We have seen that Paul knew that people are not converted by clever arguments. Those may well produce a mental assent, but only the work of the Holy Spirit can change the heart. However once people have become Christian, they must not make the mistake if thinking that they have arrived; they need to move on:
Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-
Let’s start at verse 1:
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants
Is Paul suggesting that they are not actually Christians at all?
The problems Paul had heard about showed a spiritual immaturity. Yes they were Christian, and as Paul will say in v16 ‘they are God’s Temple and God’s spirit lives in them’.
2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?
They were converted Christians, but they had not moved on, and their judgements were still clouded with worldly thoughts. And those thoughts
were encouraged as they argued between themselves the relative merits of those who were leaders in the Church.
Are we ever guilty of that?
These discussions inevitably led to favouritism – v4
4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
5 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. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. 9 For we are God’s fellow-
We naturally are impressed by others who seem to be more capable than ourselves. But there is a danger that we might praise that person because of their talents or abilities, rather than praising the God who gave them.
Is there any danger in choosing to go to hear gifted speakers? Or buy their books or videos?
Not if the speaker’s intention is to build you up in your faith and to direct you into a closer walk with Jesus – to give you solid food, not more milk!
But we need to be careful, as good speakers can be very persuasive, and will have their own views and interpretations which need to be checked against scripture. And we must also be careful not to criticize, or as we saw earlier, not to be drawn into someone else’s criticism.
At the end of verse 9 Paul changes the picture from plants growing in a field, to a building site. More than just a site, all of the groundwork has been done and an amazing foundation has been laid.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no-
12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his 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 man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
What do we understand verse 12 is saying?
What are we going to build on this amazing plot of land that we have been given? We could either build a beautiful structure, a palace, or a Temple – built to last (‘Costly stones’ means those bought at a price – like marble, not gem stones (see Rev18:12 – difference between precious and costly!)). Or we could put up a cheap temporary building with a timber frame and thatched roof.
One is a fitting structure bearing in mind the cost of providing such a secure foundation. The other is a waste of time and won’t last. More than that, it demonstrates that this builder really doesn’t care at all about the foundation that had been so carefully provided – or its cost.
But how does that translate into the work we are doing for the Lord? Or the way we live as Christians?
What does it mean in v13-
13 his 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 man’s work.14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Not that we will suffer in judgement, but there is a danger that what we have spent our time and effort on could disappear in a puff of smoke.
Paul’s thoughts now seem to move on from our work, and our Christian witness, to perhaps include our leisure time:
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
What does he mean by ‘God’s temple is sacred’?
Jesus literally lives in us by his Holy Spirit. Where we go He goes, what we do He is forced to join in. If that thought makes you feel uncomfortable, think how uncomfortable the reality is for Jesus.
Now look at verses 18-
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”
Do we secretly think that this doesn’t apply to us?
Well it does – v18: ‘Do not deceive yourselves’
21 So then, no more boasting about men.
It was common among the educated Jews to discuss the merits of the different rabbis. They liked to discuss the latest teachings and would often have a favourite rabbi who they would like to quote. The Greeks, also, liked to claim to follow one of the great philosophers, and again they would enjoy discussing different philosophical ideas. But the same thing had begun to show itself in the Christian church; and Paul has to stop it.
All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
What were the current topics of discussion?
Christian leaders and teachers are all the gift of God to us and so it is very presumptuous to say we prefer one and not another. The ministers of the Church of Christ are appointed for the hearers, not the hearers for the ministers.
But more than that – the whole world is ours to learn from and to be blessed by. And come to that, life itself – with all its trials and blessings – now, and on into the future. And even death is not something to be feared but to be welcomed as it ushers us into the presence of God.
Some people would prefer to hide from life and all it has to offer. But we should remember that it is God who gives it and richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). There is an astonishing wealth of blessing for us if we would only be prepared to receive it.
Now into 1 Corinthians 4
1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
Church leaders are not people who should be regarded as special. They are simply servants of Christ – but servants who have been entrusted with a message from their master. It is the message they bring which is amazing.
2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
If we, as servants of the Lord, have been entrusted with a work of any kind then we must perform our duty regardless of the welcome or opposition we may encounter.
3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
– And who actually declares him innocent – because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to all who trust in Jesus.
Can we have Paul’s confidence? (Yes – by faith alone)
But we do have to be obedient servants.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
V5 talks about motives:
When we judge others, why do we do it? What is our motive?
Are we seeking to justify the response of our hearts?
We will come back to the subject of judging in study 7.
6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
So Paul summarises, basically saying that no-
what does the phrase "Do not go beyond what is written" mean?
The Scriptures, then as today, were regarded as the full and final authority if you were looking for guidance regarding the things of God. But it seems that those who interpreted the scriptures were being given a higher authority than the scriptures themselves. Paul had already pointed out that it was the work of the Holy Spirit to explain the things of God. Here he reminds people that the scriptures, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, are the final authority if ever there is confusion.
So far we’ve looked at:
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