Commentary on 1 Cor 3:18-23
Again Paul urges the Corinthians to put aside the “wisdom of the world” and learn to be a fool for Christ in the eyes of that world. To be a fool means to turn away from the ‘wisdom’ of the world, which will make one, in the eyes of many, a fool. It is the first step to real wisdom. It is only when we can recognise in the apparent failure and disaster of the Cross the triumph of God’s love that we begin to have true wisdom.
The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. The wisdom of this world believes in the pursuit of money and material wealth, success and power over others as the ways to fulfilment and happiness. People are even ready to die for these things but in the long run they do not lead to the fulfilment we all long for.
Quoting from the Book of Job (5:12-13), Paul says “The Lord knows wise men’s thoughts: he knows how useless they are.” God’s wisdom, on the other hand, is conveyed to us through the life and death of Jesus.
So, Paul continues, let no one boast on the level of human beings. He picks up again the call to unity which he raised at the beginning of his letter (1:10-13).
For instance, about being one person’s disciple rather than another. The Christian leaders – Paul, Apollos, etc – belong to the whole Church. No group can call one leader its very own. In other words, it was quite wrong – as the Corinthians apparently had been doing – to be investing their whole self in someone like Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas (Peter), or in the world in general, in life or in death, in the present or the future. All of these things are mere servants or agents of God and we can never stop at them.
So let there be no more talk that one group is for Paul and another group for Apollos. For “you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God”. Christians are in union with the Church’s true leaders and with Christ, who in turn is in union with the other members of the Trinity.
All, however they came to be members of the community, can have only Christ as the source of meaning for their lives. And it is through Christ, and only through him and not through any other human agency, that they will find access to God from whom they have come and to whom they are called to be finally united.
If the Corinthians were genuinely wise, their perceptions would be reversed, and they would see everything in the world and all those with whom they live in the church in their true relations with one another. On the level of ownership, one reads: God, Christ, church members, church leaders – in that order. But on the level of service one reads in the opposite direction.
Only when we see Church leadership in terms of service will we avoid the kind of situations which Paul is denouncing. Once we reverse the order we begin to create the factionalism that was hurting the Corinthian church. We might well apply this idea to the situation of our own church be it on the world, national or local level.