1 Corinthians 3b
1 Corinthians 3:10-11… According to the grace of God which was given to 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. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
In the previous context the Apostle Paul spoke of his own role in God’s kingdom. He compares himself to one who plants seeds. The planting of seeds refers to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ crucified. After he planted, another watered. In this case it was a man named Apollos. Apollos came after Paul to the church in Corinth and helped the seeds that Paul planted to grow through his ministry. Both men, according to the apostle, were “fellow workers” in God’s Kingdom. Those that they taught are said to be “God’s field” – “God’s building.”
In verse 10 above Paul moves on from the analogy of the seed in the soil to his allusion in 3:9 of God’s “building.” Now he speaks of God’s people as a building under construction. As the evangelist – the one who initially brought the gospel message to the Corinthians – Paul calls himself a “wise master builder.” Lest one think that the apostle thinks too highly of himself, notice the first phrase in verse 10: “According to the grace of God which was given to me.” He knows that all he can boast about is what God has given to him, and he further recognizes that his ability to share Jesus Christ with others is all about God. In sharing the gospel message Paul “laid a foundation.” Just like a home builder lays down the initial slab on level soil so as to support the structure, Paul speaks spiritually when he says that he laid the foundation like a “wise master builder.” The foundation he lays is on God’s wisdom, not worldly philosophy.
The middle phrase in verse 10 says in reference to the foundation that Paul laid, that “another is building upon it.” This person is unnamed, but the tense of the verb is ongoing, and it is in reference to the fact that building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ is an ongoing eternal process. Every moment spent listening to God’s Word, every moment meditating upon it, and every moment worshipping God continually builds upon the foundation of the cross of Christ.
The latter phrase of verse 10 is a stern warning to be careful about how one builds on the foundation. This is in reference to each Christian’s responsibility for how they grow as believers. They must pay careful attention to what they are taught by various teachers, how often they read God’s Word, and how they worship. They are building their lives upon the cross of Christ as the foundation, and they must be careful about how they build. Verse 11 reiterates how there is no other true foundation than Jesus Christ. All others fail to support the building.
Food for Thought
What do you do well? Maybe you’re a master craftsman, a scholar, or one with great athletic skills. Maybe you’re a gifted evangelist who has been given the privilege of seeing many people come to know Jesus Christ under your ministry. Whatever you’re good at, remember that your talent is a gift. Gifts are given by God, and this means that we can take no credit – no matter how hard we’ve worked to develop the gift. In Paul’s case, he was a gifted evangelist, but he himself knew that it was “according to the grace of God which was given…” He recognized his gift, and he put it to work for God’s glory. God’s words through the Apostle Paul have laid the foundation of Jesus Christ in the lives of so many through the centuries. What keeps you from using your God-given gift(s)? Whether it be laying a foundation by sharing the message of Jesus Christ or building on that foundation by elaborating on the cross of Christ, don’t miss out on the blessings that await you for simply taking part in the construction of building – God’s Kingdom.
1 Cor. 3:12-15… Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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. 14 If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
The church in Corinth, though saved through the knowledge of the cross of Christ, was immature and divided over worldly issues. Paul’s analogy in the above verses is meant to challenge them to grow up and move onto maturity through proper Christian disciplines.
Once the foundation of knowing Christ in a person’s life is established he/she begins to build on that foundation. The quality of the building, as it were, must be conducive to the foundation. Paul relates the quality of the building to “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw.” These building materials start strong with the first three and end weak with the last three. They represent a Christian’s good works after he/she comes to know Christ as Lord. When a person places his/her faith in Christ it is their works that reveal how mature they are. Works don’t save a person, but good works must reflect the salvation one has. When a believer’s good works come from a heart full of thanks toward God (prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, giving of oneself both financially and sacrificially, etc.), these represent “gold, silver, and precious stones.” It is interesting to note that the Temple in Jerusalem was adorned with these precious stones and metals, and this fits the analogy in vv. 16-17 where Paul relates the Christian to the Temple of God. These stones don’t burn up, and as they represent good works with proper motives, they illustrate a solid and conducive building that corresponds to the foundation.
The latter three building materials (wood, hay, and straw) represent works that have no value. They represent religion and ritual – things people do that create a shaky structure. Religion helps no one when times get tough, and because it creates a false sense of hope, people fall away from God when times get tough. These materials burn in the fire, and spiritually speaking, this way of life is both non-glorifying to God and worthless to the believer. The fact that verse 13 speaks of a fire that will reveal how strong the structure is strongly attests to the fact that Christians do in fact suffer trials and painful ordeals. Those have strong faith – who have developed their walk with the Lord through solid Christian education – will still be standing when the fire goes out, as it were. And verse 14 goes further in that it teaches that rewards await those who have been faithful with worthwhile good works as opposed to acts of ritual and religion. Those who seek to appease God through religion build houses of wood, hay, and straw – elements that do no withstand fire. And after the trials of life, verse 15 sums up the condition of the believer: he loses his rewards because his religion is shallow. He, however, remains standing on the foundation, not losing his salvation, but being saved as by the skin of his teeth.
Food for Thought
No matter how good a person’s works good deeds are nothing unless the person knows Christ as Lord. When a believer, however, acts as such through his good works those works fall into two categories: worthless and worthwhile. The former gives 10% of his money to the church and expects God to smile at him and pay him back tenfold. The latter, however, gives so as to worship God for His grace. When tough times come (fire) he doesn’t hold God responsible and expect to get rich. He praises God and receives his reward through that praise. The religionist shakes his fist at God and demands to know “Why?!” One is mature; one isn’t. Which are you?
1 Corinthians 3:16-17… Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
Verse 16 proves that church buildings, cathedrals, and worship centers are nothing more than bricks and mortar. They are not “sanctuaries” – holy places – as they are sometimes called. Some actually believe that God lives in church buildings, but v. 16 says that God’s dwelling place, His temple, is the church, namely, the individual saints of God who form it. Whereas in the OT the presence of God was in the tabernacle and later the Temple, in this dispensation, following Jesus Christ, God’s “temple” is His people. Paul’s rhetoric is harsh, and the fact that he uses this rhetorical question (“Do you not know”?) 10 times in Corinthians and only once elsewhere (Rom. 6:16) attests to his strong feelings of frustration toward the Corinthians.
The foundation of the building is likened to knowing Jesus Christ as Lord, and he is the foundation of the Christian’s life. The building – represented by good and obedient works – is the temple of God. The latter phrase in verse 16 says that God’s “Spirit” – the Holy Spirit – “dwells” in His people. The word for “dwell” means “to live with, to manage, to settle.” This is the place where the Holy Spirit lives; He lives in the individual believers who are the church.
Now in the same way that the Temple of God, where His presence dwelt in the OT, was adorned with solid building materials and was meticulously put together, so must the saint of God who is far more than that. The good works of the saints are paralleled to the master craftsmen and their materials in their building of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5-8).
Verse 17 draws the natural conclusion about what happens to those who destroy God’s temple – the church of Jesus Christ in this context (though it refers to individual believers in chapter 6). The Corinthians’ existence among the many pagans gave the Spirit of God a presence there. Their divisions and petty arguments were destroying the church, and Paul reminds them that if anyone destroys God’s Temple, the church, “God will destroy him.” The word for “destroy” is often translated as “corrupt” in the NT, and the tense of the verb is ongoing signifying specifically that if the Corinthians continue with their childlike divisions God will destroy them. The verse could read, “If anyone continues to corrupt the church of God, God will eventually destroy that person or entity.” The reason for such a threat is given in the latter part of verse 17… “For the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” In other words, since the church is holy (sanctified; set apart) because of God’s presence, there must be nothing that discredits it. In the OT if anyone other than the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) entered the most holy place in the Temple, God killed them immediately. Akin to that is the church – the Temple of God where His Spirit dwells. Represented by believers, it too is holy.
Food for Thought
The church today is in a desperate situation as a result of centuries of abuse and infighting. If the church ultimately fails to bring back the vision of holiness that God grants us with His Spirit through grace, it will be destroyed. Most Christians today take the local gathering of believers far to lightly. The church is the most powerful entity on the face of the planet because it is Holy Spirit’s dwelling place. Unfortunately the outside world, and even the Christian community by and large, knows nothing of this. Attending a church gathering is how “church” is viewed today; people feel they can take it or leave it – even Christians! Be reminded today that the church’s influence is in your hands. Don’t take that responsibility lightly.
1 Corinthians 3:18-23… Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” 21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 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, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
There is great resolve in Paul’s voice here in verses 18-20. “Let no one deceive himself” is akin to our modern day phrase, “Make no mistake!” What should not be mistaken is that wisdom apart from God – found in philosophy, metaphysics, etc. – is true foolishness. Paul says nothing in these verses he hasn’t said already in previous contexts, but here he says it with great force so as to remind the Corinthians that their fascination with worldly philosophy and wisdom is utter foolishness. True wisdom is found in what is foolish to the world, namely, Christ crucified. From God’s perspective this is true wisdom, and God’s perspective is all that matters. Paul quotes from Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 in vv. 19-20 to make his point. The Job passage is in the context of a cunning hunter attempting to capture his prey. The irony here is that it’s God doing the hunting, and He’s catching His prey in their own worldly schemes for wisdom. The Psalm text shows how futile the “reasonings” of the wise are, for God knows their ways.
Verse 21 brings the whole argument to a conclusion with “so then.” The conclusion is that no one should boast about Paul, Apollos, or Peter because they are mere men. Placing one’s pride in men is to take one’s focus off of God – the Creator and Sustainer of all things. When Paul says that “all things belong to you” the “you” is plural referring to the believers who make up the church. Their slogans were “I am of Paul,” but he changes it by saying “you (plural) are of God.” To be of Paul, Apollos, or Peter was narrow-minded thinking (reflecting their immaturity). These three men actually belonged to them because “all things belong to you.” The “all things” here, per v. 22, include “the world, life, death, present things, and future things.” These entities are the church’s possession. They are the enemies of unbelievers, but though all Christians die, life cannot be taken from them. The present belongs to them along with the future, and as Gordon Fee puts it, “This is the glorious freedom of the children of God. They are the lords of all things, not bound to the whims of chance and exigencies of life and death. The future is no cause for panic; it is already theirs.” Thus, they had no need to boast of belonging to one man or preacher, for Ephesians 1:10 says that God will bring all things under heaven and earth under one head, that is Jesus Christ. So then, there are to be no divisions in God’s people – the church.
Verses 22-23 do not teach that one can take possession of all things as the Stoics believed. They believed they owned everything and were, as such, self-sufficient. Consequently, they were independent and selfish. All things belong to those in Christ because all things are his according to v. 23. Only in Christ does a believer possess the world. The fact that “Christ belongs to God” and yet “God is One” (Deut. 6:4) is the final statement of victory.
Food for Thought
We tend to side with our denominations today. “I am Catholic… I am Presbyterian… I am charismatic… etc.” Denominations suit our worship preferences, but they must not divide the universal church of Jesus Christ. Our divisions have weakened us to our shame. Unless the truth is thwarted we must come together as one, but if truth is ever twisted we must not even associate.
THE BUILDERS OF GOD’S TEMPLE
The Judgment of Believers’ Works (3:10-17)
- The Master Builder: Paul (10)
- The Foundation: Jesus Christ (11)
- The Materials: Believers’ Works (12)
- We build by our Motives (sing to please God? Giving for favors?)
- We build by our Conduct
- We build by our Service (using spiritual gifts)
- The Test: By Fire (13)
- The Workmen: All Believers (14-17)
- Constructive workmen – Receiving crowns… 2 Tim 4:7-8 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 1 Thess 2:19-20 says, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Peter 5:4 says, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” James 1:12… “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Rev 4:9-11… “And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.’”
- Worthless workmen – Like a man who narrowly escapes the fire with his life.
- Destructive Workmen – Unbelievers? Possibly believers like the Corinthians.
Eliminating Divisions B/T Believers (3:18-23)
- We must have a proper view of Ourselves (18-20)
- All we know is what God has taught us in His Word (e.g. liberal theology)
- “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is simple. Teach him.”
- We must have a proper view of Others (21-22a)
- Rejoice over God-given leaders who obey the truth
- Never pit one faithful man of God over another.
- We must have a proper view of Possessions (22b)
- We must have a proper view of our Possessor (23)