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Saturday, September 23rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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1 Corinthians 3

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

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Verses 1-23

The Carnal and Spiritual Christian

1 Corinthians 3:1-23


In our last study, we were discussing two kinds of people. One, the unregenerate who had not the Spirit, and the other, the regenerate to whom God had given the Spirit.

In this study we will discuss two kinds of Christians. One is the carnal Christian. The other is the spiritual. One is a babe in Christ; the other is full-grown in Christ. By way of introduction, there are some salient things to consider.

1. The limitations of a carnal Christian. Paul said, "I * * could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal."

The carnal Christian is shut up to the deeper things of God. He follows after the natural man, which knoweth not the things of God. He has the possibilities within himself because the Holy Spirit is there. However, he sets aside the Spirit, refuses to recognize Him, to yield to Him, to walk after Him, choosing rather to follow in the wake of his own conceptions, and carnal promptings We remember these words from the lips of our Lord. To His disciples He said, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."

The young people love the Lord; they have received Him, and in a pinch, would no doubt die for Him. However, many among them are unwilling to enter into the deeper things of Christ. They do not and they will not give up and yield the transient, passing pleasures of this life for the deeper, richer, fuller pleasures of His face.

Beloved, remember that we can circumscribe God; that is, we can turn off the power so that the Heavenly light cannot shine. We can close the faucet so the bountiful rivers of mercy cannot run.

Jesus Christ on one occasion stood before the city of Jerusalem uttering these plaintive words, "Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, * * how often would I * * and ye would not."

Christ seemed to say, "I wanted to; you wouldn't; I couldn't." And this is true. It is true because He made it true.

Paul plainly and positively said, "I * * could not speak unto you as unto spiritual."

2. The self-negations of a carnal Christian. Because God is kept back from what He wants to do in the believer's behalf, the carnal Christian is kept back from feasting on the Heavenly Manna, from entering into Canaan experiences. Spiritual impoverishment is not due to the fact of God's unwillingness to bless; it is due to the fact of our unwillingness to enter in.

Saints perhaps seldom stop to think that it is they themselves who limit themselves, and hinder themselves. They speak as though God was refusing to do for them what He was doing for others. They speak as though God was partial, with favorites to whom He gave His best bounties. This is not the case.

God hath blessed everyone of us with spiritual blessings in Heavenly places. In entering upon these blessings, however, there is always a part which each believer has to play. The life of love, of joy, of peace, is for everyone of us. If we do not possess such a life, it does not hinder the fact that it is ours.

We may be saved by the Blood of the Cross, and yet we may keep ourselves from entering in to the good things which God has prepared for those who love Him. We may deny ourselves the enjoyment of God's fellowship and of His spiritual blessings here and now. We may make it impossible for ourselves to enter in to the positions of honor, of trust, and of rewards in the Kingdom Reign.

I. BABY CHRISTIANS (1 Corinthians 3:1-2 )

Paul wrote unto the Corinthians that they were "babes."

1. The glory of babyhood. Does a greater joy ever come to a home than the advent of a babe? Everybody loves babies but nobody wants a baby to be always a baby. Here were Christians who had been saved in the past, but they were still babes in Christ.

We met a little baby once, fourteen years old. He had the mind, the motions of a baby. Physically, he had grown; intellectually, he was still a babe. All the joy of babyhood passes when there is no growth. The greatest delight of the parent is to watch, step by step, the development of their little ones.

2. A mark of babyhood. "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat." This is the explanation of Paul's statement in the first part of chapter 2. He said, "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."

Then later he said, "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect."

Every pastor has in his flock an abundance of babes. If for a moment he dares to give them the strong meat of the Word, they have spiritual dyspepsia. In the Book of Hebrews we read, "Every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe."

The strong meat of the Word belongs unto them who are of full age. Beloved, how many there are who, considering the time since they were saved, ought to be teachers, and yet they must be taught again and again the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

God grant that the young people who are reading this may not remain babes. May they leave the first principles, and go on unto perfection. May they make up their minds at this moment that they are going to follow on to know the Lord. May they grow up in Him in all things into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and be, from henceforth, no longer children or babes.

II. ENVYING CHRISTIANS (1 Corinthians 3:3-4 )

We have a second mark of carnality. First, it was babyhood. Now it is envying, strife and divisions.

1. The real mark of spiritual life. It is strange how some people make the test of spirituality some distinct gift of the spirit which is given only to a limited few.

If we want to know whether one is filled with the Spirit, let us see if they bear the fruit of the Spirit, for "by their fruits ye shall know them." "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Therefore, the spiritual Christian will possess these things.

2. A second mark of carnal life. Paul says, "Whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"

Do we know where envyings and strife and divisions are born? Certainly not in the bosom of the Holy Spirit. They are devilish. They do not come down from above, but they come up from below. They are not of the Spirit, but are of the flesh. Yet, how many there are who are always growling, or groaning, or grunting about something; faultfinding, full of strife, of envyings, and of jealousies. One is saying, "I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos"; Another perhaps is saying, "I of Cephas." Surely, such people are carnal.

3. A third mark of the carnal Christian. Can Christians walk as men? We answer unreservedly, "They may," for 1 Corinthians 3:3 says, "Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"

Can Christians walk after the flesh? They certainly can, for the Spirit admonishes us that we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in us. There are many calls in the Bible to saints to walk in the Spirit, to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, to yield themselves to God.

Beloved young people, let us decide today whether we will walk as men, that is, as carnal, or whether we will walk after the Spirit, minding spiritual things. If we decide to follow the former course and walk as men, we will be a cause for dissension, for division, for strife, and for confusion in the Church of God as long as we live.

III. A VITAL CONTRAST (1 Corinthians 3:5-7 )

The members in the church at Corinth have been saying, "I am of Paul; * * I am of Apollos." Others had said, "I of Christ." It is easy to discern that some were following men and others were following the Lord. The Apostle Paul in agitation cried, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos?"

1. The greatest of men is incomparable to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was great. We referred to him in a former study, as the greatest of preachers since Pentecost. Apollos was great, great as an orator, great as a lover of Truth. Peter was great. John, the beloved disciple, was great. There are many men today who are great so far as their service for Christ is concerned, great in word and in deed; but what are they, any one of them, all of them, compared with the Lord Jesus Christ?

On the Mount of Transfiguration when Moses and Elias appeared in glory with Christ; Peter, not knowing what he said, suggested that three tabernacles be built, one for Moses, one for Elias, and one for Christ. Immediately from the blue sky came the Divine rebuke, "This is My beloved Son."

In the Church of Jesus Christ, we can give headship to no man; for One is Head of the Church, even Christ, and all we be brethren.

Paul and Apollos and all other preachers are no more than ministering servants, through whom we believed. They are a finger pointing to Christ. They may plant the seed or they may water it, but it is God and God alone who giveth the increase.

2. Jesus Christ is All in all. 1 Corinthians 3:7 plainly says, "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."

In other words, Paul is not anything. Apollos is not anything. Christ is everything. God is All in all.

When the people, rushing from the synagogue on the occasion of the healing of the lame man, would have done obeisance unto Peter and John, they cried, "Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?"

Then immediately they turned the eyes and attention of the wondering crowd to Christ whom God had glorified.

Humbly at His feet we bow; crown Him God, our All in all.

IV. A QUESTION OF REWARDS (1 Corinthians 3:8 )

1. God recognizes our service for Him. Our verse reads, "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour."

The Husbandman calleth for laborers saying, "Go to work to day in My vineyard." He also promises that every man shall receive according to his work.

In the 6th chapter of Hebrews, we read, "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward His Name."

Has not the Lord said, "I come quickly, and My reward is with Me?"

We work because we love Him. He rewards us because He loves us and because we have proved worthy of His trust.

2. God rewards us according to our service. One will receive a definite and a distinct reward from another. Some, alas, will receive nothing by way of rewards for they have done nothing. The Gospels begin the story of rewards, speaking of a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple. Here is the statement, "He shall not lose his reward."

If we expect a reward, therefore, we must do things through which rewards are secured. If rewards were altogether of grace, then all would receive alike. But since rewards are of service, therefore, everyone receives according that he hath done.

3. The report of our service cannot be evaded. The Bible tells us we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive according to the things we have done in the body. Some, who have done bad, may not desire to attend but they must appear. The day of reckoning is coming and that day we must face.


1. No man can lay the foundation. 1 Corinthians 3:11 makes this positive.

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

The most important thing about a skyscraper or any great and heavy building is its foundation. Every believer, therefore, may well rejoice that the foundation upon which he is building has been already laid and that it is a solid, impregnable, age-enduring foundation.

Our superstructure, if it is founded on the rock Christ Jesus, will stand. The winds may blow, the floods may come, the rains may fall, but it will stand unshaken through them all.

2. The builders upon the foundation. God laid the foundation. We are told to build upon it.

"We are building every day

A temple the world may not see:

We are building, building, building,

Building for eternity."

There is a great warning at the close of 1 Corinthians 3:10 .

"Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon."

3. The two kinds of building material. 1 Corinthians 3:12 tells us, "If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble."

We have two classes of building materials, and in each class three things. The wood, the hay and the stubble stand for the works wrought in carnality. Of course, you know as well as we that wood, hay and stubble, when tried in the fire, will go up in smoke. The gold, the silver and the precious stones refer to the spiritual service. These will pass through the fire and will abide.

We wonder, when the day of rewards comes, about how many of us will have our works burned. We have sufficient warning in the Word of God along this line. If we sow to the flesh, God has told us we will reap corruption. If, however, we sow to the Spirit, we shall reap life everlasting.

VI. TRIED BY FIRE (1 Corinthians 3:13-15 )

1. The day which declares our work. 1 Corinthians 3:13 opens with the statement, "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it."

That day is none other than the day following the rapture of the Church when the saints stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We may not now receive for our work, but we shall then receive according to that we have done. Did not the Holy Spirit write through Peter this plea to ministering shepherds? "Feed the flock of God" over which the Holy Ghost hath made you an overseer, "not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind."

Finally the Spirit said, "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."

Thus, our rewards are at the Coming of the Lord. Did not Paul in the Spirit write to Timothy saying, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

Then he added, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day."

"That day" just quoted is the same as "that day" in the Scripture we are now considering.

2. The fire shall reveal every man's work. The Book of Hebrews does not hesitate to say, "Our God is a consuming fire."

The most striking part of it is that it uses this expression in conjunction with another expression. "And again, the Lord shall judge His people."

It certainly is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. Fire will not hurt gold and silver and precious stones, but it certainly will do all kinds of damage to wood, hay and stubble.

3. The carnal believer himself shall be saved so as by fire. Perhaps it refers to the works only. Nevertheless, the fire that burns a believer's works will not feel at all comfortable to his heart nor to his conscience. Here is the way 1 Corinthians 3:15 runs: "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

Salvation is of grace, and a believer cannot be lost. However, he may suffer the loss of those days which were allotted to him for service for his Lord. Paul gave this under another figure: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain."

It will be a grief indeed if at the judgment seat of Christ we should stand disapproved a castaway.

VII. THE FINAL CONCLUSION (1 Corinthians 3:18-23 )

We have more than we can compass in one study. However, we will give a few statements which present God's great and final conclusion. These conclusions we will give under three statements.

1. Let no man deceive himself. It is so easy for us to follow error and to deceive ourselves. We may deceive ourselves about our own wisdom. We may think because we are wise in this world, that, therefore, we are wise in the things of God. God says in 1 Corinthians 3:18 , "Let no man receive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise."

He says this because the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God,

2. Let no man glory in men. In I Corinthians we read, "Let no man glory in the flesh."

Here we read in 1 Corinthians 3:21 of our Scripture, "Let no man glory in men,"

In the 1st chapter we read, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."

This is our second great climactic statement. Why should we glory in man or in the flesh, when we are told that whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we should do it all to the glory of God? Why glory in men when they, along with all other things, are the gift of God?

Whether it be Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come, all are ours. Such enrichment should not cause us to glory in our riches, but to glory in the God who gave them unto us. In the 8th chapter of Deuteronomy God said unto the Children of Israel, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God."

For it was God who gave unto Israel a good land, a land of brooks, of waters, of fountains It was God who gave them their goodly houses and herds, and flocks, and silver, and gold. It was God who brought them out of the land of bondage, therefore, God told them to beware lest they should say in their own hearts, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth."

So, beloved, we must not glory in the gifts of God, whether they be gifts of men or of goods. We must glory not in the gifts but in the Giver.

3. Ye are Christ's. The third and perhaps the greatest admonition of the three is the one that occurs in the last verse of the chapter. "And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's."

Thus it is that all that we are, and all we have, comes from Christ, and is freely given unto us, all except one thing and that is ourselves. We belong to Him. He hath bought us with a price and we are not our own. One of the Old Testament conquerors said unto the one that conquered him, "I am thine, and all that I have."

Shall we not voice these same words to Christ our conqueror?

"I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,

And it told Thy love to me;

But I long to rise in the arms of faith,

And be closer drawn to Thee."


I have a friend who recently returned from a stay of a number of months in Japan. I was very much impressed by what he told about some most remarkable trees he saw there. Some of these trees were hundreds of years old and yet not a hundred inches high. He said that the most remarkable collection he saw was in Count Okuma's garden, near Tokyo. Here were pine trees that started to grow in the seventeenth century and at the dawn of the twentieth century they were not too large to be carried in one hand, pot and all. Others, whose seed was planted about the time Columbus sailed for America, were already outstripped by saplings planted inside of two years' time. In another place he saw a grove of Lilliputian plum trees, gnarled and knotted and twisted by centuries of wind and weather, that were none of them too large to grace a dinner table, as they often did when in full bloom. "More marvelous still," said my friend, speaking of the diminutive size of the trees, "there were other little trees planted before most of us were born that were still thriving it is too much to say growing in a teacup, while still others had not outgrown a lady's thimble."

Dwarf trees. And how were they made dwarfs? Our friends tells us how: "They nip off the tree's roots, and pinch its limbs, and starve it with little soil, and let it go thirsty and dry, but at the same time keep the breath of life in it until it becomes the very travesty of a tree, a manikin vegetable with the wrinkled face of an old man on the legs of a little boy."

Dwarfed Christians! Is there not a needed lesson we can learn from this little curiosity tree of our Japanese neighbors? We wish dwarfed Christians were as rare and as much of a curiosity as the Japanese dwarfed trees are.


Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/1-corinthians-3.html.
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