1 Corinthians 3

These notes are based on the NASB text.

3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.

Paul spoke to the Corinthians as a spiritual father (see 4:15) speaking to his children. He was concerned about their poor spiritual condition. While the Corinthians thought themselves mature, Paul saw them as immature. They were not Spirit-controlled. They had not grown in their spiritual insight. They were, for all practical purposes, still flesh-controlled individuals. Paul here describes two kinds of saved people:

[1] “spiritual men” – or spiritually mature individuals (Spiritual). Characterized by God-centered concerns.

[2] “men of flesh…babes in Christ” – or spiritually immature individuals (Carnal). Characterized by self-centered interests.

3:2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,

Regarding the diet of believers:

[1] “milk” – A baby begins with milk because he has no teeth for meat. Some liken “milk” to the elementary teachings of the Word. See Hebrews 6:1-2. Milk is recommended for babies because it helps them grow in respect to salvation (see 1 Peter 2:2).

[2] “solid food” – for spiritually mature individuals. Some liken “meat” to mature Christian teachings.

Paul had approached the Corinthians as babes in need of milk on an earlier occasion. But even at the time of this writing they had made little progress and Paul had to deal with them as babes, still. God expects believers to grow.

3:3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

The Corinthians were not able to receive solid food from Paul because they were “still fleshly.” Their actions, “jealousy and strife,” are listed among the deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5:20 (as are “disputes, dissensions, factions”). Spiritual immaturity is always evidenced in behavior. The Corinthians were acting more worldly and fleshly than spiritual. This was a matter of great concern to Paul, the “father” of this congregation (4:15).

3:4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

Paul cited the division over personalities to prove his point about the immaturity of the Corinthian believers.

3:5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants [“diakonoi” – the word from which we get the word “deacon”] through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.

Apollos and Paul were servants who faithfully carried out their assigned tasks.

3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

3:7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

As a part of his continuing efforts to get the Corinthians to refocus their vision on God rather than human leaders, Paul reminded them that both he and Apollos were partners with God in the work. Each did his part but it was God who caused the growth. Therefore only God was worthy of their “followship.” Paul and Apollos were companions in ministry rather than competitors. They both worked for the owner of the farm. Their respective tasks and contributions were important. J. Vernon McGee says, “The important thing is not who the preacher is; the important thing is whether God is using him.”

3:8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one [“The aim, result, and motivating power of their work are identical.”-Rienecker/Rogers]; but each will receive his own reward according to his labor.

Paul wanted for the Corinthians to understand that he and Apollos were on the same team. As such their faithfulness and works would not be judged against one another’s, but against their individual calling, responsibility, and potential. These men were “God’s fellow workers.” They were not in competition with one another. They had a responsibility to allow God to use them. They labored with the assurance that God labored with and through them.

3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers [what a privilege!]; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul uses three images to describe the Christian life:

[1] “God’s fellow workers” – Christians are to participate with God in the work of ministry.

[2] “God’s field” – Christians and the church are to be like a productive field.

[3] “God’s building” – Christians and the church are likened to something which has permanence and stability.

3:10 According to the grace of God which was given me [that is, “using the gift that God gave me”], as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.

3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

As a church-builder, Paul gave careful attention to the foundation work. He had laid the proper foundation when he established the church at Corinth (see 2:1-5 and 3:11). Later, after Paul had left, Apollos arrived in Corinth and built upon that foundation (see Acts 18:24-28). Paul warned “each man to be careful how he builds upon it.” This is a warning to all who help build and shape the life of the church to work responsibly and faithfully because God will hold them accountable.

3:12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones [“Here it means valuable stones for building such as granite and marble.”-Rienecker/Rogers], wood, hay, straw,

3:13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.

3:14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.

3:15 If any man’s work [a reference to the Christian’s labor in the church] is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire [that is, “as one who dashes through the flames safe, but with the smell of fire upon him.”-Rienecker/Rogers].

Since the foundation which has been laid is Jesus Christ (3:11), the next concern is with the materials used to build on that foundation. The foundation of Jesus Christ is solid and unshakeable. Those who serve and invest their lives in the church must see to it that they use the finest building materials to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Warren Wiersbe believes that the reference to “gold, silver, precious stones” is to the doctrines of the Word of God which must be “mined” by the minister. This as opposed to “wood, hay, straw” which have no lasting value and do nothing to strengthen the church. Others believe that “gold, silver, precious stones” is a reference to the kind of service which believers render. Paul reminds every believer that his works will be judged at the judgement seat of God (Romans 14:10). The quality of our service, work, and contribution to the kingdom’s work will be revealed and each servant rewarded accordingly.

Such a passage of Scripture should lead us to do at least three things:

[1] Build something every day. We should heed the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:16, “making the most of your time because the days are evil.” The Latin phrase “carpe diem” reminds us to seize the day!

[2] Employ only the finest building materials in our service to the Lord. This means the cost will be greater. We may have to work harder and longer, give more sacrificially, study more intensely, and serve more devotedly. But we can invest our lives and resources knowing that they will stand the test of fire.

[3] Serve with the knowledge that God, who will reward us accordingly, will one day judge our works. We should not concern ourselves with how much recognition we receive, only with the fact that God notices everything that we do in His name and for His cause. A little piece of gold is not as visible as a big stack of hay, but it will last longer and will survive the test of fire!

3:16 Do you not know that you [as a church, as the believing community] are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

3:17 If any man destroys [impair, mar, ruin] the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy [“because God has made the church the fellowship that possesses His Spirit” Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10], and that is what you [the believing community] are.

Note here that the [corporate] temple is made up of [individual] temples. How is the [corporate] temple of God destroyed? By “jealousy and strife” (3:3) among the [individual] temples and the use of “wood, hay, straw” (3:12) as building material.

3:18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age [intellectual pride was a cause of the difficulties in Corinth], let him become foolish that he may become wise [that is, become humble enough to learn].

3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God [it is unable to meet men’s deepest spiritual needs]. For it is written, “He is the One who catches the wise in their craftiness;”

3:20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”

3:21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you,

3:22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you [so why should the Corinthians limit themselves to a restricted group following one man?],

3:23 and you belong to Christ [all are subject to one leader, Jesus Christ]; and Christ belongs to God.

Practical Considerations

God expects believers to grow.
Just as it would be unnatural for a baby to not grow, it is unnatural for believers to not grow. God expects believers to grow to the point where they can feed themselves and begin feeding others.

Spiritual immaturity cannot be hidden.
Spiritual immaturity cannot be hidden. It will manifest itself in a person’s speech and behavior. Spiritual immaturity is at the root of many problems within the church.

God’s servants must work cooperatively for the glory of God.
Paul and Apollos were faithful to fulfill their assigned tasks of planting and watering, recognizing that God alone caused the growth. We must see ourselves as companions in ministry with other believers rather than as contentious competitors. We must labor together with our fellow believers in the power of the Holy Spirit to the end that God will be glorified.

Carpe Diem!
We should “seize the day” by serving the Lord faithfully and cheerfully. We should seek to labor for the Lord every day to the end that our works will endure the test of fire and glorify God.

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