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1Corinthians 3 (web)

A Wise Perspective on Spiritual Leaders

What are they?

3:1 Brothers, I couldn't speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ.
3:2 I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you weren't yet ready.
Indeed, not even now are you ready,
3:3 for you are still fleshly.
For insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions among you,
aren't you fleshly, and don't you walk in the ways of men?
3:4 For when one says, "I follow Paul,"
and another, "I follow Apollos," aren't you fleshly?

3:5 Who then is Apollos, and who is Paul,
but servants through whom you believed;
and each as the Lord gave to him?

What is their purpose?

3:6 I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase.
3:7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters,
but God who gives the increase.
3:8 Now he who plants and he who waters are the same,
but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
3:9 For we are God's fellow workers.
You are God's farming, God's building.
3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me,
as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another builds on it.
But let each man be careful how he builds on it.
3:11 For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid,
which is Jesus Christ.
3:12 But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or stubble;
3:13 each man's work will be revealed.
For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire;
and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man's work is.

3:14 If any man's work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward.
3:15 If any man's work is burned, he will suffer loss,
but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.

3:16 Don't you know that you are a temple of God, and that God's Spirit lives in you?
3:17 If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him;

for God's temple is holy, which you are.

Application: Do not boast about them!

3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world,
let him become a fool, that he may become wise.
3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
For it is written, "He has taken the wise in their craftiness."(Job 5:13)
3:20 And again, "The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise,
that it is worthless." (Ps 94:11)
3:21 Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
3:22 whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death,
or things present, or things to come. All are yours,
3:23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

Discussion Questions

vs 1-5 How did Paul identify the Corinthians as being spiritually immature?
In contrast, what characteristics do you suppose he would look for to identify spiritual maturity?
How can respect for spiritual leaders become corrupted into divisiveness?
Do you sense that the Lord has assigned you to a particular task?
vs 6-11 What was the difference in the roles played by Paul and Apollos?
What should be the basic foundation of all Christian ministries?
vs 12-17 What are examples of gold, silver and precious stones? Wood, hay, and straw?
How does the judgment here different from the heaven & hell judgment?
Even if the Christian's works are burned up, losing potential rewards, will he lose his salvation?
vs 18-23 In what way should a Christian "become a fool" so that he may become wise?
What are examples of the world's wisdom being ultimately foolish and futile from a Biblical perspective?


Babes in Christ

1Cor 3:1-3  Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldlyó mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

Here Paul speaks of these Corinthians as "worldly", unspiritual, yet equating such a state with "babes in Christ", thus not necessarily denying their salvation status. In his parable of the wheat and tares (Mat 13:24-30), Jesus speaks of those immature in the faith as relatively indistinguishable from children of the devil. And indeed for many it's difficult to say at what point salvation actually occurs. But from that same parable it is also a truism that those who are in the faith will inevitably reveal themselves to be so by their progressive maturing in the faith into a spiritual lifestyle. Thus Peter exhorts to "to make your calling and election sure" (2Peter 1:10) by appropriately applying your faith (2Peter 1:5-9)

The writer of Hebrews says, "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of Godís word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Heb 4:11-14
The Corinthians, like many saints, were in a state that they needed to grow out of. Their disunity and jealousy showed they significantly lacked having the mind of Christ. They were acting as if they were still of the world. And one could not be completely certain that it was not more than just an act.

Now consider yourself. Based on your attitudes and behavior to what degree would you categorize yourself as mature in Christ?

Whom do you follow?

1Cor 3:4,5 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believeó as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

The immature and unspiritual seek to inflate their view of themselves or of their group over that of others. That's human nature. Even when there is no legitimate basis for doing so, one church may reckon itself superior to others. And as we see in this case, even groups of Christians in the same church will do so. Paul and Apollos were not divided. And they were legitimate Christians leaders. But the immature would pledge allegiance to one over another so as to divide the Christian community for their own vanity's sake. There are countless examples of this in the history of Christianity, not only concerning divisive allegiances to legitimate Christian leadership and ideas, but also allegiances to theologians advocating unBiblical theologies. Leadership itself shows its spiritual immaturity by playing to this sentiment.

In later years the "veneration" of the saints turned into idolatry. And Catholicism even made "saints" as a special category of Christians. The Orthodox invoke their post-Biblical Seven Ecumenical Councils as their standard. In Protestantism, though they claimed "Sola Scriptura" (the scriptures alone), yet their commentaries make much of John Calvin, Augustine, Luther, and the like. And there is a great amount of denominationalism among Protestants. The history of Christianity has been dominated by immature, unspiritual, worldy Christians, even to its highest levels.

How do you identify yourself? Are you a Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, or the like, or are you a Christian? Is there some post-Biblical theologian that you reckon infallible, above scrutiny? Whom do you quote to express your beliefs? Whom do you invoke to validate your beliefs?

A Division of Labor

1Cor 3:6,7  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

Cooperation versus Competition

A business model may help to clarify this point.  The Corinthians were behaving like companies which compete against one another, whereas Paul and Apollos were behaving as employees in the same company doing different jobs, but cooperating to achieve a common end.

Diversity of Ministries

Unity in Christ does not mean redundancy. If Christ's purpose requires a division of labor, then demanding all Christians do the same work, or restricting them from any diversity of labor is contrary to Christ's purpose and therefore of itself divisive. What attitude do you have towards other Christians who are not involved in the same ministry or programs as you?

Attitude of Humility

As the root of their division was pride, Paul speaks here of humility. Such an attitude helps us not only properly cooperate with other laborers, but to cooperate with God, giving him glory. To whom do you credit the results of your labor?

United in Purpose, Evaluated Individually

1Cor 3:8  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

While there must be a diversity of ministries, a diversity of giftedness, such as he will speak on later in chapter 12, there must also be a unity of purpose in doing the works we are called to. Now there will be a judgment, as he will speak of further on in this section. And Jesus spoke of this a number of times, such as in his parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, and  The Talents. Paul also writes, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2Cor 5:10 That judgment will be on an individual basis. So don't rely simply on your allegiances or mere attendance to get you through that. What has the Lord called you yourself to do, and how well are you fulfilling your responsibilities along those lines?

Handing off the ministry

1Cor 3:9,10  For we are Godís fellow workers; you are Godís field, Godís building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.

Paul was called to a foundational ministry. An "apostle" is literally "a sent one", like unto a missionary. Paul established churches and then moved on leaving the church in the hands of competent leadership. This process of handing over one's ministry to another is often a struggle among church leaders who perhaps have too possessive an atittude. But Paul saw the churches he established as not belonging to himself but to God. They are God's field, God's building.

However even though Paul deferred to Apollos as their primary care-giver, notice that Paul continues to write to them. This is another thing you don't commonly see. If a church leader leaves a church and is replace by another, you generally don't hear from them again. Should that be?

Christ the Foundation

1Cor 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul said, "what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" 1Cor 15:3 The gospel encompasses the person of Christ - that is, Christ as Lord and Savior - the works of Christ - his atoning work on the cross, his miracles and resurrection - and the teachings of Christ - which includes not only what he said in his earthly ministry, but what he also said through his apostles, and thus incorporates the whole of the New Testament and as it is also written that "Godís household is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." Eph 2:20 For Christ spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament and then through his apostles in the New.

Treating Christ as the foundation of our faith is revealed by doing what he said. Jesus said, "The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation." Luke 6:49a

Will Your Building Stand?

1Cor 3:12,13  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each manís work.

Now while Paul's specific application here regards the works of those who minister, namely he and Apollos, all saints are called to minister in some fashion. "We are Godís workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Eph 2:10 When we do those works we are building on the foundation of our faith with gold, silver and precious stones. But when we sin we are adding wood, hay and stray to the house we call our lives, our works, our legacy. A day of judgment will come in which, not we ourselves, but what we have built, will be tested as to its quality. So be prepared.

Loss or Reward

1Cor 3:14,15 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

It is not the saints but their works which are to be subjected to fire. Paul is not portraying a sort of purgatory scenario and one's salvation is not the issue. The works of the saints which are burned up are twofold. Personal sins are done away with and forgotten, as God says, "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." Heb 10:17 We suffer the loss of those parts of our lives we sinned, and we suffer the loss of the vain things we may have pursued. But we also may suffer the loss of others who end up in hell because we negelected to do God's work in their lives. What losses may you expect to suffer in such a trial?

That which survives is what we have built in cooperation with God. Such cooperation will be rewarded. And that includes those we've influenced, as Paul writes, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?" 1Th 2:19 And Jesus speaks much of works worthy of rewards, like he says, "If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." Mt 10:42

You are Sacred

1Cor 3:16,17  Donít you know that you yourselves are Godís temple and that Godís Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys Godís temple, God will destroy him; for Godís temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

The saints are God's temple both collectively and individually. Here he's speaking collectively as he just said of the church, "you are Godís field, Godís building." In chapter 6 he will also speak of being a temple individually. Paul does not have suicide in mind here. He's been talking about himself and Apollos as examples of ministers of the gospel. By "anyone who destroys God's temple", he is referring to those who are false teachers and such seeking to destroy the community of the saints. Likewise Jesus said, "if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck." Mk 9:42


1Cor 3:18-20  Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in Godís sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness" (Job 5:13) ; and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." (Ps 94:11)

A person wise in his own eyes or in the eyes of the world is unteachable. "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." Pr 26:12  "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil." Pr 3:7 And Ps 94:11 which Paul quotes is followed by "Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law" Ps 94:12 In much of 1Corinthians Paul is disciplining them. In particular here he is speaking of those among them who reckon themselves wise by the standards of the world and usurp Paul and Apollos as teachers.

Part of human nature is the "sophomore" effect. "Sophomore" comes from the greek words "Sophos" which means "wise" and "moros" meaning dull and from which we get "moron". A sophomore is a wise moron. With a little knowlege he thinks he knows it all and can be a teacher. If you've come to the point where you think you no longer need to learn anything, you may be just a sophomore.


1Cor 3:21-23 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the futureó all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

The world boasts of its celebrities but it should not be so among the saints. Yet there are those reckoned celebrities in the Christian community. Beware of making too much of such people. And beware the seeking of a celebrity status or social status and of those who seek such.  "It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek oneís own honor." Pr 25:27 And this is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD." Jer 9:23,24

 When you talk about Christianity, do you find you often make reference to your pastor, or a famous Christian or someone other than Christ? If so, perhaps you should reevaluate whom you are boasting about. Christian ministers and theologians are merely resources. And some better than others. But boasting of men is rooted in the search for personal significance vicariously through one's allegiances. Paul counters this insecurity by reminding the saints that they stand to inherit all things. Elsewhere he says, "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rom 8:38,39

Place your significance and security in Christ rather than in your allegiance to men or to institutions of men.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 28,2022