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Bible Commentaries

Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 3

Verse 6

CHRISTIAN UNITY

‘I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.’

1 Corinthians 3:6

St. Paul pleaded with the Corinthians for unity of spirit. Had he lived now, I do not think he would have hoped for immediate unity of organisation—however much to be desired—but one feels that he would have written a letter breathing the spirit of this Epistle to the Corinthians ‘to the saints who are of the Church in England, together with all those who call on the Name of the Lord Jesus’—a splendid definition of God’s universal Church! St. Paul well knew how to denounce and oppose strenuously what he thought would undermine Christianity and the Church. Witness the Epistle to the Galatians, witness him withstanding St. Peter to the face! St. Paul was no invertebrate-minded man, incapable of conviction, and so equally complacent to all forms of thought. But while strenuously opposing at one time what he knew to be subversive of Christianity, upholding the great broad principle of the universality of the Church—a vital point—he equally strenuously condemns the partisanship of Christians on matters not fundamental, not indispensable to the existence of Christianity.

I. Is not this the position that we should adopt to-day?—To anything that threatens the groundwork of our faith, the foundation of Jesus Christ, we must offer a Pauline opposition. But what we must shun as radically opposed to the spirit of Christ and the teaching of St. Paul is mere partisanship, which exalts the means into the end. The avoidance of this spirit does not preclude devotion to our own great district of the Catholic Church, or a life’s work for it as a noble part of God’s husbandry, God’s building; but the spirit of Christian sympathy does exclude antagonism to other bodies and other lines of work. Strong resistance to tampering with fundamental truth, and sympathetic tolerance of other consciences and positions seem to be the Pauline teaching. Only, I think, St. Paul would say, ‘Do not with insincere sincerity exaggerate the indifferent into the fundamental.’

II. God’s building should be like one of our glorious cathedrals, to which many centuries, many tastes, many types of mind have contributed their quota of beauty. There is no monotony of style, and the variety is the chief cause of picturesqueness. But the whole of the noble fabric rears up its majestic structure to the glory of one Almighty God; every part shows forth His praise; all is united by one spirit of reverent piety.

III. What we need, as the universal Church of Christ, is absorption in the grand idea of catholicity of spirit—union in love. And I believe that unity of organisation would follow real unity of spirit. Raised on a Christ foundation, one dreams of a Church of God composed of all nations of the earth, worshipping the one God, perhaps in varying form and organisation, but animated by the one thing that is the hall-mark of true Christianity—the Spirit of Christ.

—Rev. St. J. B. Wynne Wilson.

Illustration

‘St. Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church in a tone of rebuke for the divisions among them. The Church had been founded by Paul, and afterwards Apollos, the learned, eloquent Alexandrine Jew, had been sent from Ephesus thither. Now Corinth was a great mercantile, cosmopolitan centre, containing much active, vigorous life, and minds of varying shades. Naturally men approached Christianity from different mental standpoints, influenced by different moods generated by difference of birth and environment. Paul and Apollos, though animated by the same root-ideas, differed apparently in their presentment of them. Not unnaturally the converts divided, expressing preference for one or other, and adopting him as their teacher. Paul and Apollos did not found sects, but sects attached themselves to their names, and made them the rallying-point. “I am of Paul, I of Apollos,” they said. A third party rejected all human teaching, and went, as they maintained, straight to Christ’s doctrine, uninterpreted by men, “I am of Christ.” The divisions grew heated: they were not healthy rivalry or holy warfare of different ideas, but the contention of unhallowed strife of interest, and of a wholly unchristian spirit which forgot the principle of their faith in adhesion to a partisan presentation of it. The spirit was lost in the institution or party. This contentious strife, says Paul, is carnal, or sensuous, the lowest grade of the three with which he is dealing, spiritual, natural, carnal.’

Verse 9

GOD AND THE SOUL

‘Ye are God’s husbandry.’

1 Corinthians 3:9

What this text tells us is this—that Christian people are to God just what the tillage of the earth is to us.

I. Our hearts and souls are like wild, uncultivated land.—As waste land wants time and labour and expense to bring it into cultivation, stones removing, weeds clearing, roots of old trees to be torn up, and then to be ploughed and dressed besides, so we are to understand it is with us. Land cannot bring itself in cultivation. Land cannot bring itself into a state fit for a crop. If land has been out of cultivation for a few seasons only, it wants ever so much care and trouble to bring it back again. It is so with us. We cannot bring ourselves into a state to give God a harvest. All that we produce of ourselves is against it. God has to bring our souls into a state fit to produce a harvest. Bad habits have to be rooted out, and our souls prepared to receive the seed of God’s Word, before there is the least possibility of His Word bringing forth what it ought to do. And we can no more do this for ourselves than the land we till can clear itself of weeds, or tear up the dead roots of trees, or remove its stones, or dress itself for sowing. It is God and God alone Who does this.

II. How does God prepare souls?—He has many ways. All land needs preparing for the seed, but it is not all land that wants exactly the same preparation. And what this text tells us is this, that just as a landowner with land to reclaim deals with each portion according to its nature, so God deals with souls. He knows your nature, and He knows mine, and He sets about preparing our hearts for His harvest, each of us according to what we require. If we will but let Him deal with us as He pleases, and take all that happens to us as His sending, we may be quite sure that all must go right. He knows how to prepare our souls—we are His tillage—and it is as great a mistake for us to murmur at His dealings with us, as for a piece of waste land to grumble at the way its owner takes to bring it into fruitful cultivation. Some hearts He prepares by sorrow, some by anxiety, some by sickness. Some by much trial in the world, others in loneliness and solitude. Others He deals with more gently. But with all He deals rightly; for He knows our nature, and all that He desires is our good.

III. In our hearts He sows His seed.—What that seed will bring forth will depend on how far we have let Him prepare our souls. Land cannot help being properly prepared if the farmer knows his business and takes the proper pains. God indeed knows how to prepare our hearts, and if we will let Him, He prepares them perfectly. But whether we are properly prepared for His sowing depends largely on ourselves. The land cannot resist the farmer, but we can and too often do resist our God. This, alas! is why you see such different results in different souls. Children of the same family, members of the same congregation, dwellers in the same parish, God is tilling all their souls, and you would often say that there was no difference at all in the opportunities they have had, and yet how differently they turn out! And here is the reason. God has been tilling them all; but some of them have yielded themselves to His tillage, and some have not.

Just as men rejoice in harvest over the fruit of their labours, so, too, in the great harvest, the end of the world, God will rejoice, and Christ will rejoice with joy unspeakable over every saved soul, over every one of us who has let God teach and train him, and lead him out of sin and into holiness, and make him fit for the heavenly home.

Illustration

‘Men vary. Men are not all alike. Thus one man is suited to one particular sort of goodness, and another to another. One man is suited to serve God in one way, and another in another. God calls one person to be very patient, and another to be very active; one man to serve Him by being learned, another by working hard in a trade; one man by a life of bustle and mixing much with his fellow-men, another by a life of seclusion and quiet. All are called to be honest and kind, to be true and sober and temperate; to fear God and to love their neighbours. But though all are called to these first duties, still each man has his own particular line, just as different kinds of land are suited to different crops, and therefore no one of us should judge another, but each should strive to do his own duty in the calling wherewith God calls him.’

Verse 9

GOD AND THE SOUL

‘Ye are God’s husbandry.’

1 Corinthians 3:9

What this text tells us is this—that Christian people are to God just what the tillage of the earth is to us.

I. Our hearts and souls are like wild, uncultivated land.—As waste land wants time and labour and expense to bring it into cultivation, stones removing, weeds clearing, roots of old trees to be torn up, and then to be ploughed and dressed besides, so we are to understand it is with us. Land cannot bring itself in cultivation. Land cannot bring itself into a state fit for a crop. If land has been out of cultivation for a few seasons only, it wants ever so much care and trouble to bring it back again. It is so with us. We cannot bring ourselves into a state to give God a harvest. All that we produce of ourselves is against it. God has to bring our souls into a state fit to produce a harvest. Bad habits have to be rooted out, and our souls prepared to receive the seed of God’s Word, before there is the least possibility of His Word bringing forth what it ought to do. And we can no more do this for ourselves than the land we till can clear itself of weeds, or tear up the dead roots of trees, or remove its stones, or dress itself for sowing. It is God and God alone Who does this.

II. How does God prepare souls?—He has many ways. All land needs preparing for the seed, but it is not all land that wants exactly the same preparation. And what this text tells us is this, that just as a landowner with land to reclaim deals with each portion according to its nature, so God deals with souls. He knows your nature, and He knows mine, and He sets about preparing our hearts for His harvest, each of us according to what we require. If we will but let Him deal with us as He pleases, and take all that happens to us as His sending, we may be quite sure that all must go right. He knows how to prepare our souls—we are His tillage—and it is as great a mistake for us to murmur at His dealings with us, as for a piece of waste land to grumble at the way its owner takes to bring it into fruitful cultivation. Some hearts He prepares by sorrow, some by anxiety, some by sickness. Some by much trial in the world, others in loneliness and solitude. Others He deals with more gently. But with all He deals rightly; for He knows our nature, and all that He desires is our good.

III. In our hearts He sows His seed.—What that seed will bring forth will depend on how far we have let Him prepare our souls. Land cannot help being properly prepared if the farmer knows his business and takes the proper pains. God indeed knows how to prepare our hearts, and if we will let Him, He prepares them perfectly. But whether we are properly prepared for His sowing depends largely on ourselves. The land cannot resist the farmer, but we can and too often do resist our God. This, alas! is why you see such different results in different souls. Children of the same family, members of the same congregation, dwellers in the same parish, God is tilling all their souls, and you would often say that there was no difference at all in the opportunities they have had, and yet how differently they turn out! And here is the reason. God has been tilling them all; but some of them have yielded themselves to His tillage, and some have not.

Just as men rejoice in harvest over the fruit of their labours, so, too, in the great harvest, the end of the world, God will rejoice, and Christ will rejoice with joy unspeakable over every saved soul, over every one of us who has let God teach and train him, and lead him out of sin and into holiness, and make him fit for the heavenly home.

Illustration

‘Men vary. Men are not all alike. Thus one man is suited to one particular sort of goodness, and another to another. One man is suited to serve God in one way, and another in another. God calls one person to be very patient, and another to be very active; one man to serve Him by being learned, another by working hard in a trade; one man by a life of bustle and mixing much with his fellow-men, another by a life of seclusion and quiet. All are called to be honest and kind, to be true and sober and temperate; to fear God and to love their neighbours. But though all are called to these first duties, still each man has his own particular line, just as different kinds of land are suited to different crops, and therefore no one of us should judge another, but each should strive to do his own duty in the calling wherewith God calls him.’

Verse 11

THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION

‘Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’

1 Corinthians 3:11

In recent years this Catholic belief has been assailed. Competent scholars come and tell us that the root of Christianity is not a Person but a doctrine, that the Person is only the prophet, the preacher the publisher of that doctrine. We look in vain in these new theories for the Jesus that we knew.

Here, then, are two views, between which nowadays men make their choice. The one finds the basis of religion in a Person, the other in a teaching. And the critical question, which thousands of thoughtful men and women are to-day debating, is, which of the two shall command their assent?

Now I wish to endeavour to answer, and to help you to answer, this all-important question in the light of certain facts. For we cannot too often remember that we have facts to deal with.

I. Let us consider some facts of primitive belief.—Let us inquire what the first generation of Christians thought about Jesus. And for this purpose let us take as representative the earliest Christian witness, the first who left on record his opinion, the Apostle Paul. Now you have to remember that this same St. Paul was himself a part-contemporary of Jesus. He was converted shortly after the death of Jesus, he wrote his first extant letter within twenty-five years of His death, he wrote the whole of his letters within thirty-eight years of His death. No mythical halo, you observe, no glamour of antiquity could in this short time have obscured the historic outline of the Man of Nazareth, to dazzle St. Paul’s eyes or mystify his intellect. Now, if you open his very first letter—the first to the Thessalonians—and turn to the very first chapter and the very first verse, you will find an astonishing sentence: ‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ How remarkable this is! We are so accustomed to the formula and the doctrine it implies, that we fail, perhaps, to realise the wonder of it and the novelty. But with what a thrill of horror would an orthodox Hebrew of the Apostle’s age have read those words! Remember that the reference is to One Who in living memory died, so to speak, on the scaffold; remember the common belief that ‘cursed,’ not by man only, but by God, ‘is every one that hangeth on a tree’; remember, moreover, that the title Lord, here most emphatically ascribed to Jesus, is the very word which is used by the Greek translators of the Old Testament to render the Hebrew Jehovah; and then conceive the feelings of the Jewish monotheist when he heard of this crucified Sufferer being crowned with the Divine name, and positively linked, as the Giver of grace and peace, with Israel’s God! I call your attention particularly to the point. St. Paul solemnly couples together Jesus Christ and God. From the very first, it is clear, he found in Jesus some one higher than a man; from the very first he saw ‘shining on the brow of the Victim of Calvary the Divine glory of the Son of God.’ Could any creed, I ask, be more explicit? Could any loftier claims be made for Jesus than these which were actually made within but forty years of His death? Here surely is a notable fact with which we are compelled to reckon. For the first generation of believers, as for the later Church, the system of Christianity is grounded upon a Person, a Being at once human and superhuman, ‘Which is Jesus Christ.’

II. Let us notice what Jesus has to say about Himself.—Let us study some facts of original claim. Let us listen to Jesus as He talks with His disciples, on a mountain slope, perhaps, or by the waters of the Sea of Galilee, or in the streets and homes of Bethany and Capernaum. What does He say of Himself? What is the impression of Himself that He conveys? Now if you and I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of Jesus, we should at once have been struck, I think, by one thing—by a strange, characteristic undertone of greatness, which runs throughout His discourse. He speaks as some one from another sphere, whose home is far away. And we feel instinctively that here is a mystery—a mystery which the rough-and-ready methods of mere human logic are inadequate to sound. Listen, then, attentively, and mark what unprecedented claims He makes. He says He is greater than Jonas, greater than Solomon, greater even than the sacred Temple. The prophets, kings, and saints of olden time—He stands above them all. Over the very angels He exalts Himself; they are His ministers, subject to His bidding. Towards His disciples His imperiousness is unbounded. He demands, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, that they should live for Him alone, that they should give up all in life they love for Him—father and mother, children, and home, and wife. With God, again, He claims a unique relation. He says, without any attempt at justification, ‘All things are delivered unto Me of My Father; and no man knoweth … the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.’ The sublimity of the sage, the speculation of the sophist, the awful wisdom of the anointed priest—all this He sweeps aside, proclaiming that He alone of men can fathom the abysses of the Infinite. So too this youthful Galilean carpenter ascribes to Himself an ecumenical importance. He looks on the seething turmoil of nations, races, peoples, and He calls them to His heart, crying, ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’ The whole great world may come like a little child and nestle at His bosom. He looks again into the distant future and sees the nations gathered at His judgment seat. The dead come up and the living come up, while He sits majestic on the throne of the Almighty and utters the final dreadful word of life and death. And when we go on to compare His utterance with His character; when we think of His nobility, His sanity, His unexplainable originality, His unconsciousness of sin, so astounding in a man who was really good, why we feel—do we not?—that here is one who is quite outside the measure of our little earthly standards. It is no mere man, though unmistakably man, that comes to meet us here. We are constrained to bow in worship. We are compelled to confess that the person thus presented to us can be none other than the Son of God.

III. One great fact still remains to be accounted for, and that is His stupendous influence on the history of mankind.—Christ has led captive all the peoples of the civilised world, who find in Him the abiding inspiration of their progress and development. On every sphere of our life has He left His mark. To the politician He has given a law, to the thinker a philosophy, to the poet a song, to the saint a passion. Transcendent works of human genius have been brought forth at His call. The chiselled stone swells into graceful arch, and rises airily into dome and spire, to do Him honour. Music for Him breathes out her sweetest chant: no other name is hymned in strain so touching. For Him the scholar chronicles his finest thought; to Him the hero dedicates his proudest deed; to Him the statesman offers as a votive gift his knowledge, eloquence, and practised skill. What multitudes, too, of obscure and unrecorded lives have been held, possessed, and governed by the influence of Jesus! He has set up a throne in the universal human heart, and millions of every age and race and class and character have yielded to His sway. Tired men, wearied with the frets of life, have found in Jesus rest and full refreshment. Bad men, smirched and polluted with the soil of sin, have come to Jesus and have been made clean, and through His fiery baptism have passed into the righteousness of the Father’s Kingdom. Timid men, trembling on the edge of life, and shivering at the dark unknown that lies before them, have looked to Jesus and dismissed their fears, content to trust themselves to the care of the Good Shepherd. Quite undeniable is the fact of such experience, say of it what you will. Unnumbered are the witnesses. Men and women, young and old, Occidental and Oriental, rich and poor, wise and foolish, all alike bear testimony that they have proved Christ adequate to all their needs, that they have gained from Him the enduring satisfaction of their souls’ desires and cravings. Now surely all this requires some explanation. All the world over it is true that out of nothing nothing comes. For great results there must be cause proportionate. Then let us ask once more, what cause, what force, what manner of intelligence can have been adequate to produce effects so wonderful? Where is the man who could grip the whole civilised world, and that for centuries? Where is the man whose power is not spent, whose influence is not broken, whose personal fascination is not weakened, as age after age disappears into the past? Could any mere man really have done all this? The experience of the race says No. And the philosophy of human history says No. History bears witness only to a Christ Who is Divine. Reflecting on these facts and weighing them fairly, let a man ask himself whether any ingenious modern explanation will account for them all so well and so fully as the ancient belief of the Catholic Church, that ‘God was in Christ,’ that Christ is God.

—Rev. F. Homes Dudden.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Corinth, in St. Paul’s time, was a cosmopolitan city. The most important station on the great trade-route between Rome and the East, it was naturally the meeting-place of men of every race and class and character. Its streets were crowded, somewhat as the streets of London are to-day, with throngs of strangers, representing widely different types and engaged in the pursuit of widely different interests. Here Romans mingled with Greeks, and Jews of Alexandria and Syria with pagans of Asia Minor and the distant East. Here the mantled philosopher elbowed the man of pleasure, and the proud official struggled on his way through surging crowds of traders and slaves and foreign sailormen. A city of infinite variety, a ferment of multitudinous unassimilated forces and activities—such was Corinth. Yet it was to this city, with all its many teeming, diverse forms of life, that the Apostle penned that memorable sentence which tells of a unity underlying every difference: “Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” ’

(2) ‘Christ the One Foundation. That has been the teaching of the Church from the earliest days till now. In every age and in every land the Church has taught invariably that the determining factor of the Christian religion is the Person of Jesus. That is the essential thing. The Christian religion is not a mere system of doctrine. It is not a mere ethical code. It is not merely a redemptive force. It is above all dependence on a Person. And herein lies its power and its peculiarity, and its novelty.’

(3) ‘A Church Father of the second century being pressed with the question, “What new thing did the Lord bring us by His coming?” replied, “Know that He brought all newness in bringing us Himself.” The distinctive feature of the new religion is the Person of Jesus.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

A SURE FOUNDATION

Perhaps the chief danger is of treating as ‘foundations’ what are not ‘foundations’ at all, but part of the superstructure. And therefore you should take it as a first principle in the investigation that the ‘foundation’ is nothing which you have laid or can lay. The true ‘foundation’ lies for you, ready to use, and does not wait for you to make it.

Your faith, your love, your change of character in life, your holiness, your good works, your prayers have nothing in the world to do with the ‘foundation.’ They are consequences, not causes. The ‘foundation’ lies far down below all this, and it is often even hidden by these good and beautiful things which rest upon it.

I. What then is the ‘foundation’ of your hope, of your eternal life?—You perhaps say, ‘My trust is in God. I do not find my foundation anywhere in myself, I find it in God. I find it in the love of God.’ The love of God! The love of God is not all you want. God has many attributes, and all equal, because they are all infinite. God is justice; God is truth. Could you find your foundation in the justice of God? Could you find your foundation in the truth of God? Has not God said, ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die’? You have sinned, and how can you not die? Love can never cancel truth. All the attributes of God must unite to pardon you. If you trust only in the love of God, it would not be God at all. Therefore your basis is false, your ‘foundation’ is wrong.

II. Is there then a ‘foundation’ deeper and more sound than the love of God?—Is there what we want—a ‘foundation’ which shall reconcile and combine all the attributes of God? Yes. If there could be found, if there could be found a Being so good and so vast that His suffering and His death should be an equivalent to the suffering and the death of the whole world, and if He were willing to do it, then God might accept that equivalent, and then, with perfect justice, pardon the whole world.

III. The true ‘foundation’ is God in the harmony of all the attributes of the Godhead.—His love makes Him, as a Father, willing, and longing, and happy to forgive all His children, and His justice makes it to be unjust to punish what He has already punished in the Substitute. The punishment would then be twice, and that would be unjust. O wonder of wonders! O wonderful plan of salvation! Look at it! More than eighteen hundred years ago I had my punishment. I was punished in my Substitute; the member in the Head. My punishment is all over; I cannot be punished. Then I am safe, quite safe! God’s love, and God’s truth, and God’s honour, and God’s Word were all committed to Him. I am safe!

But what has led me to, and placed me in, that position of safety? Simply and only the act of believing. You cannot believe it unless the Holy Spirit puts it into your heart to believe. Then you will feel it. And the Holy Spirit will put it into your heart. And so we bring in the Holy Spirit.

Thus we come to our conclusion that our ‘foundation’ lies in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They are all united to us in Christ. If He had not come and died for us it could not have been so. The inner principle of all is Christ. He is the keystone of the covenant. He is the keystone of the foundation. ‘For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘Ministering in Switzerland not long ago, in one of the most picturesque of mountain churches, I was sorry to find that the rock on which one of the buttresses of the chancel of the little church was built showed unmistakable signs of crumbling and decay. “You could not,” remarked a friend to me, “quote this as an illustration of the safety of the house that was builded on the rock.” No, but I can quote it as an illustration of the danger of a false foundation. That rock seemed firm and stable once, but it was not tested; if it had been, it would never have been chosen. It is even so with many a foundation on which men build their hopes of heaven.’

Verse 13

TESTED BY FIRE

‘The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.’

1 Corinthians 3:13

How best can we prepare for the ordeal that awaits us all? The day of Christ’s appearing will be a day of joy and gladness, but it will be a solemn day too. The day of the Lord’s Advent will be a searching day even to His own. If we would be successful in our building, we must conform to plan. What is God’s plan for our sanctification? What is the Divine method of purifying the heart? There is a prophecy which supplies the answer—we shall find it in Malachi 3:1-Numbers : Its primary fulfilment was long ago, when the Child Jesus was presented in the Temple (St. Luke 2:22). Its ultimate fulfilment is still future, reserved for this very day of the revelation of Christ from heaven.

I. The day of revelation is the day of reward.—Salvation is of grace, yet faithful service is reckoned as a debt, and God will be no man’s debtor. There shall be a reward, a reward exactly proportioned to the work accomplished. ‘Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour.’ Other parts of Scripture (the Parables of the Talents and the Pounds, for instance), teach us how careful and how liberal the reward will be.

II. Nothing done for Christ shall be forgotten.—‘A cup of cold water,’ even, given for His name, shall be remembered in that day (St. Matthew 10:42). What a glorious ending to a life of faithful toil! The Master’s glad ‘Well done!’ the hallelujahs of the saints; the acclamation of the angels; all the labours and sufferings of life forgotten. The work of time a possession for eternity. This is indeed a glorious prospect. ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like His.’

III. But what is to be said of the work that will not stand the testing?—‘If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: yet he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.’ ‘Suffer loss!’ Dread and ominous words. Suffer loss even in heaven itself—how can that be? Alas! it may too easily be realised. The work of a lifetime; the work which all men praised; the work to which the builder had devoted sleepless nights and weary days—must it all perish? must it count for nought? must the builder begin life in heaven as a pauper? Yes, it is nothing less; if the work will not abide the flame, ‘he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.’

Do you wish to be saved like that? If not, see to it that your house is ‘fireproof’ now. Let the fire of God play through and through it while you build, that the materials you use may be such as will endure.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘In the elder days of art

Builders wrought with greatest care

Each minute and unseen part,

For the gods see everywhere.

‘Let us do our work as well,

Both the unseen and the seen;

Make the house where God may dwell

Beautiful, entire, and clean.

‘Else our lives are incomplete,

Standing in these walls of Time,

Broken stairways, where the feet

Stumble as they seek to climb.’

Verse 16

THE TEMPLE OF GOD

‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and than the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’

1 Corinthians 3:16

Not only does the Holy Ghost come to convict of sin, not only does He come to lead us into the path of righteousness, but He dwells in us. And, therefore, the tremendous fact is this, that the Holy Ghost within me speaks to the Holy Ghost within you, and that both of us will have to render an account before the judgment-seat of God.

I. In one sense the earth itself is the temple of the Holy Ghost.—Half our difficulties in faith arise from forgetting that the earth itself is an expression of the Holy Spirit. The world is not a dead, pagan, unholy thing. That sunshine is an expression of His being; He lingered over that glorious lily; those roses He thought of; He is the Spirit of order Who made the world. And it is not only that the idea of the earth as the temple of the Lord is an inspiring thought, but it is so helpful. Have you never felt any difficulty about the Incarnation? Have you never thought it was almost too good to be true, that the Son of God came down and took human flesh? But what if it is God’s world to start with? What if human flesh is a holy thing, which it is? There is no such thing as the purely secular when we understand the world. It is God’s world. ‘God’s in His heaven’—God is in His earth—‘all’s right with the world.’ And, therefore, it helps me with the Incarnation. He came into His own world; and so, when the Holy Spirit came, He came down upon the earth which He had made. It is most striking to-day, and I like to help the thinking men who may be among us and who study these things. Have you ever noticed how the philosophers and thinkers of the world are coming round to this truth to-day? I can remember when the fashionable philosophy of the day was what is called materialism; materialism is out of date to-day. Even though they have not reached our full truth—that the Holy Spirit is the centre of everything—you find advanced thinkers (I could mention some of their names) to-day who begin to tell us that spirit is the only reality; that matter is a form of spirit, and that the spiritual world is the only real world. How the children of God come to their own, if they only wait! It is what we said years ago. And therefore the thought—the first thought before we get to even more intimate truths—that the earth itself is an expression of the Spirit of God wonderfully helps the spiritual life. Are we surprised that the dead body of Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? But what if the flesh itself, what if the body itself, was a spiritual thing?

II. The Church is a body which the Holy Spirit fills.—‘Ye are the temple of God’—the whole of you. Do you remember how the waiting Church waited as silently as you wait—timid, irresolute, cold—when with tongues of fire and sudden rushing wind down came the Holy Ghost upon that waiting Church, and has never gone back? And while we are accustomed to the thought that the Church exists for you and me, have you never thought that you and I exist for the Church? That the Holy Spirit’s great office is to prepare a bride for Christ?

III. ‘The Spirit of God dwelleth in you.’—Do you see what it means? That behind the outer court of the temple, which is your body, behind even the holy place, which is your soul, in the inner holy of holies of your being, the Holy Ghost lives—except ye be reprobate. ‘The Holy Spirit is in you,’ says St. Paul, ‘except ye be reprobate.’ Have you never felt some still, small voice speaking within you? That was the Holy Spirit’s voice pleading with your conscience. You know that the flesh lusteth against the spirit, but do we all realise that the spirit lusteth against the flesh? that we cannot be quite happy if there is an impulse uncrushed yet within us that cries aloud for good, that draws us towards better things, that stirs us up, which prevents us being really happy in our sin? Oh, for God’s sake do not choke it down. That is the Holy Dove of God struggling, pleading still within you.

IV. What effect, if this is so, ought the Holy Ghost to be having over spirit, over mind, and over body, as He dwells in the holy of holies behind the body, behind the mind, and behind the spirit?

( a) What effect upon the body? The body is a holy thing—there is nothing wrong in the body. Jesus Christ wore the body without a touch of sin. Do not lay the blame on the body. Passions, instincts of the body, are planted there by God. The body is a holy thing, but there is all the difference between a man on a horse with the reins in his hands and the bit in the horse’s mouth and that same man with the reins round his feet dragging him in the dust. That is the difference between the man or woman whose body is ruled by the Spirit and the man who has let his passions master him and drag him into the dust. The body, like the horse, is a splendid servant, but a terrible master.

( b) What effect will it have upon the mind if the Spirit dwells within us? You cannot indulge those bad and wicked thoughts; you cannot harbour that jealousy which you brought to church with you; you cannot go back and carry on that bitter quarrel if the Holy Spirit is going to rule your life. Yield to those better, gentler feelings; to ‘whatsoever things are pure, lovely, and of good report.’ Let your mind dwell on these alone; that is what the Spirit is putting into your mind; not the wicked, jealous, angry, bitter thoughts.

( c) What effect will it have upon the spirit? How earnest will be our prayers if, in the holy of holies, our spirit dwells with God. There will be no forgetfulness of prayer; no cold, half-hearted petitions. If the Holy Spirit of God dwells in the holy of holies with my spirit, then how I shall pray for others! Then how earnest will be my prayers; then I shall say, ‘Come, Holy Ghost, my soul inspire, pray with me, give me the words, the thoughts, to pray.’ That will be the effect of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me.

—Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Here is one of those inspirations about the earth which that wonderful poet, Browning, has put into the lips of a little maiden, “Pippa,” as she “Passes” in the early morning:—

The first visible fruit of the coming of the Holy Ghost was in the gift of tongues. It was the extraordinary, and not the ordinary, gift of the Holy Ghost, and we make a great mistake when we think that the extraordinary must of necessity be of more value, of greater worth, than the ordinary. The extraordinary gifts which appear from time to time in the New Testament have passed; do not envy them. The ordinary gift of the Holy Ghost—that remains with us, and that is of much higher value than the extraordinary.

What is the ordinary gift? It is the gift of spiritual power. ‘Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.’ That is the Master’s promise, and they were to wait for it. Of this other gift of languages He said nothing—only of the more precious gift, the gift of the power from on high.

I. It is the power of the Holy Spirit which takes hold of our understanding.—The Holy Spirit entering into our soul, making the body and the soul His temple and dwelling within us, comes as an added strength to our understanding, raising our understanding, so that it can not only deal with the things that it sees, but rise to the height of faith, giving a new power of faith, and opening our eyes to see the true bearing and meaning of the words of the Lord, and of the acts of the Lord. All that He has done and said for our own soul needs a key. There the words lie on the page, and they are like a locked room. It is the Holy Spirit Who can come and open those words for our understanding, according to the promise of the Lord: ‘When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.’ Remember, the words of the Lord are only to be understood by the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

II. The Holy Spirit comes and brings power or brings strength to our own heart and to our own affections, and teaches a man, and helps a man to hate what is hateful, and to love what is good and what is true. The Holy Spirit dwells within our hearts and puts in them that double faculty of the appreciation of what is good, the love of what is good, and the renunciation and hatred of what is evil.

III. The Holy Spirit, entering into our hearts, finds His way into our will—our will which has been weakened by self-indulgence and self-pleasing—and puts new strength into that will, and gives to us what He gave to the Apostles at that time—new heart and new courage to face the difficulties before them. The coming of the Holy Ghost made of these men, who were cowards, heroes and martyrs. One after another, these men who had denied their Master, after the coming of the Holy Ghost, laid down their lives. The strength of the martyrs is the witness of the power of the Holy Ghost, just as all the most beautiful things which have been written and thought are the gifts of the Holy Ghost. And all true love of God and man is an outcome of that Holy Spirit Who has made the soul His temple and resting-place.

—Rev. E. F. Russell.

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE SUBJECTION OF THE BODY

There are fallacies by which men often deceive themselves into luxurious life. God made my nature, they say; God made my passions, my instincts, my body; God spread this fair world around me, and may I not use it? There is something so plausible in that that it is the fallacy by which again and again men deceive themselves. God made my nature—yes, but

I. He impressed a law on my nature, the same law that He has impressed upon the whole of His creation, and that is the great law of sacrifice. I am to use the material world in which He placed me, I am to use my body, with all its capacities and powers, but I am to use them in obedience to that law, seeing that I never make the material thing, the dead piece of matter, an end, an object of pursuit in itself, but always make matter the obedient minister of spirit, and seeing that it is ever rising up through me to God. And so stamped upon creation, when we look it in the face, is this great law of sacrifice; and when we are bidden remember that our bodies are the temples of God, that is no arbitrary command laid on us; we are only thereby bid to remember that we are part and parcel, and the crowning part and parcel, of the whole material creation, that part of it through which it rises into articulate expression in the spirit of man, and is able to praise the God Who made it. And it is in that deep sense that we are the priests of creation, we gather the lower world into ourselves, and through ourselves we raise it up and offer it back to God Who made it. And through us the whole family of the material world is capable of becoming the minister of spirit.

II. That then is why luxury, the misuse of the material world, is wrong; it is a counterworking of the laws of creation, it is using matter down, down to the dust, instead of to lift us up to God; it is misusing the whole of this creation in which God has placed us. And the thing which you can see to be the misuse and contravention of the Divine law is surely a very terrible thing. By looking at luxury in this way I do not minimise its dangers; no, you see rather how deeply rooted in the very nature of the world this will be if it is a contravention of the law of God.

III. And its results are commensurate with the deepness of its evil.—Think of what luxury does for men; think how it blinds the spirit; take luxury in its lower forms, the deliberate life of pleasure lived on year after year, the deliberate pursuit of money for its own sake, any of those grosser forms of the life of luxury, see what they do for the spirit. Let a man live in them for years, and he can no longer see God; he no longer believes that there is a God; gradually but certainly they darken the spiritual vision till at last the luxurious life ends in blindness. And possibly there is even a worse thing than blindness—hardness of heart. And think what love is in human life, think what it can do for human life, think how it glorifies human life; and is there any one thing that man can do which more kills love than to lead the life of luxury? Slowly as it grows upon you it hardens the heart, it lowers love from its spiritual down to an earthly nature, and gradually it kills it out of the heart; all the finer feelings and sensibilities and emotions die, and love passes over into its own deadly opposite of cruelty.

When luxury and the life of luxury has had its perfect fruit, it is then the contravention of Divine law stamped upon the world; it blinds the spirit, it hardens the heart, it destroys the temple which should be the temple of the Spirit of God.

Rev. Canon Illingworth.

Illustration

‘Consider the principle upon which the sinfulness of luxury rests; people often rest it upon inadequate principles; they think that they may be luxurious, for example, if it does not hurt other people, and so forth; but all those imperfect reasons do not root the thing out from your heart. There is a deep principle in the very creation which makes luxury a sin. Luxury is the misuse of the material world; and in what does that consist? We misuse the material world directly we make it an end in itself, an object of pursuit for its own sake, instead of a minister and a means to something higher.’

Verse 17

‘WHICH TEMPLE YE ARE’

‘For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’

1 Corinthians 3:17

That each one of you is a ‘temple,’ we have St. Paul’s own authority. ‘Know ye not that your body’—each body in itself individually—‘your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?’ The thought seems to be too wonderful to be true. ‘What! my poor, vile body “a temple”?’ God has said it. And when you die, that body will still be the ruin of a temple. Treat it sacredly!

I. If you ask when you were made a temple, I say, at your baptism. But this consecration is not once only; it is often repeated. By your birth you were God’s. By your baptism you were sealed to be God’s. And by your spiritual birth—whenever that birth was, whether at baptism, or subsequently—whenever the Holy Ghost worked in you consciously, and you, by your own act, made yourself His, and you felt His power and grace in you—then you became, on your part, what you were before on His part, God’s very own. You are His special dwelling-place, ‘His temple.’ So that the date of the process with most of us is fivefold—Birth, Baptism, Conversion, Confirmation, Holy Communion. Thus consecrated, not by man, nor for man, but for the Holy Ghost, you became ‘a temple’; and your ‘body’ is the holy place, and your soul is ‘the holy of holies.’

II. Now carry out this thought to some of its legitimate and necessary conclusions, and see its grand, its awful, its blessed results.

( a) I see one of you mingling with common men, as a common man, in common intercourse. Is ‘the temple of God’ to be such a common thing as that?

( b) I see another demeaning and debasing his body and his mind for sheer worldliness—given to pleasure, to appetite, to money; and I hear the voice of Him Who walks in the temple say, ‘Take those things hence! Make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’

( c) I see another: he drinks, he profligates, he gives himself to unclean things. And I go to that unhappy man, and I say, ‘Do you know, do you remember, what you are? You are “a temple,” the temple of the living God! Is that public-house, is that wicked place a fit spot for you? Are these things fit for you? It is sacrilege! You are mixing God with devils! It is sacrilege! And hear what God says to you—who are drunken, who are profane, who are profligate—‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy!’

( d) I go to a darkened chamber, where a child of God lies sick and ill and sorrowing, longing, with earnest breast, for the courts of God’s house again, and all those sweet services which once it loved so well. ‘Oh! that I had wings like a dove, for then would I flee away, and be at rest’; and I say to that ‘prisoner of hope,’ ‘You are yourself the sanctuary. You sanctify the very couch you lie upon. For God is in you. You carry Him wherever you are. The services which go up from that dark sick room of yours will be to God as true and as acceptable (for God has placed you there) as if you were worshipping in the holiest fane. You are the temple.’

III. To every believer and every temple of God, what is the message?—You are named by a holy name. You are sanctified by the Holy Church—and by the Holy One. Be holy! Look well to it that the temple of your heart has all its parts: the porch of faith; the base of truth; the pillars of sound doctrine; the nave of love; the chancel of holiness; the pinnacles of heaven.

Illustration

‘Every Church has three parts—the outer, which is all the baptized, and which make the general congregation; the inner, the communicants; the innermost, the spiritual, the real spiritually-minded, which is the invisible Church—called “invisible” because only God can see its boundaries, and no human eye can detect who do belong to it and who do not. But the strength of the Church, the real proof of the Church, is the last. We should all be travelling from the font to the holy table; and from the holy table to heaven.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE CALL TO SEPARATION

The idea of a temple would be perfectly easy and simple to the Corinthians. But St. Paul puts it in a new way; he says, ‘The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’

I. What we mean, he seems to say, by a temple is this: A temple has in it that Holy of Holies, that altar of incense and sacrifice; the Greek temple had its Holy of Holies, and he says now the Holy of Holies is a Christian soul, that is the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God; and he says the altar of incense is the Christian life, offered and dedicated to God; that instead of that architecture of Solomon or of Herod, instead of all the wood and stones that built up those old temples, now he says the temple of God is a spirit made conscious of its magnificent destiny as the dwelling-place of the Eternal, living out a life of high endeavour and lofty aspiration; striving, feebly enough it may be, but at least trying to reach in some sort of way the purity and holiness of which Jesus is the perfect pattern.

II. Another thought is that of standing apart from all that is low and mean and frivolous, all that is merely of the world worldly, and emphatically what is of sin, just as a great church towers in its magnificence above the meaner and obscurer buildings around. He tells us that if we are to be the temple of God we must be impressive as a temple of God is, as your temple of God is. There can be no one whose soul is so dim as not to be impressed by a great church. And as the great churches are impressive, so if we are the temples of God we are to be impressive too; impressive for God, impressive for truth, impressive for the honour of His name, reflecting some of the light that we trust we have received. And if we do reflect it we may be quite sure we are helping other people; because as it is true that you cannot touch pitch without being defiled, so it is equally true that goodness is contagious. You cannot live in a house with what we call Christian people, people of prayer, people of deep holiness, without being strengthened by the power of their goodness and devotion.

—Rev. H. Baron Dickinson.

Illustration

‘A temple is a place where God manifests Himself to man, and where man dedicates himself to God. And so it was that in that holy temple upon the hill of Sion there were two objects round which every rite and ceremony revolved, the Holy of Holies and the altar of incense and sacrifice. The Holy of Holies in which are the Shekinah, the mercy seat, God revealing Himself to man; the altar of incense and sacrifice on which man gave himself to God, in prayers which ascended like the burning fumes of incense, and with the blood of bulls and goats at God’s command.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1876.