Study Notes for I Corinthians 3:18-23 (click here for Study Sheet)
Paul returns to his theme of contrasting the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God. He reminds the Corinthians that they need to become foolish by the world's standards so they can become wise in God's eyes. And he cautions them against self-deception.
Deception is error camouflaged to look like truth. We are all vulnerable to deception in different areas of our lives. Because of the nature of deception, we don't know we're deceived when we actually are. Paul is saying in this passage that opinions, knowledge, and standards that seem logical and wise to us may really be keeping us from truth. Truth, he says in essence, is based on reality as God sees it. Worldly wisdom, on the other hand, is based on the perception of reality that humans have when they're not spiritually reborn.
Knowledge can actually deceive us. Knowledge is not a bad thing, but knowledge without spiritual discernment is only part of the picture. Truth, says author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, is always a paradox. To teach only half of the paradox is to teach heresy, he emphasizes.
I Corinthians 8:1-3 says, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God."
Knowledge is half of the paradox of wisdom. Love for God is the other half of the paradox. One half of the paradox is factual knowledge. Understanding the facts is part of having wisdom. We can feel proud of our knowledge. We worked hard to get it! But knowledge doesn't change our hearts.
The other half of wisdom is love for God. The astonishing thing about this part of the paradox is that love for God results in God knowing us. God's knowing us doesn't look like an increase in our own understanding. Yet Paul says, "The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." When we love God, we let him into the most intimate places in our hearts. He knows us. And when we open our secrets to him, his love changes the ways those secrets affect us. When we love God we don't have to hide ourselves from others anymore. God's love heals and changes us, and those healed places become sources of discernment and strength and perception. With our spiritual healing and awakening, our intellectual knowledge becomes part of our understanding. Our knowledge is no longer the standard by which we evaluate other people's opinions and actions. Rather, our knowledge becomes subject to the love of God. When we love God, we now "know as [we] ought to know."
The World's Wisdom
Knowledge and wordly-wisdom appear wise because clever people without reborn hearts can use their "wisdom" to "get ahead." They learn to play political games; they learn to make money regardless of the cost to themselves or others; they become gurus of how-to and self-help. They use their knowledge to achieve power, leadership, wealth, and status.
Their "wisdom", however, often trips them up. Many lose family, fortunes, and friends because of their obsessions and because of their indifference to the people in their lives.
When powerful people fall, we are both disillusioned and secretly delighted. We both envy and hate them. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against a "Christian" form of this type of hero worship.
"No more boasting about men!" he admonishes. Don't follow Apollos or Cephas or Paul, he had told them. Don't become a disciple of Billy Graham or Chuck Smith or Dale Ratzlaff of Mark Martin. They are men. Following them puffs us up with pride in our superior knowledge or experience or insight. We identify with them.
When we follow Jesus, however, we won't be disappointed. Jesus won't let us down. He won't get too busy to acknowledge us properly. He won't change his theology. He won't leave us.
When we love Jesus our view of our spiritual leaders changes. We won't think of ourselves as "belonging" to them in some sense. We think of ourselves as belonging to God. We see that Graham and Smith and Ratzlaff and Martin also belong to God. We see that in Christ we are all equal. We are all part of Christ's body. We all need each other. We see that God doesn't love one of us more than the other; he merely assigns us different jobs.
When we are in Christ "all things are [ours]," Paul says. Through the Holy Spirit God's power and love and wisdom and insight are all ours. Even his resources are ours. As Christ-followers and members of his body, we belong to each other. Our gifts are for each other's service. In Christ, Paul emphasizes, all things, "whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [or Graham or Smith or Ratzlaff or Martin] or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are [ours], and [we] are of Christ, and Christ is of God."
Our True Identity
In Christ we are forgiven, and we are counted righteous. We are spiritually alive and filled with the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus has restored our connection to God by dying for our sin, we live intimately with the Living God. He is actually in us! We are "of Christ, and Christ is of God."
As Christ's church, we carry the living Jesus into the world. God is calling us to look up, to change the way we see reality. Reality in Christ is eternal. Truth is much greater than we can see with our eyes. Only with the Holy Spirit in us can we discern the truth of what Jesus has done and of what he asks us to do. He has given us everything. Because all things-the world life, death, the present, the future-are his, they are also ours if we are in him. The power of evil cannot claim us or destroy us when we are in him.
As Christ-followers we are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and his finished work. Only the gospel has the power to make the wisdom of the world foolishness, and the foolish wise.
God calls us to submit our knowledge and experience to him. He calls us to love him, to let him know us. God wants to make us wise by being in an intimate relationship with us. He wants us to open our guarded secrets and fears to him; he wants to heal and strengthen us.
God calls us to be transformed by his love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.