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Division Is Carnal
The Corinthians had grown slowly in spiritual things. They still clung to carnal things like envy and strife ( 1Co_3:1 ). Like those at Ephesus, they needed not to be "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head: Christ" ( Eph_4:13-14 ).
In working with them, Paul had concentrated on first principles. He could not go further in teaching them because they were not ready to go on. The Hebrews' writer said, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food" ( Heb_5:12-14 ; Heb_6:1-3 ; 1Pe_2:2 ). Those at Corinth were still ruled by worldly thoughts and desires, as is evidenced in the divisions mentioned in 1Co_1:11-12 . They could not argue with his statement that they were carnal since their division stood as proof against them ( 1 Corinthians 3:24 ; Gal_5:19-21 ).
Increase Comes From God
Paul wanted to know what it was about Apollos and himself that could cause division. They were both "ministers," which is the same word translated "deacons" in Act_6:2 and means they were servants. They were both God's servants and worked as God gave them the ability, thus deserved no special credit for the things they did.
Paul had planted the seed, which is the word of God ( Luk_8:11 ), at Corinth. Apollos had, through giving further instruction, watered. However, God should be recognized as the one who caused growth. Just as in the physical realm, those that plant and water can get no results without God's power. Both Paul and Apollos worked toward the same goal. They did as God commanded and would be rewarded according to their faithfulness in carrying out his instructions ( 1Co_3:5-8 ).
The Church is God's Building
Then, Paul and Apollos were workers together under God. The field they worked in, which literally could be translated "tilled land," was God's. To further illustrate, Paul called the church God's building ( 1Co_3:9 ). So, the glory belonged to God, as the Psalmist said, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, and because of Your truth" ( Psa_115:1 ).
Paul had used his spiritual gifts to lay the foundation God wanted laid. He warned those building on that foundation to be careful how they built upon it because it was God's foundation ( 1Co_3:10 ). In the Galatian letter he wrote, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" ( Gal_1:6-9 ).
Christ is the rock foundation of the church. He told his disciples he would build his church on the foundation fact that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God ( Mat_16:13-20 ). Peter told the members of the Sanhedrin, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" ( Act_4:11-12 ; Eph_2:20 ). Controversy over whether Peter is the "rock" of Mat_16:1-28 ends in Paul's statement in ( 1Co_3:11 ).
Testing the Building Materials
McGarvey suggests the building materials Paul mentioned were very familiar to the brethren at Corinth. The first three building materials, gold, silver and precious stones, were used to make idolatrous temples fireproof. The last three materials were used in building the very combustible huts in which the Corinthians lived. The illustration is used to say the best should go into the church. The quality of materials, or individual Christians, making up the church will be tested in judgment. Weak, combustible material will not be acceptable. Trials are used by God to test the quality of material in each of us ( 1Co_3:12-13 ).
Those ministers who have helped build faithful Christians will be rewarded in seeing their faithfulness ( 1Co_3:14 ). For that reason, Paul wrote the Thessalonian brethren, saying, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy" ( 1Th_2:19-20 ; Php_2:12-16 ).
If the Corinthian church, for example, were lost in the day of judgment, Paul would suffer loss because they were part of his work. Yet, the apostle would still be saved if he was able to endure the test of fire that they had failed ( 1Co_3:15 ).
Beware of Defiling God's Temple
In 1Co_3:9 , Paul described the church at Corinth as God's building ( Heb_3:6 ; 1Pe_2:5 ). The church is God's temple and the Spirit's dwelling place on earth. "Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit" ( Eph_2:20-22 ).
Those dividing into sects ( 1Co_1:12 ) needed to see the greatness of their sin. By breaking the church into pieces, they were defiling God's dwelling place. Those who did such things made themselves subject to swift judgment from God ( 1Co_3:16-17 ; 2Pe_2:1 ).
True wisdom, according to the apostle Paul, comes in learning to be a fool in the eyes of this world's wise ( Act_2:24 ). Pride in one's own intellectual abilities can keep him from learning the truth. It is important to humble oneself before God to learn ( 1Co_1:18 ; 1Pe_5:6 ). God uses man's own wisdom to trap him, as Paul's quotation from Job_5:13 would indicate. Whenever man attempts to add worldly wisdom and opinion to God's word, he will find himself lost because of the very instrument by which he tried to save himself.
Paul went on to quote Psa_97:11 to show man's plans are empty. Only God's plans can bring a true reward. So, Paul warned the Corinthian brethren against following man and his wisdom. They had already tried it and found it wanting. Christians have all they need in God's revelation and teachings. All things work to the good of God's people ( Rom_8:28 ). Life is a good gift to be used to the Christian's advantage in God's service. Even death is something to which one can look forward ( Php_1:21 .) Since the Christian is Christ's and finds so many blessings in him, he should not join a party or faction ( 1Co_3:19-23 ; Joh_17:12-23 .)
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16