1 Corinthians #4 God Gives the Increase – 1 Corinthians 3

21 Nov


The church is a family and the goal is maturity (1 Cor. 3:1-4).

1  Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. 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 quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

Why—when we have God’s own Spirit within us, the mind of Christ, and the power of God—could it be so difficult to do what is right, to do what our Lord wants us to do?

There are two reasons: the world and the flesh. The first is outside us, the second is inside us. They are Satan’s supreme instruments in tempting believers and keeping them from faithfulness and victory

The church has often thought of worldliness only in terms of bad habits. But worldliness is much deeper than bad habits; it is an orientation, a way of thinking and believing. Basically it is buying the world’s philosophies, buying human wisdom.

It is looking to the world—to human leaders, to influential and popular people, to neighbors, associates, and fellow students—for our standards, attitudes, and meaning. Worldliness is accepting the world’s definitions, the world’s measuring sticks, the world’s goals

The world and the flesh are closely related. They are used by the same power, Satan, and they serve the same purpose, evil. They complement each other and are often hard to distinguish. But it is not necessary to precisely distinguish between them, because both of them are spiritual enemies, and both must be fought with the same weapons—God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

Paul already explained that there are two kinds of people in the world—natural (unsaved) and spiritual (saved). But now he explained that there are two kinds of saved people: mature and immature (carnal). A Christian matures by allowing the Spirit to teach him and direct him by feeding on the Word. The immature Christian lives for the things of the flesh (carnal means “flesh”) and has less interest in the things of the Spirit. Of course, some believers are immature because they have been saved only a short time, but that is not what Paul is discussing here.

Paul was the “spiritual father” who brought this family into being (1 Cor. 4:15). During the eighteen months he ministered in Corinth, Paul had tried to feed his spiritual children and, help them mature in the faith. Just as in a human family, everybody helps the new baby grow and mature, so in the family of God we must encourage spiritual maturity

A Christian is not habitually characterized by sin; it no longer represents his basic nature. But he is still able to sin, and his sin is just as sinful as the sin of an unbeliever. Sin is sin. When a Christian sins, he is being practically unspiritual, living on the same practical level as an unbeliever. Consequently Paul is compelled to speak to the Corinthian believers much as if they were unbelievers.

Perhaps somewhat to soften the rebuke, he also compares them to babes in Christ. It was far from a compliment, but it did recognize that they truly belonged to Christ.

What are the marks of maturity? For one thing, you can tell the mature person by his diet. As children grow, they learn to eat different food. They graduate (to use Paul’s words) from milk to meat.

What is the difference? The usual answer is that “milk” represents the easy things in the Word, while “meat” represents the hard doctrines.

The Word of God is our spiritual food: milk (1 Peter 2:2). bread (Matt. 4:4), meat (Heb. 5:11-14), and even honey (Ps. 119:103). Just as the physical man needs a balanced diet if his body is to be healthy, so the inner man needs a balanced diet of spiritual food. The baby begins with milk, but as he grows and his teeth develop, he needs solid food.

It is not difficult to determine a believer’s spiritual maturity, or immaturity, if you discover what kind of “diet” he enjoys.

There is another way to determine maturity: the mature Christian practices love and seeks to get along with others. Children like to disagree and fuss. And children like to identify with heroes, whether sports heroes or Hollywood heroes.

Because self-centeredness is at the heart of fleshly behavior, jealousy and strife are always found in an immature congregation. Jealousy is the attitude, and strife is the action that results from it. One is the inner emotional condition, the other the outward expression of selfishness.

Jealousy and strife are not the least of the symptoms of fleshly living. Those sins are more destructive than many Christians seem to think. They are far from being petty sins, because, among other things, they cause division in the church, Christ’s body, for whom He gave His life. They are among the surest marks of fallen humanness, just as unity is one of the surest marks of divine transformation.

Jealousy is a severe form of selfishness, begrudging someone else what we wish were ours. And selfishness is one of the most obvious characteristics of babyhood. An infant’s life is almost totally self-centered and selfish. Its whole concern is with its own comfort, hunger, attention, sleep. It is typical of a young child to be self-centered, but it should not be typical of an adult, especially a Christian adult. It is spiritually infantile to be jealous of and to cause strife among fellow believers, and it betrays a fleshly perspective.

The cure for division is turning away from self and setting our eyes on the one God whom we all glorify. When our attention is focused on our Lord, as it always should be, there will be no time and no occasion for division. When our attention is on Him it cannot be on ourselves or on human leaders or human factions.

Apollos and Paul were simply the servants through whom you believed. They were the instruments, not the source, of salvation.

The church is a field and the goal is quantify (1 Cor. 3:5-9a). 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 labor. 9  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul goes on to show the essential folly of this party spirit with its glorification of human leaders. In a garden one man may plant a seed and another may water it; but neither can claim to have made the seed grow. That belongs to God and to God alone.

“Planted” and “watered” – Single action, completed in the past.

“God gave the increase.” “Gave” – Perfect tense which denotes continuing action on the part of the Lord.

The man who plants and the man who waters are on one level; neither can claim any precedence over the other; they are but servants working together for the one Master—God. God uses human instruments to bring to men the message of his truth and love.

Paul will have more to say about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, but this should be said now: A mature Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about. Many of the members of the Corinthian church enjoyed “showing off’ their gifts, but they were not interested in serving one another and edifying the church.

What is the ministry all about? It involves loving, feeding, and disciplining God’s family so that His children mature in the faith and become more like Jesus Christ.

The Temple—Quality (1 Corinthians 3:9b-23 (NIV)

…God’s building. 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 one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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. 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. 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.” 21  So then, no more boasting about men! 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.

The usual explanation of this passage is that it describes the building of the Christian life. We all build on Christ, but some people use good materials while others use poor materials. The kind of material you use determines the kind of reward you will get.

God is concerned that we build with quality. The church does not belong to the preacher or to the congregation. It is God’s church. “Ye are God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). If we are going to build the local church the way God wants it built, we must meet certain conditions.

First, we must build on the right foundation (vv. 10-11). That foundation is Jesus Christ. When Paul came to Corinth, he determined to preach only Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-2). He laid the only foundation that would last.

The foundation is laid by the proclaiming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The foundation is the most important part of the building, because it determines the size, shape, and strength of the superstructure. A ministry may seem to be successful for a time, but if it is not founded on Christ, it will eventually collapse and disappear.

Second, we must build with the right materials (vv. 12-17). Paul described two opposite kinds of materials, as the chart reveals.

Gold, Silver, Precious Stones Wood, Hay, Stubble
Permanent Passing, temporary
Beautiful Ordinary, even ugly
Valuable Cheap
Hard to obtain Easy to obtain

What did Paul want to symbolize by his choice of materials? He is not talking about people, because Christians are the “living stones” that make up God’s temple (1 Peter 2:5). I personally believe Paul is referring to the doctrines of the Word of God. In each section of this chapter, the Word is symbolized in a way that fits the image of the church Paul used. The Word is food for the family, seed for the field, and materials for the temple.

THE LOCAL BODY – THE HOLY OF HOLIES (3:16-17). Divine Judgment Promised. Warning about destroying the church through disunity.

  1. “Sanctuary or temple” – Word used in the Old Testament when referring to the Holy of Holies.
  2. God indwells the church, because He indwells each member of the church.
  3. Destruction of the temple was taking place by the Corinthians having divisions in the church (boasting in men).
  4. The consequences of destroying the Temple of God (verse 17) – him will God destroy. They were destroying the church through their carnality and glorying in men.

NOTE: The warning is clear: Do not attempt to harm “God’s temple.” To avoid this sin, realize three truths: (1) corporately they were the Temple of God; (2) the Spirit of God lives in their congregation; (3) they were holy.

Third, we must build according to the right plan (vv. 18-20).

The world depends on promotion, prestige, and the influence of money and important people. The church depends on prayer, the power of the Spirit, humility, sacrifice, and service.

1 Corinthians 3:19 warns that man’s wisdom will only trap him (a quotation from Job 5:13); and 1 Corinthians 3:20 warns that man’s wisdom only leads to vanity and futility (a quotation from Ps. 94:11). Though the church must be identified with the needs of the world, it must not imitate the wisdom of the world.

Dangerous Practices – Pride In Men. There will be no divisions if each person places Christ at the center of their lives.

  1. Negative: Let no man deceive himself that he is wise (v. 18a). The word “deceive” means “one caught up in complete or total deception.”
  2. Positive: Let him become a fool in order to be wise (v. 18b). Reject the “wisdom” of men that you may accept the “foolishness” of God, which is the cross.
  3. No possession in human leaders (v. 21a). The Corinthian believers did not belong to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas.
  4. They, in fact belong to the Christians as God had sent them to bring instruction.
  5. Everything is possessed in Christ (v. 21b-23). All things belong to us through God. The world belongs to Christians that we might glorify God. Death belongs to Christians that we might anticipate its coming (Philippians 1:21).

Finally, we must build with the right motive (vv. 21-23). That motive is the glory of God.

Paul closed this appeal by pointing out that each believer possesses all things in Christ. Each one of God’s servants belongs to each believer. No member of the church should say, “I belong to Paul!” or “I like Peter!” because each servant belongs to each member equally.

“All are yours”—the world, life, death, things present, things to come! How rich we are in Christ! If all things belong to all believers, then why should there be competition and rivalry?

“Ye are Christ’s”—this balances things. I have all things in Jesus Christ, but I must not become careless or use my freedom unwisely.

“All things are yours”—that is Christian liberty. “And ye are Christ’s”—that is Christian responsibility. We need both if we are to build a church that will not turn to ashes when the fire falls.

In this passage Paul is surely speaking from personal experience. He was of necessity a foundation layer and was forever on the move. True, he stayed for eighteen months in Corinth (Ac 18:11) and for three years in Ephesus (Ac 20:31); but in Thessalonica he can have stayed less than a month, and that was far more typical.

Wherever he went, he laid the same foundation. That was the proclamation of the facts about and the offer of Jesus Christ. It was his tremendous function to introduce men to Jesus Christ because it is in him, and in him alone, that a man can find three things.

(a) He finds forgiveness for past sins. He finds himself in a new relationship to God and suddenly discovers that he is his friend and not his enemy. He discovers that God is like Jesus; where once he saw hatred he now sees love, and where once he saw infinite remoteness he now sees tender intimacy.

(b) He finds strength for the present. Through the presence and help of Jesus he finds courage to cope with life, for he is now no longer an isolated unit fighting a lonely battle with an adverse universe. He lives a life in which nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus his Lord. He walks life’s ways and fights its battles with Christ.

(c) He finds hope for the future. He no longer lives in a world in which he is afraid to look forward but in one where God is in control and working together all things for good. He lives in a world where death is no longer the end, but only the prelude to greater glory. Without the foundation of Christ a man can have none of these things.

But on this foundation of Christ others built. Paul is not here thinking of the building up of wrong things, but the building up of inadequate things. A man may present to his fellow men a version of Christianity which is weak and watered down; a one-sided thing which has stressed some things too much and others too little, and in which things have got out of balance; a warped thing in which even the greatest matters have emerged distorted.

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Posted by on November 21, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


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