The Worldly Wise Man and Wisdom: Part 2 of 5 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
The wisdom of this world is that which is esteemed to be wisdom by the men of this world on the subject of religion; whether it is the mysterious wisdom of the rabbis, or the intellectual speculations of the Grecian philosophers, it is foolishness to God. Foolishness is expressed in spending time, strength, and effort for no purpose, so that those who do so are termed fools, particularly those who acquire no saving knowledge by their speculations. And will you agree with me that this the case with the major part of all that is called philosophy, even in the present day? Has one soul been saved through it? Are our most eminent philosophers either pious or helpful men? Are any of them meek, gentle, and humble! Who among them directs his researches to improve the moral condition of his fellowman? Pride, insolence, self-conceit, and complacency, with a general forgetfulness of God, contempt for his word, and a lack of concern for the poor, are their general characteristics. But we should not have the opinion that true wisdom is foolishness with God. It does not mean that science, and law, astronomy, and medicine, and chemistry, are regarded by him as silliness, and as worthless for the attention of men. God is the Friend of truth, on all subjects; and he requires us to become acquainted with his works, and commends those who study them: “For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands” (Psalms 92:4; KJV); also “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Psalms 111:2; KJV). But the apostle refers here to that which was recognized to be wisdom among the ancients, and in which they to a large extent prided themselves—their vain, self-confident, and false opinions on the subject of religion; and especially those opinions that were opposed to the simple but sublime truths of revelation.
Is foolishness with God. Is considered by him to be foolish.
with God means in the judgment of God.
"For it is written,"
The apostle quotes Job 5.13 in the next clause; he could have stated this verse like this: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written in Job 5.13, ‘He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.’”
He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
This quotation from Job 5:13, powerfully shows what the wisdom of this world is: it is a sort of craft, a subtle trade, which they carry out in order to wrong others and benefit themselves; and they normally have too much cunning to be caught by men; but God often overthrows them with their own plans. Paganism brought about persecution against the Church of Christ, for the purpose of destroying it; but this became the very means of quickly spreading Christianity over the earth, and of destroying the whole pagan system. Thus the wise were overthrown by their own craftiness. Another commentator put it this way: “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness (Job. 5:13 ), he catches them in their own nets, and entangles them in their own snares: he turns their most studies, plausible, and promising schemes against themselves, and ruins them by their own contrivance.”
Note: With the exception of the reference in James 5:11 to the "proverbial patience" of Job, this is the only allusion to Job, or to the book of Job in the New Testament.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
“The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain” is a quotation from Psalms 94:11, almost word for word: “The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” The teaching is not merely that “Human thought is useless in the sense of not producing anything of spiritual value that redeems man from sin,” but there is also the knowledge that it is ineffective in devising any worthwhile solutions for the secular, political, economic and social problems which plague the entire world. The Jewish Scholars would quote scripture when a matter was not clear, and the quote would provide additional confirmation and another illustration of the point to be made. So here the apostle quotes David to make his point, “that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
In the Psalms (94.11) we read, "the Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are vanity"; which the apostle not only quotes, but explains and teaches. By “the wise” is meant men of wisdom and knowledge, men with the greatest capacity for understanding and expression, whose thoughts, reasoning, schemes, and devices, the omniscient God not only knows, but makes known, and shows them, sooner or later, to be vain and
useless, and most definitely, vanity itself; and in spite of all their scheming and maneuvers, His words must stand, His Gospel must be maintained, His truths must prevail, and His precepts must continue, and his work go on. What is said here about the vanity of human knowledge is true of every kind of wisdom that does not lead immediately to God himself. There, in Psalm 94.11, it is “of men”; here it is "of the wise." Paul by inspiration states the class of men whose "thoughts" (or rather, "reasoning," agrees with the Greek and the sense of the context) the Spirit designated in the Psalm, "vanity," namely, the "proud"—“ Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud” (Psalms 94:2; KJV)—and worldly-wise, whom God in Psalms 94:8 calls "fools,"--“Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?” (Psalms 94:8; KJV); though they "boast themselves" of their wisdom in promoting their interests—“How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?” (Psalms 94:4; KJV).
The Lord knoweth. God has a perfect knowledge of the thoughts of the wisest men, because He searches the heart. The specific thing which it says here that he knows, is, that the thoughts of man are vain. They have this trait; and this is what the psalmist says that God sees. The assertion connects the omniscience of God with what God sees of the nature of the thoughts of the wise. They are always full of schemes and plans for their own earthly good; and God knows that all this is vain, empty, and unsatisfactory; and will not do them any good when they must stand before the Great Judge on that Day.
Note: God knows the deepest thoughts of the wisest men, their most secret plans and purposes: nothing is hidden from him, but “all things are naked and bare” before him (Heb. 4:13); and He knows they are only vanity. The thoughts of the wisest men in the world have a great mixture of vanity, of weakness and absurdity, in them; and before God saved them their wisest and best thoughts were incredibly vain, compared with their thoughts about things. And shouldn’t all this teach us that we out to be humble, and highly esteem the wisdom of God; be thankful for his sacred scriptures, and willing to be taught by God; and not be led astray by bogus displays of human wisdom and skill, from the simplicity of Christ’s teaching, or a regard for His heavenly doctrine? Note: He who aspires to be wise must learn about God, and not set up his own wisdom in competition with God’s.
The thoughts of the wise. Their plans, purposes, goals.
That they are vain. That they lack real wisdom; they are foolish; they will not be able to accomplish what they expect to accomplish, and they will never have that wisdom which they now suppose they possess. God has evaluated the wisdom of this world, and He considers it foolishness, craftiness, and futile. Will we agree with God's evaluation, or not?
21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
Therefore let no man glory in men.
Paul now returns to a subject he began earlier in the chapter; “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”(1 Cor 3:4; KJV). He warns the believers at Corinth, that from now on they should not esteem as lords those whom God has appointed to be ministers and not lords of their salvation. This is done by those that depend upon men. The apostle is making a point about ministers, who are only men; that even the best of them should not be glorified; but he especially warns the Corinthians against the false teachers of his day, whose wisdom, learning, and eloquence, greatly impressed the Corinthians—they boasted of them; and they were so ensnared by them, that they idolized them, called them their masters, pinned their faith on their sleeve, gave themselves to them and placed themselves under their authority, influence, and direction. So Paul has a warning for them—Let no one glory in men: How prone we are to glory in men! We are more excited about being with the influential and famous of this world than about being with God. We value the gifts and honors of men more than the gifts and honors God gives. How we need to hear, let no one glory in men! Paul condemns them for venerating mere men which were so far from being right, that they should not adore and elevate even the best of ministers, or exalt anyone above another; and that applies to Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. No one should suppose that he has any cause of delight in anything but God.