1 Corinthians 3
As I was beginning this study, I could hear in my mind a song by Bruce Hornsby and the Range from 1986 called “The Way It Is” from the album of the same name. The chorus of that song goes, That’s just the way it is / Some things will never change / That’s just the way it is / Oh, but don’t you believe it… That song was actually talking about how even though “racism” was legislated away, nothing has really changed. (Actually, Tupac Shakur did a remix of Bruce Hornsby’s song stating that from a black perspective, and he agrees.) Although I could use our time to expound on what people erroneously call “racism” (really just ethnic diversity in reverse), that is not the point where of this chapter, although it does relate to the first paragraph I isolated.
Where the original song relates to 1 Corinthians 3 is that it spins a mythos that mistakenly believes human beings have control over their behaviour in a realistic way as they mosey along after the principles of the world, the flesh, and the devil. As we get into this this evening, we should consider that reality for the Christian is in fact reality by definition. Everyone else has fallen victim to “the lie” of Romans 1, and is just making it up as they go along.
Now as I always do, I want to give a little bit of a brief as to how we got to here from the beginning of the book. You must always keep in the back of your mind that this letter is the second of four corrective letters to the church at Corinth, clearly the one that had the most issues that we read about in the new Testament. We must not initiate the building of theology from this letter without understanding the greater context of the Scriptures as a whole before using 1 Corinthians to draw any theological conclusions. You’ll see what I mean when we talk about our second paragraph this study.
In chapter 1, we learned that basically, everyone is some kind of fool, and concluded from our study that if we have to play the fool anyway, we should play the part of God’s fool, because the so-called “foolishness” of our sovereign God will put any of the logic or wisdom of the world to shame. Come, give your life for a carpenter’s son – for “a madman who died for a dream,” according to Dr. Albert Schweitzer. But only the foolish can tell of the wonderful grace of God in their own salvation and the wisdom found in His word through His Spirit.
That brought us to chapter 2, where we had opportunity to examine the nature of this heavenly wisdom, that the world calls foolish. We learned that not only was that true wisdom a spiritual, and nor earthly wisdom, but also that such wisdom could only be revealed to those who are aiming at maturity in Christ by walking “in the Spirit,” where for lack of better words, we obey what the Holy Spirit informs us through the Word of God and the New Nature that Christ gave us to walk in instead of the old nature that we are still very capable of falling into no matter how long you have been a real Christian.
That brings us to chapter three, where we will see the application of that, so here we go. I broke the chapter down in to the following thought units (paragraphs):
KV: 18 – The way it REALLY is…
1-4: Christians who walk after the flesh are immature
5-15: Everyone Christian builds – build wisely, it will be tested
16-17: YOU are the work – Do NOT destroy that work
18-23: Trade your fleshly wisdom for God’s foolishness
Because the wisdom of God does not seem wise to all those that follow the world’s Pied Piper call, it seems that Christian is always in a losing position to the people in the world. However, those of you who have skipped ahead and read the end of the book know otherwise. We are holding our peace and simply undergoing the nonsense the world throws at us (sometimes taking necessary stands), until the Lord comes and restores His creation to what He intended it to be from the beginning by removing the curse He placed on it when we sinned and disobeyed God in the garden of Eden. Let’s jump in.
KV: 18 – The way it REALLY is…
As I said in my introduction, that Bruce Hornsby song (and Tupac’s remix) are based on a narrative that is more fiction than fact. The fiction that the worldview rest on is that there is any direct human control to the situation. It is a very old debate, and there has been a lot written on both sides of it, but the debate is about human free will. Without getting into that debate, which is more nuanced than most people will allow for, free will for men is limited by their nature. No sinner can choose not to sin given the opportunity. Hornsby laments in one of the verses, “Did you really think about it before you made the rules?” The unstated opposing position is, “Or did you just make that rule based on your own very limited perspective?” The myth here is that the rule maker could make any other rule than what he made.
Contrast that to what we find in Scripture. Paul here is going to give an account of a type of “*ism,” which for lack of a better set of words, is simply divisions based on identity groups in the church at Corinth. Because it was the convenient one, those group divisions were based on the identity of the group’s favoured teachers. We see this today a bit in the “red letter Christian” movement. While I agree that the words of Jesus are absolutely sacred to all believers, they are NOT the only words that the Holy Spirit chose to include in Scripture, and ALL of them are of equal importance. That’s not a popular view anymore, I’m told. But whatever.
What Paul is about to do through this chapter is take these foolish and worldly, fleshly divisions between Christians, and lay down some serious reality on the matter, telling us, as I titled the chapter, “The way if REALLY is.” So steel yourselves, this is easy to say and difficult to hear – I mean really hear – and do.
1-4: Christians who walk after the flesh are immature
The first thing Paul addresses are the false divisions of people groups. We see this today with the idea of “social justice” in the church, which is based on Marxist philosophy and then theologized by a Jesuit priest named Guillarmo Gutierrez in conjunction with a particular school of Higher Criticism in Frankfurt, Germany which has come to be known as “the Frankfurt School,” and it is the center of most of the theological liberalism we encounter today that assaults the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. Why do I say that? Well, because Marxism has spawned “Critical Race Theory,” and “Intersectionality,” which are both based on “Standpoint Theory,” where our current liberal feminism comes from. Paul calls all of this immature. Let’s look into the text and see.
1: And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.
- What a way to start a chapter, right? Well, as it turns out, the words of the Scripture are inspired, but the chapter divisions are not. Those came along in the 1300s, and the verse divisions about 300 years later, for the record, and neither claim to be divinely inspired, they are just tools for quick and accurate reference to passages of Scripture. We always have to keep in mind that sometimes the context of a passage comes from the chapter immediately preceding like it does here.
- The immediately preceding verses from chapter 2 set the context for Paul at the start of chapter 3. Those read, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (2:14-16)
- So what is Paul saying? To the Corinthians that were caught in this identity group division, he was saying, “Look, I can’t speak to you as those mature, spiritual men, but instead I have to speak to you as immature men of the fleshly world system you were supposed to leave behind. I have to treat you like little baby Christians.” You may recall that after I was first saved, I met an older lady that was saved a little before I was, and she referred to herself as, “just a little baby Christian.” I was right there with her. Then I left for university, and learned that Scripture actually has meaning and context to follow, and frankly, I just forgot about some of the folks at my old church because I was busy studying, really. It wasn’t intentional. I grew in Christ pretty rapidly compared to my Pentecostal brethren apparently, and when I returned to Kenora, I was no longer a “babe in Christ.” I ran into the lady. She still clung to the line, “I’m just a little baby Christian.” Maybe it was fear of actually taking some responsibility for her own walk with Christ, maybe she really was still a little baby Christian, I don’t know – but shouldn’t maturity come over time? The same amount of time had passed for us – and yet we seemed to mature at different rates. I have no other point than that, but Paul did.
- He had to treat the Corinthian believers that were caught in this as infants in Christ, and I got the impression that he didn’t like that at all.
2: I 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,
- Whatever MY impressions of what Paul was thinking, HE felt like all he could “feed” them as Christians was MILK, because they couldn’t handle solid food. (I bet Apollos didn’t think much of it either, great Old Testament Scholar that he was.) In fact, Paul made a point of letting the Corinthian believers KNOW that they still could only handle milk. (That’s one BIG reason we should be careful building theology from this book.) Paul was essentially saying, “You guys are being a bunch of babies!” And he doesn’t just leave it there, he tells us exactly what that means. See the next verse.
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.” Their minds were focused on the things of the flesh, which EVERY real Christian discovers sooner or later, are to be left behind, and instead we are to focus on the Spirit, walking after Him and what He instructs us in Scripture. Even just that declaration Paul feels like he needs to further clarify just to be sure that there is no mistaking his meaning.
- “You are all walking in jealousy! Even you ‘red letter Christian’ guys that take your teachings from the Lord Jesus!” This means that they are minding, that is keeping their focus upon, things of the flesh. We may define “the flesh” here as “the old nature,” or “the old man” (depending on the translation you prefer). When you do this “walking in the flesh,” you are disobeying God and NOT walking in the new nature that Christ gave you when you were first regenerated. And that’s a problem, indicates Paul.
- “Are you not behaving like ‘mere’ men?” This is something that all Christians must learn when they are saved by the Lord. We are no longer just human. Although we remain human in the flesh as we are being made holy, or sanctified by the Lord, we are now what Peter calls “partakers of the divine nature.” See what He says in 2 Peter 1:4. Speaking of the glory and excellence of Christ by which He called us to Himself, Peter says, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” And we get to escape the corruption of the world [kosmos, order of things] that is in the world through lust (that desire to possess). And yet, they were choosing to walk after the flesh and be mere men.
4: For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
- Paul then equates the choosing to follow these artificial divisions of identity groups as the immature practice of being “mere men,” when the Lord Jesus has SO much better than that for us. Don’t believe me? John.17, the REAL “Lord’s Prayer.”
- “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:22-26) And you red letter boys will want to note that all THAT speech was in red letters. You better listen up to this next bit.
- Neighbours and brethren! How can we any longer walk in the filthy ways of the flesh when SUCH promise is given by the Saviour, the very night before He went to the Cross for US? How can we walk in the flesh in the face of such innocence? Such holiness? Such divinity? How could we? No – how DARE we? No, brethren! I know what we are like. I don’t have to look far! I understand how Isaiah felt when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up, in the year King Uzziah died. The Lord God’s train filled the temple. It was awesome! It was holy! Holy! Holy! He felt terrible, because he saw how filthy he was. How filthy we all are! He felt like all his works were “used menstrual rags!” And the Lord cleansed him and made him his spokesman. And Isaiah was FOREVER changed! And beloved, that’s what Christ’s work on the cross was FOR! HE did that for US! All so we could be with Him where He is! How DARE we walk as mere men?
As you may realize now, Paul was very grieved that he was unable to share mature spirituality with the Corinthians that walked immaturely in the flesh. Our Lord did not save us to remain “little baby Christians,” influenced by whatever doctrinal wind is blowing. Babies grow up, and so should we. I’m not saying we will all experience that at the same rate, but I’ve been a Christian now for 35 years this year, and for some of you, it has been even longer. WE should be the ones doing Paul’s job NOW. How is it that we’re still wandering around making these artificial people group divisions and needing to drink milk like a baby, and not eat meat like grown individuals? It’s worth thinking about, praying about, and where necessary, repenting of our willing immaturity. Moving on.
5-15: Everyone Christian builds – build wisely, it will be tested
If you thought what I said was unkind just now, I apologize for sounding harsh, but not for the message. You MUST understand that there is a REASON that we must grow in Christ. That growth in Christ is the work we share with God in our own sanctification. This aspect of salvation is unique, in that God allows our cooperation with Him as we suffer things He approves for us. EVERY Christian will build a great work this way. Our problem is that we must learn to make choices along the way, and our choices will be reflected by the results of a very specific test that God tells about ahead of time so we “know what to study,” so to speak.
Paul takes an analogy from the construction industry, which most people used to be familiar with, so in case you are not, I’ll try to keep this at an easy-to-understand level. The building is figurative. The building materials are figurative. The test is NOT, and the results are NOT. See what I mean.
5: What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
- Wait, doesn’t this belong with the previous paragraph? Well, yes and no. He is talking about the same thing. He is NOT drawing a conclusion, but instead is telling us the story the way it really is. After all of that “you are behaving like babies because you are dividing into people groups” talk was based on preferred teachers. But what is your division based on? It is based on men of God that not only had no part in your immaturity, but are appalled that anyone would do this!
- Who are these men? They are simply servants of God that He has used to attempt to teach you some of the deeper things you should know as mature Christians. The fact that you ignored that and changed it into something else shows that you were not listening. God’s servants were faithful. So what happened to these guys that divided over such a silly issue?
6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.
- God often has a plan that involves different people doing different things in the midst of a gathering, but make no mistake it is GOD that is causing the growth, and for that reason getting the glory because of that. It was no different here. Paul planted the actual church in Corinth, we have talked in a little detail about that. Apollos, that great Old Testament scholar, came and taught the church at Corinth as well. Those two men knew each other and were fellow workmen in the harvest. But they were just servants of the God that was doing all the real work in the hearts of the saints. And then a bunch of guy got it through their head that only Apollos had the light they needed on the Old Testament. Talk about pear-shaped.
7: So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
- See? Paul equated himself and Apollos together as nothing, but God as everything to the work in Corinth. You know, we who follow in the reformed tradition even in the broad sense have learned the Latin phrase, soli Deo gloria. It means, “to the glory of God alone.” I think Paul would give that a nod here.
8: Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
- Here is where Paul begins to turn the corner into what will become one of the major lessons of the book of 1 Corinthians – God is giving you all these teachers so that you can learn how to be holy. How will you do? This is not a small and insignificant question – it is THE operative question for EVERY Christian alive. Okay, you have great teaching from multiple sources that are all given by God Himself. And then, punctuation. It isn’t a period, but it isn’t a comma either – it is a semi-colon. Strong pause, followed by critical information for the hearer.
- He who plants and he who waters are one, presumably in purpose, considering the subject matter. BUT! EACH will receive HIS OWN REWARD because of HIS OWN LABOUR. Paul! What do you mean here? Paul is saying that everyone that reads his letter to Corinth has a responsibility and a duty to RESPOND by working, labouring, in something in response to God’s supply of teaching and the resulting maturity that comes from that.
9: For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
- Paul is pretty clear here. We are working with God. But those workers are working in God’s field. The sense here is his field that is currently being cultivated. Paul and his fellow instructors are those whom God gave the job of cultivating that field. God’s building. The building God now has in progress. The one that God’s servants are currently in progress of building. Paul says – that’s YOU.
- Brothers and sisters, I feel a certain kinship with Paul here. Here I am, teaching the Scriptures here to you. I’ve known you for multiple years. I am blessed to be God’s chosen worker in this field that he is cultivating. I am honoured to be His instrument in this building up of his building – the church, the living temple of God. Let me help you, please. Walk in the Spirit. Reasoning and logic follows as Paul continues the construction analogy.
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.
- Now some of this might be considered “personal interpretation,” but I don’t think it’s wrong. If you see something else, that’s okay in this case. I don’t see it as a difference of interpretation so much as a nuance of application.
- Paul begins by stating that God gave him grace in his construction analogy to lay a foundation for each individual to build on. That’s right, it’s your building, because the building is YOU. We’ll come to the why I think that presently. I further believe that it is the duty of each individual to build on that foundation that Paul has laid for us all in Jesus Christ.
- However, in the construction of the building, I must first make a very important statement. You can only participate in this building project if you have by God’s grace become a Christian. If you do not have a firm foundation laid by the Apostles in Jesus Christ, you have nothing to build on. Instead of building on solid bedrock, always required for any real building project, you are building on sand, and when the floods of life come, your building will be completely unprepared for the storm of circumstance.
- Do you know what it means to become a Christian? It means that instead of trying to atone for your own sins by yourself, which you cannot do anyway because you are incapable of living the perfect life required as the payment for your own sins. The good news is that God became a man and lived that perfect life we are all unable to live. Then He laid it down on a Roman cross to pay for our sins in the person of Jesus. God the Father was so pleased by that sacrifice, that He raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead to show that the price had been paid! And if you will believe that message, really and truly, and leave those old sins, your old way of being aside, you will be come what the rest of the planet calls a Christian. That’s the foundation. Foundations of any other kind will not cause your building to stand in the floods of life that WILL come. You MUST start there.
- Assuming that you start with that solid foundation, it now becomes your responsibility to build YOU on it. How do we do that? Well, we build ourselves with our choices. I remember the very first choice I was given as a Christian. I hadn’t been saved 5 minutes yet. I was like any other 18-year-old in 1985. This is a little delicate, but I had always wanted to be with a member of the opposite sex, and being a nerd in high school, that hadn’t really worked out for me. I had to use the washroom, so I was using the nearest one to me, and as I was walking in, the HOT lady cleaner was coming out of it. Short version, she propositioned me with something that I had wanted VERY badly FOR YEARS. If this had happened less than 5 minutes earlier, my answer would have been completely the opposite of my polite “no thanks,” and I suspect that my story would have turned out very differently. That was the very first brick in Gerry the Believer. I’m not perfect (yet), but I am on the way there.
- My point here is that we will face choices as we move forward in our walks with the Lord. Your challenges will be unique to you. But as Paul says, take care what you choose, because that is how you will build on the building of YOU.
11: For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
- We just covered this, but it is of critical importance. You MUST start with the foundation of Jesus Christ. If you are not starting there, you’re building a big house on the sand. And when the flood comes (meaning the judgement of God on your life, no matter who you are), it will be destroyed in the ensuing flood.
12: Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
- It is worth a few minutes to discuss building materials. Notice that the list here has 6 ingredients. I place NO significance on the number 6 at all, and I feel like that needs to be said. There is this thing called gematria, and it’s based around how numbers are used in the Bible. The number 6 is the number of a man, and blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. How to make Gerry’s eyes cross in boredom and frustration at missing the point.
- You may also notice that there are two general categories of construction material. Pay attention, because THAT is important. You’ll see why momentarily. In the meantime, you will notice that wood, hay, and straw are flammable and will not stand a whole lot of pressure, and that gold, silver, and precious stones are not – in fact, heat and pressure make them even more beautiful. Momentarily, you’ll see why that’s important.
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.
- THAT’s why that’s important. I find it an interesting principle. We are saved by grace, but we are judged by works. If we are Christians, it is the work of Christ we are judged by. That’s a good thing, because all our righteousnesses are like used menstrual rags, as Isaiah said (64:6, sense of the Hebrew). Now remember, Christian, we are cooperating with the Lord, as sanctification is seen to be synergistic for the Christian. When we cooperate in our sanctification, we are choosing what the Lord wants us to choose, and we are using the best quality of building material. When we make choices based on expediency or our own comfort and ease, we are choosing the lower quality and flammable materials. Keep that in mind.
- The day of testing will show what kind of work you have done, because the test is – any guesses? – if you said, “the fire test,” full marks. Your building of you will be exposed to fire by the Lord. And don’t say “no fair,” the Lord is telling you ahead of time. And the Lord is ALWAYS fair, for the record.
- The fire is the test that the Lord has appointed ahead of time to test all our works. If we have like Mary, “chosen the better part,” that one needful thing of learning at the feet of Jesus, it WILL NOT BE TAKEN AWAY. In fact the fire will refine it and make even more beautiful as all the dross is consumed by the heat. But if we choose the easy way – the convenient way, the silent way, the low-key way, the way that everyone else is doing, simply because it is easier to fine, easier to obtain, easier to build with – the fire will show that too. Here, see for yourself where Paul is going.
14: If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
- See, that’s what I’m saying. The fire WILL be loosed on everything everyone has ever done. And it will reveal its lasting qualities. If YOUR work remains, it says here that YOU will receive a REWARD! I know, we don’t really pursue any reward except to hear the Lord say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Maybe that is the reward, but I don’t think so. Interestingly, it doesn’t say what it is here. I think we read about the answer last week in 2:9 – “but just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.'” That is, it’s so good, you can’t even imagine it.
15: If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
- Remember, the fire WILL BE LOOSED. If YOUR work does NOT remain, YOU. WILL. SUFFER. LOSS. And likewise, it does not say what that loss will look like. Perhaps that is because it is so bad, we are unable to imagine it, because eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the heart of man. Now, Paul is quick to add that such a one will still be saved! Paul is saying that this test is for BELIEVERS, not unbelievers. They have a different time for judgement, apparently, and it is subsequent to the judgement of His own people. You will still be saved from eternal punishment in hell. I’m not sure where the phrase originated, but I agree with it – that ain’t nothin’. This is about rewards and privileges in the kingdom, I suspect, because everyone here is still saved – but there will be some hard moments for everyone.
- But why the hard moments for people? Isn’t it about getting saved and just going to heaven, Gerry? Beloved, who told you that? God has SO much more He wants to give you, and you have the chance now to cooperate with Him in the formation of YOUR OWN ETERNAL CHARACTER! But you don’t have to if you really don’t want to – you can let HIM do it – but the cost to you will be unimaginable. Who wants to settle for that? When the Lord Himself has SO much more He is telling us plainly that He wants to give us who are truly His?
Is it possible to forfeit privilege and reward in the kingdom of God? Yes, yes it is. It says so right here. Waith Gerry, didn’t you build that theology right here? Nope, I did not. If you were with us in our study of Hebrews, we covered what it meant there, and built our theology there, with help from the gospels, the letters to the Thessalonians and Colossians. But this certainly supports that theology very well, doesn’t it. I didn’t say you can’t get theology from the letter. I said you need to be careful in doing so. I know this is a corrective letter. What could possibly BE more corrective than telling the Corinthians exactly how it was going to work and showing them with that what they stood to lose if they didn’t smarten up and start walking in the Spirit instead of walking in the flesh?
Because Paul is in the middle of making a VERY specific point.
16-17: YOU are the work – Do NOT destroy that work
You see, God is today building Himself a different kind of a temple. He is building Himself a sanctuary, and beloved, that sanctuary is US! Individually AND collectively, that house God builds is His Church Universal, that living building, built up of living stones (that’s how Peter describes us), with each living stone built up together with other living stones into a heavenly dwelling place for God for all of eternity. He has foreknown us all, down to the last living stone as to who would fit where with their own mix of the gifts of the Spirit, displaying their own mix of the fruit of the Spirit, having predestined us all for adoption as His sons (mature sons, not just children like some would have you remain) so that His only begotten Son Jesus could be the firstborn in the sense of how inheritances are handled, and having predestined us from before eternity began, at the right time in time and in space, He called us irresistibly to become His, and WE DID, not because we did anything, but because He did, and when that happened, He justified us through the sacrificial life His son lived and then gave up for us (you didn’t think that the only sacrifice Jesus made was at the cross, did you?) – and when it is the right time for Him to do so, He will return for all of His people, from all of time, from every nation under heaven, speaking every possible language, having every concentration of melanin in our skins possible, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female – and He will “glorify” us – that is He will complete that transformation we began at the moment He regenerated us – and make us eternally like His Son Jesus. And beloved, it doesn’t matter what we will look like – because WE will be like HIM! Oh, the beauty of it all – I feel like I’ve seen it myself, even though only in my mind’s eye, in my wild imagination. It isn’t my intention to wax rhapsodic about it, but apparently I have, so I guess it’s a bit late to call that all off.
But what is Paul’s point? The title I gave this paragraph says it all – if YOU are the work that God has you working on for an “inheritance,” then you must take care, and you must NOT do anything deliberately that would destroy that work. Why would Paul say that? Because with their immaturity and divisive behaviour, they were pulling down what God wanted to build, and engaged in the very opposite of what they were supposed to be doing! Here, look at what Paul says!
16: Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
- Paul just flat out asks the question. It’s like he is asking, “Don’t you get it?” This is what you ARE! It’s not like I could make this all up, frankly I’m not that creative. We are the temple of the Living God! The Greek word is naos, and it means not so much “temple” as “sanctuary,” the innermost part of a temple. The equivalent place in the Jewish Temple, with which Paul and all of his followers would have been familiar, wouldn’t have been the whole temple, it was more specific. It wasn’t even reflective of what was known as “the Holy Place,” where the lamps were, and the shewbread, like that. This was indicative of the “Holy of Holies,” the place where God sat on His throne. The Sanctuary. Where God dwells. In US. And if I’m being honest, that blows me away.
- Look for a moment in Isaiah 6, starting in verse 1 and through verse 5:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
- Isaiah had a vision. It was an incredible vision. Think about it. Think about where He was. Think about what he saw! Think about what he realized about himself! Imagine the absolute dread that washed over him in an instant. And think of the holy terror that must have aroused in him.
- You see, friends, I know who I am. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have done things I am absolutely ashamed of. Some of you know about some of them. Some of them I have never spoken aloud to another human being. But God knows what those things are, because nothing is hidden from Him. As earlier, when I was preparing this study, and I had a sort of Isaiah-like experience when I saw who God was, and I saw myself in comparison, and I just knew I was unmade in His presence. I too am a man of unclean lips, from a people of unclean lips. BROTHERS! I AM ONE OF YOU! I KNOW YOU ALL! AND I AM NO BETTER THAN ANY OF YOU! REPENT! PLEASE! I BEG YOU! You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t know what you stand to lose! He can make you CLEAN! He can SAVE YOU if that’s what you need! Trust Him!
- Beloved, We are the place where God sits! He lives in US! HOW DARE WE do anything to defile THAT? And yet, that is the very thing we often do. Because we don’t understand. Because we’re lazy. Because we know who we are too. Because we’re afraid. Beloved, trust the Lord! He will have His sanctuary in us! He will do it! Oh, trust Him! I need to move on, or we will be here all night.
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.
- That word “destroy” is a pretty nuanced word in itself. Used in the sense of this verse here it means, “to destroy by means of corrupting,” and so “bringing into a worse state,” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. In fact, there is a specific not there on what it means in this verse, so I will include it here. It says, “With the significance of destroying, it is used of marring a local church by leading it away from that condition of holiness of life and purity of doctrine in which it should abide, 1 Cor. 3:17 (KJV, defile), and of God’s retributive destruction of the offender who is guilty of this sin.” My friends, I would be less than faithful if I did not point out that this was attempted this past Sunday, although I think the attempt failed miserably because God would not allow anything but the exposing of the one attempting to divide. I won’t name names here, because it isn’t the time or place, but ultimately, names will be named, and by others than me.
- What will God do to those who attempt to corrupt the church, the very body of Christ, with false teaching or doctrine? Well, God will “destroy” them. And get this – it’s the same Greek word, and that is significant. God will corrupt them. What does that mean? Nothing that we didn’t study in Romans 1:24-25: “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for THE lie [literal Greek], and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
- There is only one penalty for those that will attempt to lead the church astray with their self-feeding, self-serving doctrines of “fuzzy, comfy, blathering, niceness.” God will give them over to that insanity and let them believe the lie they are perpetrating. And it is up to us to know it and to mark those individuals and avoid them. Scripture is clear. And any congregation that will not do so under Matthew 18 discipline is not a congregation I am prepared to support or be a part of – they have deserted the Lord. We will look at that Church discipline in detail when we get to where it is exercised in Corinth, in chapter 5 (I peeked ahead).
- Why would God put such a heavy penalty on those individuals that would try to corrupt, perhaps even unknowingly, a local gathering that is part of Christ’s church? I suspect it has to do with the phrase, “for the sanctuary of God is holy.” The original use of the Greek word hagios is that which is “separated,” and in Greek pagan religion, it meant “dedicated to the gods.” Here in Scripture, it has both moral and spiritual significance – we are separated from sin and are therefore consecrated to God, or sacred. This is not, contrary to what is taught by the Catholic cult, an attained state, but is a state into which God calls His people that He sets apart for Himself and His purposes. Still, we as His people are called to “sanctify” ourselves to be consistent with that “holy” calling; we are to cleanse ourselves from all defilement, forsake sin, live in a holy manner of life, and experience fellowship with God in HIS holiness. In fact, the sense of which that word is used here indicates the CORPORATE gathering being the “sanctuary” of God. This is one reason we MUST gather, by the way. Otherwise, we are forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some. But we together represent that “sanctuary” where God sits enthroned in our midst, as we are His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5), His holy nation (2:9). The phrase indicates something more than just the state of being honourable. It is more than just being free of defilement. It is more comprehensive. G. B. Stevens in Hasting’s Bible Dictionary said of this sate, that it is, “characteristically godlikeness.” And friends, God will defend those who name His name honestly, even if we don’t understand all this theology. Try to poke God in the eye, so to speak, and you’re going to get AT LEAST your hand slapped.
- AND THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE. That reference to “you” is second person plural, beloved – that means ALL of us! All of us together! God, it seems, in these last days, is expressing Himself through His Son – and the church is called the BODY of Christ. In order for God to properly express Himself to the world, we MUST MEET CORPORATELY! And frankly, the world has no right to tell us how we need to meet in our own building, no matter what anyone says. And I don’t need John MacArthur or even Jordan Hall to tell me that, and I have nothing but respect for both of those men. Why wear a mask in the church? Well, frankly I’M in the high-risk category everyone is trying to protect as a diabetic heart patient with cholesterol and blood pressure issues. I’d be stupid not to protect myself. But, and people need to understand this, I WILL NOT STOP MEETING WITH THE CHURCH FOR ANY REASON UNLESS I CAN’T GET THERE FOR HEALTH REASONS. And that decision is up to ME, not anyone else. And because I am at risk, and others there are at risk, I will do my part to protect them from my germs. I will not forsake the assembling together of God’s people, as is the manner of some (see Heb. 10:25). Rather I will meet with the “holy ones” and express the dwelling of God in His corporate sanctuary, AND I WILL ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO DO SO, because with all of this nonsense, I think I can see the day drawing nearer, and it’s placing a real urgency in my spirit to get this stuff done! THAT’S WHO WE ARE, beloved! Let’s BE!
THAT’s the point Paul is making. It only took him two verses. I could say more, but I will move on, because I don’t have unlimited time.
18-23: Trade your fleshly wisdom for God’s foolishness
This is just a natural development of what Paul was saying in the last paragraph. You won’t get all of what we considered just now by following earthly wisdom, and that’s a certainty. Brothers and sisters alike, it’s time to give up on the world, it’s wisdom, and even our own intelligence, because none of that really cuts the mustard, to use a phrase. No, to pick up Paul’s analogy, we need to become God’s fools as far as the world is concerned. If we do not, we stand to lose a lot, and be counted as an enemy of God and His testimony and people.
18: Let 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.
- I get the feeling here that Paul is throwing out a challenge to his fellow intellectuals, and I will do the same. You think you’re that smart? Your problem is that you don’t see that you are not that smart. Stop kidding yourself. Everyone else can already see you’re not that smart – or you probably wouldn’t be where you are now, and that’s watching an online bible study on a Thursday evening in July. In the words of a fellow from Texas I’m familiar with, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” I already know, by the way – that’s a rhetorical question. If you were really that smart, you’d have been here long before now!
- I’m funning a bit. Really, I know that this is not a question of intellect. Man does not have an intellectual problem that can be solved by better education or clean drinking water. He has a moral problem, and that problem is that he is hiding or running from the fact that he is a sinner in need of a saviour. If he doesn’t know about it, he thinks he’s okay. But he really isn’t, is he. Again, that’s not a question. We think we make our own reality. We really don’t. God makes reality whether you think so or not. And all that so-called scientific “proof” you think you have is foolishness to that God you don’t believe in. He’s your Creator personally whether you want to acknowledge Him or not, whether you believe in Him or not. I’m not trying to be argumentative, quite the opposite. How much would I have to hate someone to know the truth that they could avoid eternal condemnation in hell and not say anything to help them escape it?
- No, we have to be smart enough to say the words, “I don’t know,” sometimes. That takes real courage, and that place is a good place to start your search for the God you think foolish.
19: For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”;
- Here is where God doesn’t care how smart you are, how many degrees you have earned yourself, how educated you are, or how experienced you are at life – He just plain knows more and is better than you. And you might be a genius, and see more than most people. You have to get used to the idea that God is smarter than all of you put together. In fact, Paul here quotes and Old Testament passage to that effect. It is from Job 5:13, and the whole verse reads, ““He captures the wise by their own shrewdness, And the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted.” The sense in Job is that the Lord catches the “wise” in their OWN “cleverness.” Look, you can’t be better than the guy who not only invented the game, but also the world where the game is played, and the rules by which all the other rules work! You just can’t! So stop trying, is Paul’s point.
20: and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”
- As if to reinforce the point (and he really doesn’t have to), Paul quotes another Old Testament passage. This time, it’s from Psalm 94:11, and Paul exegetes the passage under the control of the Holy Spirit. It reads, “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, That they are a mere breath.” Both the exegesis and the passage itself give me the impression that the wisdom of the “wise” is nothing more than “vapourware.” In other words, there is nothing to it.
21: So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you,
- Now, we have to remember that Paul was talking about the Greek national philosophers. Guys like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Really brilliant guys, whose ideas changed the world and are still read and even admired 3500 years later or so. Don’t boast in men! Not even these guys! It goes NOWHERE!!!
- In fact, Paul says, ALL THINGS BELONG TO YOU! What? Yes, they do, as joint-heir with Christ, although Paul hasn’t brought that up specifically here. And the Holy Spirit’s job is apparently to guide us into ALL truth, according to John 16:13-15: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” How much more plain do you need Jesus to be? And you should remember this, because Paul situationally must be referring to this passage in the next two verses!
22: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you,
- Don’t you find this verse reminiscent of Romans 8:38-39? That reads: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And also a repetition that “all things belong to you.” Any word of the Apostles or other teachers, the world itself, death – yes, death is ours – or things happening now or in the future. All these things belong to us.
- Okay, I hear the guy in the back row wanting to know how death is ours. Brother, don’t you know that death now holds no terror for the believer? It is the current way we can finally meet our Saviour face to face! Death is simply for us a change of state, and one that ushers us as believers into the very presence of the God that saved us and whom we love, and who loves us! ALL things belong to us. That’s amazing.
23: and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
- And as if channeling the Apostle John’s thoughts, Paul hits upon what Jesus said to His disciples the evening before His crucifixion. He has talked about how all things are ours, and though he hasn’t specifically said how that happens, he had to have known that it is the job of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, to bring us into all truth. He certainly knew that Christ had sent the Holy Spirit, because Paul himself had received the Holy Spirit when he was regenerated. And He certainly knew that Messiah (Greek, Christ) belongs to God the Father.
Given all the very powerful truth that has really confronted us in this chapter of Paul’s corrective letter to the Corinthian church, something must be said about the best way to deal with revealed and growing error. It is to confront that error with the Truth with a capital T. The Truth as it is in Jesus. I mean be civil and smart about it, but pick your spot and take a stand for the Truth. Never has there been a need for men of God to know the word of God like today, and to stand for the truth courageously, vigourously, and repeatedly. And brothers, this means us.
Whenever we see error, we should research what the Scriptures say about the error, find the biblical Truth on the issue, and then proclaim it, one-on-one, or with two or three witnesses to confirm the facts of the case, or to the whole congregation for their recommendation on how to treat it. If need be, the naming of names and the numbering of deeds is authorized, and not by me, but by the King of the realm. And if your pastor won’t deal with the crisis – well, then you should maybe pray about leaving and going somewhere else. Or maybe planting your own church. This obviously isn’t something you want to enter into with no thought or prayer.
I’m going to conclude here, but I think I’ve only scratched the surface. But that’s what I saw in 1 Corinthians 3.