Paul’s indictment of the Corinthian Church reaches new depths in 1 Cor 3:17 as he warns against troublemakers within the Church, "And if anyone destroys God’s temple [the Body of Christ], God will destroy him." He continues, "Let no one deceive himself. If any one 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 that the thoughts of the wise are futile’" (v 18-19). Paul then upbraids the Corinthians for not acting as those who are Christ’s possession (cf v 22-22).
A strong leader, Paul then asks the people to examine his conduct for blame or error, professing a clean conscience (cf 4:3-5a). Knowing that it is the Lord alone who will judge, he stresses that the Christian must never pass final judgment on another in his own heart. Note, however, that the Paul’s Epistles frequently call on the Christian to judge between right deeds and wrong deeds.
In response to the boastful ways of the Corinthians, he asks "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (v 7). After being blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavens, they are acting like sniveling misers. He calls them to be what they really are, "a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men" (v 9).
Paul teaches that Christians are "fools for Christ’s sake" and thereby possess true wisdom (v 10, cf 3:18). Citing the good example of the Apostolic band, he states "we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world … I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children … For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me" (v 12-16).
Paul so steadfastly lives in Christ and Him crucified that he is able to overturn all pride, arrogance, factionalism. He warns the Corinthians he "will come to [them] soon" to pastor those who speak with arrogance and remind them that "the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (v 18-19). He forcefully concludes the fourth chapter by asking "What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (v 21).
Music: La Maltese from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com