First Corinthians 1:10–3:23 is a long argument against worldly divisions in the church. Paul has argued that we shouldn’t try to leverage personal connections to gain authority and prominence in the church because that is contrary to the wisdom of God, which exhibits divine power in the self-giving weakness of the cross (1:10–31). No one can learn or believe this wisdom on their own, for it is revealed by the Holy Spirit (2:1–16). God builds His church through the proclamation of this message, which is a stumbling block to Jews and gentiles. The world sees this as folly, but if we follow the way of the world, our efforts will be in vain, as God will reveal the world’s wisdom to be foolishness (3:1–20).
Paul concludes His argument with a reference to the reason that we seek authority and prominence and with a theological explanation for why we need not reach for such things in ungodly ways. All people, even Christians, seek authority, or at least to be valued and recognized, because God made us for such things. The Lord created humanity in His image, giving us rule over creation (Gen. 1:26–28). We were made for glory, for the esteem proper to creatures. Adam forfeited that glory in Eden, and we have been trying to get it back ever since. That desire for esteem, for value, for glory, and for authority is not inherently evil; it comes from the Lord Himself. The problem is that sin twists this desire. We seek glory, authority, prominence, and value—the things that belong to royalty—not to serve other image bearers but to lord ourselves over them and even to replace God.
Redemption does not take this desire away from us, but the Holy Spirit more and more sanctifies it. Because sin remains, we are tempted to seek such things in ungodly ways, even in the church. We try to exploit personal associations for personal gain. To do this is foolish, however, not only because such exploitation is contrary to the way of the cross but also because we need not grasp for such things. They are already ours in Christ. We have regained in Christ all that we are looking for, even if the fullness of redemption awaits the consummation. We do not need to search for authority, for glory, or for prominence in ungodly ways because we have what we want already. We have it for certain because we belong to Christ and He belongs to God, who possesses all things and who can thus give us all things (1 Cor. 3:21–23).