First Corinthians 3:1–23 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
The Corinthians in their "fleshly" condition have blocked their capacity to understand spirituality and are thus acting as "infants" in their divisiveness (vv. 1–4, see below). Apollos and Paul were servants who worked as fellow workers in God's field (the church) and will receive reward from God. But God is the one who brings about life and should be honored. In 3:9–15, Paul, addressing divisions in the Corinthian church, describes the church as a building. He stresses the quality we should strive for in constructing each stage — from laying the foundation, through the actual construction, to the final inspection. In this imagery he gives some of Christianity's nuts and bolts in the form of two construction tips.
1) Make sure to build on the right foundation (vv. 9–11). In v. 9 (NASB), Paul writes, "For we [Paul and Apollos] are God's fellow workers; you [Corinthians] are God's field, God's building." In this simple phrase, Paul informs us that the church is "God's building." However, Hearty Boy: You cannot build the church until you share Jesus' perspective and attitude.
In vv. 10–11, we'll learn how to build on the right foundation. Paul is careful to state that his ministry is "according to the grace of God." Paul can't take credit for who he is or what he's accomplished because it's all the result of God's grace. Paul states that he served "like a wise master builder." The term "master builder" (architekton in the Greek) is used only here in the New Testament. The foundation that the architekton builds upon is Jesus Christ.
[Now that Paul has urged us to make sure that we build our church on the right foundation — upon Jesus Christ — we should consider the next step to take that Paul covers in vv. 12–15.]
2) Make sure to build God's church properly, using high-quality materials. Hence, in vv. 12–13, Paul writes, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident because it's to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work."
In light of Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians, "gold, silver, precious stones" are quality materials, fit for construction on the foundation of Christ crucified; these materials are worthy of that foundation and fit to endure fire. Conversely, "wood, hay, straw" are inferior materials, unfit for construction on the foundation that Paul laid because they aren't "fireproof"; rather, these materials are "the perishable stuff of human wisdom" that finds the gospel foolish. Paul urges his readers to use only the best materials — long-lasting ones, not temporal and flammable building materials.
Why is God so concerned that we build the church on the right foundation with the right materials? The reason Paul exhorts us so seriously about the materials we use in building God's church is that there's going to be an inspection. It seems that Paul is expressing his deep love for the church while suggesting that "one who builds poorly on the church will jeopardize his or her future reward."
Because of the church's divine nature, Paul warns (vv. 16–23) those in Corinth to repent of their divisiveness and not threaten the unity of the church because: (1) God will judge the one who divides it; (2) all the servants belong to the church; and (3) the church belongs to God.
[You can find out how we Hearty Boys can become "living stones" as we help build God's church by checking out this blog.]
- Q. 1 From this passage, what are the characteristics of worldly versus spiritual people?
- Q. 2 From verses 6–9, who plants? Who waters? Who is the field? Who is responsible for growth? How does this illustration relate to the problem in the Corinthian church?
- Q. 3 Which of the following physical stages of life best describes your spiritual stage of development: Newborn? Toddler? Kid? Teenager? Young adult? Middle-aged? Senior citizen?
1 Corinthians 3:1–23
The Church and Its Leaders
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? 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. 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.
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.
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." 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.