1 Corinthians 3


The Problem Of Spiritual Growth

“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.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-2

Chapter 3 should begin with the word ‘and.’ Paul says Cloe’s report must be true because they haven’t grown. Recall that Paul had identified the natural (those unwilling and uninterested in searching out the truth) and the ‘spiritual’ man (those willing and interested in searching out the things of God). 1 Corinthians 2:14-15.

The aorist tense of the verbs ‘could not address’ points to a previous action. Apparently, Paul is referring to the time when he first came to Corinth in 51 AD and preached the Gospel making many converts and establishing a church. Now, five years later (AD 56), Paul still cannot speak to the Corinthians about the weightier matters of the Gospel.

The author of Hebrews said, in Hebrews 5:12 “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”

We don’t know why they haven’t grown, possibly because the leaders of the church weren’t feeding them properly or possibly because they didn’t want solid food. This shows the importance of the church being fed and being fed the right kind of food.

The point is clear, five years was enough time for the Corinthians to grow spiritually; yet, they were stagnating! Let us all press to maturity in the knowledge of Christ rather than letting the years roll by in apathy toward the word of God.

Five years is plenty of time for each of us to be grounded in truth as we investigate, interrogate, examine, scrutinize and search the Scriptures.

“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” 1 Corinthians 3:3

Paul now gives the proof of their lack of spiritual growth, and worldly wisdom. A stinging rebuke yet done with love. The problem, is ‘you are still worldly’. The word ‘worldly,’ ‘sarkikos’ is defined as ‘fleshly and sensual’. Apparently, Paul is continuing the idea of the ‘natural man’ from 1 Corinthians 1:14.

Paul tells the Corinthians that their problem is that they don’t have a real interest in the word of God and as such, they are in no better shape than the one of the world who is spiritually judged.

The proof of Paul’s accusation is their reported works; i.e., ‘jealousy and quarrelling.’ Later Paul will reveal the source of their jealousy in the realm of spiritual gifts. Here he also mentions quarrelling. Apparently, the Corinthians were approaching the word of God as a status symbol.

Those baptized by the more popular preachers and those who had attained the more desirable spiritual gifts looked down on others. Such behaviour exposed their true self, they were ‘acting like mere humans.’

Simply put, they were worldly-minded. “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 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.” 1 Corinthians 3:4-5

Paul revisits the initial problem of elevating one man above another as though the Corinthians were no different than those stoics and Epicureans around them who spent their whole day waiting to hear some new doctrine from some new person. Acts 17:16-22.

Paul exposes the foolishness of being ‘of’ a mere man. The glorying needed to be taken away from men and placed back on God where it belonged. 1 Corinthians 1:31.

To replace the misguided zeal, Paul reveals the true nature of any gospel preacher. Each one who labours for the Lord is a ‘minister.’ The word minister, ‘diakonos’ simply means servant. The lowly man of God who preaches to others is simply a lowly servant of the Lord and should in no way be exalted among brethren.

“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 labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

The Argument Is Complete

If it is God who gives the increase as opposed to the teachers planting and watering as servants, naturally God should receive the glory. As a seed grows by the labour and toil of the farmer so the child of God grows by the labour and toil of the preacher or teacher.

Yet the farmer and the preacher are mere servants. They are not responsible for the actual growth that occurs within the mind of the saint. God gives the increase in the minds of people through the word of God. God is to receive glory because He creates the seed and brings about the growth or life. Likewise, God is the originator of truth.

The preacher that establishes a church in a new field and the preacher that builds upon that foundation are ‘one.’ This certainly does not mean that Paul and Apollos were one being no more than Jesus and the Father were one being when Jesus said, “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21

The Oneness Is In Purpose

The purpose of Paul and Apollos’ preaching was the salvation of souls. The two were united in this one fact. The relationship between God and the preachers is defined.

‘We, fellow-workers with God, You, God’s field God’s building’. Paul and Apollos were ‘God’s fellow-workers,’ ‘sunergos’ in the faith. The Greek word is defined as ‘working together, joining or helping in work, helping a person in a thing, of the same trade as another, a fellow-workman, colleague’. Paul and Apollos shared in the same trade, i.e., the work of preaching the Gospel.

The Corinthian brethren were God’s ‘God’s field’, ‘georgion’, ‘farms, tilled land’. The Corinthian brethren were also identified as, ‘God’s building’, ‘oikodome’, ‘a late form of oikodomema, a building, structure’.

Christians are compared to a cultivated field and a building or structure belonging to God. The seed of the Gospel ought to land in cultivated fields (mind receptive to the message). The foundation of the building is the truth, Ephesians 2:20.

Paul is saying that he and Apollos shared in the work of preaching which produces a farm or structure identified with God. They simply went to the fields or construction sight and planted the seed or built a building (i.e., the Christian).

Like mentioned a moment ago, the ‘we’ refers to the apostles in a direct sense, and to preachers generally in an indirect sense! The Church does not belong to the ‘minister’, ‘pastor’, ‘preacher’ or ‘evangelist.’ It does not even belong to the ‘elders’ to whom the care of the Church has been committed.

All of these are servants, tools used by God, and the final control of the Church is God’s. What truly matters is what God wants not what the preacher wants!

Sadly, today, even in the Lord’s Church, some congregations have lost sight of this truth and some have never really understood it! In some congregations, the ‘preacher’ behaves in a manner that suggests that he believes that he is ‘in charge’ taking the authority of the elders.

A congregation is blessed when it has someone who is able to devote his life to its welfare and interests and the work of evangelism, but when a preacher is granted the privilege of filling this role, he should never lose sight of the fact that God did not authorize the creating of an organisation in which a ‘one-man ministry’ operates.

This is widely seen in the denominational world, where a distinction is created between ‘the Clergy’ and ‘the Laity’. ‘Clergy’ is from ‘kleros’ which means ‘God’s lot’. ‘Laity’ is from ‘laos’ which means ‘the people’. And so, a distinction is made between the ‘ministers’ and the ‘congregations’.

In the Lord’s church, the spiritual life and the physical needs of the congregation are the responsibilities of the elders and deacons who have been appointed according to the instructions of the Holy Spirit, as found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and these supervisions extend to all who have been given responsibilities in the congregations.

Elders ‘watch for your souls, as those who must give an account’. Hebrews 13:17. Paul says, in effect, ‘Look! Peter Apollos and I are just servants of God, in that which belongs to Him, so you should not seek to elevate us above our station! Leave our names alone!’

Laying The Foundation Of The Building

Now, remember that in the earlier chapters, the problem of the party spirit, dividing and therefore endangering the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is one. It has only one foundation. That foundation is Christ Himself.

Not Paul, Peter, Apollos, or any other teacher whom they may favour. Or after whom they are calling themselves. They should be ‘of one mind and one spirit’, perfectly joined together and ‘speaking the same thing’.

Division in the congregation is always the greatest danger confronting the Church. Opposition from the world, persecution is far less dangerous than disunity among those who claim to follow Christ. Remember His prayer for unity?  “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”. John 17:23

The ultimate result of division in a congregation is that the witness of the church is affected and the growth of the Kingdom of Christ is hindered. And it will not go unpunished. There is no greater sin that a Christian can commit than to be the cause of division in the Church. See the grave warning in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 / 2 Corinthians 6:16.

Paul had never encouraged believers to call themselves his followers. If anyone whom he had baptized was using his name in this manner, they should understand that to baptize was not the work with which he was commissioned.

In fact, he had baptized very few whom he could name and, perhaps, a few others whose names he did not recall! His task was to preach the Gospel of Christ, leaving others to baptize the converts.

As for the other preachers who had visited Corinth, each one had contributed to the growth of the Corinthian Church. He, Paul, had begun the building on the One Foundation. Others had followed and continued the building. He had sown the seed, planted and others had tended the plant after he had left. But God was the One who brought the work to fruition. He produced the harvest!

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

The farm or building that was planted or constructed by Paul, Apollos, and Cephas identified them as ‘wise master builders.’ The ‘master builder’, ‘architekton’ is ‘a chief artificer, master builder, director of works, architect, engineer’. Such an engineer of sound buildings knows that a foundation is important.

When Paul laboured in Corinth (AD 51), he preached Christ and Him crucified, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2. Paul took God’s grace (the message of justification and sanctification through the blood of Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1-2 / Titus 2:11) and built a divinely ordained foundation that the child of God was to be planted or built upon.

After Paul left Corinth there would be other preachers and teachers to ‘built on it.’ That which other teachers built upon was the foundation of truth (Christians who were spiritual would be interested in learning more; i.e., building upon their own personal understanding and knowledge).

So Paul said, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11 / Ephesians 2:20.

Once the foundation is laid, let no man lay another foundation of human reasoning! The doctrine of Christ was to be upheld and each Christian built up in the knowledge of that teaching and none other. 1 Peter 2:5 / 2 John 9ff.

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Service And Rewards

Let me state at once that these verses have nothing to do with the service of the ordinary Christian or his reward in Heaven! That is not what Paul was writing about, although this fact is not understood by a great many people.

The people about whom Paul was writing were the various teachers and preachers who had visited the church in Corinth after his departure. You will remember that he began the work in Corinth and established the Church.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul deplores the division and disunity that had developed in the Corinthian congregation. Members had divided themselves into groups and were naming themselves after the various preachers who had visited Church. 1 Corinthians 1:12.

He then comments on the immaturity of the Corinthian Christians, and even says that, although he had been their teacher, they still needed simple instruction, which he describes as ‘milk’, because they were not able to accept ‘strong meat’. In other words, they were still ‘babes in Christ’.

What they needed to understand was that these men, Peter, Apollos and even Paul himself were merely teachers whose duty it was to carry the message, 1 Corinthians 3:4-7, who should not be elevated in the way they were being elevated by the church members.

In 1 Corinthians 3:9, he describes these preachers as ‘God’s fellow-workers’, whilst they, the Corinthians, were ‘God’s field’ and, in 1 Corinthians 3:10, he uses another illustration, that of the work of the builder, and he describes himself as a ‘builder’ for God who is building on the foundation which God Himself has already laid, which is Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11.

Now, we come to 1 Corinthians 3:12-13. Paul says that there will come a time when the work of every teacher and preacher will be tested. Here, the truth that is brought out primarily relates to the teachers and preachers. On that Day, the effectiveness of their, i.e., the work of the preachers and teachers will be tested ‘as by fire’.

It will help us to understand this analogy if we bear in mind that, in the course of his travels among the great cities of his day, Paul must have seen many beautiful buildings in such cities as Ephesus, from where he sent this letter, Corinth and Rome itself, grand cities with magnificent buildings which were made of expensive materials such as marble or granite, with columns decorated with gold and silver.

Nearby he would see the miserable hovels that were the homes of the poor and outcast, dwellings made of mud, wood and straw. When there was a fire in the city, and, as history testifies, fire was an ever-present danger in those days, the fine, well-constructed building survived, but the poor hovels inevitably perished.

History records that such a fire actually destroyed the city of Corinth, less than a hundred years after Paul wrote this letter.

And so, here, Paul declares that ‘The Day of the Lord’ that is, when the Lord returns, the occasion will be like such a fire which will prove the quality of the work done by those who preach or teach, those who bore the responsibility of proclaiming the message. God, Himself will evaluate the work of each ‘Builder’, and His ‘Evaluation’ will be like such a fire.

If a teacher’s work has been effective and has produced lasting results, it will be as though it has survived the fire and he will receive the Lord’s ‘Well done’.

He does not need the acclamation and admiration of the church members! But, if his work is shown to have been ineffective, he will receive no commendation. God will not be able to commend him.

This testing time will not affect a teacher’s salvation, because ‘works’ have nothing to do with Salvation, since Salvation does not depend on works of any kind, but on faith in the Grace of God, Therefore, regardless of what happens to the work that has been done, those who serve God will still be saved.

The passage is designed to help Corinthians to have a proper understanding of the significance, value and responsibility of the work of those who preach, God’s Word and calls to mind the admonition in James 3:1 ‘My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.’

They should not become the followers of any teacher, whether Paul, Peter or Apollos, or, for that matter, any other servant of the Lord, because all are merely servants of God.

It is important to remember that we are saved by the grace of God, revealed in the Good News which tells us that Jesus died for our sins, offering Himself as the sacrifice which makes our forgiveness possible.

No matter what service a preacher renders, it has no merit where salvation is concerned, and, as for ‘reward’, to hear the Master say, ‘Well done’ will be reward enough!

Apparently, the elements of gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay and stubble represent people that have heard the Gospel of Jesus and obeyed (the preacher has added to the building).

‘Fire’ determines whether one has added to their building truth as a precious metal or error identified with flammable material.

The illustration appears to be clear. Through the fiery trials of life, the true Christian shall come forth purified by the fire. Job said, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

Through the process of time, the work of the preacher will be made manifest. As each individual goes through the fiery trials of life some grow in spiritual wisdom and others drop out and are consumed like wood and stubble. The parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-15 / Hebrews 12:7-13.

These two verses indicate the process by which each man is subject to God’s chastening hand, Hebrews 12:7-13. What trials await us we know not; however, trials there shall be, James 1:2. As we preach and make converts, we watch as does God, the spiritual development of that person with great interest.

If that person turns out to be gold, silver or a precious stone we rejoice greatly. The apostle John said, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.” 2 John 4

Those who do not continue in faith are as the wood and stubble and are consumed by the fiery trials of life. They let go of their faith in the time of adversity. Solomon said, “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!” Proverbs 24:10 / Ecclesiastes 7:14 / Isaiah 30:20

The teacher, no matter what the student turns out to be, shall still be saved if they continue in the faith. He or she has done their duty.

A call for the Christian to understand who he is. 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Paul further identifies the Christian, earlier he compared them to a farm and building, 1 Corinthians 3:9. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and other preachers of truth had planted or built what the Corinthians currently stand for, i.e., truth, spirituality, and hope of eternal life.

The very truth that makes them what they are puts them in a divine relationship with the heavenly Father, i.e., ‘the Spirit of God dwells in you’.

The Corinthian Christians, by way of reconciliation and sanctification, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, are now viewed as a ‘temple of God.’ The word ‘temple’, ‘naos’ is ‘the dwelling of a god, a temple’.

Consider Jesus’ use of the word ‘naos,’ ‘temple’ in John 2:18-22. Jesus spoke of his body as a temple. Apparently the context of a building, 1 Corinthians 3:9 is still under consideration. The church is made up of living stones and illustrated as a temple that God dwells in 1 Peter 2:5.

Again, ‘naos’ is defined as ‘of the spirit-filled body of the Christians, which is said to be a habitation of God, therefore a temple; on occasion, it may become the habitation of demons, an idol’s temple. Of spirit-filled Christians’.

The picture is one of man’s body being associated with an actual temple building that has God dwelling within, much like God’s divine presence in the Old Testament temple. 1 Kings 8:10+11.

How does the Holy Spirit dwell within the Christian? Someone may ask ‘how does the Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit dwell as one?’

The answer seems simple.

The Father, 1 John 2:24 / 1 John 4:12-16, Jesus, Ephesians 3:17 / Colossians 1:27 and the Holy Spirit, Romans 8:9-11 / 2 Timothy 1:13-14, dwell within the Christian through man’s acceptance and guidance in truth, Galatians 3:2 / Ephesians 3:17 / 1 John 2:5-6.

To ‘destroy’, ‘phtheiro’ is to ‘ruin, waste, spoil, destroy’. If another ‘destroys’ the temple God will ‘destroy,’ ‘phteiro’ him. Apparently, the divisions that had occurred in Corinth had ‘destroyed’ the faith of some saints and therefore Paul gives this serious charge. The point is that the saints, identified as a temple of God, may find themselves ruined or spoiled through sin.

The saints, each individual identified as a temple of God, are ‘holy.’ The word ‘holy’, ‘hagios’ is defined as ‘holy and pure’. ‘Pure, righteous; to separate, consecrate; cleanse, purify, sanctify; regard or reverence as holy; moral purity’.

Paul is helping the Corinthians remember their initial state of sanctification and responsibility to maintain this state of holiness, 1 Corinthians 1:2. This verse indicates that man can do the destructive work of Satan, 1 Peter 5:8.

“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. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-23

Clearly, self-delusion had taken place in the minds of brethren. Some thought within themselves that they were better off than other Christians because of who they followed and what gifts they had. True wisdom rest with God. Man’s wisdom will never lead to eternal life and is therefore foolish, ‘humanism’.

Paul then quotes from Job 5:13, the only time in the entire New Testament that the book of Job is quoted from saying, “He catches the wise in their craftiness.”

God allows man to follow his own reasoning and then fall by their own reasoning. In such a fall, God has “taken the wise in their craftiness.”

Secondly, Paul proves his point by quoting from Psalms 94:11, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise are futile.”

Human reason is contrary to divine reasoning and is therefore useless, ‘vain’. Herein is Paul’s point driven home, “no more boasting about human leaders.”

The preacher is only a servant that plants and waters the seed that God created. It is because of God that man is identified as a holy temple.

It is because of God that man can have an eternal home. While preachers plant God gives the increase. All glory consequentially belongs to God.

Instead of thinking that they (the Corinthian Christians) belonged or were ‘of’ Paul, Apollos or Cephas they should have noted that “all things” belong to them. Paul said, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Romans 8:21

Again, the author of Hebrews said of angels, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

Furthermore, the earth serves the needs of the saint of God (food, water, shelter, joy etc.).

Life and death serve the Christian in that it causes man to look forward to the remaining life and death when he shall be in the comfort of the bosom of Abraham.

In fact, Paul states that all things present and come to belong to the saint because we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. Don’t glory in men when God has given all things to you that you may be supplied an entrance into heaven?


Chapter three identifies, with precision, the problems in the church at Corinth that revolved around the current division. That problem is identified as “jealousy and strife”. 1 Corinthians 3:3.

Paul explains that five years had passed since he had originally come to Corinth, preached the gospel, and established a church there, 1 Corinthians 3:1-3.

During these five years, the Corinthians ought to have grown spiritually; however, they had permitted the misdirected thinking of the world around them to misconstrue the gospel message, i.e., destroy their temple, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.

Rather than influencing the society, they had lived in toward truth the world around them had influenced them.

Paul attempts to remedy the situation by speaking frankly to the brethren. He identifies the problem among the Christians in Corinth as having its foundation in their spiritual immaturity, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2.

The current jealousy and strife revolved around their putting undue significance on the preacher who had taught them and baptized them. Paul explains to the brethren that the preacher is nothing more than a mere “servant” and should not be glorified as should God, 1 Corinthians 3:5.

The very foundation that their faith was established on was Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 3:11.

Preaching truth builds a right building that has a true relationship with the heavenly Father, 1 Corinthians 3:16.

The preacher’s responsibility is to establish and build upon that foundation alone. Any reasoning apart from the foundation of Jesus Christ is “the reasoning of the wise” in the world and not from God, 1 Corinthians 3:20.

Again, let us therefore glory in God and not men, 1 Corinthians 3:21.

Go To 1 Corinthians 4



"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."