Good morning. Please turn with me in your bibles to 1st Corinthians in the New Testament. The text to which I would like to turn our attention this morning is found in the end of 1st Corinthians chapter 3. 1st Corinthians chapter 3.
It is a joy to return again to our study of this letter from the Apostle Paul to a young church in the Greek city of Corinth.
Thus far in our study of this letter we have seen that Paul is making a long and layered argument. From chapter 1 verse 10 all the way into chapter 4, Paul is making a sharp and direct case against the quarreling and division going on in the Corinthian church, specifically quarrelling and division surrounding ministry leaders.
Most recently we have seen Paul use several analogies to describe the church, in order that he might demonstrate the foolishness of their divisions. For example, in verses 5-9 of chapter 3, he uses the analogy of a farm to describe the ministry. Different farmers have different roles, but only God can actually produce the growth.
Then in verses 10-15 He uses language of a construction project. Everyone builds onto a foundation, and every worker will have his work tested on the final day to demonstrate its value. Only that which is built with quality materials and built on the foundation of Christ alone will stand through the fire.
Then in verses 16 and 17 Paul moves from a general construction analogy, to a very particular analogy: that is, the church is called the Temple of God. Like we discussed last time, this temple is language is full of Old Testament imagery, and speaks to the theological foundation of Paul’s exhortations. If God fills the church like he filled the temple with his presence, and God is united, then it is unfitting that the church would not also be united.
Then, in our text for this morning, verses 18-23, Paul moves to preliminarily conclude his arguments against divisions and factions. Each of these analogies that he has been recently using, along with each of the other threads of arguments made throughout the first 3 chapters, are all tied together in a wonderful, theological, indeed doxological bow at the end of chapter 3. Let’s read together verses 18-23:
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
In our text this morning we will notice two main points: first, a deception to be avoided, and second, a perspective to be maintained. A deception to be avoided, and a perspective to be maintained.
First, let’s look at the deception to be avoided. He begins verse 18 by saying, “18 Let no one deceive himself.” Let nobody deceive HIMSELF. Self-deception is the danger that Paul is urging the Corinthians to avoid.
Sometimes, the danger to the church comes from the outside, and it is easy to spot. For example, in Galatians 3 Paul talks about the Judaizers that had come in and bewitched the people of Galatia. The threat was from the outside.
Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul warns about the false apostles that came to Corinth and proclaimed another Jesus and a different gospel. Again, the threat was from the outside.
But here in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is warning about a different kind of threat. A threat from within. A threat of self-deception. A threat of arrogance and conceit. A threat of pride.
Paul again exhorts them, “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” The language is the same as he gave in chapter 1. The problem is that the Corinthians considered themselves to be wise.
They thought too highly of themselves. And the solution was not that they learn some more stuff. The solution was not that they gain more worldly wisdom. The solution was that they become fools. More on that in a minute.
But in verse 19 we get the theological rationale for what Paul is urging. “19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” The wisdom of this world is folly to God. This statement is the same in content as chapter 1:18-25, but it is here stated in reverse, which highlights what God’s evaluation of worldly wisdom is. And it is God’s evaluation of that wisdom that ultimately matters, isn’t it?
Then Paul quotes for us two different Old Testament passages from Job and the Psalms: “For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”” He’s taking language related to hunting and applying to how God deals with the haughty. The hunter may catch a cunning prey by using his its own craftiness to spring the trap. Similarly, God traps the worldly wise by their own worldly-wise devices.
They think they are so crafty, so clever, but their very own cleverness becomes the occasion for their unmasking, and their undoing. Going back to the imagery of verse 17, they think they are building God’s temple through their own wisdom, but they’re actually destroying it, and because they destroying God’s temple, God will destroy them.
This is sobering stuff. Paul is in effect saying to the Corinthians: “Don’t think that you can adopt the philosophies and values of the world as if such choices do not have a profoundly detrimental impact upon the church. Do not think you can get away with it. Do not kid yourself that you are with it…when in fact you are leaving the gospel behind and doing damage to God’s church.”
The path of true wisdom is the path of the cross, the path of death. That’s the path of true glory: it is to side with God, and not with the world. DA Carson described it this way: “The world pants after strong leaders, but leaders in the church must first of all be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. The world parades its heroes and gurus; Christians remember that God loves to choose the weak and the lowly and the despised—the nobodies—so that no one may boast before him. The world tries to impress with its rhetoric and sophistication, cherishing form more than content. The apostles of Jesus Christ prize truth above style and quietly refuse to endorse any form that may prove so attractive, so diversionary, that the centrality of the gospel truth is jeopardized.”
We would be wise to remember that this temptation is certainly active today. It didn’t go away with the Corinthians, and it doesn’t go away when we come to Christ. The self-deception of pride and the lure of Worldly wisdom is alive and well, both for churches and for each of us as individuals.
As a church, you see the lure of worldly wisdom whenever you see an emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal. For example, when you have an emphasis on finances, instead of faithfulness.When a church looks at its budgets and receipts and assumes it must be doing OK, rather than actually doing the hard work of heart work, then that church has succumbed to a worldly evaluation of success. Finances instead of faithfulness.
Or, it may not be finances. A church can be tempted by worldly wisdom to evaluate programs, rather than purity. By that I mean, a church can assume that just because it is BUSY, then it must be HOLY. Which is totally upside-down, but it is a real temptation. And it is a peculiar shame too, that a religion founded upon grace and not works can get so mixed up that it substitutes its own works, our own busyness, as the measure of our standing in grace. We can’t allow ourselves to be so self-deceived to believe that just because we have a lot going on that we are automatically growing in holiness. Programmatical busyness doesn’t equal purity.
Or another one. A church can succumb to worldly wisdom when it emphasizes quantity over quality. Quantity over quality. Sometimes churches can look at the number of baptisms, the number of visitors, the number of members, and assume that God must be blessing it, and therefore they must be doing something well. But, to go back to the language of verses 10-15, we must be careful how we build, not with hay and straw, but with the precious stones of faithfulness to God and his word.
Many churches today are building ministries that will not stand the test of fire on the last day. Their works, their busyness, their huge volume of activity will be scorched and proven fruitless in the end, if they are laboring with shoddy materials, or with faulty methods, or for selfish ends. We mustn’t succumb to worldly temptations to prize quantity over quality.
But this temptation toward arrogant self-deception and worldly wisdom is not just for churches. It is also a temptation that each one of us face. For example, every time I am tempted toward outward religiosity without internal reverence, I’ve succumbed to worldly wisdom. When I focus on outward performance without a heart of reverence toward God, I’ve missed the boat. Such hypocrisy is unequivocally condemned by Jesus, and in some of His harshest terms. Polishing the outside of the cup, while the inside is nasty. Whitewashed tombs, but inwardly full of death. That’s how Jesus spoke of the hypocrites.
But that’s the temptation of arrogance. That’s the self-deception of Pride. The rules apply to everyone else, but not to me. My situation is different. My circumstances are unique. I don’t have to abide by the same rules. I’m exempt because I am so special. That’s what the world likes to do.
The worldly wise man likes to condemn people for greed, but has no problem seeking selfish gain. The world mocks those in authority, but then demands no one mocks them. They demand immediate justice when they are sinned against, but want unlimited mercy when they are the transgressors.
In short, pride thinks that everybody else should be judged by an unbending law, while I must be granted mercy. Do you see the double standard? THEY are all guilty and must be punished, but I have earned the right to get off the hook. THEY are sinners, I am innocent. Such is the nature of self-deception. It destroys our relationships, it distorts our own perception of reality, and, if unchecked, will lead to hell.
The bible says that pride will lead to hell. God will catch the wise in his craftiness, the text says. There is no doubt in that statement; God doesn’t miss his prey. It is a fact.
And unlike the double standard of a prideful self-deception, scripture teaches that no one is innocent. Every one of us has broken the law. Every one of us has been prideful. Every one of us has been a hypocrite. Each of us has held others to standards that we would never meet ourselves. Each of us demands respect from others that we would never grant the same to. Each of us demands justice from others and yet want leniency for ourselves. In short, each of us is born a self-deceived hypocrite.
But the good news of God is that Christ came to save the ungodly. Christ came and lived a perfectly humble life, so that he could redeem a proud bride. He came to die on the cross for his church, taking the consequences of her prideful hypocrisy, and burying them in the grave. And when he walked out of the grave in humble glory, he walked out with her redemption in hand.
The consequences of her sin can never be charged against her. She has been washed. She has been purged. The true saints of God have been made sons and daughters of God almighty. That’s the power of the gospel. We go from being God’s prey that is caught it in its own cleverness, and instead receive adoption by a loving father, a faithful guardian, who provides for us all things in Christ.
If that’s you, if you are trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation, then be encouraged this morning that you have been saved from your pride. You have been awakened from your arrogant self-deception. God has spoken to you in Christ and granted you what you need.
Don’t go back to the worldly system. Don’t think to highly than you ought. Don’t think that the world revolves around you and your preferences and comfort. Christ gave up his comfort, even his life, so that you might have the same. You too are called to give up your preferences and comforts that Christ may save others through your labors.
And if you haven’t yet come to Christ, then hear the call of God today: become a fool, that you may become wise. Become a fool to the world, that you may gain the wisdom of God in Christ. Humble yourself, hear of the sin you have committed, hear of the holiness of God, and hear of the sacrifice of Christ in the place of his people. Believe in that Christ, look to him in faith, and turn from your sins today. You can be saved this very moment, if you but look to him as your savior.
Because it is only by becoming a fool, that you can taste true wisdom, and only by becoming nothing, that you can be granted all things.
And that leads to my second point: a promise to be enjoyed. A promise to be enjoyed. Look at verse 21:
21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
Why should we boast in no men? because all things are yours. The ethical exhortation has a theological foundation: no boasting, BECAUSE all things are yours. Paul here is using wonderful irony, and transforming the slogans that were used by his opponents.
Verse 4 tells us that some Corinthians would literally say “I am OF Paul…I am OF Apollos.” But in the farm analogy in verse 9 Paul borrows their language to say “You are OF GOD.” Now he makes the further transformation, by literally saying, “All things are OF You.” All things are yours, they are all of you.
What do you mean by that Paul? You can’t possibly mean ALL things. Get real, Paul.
But he is being real. He even begins to list the men that were the center of the debate: All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas. Paul’s point is this: you may not say, “I belong to Paul or Apollos or Cephas,” not only because that is to boast in mere humans, but because that is the precise opposite of reality in Christ. In him, Paul will later say… that God has already begun what will eventually be brought to full consummation, namely, “all things in heaven and earth [being brought] under one head, even Christ (Eph. 1:10).
To tie yourself to a particular ministry leader to the exclusion of others is to foolishly narrow what you’ve been given in Christ. All things are yours in Christ, so why would you claim to belong to just a single person? It doesn’t make sense.
But Paul’s list of everything belonging to a believer doesn’t just stop with a few ministry leaders. He expands that list with jarring speed:
“For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future.”
This promise of all things expands to the world (the cosmos), to life and death, and to present and future. Each of these are fundamental dynamics of a person’s life, or even the “ultimate tyrannies of human existence,” as one commentator put it. That means, each of these categories are thought-dominating and perspective-changing realms. Let’s look at them briefly.
First, the world. Paul says that the world is ours. This is my Father’s world, and as his adopted son, I am heir to all things. In Christ, specifically in his death and resurrection, God has declared that all of creation is under the jurisdiction of Christ as Lord. The cross has become the victory banner proclaiming Christ’s pre-eminence over the cosmos, including the most rebellious segments of the world and Satan. Christ is the conquering king, and his moment of conquest was the moment of the cross. The world is his, and for those united to him, we have the world also.
But Paul also says that life and death are ours. That means every aspect of our existence is ours, and no longer forfeited under the power of sin and death. The life we have is found because we have first been united to the fountain of life. That’s one of the ways that Jesus describes himself in John 14, as the “life.” Outside of him we had no life, we had no vitality. Our fate was sealed, and it was sealed with a sentence of eternal death.
But in Christ we have been granted life. Not merely spiritual life, undoing the spiritual curse from Genesis 3, but also eternal life in the new heavens and new earth.
But it is not merely life that is ours, but death as well. We will die, if the Lord tarries, but life cannot be taken from us. Death is transformed from a terrible, fear-driving specter, into a ferryman who carries us into life. The worst of all fates, now becomes the moment of greatest joy, and the scariest of all moments, leads us into the sweetest experience of bliss.
And this is true not merely of our place of existence (that is, the world), and our states of existence (that is, life and death), but Paul also says that in Christ we have been given even our times, both present and future. The present we live in light of a future that is so certain it is spoken of in the present tense in scripture. We are united to Christ in a present so secure that Paul speaks of us already being seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
We live the life of the future in the present age, and therefore the present has become our possession. For those in Christ, what things were formerly tyrannies are now [our] new birthright. This is the glorious freedom of the children of God. They are free lords of all things, not bound to the whims of chance or the [pressures]… of life and death. The future is no cause for panic; it is already [ours].
Thus, in light of such expansive realities, how can the Corinthians say, “I am of Paul, or Apollos or Cephas?” You do not belong to them; they belong to you, as your servants, because you—and they—are Christ’s.
You, Corinthians, may be boasting because you think you have sided yourself with the best part. You’ve latched on to the ministry leader that you think is the best, and by your decision, you think yourself as wise. But your “wisdom” has done nothing but demonstrate your foolishness.
By clamping onto a man and boasting in him, you have cut yourself off from a larger heritage, a larger inheritance in Christ. These men belong to the church in exactly the same way that the farmers described above belong to the field, and the construction workers belong to the building project. To focus on one part of the project as if it is everything is to cut oneself off from the project as a whole. To fasten undue and exclusive affection and loyalty on one leader is to depreciate how much there is to receive from all others. In other words, [divisive] factionalists overlook the wealth of the heritage we as Christians properly enjoy.
This Corinthian temptation, the temptation toward worldliness, toward self-deceiving arrogance, and toward divisions is an easy one to repeat, and it is an easy one to repeat in each of the areas: our leaders, our world, our life and death, and our present and future.
In the area of our leaders, we can be tempted to deify some, and demonize others. To lionize some, and to lament the work of others. I’ve preached on that before, so I won’t linger there today.
But in other these other areas, that is, our world, life and death, the temptation toward prideful self-deception is real too.
- Maybe somebody does something that I don’t quite agree with, or that is contrary to plans. My little world gets threatened, so I get angry, rather than trusting my world to God.
- Maybe someone makes a decision that impacts my financial security, and I get fidgety and covet somebody else’s economic situation. Rather than trusting that my life is in God’s hands, I fear that my future has been threatened.
- Or maybe I get sick, or someone I love gets a bad diagnosis. Rather than trusting that my deathis in the hands of Christ, I get all spun up and can’t stop thinking about it. In my pride I think that I can think my way out of death.
Brothers and sisters, be encouraged by Paul’s statement of truth.
—all are yours,23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
What a doxological way to land an argument! What a praise-evoking claim! And what a great way to unite his arguments against divisions among the Corinthians.
—all are yours,23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
What have I left to fear? What have I left to earn? What have I left to cling to? Nothing. Christ is my all and all, and in Christ, all has been made mine. No guilt in life and no fear in death. That is the motto of the great hymn, and it is a fine motto for a Pauline view of the Christian life.
Let us not boast in men, but boast in the gracious God who has granted us all things in Christ.
And as you hear this message, if you aren’t quite convinced of what I am saying, then I hope you will grasp the gravity of this message. Make clear in your mind the stakes of the situation. If you have not come to Christ, then know that each of these areas discussed ought to terrify you.
Outside of Christ, you actually have nothing. You may think that the world is your apple, but God can take it all from you in a moment.
Outside of Christ, you may think you have life. But apart from Jesus, every moment of life you reject him is just accruing for you more condemnation.
Outside of Christ, you may deceive yourself that death will never come, or that it won’t be as bad as the bible describes. But know that your death is coming sooner than you think, that the destination will be more terrible than you suppose, and the punishment will last longer than you can even imagine.
Outside of Christ, you may think that you have your present under control. But know that your handle on things is a mere illusion. You’re no more in control of your life than you are in control of the sun rising or the earth spinning.
And outside of Christ, you may think that you’ve got a handle on your future. But be warned that your future plans are but mere conjecture, totally contingent upon the sovereign will of the father. Biblically, the only thing I can assure you about your future is that you WILL face God, and that you WILL be judged.
Are you prepared to face that judge? Are you ready to stand before the all-penetrating gaze of our heavenly father? All of your deeds will be brought to light, and each deed will be stacked against you. Perfection is the standard, and holiness is the bar. That benchmark will be lowered for no one, and every soul will be tested against the bar.
Come to Christ today, and have your future secured, and your life guaranteed. Then you can face the judgement in the confidence of His perfection. You will be able to stand before God with boldness, knowing that although your sins have made you like scarlet, yet Christ has made you white as snow.
Do not delay, trust in this Christ, and you too can be granted all things in him, for you can be Christ’s, just as Christ is God’s.
 D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 84.
 Carson, 84.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987), 166.
 Fee, 167.
 Fee, 167.
 Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, 86.