“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So 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 the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
We’ve talked about a lot of contrasts over the past weeks as we’ve been covering the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: flesh and spirit, foolishness and wisdom, maturity and immaturity. These contrasts, which are found all over scripture, help us process our life today so that we can be more clear about our life today and our eternal destination.
- Romans 5 forces us to ask if we are “in Christ” or “in Adam”.
- As we saw last week, 1 John forces us to ask ourselves if we are walking in the light of God’s love as it overflows from us to others, or walking in the darkness of hatred.
- Ephesians 4 asks believers to evaluate themselves by asking if they are living as the “old man” we used to be before we knew Jesus or the “new man” we are now because we have been born again in His name.
- God asks us if we are acting as children of God (John 1:12) or
- children of the devil (Matthew 13:38, Eph 5:6),
- friends of the world or friends of God (James 4:4),
- as people who know they have a great inheritance waiting for them or as those who won’t inherit anything (1 Cor 6:9, Rom 8:17).
- We see the contrast between sinner and saint,
- righteous and unrighteous,
- lost and found,
- godly and ungodly,
- alienated and reconciled,
- cast out and chosen,
- cursed and accepted,
- guilty and forgiven,
- defiled and cleansed – and the list goes on. (Source: http://www.christinyou.net/pages/scrptcont.html)
I believe God gives us these contrasts for a purpose – to remind us that in the end there really will be a final, stark, uncompromising division of humanity. There will be the saved and the unsaved, the wheat and the chaff, the sheep and the goats, those who live in eternal life and those who live in eternal death, those who experience everlasting paradise and those who experience everlasting hell.
There won’t be a mushy-middle when it comes to eternity, and so, I believe God gives us these contrasts so that we can evaluate ourselves in light of them. Is my life characterized by wisdom of folly? Is this decision driven by my fleshly temptations or my spiritual maturity? Am I acting like an immature child right now or as a mature adult? Who do I see myself as? Where is my identity? What has God said about me? Where am I going?
These questions call us to introspection, which is exactly what I believe Paul is calling the Corinthians – and by extension us – to in our passage today.
My Dual Personalities
I was forced to do a little introspection over the past couple weeks. A little while ago someone told me that they were having a conversation about me and the person said something interesting. They said that they like me when I’m at their house or outside the church, but that I become a different person when I’m preaching. They like normal Al, but they don’t like preacher Al.
And it caused me pause for the last little while. I don’t ever want to be a hypocrite – saying one thing and doing another. Nor do I want to be some double-minded, dual-personality pretender who is a totally different person depending on where He is. If the true test of a man’s character is what they do when no one is watching, then surely there must be something to trying to be different people depending on where I am and who is around, right?
So, I’ve been chewing on that for a little while and have come up with my own little conclusion about why it might seem like I have dual personalities. I think it’s because I’ve made a commitment to myself to take serious things serious and not-serious things not-serious. My sense of humour is pretty situational and kind of goofy – sort of an acquired taste, if you will – and it’s gotten me in trouble a few times. Plus, I struggle with pride. So, since I’m trying to honour God and not draw attention to myself but Him, I tend to leave my personal side-comments out of my sermons. It’s not that they’re not rolling around up in my grey matter, it’s that I don’t let them out very often.
Is that being hypocritical or two-faced? I don’t think so, and I hope not. I’m just the kind of guy that will, in the same night, read a biography of a 16th century preacher, and then lie in bed watching the newest episodes of My Little Pony. I’m all of that, all at once, so I don’t think I’m a hypocrite when I choose to emphasize one or the other – but here’s the problem. I can’t be sure. That person may be more right than I want them to be. Why? Because no one can fool me like I can.
The first thing that God says through Paul here, as he closes this section of the letter to move on to the next is this: “Let no one deceive himself.” Another translation says, “Don’t fool yourselves”. There’s no deceit like self-deceit is there? I can do all the introspection I want, but if it is not informed by an outside eye like my wife, my kids, a Christian friend, or God’s Word and God’s Spirit, then I could easily be fooling myself.
So what was happening that caused God to tell Paul to write that? What were they deceiving themselves about? You likely already know by now if you’ve been following along. They thought they were wise, but they were actually fools. They had given up Godly wisdom for worldly wisdom and believed themselves to be something they weren’t.
Here’s what was happening: There was a man named Apollos who was a popular preacher who toured around the great cities of the ancient world. Before he met Jesus he was already an eloquent and powerful speaker who was greatly learned in the Jewish scriptures. He had heard about Jesus being the messiah and, even though he had never met Jesus personally, had been teaching that to people – but he had some holes in his knowledge. In his travels he met a couple named Priscilla and Aquila who were attending Pauls’ church in Corinth. They worked to fill in what Apollos didn’t know and Apollos rose quickly to becoming an even more powerful and popular teacher in the area.
He was the Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, John MacArthur, or Rick Warren of his day. Huge crowds followed him and that meant that there were a lot of people who were envious of him. They wanted what he had. They saw men like Paul and Apollos and wanted to copy them so they could have their influence. So they would attend all their talks, learned what they learned, even mimicked their way of speaking in hopes of gaining a following like theirs.
But what they didn’t copy was their godliness, humility, love and prayerfulness. They saw what they were on stage and copied that, but didn’t see all the blood, sweat, tears, study, pacing, and prayers that went into each sermon. They wanted their abilities and audiences. They wanted to be seen as wise, smart, clever, popular, and fashionable, but they didn’t want to do the time in their prayer closets. They wanted the fruit of godliness without suffering, the influence without the dependence on God, the benefits of discipleship without actually following Jesus.
Doing the Work
One time someone came over to my and saw my devotional bible – which is almost destroyed, has no cover, is covered in tape, stains, highlights and pencil marks – and asked me how they can get one that looks just like it. My answer was, “Go buy a new one and read it for 20 years.” He wanted the look of a person who had studied his bible for years and years, without actually having to read it.
We have a lot of things like that around us. You can go to the store right now and buy pre-worn, pre-wrecked, clothes. New, vintage clothes. They’re brand-new, but the t-shirt logo is mostly gone, the sweater has holes, and the jeans look like they’ve been through a warzone. Now, I grew up in the 90’s when grunge was just coming around, so I have a soft spot for that style, but back then we had to borrow our dad’s old, messed up work clothes and concert t-shirts to get that kind of look. Now, you can by vintage things brand new.
You can go to antique stores and buy new antiques too. People make perfectly good boxes, dressers, shelves, and floors, and then beat the heck out of them with chains. They call it “destressing” or “antiquing”. The look of an expensive, old, full of character, piece of furniture, without having to wait 100 years to get it.
That’s just clothes and woodwork, but people do that with their lives too. They want the look of having character, but don’t want to do the work it takes to develop it. They want the look of being wise and godly, but don’t actually want to go through repentance, mortification of sin, study, prayer, and spiritual disciplines required to actually become wise and godly.
This passage is a warning against that! Paul says, “Let no one deceive himself.” Who is he talking about? The person who thinks they possess profound insights about God and the universe, when in fact they have no relationship with Him whatsoever. The person who thinks they have the meaning of life all figured out, without factoring God into the equation. The person who lies to themselves about who they are, who God is, and why they exist.
The self-deceived ones who try to explain the deepest questions (Who am I? Why am I here? Where did we come from? Where are we all going? What is most important?) by themselves, coming up with answers that make sense to them. These people may have great knowledge and abilities, but they remain ignorant of reality. They may say things that make sense to them, and are agreed upon by other big-talkers, but end up being utterly devoid of either wisdom or truth.
We are enveloped by this stuff today. It’s extremely popular, especially among the intellectual elites today, to come up with insanely bizarre explanations for the origins of the universe. They actually have meetings and conventions to talk about them.
Recently, a bunch of high-profile scientists and philosophers got together to debate whether or not the universe is actually real or if we are all living in a vast computer simulation. Popular scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, went on record saying that he puts the odds at 50-50 that we are all basically living in the Matrix; a program running on some super-being’s hard drive. And he was serious! (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-we-living-in-a-computer-simulation/)
Weirdly, while he’s fine with the idea of our reality just being a huge computer program, and promotes a Super-String theory that states that at the sub-atomic level we are able to see self-correcting computer code, he also mocks any religion who believes that there is a God who created everything and sustains it by His will. And that contradiction makes perfect sense to anyone who follows him.
These worldly wisemen look at Christian teachers who don’t have their level of speaking abilities or scholastic degrees, and think them to be fools who preach ridiculous, unscientific garbage. And then have the audacity to grab a microphone and blather on about theories about simulated universes on alien computers – which might sound like science, but is actually total mysticism! You cannot test it, study it, or prove it, but that doesn’t stop physicists from talking about it. They generate a lot of heat, a lot of words, a lot of headlines – but absolutely no light.
This is the type of people, and those who think like them, that are being addressed in this scripture. The worldly-wise who are actually fools. They mock the truth and promote utter folly. And God says here that eventually, it will catch up with them. God “catches the wise in their craftiness” and “knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile”. The “wise” here aren’t the ones living with godly wisdom, but human, worldly wisdom that will invariably be proven to be total garbage. People who believe their theories to be clever, but are ultimately devoid of meaning.
What do they gain by doing this? Why concoct the lie and work so hard to believe it? Simple: freedom from the constraints of a moral God. Everyone – everyone – needs to answer the big questions about their existence and purpose and final destination, but not everyone wants an answer that includes a moral God who requires their worship and obedience. And so they grab on to anything else that gives their universe meaning.
They are the masters of self-deception and they do all they can to suck people into the lies they tell themselves. Atheist apologist, Lawrence Krauss, who actually won the Atheist of the Year Award this year, said this:
“I can’t say for certain there is no God, but I can certainly say I wouldn’t want to live in a universe with one.” (https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/new-atheists-dont-want-to-believe/)
Another atheist, and Professor at NYU, Thomas Nagel, once famously said:
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/57677.Thomas_Nagel)
What a strange and ironic mingling of self-awareness and self-deception. But God promises, here and throughout scripture, that in the end their worldly wisdom will be shown for what it is and that the futility of their thinking will be exposed.
People are Masterful Self-Deceivers
Let me close with this: God gives us some stark categories that give us some tools to help us look inside and be honest with ourselves and Him – but doing that it requires a lot of humility and effort.
Which is why people are such masterful self-deceivers. It’s easier to lie to ourselves and concoct our own reality than submit ourselves to the truth. This week, my challenge to you is to look deep within to find the places where you have accepted the world’s wisdom and exchanged God’s truth for a more pleasurable lie.
Ask yourself how you have been lying to yourself, and others, about who you really are. In what ways are you like that pre-worn shirt and ripped pants, faking your character, but not doing the work of building real character.
In prayer this week, ask God to show you your true self. What does He see? It doesn’t matter how you present yourself? All that matters is who you really are. Your reputation with the people around you isn’t as important as you think it is – what’s important is your integrity and your reputation with God.
I watched a little Francis Chan clip this week where he used a great illustration, and I’ll use this to close: Imagine if I interviewed all the people closest to you – your friends, spouse, kids, parents, coworkers – and asked them to tell me about you. What would they say? Now imagine that I could do the same thing with God. What if I could come before the throne of God and ask Him what you are like. “What’s he/she like, Lord? What are your thoughts about them, their actions, their motives, their thought life, their love for you? What’s are they really like?” What would He say?
What would the two reports look like? Would what your friends and family and coworkers say about you be much higher than what God would say? Is it possible that you’ve been far more concerned about your reputation than you are about your character?
I would add this. What if I were to sit down and ask you who you are? Tell me about yourself. Would that report look like what God sees, or are you deceiving yourself about who you really are? Have you created a crafty, futile, foolish self-identity, formed to fool even yourself about who you are? Why?
Chan closes with this: “There is such a silliness to faking it when something so big is on the line. Why would you fake it? Take it to the very end. You’ve fooled everybody!… And so you die, and you go to hell… and you think, ‘Yeah, but everyone thinks I’m in heaven!’ That’s your goal?! How long is that joy going to last? It’s time to get honest.”
It is silly to try to fool yourself and everyone else about who you really are, because God already knows and you can’t fool him. So why bother trying to fool anyone else?