In the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians we have read the apostle Paul dealing with the fighting and divisions that were occurring in the Corinthian church by addressing the centrality of the cross. The message of the cross is not worldly wisdom but is the wisdom of God which shames the wise of this world. God chose the cross of Christ so that no one could boast in their own power, wisdom, or knowledge. Further, Paul made the point that the message he and the other preachers who came to them possessed the Spirit of God so that the words they taught were the Spirit’s words, that is, the very words of God, and not human words or wisdom.
In chapters 3-4 Paul will continue to put an end to the divisions that are occurring in the Corinthian church by changing their way of thinking. Paul will identify their problems in their thought processes and teach them how they ought to think. We will look for these points as we study chapter 3 and consider how we can have proper thinking as the body of Christ.
Divisions Show Worldliness and Spiritual Immaturity (3:1-4)
Paul now speaks to the heart of the issue. He tells the Corinthians that he could not speak to them as spiritual people but as fleshly, worldly people. He had to speak to them as infants in Christ. Paul had to feed them with milk while he was with them, which was fine at the time. But even now they are still needing milk and are not ready for solid food. This is a sad condition yet we understand the image. We expect babies to eat milk but once teeth start coming in we move them to solid food so that they can properly grow. What is needed in the beginning must be discarded later for proper growth. Paul tells them that they were needing milk when he began with them. The problem is that they still need milk, which is their problem. Their jealousy and striving with others shows that they are of the flesh and not behaving spiritually, but fleshly.
Please consider Paul’s definition of worldliness. Worldliness and living according to the flesh is not merely immorality issues. Worldliness is a way of thinking and believing. When we look to the world for our standards, attitudes, value, worth, and hope then we are being worldly. When we fight with other Christians and argue with them, we are being worldly. When we have jealousy for others then we are being worldly. There is supposed to be growth away from these things, not continuing in these things. Paul expects growth and not remaining in the same place in life spiritually. Divisions come because we are not growing up to spiritual maturity. Causing problems means you are an infant, acting like a spiritual baby and worldly thinking in the cause.
Understanding this principle is important because it is important for us as a church to encourage growth by teaching meat. Too many churches do not want depth from the scriptures. Just be agreeable with feel good topical lessons. Don’t tell us our sin! Tell us we are doing well. Do not go deep. Just teach us on the things we know. Notice that this would be a disaster to our growth. We cannot grow if we are not fed meat. We need to depth to grow. I hope that hard teachings and hard texts will not cause us to long for milk, but will cause us to enjoy the challenge to grow into what God is speaking. So many people turned away from Jesus when he taught hard things (cf. John 6:41-71). It is my point of view that Sunday night lessons should bring a greater depth than what is offered on Sunday morning. We need to be people who desire meat, who desire depth, who desire to learn more and are not satisfied with surface level understanding like these Corinthians were.
Leaders Are Only Servants of Christ (3:5-9)
So who are Apollos and Paul? They are merely servants of the Lord. God is the power and he receives our allegiance. The person who plants and the person who waters is not anything. This is proper, spiritual thinking. It is not about me and it is not about you. God gets the praise! Only he can give the increase. Planting and watering are equal tasks and God will give his reward for that labor. But it does not matter who plants or who waters. We do not rank by job or task. God gave shepherds, deacons, evangelists, teachers, and the like and they are not to be ranked. One task or role is not greater or higher than another. This would be as foolish as saying that my feet are more or less important than my hands. They are different, having equal value and equal need though a different function.
So what is the proper perspective of those who work in the church? Paul and Apollos call themselves God’s fellow workers. If Paul and Apollos are simply servants and fellow workers then this tells us how we ought to think of ourselves as nothing more than servants and workers in God’s kingdom. How sad it is to see shepherds or deacons or preachers who think they are important! You are God’s field, God’s building. Our view must be that we are simply servants working in God’s field. We are workers helping build God’s building. We do not receive any glory. It is God’s field. It is God’s building. You are not my field or building. You belong to God. I am just trying to throw seed and water the planted seed.
Leaders Are Accountable For Their Work (3:10-17)
Paul presses this truth even further in verses 10-17. Jesus Christ is the foundation. Any foundation that is laid must be the foundation of Jesus, and that is what Paul said he did in Corinth. He preached Jesus crucified and laid that foundation of Jesus. Apollos has been building on that foundation. I believe Paul would see himself as also building on that foundation since he will visit this church twice and write to this church at least three letters trying to bring them to maturity in Christ. We cannot build a foundation on other people for it will fail. I am amazed how many churches are built on people. So many churches are built on preachers. The website for the church will be the preacher’s name. We are not the foundation but are builders on the foundation of Jesus. God owns the building and he will judge the quality of the work of the builders (3:12-15). Paul’s reward is their spiritual success. He wants to see them spiritually succeed because he has put his time into building on this foundation in Corinth.
I believe any leader who truly loves the Lord feels the same way. My joy is in your spiritual success and maturity. Paul felt pain when trouble arose in the churches that he planted. No one wants to see their work burned up (3:15). We do not want to labor in vain. How important it is to have proper godly spiritual leaders! I have seen so many churches where the trial of fire came and all was lost. The church divided. Souls were lost. People were hurt. Some left the faith. Many leaders will be held accountable for this. Many preachers and many shepherds will be held accountable for their actions in how they treated God’s field and the quality of the material they used to build God’s building. What we do is serious because we are God’s temple (3:16)! Whoever destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him (3:17)! A person is doomed by starting strife or causing problems. Preachers are doomed when they do not build with the quality materials of God’s word. Shepherds are doomed when they do not lead and assist the flock with the quality materials of God’s word. We will be held accountable of what we did in the body of Jesus Christ. Strife, anger, friction, and divisions are no small things to our Lord. Whoever destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him!
Think about the truth of this in regards to the church in Corinth. They have all kinds of doctrines wrong. They misunderstand the resurrection, mistreat the Lord’s Supper, are suing each other, causing others to stumble, and quarreling over spiritual gifts. Yet Paul does not tell people to leave. Paul does not tell people to start a fight. Paul does not tell people to make a stink. Paul does not tell people to be angry. Paul tells them to be spiritual and act mature. Grow up and understand your actions will be held in account if you are hurting God’s field. Focus on your spiritual work and be ready for the fire.
Do Not Boast In Yourself (3:18-23)
This naturally brings us to this next paragraph. Do not deceive yourselves. Your worldly wisdom or fleshly behavior is not useful or needed (3:19-20). Have a proper view of yourself (3:18-20). We need to become fools to the world so that we may be wise in God. If we are wise to the world we do not have the wisdom of God. Have a proper view of yourself, understanding that God knows your mind. He knows your thoughts. Watch yourself because he knows if you are behaving like spiritual immature infants.
Further, have a proper view of others (3:21-23). Do not boast in other people. You have everything in Christ. You have all things. You do not just have Paul. You have all of us! You belong to Christ. Understand your actions. Be careful with your words. Think before you speak and act. Am I destroying God’s building? Am I merely thinking about myself? Am I behaving as spiritually immature people? Am I thinking rightly about other people? Am I holding the opinion of some other spiritual leader up so that I have become a follower of him rather than Christ and his word?
This present life clamors for us to be treated as if we are worthy of ultimate respect. Do not fall for it! We are here by grace. God gets the glory. Focus on the work of the kingdom. See God’s field. See God’s building. What can I do to build up this temple of God? If I am found tearing down this church, then I am held accountable to God and God promised he will destroy those who do that. Let us not deceive ourselves but carefully consider our words and our actions so that we may not be causes of difficulty, strife, fighting, or division.