Sermon: “All Things are Yours” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)

by May 5, 2019Sermons0 comments

18 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. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
1 Corinthians 3:18-23, ESV

May the Lord bless the reading and preaching of his word this morning.

When I first got married I remember the shock of suddenly realizing the fact of when I was about to leave the house of my own volition, on my own timing, to do whatever it was that I was planning on doing at the time, I just got up, got my things and prepare to leave.

As I was headed for the door, I stopped dead in my tracks remembering, oh yeah there’s someone else that I have to talk about these things now. It’s not that my wife is restrictive, or overbearing, or anything like that, but when you get married you recognize that no longer are your things yours anymore. It’s no longer about me and my, it’s about we, us and ours.

I realized that suddenly and I went back to talk with my wife about this. I had learned all of these things. We had gone to premarital counseling class with a pastor of ours and read books. I had listened to sermons. I had considered a lot of things, but suddenly there in the moment I sort of had this thought that I could just do what I wanted whenever I wanted to, and that was no longer the case.

Now that is also sometimes the way that we think about our relationship with God. It’s not that I was justifying it, but there was part of me that was thinking, “Well I had given time, I had spent time with my wife. I had given her my energy and put forth effort to serve her in whatever way that she needed, if she needed help cleaning or whatever it was. I had also given her of my treasures, we had joined our finances together. Wasn’t there another part of my life that just belong to me? Was there just something I could do for myself?”

Similarly, with God I said I’ve given some time to God today. I have my boxes checked off. You are here in the service right now, so you can check that one off. Maybe you’ve given of your talents, maybe some of you served in the nursery or in Sunday school. You did your Bible reading, hey check, check, check, right? We just received the offering, if you gave to that you could check that one off too, right? Now is everything leftover just yours to do with as you please, according to whatever you want to do whatever you want to do it?

There’s this insight, this desire in our hearts that thinks, “Well after I fulfill my God obligations, after I check off my God task list. Then everything else; my time, my talents, my treasures, those are just left over for me.”

Maybe some of you are on the other end of the spectrum. Maybe you have a sensitive conscience and sometimes you find yourself enjoying something in this world and there’s some little voice in the back of your head that feels guilty about it. Should I feel pleasure? Should I feel joy? Should I feel satisfaction? Is something happening here where God is so overbearing, so micromanaging, that he doesn’t want me to feel any joy except when we are gathered in church or when I’m reading my Bible? Is that the case?

It’s sort of hard to understand how we are supposed to, as Christians, navigate through this world. He created this world, he likes this world, but this world is not everything. It’s not a place that we can invest our ultimate aspirations for hope, joy and satisfaction. What is that relationship? How do we treat and interact with things and people in this world in comparison to a relationship with God?

Here’s our big idea today, God gives things for your use, but only Christ for your enjoyment.

We are going to need to define those terms “use” and “enjoyment” because those are old theological words that don’t necessarily have the exact same meaning what we might use in our common conversations with one another.

“Enjoyment” and “use” are two terms that were developed and articulated by a theologian named Augustine. Outside of the Lord Jesus Christ and the initial apostles in Jesus’s church, Augustine is probably the man that has had more influence over the church and church history than any other person.

Augustine was a towering figure. He was brilliant. He was so godly, but also a man who came from great sin and even great heresy as the Lord was leading him to himself. So, Augustine has these wonderful insights, this wonderful story, he is a wonderful person to study and learn from.

He talked about this distinction between enjoyment and use. Here’s the way he defined it, it’s really helpful especially as we come to this passage. He said enjoyment is something where we are seeking to find maximum, ultimate, lasting joy. We are seeking to find our hope, our security, our peace, our purpose in life. When we look to things for enjoyment, that’s what we are hoping to get back from them.

If that’s the case, Augustine said, we should only seek enjoyment from things that actually can give us maximum joy. In other words, we have to look at someone who is infinite, someone who is unchanging, who is eternal. At whose right hand is pleasures forevermore. We can only look to God to seek our enjoyment.

So, he says that for everything else in this world, we are not so much seeking to enjoy people or things. As though people or things could give us this lasting eternal sense of enjoyment, but he says we must instead use people and things. This is where our language breaks down a bit because when we talked about using someone, what we really mean is I’m going to use and abuse that person. I’m going to demean that person and treat them as less than someone who is created in the image of God. I’m going to use them as though they were just an object to be used.

That’s not what he means. What he simply means is that people and things, everything in this world is not something that we can find our ultimate sense of satisfaction. Rather, all things in this world people and things, are means by which God teaches us to love and enjoy him more.

We can’t enjoy people as ends in themselves. If you do that, you’re just making idols and false worship to things that cannot bear under the weight of your worship. But when we start to understand that all things are given as means to bring us back to the Lord Jesus Christ, that’s when, Augustine said, you understand what it means to live the Christian life in every vocation, in every area, in every sphere of our lives.

So, what does that look like? You’re going to see that in three ways this morning.

1. This World is Not for Your Enjoyment
2. This World is for Your Use
3. That Christ Alone is for Your Enjoyment

This World is Not for Your Enjoyment

This world is not for your enjoyment. In other words, you can’t find lasting satisfying pleasure and joy in this world. Paul says this in verse eighteen through the first sentence in twenty-one, but it’s actually easier to start with the end and then work our way from verse eighteen back toward the end.

So that’s where I start in verse twenty-one, first sentence in twenty-one.

21 So let no one boast in men.
1 Corinthians 3:21, ESV

This word for so signals to us that Paul is giving us the conclusion. This is what we’re supposed to take from this. This is the big thing, don’t miss. If you want to know how this applies to your life, I’m about to tell you. So, here’s the conclusion, here’s the application point, “let no one boast in men.”

Now this word for boast, as Charles Hodge writes, means to trust in some person or thing as the ground of confidence or is the source of honor and blessedness. In other words, it’s to seek enjoyment, to seek satisfaction and peace and joy. Let no one boast in this way, to take confidence in men.

Lest you ladies snicker at this and say, yes men are ultimately unreliable. He’s not talking about men versus women, but about all of humankind. This word refers to the human kind of wisdom, the human kind of thinking. It’s same word if you look at back at the beginning of this chapter that shows up in 1st Corinthians 3:4. Paul says,

4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1st Corinthians 3:4

That’s the same word. Don’t boast in these human ways of relating to the world which leads to strife and jealousy.

This is where we get our conclusion, let no one seek to look at this world in the way of the world. To look at this world in a way that seeks to acquire whatever we can from the world. To boast, to take whatever we can gain from this world. To seek our lasting joy and satisfaction and pleasured in this world. Let no one do that.

So, if that’s the conclusion. It that’s the payoff at the end of this first section, let’s start at the beginning of section and work our way back forward.

18 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. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
1 Corinthians 3:18-23, ESV

Paul starts verse eighteen with another command, he says let no one deceive yourself. You are surrounded by waves of uncertainty and confusion which will lead you to deceive to be deceived if you’re just carried along with them. So, let no one deceive themselves.

Paul then goes to an admonition, “If anyone among you think he is wise in this age.” According to this human wisdom that seeks to squeeze everything from this world to enjoy this world Paul says, “Let him become a fool that he may become wise.” If you think you’re wise according to this world, understand if you really want true wisdom, the first thing you have is to ditch all of that worldly wisdom. You have got to be as a fool in the eyes of this world if you want real wisdom, because this world doesn’t have it. This world will judge those who have true with them as fools.

But then in verse nineteen he tells us the opposite side of this, well why would I want to be a fool? Understand what Paul is saying is that you don’t want this wisdom of this world for, verse nineteen, “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.”

The omniscient God, the one who created the world, the one who knows the intricate weaving together of everything in all of creation, the one who invented it out of his own creativity and mind. God has evaluated the wisdom of this world and says that it is folly. This is why you should be delighted to be a fool in the eyes of this world, because what they consider to be wisdom is folly and itself is foolishness, don’t follow along with it.

Then we come to two scripture quotations. The first scripture quotations from Job chapter five. Now during the confession time, you might have been wondering why are we going through Job’s friends? Weren’t they the people that God rebuked at the end of Job? They were, but not so much because they were wrong in their theology, but they applied it incorrectly in the case of Job.

So what Job’s friend is saying here is something that is absolutely true, that’s why Paul affirms that, “It is written he catches the wise in their craftiness”. Gordon Fee says this is a stunning image, it’s a little frightening. What this depicts is God as a hunter and this hunter is hunting a prey and this prey actually weaves its own trap by its own craftiness.

The more you go along in your wisdom, the more that you go along in worldly wisdom, what you’re actually doing is binding yourself into the trap where God the hunter will catch you. That’s a terrifying image of judgment that’s coming for those who repel against the Lord.

Then verse twenty, Paul goes on and says, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Not only are they dangerous that you’ll be caught, but they are futile they’re worthless and folly.

This brings us back to where we started earlier verse twenty-one, “So let no one boast in men.” Don’t take your confidence in this world, don’t seek enjoyment from this world. This world is not for your enjoyment.

But again, this brings a question. So, what are we to do with this world? Are we to abandon this world? Should we head off into the monasteries and into the convent? Should we withdraw entirely from this world and pretend this world doesn’t exist? Pull up the shades and just ignore and pretend that nothing out there can hurt us?

This World is for Your Use

Paul says this world is not for your enjoyment, but he says this world plays a very important role. This world is for your use. What Paul is saying here brings us into the next section at the end of verse twenty-one and twenty-two, he said this world is for your use. That worldly pleasures and worldly pain are not ends in themselves. When you think about worldly pleasures and worldly pain, understand this life is not about maximizing the worldly pleasures that we gain and minimizing and eliminating the worldly pain that we have.

It’s not about whether to engage in those things, but it’s about how to recognize that there is something beyond simply maximizing pleasures and eliminating pain. Rather that this world, what God is bringing us to in this world both in the pleasures and in the pain alike, all of these things are means to an end. They’re not ends in themselves. If they were ends in themselves then all they want to do is maximize the one and minimize the other. But these things are not for our enjoyment, but they are for our use.

In other words, it’s not a question of whether you’re to be engaged in the world, it’s about how you should be engaged in the world. Paul says at the end of first twenty-one, he says

21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
1 Corinthians 3:21, ESV

That’s stunning, staggering thing. There’s a Berkshire Hathaway conference this week and none of us own all of that stock. All things are not ours. What does this possibly mean? Does it mean that we’re all wealthy and we could just do whatever we want? Is this a name it and claim it prosperity gospel? That’s not what he means. That would be looking to these things for our enjoyment, what I really need is just more money. That’s not what Paul is saying.

All things are yours, but in what sense? Let’s look at what he says in verse twenty-two.

21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,
1 Corinthians 3:21-22, ESV

Why does Paul choose these three names? Why does he start his own name, and talk about Apollo, a famous preacher in the day, and Cephas, that is Peter? That’s because there were groups of people in Corinth who are rallying around these different leaders to the exclusion of other people. Look back at 1st Corinthians 1:11-12

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
1st Corinthians 1:11-12, ESV

There again you have a right theology, but wrong application. They say, “I follow Christ” but to the exclusion of other these people. Paul doesn’t list Christ back in chapter 3:22 with the initial three leaders because he’ll come back to Christ in verse twenty-three.

So, what about these leaders? Paul is saying you can’t rally yourself behind me, you can’t rally yourself behind Apollos, you can’t rally behind Cephas and exclude yourself from the rest of the church. Then you pretend that by rallying behind these leaders you have found truth and life and satisfaction.

They were seeking to enjoy their leaders, including Paul, but Paul saying no I’m not here for your enjoyment, I’m not here to possess you; rather it’s the opposite. I am yours; I belong to you. You don’t belong to me, I’m not your God, I’m not your savior. I rather belong to you as the one who has been given a commission and responsibility to lead you to Christ. So, what Paul says is all things are yours or all things are of you, they belong to you including these leaders.

This last week I was saddened to learn that a man who was a mentor of mine for many years died. His name was Warren Wiersbe. He was a dear man. He lived in Lincoln until his death. He was a man who preach the word faithfully for many, years. You may have heard him on the radio or read some of his books.

This was a man who had just a train, just a host of young men in his wake that he mentored and brought up and helped in terms of helping them to become pastors. There were so many men I knew, just in that small circle that I knew, but also over time of people who were mentored by him. If you Google his name one of the things that you’ll find his lots of stories from different people have him sitting in his living room talking with them and mentoring them just like I received.

One of the remarkable things about Warren Wiersbe though is that he didn’t agree with everybody or about everything with each person that he mentored. He’s not a confessional Presbyterian like I am, he’s a Baptist of a very different stripe. He realized that those are very those were second-tier issue, confessional issues. He realized that we were united on the big picture, creedal issues of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Everywhere he went, wherever anyone was rallied around Jesus Christ and him crucified, he poured himself out for those people. He wasn’t seeking to make copycat, engineered, clone copies of himself. He was rather seeking to help people to conform to the image of Christ, not him. That was the greatness of this dear man that I’m going to miss him quite a bit. I hope to have a hundredth of the influence that he has had over the course of his lifetime by the time the Lord calls me home to glory.

Paul says the same thing, he says I don’t exist to conform you to me. I don’t exist for you to come to serve me, rather I exist for you. For your benefit, to pour myself into you, to pour myself out for you, so that you will be conformed to Christ. I belong to you. All things, including me, are for your use.

Then Paul goes on and says it’s not just the leaders, it’s the whole world; it’s life, it’s death, it is the present, it is the future. Everything in this world, if you are in Christ, God is working together for your good. God is using your leaders, he is using your enemies, he’s using those who are helping you and those who are hindering you, God is using your pleasures and your pain, God is using what you’re learning, God is using what you are don’t yet get. God is using all of these things, the body of Christ, as well as the world, God is using all of these things for your sanctification.

To conform you to the image of Christ. Not all things are good in this world, but God is working all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. All these things Paul is saying are yours. God has given them to you to make you more like Christ. This world is not for your enjoyment, but it is for your use as a means to the end of enjoying Christ.

That’s the answer if we ask the question, what should we enjoy? If not this world, what should we seek our ultimate satisfaction in this world from? It’s not from anything or anyone in this world. It’s from Christ, Christ alone is for your enjoyment.

Christ Alone is for Your Enjoyment

We see this in verse twenty-three. Notice that Paul has been saying that all things belong to you, but then he switches, Christ isn’t someone you possess. He doesn’t belong to you as though you acquired Christ and now he’s on your trophy case as one more thing. No, rather instead you belong to Christ. Your only hope in this world is not how much money is in your bank account, not how long your friend list is on Facebook. Your enjoyment is based not on what you can posses or acquire, but on the fact that Christ has acquired you, by his own blood.

You may know this is the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Q1. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”
A. “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. “

Your hope is not in what you can acquire for your enjoyment. Your hope is that Jesus Christ has acquired you through faith by his death and resurrection. Therefore, what should you enjoy? Enjoy Christ. You want satisfaction and joy? God isn’t a killjoy who wants to squelch all your fun. God is saying you are far too easily pleased with all of these things in the world. He’s given us Christ.

Your only hope is that you belong to Christ, but the reason that is such good news has to do with the last thing that Paul writes in this passage. That Christ is God’s. What does that mean? Does that mean that Christ is not God? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. But Christ is the person of the Son whom the Father sent into the world.

The person of the Son who took upon himself a human nature, in addition to his divine nature. The Christ is the one who lived in this world, who assumed the offices of prophet, priest and king. The Christ is the one who laid down his own life as a sacrifice atoning for our sins.

The Christ is the one who according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God offered himself as a lamb to be slaughtered. He allowed himself to be nailed to a rugged cross on Calvary. He is the one who bleed out until he gasped his last breather declaring, “it is finished.” The fullness of the counsels and plans of God from eternity past have been finished in his death.

The Christ is the one who died for you. The Christ is the one whose corpse was taken down from that horrid tree and was buried in a tomb. On the third day the Christ is the one who burst from the grave in resurrection life. The Christ is the one who has ascended back to the right hand of his father and is reigning at his father’s right hand, until he returns to bring us all home. The Christ is the person of the Son who came into this world to do a work according to the plan of God.

This is what Paul wrote about earlier in 1 Corinthians 2:7,

7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
1 Corinthians 2:7, ESV

In eternity past, God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had this plan for what the Son would do coming into the world, the Father sending him to do it and the Holy Spirit empowering him to do it. Because the Christ sent forth into this world was the plan and purpose of God, therefore the Christ is God’s.

Therefore, everything that Jesus Christ did through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension is what provides the ground and the hope for you to find your enjoyment in Christ. Because of what God has done in and through Christ, you can look to Jesus Christ in faith today and find joy and peace and satisfaction.

He won’t let you down because Jesus Christ is the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is infinite and will be able to bear the weight of your goals, and hopes, and desires and dreams. Enjoy Christ because you belong to Christ and because Christ is God’s.

This world is not for your enjoyment. It will let you down and will condemn you in the sight of God. This world is for your use, for all those who love God and are called according to his purpose. God is working all things together for your good so that you may find your enjoyment in Christ alone.

Let me close with three applications this morning.


1. Do not boast in men. Again, that’s not men versus women. Don’t boast in this humanly, worldly way of doing things. Seeking to find your enjoyment in human wisdom or in human beings themselves, or in human products.

Let’s start with human wisdom. Again, Paul starts off this passage we looked at by saying, “let no one deceive himself”. It’s so easy to be carried along by the deluge of deceit in this world. Do not be deceived. Andrew’s sermon last week from Malachi chapter two dealt with the importance of scripture in the life of believers.

I want you to take stock of your life. Is the time you give to God in his world? Is it something you are checking off your list? Do you think, “I read my Bible, God must be pretty pleased with me”, then you move on with your life as though nothing happened. Then you give your attention to the things of this world; to television, sporting events, financial things. Is that what you give your actual attention to, or is it to God in his word as he holds forth Christ for your faith? Do not put your confidence in human wisdom.

Additionally, don’t put your confidence in human beings. God gave us relationships and relationships are a good thing. God went so far in Genesis two that it is not good for man to be alone. It’s not good for man to be without relationships.

Ask yourself, is there anyone in your life that has become for you an object of your enjoyment? Have you pinned all of your aspirations on this person so that this person has become for you an idol? You are looking for hope and joy in this person and if they let you down it would be the fall of an idol in your life?

Are you willing to say no to this person in obedience to God? If this person made you choose between following him or her and following Jesus, who would you chose? Do you recognize that if God took this person away from you, he would still be good? Is he your ultimate source of joy and contentment in your life, or have you pinned that on someone else?

What about human treasures? Are you willing to sacrifice your treasures for the sake of the kingdom? Is he so important to you that you are willing to give of your finances and stuff to see Jesus lifted up and glorified? Are we more tied to our things or to King Jesus? Do you engage in retail therapy, purchasing even little things to make yourself feel better? Are these things the source of your hope and joy? This world is not for your enjoyment, it will let you down and destroy you.

2. Use everything in this world for the enjoyment of God. In other words, there is a legitimate way to interact with this world, to use this world. Not in a demeaning, degrading way, but to recognize that God has given you everything and everyone in our life in a means that you might be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ.

Do you see every hurt, every pleasure as God’s way of working in your life to draw you closer to Jesus Christ? Are you submitted to that? Do you look to Jesus in faith? If you are looking to Christ in faith, then you can be as the man in the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 13:44,

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13:44, ESV

Everything is for you to gain Christ.

3. The third thing I would ask you is to enjoy God in Christ. Jesus Christ is an application point that is not burdensome. I want to give you something that is like giving a kid more candy. I want to tell you to seek all the joy that you can, but I want to tell you that you will fail and fall short and you will be miserable and disappointed if you seek it in this world. But if you seek it in Jesus Christ and him crucified, you will never be disappointed. You will be sorrowful; you will be hurt, and you will be in times of despair as you have to then cry out again to the Lord.

Ultimately, over the course of time and especially into eternity, you will see that Jesus Christ has been sovereignly working together all details of your life in order for you to have an everlasting enjoyment of him. In the hope and confidence that he possesses you and he was sent into the world by the Father to accomplish your salvation.

Look to Christ in faith. Do you know Jesus? Are you still looking to this world or have you repented and turned from the things of this world and making idols out of the things of this world? Don’t boast in humankind, boast in Christ. “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 1:31.

I said this earlier and I was alluding to a C.S. Lewis quotation. He says, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures fooling along with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy has offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Have a holy discontent that leads you not to take enjoyment in this world as long as it keeps you from your ultimate joy and satisfaction in Christ.

Pray with me.

Lord Jesus we ask that as we come under your word today that you would continue to build us up, continue to encourage us, to continue to conform us to Christ. Use your word by your Spirit to perform the heart surgery that we need. Great physician, we ask that you would wean us from this world in order to seek our enjoyment in Christ alone. That we would find pleasures all around us, but not pleasures that we seek lasting significance from, but pleasures that drive us to you. We pray that you would do this all the days of our lives until you call us to your right hand where there are pleasures forevermore in Christ Jesus, who is our elder brother who has gone before us as a forerunner in the faith, the author and perfecter of our salvation. It’s in his name we pray for it is in him that we have our hope. Amen.