In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter three, we look at the differences between spiritual and carnal Christians. We will also look at the coming judgement of believers.
"Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ." NIV translation
In chapter 2, we saw that true wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul helps us to see that there are in fact two types of Christians which are spiritual and carnal (worldly). We are reminded that we all have a battle going on inside of us between the flesh which is of the world and the spirit which is of God. We see from this verse that we all start as worldly Christians and that, through growth prompted by the Holy Spirit, we become more spiritual and mature.
"I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." NIV translation
Just like a baby feeds on milk and not solid food, a new Christian feeds on the basic truths of the Word. As we mature in our walk with the Lord, we are able to understand more of the nature of Christ and more of His desire for us. That is the "solid food" that Paul is talking about. This is also a reminder for teachers of God's word that only the Holy Spirit can prepare God's children to hear and understand the things of God. Paul recognized that the Corinthian believers were still struggling to grasp the basics of their faith and so he continued to teach on the fundamentals of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
"You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men?" NIV translation
How do you tell whether a Christian is worldly or spiritual? We see, from this passage, that we can tell by the actions of the individual. The believers in Corinth were quarreling about who they should follow instead of realizing that they were all to follow Jesus Christ. This is the most basic of teachings and their lack of understanding demonstrated the immaturity of their faith. This is a very big problem in the body of believers today as so many people get caught up in the personality of the teacher instead of the wisdom of God. It is evident with a number of "rock star" preachers who put on a great show but the teaching never moves past the point of "milk" to the point of "solid food". The direct result of this is the fact that there are way more "infants in Christ" than there are walking Christians in the congregations of these pastors.
"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." NIV translation
It seems that many times we forget the most important thing and, here, Paul reminds the believers that it is not about who led them to the Lord but it is about God who called them. Without God's call on our lives, we would not come to Him no matter what anyone else did.
"The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor." NIV translation
Both the preacher and the teacher have the same purpose and that is to help people in their walk with the Lord. It is not a contest as each will be rewarded for how they used their gifts for this purpose (see Revelation 20).
"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building." NIV translation
Its all about building up God's people which is "the church". We see, here, that Paul never looked at the church as a building so we must ask ourselves why so many think of it that way today. When you start to think of the church as a building, then, you get the struggles between different buildings that are each trying to be "the church". That division is the same thing that was going on here in Corinth and it is not of God but of the enemy.
"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." NIV translation
Paul explains that he led people to Jesus (evangelist) which is the foundation of our faith. Then, others (pastors) were raised up to help them in their day to day walk in the faith. Paul was responsible for the task that God gave him and those that were called to be pastors were responsible for that task. The same goes for us today in that we are only responsible for what God tells us to do and we are to do it well because it is for Him.
"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." NIV translation
Although, today, many are trying to make it seem like there are many paths to a right relationship with God, the foundation of faith is and always will be Jesus Christ. There is no other way or basis for salvation.
"If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 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." NIV translation
Our salvation is on the foundation of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf. The things that we do after we come to Christ are what we build with. If we spend our new life (in Christ) seeking things for ourselves and serving ourselves, it is like building with hay or straw. If, after we come to Christ, we serve Him and concentrate on fulfilling the Great Commission, it is like building with precious durable things. On judgment day, each of us will have our works judged and the things made of hay and straw will burn up. This is what John is talking about in Revelation 20.
"If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." NIV translation
f we are productive in our new life as a Christian, then we will be rewarded for our service just as a worker receives wages for his work. This is the judgment of believers that John refers to in Revelation 20. Paul reminds us that, if our work is good as directed by God (see Ephesians 2:10), we receive a reward. Although we do not know what those rewards are, we know that it is not salvation as we are saved by grace and not of works (see Ephesians 2:8 & 9). If it is work directed by self and the flesh, then the things that we have worked for will be burned up in the final judgment but we will be left with our salvation.
"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." NIV translation
his passage has been used for many weight loss programs as well as to condemn those who have committed suicide but that is not what it is talking about. What it is talking about is the works of our life after we come to the Lord.
"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. 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.'" NIV translation
This inferior building that Paul has been talking about is based on human wisdom and understanding. Even today, you have many who think they are so wise and will try to build faith on some obscure teaching instead of on the grace of God through Jesus Christ. You have all kinds of people chasing this earthly wisdom with all kinds of college degrees (even Bible college degrees) and in the process they forget that wisdom comes from God through the Holy Spirit and not by man. Those who simply focus on the Word of God are commonly called "fools" or "holy rollers" or some other name but, as Paul says here, we should become "fools" so that we can have the wisdom that is from God.
"So then, no more boasting about men! 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." NIV translation
This passage speaks of true unity in the faith and the fact that what matters is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We have all things because He is the owner of all things and we are His heirs. Our relationship with him is our greatest reward but He also throws in other things because of His love for us.