A reputation for wisdom is something much sought after. It brings admiration and importance, and for some, a satisfying sense of superiority. It is scandalous that this pursuit was so prevalent among the believers at Corinth.
The church was in conflict as to which authority in the faith they adhered to and followed. The people had become partisan. There was the party of Paul and the party of Apollos. Paul and Apollos were set at odds with each other in their personalities and teaching, and the participants, thereby, were narrowing their appreciation of the faith as a whole, which both leaders together represented in its completeness. Such is the vastness and variety of divine revelation that it requires many kinds and minds to convey its inexhaustible wealth to human understanding. Our mental activity and emotional response to Holy Scripture cannot be limited to limited stimuli. A huge mine requires a large workforce and ministers are miners together in the task of exposing the nuggets of gold in the Word of God.
Prejudice, such as was seen in Corinth, is the application of blinkers that prevent well-rounded, mature comprehension of Scripture.
Members of the Christian community at Corinth had become childishly competitive with the catchphrases “I follow Paul” or “I prefer Apollos”. It was a matter of gaining prestige - a considerable preoccupation in some churches. Mere men were wrestling over allegiance to mere men. Paul deplores the situation: What after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building (vv5-9). Both leaders have the same faith with the same goal by different methods of ministry necessary for building up and nurturing the saints.
Christian wisdom does not foster strife but symbiosis - the association of compatible approaches to the truth of God in all its aspects. Wisdom is not divisive along the lines of human judgment but takes its cue from the revealed wisdom of God which is comprehensive and balanced and only disclosed to minds that are humble. Folk may take pleasure in factions so that they can display their cleverness. It is an underlying temptation and tendency in theology and Christian teaching. It is not pastoral but self-promoting. People aspire to be sages before men and not servants before God and his gospel.
Paul detects the disease of pride in Corinth. When pride becomes prominent divine guidance withdraws. Formerly faithful teachers of God’s word go off at a tangent and tangle others in their craftiness. Men begin to rely on their own insights and become the creators of novelty, abandoning the plain sense of Scripture. They parade so-called originality.
Paul issues a warning. Speculation arising from lack of dependence on God and closeness to him forms an alliance with passing fashions of thought borrowed from the world. The church becomes inundated with imported ideas from the contemporary culture. Experts, as they deem themselves to be, come to rely on human intelligence and tenuous theory and not the truth of divine inspiration and the illumination of the Holy Spirit described by Paul at some length (1 Corinthians 2:6ff). The mind of man, left to itself, meanders through a maze of mystery and confusion, and Paul’s verdict on the worldly comprehension of God happens to be: For the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight (v9).
Paul is not denying, or decrying, human knowledge and skill evident in so many legitimate ways. These can be, and are, great in many extraordinary manifestations of expertise, competence, and invention. He is lamenting man’s lack of judgment in the use of the knowledge he has gained and its ultimate meaning in the divine purpose, which should only bring him to humility and reverence before God. Every discovery is an insight into the unfathomable genius of God, and every accomplishment is meant to glorify him. Paul is puncturing the proud philosophies of men in their attempt to grasp ultimate truth through their own unregenerate acumen and observation that distort reality and misinterpret it. Subjectively, man’s perception is skewed by sin and self-deception.
Paul says the knowledge puffs up, whereas it should place us in lowly subjection and dependence upon God in admiration of his power and wisdom.
The thoughts of the wise of this world are futile (read the thoughts and autobiographies of the great, and in spite of their worthy ideals, objectives, and accomplishments their memoirs and conclusions peter out to anti-climax in the face of old age and death with either a sense of failure or the haunting doubt “what’s it all about”. Their lives are a puff of smoke and their grand ideas waft away on the invincible eddy of our mortality). Without the true knowledge of God and reliance upon him life is reduced to instant gratification, endless disappointments, and a grim demise. The lack of true and eternal hope sours the minds of the best of men so that Solon, the statesman of 6th century Athens, was known to have opined, “Call no man happy until he is dead”.
The arrogance of the wise of this world misleads them. They forget their limitations and that their ignorance of reality (embodied in and expressed accurately by Christ, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”) outweighs their knowledge of creation, human nature and destiny. There are so many factors concealed from us. If we are ignorant of the purpose of our Maker we misread all that he has produced.
There have been so many misreadings of the facts, so many discarded theories and philosophies, so many disastrous experiments and experiences, and hosts of dire errors in human existence that Paul is correct to brand them as “standards of this age”. They have no eternal validity or virtue. Human thought and life is so often guided by fads, grandiose and trivial. Our all too prevalent and ever present media inflicts worldly wisdom of both sorts upon us from so many sources that are suspect and so many silly talking heads of dubious credentials. We are over exposed to the foolishness of this world and less and less grounded in the solid wisdom of God that from time to time has benefited our civilization. And social media, so called, has facilitated the instant, ill-founded, even demented thoughts and ideas of the shallow and undiscerning.
How could you compare the authors of our great Reformed Catholic tradition with a Joel Osteen, or the sublime truths of the gospel with the syncretistic views of a Deepak Chopra? The former (our Reformed faith) lodges all hope in in the grace of God, the latter examples look to resources deemed to be deep within our true selves - which the word of God declares to be barren and bereft of any true good.
The wisdom of God is found in and derived from the Lord Jesus Christ - no mere man, but the God-man who connects man to God. We do not find our wisdom in man - there is no satisfaction there. The thinkers who are used by God direct us to him and him alone. They are mere humble and needy persons themselves. They do not wish us to be divided by disputes and divergent loyalties. They want us to possess all that God proffers in Christ (vv21-23).