1 Corinthians 3:1-23
As we continue in 1 Corinthians let’s remember that Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth. He has heard that they are giving credit to their teachers rather than to God. There is division – they say “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” when all glory is God’s.
In Chapter 2 Paul tells them that he teaches not with the excellent words of the world, but rather he uses simple speech and teaches as instructed by God. How are we to share the Word of God with others? Babes in Christ must first have milk (the fundamentals of the Word) before they are given meat/solid food (the deeper truths of the Word). As we grow as Christians we are to grow in the depth of our knowledge. Milk is not enough to sustain a mature Christian and a new Christian is not ready for meat.
*On a personal note, what drove me into the Word was that I found I wasn’t getting more than the fundamentals in church. There is more to God than the creation story, Jesus walking on water, and how we must come to repentance. While these lessons are all important they only tell a small fraction of what God wishes us to know. And I want to know it.
Another lesson from chapter 2 is that our faith doesn’t belong in people or things of this world. Our faith belongs in God and God alone. The flesh is weak.
Someone who lives in their flesh body and allows their flesh to rule their spirit will not understand the things of God. We should allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. Only the Holy Spirit can provide true understanding.
I hope you’ll pull out your Bible and join me in a study of Chapter 3.
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
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.
Paul is saying he has spoken to the Christians of Corinth as babes in Christ. If he fed someone new to Christianity more than milk they wouldn’t be able to digest it. When you teach the Word you start with milk (the fundamentals) first. When you have that basic understanding you can advance forward into a deeper study.
As a teacher it’s not about demonstrating how much you know. Consider the teachers you had in your youth. The ones who spewed information with big words just intimidated and discouraged their students. The ones who got on your level (the level of someone just starting to learn the topic) were the very best kind. Teaching anything (especially the Word) is about making what seems complex easy to understand. That doesn’t mean you change the Word so that it’s well received by the world. Absolutely not. You teach it simply. You teach it with love.
Hebrews 5:12-14 tells us how we are to teach – milk first and then strong meat. I broke it down a little further in the verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians 2.
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
Hebrews 5:13 For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
Hebrews 5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Do you understand that you, as someone who loves and serves the Lord, are called to do something with the knowledge He gives you? Let’s look at the Parable of the Talents.
Matthew 25:14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
First, you must know that this parable follows the Parable of the Ten Virgins. The subject is having knowledge of the Truth (God’s Word). In the Parable of the Ten Virgins that knowledge is represented by oil. This Parable of the Talents continues that topic and knowledge is represented by talents.
God is this man. He’s given us, his servants, the responsibility of His Word.
Matthew 25:15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
God doesn’t give you more Truth than you can handle. He is fair. He knows He can give some more than others. That doesn’t make anyone more important than another. Acts 10:34 tells us that God isn’t a respecter of persons. Luke 12:48 tells us that to whom much is given much is required.
Matthew 25:16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
Matthew 25:17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
These two men each received a different number of talents. One was given more knowledge than the other. They both went and did something with that knowledge and doubled what they were given.
Matthew 25:18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
This man was given less knowledge because God will not give him more than he can handle. What did he do with this knowledge? He buried it. Do you find yourself burying your knowledge?
Matthew 25:19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
Matthew 25:20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
Matthew 25:21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Matthew 25:22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
Matthew 25:23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
One man started with 5 and doubled it to 10. One man started with 2 and doubled it to 4. Both men receive the same reward. He gave each man what He knew they could handle.
Matthew 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
The third man says he knows that his Lord reaps where he did not sow. Yikes, he’s got some nerves, doesn’t he? God expects us to do the planting. We know from 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 that while we do the planting it is God who provides the increase.
Matthew 25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
He was afraid. Why be afraid if you know everything God has promised? He tells us exactly what He wants of us. He tells us exactly how we should live our lives to be happy. He tells us exactly what has happened, is happening, and will happen. If you want peace of mind get to know our Lord better. There is no reason to fear.
I don’t say this as someone who lives without fear. I find myself fearful too. I understand. But I truly mean it when I say that if I turn to the Word my anxiety goes away. It is replaced with an assurance that I cannot find anywhere else. Please know that God does take away those worries when you spend time in the Word.
Matthew 25:26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Matthew 25:27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
God expects His servants to produce. When Jesus fed the multitudes did He actually feed them? No. He blessed the food and the disciples did the feeding. He expects us to work. That work can be a lot of different things. It can be a smile to someone who needs it. But you must do the work. It is far better to do something than to do nothing.
Matthew 25:28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
Matthew 25:29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
The third man lost the bit of knowledge God had given him because he refused to do anything with it.
Our lesson here is that we are not given knowledge to keep to ourselves. We are to share it. We are to double it. We are to take action. Or we will lose it.
Rid yourself of your fear by immersing yourself in the Word. Pray for understanding. Share what you learn. You can do it with words. You can do it with how you live your life.
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?
The Christians of Corinth are letting their flesh rule over their spirit. Paul can see that because of the division and strife he’s heard about.
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
As we learned in Chapter 1 they are idolizing men. They are giving credit to their teachers instead of God. Yes, Paul and Apollos are great teachers. But these teachers are just men. Their teachings come from God and it’s to Him that all glory belongs. Recall that Paul began this book by referencing Jesus Christ by name 10 times in the first 10 verses. He wants to make it abundantly clear from Whom all his teachings come.
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
If we look at the word ‘ministers’ in it’s original Greek we get a better understanding of what it means. We can do this using The Companion Bible and The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. A minister is a servant. So Paul is saying that he and Apollos are “servants by whom ye believed”. They brought the Word but whose Word? God’s. Not their own. Their ability to teach is a gift given to them by the Lord.
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Our work is to plant and water seeds. This can mean a lot of things. The obvious answer is that we do this in our teaching. And that is definitely true. What you teach should always be the Word. God’s Word. Not man’s word. We should teach the wisdom of our Lord and not the wisdom of this world.
But we also teach through our actions. I say this because if you’re only looking at how many times you’ve recited Bible verses at someone you may feel discouraged. As if you’re not teaching very often. You’d be wrong. Don’t sell yourself short. We are teaching when we exhibit the love of the Lord in our daily life. We are teaching when we live in accordance with His Word. It’s in how we raise our children. How we partner our spouse. It’s in how we treat our friends and how we treat people we don’t know. All of these things, though seemingly small, can open the door to a conversation about faith. They can make someone wonder “What is it about this person? Where does her peace come from? Where does her joy come from?”. We won’t get it right all the time. We are in the flesh. We are flawed. We make mistakes. But we do try and we ask for the Lord’s help to do better. My point is that we often plant seeds without even realizing it.
Yet planting and watering doesn’t guarantee that something will sprout. It is God who brings about the increase. Without God there would be no increase at all. Consider this when someone you’re close to isn’t a believer. You cannot make them believe. I’ll say it again. You cannot make them believe. You can plant. You can water. It is beyond your power to turn them into a believer. Give that over to God and do your part.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
Doing God’s work in whatever form is one thing. God sees it all. He sees you teaching your children to love the Lord. He sees you answering someone’s question about the Lord with Truth and kindness. You’ll receive your reward.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
‘Labourers together with God’ in the Greek here means ‘God’s fellow-workers’. ‘Husbandry’ means ’tilled field’. We are God’s fellow-workers. How amazing is that? Who else could you want to partner with? We are God’s tilled field and building. 1 Corinthians 3:16 tells us we are the Temple of God.
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.
When you build upon the foundation we are to be careful how we build upon it. First, what is the foundation Paul speaks of? The Song of Moses tells us that God is this Rock.
Deuteronomy 32:3 Because I will publish the name of the Lord: Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect: For all His ways are judgment: A GOD of truth and without iniquity, Just and right is He.
1 Corinthians 10:4 tells us that the Rock is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
We’ve established that the foundation is our Lord and we are to be careful how we build upon it. To understand this consider what the subject has been. Teaching. Doing the Lord’s work. We must be careful to not allow false teaching in. We must be careful that what we teach and the work we do is true to what God would have us to do. And how do we know that it is? Follow the Word. It’s that simple.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Christ is the foundation. He is unshakable. What other foundation could you want?
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
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.
What is this fire that will reveal every man’s work? God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24, Deuteronomy 9:3, & Hebrews 12:29).
We have our foundation in Jesus Christ. We’ve been cautioned regarding how we build upon this foundation. Whatever you do build upon this foundation with (gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble) it will be tested by fire. When gold is tested by fire it actually makes it better. It burns away the impurities so what you’re left with is even more pure. If your works are the equivalent of gold then testing them by fire is no problem. Silver is the same. What about precious stones? The fire might crack a few but they’ll likely survive it. Wood will burn when tested. Hay will burn fast. And stubble will burn the fastest.
I pray that my work is pleasing to the Lord. I pray that what I do is in keeping with what God would have me to do. I pray that when it is tested by fire it is purified.
1 Peter 1:7 tells us that the testing of our faith is more precious than gold (which will ultimately perish).
1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
We will have tests. There will be trials. We should use our God given wisdom to overcome. 1 Corinthians 10:13 makes it clear that God will not give us more than we can bear.
1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
If your work (this gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, or stubble) survives the fire you’ll have your reward. If your work is burned up you shall suffer that loss but the person shall still be saved by that consuming fire (our God).
We have nothing to fear. He loves us and He wants our love. He wants all to come to Him. Even when we make mistakes we can come to Him in repentance and He accepts us back into the fold.
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the Temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the Temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
The many membered body of Christ is the Temple of God. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. The word ‘defile’ in the original Greek means ‘to shrivel or wither, to spoil, to ruin, to corrupt’. You do not want to be a man who corrupts God’s Temple by introducing divisions and wisdom that is not from above.
The Bible is full of places where we are warned against a corruption or perversion of the Word where traditions of men are introduced and passed off as Truth. James 3:14-18 is one place to look at.
James 3:14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
James 3:15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
James 3:16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
Envy and strife are not of God. That wisdom is the wisdom of the world. Envy and strife go hand in hand with confusion. 1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God is not that author of confusion.
James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
The Word of God is FIRST pure. THEN peaceable. Peace should not be sought at the expense of Truth.
Let’s look at each in the original Greek to see what wisdom is.
Pure means perfect. The Word of God is perfect. First and foremost. Don’t doctor it. It requires nothing. It is more than sufficient on its own.
Peaceable means peaceable.
Gentle means patient and appropriate. This reminds me of the teachings in 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul discusses how we must teach with love. Knowledge without love isn’t enough. You’d just become a stumblingblock to someone.
Easy to be intreated means it’s good for persuasion. Paul has spoken a lot in the first two chapters about how he doesn’t teach with the eloquent speech the world admires. He simply delivers the Truth. The Truth (the Word) is enough. That doesn’t mean everyone will be persuaded. That’s not our job. Our job is to plant and water. God will bring about the increase if it is His will.
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.
What the world counts as wisdom isn’t the same as wisdom from God. The world scoffs at God’s wisdom. They call it foolish. Better that a man who is wise in the world become a fool in order that he may become truly wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
This is quoted from Job 5:13.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
‘Thoughts’ in the original Greek here is ‘reasonings’. This is quoted from Psalms 94:11.
Psalms 94:11 The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
‘Vanity’ in the original Hebrew (because this is the Old Testament) is ’emptiness’. The Lord knows the thoughts (or reasonings) of man, that they are empty.
21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
‘Glory’ in the original Greek is ‘boast’. No man has cause to boast. The wisdom of this world and the reasonings of man are empty foolishness.
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.
As a child of God, as someone who loves Him and serves Him, you will inherit everything. When you are in Christ you belong to Him and Christ belongs to God. We are all one family. Who can defeat us when God stands with us? If you are doing His work He is in your corner. He has your back. It doesn’t get better than that.