1 Corinthians 3

1 Corinthians 3:1

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.

(a) Brethren. In the New Testament, the word brethren typically refers to Christian brothers and sisters (see entry for Heb. 2:11).

(b) Spiritual men and women are mindful of spiritual things as opposed to natural things. See entry for 1 Cor. 2:15.

(c) As to men of flesh. Unspiritual and ordinary men who are walking after the flesh rather than the spirit.

(d) Infants in Christ. Just as a toddler needs to learn how to walk, a new Christian needs to learn how to walk in the new way of the Spirit. The Corinthians had not yet learned. They were still walking after the old ways of the flesh. See entry for The Flesh.

1 Corinthians 3:3

for 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?

You are still fleshly. Although they were Christians, some of the Corinthians were acting in a fleshly or worldly manner. They were walking after the old ways of the flesh and remained infants in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1).

See entry for The Flesh.

1 Corinthians 3:5

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.

Servants through whom you believed. Apollos and Paul labored and the result was people were added to God’s family. This happy outcome would not have happened without the labor of these two men and the aid of the Holy Spirit (see next verse).

1 Corinthians 3:6

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

God was causing the growth; see next verse.

1 Corinthians 3:7

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

But God who causes the growth. We put enormous pressure on ourselves to produce and deliver, but there is no pressure from God. He alone imparts life and raises the dead. He alone makes things grow. Our work adds nothing to his work. Our part is to sow and water and reap the reward of what Christ has done.

1 Corinthians 3:8

Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

(a) Each will receive his own reward. The original word for reward (misthos) means pay or wages. Although all the blessings of God come to us by grace alone, there is one kind of work that earns a payment.

(b) Reward; see entry for 1 Cor. 3:14.

(c) According to his own labor. What labor is more rewarding than the labor of childbirth? As in the natural, so in the spiritual. See entry for 1 Cor. 3:14.

1 Corinthians 3:9

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

God’s building; see entry for 2 Cor. 6:16.

1 Corinthians 3:10

According 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.

According to the grace of God which was given to me. Although Paul was an educated Pharisee, it was the grace of God that qualified and empowered him to be a gospel herald and a minister of the new covenant (1 Cor. 15:10). Similarly, the grace of God empowered the apostles (Acts 4:33), Stephen (Act 6:8), and every believer since (Rom. 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10).

1 Corinthians 3:13

each 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.

Each man’s work. The things we build in our own strength are ultimately destroyed, while they things we do with the aid of grace last forever.

This is Paul’s version of the don’t-store-up-treasure-where-moth-and-rust-corrupt speech. Every day we build. We either spend our lives in fleshly pursuits that bring fleeting pleasure, or we invest in people and reap eternal rewards. “Each one must be careful how he builds,” said Paul (1 Cor. 3:10). Life is a precious gift to be spent wisely.

1 Corinthians 3:14

If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.

Reward. The rewards we work for and receive in eternity are people.

In the economy of grace, we are rewarded for what Christ has done. Yet there are rewards to planting and watering the gospel seed, and that reward is spiritual children and eternal friends. When Solomon said children are a reward from the Lord, he was quoting an old covenant law (Deut. 28:4). If children are a reward under the death-dealing ministry of the law, how much more should we expect offspring under life-giving grace? There’s no life in the law, but grace is fertile. It is the nature of grace to reproduce good fruit among those who receive it.

Paul had a deep desire to raise spiritual offspring. Through the gospel he became a father to the Corinthians and a mother to the Thessalonians (1 Cor. 4:15, 1Th. 2:7). He called men like Timothy and Onesimus his sons in the Lord. And when he saw those he had nurtured standing firm in Christ, he said, “Now we really live” (1 Thess. 3:8).

“I have become all things to all men, so that by all means I may save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). People were Paul’s reward or prize or crown. “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Th. 2:19¬–20). The people we bring to Jesus are the heavenly treasures that moth and rust cannot touch (Matt. 6:20). The work we do in saving and strengthening others with God’s grace is the only work that will pass the test.

See entry for Eternal Rewards

1 Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

(a) Do you not know? This was one of Paul’s rhetorical trademarks. “Do you not know? By now you should know!” He uses this phrase ten times in this letter (1 Cor. 3:16, 5:6, 6:2, 6:3, 6:9, 15, 16, 19, 9:13, 24) and four times in Romans (Rom. 6:3, 16, 7:1, 11:2). Jesus, Pilate, and James also used the phrase (Luke 2:49, John 19:10, Jas. 4:4).

(b) You are a temple of God. The Most High does not dwell in a temple made with human hands (Acts 7:48), but he dwells in the body of believers. The word “you” is plural signifying that God dwells in the church (2 Cor. 6:16). Later Paul will say that God dwells in individual believers (1 Cor. 6:19).

1 Corinthians 3:17

If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

(a) The temple of God in this context is the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 3:16). It can also be interpreted as the individual believer (1 Cor. 6:19).

(b) If any man destroys. The original word for destroy means defile. Under the old covenant, defiling the temple was a serious sin. If you brought something unclean into the temple, you could get in trouble. Paul had some experience of this when he was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple (Acts 21:27-29). The Jews nearly killed him.

The old law was a shadow of a new covenant reality. God takes a dim view of those who defile his temple (the body of Christ) by promoting dead works and unbelief in Jesus.

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