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Message # 14 | 1 Corinthians 3:18-23 | May 1, 2016

Having been 8 weeks since our last message in 1 Corinthians, it is providential and appropriate that we land upon a passage that is a summary of the first three chapters.  Paul, in similar fashion to many authors, offers a “chapter summary” at the end of chapter 3.  Before stepping into the myriad of different topics which make up much of the teaching in 1 Corinthians, he pauses and reminds them of all he’s said so far . . .

Read Passage:  1 Corinthians 3:18–23 (ESV) 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.


Paul confronts this precious and beloved group of saints, the church of God, with the presence of division among them.  This division is primarily wrapped around two problems:

(1)  they boasted in human wisdom, and

(2)  they boasted in human leaders.

Human wisdom was exalted in contrast to the apparent foolishness of the message of the Gospel.  But also, the recipients and the messengers of the Gospel appeared to be foolish.

(1)  The message appears foolish (1:18-25)

(2)  The recipients of the message appear to be foolish (1:26-31)

(3)  The messengers appear foolish (2:1-5)

The rest of chapter 2 (vs. 6-16) outlines for us true descriptors of God’s wisdom.  In verses 6-10 we are offered 8 qualities of God’s wisdom and the following 6 verses describe how we are able to obtain that wisdom.  We come to realize that only the Spirit of God understands the wisdom of God.  Natural man cannot understand the wisdom of God; but spiritual man is able to, with the help of the Spirit, understand all things.

Secondly, we are made aware of this boasting in human leaders in the first chapter (1:10-17).  “I am of Paul, I am of Cephas, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ.”  Pride swelled up within them as they connected themselves to their most appreciated and respected leader . . . in so doing, they brought division within the church.

Paul goes on in chapter 3:4-7 . . . Their immaturity and lack of wisdom is displayed in their clinging to a human teacher, and their inability to process spiritual food on their own.  Their boasting in human leaders:

(1)  Manifested their carnality and immaturity (3:1-4),

(2)  Manifested a misunderstanding of these leader’s ministry (3:5-8), they’re only servants, and

(3)  Manifested a misunderstanding of God (3:6-9).  It was God who gave the increase. It is God’s cultivated field.

The Threefold Ugliness of Boasting [1]

On a message from this same passage, John Piper describes the ugliness of boasting in three ways:

(1)  It is ruining the souls of those who have it because their souls were made to exult in God not men. It’s as though a complex solar space device made to transmit distant interstellar sound waves got hijacked and put in some cheap radio station to transmit raunchy rock music all day. It’s not what we were made for. Boasting is prostitution of the human soul.

(2)  It is rending the fabric of community life into factions because of jealousy and strife (3:3). The first community act Adam performed after choosing to be self-reliant rather than God-reliant was to blame his wife Eve for the trouble they were in. And that is the way it has gone ever since. Pride destroys relationships.

(3)  It is robbing God of his glory, because the boast that is going to man should be going to him.

Purpose Statement:  Don’t rob God of His glory and produce division in the church by boasting in your wisdom or the wisdom of others.

Fallen Condition Focus:  It is these two areas in which we’ve been deceived into thinking possess value and security.  Paul starts this summary paragraph with the statement, “Let no one deceive themselves.”  He then goes on to outline two ways in which we are deceived . . . (1) we think that our wisdom is of great value; when in reality, our earthly wisdom is empty and worthless, and (2) we are deceived into a sense of security as we align ourselves under human leaders.

Message Outline

Division in the Church Occurs When We Boast In Our Own Wisdom.

Division in the Church can be eliminated with a proper view of ourselves. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.  Be cautious to not depend on your own wisdom, and remember the church does not need your wisdom.  The church does not need your opinions.   What the church needs is to “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Colossians 1:9–10 (ESV) 9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Therefore, the Word of God must be set up as the authority for our church, not our own wisdom.

Paul goes on to say, “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.”   To be wise, one must be willing to become a fool in the eyes of the world.  For the wisdom of the world is folly with God.

Two Scripture Passages to Prove His Point:

Eliphaz’ Ironic Counsel to Job.  Paul quotes from Job 5:13.

Job 5:13 (ESV) He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

Eliphaz rebuked Job by communicating that the innocent prosper and the evil are destroyed.

Job 4:7–9 (ESV) 7 “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? 8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. 9 By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

Both Elihu and God burn with anger towards Eliphaz for his lack of wisdom.

Job 32:3 (ESV) 3 He [Elihu] burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.

Job 42:7–8 (ESV) 7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore . . . go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

The Psalmist acknowledgment of wisdom’s futility.

The word translated “futile” here in 1 Corinthians is translated as “breath” in Psalms.  Psalms uses this word 10 times and always refers to things that are worthless, nothing, and brief.  Solomon uses this same word more times than anywhere else in the book of Ecclesiastes.  He outlines how all of life is “a vapor” or is brief, has no value, unsatisfying . . .

Solomon sought for knowledge under the sun (Ecc 1:12-18) only to find that it was void and empty.  So, he sought after pleasure (2:1-11) and concludes that mirth and pleasure also are vanity. . . . labor (3-5), wealth (6), possessions (2:4-7) . . . all of them had no lasting satisfaction, were worthless and empty.

When you are left to our thoughts and those thoughts are not intersected by God and His truth . . . they offer nothing of lasting value.  The only value our thoughts possess are when they correspond with God’s truths.

Divison in the Church Occurs When We Boast in People.

When we come to the end of our own wisdom, we tend to find someone in which we can fix our security.

Boasting in men . . . if boasting is the verbal reflection of internal pride, then boasting in men must be motivated by one’s internal pride of what?  While there may be more, let me offer two possibilities:

(1)  Internal pride due your connection with that person, or

(2)  and maybe a little more absurd, your pride in possessing the wisdom of the other person.

I have observed and experienced both of these two rather absurd moments of pride.  I have sensed pride in my life due to my connection with an “important person.”

“I was at a conference with “so and so” and I could actually see them in real life . . . I know I’m amazing.  I even got a picture with them afterwards.  Yes, I can sign your Bible later. Anyway, they said . . . so you should listen to me.”

And all of a sudden the spirit of one-upmanship is upon us . . . “Well, I don’t even like him.  But, I went here and this guy was there and he said this . . . “

And all of a sudden we sense a spirit of division within the church.

Or, we find our security in the quoting of prominent people . . .

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.”

Eminem said, “The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.

John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

When we come to the end of our own wisdom, we find our comfort in aligning ourselves with the wisdom of others.  We are insecure, so we find our strength in others.

And yet Paul says, let no one boast in men . . . Paul has made this point in a less direct way in previous chapters . . . In chapter 1:10-17 he acknowledges that they’ve been boasting and it’s resulted in division.  In chapter 2:29-31 he exhorts all to boast in the Lord . . . but in chapter 3, he addresses it a bit more direct, “let no one boast in men.”

Why?  And I think the answer to this question may not have been what any of us were expecting . . . Why are we not supposed to boast in men?  Because all things are yours.

Simply put, the Corinthian believes were not supposed to boast in their having aligned themselves under Paul because Paul was their servant . . . but not only Paul, so was Apollos, and so was Cephas.  All of these men were servants to the church.  Instead of looking to one man for all their answers, they could have been benefitting from all of their leaders.

Garland: “The church is not the property of the Apostles.  Apostles are ministers of the church.” The Corinthians were claiming too little, since “all things are yours.” They possess all things, however, only because they belong to Christ.[2]

In a practical manner, consider the strengths of each of the elders at Cornerstone.  If you were to align yourselves to one at the expense of the others, you would not benefit from the strengths of them all.  That would be foolish.  We are all here, as servants, to be used as you may have need.

I feel this way about authors and commentators.  I surround myself with some of the best theologians and Christian authors I can as I sit at my desk and study God’s Word.  I don’t place myself under one of them as if they had all the answers.  They are all there to serve me.  What a blessing!

But Paul goes on . . . we possess the world, life, death, the present and the future.  In his commentary, Fee refers to these five items as the “ultimate tyrannies of human existence, to which people are in lifelong bondage as slaves.” [3]

And yet I am no slave.

I am no slave to this world.  I join this creation in awaiting the restoration of all things.  I join creation in its’ eternal song of glorifying God.  I see my Redeemer, Father, and Creator everywhere I look.  Everything in it and everything that happens in it is working together for my good.

I am no slave to life.  I possess abundant life.  I finally have the ability to live this life the way I was intended to. My breath is available to be used for God’s glory not my own unsatisfying, self-centered appetites.  Even my failures and sins are now used – not to incur God’s wrath – but as opportunities for growth and to conform me to the image of Christ.

I am no slave to death.  I do not serve death.  I am not bound to death.  “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54–57) . . . thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Death serves me, it is my transport to Christ.  It does not ensure God’s wrath in my life.  It does not usher me to eternal destruction . . . it ushers me into eternal life.

I am no slave to the present.  The present serves me.  There is value in every moment. It’s an opportunity to relish in the joys of life or the beauty of God’s creation.  It’s a moment to love another.  It’s a moment to extend grace and kindness, a moment to grieve, a moment to sing.  Every moment is an agent of God’s divine work in me.

I am no slave to the future.  It does not hover over me in some brooding form, threatening me with the unknown.  There is no fear of what the future may bring, because the future is my servant.  Whether it is death that ushers me into the presence of Christ . . . or sickness, pain, or grief that is used to drive me into the ever loving and comforting arms of Christ . . . or joy and victory that display God’s glory and grace.

All things are mine . . . Why?  Because I am in Christ and Christ is God’s.

Fee: They are yours because you belong to Christ; and all things are his (cf. 15:23-28). Thus it is only in him that the believer possesses all things; but in him the believer does indeed possess all things.[4]


[1] John Piper, “How Much Do You Own,” Blog, Desiring God, (March 13, 1988),

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 124.

[3] Gordon D Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987), 154.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 155.

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