1 Corinthians 3
1And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.
2I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,
3for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
Paul says that, though the Corinthians are reborn of the Spirit so that they could and should have spiritual understanding and insight, he cannot speak to them that way because their flesh has gotten in the way. This is because they haven’t grown up in Christ and continued to take in the wisdom of God. They are mere infants in Christ, living in many ways according to the wisdom of the world rather than according to the wisdom of God. Though they are not natural men but spiritual because of Christ, they are living much more like the natural man rather than the spiritual man. Such is the power of the flesh even in the life of the believer if we do not walk in faith and by the Spirit. Paul has been only able to give the Corinthians milk rather than solid food when it comes to spiritual wisdom and teaching. When a church body becomes so corrupted and fleshly, it is not going to be able to process and receive the in-depth teaching of God’s Word. Rather, they need to be reprimanded and given the basics such that they can get back on track. Spiritual infants can only take in milk, and Paul once again had to give them milk. They were living in jealousy, strife, and division, acting like little undisciplined children, walking not after the Spirit but according to the flesh. Paul needed to set them straight with some spiritual wisdom, albeit very basic wisdom.
4For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men?
5What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
6I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.
7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians is that they are acting no differently than the world, being mere men rather than spiritual men. To associate with Paul or Apollos rather than to all associate with Christ is an elementary mistake filled with self-centeredness, arrogant competition, and vain glory. Paul and Apollos are merely servants of God through whom the Corinthians believed as God worked through them and gave them opportunity. Neither Paul or Apollos would take credit for their salvation, but they understood that they were merely servants of God submitting and surrendering to the work and will of God in their lives. God was the saving force and the power behind their message. Even their message wasn’t really theirs but God’s. It was just plain foolish to, in effect, worship Paul or Apollos by giving them the credit and glory when all belongs to Christ. The church doesn’t need people claiming allegiance to men but to God. The world can worship its icons, idols, celebrities, and superstars, but such is fleshly and not for the church of God. Paul planted some seeds of the gospel, Apollos watered them by adding to the teaching with spiritual wisdom, but God was the One Who allowed and enabled the seeds to grow. No amount of fleshly persuasion and human ability can make a seed grow. No human effort can make a tare into wheat. God must give spiritual understanding and grace to be reborn and to accept the “foolishness” of the gospel of Christ. God is the One Who must get the glory. So it is not about those doing the planting and watering as if they are anything, but it is God Who gives the growth. It is not about the work of man but the work of God. It is not about the glory of man but about the glory of God. A basic lesson in spirituality is that man is weak while God is strong. Man is unable while God is able. God must get the glory because spiritual victories are only accomplished by His power and might.
8Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
God accomplishes His spiritual kingdom purposes through His church, which is one entity. Each member of the church will be rewarded according to how they labor and serve, but there is to be no division and animosity between brothers and sisters in Christ. They are to be one because they are one church, one field, fellow workers, and one building. Believers are on the same team fighting for the same objective, but it is imperative that all recognize the leadership and authority of God and His Word. If it starts becoming a me-versus-you thing, then division will result. It is not about competition but cooperation. God is the One Who brings the growth, and He is gracious to let us work alongside of Him such that He can accomplish His objectives and work His power in and through us. So it is not about us but about God, the One Who makes it all possible, the One with all the power, and the One Who is Himself building each of us into His dwelling place. Even those who do planting and watering are themselves part of the building and the field. Who needs to be the point of attention is the Master Builder and Master Farmer.
10According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.
14If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
15If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
By the grace of God at work in and through him and around him, Paul preached the gospel to those at Corinth, thereby laying a foundation of faith. He was very careful in what he did as a wise master builder would be, speaking just what he should and being careful not to distract from the message. Yet others will build on this foundation as they teach the Word of God, and they must also be careful so that the building goes according to plan, the measuring stick being the Word of God. The foundation is Christ Himself, and there is no other true foundation which can be laid. All faith must rest upon Christ and His work on the cross where true wisdom is found. But as we serve one another and teach the Word of God, we build on this foundation by the grace of God. We must be careful how we build because we will be judged by Christ for our faithfulness. If we build with things which are of God and by the grace and power of God which Paul explains metaphorically as gold, silver, and precious stones, then they will endure the fiery test before Christ Who will judge motives and intents. If we did things for the glory of God, they will endure and bring us rewards in heaven. But if we have built with wood, hay, or straw, we will lose any possibility of rewards because these things are of human wisdom and by fleshly exercise rather than by the power of God. There will be grieving in that day when we stand before Christ for judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10) because some will not receive what they had desired to receive. There will also be rejoicing because many rewards will be given. Yet the good news for true believers is that they themselves will be saved because of the faithfulness of Christ. The fire of His holiness will remove the leftover garbage and false motives, and they will enter heaven to be with their Savior in great joy forever (Revelation 21:4).
16Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
17If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
18Let no man deceive himself If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.
19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God For it is written, "He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS";
20and again, "THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS."
Each child of God is a temple of God in that God Himself takes up residence in us. The Spirit of God indwells us and ministers to us. God gives a stern warning to any who would corrupt or defile the church by leading it away from purity and sound doctrine (the word translated “destroy” is better understood as “corrupt” or “defile”). Such a one would have to be considered a false teacher, to whom God consistently gives severe warnings of judgment (see Jude). If there are any who think that they are wise based on the criteria of men rather than of God, they need to repent and become “foolish,” trusting in the gospel of Christ. The only way to become truly wise is to recognize the truth and accept the fact that the world will call such individuals foolish. But to continue in the ways of the world, scorning the gospel and defiling the temple of God, is to be deceived and destined for judgment. The Lord is not impressed with man’s “wisdom” or reasoning because left to himself, he is deluded and deceived. The thinking of the natural man is vain because God’s ways are wisdom and the world’s ways are foolishness.
21So then let no one boast in men For all things belong to you,
22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you,
23and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
Since boasting in men is foolish and vain, the church must certainly not take part in that. Believers have access to every spiritual blessing, including wisdom and the ability to live peacefully with one another, and they need to do this. Believers belong to God, they are part of one body, and since Christ belongs to God, they belong to God. Thus, unity is possible, and it is commanded. But, in order to achieve it, the church must recognize that God is the Supreme Authority, the Source, and the One to Whom the church must surrender and submit.