To claim God’s wisdom, we must be willing to let the world consider us fools. There’s a second truth found in these scriptures:
To claim God’s wisdom, we must recognize that real wisdom is a gift of God.
Paul wants us to understand that we can’t discover that truth on our own. We are not the authors of wisdom; we are its stewards.
In verses 21-23, he writes: “So then let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come: all things are yours. And you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” Paul uses an imperative form of the verb here, which leads some commentators to render it: “No more boasting about men!”
Earlier in this letter, Paul quoted from Jeremiah when he asserted to the Corinthians: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1:31). Now he picks up that thought and reminds them that because God is the source of all good things, there is no place for boasting about themselves or other human beings. All that we have comes from God’s hands – the creation itself, the air we breathe, the life we live, the wisdom we may hold.
When Paul observes, “For all things are yours,” he is borrowing a saying used by the Stoic thinkers to affirm their own self-sufficiency. But Paul takes that idea and turns it on its head, pointing out that they are not, in fact, self-sufficient, but utterly dependent on the God who is the source of everything. These Christians do possess all things, but not because of any inherent value or capabilities of their own; they possess all things because of their relationship to Christ.
In other words, the man or woman who boasts in their own wisdom is truly a fool.
There is an interesting twist here for those of us who serve as teachers or pastors or other leaders. As several commentators observe, Paul is reminding the believers that they do not belong to their teachers or leaders; they are not aligned with a party of Paul or Apollos or Cephas. No, those teachers belong to them; their leaders are their servants, because all of us are in relationship to Christ.
We are all of Christ. We are not of Paul or Apollos or Cephas. We are not of Swindoll or Jeremiah or Keller. We are not of the Johns – Piper, MacArthur or Maxwell. We are not even of Lewis. We are all of Christ. He is the one who went to a cross to purchase our salvation, and rose from the grave to purchase our eternity. As the hymn proclaims:
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
Wisdom is recognizing that all we need is Christ. He is all we have, He is all we need. Only in dependence on Christ are we freed to receive all that God has for us.
When we surrender our pretensions to wisdom and submit to the wisdom of God, we receive more than we could have ever imagined. What the world considers folly is the only true source of wisdom.
To claim God’s wisdom, we must recognize that authentic wisdom is a gift of God. Or to put it another way: If you really want to be wise you should become a fool.
A couple of years go our family traveled to Charlotte to watch Max McLean’s performance of The Screwtape Letters. As I watched his masterful performance, bringing the devilish Screwtape to life on stage, I began to wonder: who is the fool in this work?
There are plenty of candidates among the unseen players. Certainly you can make a case that the Patient is a fool. The Patient is the young man that is being tempted by Wormwood under the experienced tutelage of senior devil Screwtape. Although the Patient becomes a Christian, he wastes much of his short life in side roads and misplaced enthusiasms. He could be our fool.
Then there’s the couple that befriends the Patient, offering him witty conversation and social status that is quite attractive. He enjoys being with these worldly-wise folks who seem so trendy, so accomplished. They would draw him away from the faith he had come to hold and would redirect him into a worldly direction. Yes, we might think of them as fools.
But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that the ultimate fool was Screwtape himself. In his very last letter to Wormwood, after the death of the Patient – who is now lost forever to God – Screwtape closes with these words: “Once again, the inexplicable meets us. Next to the curse of useless tempters like yourself, the greatest curse upon us is the failure of our Intelligence Department. If only we could find out what He is really up to! Alas, alas, that knowledge, in itself so hateful and mawkish a thing, should yet be necessary for Power!”
For all his experience and skill – shared with a young protégé – Screwtape never really understood the power of the cross. He never understood grace. He never understood what God was up to. In every way that ultimately matters, he was a fool.
So there it is: In the economy of God, there truly is wisdom in folly. If you really want to be wise you should become a fool. A fool for Christ. A fool for the cross. A fool who trades everything this world values – status, ambition, reputation – for the only thing that can never be lost: the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.