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Weekly Word

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Saturday
May062017

Rejecting Worldly Wisdom

1 Corinthians 3:18-23, and James 3:13-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 30, 2017.

Last week we talked about the spiritual powers behind the wisdom of this age and the tactical error they made in crucifying Jesus.  Today we are going to explore further the Holy Spirit’s injunction for believers in Jesus to reject this world’s wisdom and to embrace the wisdom of God.

Truly we live in a wonderful time technologically.  And yet, we also live in a horrible time in respect to the dangers that surround us from that same technology.  It seems apparent that as the good that technology can do for us grows, so the evil that it can do to us grows as well.  This direct proportionality cannot be avoided or sidelined as we broach the subject of wisdom.  Nuclear threats, cultural threats, government encroachment on freedoms, all of these dangers and more come from technology or are exacerbated by the technology at hand.  Thus, we need to understand that these passages, which talk about the wisdom of mankind and of the powers of this age, are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago, even though their technology was quite primitive compared to ours.  As our technology increases, weaknesses within the mind and hearts of mankind will become more dangerous and our lives more fragile.  Thus it is critical for us to heed these warnings against worldly wisdom and the gracious offer of God’s wisdom, which is Jesus the Christ.

Christians can deceive themselves

Paul is writing to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth.  Just as Adam and Eve were pulled into rebellion against God through deception, so Paul warns believers to beware the deceptions found in the wisdom of this world.  In verse 18 the use of the word “seems” highlights the reality that most of what we call wisdom lies in the arena of what people think.  Many people seem wise and want to appear wise, but the underlying question is whether or not it is truly wisdom.  Thus the desire to be seen as wise is itself a trap that we must beware.  Thus Romans 1:22 says, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”  Now we are not just talking about being knowledgeable, or having great technology.  Wisdom is that aspect of knowing that informs what the next move should be.  Knowing determines how to do something, but wisdom informs whether it should be done or not.  Paul focuses on those who seem to be wise in this age.  They have learned to look wise among a particular people who have a particular world view.  He tells them that when you look wise in this world’s eyes then you are in danger of deceiving yourself.  If this age thinks you are wise then a big red flag should go up in our hearts.  We will talk about this more, but we do much damage to ourselves and others through trying to appear wise.

Paul challenges such desires and such wisdom by stating that we must first become a fool in order to become wise.  It is important to note that this is actually given in a command form.  He is calling for an about face for any Christians who appear to be wise according to the mindset of this world.  He is not encouraging Christians to do foolish things like drink and drive, or jump off tall buildings.  He is challenging believers to fully embrace the mindset and commands of Jesus (his wisdom).  The world will always see this as foolish.  Sure, at different times and in different places it may be in vogue to have a little bit of Jesus adorning our outward appearance.  But at its heart this world rejects the wisdom of Jesus.  Half embraces of Jesus are okay, sometimes.  But the wise of this world always take the idea of Jesus captive to their own reason, instead of becoming captive to the will of Jesus themselves.  To follow Jesus fully will always be thought foolish by this world and by worldly Christians, whether you are in the U.S.A. or in Iran.

In verse 19 the preposition “with” emphasizes being in the presence of God.  This world claims great wisdom, but in God’s eyes they are foolish, and when they stand before Him in eternity they will be made aware of that folly.  How can we claim to be in the presence of God while holding on to worldly wisdom?  Christians must quit trying to look wise to the world and think more about how they appear to our Lord Jesus. 

Now Paul gives two quotes.  The first is from Job 5:13, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.”  The emphasis is on those who abandon the wisdom of God and follow the wisdom of this world.  This false wisdom always leads to some kind of trap in which we are forced to face our folly.  In this trap we are forced to make a decision.  Either we will hold on to the wisdom of this world, or we will repent and be saved.  A great illustration of this in the Bible is Haman in the story of Esther.  He hated Mordecai and the Jews.  Thus he used his great wisdom and skill to try and have him killed along with his people.  Haman had a huge gallows built on which he sought to hang Mordecai.  The story ends with Haman being hung on his own gallows by decree of the King of Persia.  We are not always trapped so drastically in this life.  But no matter what, when we die and stand before God, we will all face such a drastic moment.  Will the King of the heavens and the earth think I have done wisely or will He send me into judgment?

Now the second quote is from Psalm 94:11, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”  This psalm is a cry for God’s judgment to take down the wicked (the wise of this world) and to raise up the righteous.  When it says that the thoughts of the wise are “futile,” the word used is the same one used in the famous line from Ecclesiates, “Vanity, Vanity…”  The word has the idea of emptiness, nothingness, meaninglessness.  The thoughts of the wise end up empty, no matter how full they appear for the time.  Solomon,  the wisest man in the world in his day, realized that without God all our wisdom is vanity.

We should not boast in people

Starting in verse 21, Paul brings this to his point in hand.  The Corinthian’s worldly wisdom had led them to boast in certain Christian teachers over the top of the Apostle Paul.  Their desire to seem wise within the Greek world affected their ability to receive the wisdom that Paul was giving them.  They would compare the looks, rhetorical ability, and charisma of these teachers, instead of comparing them to the Scriptures.

Paul approaches this problem by pointing out the foolishness of it.  God is the one who had given the Corinthians all of these teachers: Paul, Peter, Apollos, and others.  God must have had a wise purpose in sending these very different men, who had varying appeal to the wisdom of this world.  When Paul says in verse 21 that “all things are yours,” he means that they were holding on to one person while diminishing and pushing away others.  Yet, God intended for them to have them all.  This is very typical today.  We gravitate towards those teachers who make us feel good and wise and push aside those teachers who don’t.  This is a foolish kind of wisdom that will lead to our own spiritual destruction if we are not careful.  It is bad enough when we boast in one godly teacher over another.  But such a mindset sets us up for being caught up with false teaching.  What if the devil comes along and is the essence of worldly wisdom?  Will we not be easily caught up and trapped in his nets of reason and shackled in his chains of logic?  Thus, they don’t belong to them in the sense that they can do anything they want with them.  He means that they were all given for their benefit.  So their "choosiness" was resisting the wisdom of God.

In verse 23, Paul takes this thought full circle.  God has given the believer everything for their good, but everything (including the believer) belongs to Christ and Christ belongs to God the Father.  Thus everything comes from God and belongs to Him.  This calls for humility under God’s wisdom.  We don’t always know why He has sent certain gifts into our life, yet it is not mine to receive or reject as I wish.  This is because our life belongs to God.  We are to live it for His glory and purposes.  We need to get our eyes off of people, what they think about us and what we think about them.  This is a trap in which we will find ourselves securely fastened.  Only by the grace of God will we be delivered.

We must embrace the true wisdom of God

Now, let’s go to James 3:13-18.  James is dealing with the same tendency of believers to use the wisdom of this world instead of the wisdom of Jesus.  These Christian groups were breaking out into squabbles and fighting amongst themselves.  Thus his letter serves to rebuke and instruct them.

The question in verse 13, “Who is wise and understanding among you,” opens up a world of issues.  Just like Paul using the word “seems,” so James is pointing out this area of our thinking.  The whole problem in the area of wisdom is exactly summed up in who would raise their hand to such a question?  The question itself highlights the problem.  We all think we are wise and tend to use worldly wisdom in who we model ourselves after.  When we operate from a worry of what other think, we are on a sinking ship that is sailing to destruction.  Yet, this question is also a challenge.  If you really want to be wise, then listen to the wisdom that God has given James for you.

If you are really wise then prove it by your good conduct and meekness.  Fighting, slandering, and boasting are not good conduct.  The New Testament is filled with the apostle’s descriptions of what is good conduct versus what is evil conduct.  We cannot be doing bad things to others and claim to be wise.  Such wisdom is worldly and rejected by God.  Not only must we do the wise thing, but it should be done in a wise way, meekly.  Meekness is a gentle spirit and a mild disposition.  This is the opposite of a person who is fighting and squabbling with others.  It is hard to be meek in the best of situations.  But it is even harder when you know you have the wisdom of God and others are rejecting it.  God does not want us to force His ways on others.  He does not want us to toss meekness out the window and focus merely on results.  Instead He wants us to speak the truth in love with a gentle spirit, with the Holy Spirit filling and enabling us.

In verse 14 James points out that if we persist in such self-seeking and envious “wisdom,” then we are lying against the truth.  God says we are not wise to do such things, and yet we keep doing them and calling ourselves wise.  Christians and their lives should agree with God and not lie against Him.  In the end our self wisdom maligns the Truth and the Character of God.  We can become a reason why people reject Him.  They already have worldly wisdom.  Why would they also embrace Jesus?  The truth is that Christians cannot follow the wisdom of Jesus and the wisdom of this world.  To become a Christian is to reject the world’s wisdom, to pick up our cross, and to follow Him.

In verses 15-16, James points out that the wisdom of this age does not come from God.  It has an earthly source; that is it is only focused on matters of the earth.  It also has a sensual source.  The word translated here focuses on those senses of our flesh versus what the Spirit of God desires.  Lastly it has a demonic source.  Instead of wisdom coming down from heaven, it is folly masquerading as wisdom and coming up from the demons of hell.  So James reminds us of our three greatest enemies: the world, our own flesh, and the devil.  Christians must not live by a wisdom that is derived from such sources, and don’t be deceived.  The wisdom of this world is derived by these sources.  I can’t follow Jesus and cling to demonic wisdom.  I will love one and hate the other, no matter how long I try to walk the fence.  The true origin of what masquerades as wisdom in our day and age is found here.

In verse 17 and 18, James turns to God’s wisdom.  God’s wisdom is evident and can be easily judged by us and others.  He says that it is pure.  It is unadulterated in its desires and motives.  It is not mixed with selfish motives, but simply follows the Spirit of God.  It is also peaceable and gentle.  Thus our choice to strive with one another and push our own interests above others is rebuked.  The wisdom of God is willing to yield.  Instead of fighting with another to win the argument, we step back and leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.  It is full of mercy as opposed to harsh judgment, and it is full of good fruit.  This is a metaphor for the good conduct mentioned earlier.  Lastly, God’s wisdom is without favoritism and hypocrisy.  It is easy to see that each of these points is obvious, and yet they are easily failed.  Our wisdom pulls us away from what God has made obvious.

James ends with the point that the person, who has the wisdom of God, will sow the truth about Jesus peacefully so as to bring peace to them.  The nature of a seed is that we put it in the soil and then let nature take its course.  Too often we forget this wisdom of God.  May the Lord help us to see the ways in which we have held on to the wisdom of our modern age in resistance to the true wisdom of God.

Rejecting Worldly Wisdom audio