1 Corinthians 3

Worldly Wise.

1 Corinthians 3

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. – 1 Corinthians 3:1 NLT

In John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, meets up with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, a resident of the town of Carnal Policy, who was wise in the ways of the world. Christian was on his way to the Celestial City, seeking a means to relieve the heavy burden he was carrying on his back. He had been told that he would find his solution in the Celestial City. But Mr. Worldly Wiseman offered a better way. “But why wilt thou seek for ease this way, seeing so many dangers attend it? especially since (hadst thou but patience to hear me) I could direct thee to the obtaining of what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run thyself into. Yea, and the remedy is at hand. Besides, I will add, that instead of those dangers, thou shalt meet with much safety, friendship, and content.”

The ways of this world always seem to contradict and run counter to the ways of God. In Paul’s mind, worldliness was a thing to be avoided, not embraced. It was a sign of immaturity and an indication of a life controlled by the sinful nature. The world represents our old life, before we came to faith in Christ and were set free from sin and our own sin nature. For Paul, some sure signs of worldliness were jealousy and quarreling among believers. He gives us an even more extensive list in Galatians 5: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). As far as Paul was concerned, these characteristics were evidence of someone who was worldly wise, wise in the ways of the world. Because the world is always attempting to get us to do God’s will its way. Like Worldly Wiseman, it comes alongside us and gives us “wise” counsel, offering an alternate way to relieve the burden of sin and the guilt of our own sin nature. For the Corinthians, they had been deceived into choosing sides, finding their spiritual value by associating themselves with either Paul, Peter or Apollos. They had begun to fight over who was more spiritual based on which of these three men had led them to faith in Christ. But Paul reminded them that they were only God’s servants. It was God who had made them grow.

Paul’s concern was that their behavior was evidence of immaturity and worldliness. The believers in Corinth were living like they belonged to this world, like they were citizens of this kingdom. But Paul wanted to remind them that when they had come to Christ, they had had their citizenship transferred to a new Kingdom. They no longer belonged to this world. They were not to exhibit the characteristics of worldly people. Their jealousy, infighting and choosing sides were evidence of worldliness and immaturity. They were to be spiritual, not worldly. Paul warned them: “Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 NLT). Too often, we find ourselves listening to Mr. Worldly Wiseman, accepting his advice and following his counsel – only to end up disappointed in the results. His ways are not God’s ways. His directions will never get us where God wants us to go. He will always offer a different path and the promise of an easier journey. And our sin nature will naturally gravitate to accepting his advice, because it is of this world. To our sin nature, what Mr. Worldly Wiseman says makes sense.

In John Bunyan’s classic allegory, Mr. Worldly Wiseman offers Christian some sage advice. He gives him an alternate route to take and a different solution to his problem. “Why, in yonder village (the village is named Morality) there dwells a gentleman whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine is from their shoulders; yea to my knowledge, he hath done a great deal of good this way; aye, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently. His house is not quite a mile from this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility, that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself: there, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, (as indeed I would not wish thee,) thou mayest send for thy wife and children to this village, where there are houses now standing empty, one of which thou mayest have at a reasonable rate: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is, to be sure there thou shalt live by honest neighbors, in credit and good fashion.”

Morality. Legality. Civility. All viable-sounding options that the world offers up to as replacements to a maturing faith in God. The problem is that they are all human-oriented and based on self-effort. They may sound worldly wise, but they will leave us living spiritually immature lives. Worldliness is subtle and we are naturally susceptible to it, because it appeals to our sin nature. It sounds easier and more attractive. It offers a different way. It provides us with a quick fix and a pain-free solution to our problems. But it is not God’s way. It is not God’s will. Better to be a fool for God than to be wise in the ways of the world.

Father, open our eyes to the dangers of worldliness. Don’t let us fall prey to the ways of this world. Don’t allow us to take the easy road, because it always results in a dead end. Keep us on the path You have marked out. Don’t let our lives be marked by worldliness and spiritual immaturity, but by increasing spiritual maturity and faith in You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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