18Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." 21So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
In the Disney movie, The Lion King, the father of the main character, the lion Simba, has died. Following his father’s death, Simba ran away and found a new group of friends that taught him that the real meaning of life was to have fun, relax, and not worry about anything. He thinks that he has found true wisdom that will bring true happiness in life. Yet, in one poignant scene, a wise old monkey confronts him with the reality. The truth of the matter, says the monkey, is that Simba is more than he has become. He is like a kid sitting next to a gourmet meal but eating mud pies, because he has convinced himself that the mud is as good as it gets.
This is something of the point that Paul has been trying to make to the Corinthians and will continue to make in different ways throughout this letter. They are more than they have become. When they spiral into in-fighting, power games, and following men, they are showing that they have bought into the wisdom of the world and are judging things by man’s standards rather than God’s. They are behaving just like the world around them that believed they needed to belong to someone great and powerful in order to be someone of any worth. This is why they have descended into arguments over who baptized them and to which apostle they belong.
The reality that Paul wants them to see runs deep throughout Paul’s theology. This is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in Romans 6, where Paul argues that at baptism a Christian actually enters into the death, burial, and resurrected life of the Messiah. This is vital to understand because Paul believes that through his death and resurrection, Christ has already entered into the life of the age to come. Because he has already entered in, those who share in his death and resurrection also enter into the ‘age to come’ while still in this present age. Christians are, in Paul’s theology, to live in a completely different reality than the world around them because we already share, in some sense, what we will have fully when Christ returns to make all things new, namely, the life of the age to come.
To understand all of that begins, then, to make sense of Paul’s point in this passage. He adamantly tells the Corinthians that they should reject any notion of being wise by human standards. When one has really embraced the life and mind set of the ‘age to come’ they will seem foolish to the world around them. By the world’s standards they will seem foolish. The great reversal of the Christian life, however, is that what seems foolish to everyone else is actually true wisdom. It is in fact, the very things that the world values as wisdom that God sees as foolish. It would make more sense for two ants to stand at the feet of a human and argue over which ant is wiser, than it does for humans to value human wisdom to the point where they are creating factions and putting others down based on their own human standards.
In making his point, Paul quotes loosely from Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to present a cosmic irony. When people act with craftiness and worldly wisdom to try to avoid God’s will, He uses their very craftiness to capture them. The more they try to exalt their own wisdom and posture themselves before God and humanity as wise, the more they are really demonstrating their foolishness. What is particularly disturbing to Paul is that the Corinthians were falling into this web of foolishness. Their so-called wisdom was causing them to ignore the wisdom of God that was revealed in the Cross of Christ. They were gripping tightly to the values and life of the present age rather than taking hold of the life and values of the age to come that was available to them in the life of Christ.
Paul wants them to stop settling when they should have so much more than they have. In fact, he utters some shocking words to help them see that point. He says that all things are yours. This, of course, applies only when they are of Christ. How silly it is to engage in personality cults when everything in the cosmos belongs to them. How can this be true? He is, again, speaking of the ‘age to come’, when God will rule the entire cosmos and His people will rule with them (see Matthew 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 1:6 for more on this idea). When he says that they are of Christ and Christ is of God, his point is that the Messiah was serving God’s will so he was functionally subordinate to the Father but not inferior in nature, type, or essence. It is the same way for the apostles. They are the servants of the Church, as all leaders are (but not inferior in nature, type, or essence). This is, of course, yet another area that is quite the opposite from the wisdom espoused by the world.
Don’t deceive yourself. We all fall prey to the thinking and mindset of the world at times. Take some time this week to carefully examine your life. Ask some who know you well if need be. In what areas does your life and thinking more resemble human wisdom than Godly wisdom? How would your life look differently if you truly embraced God’s wisdom and the life of the ‘age to come’ and rejected the standards of human wisdom?