The Worldly Wise Man and Wisdom : Part 1 of 5 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

September 27, 2012

First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 2.7.A: The Worldly Wise Man and Wisdom
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3.18-23

1 Cor 3:18-23 (KJV)
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
21 Therefore let no man glory 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 ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

Now the apostle prescribes humility, and a modest opinion of themselves, for the remedy of the indiscretions taking place in the church of Corinth; the rise of factions and the competition and disputes between these factions.

18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

Let no man deceive himself.
The apostle beginning here and continuing to the end of this chapter makes a practical application of the truths which he had previously stated, and to urge them not to think too highly of themselves, and to make an effort to curb the arguments and strife into which they had fallen. They had become puffed up with a vain conceit of their own wisdom, and this had been the real cause of all the evils which they had experienced. Grotius translates the verse this way: "See that you do not attribute too much to your wisdom and learning, by resting on it, and thus deceive your own selves." "All human philosophy," says Grotius, "that is repugnant to the gospel is but vain deceit." There were probably many among them who would despise this admonition simply because it came from Paul, but he cautions them to take care that they do not deceive themselves.

Christian friend, do not be led away from the truth and simplicity of the Gospel by pretenders who promote science and philosophy, by eloquence of speech, by a show of deep learning, or a flourish of words, by rabbis, orators, or philosophers; and reject all men who possess vain notions of serving God and religion, and of doing the churches good by their carnal and worldly wisdom, and with false hopes of escaping the vengeance of God for sowing the seeds of error, heresy, and discord among his people. Note, We are in great danger of deceiving ourselves when we have too high an opinion of human wisdom and arts. Plain and pure Christianity is likely to be despised by those who can adapt their doctrines to the corrupt taste of their hearers, and enflame them with their rhetoric, or support them with a show of deep and strong reasoning.

We are taught here:
1. That there exists the danger of self-deception—a danger that assails all of us, when the issue is religion.
2. That false philosophy is the most fruitful source of self-deception in the business of religion. That was true of the Corinthians; and that is the way it has been ever since.

If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world,
This seems to refer to some individual in the Church of Corinth, who had caused trouble that led to disputes and disunity; probably Diotrephes, who is mentioned in 3 John 1.9: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not,” or someone with a similar attitude, who wanted to have the pre-eminence, and thought he was wiser than everyone else. Every Christian Church has one or more of these.

It may be that Paul is being a little sarcastic here. Of course the Corinthians did consider themselves wise in their time! That was one of their problems, they loved worldly wisdom.

“If any man among you” probably refers to teachers, whatever their position may be, and whatever confidence they may have in their own abilities; or it could refer to any private member of the church.

“Seemeth to be wise” or thinks himself wise; or is thought to be, is esteemed as such, or has the reputation of being wise. The word "seems" implies this idea—if anyone seems, or is supposed to be a man of wisdom; if this is his reputation; and if he seeks to maintain this reputation among people.
“In this world” means in this "age," or "world." There is considerable

variety in the interpretation of this passage among Bible scholars. It may be taken either with the words which precede it or with the words which follow it. Origen, Cyprian, Beza, Grotius, Hammond, and Locke adopt the latter method, and would say it this way: "If any man among you thinks himself to be wise, let him not hesitate to be a fool in the opinion of this age in order that he may be truly wise." But the interpretation conveyed in our translation, is probably the correct one. "If any man has the reputation of wisdom among the people of this generation, and prides himself on it," etc. If he is esteemed wise in the sense in which the people of this world are; as a philosopher, a man of science, learning, etc. What is one to do if he is thought to be wise in worldly wisdom; or desires to be thought of as such; or would be a truly wise man in this world according to a human measure of wisdom: The last part of this verse says he is to become a fool, so that he may become wise. The way to true wisdom is to sink our opinion of our own wisdom to a lower level, and be willing to be taught by God.

let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
Let him rid himself of his worldly wisdom (all humanism; man centered philosophy), and be contented to be called a fool, and regarded as one, so that he may become wise unto salvation, by renouncing his own wisdom, and seeking that which comes from God. But probably the apostle refers to that person who, pretending to possess great wisdom and lots of information, taught doctrines contrary to the Gospel; and he attempted to justify and support his own opinions with arguments which he thought were convincing and indisputable. This man brought his worldly wisdom to bear against the doctrines of Christ; and probably much of what Paul found reprehensible in the Corinthian Church originated with such teaching.

Let him become a fool
1. Let him be willing to be regarded as a fool. If one is not willing to be considered a fool by those who value only human wisdom, they will never be able to become truly wise. “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Psalms 25:9; KJV).
2. Let him sincerely embrace this Gospel, which will inevitably expose him to the charge of being a fool.
3. Let all his earthly wisdom be regarded in his own eyes as worthless and foolishness as far as the great matters of salvation is concerned.

That he may be wise—That he may have true wisdom; that which comes from God. It is implied here:
1. That the wisdom of this world will not make a man truly wise.
2. That a "reputation" for wisdom may contribute nothing to a man's true wisdom, but may stand in the way of it.
3. That before a man can embrace the Gospel, it is necessary for him to be willing to cast off all dependence on his own wisdom, and come with the nature of a child to the Savior.
4. That to do this will expose him to the accusation of fool, and the ridicule of those who are wise in their own conceit.
5. That true wisdom is found only in that science which teaches people to live for God, and to be prepared for death and for heaven—and that science is found only in the Gospel.

19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
Paul was a Jew, but he lived in a world that was dominated by Rome; therefore, he saw the world as consisting of Jews and Gentiles; but all the wisdom they possessed was nothing more than foolishness in the eyes of God. It is worthless to him; it is despised and neglected by him; he makes it foolish, destroys it; he lays it aside, because it is unable to make men wise unto salvation, and so, by the foolishness of preaching He saves them that believe; he passes over the wise and prudent, and hides the things of the Gospel from them; so, that, with all their learning and wisdom, they cannot comprehend the mysteries of grace, while he reveals them unto babes, and chooses the foolish things of this world to spread the knowledge of himself, his Son, his Gospel, and the truths it contains; and all of it confuses the wise and learned.

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