Text: 1Corinthians 3
Paul, who loves the church with God’s own love, has expressed much to the believers in Corinth, in the first two chapters. He has reminded them of their calling, and exhorted them regarding their behavior toward those who have been sent by the Lord to them. He has indirectly called them to spiritual maturity.
Now, he frankly and bluntly evaluates their spiritual maturity, not to condemn them, but to call them to repent and to ask their Father in heaven to fill them with the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13)!
If I were going to give this a title, it would be, “Infants in Christ.”
Verse 1 — Paul would love to speak to the believers at Corinth as spiritual, mature in Christ, freed from the tyranny of their sin natures, no longer carnal, no longer being jerked around by fleshly desires.
But he cannot speak of them that way. He has to speak to them as men of flesh, believers whose sin nature is alive and well and causing chaos in the church at Corinth. He has to address them as infants in Christ. Infants — “immature, babies, unlearned, unenlightened.”
Verse 2 — Paul gave them milk to drink — the basics of the Christian faith. They could not digest solid food (teaching on righteousness) because they were not ready to receive it, just as children cannot digest solid food until they are no longer infants. Even now, he says to the believers at Corinth, you are not able to receive solid food.
The writer of Hebrews gives the same exhortation to the Hebrew Christians scattered during the diaspora caused by persecution of Christians in Israel —
Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature (complete, perfect), who because of practice have their senses (perception) trained to discern good and evil. [That is, they are filled with the Spirit, and are able to use their spiritual perception to discern good and evil.]
Verse 3 — “For you are still fleshly.” Still! That means there is more than a fleshly life for Christians, beloved. When you first believe, your sin nature is still alive and well. But you are expected to seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and then that fleshly sin nature is crucified!
How does he know they are still fleshly? For (because) there is jealousy and strife among them. Paul asks them, Are you not fleshly (carnal), are you not walking like MERE MEN? Jealousy and strife among believers are sure signs that they are infants in Christ.
Instead, they should be walking as Jesus Christ walks! You may say, It is impossible to walk like Christ. But hear the Apostle John —
1John 2:6 . . . the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Per the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “The question in verse 3 is stated in Greek in a way that expects a positive answer (i.e., “Yes, we are walking like mere men”). This suggests that the Corinthians, if honest with themselves, should admit their failing here. To walk kata anthropon (according to man) means to live the way the ordinary sinful man lives—in selfishness, pride, and envy.”
Jealousy and strife, one-upmanship and power plays, plots against pastors whose words offend them (as Paul’s offended the believers at Corinth), favoritism, politics. These are a stain and blot on Christ’s reputation, put there by those for whom Christ died! There are many believers today who exhibit the same behavior as the believers at Corinth. Each time they fight and split churches, they give their Lord a black eye. Shame!
Verse 4— Paul continues telling them why he knows they are infants, asking them again, When one says, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are you not MERE MEN? Their actions prove it — boasting in who they follow, prideful, judging those the Lord sent to lead them, and thus judging Christ, as if they know better than Him!
Verse 5 — Who are the ones the believers at Corinth judging? Apollos and Paul are servants through whom the believers at Corinth came to faith in Jesus Christ, “even as the Lord GAVE to each one of you!” O believers at Corinth, you did not save yourselves. The Lord saved you through the ministry of Apollos and Paul, and your salvation was a gift to you from God —
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .
O church at Corinth, you have a distorted view of the Lord’s work! O church today, examine yourselves! Are you yet fleshly?
Verses 6-7 — Here is the role of a servant of the Lord, put very simply. One plants, then another comes and waters, and God causes the seed to grow into a plant that produces fruit! The believers at Corinth are judging God’s work, by comparing one leader to another.
The seed planted by Paul could not produce fruit without water. Seed in dry ground will simply sit there. But water it, and it has the right environment to germinate. Still, the water by itself, and even the water and seed, do not cause the growth. Watered seed requires light in order to burst forth from the ground and grow. That light is God! He causes the growth.
He who plants and he who waters are not anything but God’s fellow workers! But God, who causes the growth, IS SOMETHING! It is His supernatural work that has caused the believers at Corinth to be drawn and saved.
Again, Paul emphasizes that God causes that seed of truth to spring to life. Paul is just a seed planter. Apollos is just a waterer. Nothing can grow until God shines the light. Why, then, are the Corinthians playing favorites, as if it is man, and not God, who gives the increase?
Verse 8 — Now he who plants (Paul) and he who waters (Apollos) are one. They are of the same divine nature, filled with the Holy Spirit, and have the mind of Christ. But each will receive his own reward (wages) according to his own labor.
Verse 9 — Apollos and Paul are God’s fellow workers. God works through them to bring salvation to the ones to whom they minister. The believers at Corinth are part of God’s field, from which He has harvested their souls (see John 4:35). And when they believed into Jesus Christ, they became God’s building —
1Peter 2:4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
They do not build themselves, but HE is building them, using His fellow workers! His goal? Listen —
Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping (perfecting) of the saints for the work of service (to become His servants), to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge (intimate knowing is in view here) of the Son of God, to a mature (perfect, complete) man, to the measure of the stature (as great as) which belongs to the fullness of Christ (a full container, that is, to encourage and exhort them to be filled with the Holy Spirit).
Verses 10-11 — The Lord gave Paul grace (the ability, through His divine influence on his heart and its reflection in his life) to be a wise master builder.
Paul laid a foundation. And another came along and is building on it. But each man must be careful not to build on any other foundation, because the building will surely fall. And what is that foundation? Jesus Christ! Here is what Jesus says —
Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall.”
Again, Paul emphasizes that he is able to build them into a building only by the grace of God. It is God who has enabled him to become a wise master builder (architekton), because the Lord filled Paul with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17).
The master builder is the one in charge of the building process. It is from architekton that we get the English word, “architect.” Paul has laid a foundation, that is, basic teaching about Christ and the church. Another teacher is building upon that foundation. They are co-laborers, each with their own responsibility regarding the construction project.
Verse 12 — If any man begins with Jesus Christ as the foundation, and then builds, they may build in one of two ways —
— with gold, silver, and precious stones, or
— with wood, hay or straw.
Verse 13 — And the fire of God’s judgment will judge and test each man’s work. The church at Corinth is not in a position to judge it!
Verses 14-15 — If a man’s work remains after being tested by the fire of judgment, he will receive a reward. That man built with gold, silver and precious stones, which are not destroyed by fire. He built the church up with the pure truth of God’s Word — both milk and meat — and exhorted the church to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as commanded by Jesus Christ (Acts 1:4-5)!
But if a man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss (that is, he will have no reward). His work was made of wood, hay and straw, which burn up in fire. He kept to the basic tenets of the faith, warned them of sin and exhorted them to turn from it, but has not exhorted his congregation to obey Christ’s command to be filled. Yet his work was built on the foundation which is Christ, so he will be saved, but as if he had gone through fire.
I am convinced that these verses pertain to all believers and not just their teachers/builders. You might say, “But Paul has been speaking of teachers, not everyday Christians, up to this point.”
I stand by my conviction because seven times in the next few verses, Paul uses the words “no man” and “any man,” and because. Paul is about to remind not just teachers, but all Christians at Corinth, and all of us: “Let no man deceive himself!” “If any man among you . . .” He’s speaking to all of the Corinthians. Let’s continue this discussion with the next set of verses.
Verse 16 — Paul takes the building metaphor to a deeper level, speaking to all the believers at Corinth, and to you and me, beloved! He asks, Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
“Do you not know” is a rhetorical question — the believers at Corinth ought to know, they are responsible to know! They have a measure of the Spirit, but their temples are not filled with the Spirit, as evidenced by their carnal actions.
Verse 17 — Paul takes it further still. If you, the temple of God, are destroyed by your own sinful nature, your own lusts that have not been crucified with Christ (Galatians 5:24), God will destroy you. He says this to believers, beloved!
Why? Because the temple of God is holy, set apart, sanctified. And Paul says to them, that is what you are — the temple of God. But they are not yet holy, as evidenced by their actions.
Paul warns the Corinthians not to destroy the temple that they have become. They are not to corrupt it, they are not to cause it to shrivel and wither, they are not to ruin it (with sin). If they continue to sin, God will destroy them. Strong words! Sin leads to death. Destroy your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, by sinning, and God will destroy you.
Here is what James writes about the carnal Christian’s lusts —
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
The wages of sin is death, beloved, per Paul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome, in Romans 6:23.
But Peter writes this about those who are filled with God’s Holy Spirit —
2Peter 1:4 For by these (God’s glory and goodness revealed in the gift of Jesus Christ), He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
His promise? Stay (24:49) and wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5), “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Paul continues to reprimand and exhort, just as I do today. Why?
2Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
Become partakers of the divine nature, O believer! Ask the Lord to put your sin nature to death, and fill you with His Spirit!
Only then will you — the temple of God — be holy, and be a place where the Father and the Son and the Spirit come to permanently dwell, filling you with God!
Glory to God! He will do it, if you will admit that you are yet carnal, you are yet fleshly, you are yet an infant!
Verses 18-20 — Paul exhorts the believers at Corinth, who deceive themselves with their worldly wisdom! Don’t deceive yourself, but become foolish — abandon worldly wisdom! Then and only then will you become wise (have God’s wisdom)!
The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God, O church in Corinth, and today’s church! Do not rely on it. Do not build with it. It is wood, hay and straw!
Paul quotes from the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, saying, It is written of God —
Job 5:13 “He captures the wise by their own shrewdness,
And the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted.
Psalm 94:11 The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.
And I add,
Jeremiah 8:9 “The wise men are put to shame,
They are dismayed and caught;
Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,
And what kind of wisdom do they have?
“Let no man deceive himself.” No one is deceiving you, but you are deceiving yourself if you think you can sin and still be accepted by God.
Do not “reason away” your sin, like the Gnostics, Cynics and Stoics were falsely teaching. They considered themselves to have “hidden wisdom” but it was no more than their own foolish imaginings intermingled with Greek philosophy. They said, “Your body is made of skin and bones. Those are not holy things. So go ahead and sin in your body, because you have the Holy Spirit to keep you holy in your spirit.”
This is a perverse teaching and not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came so that our past sins would be forgiven, to reconcile us to God, and He also came so we would no longer be slaves to the sin nature, but would be made holy by the indwelling Holy Spirit and governed by Christ’s nature.
“Let no man deceive himself!” (italics mine). Wait a minute! Aren’t the false teachers the deceivers and therefore responsible for the faulty thinking of the believers at Corinth? No, the believers deceive themselves. The Corinthians liked the false teaching because it pleased their carnal, sinful desires. They loved to sin, and this teaching said it was all right to continue to sin. So they deceived themselves into believing it.
Verses 21-22 — So then! This is the conclusion of the matter, and the conclusion of Paul’s reprimand of the believers at Corinth, on this issue. So then, let no one boast in men.
Why? Because all things belong to you (are of) — they are a gift to you — whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter), or the world or life or death or things present or things to come.
The Expositors Bible Commentary explains the last part of Verse 22 this way —
Also the kosmos (the world itself), the processes of living and dying, the present and the future—all are to be viewed in relationship to God’s purposes and plans for his redeemed people. So Paul can say, “All things are yours.” Everything is for the believers’ benefit, everything belongs to them.
And believer, you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
You are not your own! You have been bought with a price, O believers in Corinth and believers today —
1Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
So then! Let no one boast in men. Whether Paul is teaching them, or Apollos or Cephas does not matter. Christians are to put their trust in God. Who appoints Paul and Apollos and Cephas? God! He appoints who He wants, and we do not question His wisdom.
Paul repeats “all things” twice in these verses. As those who are saved, we are co-heirs with Christ, and He is heir to all things. Paul exhorts them that nothing is more important than this truth. They are divided over Paul and Apollos and Cephas, and which one is better. Their focus is entirely wrong, and it is because they are still controlled by their sin natures.
They are worrying about the world, life and death, things present and things to come. Their concerns are self-centered (“What makes me feel good about myself? “Who do I like best? What happens to me when I die?”). As Dr. Dennis Kinlaw taught, they are curved in upon themselves, as in a fetal position, rather than outward, toward a lost and dying world.
The Corinthians are Christ’s. Christ is God’s. Life and death, things present and things to come should not influence them in any way — all of them are part of the fulfillment of God’s purpose.
Neither should such things influence Christians today. But like the believers at Corinth, they will be influenced by such things until they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, the sin nature is crucified and replaced with Christ’s nature. Then, God works a miracle, turning that fetal position into an outward curve that embraces and collects lost souls.
O believers in Corinth, O church today, your partisanship, your strife and jealousy, is a black eye to the One to whom you belong. So repent and ask the Lord to change your hearts!
Next time, Paul will further exhort the believers at Corinth about their boasting and judging. He will tell them that he is coming for a visit. The way he comes will depend on their response to this letter. It will either be with a rod (of discipline) if they do not heed his exhortation, or with love and gentleness, if they repent.
Lord Jesus, You discipline those you love, so they may share in Your holiness (Hebrews 12:10). Now, take this that you have shown me, Lord, and send it forth in the power of Your Spirit, that the Father and You would be glorified. Amen. Let it be so.