I Corinthians 3



                        The Carnal Conceit of the Spiritually Immature (vs. 1-4)


1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual” – these Corinthians

thought themselves quite above the need of Paul’s simple teaching -  “but as unto carnal” -

they considered themselves superior to Paul but the  elementary character of his teaching

was the result of their incapacity for anything more profound.  As unto carnal. The true

reading here is sa>rkinov, sar’-kee-nos; , fleshen, and implies earthliness and

weakness and the absence of spirituality; not sarkiko>v, sar-kee-kos; , fleshly,

or carnal; the later and severer word is perhaps first used in v. 3 and involves the

dominance of the lower nature and antagonism to the spiritual - even as unto babes

in Christ.”  The word “babes” has a good and a bad sense. In its good sense it implies

humility and teachableness, as in ch. 14:20, “In malice be ye babes;” and in I Peter 2:2,

“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word;” and in Matthew 11:25.

Here it is used in its bad sense of spiritual childishness.  2 I have fed you with milk” –

The metaphor is expanded in Hebrews 5:13, “Every one that partaketh of milk is

without experience of the Word of righteousness; for he is a babe.” – “and not with

meat” - not with solid food, which is for full grown or spiritually perfect men (Hebrews 5:14)

- “for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, (see John 16:12) neither yet now are ye

able.  3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and

strife, and divisions” - The two latter words are omitted in some of the best manuscripts,

and may have been added from Galatians 5:20.  Partisanship and discord, the sins of the

Corinthians — sins which have disgraced so many ages of Church history — are works

of the flesh (ibid. v.19), and involve many other sins (James 3:16), and are therefore

sure proofs of the carnal mind, though they are usually accompanied by a boast of

superior spiritual enlightenment – “are ye not carnal, and walk as men?   4 For while

one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?  Religious

partisanship is, in the eye of Paul, simply irreligious. He sets down party controversies

as a distinct proof of carnality. Those who indulge in it are men devoid of the spiritual




   Jesus Christ, the One Foundation of the Diverse Superstructure (vs. 5-15)


5 Who then is Paul” - The better reading is what? (a, A, B). The neuter would imply a

still greater depreciation of the importance of human ministers – “and who is Apollos,

but ministers” - The same word as that rendered “deacons” –  diakonoi - (diakonoi);

 ministers of Christ on your behalf” (Colossians 1:7) -  by whom ye believed, even as

the Lord gave to every man?” – the gifts differ according to the grace given – (Romans

12:6-8)   6 I have planted  - Paul everywhere recognized his gift lay pre-eminently

in the ability to found churches -  Apollos watered” – Apollos’ gift was his special

endowments of eloquence and deep insight into the meaning of Scripture, enriched

by Alexandrian culture – “but God gave the increase” - The thought of every true

teacher always is, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give the

praise (Psalm 115:1).  7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing” - The

planter and the waterer are nothing by comparison. They could do nothing without

Christ’s aid (John 15:6),  and were nothing in themselves (II Corinthians 12:11) -

neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” - The human

instruments are nothing, but God is everything, because, apart from Him, no result

would follow.   8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one” - literally,

one thing. God is the sole Agent; the teachers, so far from being able to pose as rival

leaders, form but one instrument in God’s hand. Their relative differences shrink into

insignificance when the source and objects of their ministry are considered – “and

every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.” -  9 For we

are laborers together with God” - Throughout the Bible we are taught that God

requires the work of man, and that He will not help those who will do nothing for

themselves or for Him. The world was to be evangelized, not by sudden miracle,

but by faithful human labor (Mark 16:20). ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s

building.” - rather. God’s field, or tilled land. The thought which Paul desires again

and again to enforce is that they belong to God, not to the parties of human teachers.

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me” - Paul’s habit of regarding

his whole spiritual life as one summed up in the one crisis of conversion and baptism.

This phrase is a favorite one with him (I Corinthians 15:10; Romans 15:15; Galatians

2:9; Ephesians 3:2) – “as a wise master builder” -  Wise” only in the sense of

subordinating every pretence of human wisdom to the will of God; and here the

adjective only applies to the wisdom required by a builder. In other words, “wise”

is here equivalent to “skilful.” Since Paul had received the grace of God for this very

purpose, he was made “wise” by the knowledge of Christ (for the metaphor of building,

see Matthew 7:24; 16:18; Ephesians 2:21; I Peter. 2:5) – “I have laid the foundation” –

rather, a foundation. Though in truth there is but one foundation, as he proceeds to

say in v. 12 – “and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he

buildeth thereupon.  11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid” –

rather, that is lying (comp. I Peter 2:6). It has not been placed there (teqe>nta)

by any human bands, but lies there by the eternal will – “which is Jesus Christ.”

“The doctrine of Jesus Christ is the foundation of all theology; His person of all life.”

This is again and again inculcated in Scripture: Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion for

a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation.” On

this rock the Church is built (Matthew 16:18: Acts 4:11-12; Ephesians 2:20).

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones,

wood, hay, stubble” - These words seem to symbolize erroneous or imperfect

doctrines, which would not stand the test, and which led to evil practices. Such were

the “philosophy and vain deceit,”the weak and beggarly dements,” “the

rudiments of the world,” of which he speaks in Galatians 4:9; Colossians 2:8.

13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest” - The real nature,  the worth or

worthlessness — of each man’s work, will be made clear sooner or later -  “for the

day shall declare it” - “The day” can only mean “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”

(I Corinthians 1:8), which would specially “make manifest the counsels of the hearts”

(ibid. 4:5), and “judge the secrets of men” (Romans 2:16), and make all men

manifest “before the judgment seat of Christ” (II Corinthians 5:10) -   “because it

shall be revealed by fire” - rather, because it is being revealed in fire. The phrase

is being” is called bad English, but some such phrase is positively needed to render

the continuous present tense, which here expresses certainty, natural sequence,

perpetual imminence. This tense is constantly used to express the continuity and the

present working of Divine laws (comp. Matthew 3:10). As the nominative is not

expressed, it is uncertain whether “it” refers to “each man’s work” or to “the day.”

Either gives an apposite sense (Malachi 4:1; II Thessalonians 1:8). Some would make

He” (namely, Christ) the nominative, because “the day” means “the day of Christ;”

and in favor of this view they quote II Thessalonians 1:7-8, “The revelation of the Lord

Jesus from heaven in flaming fire.” But the ellipse of an unexpressed nominative is harsh.  

and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” - This is the “probatory

or testing fire of the day of the Lord, of which we read very frequently in the Fathers.

The doctrine of purgatory has been in some measure founded on this verse (Council of

Florence, A.D. 1439); but such a view of it cannot be maintained. The reader will find

the subject examined and the quotations from the Fathers given in the writer’s ‘Mercy

and Judgment,’ p. 69. All that is said here is that the fire of Christ’s presence — the

consuming fire of God’s love — shall test the work, not purge it. The fire is probatory,

not purgatorial, and it is not in itself a fire of wrath, for it tests the gold and silver as

well as the inferior elements of the structure. It is the fire of the refiner, not of the avenger.

14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.”

One of the teacher’s rewards will be his converts (I Thessalonians 2:19), who will be

his joy and crown of glorying” (Philippians 2:16); another will be “a crown of glory that

fadeth not away” (I Peter 5:2, 4; Daniel 12:3); yet another will be fresh opportunities for

higher labor (Matthew 25:23).  15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer

loss” – He shall not receive the full reward to which he might otherwise look.  II John

1:8).  but he himself shall be saved” - It is an inexpressible source of comfort to us,

amid the weakness and ignorance of our lives, to know that if we have only erred

through human frailty and feebleness, while yet we desired to be sincere and

faithful, the work will be burnt, yet the workman will be saved – “yet so as by fire”.

rather, through or by means of fire (dia< puro>v). We may be, as it were,

snatched as a brand from the burning” (Zechariah 3:2; Amos 4:11; Jude 1:23), and

scarcelysaved (I Peter 4:18). Similarly it is said in I Peter 3:20 that Noah was saved

through water” (di u[datov).  The ship is lost, the sailor saved; the workman is saved,

the work is burned.




The Peril and Folly of Glorying in Men (vs. 16-23)


16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth

in you?  “Ye,” both collectively (Ephesians 2:21) and individually; “God’s shrine;”

not built for men’s glory. The word “temple” in the Old Testament always means the

material temple; in the Gospels our Lord spake of the temple of His body;” in the rest

of the New Testament the body of every baptized Christian is the temple of God

(I Corinthians 6:19), because “God dwelleth in him” (I John 4:16; comp. John 14:23 –

“If a man love me, he will keep my words:  and my Father will love him, and we will

Come unto him, and make our abode with him  - Just think, God has the desire

and the ability to live in every person at the same time – HE IS VERY GREAT

CY – 2010). In another aspect Christians can be regarded as “living stones in one

spiritual house” (I Peter 2:5). The temple; rather, the shrine (uses) wherein God

dwells (naiei), and which is the holiest part of the temple (hieron)  17 If any man

defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy” - The verb is the same as in the

next clause, and should be rendered, If any man destroy the temple of God; but the

word is perhaps too strong, and the word “mar” or “injure” might better convey the

meaning (Olshausen). The two verbs are brought into vivid juxtaposition in the

original: “God shall ruin the ruiner of His temple.” St. Paul was, perhaps, thinking

of the penalty of death attached to any one who desecrated the temple of Jerusalem.

Inscriptions on the chel, or “middle wall of partition,” threatened death to any Gentile

who set foot within the sacred enclosure -  “for the temple of God is holy, which

temple ye are.”  Paul is here referring to the Church of Corinth, and to the false

teachers who desecrated it by bringing in “factions of destruction” (II Peter 2:1).

Ideally the Church was glorious, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”

 (Ephesians 5:27).  18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth

to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.  19 For the

wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”  Here the word for “world” is

kosmos, in the last verse it was aion. Kosmos is the world regarded objectively; aion

the world regarded in its moral and intellectual aspect. “For it is written, He taketh

the wise in their own craftiness.”  This is one of the few references to the Book of

Job in the New Testament. It comes from the speech of Eliphaz in Job 5:13, but 

Paul substitutes the words - drassomeno>v - drassomenos – take - “clutching” - and

panourgia -  (panourgia) “craftiness”  for the milder katalabon and phronesei

of the Septuagint. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise,

that they are vain.”  A quotation from Psalm 94:11.  Paul substitutes “the wise” for the

men of the original, because the psalmist is referring to perverse despisers of God -

dialogismo>v, dee-al-og-is-mos; debate:  dispute, doubtful (-ing), imagination,

reasoning, thought.  Dialogismoi is rather reasonings” than “thoughts.”  It is used in a

disparaging sense, as in Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:17.  21 Therefore let no

man glory in men. For all things are your’s - It is always a tendency of

Christians to underrate the grandeur of their privileges by exaggerating their

supposed monopoly of some of them, while many equally rich advantages are

at their disposal. Instead of becoming partisans of special teachers,

and champions of separate doctrines, they might enjoy all that was good in the

doctrine of all teachers, whether they were prophets, or pastors, or evangelists

(Ephesians 4:11-12). The true God gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things

present, or things to come; all are your’s;  23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is

God’s.”  because “Christ is equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, but inferior

to the Father as touching His manhood.” Hence in ch. 11:3 he says, “The head of Christ

is God;” and in ch. 15:28, we read of Christ resigning His mediatorial kingdom, that

God may be all in all. Perhaps Paul implies the thought that Christ belongs, not to a

party, but to God, the Father of us all.






                                             The One Foundation (v.11)


There was a tendency on the part of the Corinthians to exalt their favorite teachers

and leaders. Such exaltation could not but be at the expense of the Lord Jesus Himself.

In dissuasion from such a course of Church thought and practice, the inspired Apostle

Paul puts in a just and clear light the relative positions of the teachers, the taught, and

the great theme of all Christian instruction. He makes use of a familiar figure of speech,

based upon the common craft of masonry. Christ is the Foundation; the people of

Christ are the stones of the structure reared thereon; and the apostles and other teachers

are builders of the spiritual edifice. It is of the Foundation that the text especially treats.




ü      The temple is composed of human souls, fashioned into a Divine unity

and endowed with a Divine life.


ü      The temple is inhabited and inspired by the Holy Ghost consecrating

and honoring it.


ü      This temple has actually and historically been called into existence by

The ministry and mediation of Jesus Christ, who has thus constituted

Himself its Foundation. As Son of God and Son of man, as the

accepted Mediator, as the authoritative Teacher and rightful Lord,

He is the Author and the Basis of the true Church.




ü      Christ is a Foundation deep and strong enough to support the fabric

reared upon Him. No fear need be entertained as to the permanence of

Christ’s Church. It may be assailed by the storms of persecution, it may

Be threatened by the decaying force of time; but “the gates of Hades

shall not prevail against it.” It rests on Christ, and the Foundation

standeth sure.


ü      Christ is a Foundation broad and comprehensive enough to underlie the

widest, stateliest structure. None who is conversant with the character,

the designs, the promises of Jesus Christ, can question this. In our day,

all systems that are narrow are doomed to contempt and destruction.

This fate Christianity need not fear; it has only to be true to the Divine

Head and Lord, and nought can overturn it or even injure it.



text lays an especial stress.


ü      No other is permitted by God. It would be dishonoring to the Father to

suppose that His Son can be replaced or supplemented by any other; the

sufficiency of the Divine provision does not admit of question.


ü      No other is needed by man.


ü      NO OTHER IS POSSIBLE.   Any other than the Divine Foundation must

be of man’s appointment, must be indeed merely human. (The Bible

teaches that the plan of salvation, which included the sacrifice and death

of Jesus Christ was agreed upon before the making of the world –

Revelation 13:8 – Mr. Spurgeon said that there is nothing new in theology

except that which is false – CY – 2010)  The apostle teaches that he and

Apollos were only builders upon the Foundation, and could not therefore

be the Foundation itself.




ü      All Christians are represented as living stones built upon Christ. Each

has his own place and his own use; but all are alike in this fact — they

support themselves upon the strong foundation laid in Jesus.


ü      All Christian pastors and teachers are building upon Christ. The question

for them to ask is this: Are we building into the walls of the temple such

material as will endure the test of trial and the test of time?  (vs. 12-15)




“Every man’s work shall be made manifest.” Heaven has appointed a day

for testing character. Individually, it is the day that dawns at the end of our

mortal life; universally, it is the day that dawns at the end of this world’s



ü      This day will be injurious to those who have built on this foundation

with worthless materials.


Ø      They will suffer loss — the loss of labor, opportunity, position.

Ø      Though they suffer loss, they may be saved — “saved, yet so

as by fire.” Though his favorite theories and cherished hopes

shall burn like “wood and hay,” yet he himself may survive

the flames.


ü      This day will be advantageous to those who have built on this

foundation with right materials.If any man’s work abide which he

hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.”




Humanity the Temple of God (vs. 16-17)


“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God

dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy;

for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” The apostle is writing not to

those who were spiritually perfect; on the contrary, to those who were characterized

by most salient moral defects. Yet he says, “Ye are the temple of God.” Let us,

therefore, look at man:


  • As A DIVINE “TEMPLE.” “The temple of God.” In what respects a



ü      Man is a special residence of God. God is in all material objects, but

He is especially in moral mind.


ü      Man is a special manifestation of God. God is seen everywhere in this

world, but never so fully as in the mind of man. “We are all his off-

spring,” and we are like the Father in essence, conscience, and freedom.


ü      Man is a special meeting place with God. The temple at Jerusalem was

God’s special meeting place with man. “There will I commune with

thee.”  Man can meet with God in material nature, but not so fully and

consciously as in mind. “The highest study of mankind is man.”


  • As a Divine “temple” THAT MIGHT BE DESTROYED. “If any man

defile [destroy] the temple of God.” The destruction of a temple does not

mean the destruction of all its parts, but the destruction of its use. Man

might live forever, and yet be destroyed as the temple of God, the special

residence, manifestation, and meeting place of God. Now, mark, this

destruction, if it takes place, is not by God. He will not destroy the temple,

only by man. “If any man defile [destroy] the temple.” Alas! men are

destroying this temple, i.e. destroying their natures as the temple of God.

An awful work this!


  • As a Divine temple, the DESTROYER OF WHICH WILL BE

DESTROYED BY GOD HIMSELF. “Him shall God destroy.” Destroy, if

not his existence, all that makes existence worth having or even tolerable.

(Consider the truth of Revelation 11:18 – “and shouldest destroy them

which destroy the earth” – may I opine that the immorality of the people

of the earth will long destroy it before global warming has a chance – today,

by our immoral, in your face immorality, we are bringing on the judgment of

God! – CY – 2010)  He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap

corruption.”   (Galatians 6:8)  “The temple of God is holy,” that is, ideally

holy, ought to be holy.



Worldly Wisdom (vs. 18-20)



“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this

world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is

foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” The

wisdom here referred to is what Paul calls elsewhere “fleshly wisdom,” the “wisdom

of the world,” or of the age. It is the same wisdom as he refers to in ch. 1:20. The

wisdom of this world” may be regarded as mere intellectual knowledge, applied to

secular and selfish ends; however vast and varied its attainments, it is worldly in the

apostolic sense; it is “earthly,” “sensual,” “devilish,”(James 3:15) not like the

wisdom which is from above,” which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and

easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits.” (ibid. v. 17) - In relation

to this wisdom three remarks are here suggested.


  • It is SELF DELUDING. “Let no man deceive himself. If any man

            among you seemeth to be wise in this world,”:


ü      This worldly wisdom deceives a man, inasmuch as it leads him to

                        overrate the value of his attainments, he imagines that this kind of

                        knowledge, “wisdom,” is everything for a man. Hence the enthusiastic

                        promotion of secular schools and colleges. But all such knowledge is of

                        no value to man as man, and beyond his brief and uncertain earthly, life.

                        He deceives himself in its value.


ü      This worldly wisdom deceives a man, inasmuch as it leads him to

                        overrate his own importance. He is “vainly puffed by his earthly mind,” as

                        Paul says elsewhere (Colossians 2:18). Such a man imagines himself to

                        be very great; he becomes a pedant; he “struts and stares and a’ that.”


  • It is SPIRITUALLY WORTHLESS. A man with this worldly wisdom

            mustbecome a fool, that he may be wise.” Two things are here implied:


ü      That with all his wisdom he is already really a “fool.” He is a “fool;” for

                        he looks for happiness where it is not to be found. Happiness does not

                        spring from a man’s brain, but from his heart; not from his ideas, but from

                        his affections. Moreover, he is a “fool” because he practically ignores the

                        chief good, which is love for, resemblance to, and fellowship with, the

                        great God. Hence God esteems this wisdom as foolishness. “The wisdom

                        of this world is foolishness with God.” The most illustrious scholar, sage,

                        orator, who is considered by himself and by most of his contemporaries to

                        be a man of wonderful wisdom, to the eye of God is a fool, especially

                        when he says in his heart “there is no God”.  (Psalm 14:1)


ü      It is ULTIMATELY CONFOUNDING. “It is written, He taketh the

                        wise in their own craftiness.” It must confound a man sooner or later,



Ø      here in his conversion, or

Ø      yonder in his retribution.