1 Corinthians 3:18-23 – 26 Dec 2010
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone amongst you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours. And you are Christ’s and Christ’s is God’s.
Let us pray.
Corinth was a cosmopolitan sea port, and in a sense, very much like Singapore.
The people in the Church interacted with the world around them every day.
As a result, a great deal of worldly wisdom had crept into the Church, even without them realising it.
It affected the way they perceived Christian work & the way they behaved and interacted with each other.
There are many lessons we can learn from this passage in 1 Cor 3:18-23.
I want to highlight the following 3:
1) When we think we are wise in our own eyes, we are being very foolish.
2) We must never use our own wisdom to carry out God’s work.
3) The proper application of our earthly experience in our service to God.
1) When we think we are wise in our own eyes, we are being very foolish.
Please let me read once again verses 18-19
“If anyone amongst you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”.
Paul is actually using an illustration from the book of Job to explain his point.
The phrase “He catches the wise in their own craftiness(verse 19)” is taken from Job 5:13.
Job was a Godly man who was suddenly afflicted with great loss and physical suffering.
And under such circumstances, 3 of his friends came to speak to him.
The statement “He catches the wise in their craftiness” was a made by Eliphaz – one of the 3 friends.
I want you to note the following:
1) Job was a materially wealthy man in the “upper echelon” of society at that time.
2) The 3 friends who came to counsel him were apparently very “wise with experiences” in life.
You will agree with me if you carefully read what Job’s friends said as recorded in the book of Job.
For example, Eliphaz said in Job 5:17 “Happy is the man that God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.”
This is scriptural teaching from Psalms 94 and Proverbs 3.
However, although the 3 friends were very knowledgeable (even in the things of God), the problem was that they made their conclusions about Job’s situation totally from their earthly perception.
They concluded that Job’s circumstances were due to his sin and that he should confess and repent immediately.
It is easy for us to say that these 3 friends of Job were foolish in their thinking simply because we have the benefit of the heavenly perspective since it is recorded for us in the bible.
But we should learn a lesson from the conduct of these 3 friends.
We too are prone to use the little truth that we know from scripture, add our experiences in life, and derive conclusions on matters from our own earthly perspective.
And let me tell you the irony that Paul is bringing out for us here:
Eliphaz spoke a brilliant statement of truth in verse 19:
He (that is the Lord) catches the wise in their craftiness.
And this statement (made by Eliphaz) is pointing back to himself because he thought he was wise in what he concluded about Job.
But that statement is now manifesting his own foolishness since he thought he was wise in his conclusion about Job.
Paul reminds us that “If anyone amongst you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise”.
Well today, are you a respected person at home, in school, your workplace or society at large?
Perhaps you know the scriptures relatively well or have much experience in life and people generally regard you as wise.
Be careful that this wisdom is not used to do God’s work unchecked.
God’s word reminds us here that “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile” and ..
”If anyone amongst you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.”
Biblical and heavenly wisdom does not come by virtue of our age or experience, although this does contribute to Christian maturity.
Jesus said “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and have revealed them to babes.” Matt 11:25
There are things that only those who submit themselves to the simplicity of the gospel will understand, which even the wise and the prudent will not.
Job 32:8 tells us “But there is a spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty that gives him understanding”.
Children who grew up in this Church – do you remember how King Solomon became so wise?
Yes, it was God who gave him wisdom.
The heavenly perspective of things can only come by the Spirit of God who opens our eyes with spiritual understanding.
Corinth was a city of culture and progress.
There were clearly different groups of people in the Church at Corinth.
There were those who were bright intellectually; there were those who were materially rich.
And in such positions, they were exposed to culturally and intellectually advanced ideas & systems.
And obviously, they wanted the Church to adopt such similar ideas which they perceived to be good.
Now, I am all for progress and development for the glory of God and the good of the Church.
But the fact is, not everything is helpful; not everything edifies; not everything is biblical.
So we must constantly check on how we conduct ourselves as individuals and as a Church against the word of God.
We must constantly check the systems or programmes we introduce into the Church against the word of God.
Perhaps you have experienced an efficient system of organisation that has worked well in your workplace or in your school.
Or perhaps you saw a wonderful idea on TV, and you feel that the same can be done in the Church.
There is no end to what you can introduce into the Church: management styles, organisation structure, worship programmes, lively music and all kinds of things that we see so much in the world.
If we are not watchful over what we introduce into the Church, very soon, the Church may end up just like any social club.
2. Secondly, we must never use our own wisdom to carry out God’s work.
When it comes to doing God’s work, we must be careful with how we use of our own knowledge and experiences to “value-add” on what we wish to do for God.
There are many examples in the bible that teach us the importance of depending upon God instead of using our own wisdom to do His work.
And whenever a servant of God lets his own zealousness dictate what he would do for God, instead of letting God prescribe for him what he should do, serious consequences take place.
Take the example of Moses.
Moses was brought up in an Egyptian palace.
He was trained in the best Egyptian schools in culture, knowledge, physical training and all rounded education.
What a wonderful candidate to be used to deliver Israel, we may think.
He had a heart for his own people – wonderful asset.
So when he saw the Israelites being treated cruelly by the Egyptians, he felt he needed to do something to help them.
So what did he do in his own wisdom derived from the wealth of his all-rounded education?
He killed the Egyptian who was torturing the Israelites.
That’s what the world taught him to do – fight for your rights!
But that was not the way God wanted to deliver His people.
That’s not how God wanted Moses to be used.
And as the story went, Moses had to flee to the wilderness because Pharoah hunted for him.
But in the providence of God, Moses spent time in the wilderness and learned the way of God.
And it was only after 40 years had passed before he was used to deliver Israel in God’s prescribed way.
Forty more years of suffering for the Israelites so that the man who would lead them out of Egypt can learn to do things in the timing and the wisdom of God!
The result? We are told that Moses was the meekest man who ever lived – Numbers 12:3.
That surely doesn’t sound or look like the Moses who killed the Egyptian.
Remember? Not by might, not by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord!
Didn’t Peter learn the same lesson?
When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, his zealousness was manifested in brave defence.
He even dared to cut off one of the soldiers’ ear.
We must never doubt the earnestness of Peter here.
He was prepared to face the other soldiers for that action he took on their fellow soldier.
But I trust you remember what our Lord did.
Thank you Peter for your zealousness, but that’s not God’s way for a response.
In Luk 9:54, when a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, what did James and John say?
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Jesus rebuked them and said “You do not know what spirit you are of”.
Sometimes, we can be tempted to think that by virtue of our qualification, experience and zealousness, we can be better servants of God.
Hey, I’m an army officer, a banker, a lawyer, a university professor.
Surely I can be useful in the Church with such experiences and qualifications?
Surely I can help the Church command more respect from the world?
Paul says in 1 Cor 2:3-4 “My words and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power that your faith may not be founded in the wisdom of man but in the power of God.”
Gal 6:14 “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified unto me and I unto the world”.
What we need is not more high powered people in Church.
We need more people who are ready to humble themselves before God.
I want to share with you a very simple experience of humility that I learnt right here in Church.
It started many years ago, when we were still in Shalom Church & before we planted Ebenezer Church.
After leading a bible study – which was held at Church level, one of the elders of Shalom came up to me and said:
“Can you please wear a proper shirt with buttons, instead of a polo shirt when leading bible study”?
I was surprised to hear that, but he added, “I know you are wearing a branded polo shirt”.
“I know it is classified as smart-casual attire, but someone in our midst is not comfortable with your attire”.
I responded candidly, “but I don’t want to dress on Sunday the way I go to work every day”.
In my heart, I felt offended.
Here I am trying to serve God and there are people who are trying judge me by what I wear.
Am I not entitled to my opinion as well? Where are my rights?
Who is the stronger brethren and who is the weaker one here?
Why can’t you just focus on the bible study instead of focussing on my shirt?
I was tempted to retaliate by wearing a button down shirt but with flowery pattern all over to prove a point.
It was a small matter isn’t it; just wear another shirt!
What’s the problem? Why was I having such rebellious thoughts?
I was just reacting to the situation the world would have reacted.
I would have given way to the devil if I reacted like that.
Years later, I would have forgotten the incident.
Until right here at this pulpit, we had people who preached wearing a branded polo shirt.
Don’t start speculating who it is or you will be missing my point.
In heart, I was tempted to think “How come he can do that and I can’t”?
Where is the fairness? Why that disparity in standards?
The reality is that even if someone had told that person about his dressing, I don’t need to be informed.
But friends, that kind of thought came to my mind because I interact with the world every day.
TV programmes, behaviour of friends and how the world does things influence how we react to things.
Let’s be clear – that’s not the way of God.
The scriptures tell us in 1 Pet 2: 23 concerning Jesus “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sin in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.”
We must take up the Cross of Jesus Christ and choose what the world considers as the lowly way of humility when we want to serve God.
We must exalt Jesus and exercise self-denial.
That is the way of the Cross.
That is foolishness to the world.
But for us who are saved, it is the power of God to save us from damnation!
3. The Proper Application of Experience in our service to God.
Now, having said all that, is there a place whereby our experience in life can help us be better servants of God?
The same bible that warns us against worldly wisdom also teaches us with examples of how this should be done.
So you see that the bible is not just a book prescribing Godly principles.
It also records the lives of people who have applied Godly principles in their lives so that we can learn from them.
Ex 18 records for us the advise that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, gave to him concerning how he should mange the nation of Israel.
Jethro, we understand from what we read in Ex 3, was a priest in Midian, which is a pagan country.
But in Ex 18:10-12, we read of his conversion to worship Jehovah God.
Here we see a man with great experience in life turning to God at an advanced age.
And after becoming a believer, he saw how Moses judged the people.
Moses alone listened to the individual problems of all Israel.
And there was a long queue of people waiting to see him day and night.
And he knew that this was both bad for Israel and totally unhealthy for Moses.
He felt that he could contribute an idea that could improve the situation.
He probably had a similar situation back in Midian where he was a pagan priest taking care of many people.
What Moses was doing was clearly an undesirable thing.
It will not only wear him out, it was inefficient for the nation as well.
And Jethro, before he was converted, was already familiar with a more efficient system of government in Midian.
But listen to what Jethro said to Moses after he described the recommended method to him– Ex 18:23.
“If you do this thing (that is what he has recommended), and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will also go to their place in peace.”
Yes, he knows a better system.
But he tells Moses that he should only implement the system if and only if he receives the command of God.
In other words, whatever system they implemented must have the sanction of God.
Remember, Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law.
He was a leader of his own people himself and he was much more senior than Moses in age.
But he respected the authority entrusted to Moses as the leader of Israel.
And he also appreciated the biblical way of suggesting a better system based on his life experiences.
And he also knew that the suggested way must be brought to God in prayer for direction on the way to go.
Let us now look at verses 21-23 as we draw our meditation to a close.
1 Cor 3:21-23 “therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours. And you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.
If I were to paraphrase what Paul is saying in this passage, it will sound something like the following:
Now that I have told you how we must be careful not to fall into the trap of using worldly wisdom in our work for God, do not be proud of being associated to any great man.
Why? Because everything that has happened, is happening and will happen in this world, is being worked out with the special interest of the Church of God in mind.
The world will look at history on the basis of its progress and discovery.
But we, Christians, know that the history of this world has been unfolding itself so that the great plan of God for the Church and the redemption of the elect can take effect.
Jesus said in the beatitudes (Matt 5) “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
Who is the meek referred to here, but the Children of God in the Church?
Paul says in 1 Cor 6:2 “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?”
What special privileges has been accorded to the Christian?
Dear Corinthians, are you therefore still so carnal in view of the special care and heritage that has been prepared for you?
You belong to Christ don’t you? And Christ belongs to God.
So we should be mindful of this fact.
We must conduct ourselves in a manner that befits our calling and not bring disgrace to the name of God.
If we allow worldly wisdom to flood our minds and influence the work of God in Church, we will cause blemish to the name of God.
So, let us take heed that worldly wisdom does not prevail in our fellowship.
We must do what is honouring to God and in accordance to His word – end of paraphrase.
Now, are these words of Paul in 1 Cor 3 applicable for us individually and as a Church?
Have we fallen into the trap of using our own wisdom in our service to God?
Have we been conducting ourselves towards each other the way the world does?
Take heed that the devil is all out to get us and we must not fall into his trap.
Let us examine ourselves.
Let us pray.