1 Corinthians 3

Jimmy Jo1 Corinthians, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read 1 Corinthians 3 here.

After a couple of weeks break, today we return to our study of 1 Corinthians.  I don’t want to do a full review of our previous discussions, but I did want to highlight a couple of points. 

Firstly, Paul seems to assert his authority as an apostle, that is as one called by God.  Again, Paul’s apostolic authority is because of God’s calling.  And this is especially important because there is a tendency in the Corinthian church to claim allegiance to various others based, not on their calling by God, but according to their worldly expectations.  One of those worldly expectations is based on the understanding of wisdom – likely informed by their Greek background, broadly speaking.  And we’ve been exploring the possibility that some prefer those exhibiting this kind of wisdom as opposed to Paul’s teaching.  But God’s wisdom, demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, confounds the wisdom of the Corinthians.  It is this that is true wisdom.  And it is this that Paul is preaching, not the wisdom of the world, and that the Corinthians should be listening to.  Paul’s message, then, is not the world’s wisdom, but Christ crucified.  And though the world rejects this kind of wisdom, those with the Spirit of God are able to understand it and accept it.  And contrary to what the Corinthians think it means to be spiritual, this is what it means to be truly ‘spiritual’ – to be filled with, enlightened by, and led by the Spirit of God. 

This is where we pick up our passage today.  Paul is continuing to speak on this issue.  And today, his particular focus seems to be on the constitution of the Body.  And, if I can sum up simply, he seems to want to say that the only appropriate foundation for the church is the work and person of Jesus Christ. 

So with that, our passage today is chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians. 

So while I’ve already described what I think this passage is doing, I want to spend the time to briefly go over how Paul structures his argument, and think a little bit about what it’s doing in the larger section of 1 Corinthians.  Then we’ll spend a little bit of time reflecting on what this means for us. 

We will consider this passage in three major sections:  vv. 1-4, 5-17, and 18-23.  Firstly, vv. 1-4. 

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

1 Corinthians 3: 1-4

To begin with, it is likely that Paul is implicitly addressing the charge by some of the Corinthians that Paul is not impressive enough for their tastes – that is, that he doesn’t display enough wisdom (for example).  Paul seems to be saying that he intentionally “dumbed things down” for the Corinthians because they were “mere infants.”  Now by using this phrase – “mere infants,” and this in contrast to be truly mature – Paul might be alluding to the kinds of things that the Corinthians are boasting about.  The other thing the Corinthians are boasting about is being “spiritual” – and here Paul says he in fact has to address them as those who are not spiritual, “as people who are still worldly.” 

So Paul is saying that, though the Corinthians accuse him of being unimpressive and unsophisticated, this is in fact because of the immaturity that they themselves demonstrate.  Paul has to focus on the basics with them, because that is all they are ready for.  Paul is focussing on (only) the fundamental truths because they have yet to grasp those fundamental truths. 

And as evidence of this, Paul again refers to their desire to align themselves with particular leaders (presumably, those who are impressive). 

This brings us to the next major section, vv. 5-17.  Because this is a larger section, we’ll break it down so it’s a little easier to follow.  So, vv. 5-9 say: 

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3: 5-9

Paul’s point here is pretty straightforward.  Apollos, like Paul, is nothing more than a servant of God.  By claiming to be servants of Apollos (for example), the Corinthians are missing the point altogether.  All are God’s alone. 

And from here, Paul transitions (slightly) to a brief discussion of the nature of the Church.  In vv. 10-15, Paul says essentially, that his calling is to lay the foundation for the Church – that is, the church in Corinth, but by extension, the Church.  Without a good foundation, that which is built will not last.  It is Paul’s responsibility then, along with those (including Apollos) who add to it, to ensure that the building’s foundation is strong. 

And here, we should recognize that Paul has already said (through different analogies, to be sure) that the only foundation is Christ. 

And finally in this section, in vv. 16-17, Paul makes explicit that the church in Corinth is where God’s Spirit dwells.  And the point that Paul makes is twofold.  Firstly, Paul again states that the church in Corinth is God’s church, God’s people – no one else’s.  And secondly, Paul is emphasizing the unity of the body.  Therefore, if some are claiming to follow Apollos, or Peter, or Paul, or whomever else, they are denying (or even destroying) the unity of the body.  They are guilty of destroying God’s temple. 

The final section of our passage today is vv. 18-23: 

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephasor the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

1 Corinthians 3: 18-23

Now with these verses, Paul brings us back to the thought with which he began this passage – though it may not be immediately obvious.  In vv. 1-4, Paul says that he spoke to the Corinthians as though they were infants, not those who are mature, because they needed to really get the foundational truths.  Implicitly, Paul says that because they were not ready for it, he didn’t get into the deep wisdom.  Here, Paul makes this more or less explicit.  As he has said before, Paul says that the Corinthians are eager to align themselves to the wisdom of the world (we’ve talked before about the how and the why).  But in doing so, they are actually being foolish, because the world’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom. 

We won’t go on about that, but once more Paul refers to the “divisions” that the Corinthians are creating, by aligning themselves with various leaders, is a demonstration of such ‘foolishness.’  It reveals those who make decisions according to human or worldly wisdom instead of God’s wisdom and purposes. 

So if we can envision the flow of our passage today, we might say it looks something like this: 

  • You (Corinthians) are still worldly
    • Paul/Apollos/Peter only serve God’s purpose, working for God’s building.
      • The foundation of God’s building (that is, the church) is Christ alone
        • You (the church) are God’s building, temple and in the temple, the Spirit of God dwells
  • Don’t continue to be worldly

So it seems that what Paul is saying is that the Corinthians, by seeking some other foundation are demonstrating themselves not spiritual but worldly.  But in truth there is no other foundation for the church than Jesus Christ.  Therefore, build on the foundation of Christ alone and cease looking for, or trying to build on, some other foundation. 

So what Paul has been saying through the previous couple of chapters takes on additional significance.  Paul has been confronting the Corinthians about their inclination to admire characteristics that are of the world instead of seeking to grow in and embody the characteristics of the Kingdom – the characteristics of Jesus. 

And this is crucially important because what Paul is doing is not just gathering together a bunch of like-minded individuals for social, economic, or political benefit.  Rather, he is serving God’s work of building a people of the kingdom.  He’s not interested in impressing anyone, through his sophisticated wisdom, spiritual powers, or whatever.  Paul is not interested in putting on a show – all he wants to do is point people to Jesus.  Because there is no other foundation than what has been laid by Christ. 

Now as we begin to wrap up, we want to think about how this affects us as a church, as part of the Church, in the 21st century west.  In addressing the Corinthian church, Paul has in mind a couple of particular issues.  Though undoubtedly there are other things that he could have addressed, Paul here focuses on the Corinthians love of worldly wisdom.  And we can certainly see elements of that in our own culture and in contemporary churches.  Later, Paul will focus on the Corinthians love of spiritual manifestations (again, among other things).  And we have certainly seen that in the western world as well.  We won’t go into the possible reasons why this has been so attractive, but there have been many churches whose “success” can be attributed to their emphasis on spiritual manifestations: whether speaking in tongues, faith healing, words of prophecy, or gold flakes falling from the ceiling. 

And while I am in no position to judge such practices or emphases – God certainly works in all sorts of ways – the danger of which Paul warns us is to build our foundation on such things – on any other thing – instead of on Jesus Christ alone. 

But these aren’t the only temptations in the western world.  It is tempting to build churches on the promise of prosperity or using the allure of celebrity.  It is tempting to build our foundation on the skills or influence of the individual members.  A professional band or high production levels are proven methods of building churches in our culture.  In a related way, providing people with a purpose – a sense of usefulness or a place to use their skills – is an important way to grow or retain membership. 

Now I don’t want to be judgemental.  Some of these things are actually good and can be what God wants us to do.  I simply want to say that the temptation to build on some foundation other than Jesus Christ is pervasive and subversive.  And as we fall to such temptations, we will find that instead of building and being the temple of the Holy Spirit, we instead have become a temple of our own making – a monument to ourselves instead of the house of the living God. 

So what do we do?  Well, I think there are several things that are important.  One of those things is being aware of what’s going on in the culture.  And this is not a simple thing.  I don’t mean that we should simply note those things we dislike about the culture and shake our fist at them, saying “thank God I am not like that.”  I mean that we should be aware of how and the extent to which we are products of our culture.  How have capitalism and consumerism impacted the church?  How has the prevalence of television and the internet – and the resultant shortened attention spans – affected us?  What voices and personalities are we allowing to shape our worldview instead of looking to the person and character of Jesus?    

Therefore, the second thing that we should do is examine ourselves.  We should pray that God would reveal the extent to which our trust and hope is placed on something else, that we might repent and turn once again to God.  And this is an on-going, never-ending pursuit.  That we might continually be brought nearer to Him. 

But most importantly, we need to know Jesus.  We need to know Him in the sense of understanding who He is, what His mission and message was, and what He is still doing to bring about His kingdom.  We also need to know Him in the sense of entering into deeper relationship with Him.  And we also need to know Him in a third way.  We need to know Jesus in a way that our relationship with Him becomes part of who we are – that who we are is infused with the person and being of Jesus.  And I don’t mean this in a way that suggests that we lose who we are.  What I’m saying is that every genuine relationship we enter into changes us – becomes a part of us.  We want to know Jesus in a way that forms who we are. 

So as a final word, I want to say once more that our foundation must be on Christ alone.  Make no mistake – whatever it is we think we are doing, inasmuch as what we want to do is be the Church of Christ, we cannot do it without Jesus.  We may think we are wise, we may think we are successful, we may hope to be powerful.  But if we want something other than Jesus, to be the body of Christ, the people of God, we want something other than what God has instituted. 

So let us keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him.  Let us seek to be like Jesus.  And let us keep our feet planted firmly on the rock of Christ alone. 

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