None of us have all the truth. We can learn from others. For some silly Christian to come along and pretend he is more spiritual than all of us because he only listens to Scripture is not a sign of being really spiritual and holy – it is an indication of carnality and arrogance. Refusing to love God with your mind is not something to be proud about. Nor is refusing to learn from others.
Sadly there are many Christians who believe that it is somehow virtuous and spiritual to NOT use their minds. They delight in anti-intellectualism, and they look down on those who are learned and well-read. They seem to think the more brainless you are, the more God approves of you.
And they will latch onto some verses to try to make their case. A number of such texts will be ripped out of context and misused from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians – including the one under consideration here. The verse itself says this: “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” And the context (verses 18-23) must be considered as well:
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.
In the opening chapters of this letter Paul deals with various problems in the Corinthian church, including divisions. Often he speaks of worldly wisdom and earthly knowledge. In 1 Cor. 1:18 for example he quotes from Isaiah 29:14: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
He goes on to speak about “the foolishness of the gospel” (verses 21-25). In chapter two he contrasts the wisdom of the Spirit with the wisdom of the world. And in 1 Cor. 8:1 he speaks about how knowledge puffs up. So one might think Paul is fully disparaging knowledge, learning, wisdom, the use of the mind, and so on.
But clearly this is not the case. Throughout Scripture – including in the writings of Paul – the use of the mind, the role of reason, and the place of intellect are all held up and encouraged. Simply consider the greatest commandment Jesus ever gave to us: the one about loving God with our mind and the rest of our being.
That alone should dispel this foolish notion of thinking we can please God by being brainless wonders. But I have written about this often, and offered plenty of biblical texts to back this up. The most recent piece on this is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/10/31/not-to-think-is-a-sin/
But what about the passages listed above? Is Paul contradicting himself? Not at all. When Paul and others speak negatively of the ‘wisdom of the world’ they do NOT mean all knowledge and understanding of all people who happen to live on planet earth. The Greek word for world – kosmos – is used in various ways in the New Testament.
It often can just refer to the earth that we live on. But when used like it is here in a negative light, it refers to the evil, ungodly world system. It refers to the wisdom of those who shake their fists at God and are wise in their own eyes. So the context usually makes it clear how we are to understand the term.