1 Corinthians Chapter 3: Carnality and Immaturity of the Corinthians

Jan 31st, 2010 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Corinthians Chapter 3: Carnality and Immaturity of the Corinthians

1 Cor. 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

1 Cor. 3:2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

1 Cor. 3:3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

Imagine if an elder spoke to the congregation this way! The brethren would be very much offended to be called “carnal” and “babes in Christ.” Paul was saying, “I fed you with milk in the past because you were not able to bear meat—and you still cannot bear it.” In the first chapter, he commended the Corinthians for having utterance in all knowledge (1 Cor. 1:5).

How would we harmonize this commendation with the criticism of verses 1-3 here in the third chapter? The Corinthians were faithful in the sense that when they heard about Christ, they repented, dedicated their lives, and were active. They went about witnessing and preaching the gospel to others in Corinth, which was a sin city. In other words, they did not put their light under a bushel but faithfully confessed and professed the baby knowledge that they had. Now Paul was criticizing them for having stagnated in their beginning knowledge. A warning is not to get swallowed up in a work to the detriment of growth in knowledge and understanding.

One can associate with an organization to do witness work and then for 40 years preach baby milk to others and be so absorbed in the work that he himself is not fed. The nature of the witnessing is proper because babies should not be fed meat, but the problem is that the individual does not develop. And so the Corinthians were faithful in all utterance to others, giving all the knowledge they had, but they themselves did not progress mentally with the meat so that they could grow up from babyhood to adulthood. That was the principle here in verses 1-3. Otherwise, Paul’s earlier commendation would be a contradiction.

Paul identified the Corinthians, for the greater part, as babes. They would be babes in character development and in discerning only the basics “until Christ be formed” in them (Gal. 4:19). The goal of a follower of Christ is to copy the Master as much as possible in the imperfect life on this side of the veil. Paul wanted to speak to the Corinthian brethren on more advanced spiritual things, but he could not do so because of their condition as babes. Nevertheless, he would try to bring some benefit out of the confusion that existed in the church at Corinth.

“There is among you envying, and strife, and divisions,” but what kind of envying? With one saying, “I am of Paul,” and another saying, “I am of Apollos,” the implication is that leadership was involved. Some favored one leader, and others favored another leader.

Comment: The Apostle James said, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:14-16).

Reply: James concurred with the reasoning of Paul, adding that the spirit of the Corinthians was “earthly, sensual, devilish.”

Comment: Paul said, “Every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe” (Heb. 5:13).

Reply: Yes, the Corinthians were babes along moral lines. All Christians, regardless of age at the time of consecration, start as babies. From that point on, each one has a responsibility to grow and not to remain as a babe.

1 Cor. 3:4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The danger of a divisive spirit, the spirit of carnality, exists all the time. For those in the church systems, the danger today is saying, “I am of a certain denomination.” For those in present truth, the danger is saying, “I am of Pastor Russell.” The tendency is to quote him rather than the Scriptures. Even the great Apostle Paul said, “Who am I?” In the final analysis, if all others should forsake us, we would still have God and Jesus as our foundation. While we may favor the teachings of certain individuals, we should always have in mind that the Word of God is the faith structure of our character development.

The nominal Church would use verse 4 to prove the need for ecumenical worship—for Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc., to all meet together. How would we refute this thinking? (1) Denominations are different from apostles and leading personalities. (2) The churches hold certain creeds that are not scriptural. Paul was not encouraging compromise on fundamental principles in God’s Word.

In the beginning, four were named with regard to divisions: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. Now just two were being used as an illustration—Paul and Apollos.

1 Cor. 3:5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

1 Cor. 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

1 Cor. 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

1 Cor. 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

Some in the class said, “I am of Paul,” and others said, “I am of Apollos.” In other words, some favored Paul’s type of ministry, and others favored the ministry of Apollos. Here Paul pointed out, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but [God’s] ministers [servants]” by whom He did the teaching. True, Paul “planted” (started the class at Corinth), and Apollos “watered”—“but God gave the increase.”

The fact that Paul founded the class should have borne some weight, unless he went out of the truth, had a character aberration, or taught glaring doctrinal error. Lesson: Unless there is a valid reason otherwise, a principle is that we should be reluctant to discard too hastily those whom God uses to bring others into the truth. Of course one can go to another source for development, but that is different from the more radical treatment of discarding.

“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one.” Paul emphasized this point a little later. Water is essential to make a garden prosper. Apollos was zealous and influential, he was fluent in his delivery, and he had power—real substance. In short, he was a blessing. When Apollos went to Corinth, some in the class liked him so much that they said, “I am of Apollos.” The emphasis on “I” was the problem. Paul corrected the attitude to “We are of God.”

“Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase [causes the seed to prosper].” To have a variety of teachers was good, although for a person to develop in a concentrated way, it was natural to favor the teaching of a particular individual. The danger was in hearkening only to his teaching.

After Paul founded the class and left Corinth, he went to the continent and then back to Jerusalem with a donation from the saints. Next he went to Ephesus, where Apollos had just been and taught about the baptism of John. Meanwhile, Apollos had gone on to Corinth by the time Paul got to Ephesus. Notice that Paul did not criticize Apollos and tell about his need to be instructed by Priscilla and Aquila with regard to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul wanted to lift the minds of the Corinthians above the “ministers” to God. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and even Christ were God’s ministers—God had sent them. Paul was saying, “Neither is he that plants the seed or he that waters anything, for God gives the increase.”

Paul realized that when he and Apollos died, the hopes of the Corinthian brethren would die too, unless they got the higher thought that God had sent them as His ministers. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know and trust that God would continue to supply their needs when the servants were off the scene. Thus Paul was lifting the thoughts of the brethren without denigrating Apollos and by including himself: “Who am I, and who is Apollos?” He was willing to be nothing for the betterment of the Church.

“Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” When a consecrated individual dies, his life is under review. God grades all of the consecrated, one above another.

1 Cor. 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

1 Cor. 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

“For we are labourers together with God.” Paul was saying, “Apollos and I are in this work together. We are both God’s servants—and not only we but you also. We are all workers together, and God works in all.” Verse 9 can also be thought of as applying to the whole Church throughout the age; that is, “All of the consecrated and I are labourers together with God.” “Ye are God’s husbandry [field, vine], ye are God’s building.” James 5:7 calls God the “husbandman”: “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.” Precious fruit is the result of the tillage. And Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman” (John 15:1).

Notice that God is mentioned three times in verse 9 as the unifying factor. If all of the groups looked back to their initial drawing, they would see that they had a common start. They all miraculously got the truth in the beginning, but as they began to develop, friction and divisiveness entered their midst.

Paul admitted he was “a wise masterbuilder,” being a little above the others in that he was appointed to be an apostle, but God had done the appointing. “Ye are God’s building according to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder.” Paul’s statement was not pride, for he had to let the Corinthians know of his authority to teach. On the one hand, he humbled himself, and on the other hand, it was needful to tell them he was not an ordinary teacher. He wanted them to come to their senses, for there was a wide difference between his background and that of the class. Paul was trained at the feet of Gamaliel, a teacher so famous that he is even mentioned in secular history (Acts 22:3). Moreover, Paul “was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5). His handicaps or impediments—poor eyesight, stature, voice, and appearance—all kept him humble and thus helped him develop a more Christlike character and make his calling and election sure.

Paul had laid the foundation by starting the class, and Apollos had built on that foundation, yet they were “one” in that they were both ministers of God doing the same work. Nevertheless, Paul inferred his superiority by saying that God had made him “a wise masterbuilder.” He was trying to make the Corinthians think. A Manna comment says that we should act and speak under all circumstances for the honor and glory of God, even if doing so brings recognition and honor to ourselves. In other words, sometimes we have to elevate ourselves, and sometimes we have to denigrate ourselves—whichever is more suitable for seeing Jesus more clearly. Paul was trying to help the Corinthians, to balance them and get them to think. He praised them for their knowledge; he criticized them for their lack of knowledge. He put Apollos on the same level with himself; he did not put Apollos on the same level. Incidentally, a general principle is that “new” teachers should not override an apostle (or even a brother long time in the truth who has good knowledge).

“But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon [how he builds on the foundation].” Anyone in a teaching capacity has to be careful that his teaching is in harmony with God’s Word. All are God’s building—both the teacher and the one(s) being taught. It is important how ministers do the building as well as how the recipients of the teaching let their characters be built. There is a responsibility on both.

1 Cor. 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

“For other foundation can no man lay than that is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the “foundation,” the Rock. This statement was strong—there is no other way for salvation than through Jesus (Acts 4:12). If Jesus had not said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), where would we be? Yet he also said, “I am meek and lowly in heart,” and he invited those who were humble and teachable (Matt. 11:29). The point is that self-laudation, to a certain extent, becomes expedient under peculiar circumstances. Jesus’ message left an imprint throughout history, whereas, in comparison, other philosophies have nothing tangible to offer.

1 Cor. 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Paul listed two types of categories, or triads, each with subdivisions: (1) gold, silver, and precious stones and (2) wood, hay, and stubble. Also, the triads were given in descending order. In the first triad, gold was the best, next came silver, and then the precious stones. The second triad was also in descending order, wood being the most valuable, hay next, and lastly the stubble. Hay was more valuable than stubble because of its usefulness as bedding and fodder for animals. It is significant that all three burn, whereas none of the three metals or stones burn with ordinary heat; that is, they withstand heat.

Paul advocated building on the foundation with quality materials. Many look for quantity in fellowship. They like to attend large churches with thousands of people and excellent choirs, but the result is like a social club. Instead God is looking for quality. The Christian does not have quality to start with, but little by little, he grows in grace and understanding. One who starts the race must have confidence that God called him. If he is obedient and diligent, exerting every effort possible, God’s grace will enable him to win. And the Christian is supposed to have the objective to win the race, not just to finish it, for all must finish to even get life in the Great Company (1 Cor. 9:24). God will judge all of the consecrated as to their individual worth, and He will not ask more than what they are capable of by His grace.

1 Cor. 3:13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

“Every man’s work shall be made manifest.” The maxim of verse 13, pertaining to character development, has applied throughout the Gospel Age. Other Scriptures treat the dispensational aspect, but here the application is to all Christians.

God tries every Christian’s work. The fire throughout the age was an individual experience to manifest what value was in a person’s work (character development); that is, somewhere in each life—in the middle or at the end—the Christian was tested to the core. However, at the end of the age, there will be a special dispensational collective experience, or fire. The principle with all of the consecrated is, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Pet. 4:12).

“For the day shall declare it.” In what way will the “day” declare “every man’s work”? Down through the Gospel Age, each Christian got his test with fire and sooner or later went into the tomb. God, Jesus, and the angels knew whether an individual built with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or stubble, for they could see the test and how the individual met it, but the world did not know. Therefore, the “day” was the day of trial for the individual. In his “day” of testing, the mettle of his character was exposed, or made manifest, to the angels but not necessarily to the public down here, who may have viewed a saint in a derogatory fashion, while the Lord viewed him in a complimentary fashion, or vice versa. The point is that the trial reveals character development. For instance, Paul said that divisions, siftings, and schisms are necessary in order to make manifest to God, Jesus, and the angels those who are properly exercised (1 Cor. 11:19 paraphrase). In other words, if a chasm opens before an individual, he must take a step backward, forward, or sideways. Decisions in life are forced upon the Christian, and how he reacts to them is a test.

The “day” that declares “every man’s work” can also be considered from another standpoint. In the Gospel Age, the fire makes apparent to God, Jesus, and the angels who will make the Little Flock, although God determines which category (gold, silver, or precious stones). In the Kingdom Age, it will be revealed to those down here who are in the Little Flock, and it will also be revealed who are the Great Company. Thus there are two aspects to the “day.” (1) Down through the Gospel Age, the day of trial has been contemporary with the life of the individual, and the audience who knows of the manifestation is limited to those above. (2) The yet future day of the declaration of rewards, the Kingdom Age, will reveal to the world who made the Little Flock and who is in the Great Company.

“Fire” represents the Christian’s testing time. The fire can be tests of doctrine, faith, morals, character, service, or something else. Incidentally, the more prominent the individual, the greater the danger, the severer the trial, and the more the Adversary is interested in his downfall. Thus the experience would be correspondingly greater.

What actual lasting value “works” have will be made manifest later. From one standpoint, the importance of works (character development, witness efforts, use of talents, etc.) is shown here, and from another standpoint, the importance of grace is shown. We do a work hoping to please the Lord, and in pleasing Him, we hope to get a higher life. If we do the work well enough, we hope to get the highest form of life. However, the expectation and the reality are not always the same. God judges us by faith and not by works, but imperfect works are essential to manifest the type and the degree of our faith. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling chiefly through character development, but there are other aspects (Phil. 2:12). Works are expected, but we are to examine how we build. In other words, building is essential, but the building must be done with the right motive and in harmony with God’s will.

1 Cor. 3:14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

In this illustration, characters of gold, silver, and precious stones will abide the fire. All three represent different degrees of value, or merit, of the Little Flock. In other words, there will be differences of rank, honor, and value of those who comprise the Church in glory. Gold represents those in the Little Flock who get top honor, a special commendation, namely, the apostles and the messengers to the Church. Silver represents unusual, superior Christians who are next in rank. The precious stones represent the rest, the majority. If the superstructure abides the fire, the individual will get the reward of the Little Flock.

Q: Is there any validity in picturing The Christ as a pyramid? Jesus will be at the top, the apostles and messengers next, the silver somewhat more numerous, and the precious stones the majority at the bottom.

A: Yes. All who are ultimately in God’s family, including the Church, spirit nature, and human nature, will fit into a pyramid. When God’s plan is complete at the end of the Millennial Age, all of these categories will have been developed in sequence of honor and glory.

“If any man’s work abide … he shall receive a reward.” If the work does not abide, he does not receive a reward as respects the Little Flock. He may get life in the Great Company, which is a wonderful blessing, but that is not considered a reward, or special honor. It is merely a salvation where the soul is not lost.

1 Cor. 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Verse 15 is contrary to normal logic, but Paul’s method helps to bring out a point that will be seen as we proceed. The wood, hay, and stubble are all burned; that is, they are destroyed, yet the individual is saved. Therefore, this illustration is not picturing the destruction of the individual but the destruction of his work. The gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble represent what individuals build upon the foundation Christ Jesus, the quality of their workmanship. Individuals whose works are completely shattered will not get honors but, rather, great disappointment, shock, and loss in connection with their expectations of the high calling. Stated another way, their hopes of being part of the Little Flock are destroyed. All of their efforts in the present life with regard to obtaining the prize of the high calling are of no avail, but their life is preserved. Hence the gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble represent workmanship, and whether or not one will receive a reward depends on whether it abides. If the workmanship abides, there are different scales of honor in the Little Flock. If the workmanship is destroyed but the individual is saved, there are different degrees of honor in the Great Company. Incidentally, hay burns quickly, but stubble burns furiously. With the Great Company, who will be servants before the throne, there will be distinctions of service (Rev. 7:15). One lesson is that character “works” are helpful and important in determining the destiny of a person, and even with those whose works are destroyed, distinctions are made.

“He himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Fire and tribulation purify. In the Time of Trouble, the Great Company will wash their robes “in the blood of the Lamb,” that is, in the tribulation period (Rev. 7:14). The fire will awaken them to their need of purification, and through purification, they will be saved. (Those who are not awakened by the fire will not be saved, will not get life.) The works of the Great Company will be destroyed, and their hopes and ambitions will not materialize. Nevertheless, here in verse 15, Paul was presenting the thought of building on the foundation in an encouraging way. Yes, the Great Company will suffer loss, but as long as they hold to the foundation, they will get life. They must prove their faithfulness in the final analysis as overcomers, not as more-than-overcomers.

Judges 19 is the account of a Levite, whose concubine was abused all night by a multitude of Benjaminites until she died. He found her in the morning where she had crawled and expired with her hands on the threshold. She represents the Great Company class, who hang on to the foundation and get life. The incident is very sad, emotional, and traumatic. The Levite was so overwhelmed that he cut up her body into 12 pieces and sent a piece to each of the tribes to clean out the mess that existed with this type of people. Homosexuality became so pervasive in the tribe of Benjamin that when it was cleaned out by the other tribes, none would have remained in the tribe if the Lord had not intervened.

In another picture, the scapegoat was brought by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness to die (Lev. 16:21,22). In the New Testament, Paul named two individuals of the Great Company (scapegoat) class whom he remanded over to “Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved” (1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5:5). Here the fire destroys the flesh and its works— the human nature with its hopes and ambitions—but the individuals do get life. On the one hand, those of the Church lay up treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones in heaven in the present life—the treasures are there on deposit—so that when they die, they inherit the treasures. On the other hand, the treasures of wood, hay, and stubble never get up in heaven, for they are not acceptable. Therefore, when the Great Company die, all their hopes and ambitions, as well as the flesh, are destroyed. Nevertheless, their spirits are saved by being given a resurrection as a secondary spiritual class.

The foundation Rock, Christ, is common to all six categories. However, one must be careful how he builds upon that Rock platform. The one common salvation for all six categories is life.

In one class, the works on top of the foundation are transferred to the heavenly realm, and in the other class, the works on top of the foundation are destroyed.

Two basic types of works are built upon the foundation Rock, Christ Jesus. One class builds with combustible materials; the other class builds with relatively noncombustible materials. The fire destroys the wood, hay, and stubble but does not destroy the gold, silver, and precious stones. With regard to the Great Company class, the wood, hay, and stubble, which are burned, do not refer to the soul, or being, of the person. To a certain extent, the faith works, or character, might be damaged or set back for a while, but the soul and the foundation of Christ are not burned. In other words, the fire can burn down the entire superstructure, but it cannot damage the foundation. The person’s relationship to Christ is pictured in the foundation.

The “works” do not refer to building materials. An example is the Apostle Paul, who lost all of his possessions when he was shipwrecked. The Little Flock build a superstructure in heaven, whereas wood, hay, and stubble are not laid up in heaven. In other words, the Great Company do not build a proper superstructure, and when the wood, hay, and stubble are destroyed, only the foundation remains. When those of the Little Flock die, they have spiritual treasures in reservation for them in heaven. When those of the Great Company die, they have only their souls. Therefore, the fire pertains to the critical point in life, which is either death itself or some other time in a Christian’s career when he reaches the point of no return of either making or not making his calling and election sure. When that crisis comes, then whatever a person does from that time on, treasures are there only for the Little Flock. The Little Flock and the Great Company can do visible works before public or brethren, but the nature of their character building will not be discerned until the Judgment Day. To a certain extent, we can judge a person by his fruits, but not in the final sense of the ultimate outcome (Matt. 7:16-20). We can certainly judge whether one supports a wrong principle, but we cannot judge his final destiny.

Comment: Based on the picture here of combustible materials, one of the failings of the Great Company is not taking a firm stand on certain issues.

Reply: Only the Little Flock lay up “treasures” in heaven, and these treasures abide because they are of gold, silver, or precious stones.

1 Cor. 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

1 Cor. 3:17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

In verses 16 and 17, Paul used the illustration of a temple edifice. “Know ye [plural] not that ye [plural] are the temple of God.” From a certain standpoint in the present age, the Church is likened to the temple of God, in which His Spirit dwells.

“If any man defile [destroy—KJV marginal reference, Greek phtheiro] the temple of God, him shall God destroy [Greek phtheiro].” Most translations favor the thought of “destroy,” which seems to be correct because of the purpose Paul had in mind, of which these illustrations were only subsidiary lessons.

“The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” Paul was speaking of a class here. Just as a temple has one base, so the “temple class” (all Christians) have one common platform—Christ. The six categories—gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble—are built on one foundation (Christ), and the temple class has one platform (Christ). Moreover, individual stones are built on the one platform into a holy edifice. The Apostle Peter said that Jesus is the chief cornerstone of the temple of God and that the individual temple stones (the Church) are built up into him (1 Pet. 2:5,6). And Paul said here, “Which temple [stones] ye are.” However, in verse 17, he was describing those who do not get life because they destroy the foundation of the temple. The foundation was being eroded, not just the superstructure.

In this third chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul gave three illustrations:

1. Soil and planting. As servants, Paul planted and Apollos watered, but God gave the increase, using human instrumentalities to bring about fruitage. Although the Church is responsible to do the work, it is God who supplies the sunshine, the air, the water, and the workers who till the ground. Without His blessing, there would be no fruitage. God supplied the supernatural superior things that Paul and Apollos could not provide and then sent Paul as the master builder and Apollos with the watering can. All are a part of God’s arrangement, or providence, with regard to the development of the Church class in the soil. All grow up in common ground. The force of Paul’s point is clearer in the next two illustrations.

2. Building upon the one foundation. Six classes, as represented by gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble, are built on the one foundation. Diversity of works is emphasized by the different materials on the one platform. In the first illustration, which was one of agriculture, or ground in which seed was planted and developed into produce, Paul did not categorize the produce as wheat, barley, etc., but simply said God supplies the necessary help for the produce to grow. Thus Paul started out with a general lesson of the brethren in Corinth. Originally, there was just ground. Then along came Paul, who planted, putting seed in the ground; that is, he started the ecclesia. Next came Apollos, also of God, as a further blessing to this nucleus class, especially the Jewish element, by bringing new ones into the truth. In addition, Apollos edified and helped the brethren to progress. Accordingly, Paul gave a second illustration, which pertained to building on the one foundation with different materials.

3. The temple. To understand this third illustration, we must return to 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” The first illustration showed being “labourers together with God.” As “God’s husbandry,” the Corinthians were His cultivated field, or farm, in which produce was grown. Paul was showing the collective aspect in saying, “We [plural] are labourers together with God,” “Ye [plural] are God’s husbandry,” and “Ye [plural] are God’s building.” In other words, all of the Corinthian brethren were laborers together, God’s husbandry, and God’s building. They had been using the pronoun “I,” with each one thinking he was specially treated of the Lord as an individual. “I am of Paul [who is straighter in the truth]” was the attitude. Paul wanted the brethren, if possible, to grow in unity. In reality, in the final analysis, there must come divisions, but in the meantime, while they were together in unity, that was their opportunity to learn, feed, grow, and develop. Therefore, Paul was emphasizing the fact that we are God’s workmanship. Later the Lord would stir up the nest, adding thorns, so that the exercise of flight would be exhibited.

In the temple, or third, illustration, Paul showed the collective work of one temple. All are being built into one temple, and if, in God’s sight, any man destroys this temple, God will destroy that individual in Second Death. In other words, defiling the temple has to do with improperly destroying the unity. The point is that any division which occurs must be in harmony with God’s Word. If division is done not on a proper basis but on the basis of jealousy, a power struggle, or any other wrong motive, then the destroying of what God is putting together incurs a Second Death penalty.

Paul was emphasizing the importance of exercising care in the experiences of life. It is like the responsibility in marriage; namely, whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder. With an ecclesia too, the putting asunder would be a great danger to the individual unless it was done according to what the Lord has expressly instructed. In other words, division is to be done only on the basis of obedience to the Word of God. We obey the unity because God’s Word commands it, but we also part when God’s Word commands us to do so—and not where we rationalize and make an arbitrary problem. Matthew 18:6 states the principle: “But whoso shall offend [stumble] one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea [for at least he would be resuscitated from the tomb].” Jesus was saying that one who is responsible in God’s sight for causing another to abandon his consecration and leave the truth also incurs Second Death. Of course sometimes an individual stumbles himself by his own reaction in failing to take a proper step.

Unity is important, so the issues and experiences in life must be examined. Those who are troublemakers (brambles)—those who have the disposition of criticizing and undermining and bringing forth nothing constructive—are in a dangerous condition. How, then, do we harmonize the fact that Jesus criticized during his entire ministry? Every criticism he uttered was a proper one, a valuable one, based on the Word of God and its principles. However, criticism done with the wrong motive is disruptive and divisive and stumbles others.

Incidentally, “stumbling” does not pertain to offending the feelings of a person; “stumbling” is causing one to go out of the truth. Sometimes it is necessary for feelings to be hurt in order for the individual to get a lesson.

In review, the three illustrations, in sequence, are planting in common ground, diverse building on one foundation, and being built collectively into one temple. A strategist, a mastermind in his reasoning, Paul was trying to show that the Corinthians should have harmony.

In Rome, the capital of Italy, both Jews and Gentiles were in the same class, but the seat of the Roman Empire was obnoxious to the Jew because of oppression in the land of Israel and forced subserviency to the empire. Moreover, the Gentiles in Rome felt they were superior to the Jews. Corinth, a free-going, busy, influential cosmopolitan commercial center, was a different situation. Through business enterprises and commerce, the city had much wealth, and people could interact in a more liberal fashion than in a provincial area where differences were more pronounced. Thus the problem in Corinth was not a Jew-versus-Gentile situation but temptations through association with the world and pleasure. Of course there were excesses in Rome too, but not so much in the class itself. Hence Paul treated the Corinthian and the Roman ecclesias differently—his messages and approaches were not the same.

1 Cor. 3:18 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.

A man can “deceive himself” by getting so confident in his relationship to the Lord that he overspeaks, departing from the Lord’s counsel and Word. In speaking his own vagaries, he leads others astray.

Comment: A dangerous belief is “once in grace, always in grace.” Those with this belief feel they can do anything they want and still be saved.

Reply: We believe that those who hold this doctrine and refuse to listen to the Lord’s counsel will receive an extreme penalty. Perhaps, in the final analysis, the number who fail to get life will be equal to those who get life. To make such a statement about grace and completely disregard the Lord’s Word is very serious (Rev. 22:18,19). The Lord calls us by grace, but He does not need us. He shows mercy and kindness by calling us and giving us not only redemption but also the opportunity to run for the prize of the high calling. If, subsequently, we boldly declare the opposite of what the Word of God teaches on a fundamental principle, what remains for us? We must guard against overspeaking.

1 Cor. 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

Paul showed earlier that the true wisdom is Jesus Christ. Why now, after completing a moral lesson using three illustrations, did he return to the subject of wisdom? He was again tackling the problem of the Corinthians’ saying, “I am of Paul” and “I am of Apollos.” Some liked Apollos because of his fluency and oratory. Paul was less in appearance, but he had sharp, penetrating wisdom as a logician. Some preferred the outward show, build, looks, and voice of Apollos to the superior wisdom of Paul. Paul was trying to shatter both attitudes by getting the Corinthians to think of the wisdom of God. All should focus on Christ. The class should not be split over the wisdom of two individuals, Paul and Apollos.

1 Cor. 3:20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

1 Cor. 3:21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;

1 Cor. 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;

1 Cor. 3:23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

“The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain [empty]. Therefore let no man glory in men.” In other words, “Let no man glory in his own leadership, and let not those who are being led glory in the one who is leading them.” After mentioning the three personalities, Paul spoke on a very high level. He was way up in the stratosphere in his thinking: “Whether … [it is] the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours [ours].”

To a certain extent, we see this principle illustrated. For instance, a person may be poor, but if he has sufficient food for the day, clothing, and a house to sleep in, he can go down the street and enjoy seeing expensive jewelry in a shop window without having to possess it. Seeing the jewelry does not create a reaction of wanting to acquire it. Instead the individual sees the beauty around him, including the beauty and wonders of nature. And that was the thinking of the Apostle Paul—he was satisfied. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6) is the principle. One can look contentedly on the goods of this world, appreciating and admiring their beauty, and not have to own them. If the Christian has this attitude, the good things of the world and the beauty of nature are his in the sense that he gets pleasure from seeing them. These closing thoughts in chapter 3 are so sublime that they merit further consideration. Paul presented a tremendous plateau of thinking: “Do not glory in men, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, for all things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” If we recognize that God’s providence was manifested in the way we came into the truth, in what He has done for us, in our experiences in life, and in the messengers He has sent, then we will realize He is leading us in every circumstance—even if we have no elder or are forced into isolation, for example. If we realize that God’s providence is over all of our experiences—from our calling to the end of our course—this thinking will support us, sustain our hope, and give us an anchor to keep us from going back into the world.

If we have the slant that Paul was presenting, then everything is different. We become observers. We can look in the store windows and enjoy the beauty of all the merchandise but not be enticed by them or feel we have to obtain them. We can view the beauties of nature and not feel we need money to buy a hundred acres to retire in. And to have the submissive attitude of “whether we live or die” is a glorious climax, for it shows we are ready to go if such be the Lord’s will. If we live, that is very nice, and if it is our time to die, we meekly accept the situation and see God’s hand in it. As we come to that climax of life, we want to, if possible, die with assurance. However, even Jesus had doubts at the very end of his life—and maybe we will too—but doubts are interspersed with encouragements.

In verse 23, not only was Paul emphasizing the (plural) “ye” aspect, as opposed to “I”—“ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s”—but he was bringing the thinking of the Corinthians up to the highest level, to God Himself. In comparison, who were Paul, Apollos, and Cephas? Christ is above the others and is the only foundation, but even he said, “The things that I say are not mine, for they originated with the Father. What He taught me, I am telling you.” The highest credit goes to God as the Husbandman, the One who gives the increase to the things of this life for the spiritual good and development of the Christian.

(1979, 1997, and 2001 Studies)

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