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
scarcely” saved (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
(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
next clause, and should be rendered, If
any man destroy 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
Inscriptions on the chel, or “middle wall of partition,” threatened death to any Gentile
who set foot within the sacred enclosure - “for
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
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)
BUILT ON THIS FOUNDATION SHALL RE TRIED. (vs. 13-15)
“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
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;
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:
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.”
defile [destroy] the
mean the destruction of all its parts, but the destruction of its use. Man
might live forever, and yet be destroyed as the
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.
their natures as the
An awful work this!
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.
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.”
must “become 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.