number of years in obscurity, learning the wisdom of God before he was ready to begin his missionary ministry. The point is that God does not recognize nor does He use the wisdom of this world. In order for us to walk in the wisdom of God we must abandon completely the so called wisdom of the world.
Hebrews 11:24-27 “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward . . .”
Now wait a minute worldly wisdom would say that Moses should have used his position of power and influence, he should have made use of the wisdom of Egypt to better the cause of his people. But by faith he didn’t, meaning he trusted God and was led by God to abandon the status and the ways of the world in order that he might walk in the ways of the Lord. Hebrews 11:27 goes on to say, “By faith he forsook Egypt, [he forsook the wisdom and the ways of the world] not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” [Meaning his eyes were now fixed on God].
When I say that the wisdom of this world must be abandoned I am not speaking about truth or knowledge, for all truth is God’s truth and all knowledge comes from God. When the Bible says God will destroy the wisdom of this age it is not speaking about doing away with mathematical equations or scientific laws or formulas. There is nothing wrong with geography, musical theory, or economics and so on. The bible is not speaking against facts and the truth. But it speaks against man’s interpretation of the facts; it opposes man’s explanation of and application of the truth independent of God and God’s word.
Wisdom (Sophia) is to have insight into the true nature of things. (Vines dictionary) That which is foolish, that which we must abandon and that which God will destroy is the delusion that we can gain insight into the true nature of things independent of God’s revelation or that we can find our own way to make life work independent of God and His word. Or even that we can understand and follow God’s word without total dependence upon the Lord.
The wisdom of the world is the wisdom that Satan offered Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is the false and deceptive idea that we ourselves can figure out the things of life without depending on God to guide us and provide for us. The wisdom of the world misinterprets the facts to conclude that we evolved from apes, or that in order to develop healthy self esteem children should never be spanked. The world’s distorted insight into the nature of things leads them to conclude that there is security in investments, or that church growth requires strategy and a five year plan, or that diplomacy will lead to world peace, or that our environmental integrity can save the planet, or that science can one day eliminate disease, or that homosexuality is not a sin, or that a good job and a nice home can bring you lasting fulfillment.
“He catches the wise in their own craftiness,” meaning the very area of their lives in which they felt so wise becomes precisely the point of their downfall and failure. Galatians 6:7-8 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” It is in the same area of sowing that we will reap. It is at the point of deviation from God and truth that corruption will take place. The one who felt the world’s way of raising kids was wiser than God’s way will reap heartache from their children. The one who felt the world’s strategy for the handling of finances was better than God’s way of not laying up for ourselves treasure on earth, will ultimately experience failure in the area of finances. If not sooner they will experience it when they stand empty handed before God at the judgment. The one who rejected God’s wisdom in sexual purity will experience shame and regret from their own way.
God knows our thoughts. All that goes on in our mind, every detail and every motive is clearly known and understood by God. And the scripture clearly states that any imagined wisdom of the world that is not God’s wisdom is futile. We could spend a lifetime identifying examples of worldly wisdom, ideas man has thought up independent of God, and never find a single one that was truly wise. There is no wisdom apart from God’s way. There is no thought independent from God that is wise. Every human thought that we think independent of God and His revealed truth is futile, it is useless and a vain waste of time. Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Where are you getting your ideas for living life? When we disregard God’s way and look for another more creative or more politically acceptable way there will be no wisdom present at all in that contrived plan. Therefore it is truly foolish to implement the world’s methods of church management, or of financial planning, or of child raising, etc.
If there is anything truly wise coming from the mouth of a man or woman, it is from God. And if it is not from God it is not truly wise. Look ahead to the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 4:7 “. . . What do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Apart from God there is no wisdom. As the Scripture says, “Apart from Christ we can do nothing.” To act or to think independent of God is to waste your time and to waste your life.
This same principle is highlighted for us by Jesus in John 15:4-7: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”
We are living in a society that prides itself in its own wisdom, in its own ability to understand how the world ticks without having to depend upon God. In fact our society mocks the idea of looking to God for wisdom. Let us therefore beware of how we are being influenced by the false, vain wisdom of the world which will be destroyed by God. We can’t mix a little of the world’s wisdom with God’s truth and come up with an improvement. The wisdom of the world must be rejected.
“Therefore let no one boast in men.” To boast in any man is to place your confidence in the creature rather than the Creator. There is only one in whom we can legitimately boast as Christians, “as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’” (1 Cor. 1:31)
To become loyally attached to one favored gospel minister is to arrogantly deny the sovereignty of Christ to use whomever He chooses to speak to us. By selecting Apollos, for example, rather than Paul or Cephas, the Christian has missed out on receiving what God might have to say through Paul or Cephas. In His superabundant grace God can use all things for the building up of the believer and of the church. (Thiselton, p. 71) Therefore why would we limit ourselves by claiming that we belong to a particular teacher? Do we not realize that all teachers, in fact all things that exist, belong to Christ and therefore they belong to us in Christ? Paul, Apollos and Peter were not outstanding men to whom Christians belong but rather, as ministers (literally servants) these apostles belong to the believers they serve. And all belong to Christ alone. Therefore, contrary to enriching themselves by loyally identifying themselves with and following only one particular teacher, the Corinthian believers were impoverishing themselves. They were cutting themselves off from greater treasures that were really theirs. (Morris, p. 70)
Naturally, when Christian teachers do not agree (as Paul and Cephas certainly differed on occasion) we must choose between them, but we must choose according to the truth and not on the grounds of personal bias according to who we have become loyally attached to. (Barrett, p. 5)
“Every possible experience in life, and even the experience of death itself, belongs to Christians, in the sense that in the end it will turn out to be for their good.” (Morris quoting Margaret E. Thrall, p. 70)