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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

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Verse 1


The Apostle is prosecuting the Subject of his Ministry in this Chapter. Under several sweet Similitude's, he describes the Manner he had used among them, for Instruction.

Verses 1-2

(1) And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. (2) I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

I beg the Reader, at his entrance on this Chapter to observe, the faithfulness of Paul, as a minister of Christ. He had marked out in the preceding Chapter, the character of such as were taught of the Spirit: and had drawn the line of distinction, between the natural man, which receiveth not the things of God, and the spiritually taught believer. Here, therefore, he makes application, of what he had said on that subject, with an eye to them. Though they were regenerated, or he could not have considered them as brought into Church communion; yet they were but so weak in understanding, that he could not call them anything more than mere babes in Christ. And babes in Christ can only receive the first things of nutriment, and such as tender capacities find easy of digestion; as babes in nature, can relish scarce anything more than to be fed at the breast. Reader! do not overlook the very sweet instruction, which is given here, both to ministers and people. A minister, like Paul, taught of God the Holy Ghost, and sent forth by God the Holy Ghost, may here learn, how necessary a part in the exercise of the holy function it must be, to study the state, and circumstances, of the Lord's household. The different ages, and conditions, and characters of the Lord's people, are carefully to be considered. Paul, describing to Timothy, the outlines of a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, saith; that he should study to shew himself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, 2 Timothy 2:15 . And such a workman must learn from his Master, how to turn his hand to every branch of his employment, in that part of it more especially which concerns feeding and instructing the Lord's people. The babes in Christ must have the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby. The more advanced in grace, and knowledge, may be brought acquainted, as their spiritual capacities are enlarged, in the stronger food of the soul. All are to have suited portions; and none of them to be overlooked, or forgotten. Hence the Lord Jesus himself describes the faithful servant, in his household, who thus administers in his name, to his family, and calls him blessed, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing, Luke 12:42-43 . And the people, under such a charge, may learn, from what is here said, how necessary it is for them to receive the ministry of the Lord's servants, with the utmost affection and good will. Babes in Christ, and young men, and Father s, as John calls them, all come in for their separate, and distinct portions. And well are faithful ministers entitled to the love of their people, while they need their prayers, that in so arduous a work, one might be neglected; but, both minister and people together, be blessed of the Lord. It were well if the former had everlastingly in view the model of Christ's first sermon in the synagogue. when Jesus opened his commission in that place, and declared the prophecy Isaiah, to be that very day in his divine Person fulfilled; he immediately added, that his office was, to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that were bruised, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, Luke 4:18-19 with Isaiah 61:1-2 . And it were well if the latter, I mean the people ministered unto, were to remember this feature in the character of Jesus, and to form their judgment of the servants, who stand up to minister in the Lord's name, by this plan of their Master. If a minister in following the steps of Christ in preaching, hath the Gospel to preach to the poor, and the blind, and the broken-hearted, the captive soul and the bruised, to speak to in the same sermon; various means must he adopt, so as to suit the various wants if such diversified characters. And how can a minister labor faithfully, amidst so many claims; or a people have their full and distinct portions, except the Lord directs both? The consciousness of this made Paul often cry out to the Church; Brethren, pray for us, 1 Thessalonians 5:25 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ; Hebrews 13:18 .

Verses 3-15

(3) For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (4) For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? (5) Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? (6) I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. (7) So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. (8) Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. (9) For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. (10) According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. (11) For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; (13) Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. (14) If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. (15) If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

I would refer the Reader, for the proper apprehension of the distinct meaning, between a state of nature, and that of grace, absolutely considered; to the observations which were offered in the preceding Chapter. And, in addition to what is there said, I would here remark, that the carnal state the Apostle alludes to in those verses, means, that the Corinthians, instead of having a single eye to the Lord's glory, in the ministry of his word, suffered themselves, from the remains of indwelling corruption in their natural feelings, to form parties, in their choice of ministers, and to class themselves into separate congregations, in preferring one servant of the Lord before another. That this is the charge Paul brings against them is evident, from what he saith. Some were for Paul, and some for Cephas or Peter, and some for Apollos. While we cannot but lament, that from the infirmity of our poor fallen nature, such evils should arise; it will be highly proper, the Reader should carefully observe, that the Apostle, in calling them carnal, doth not say that they were not regenerated, or that they had fallen from grace. Had the persons, to whom the Apostle sent this Epistle, not been regenerated, they could not have been called the Church; for the Church of God cannot be said to be formed, but of the called in Christ Jesus, Jude 1:1 . And indeed, as Paul, though reproving them for their contentions, calls them babes in Christ; nothing can be plainer, than that they were truly regenerated believers. But, Reader! we need not go back as far as to the days of the Church of Corinth, to learn the melancholy consequences which arise in Churches, from ill-judged, and too often misplaced partiality, respecting ministers, If both the servants of the Lord, and the congregation of the faithful, were always guided with a single eye to the glory of Christ; partiality to particular ministers would lose its influence. It may serve, however, to teach us, what poor creatures we are, when we overlook the Master, to have our minds fixed upon the servant. It may serve also to shew us, how much corruption still remains in our sinful bodies. And it may act, under the Lord's grace, to beget an holy jealousy, over our hearts, when we see how easily, even in the best things, sins of infirmity steal upon our affections.

I cannot but admire the very happy method, which the Apostle adopts to cure those errors, in calling off the attention of the Church from all the different servants they had been classing themselves under, and directing their minds solely to the Lord. Who then (saith be) is Paul, and who Apollos? Well might he, ask the question. Who were they, or who is any man, but receiving, all from the Lord. All the good that is done upon earth, the Lord doeth it himself. It would tend to damp all human pride, if this thought was kept alive by grace, and always uppermost in the heart. For indeed, strictly and properly speaking, it is impossible to add to the Lord's glory, by all the services of his creatures. And this one thought, duly weighed in the heart, would at once throw to the ground, all the supposed services of men, or angels: namely, that Jehovah's glory is in himself, and from himself, and to himself. If no world, or creature, had ever been, God in his threefold character of Person, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are all glory to each other. How strikingly Elihu reasons on this point, taught by the Holy Ghost. If thou be righteous, what givest thou hire? or, what receiveth he of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man, as thou art: and thy righteousness may profit the son of man! Job 35:7-8 . How unanswerably conclusive this is? And how ought the consideration of it, to humble to the dust, every idea of the services of creatures. It is the grossest mistake upon earth to suppose, that the praises of God, or the services of man, are enjoined for adding to God's glory. Even among men, the wise and noble part of our fellow creatures pass by, and dislike any praise or approbation which is offered them. And how condescending must it be in the Lord, to receive the services of his creatures? Indeed, so far ought the consciousness of being employed by the Lord, as instruments in his Almighty hand, to any service, excite pride, that it tends, under grace, to beget the greatest humility.

I have said thus much on those passages of the Apostle, by way of introducing another observation. When the Apostle saith, that we are laborers together with God; he, could not possibly mean, that God and his creatures are co-operating in such a way, or manner, as though the Lord's cause could not go on, and be accomplished, without the labors of his servants. Every principle of reason, as well as revelation, is full to reprobate the daring thought. Indeed the beautiful similitudes, which Paul hath made use of, to explain himself on the subject, fully sets at naught the idea. The Church of God is his husbandry, his tillage, his building. And of both husbandry, and building, he is the Lord, Proprietor of all; of consequence, every particle of the earth, and every stone in the house his Church are by creation, redemption; grace; and glory. He who hath built all things is God. The different departments in this house, and all the servants of it; are his. The field of his husbandry, the seed, the manure, the ground, into which the seed is cast; the sun's warmth; the clouds' fatness, the dew, the rain, the product; in short, the whole are solely his. The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, the world and they that dwelt therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. And what a beautiful conclusion the sacred Writer makes from this delightful statement, when he followeth it up with this question: Who shalt stand in the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? Not Paul, not Apollos; not Cephas, in army services of theirs, or any work of their hands. But He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, who hath not lifted his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. And who can this be, but the Lord Jesus Christ? This is God's righteous servant, whom Jehovah hath chosen, and in whom his soul delighteth. This is He who both labored in God's husbandry, and in God's building; as a Son over his own house, whose house are we, See Psalms 24:0 throughout; Isaiah 42:1 with Matthew 12:18 . But of all other laborers, as the Lord Jesus told his disciples, it may he said, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say; we are unprofitable servants, we have one that which was our duly to do, Luke 17:10 .

It would be well if such humbling views were in the contemplation of everyone that ministers in holy things: The Apostle gives the most satisfying and unanswerable reasons for it; in all that is said in this Chapter. For though; with an eye to the Apostolic office; he considers himself as a wise master builder: not that he saith he is one; but as One, and which he expressly ascribes to the grace of God which was given unto him; yet he as expressly declares; that Christ is the only foundation. And this Jehovah, not Paul, laid in Zion, Isaiah 28:16 . And where Christ is laid, all the pure truths of the Gospel, which are laid upon this foundation, and which the Apostle compares to gold, silver, precious stones, these are not man's building; but the Lord's. As the Prophet expresseth it : The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, his hands shall also finish it, Zechariah 4:9 . It is to be feared, that the mis-perversion of the Apostle's Meaning, in supposing that the go ld; and silver, and precious stones he spake of, referred to man's improvement, instead of God's grace, hath been productive of much spiritual pride: everything that is precious, can only be the Lord's. And the smallest attention, when the Lord the Spirit is the Teacher; would be sufficient to discover the fallacy of such thoughts as makes man his own builder; even when Christ is seen; and acknowledged as the only foundation. The Holy Ghost by Paul, refers the whole building into his own sovereign power. The Church is said to be built (not builders) upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets; that is, the same foundation as they are built upon, which is Christ, Ephesians 2:20 to the end. And the same Almighty Spirit by Peter that the Church, as lively stones, are built up; (not build), a spiritual house, 1 Peter 2:4-5 .

And, in further proof of this important doctrine; it is observable, that when the Apostle adds, Now if any man build upon this foundation, wood, hay, stubble; he doth not mean, yea, he cannot be supposed to mean errors, either in life or doctrine, for Christ is still said to be the foundation, where this wood, and hay, and stubble are added. But the wood, and hay, and stubble, mean whatever is a man's own. And a vast deal of this rubbish is found, even in pure Churches, where Christ is made the only foundation. For if ministers, or people, for a moment look off Christ, as the whole of salvation, and at any time take comfort, and part confidence, in what they feel, or what they do; if, instead of deriving an unceasing firmness from what Christ is to his Church, and the Church is to Christ, either of them date their safety and happiness in a work supposed to be wrought in them, and the experience supposed to be found by them, seeking strength from a supposed grace in the soul, instead of sure grace in Christ for the soul; all these comforts are the wood, and hay, and stubble, and which, in the day when every man's works shall be made manifest, shall be burnt up. Reader! it is a blessed thing, rightly to estimate the Lord Jesus Christ. And, while making Him what God hath made him, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, for salvation to everyone that believeth : let Him that hath laid the foundation, carry on the whole superstructure, in the regenerated soul. And then, what God by the Prophet hath said, will be the sure consequence. He shall bring forth the head stone thereof with shoutings, crying, grace, grace unto it, Zechariah 4:7 . But, it is dangerous thing to the soul's comfort, to rest in anything but Jesus; for very sure it is, that all the child of God hath, whether grace, or strength, or comfort, from the Spirit's work in the heart, he hath all from Christ. And when the fiery trial comes, to try a man's work, though as the Apostle saith, because his foundation is an Christ, he himself shall be saved; yet, to have all his own things which gave him comfort, in the wood, and hay, and stubble of his supposed improvements burnt up, though he himself escapeth, yet so as by fire; will be a mortifying thing the pride of the heart. Oh! it is blessed to live wholly upon Christ; to come daily, hourly, to Christ, and to be sensible of our momentary need of Christ, as when the Day-spring from on high first visited the soul. One of old found this in his own experience, and hath left it upon everlasting record, for all that come after to make Christ, as he did, the whole sum and substance of his happiness and joy; and not taking the least confidence in the best, and highest feelings of his own heart: I will go (said he) in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only, Psalms 71:16 .

Verses 16-23

(16) Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (17) If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (18) Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. (19) For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (20) And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. (21) Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; (22) Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; (23) And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

The Apostle is carrying on the same similitude of a building, in allusion to the Church of Christ, when he demands of the Corinthians, whether they knew not, that as a Church, founded in Christ, and united to Christ, they were the temple of God. And it must be confessed, that it is a beautiful similitude. For, as the human nature of Christ became the temple for his Godhead, and in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; so the divine nature may be said to have made the bodies of his people his temple, for his in-dwelling habitation, when by the gracious work of regenerating, illuminating, converting, comforting, sanctifying, and in short, all the operations of the Holy Ghost, the Lord dwells in them, and walks in them; manifests himself to be their God, and they his People. See Leviticus 26:11-12 ; Ezekiel 37:26-27 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Ephesians 2:20 to the end; 1 Peter 2:4-5 .

I do not think it necessary to offer any comment upon what the Apostle hath observed, on the sure destruction of the unregenerate, which defile the Lord's temple, with their false doctrines, and will-worship. But I would beg the Reader to remark with me, how blessedly in the close of this Chapter, the Holy Ghost, by the Apostle, calls off the Church from everything, whether ministers or people, men or things, to fix the soul wholly on Christ. All are yours he saith, things present, or to come; all are yours, because ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Reader! behold the security, the everlasting security of the faithful! As Christ is the sent, the sealed, the anointed of Jehovah, God's Christ, God's chosen, God's salvation to the ends of the earth : so Christ and his Church being one, in the divine mind, will, and pleasure; all are the Church's in Christ, being one with Christ, and deriving all from Christ. So that if Christ be mine, all is mine. His blood to cleanse, his righteousness to justify, his holiness to sanctify. Christ and his fulness, Christ and his all-sufficiency, lies at the bottom of all mercies. And, when it be considered, the greatness of his Person, and the glories of his salvation, the infinite nature of his blood-shedding and perfection, and the infinite merit of his work and righteousness; here is enough for a child of God to live upon, in time, and to all eternity. Jesus gives a fulness of blessedness, and a fulness of duration, to all that He is in himself, and to his Church and people forever. His presence sweetens all, sanctifies all, gives a blessedness to all; and makes all completely blessed. All are your's, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

Verse 23


DEAREST Lord Jesus! while I hear thy servant, as in this Chapter, reproving the Church, for their weakness in faith, and their little disposition to anything more than as babes in Christ; how can I overlook my Lord's tenderness to his flock, who hath fed them in all ages, and is feeding them now, as a Shepherd! Dearest Jesus! thou knoweth how to bear with the weaknesses and infirmities of thy people! Thou carriest the lambs in thy bosom, and gently leadeth those that are with young.

Do thou, gracious Lord, watch over the husbandry of thy Church! Do thou order all the apartments of the spiritual building. Lord! grant, that I may never bring the wood, and hay, and stubble of anything of my own, to lay upon the foundation Jesus Christ; And let the gold, and the silver, and the precious stones, laid upon, Christ, be the doctrines of Christ, that in the hour of trial, they may never be burnt up, but be found to be Christ's, which, will stand every trial.

And blessed Lord the Spirit! suffer me never to lose sight of that soul-reviving truth, that the bodies of Christ's members are his Temple. Lord, take up thine abode in my poor nature, and reign in me, and rule in me, as the Almighty Lord of every affection. And let that vast inheritance, to which, by my new birth, I am begotten; be my everlasting consolation, against every exercise, and sorrow of life. While I can say with the Church, I am my beloved's, and his desire is towards me; sure I am, that both in life and death, things present and things to come, every matter and every event, must minister to the Lord's glory and my salvation. If Christ be mine, all is mine. And blessed shall I be in my basket and in my store, in my lying down and in my rising up, in life, in death, in time, and, to all eternity. Precious thought! Allure ours, for we are Christ's, and Christ's is God's. Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1828.
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