Scripture greatly prizes the true wisdom that comes from God. True wisdom finds its root and origin in the fear of the Lord, and it must be prized above silver and gold (Prov. 1:7; 16:16). This authentic wisdom comes through humble reliance on God and His Word, through belief that His way is always the right way. Paul calls this wisdom the “hidden wisdom of God,” manifested in its most exalted manner through the apparent weakness of the cross, which is the power of God unto salvation (1:18–2:16).
The false wisdom of the world, on the other hand, is grounded in the self-reliant pursuit of power and authority by worldly means. Such false wisdom plagued the first-century church in Corinth, where various factions of believers appealed to personal associations to gain church authority (1:10–17). In many ways, the epitome of worldly wisdom consists in using our connections to exalt ourselves over others instead of serving them. It has no place in the church. Regrettably, however, churches are too often “built” and destroyed by self-seeking individuals who leverage connections for power. Even sadder, we often let them do this. We want to be well connected and privileged, so we either imitate the Corinthians ourselves or we overlook church-destroying sins committed by powerful, charismatic, or otherwise talented people. In so doing, we think we are being wise, or at least that we will be able to mitigate any damage caused.
This should not be. As Paul says in today’s passage, we deceive ourselves if we think we can be successful in God’s eyes if we conduct ourselves in the church with false, worldly wisdom. The Apostle quotes Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to issue yet another warning against the wisdom of this world. Such wisdom might appear to make the church successful for a time, but it will be turned against us. God will catch us in our own craftiness, showing worldly wisdom to be foolish and futile (1 Cor. 3:19–20).
Our only recourse is to become fools in the eyes of the world by embracing the ways of God in the life of the church (v. 18). This entails seeing Christ as our model in all things, looking to Him and His Word and viewing all “wisdom” through the cross. John Calvin comments, “The Apostle does not require, that we should altogether renounce the wisdom that is implanted in us by nature, or acquired by long practice; but simply, that we subject it to the service of God, so as to have no wisdom but through his word.”