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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 3:1. And I, brethren, &c.— The next matter of boasting, which the faction made use of to give the pre-eminence and preference to their leader above St. Paul, seems to have been this, That their new teacher had led them farther, and given them a deeper insight into the mysteries of the Gospel than St. Paul had done. To take away their glorying on this account, St. Paul tells them, that they were carnal, and not capable of those more advanced truths, or any thing beyond the first principles of Christianity which he had taught them; and though another had come and watered what he had planted, yet neither planter nor waterer could assume to himself any glory thence, because it was God alone that gave the increase. But whatever new doctrines theymight pretend to receive from their magnified new Apostle, yet no man could lay any other foundation in a Christian church, but what he (St. Paul) had said; viz. that Jesus is the Christ; and therefore there was no reason to glory in their teachers, becauseuponthis foundation they possibly might build false or unsound doctrines, for which they should receive no thanks from God, though, continuing in the faith, they might be saved. Some of the hay and stubble which this leader brought into the church at Corinth, he seems particularly to point at, ch. 1Co 3:16-17 viz. their defiling the church by retaining, and as it may be supposed patronizing, the fornicator, who should have been turned out; ch. 1 Corinthians 5:7-13. He further adds, that these extolled heads of their parties were at best but men, and none of the church ought to glory in men; for even Paul, and Apollos, and Peter, and all the other preachers of the Gospel, were for the use, and benefit, and glory of the church, as the church was for the glory of Christ. Moreover, he shews them, that they ought not to be puffed up on account of these their new teachers, to the undervaluing of him, though it should be true, that they had learned more from them, than from himself,—for these reasons: 1. Because all the preachers of the Gospel are but stewards of the mysteries of God; and therefore they ought not to be some of them magnified and extolled, and others depressed and blamed by their hearers here, till Christ their Lord come; and then he, knowing how they have behaved themselves in their ministry, will give them their reward. Besides, these stewards have nothing but what they have received, and therefore no glory belongs to them for it. 2. Because if these leaders were (as was pretended) Apostles, honour and outward affluence here would not have been their portion, the Apostles being appointed to want, contempt, and persecution. 3. They ought not to be honoured, followed, and gloried in, as Apostles, because they had not the power of miracles, which he intended shortly to come and shew they had not, ch. 1 Corinthians 3:1.-iv. 20. See Locke.

As unto spiritual According to some great commentators, spiritual is here opposed to carnal, as in ch. 1Co 2:14 it is to natural or animal; so that, according to them, we have here three sorts of men: 1. Carnal; that is to say, such as are swayed by fleshly passions and interests: 2. Animal; i.e. such as seek wisdom, or a way to happiness, only by the strength and guidance of their own natural parts, without any supernatural light coming from the Spirit of God;—by reason, without revelation;—by philosophy, without Scripture: 3. Spiritual; i.e. such as seek their direction to happiness, not in the dictates of natural reason and philosophy, but in the revelations of the Spirit of God in the Holy Scriptures. By babes in Christ, are meant such as had not their understandings yet fully opened to the true grounds of the Christian religion, but retained a great many childish thoughts about it, as appeared by their divisions,—one being for the doctrine of his master Paul; another for that of his master Apollos; which, if they had been spiritual, that is, had looked upon the doctrine of the Gospel to have come solely from the Spirit of God, and to be had only from revelation, they could not have done: for then all human mixtures of any thing derived either from Paul or Apollos, or any other man, would have been wholly excluded. But they, in these divisions, professed to hold their religion, one from one man, and another from another; and were thereupon divided into parties. This, he tells them, was to be carnal, and to walk as men,—to be led by principles purely human; i.e. to found their religion upon men's natural parts and discoveries; whereas the Gospel was wholly built upon divine revelation, and the application of it by the Spirit of God, and nothing else; and thence alone those who were spiritual took it. See Locke.

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 3:2. I have fed you with milk "You being such babes, such mere beginners in the divine life, I could not go so far as I desired in the great doctrines of the Christian religion; but was obliged to content myself with instructing you in the first principles, the more obvious and easy doctrines of it. I could not apply myself to you, as to spiritual men, who could compare spiritual things with spiritual,—one part of Scripture with another." See Hebrews 12:14. Locke and Blackwall's Sacred Classics, vol. 1: p. 72.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 3:3. And walk as men? Speaking according to man, signifies, speaking according to the principles of natural reason, in contradistinction to revelation. See ch. 1 Corinthians 9:8. Gal 1:11 and so walking according to man must here be understood. See on 1 Corinthians 3:1.

Verse 4

1 Corinthians 3:4. I am of Apollos From this verse, compared with ch. 1Co 4:6 it may be no improbable conjecture, says Mr. Locke, that the division in his church was owing to two opposite parties, whereof the one adhered to St. Paul, the other stood up for their head, a false Apostle, who opposed St. Paul. For the Apollos whom St. Paul mentions here was one, as he tells us, 1Co 3:6 who came in, and watered what he had planted; that is, when St. Paul had planted a church at Corinth, this Apostle got into it, and pretended to instruct them further, and boasted of his performances among them, of which St. Paul takes notice again, 2 Corinthians 10:15-16. Now the Apollos whom he here speaks of, he himself tells us, ch. 1Co 4:6 was another man, under that borrowed name. It is true, St. Paul in his Epistles to the Corinthians, generally speaks of these his opposers in the plural number; but it is to be remembered, that he speaks thus of himself also; which, as it was the less invidious way, with regard to himself, so it was the softer way towards his opposer; though he seems to intimate plainly, that it was one leader, who was set up against him. Others, differing in sentiment from Mr. Locke, think it much more probable from ch. 1Co 4:6 that St. Paul chose to make use of the name of Apollos, that he might give no offence, and to shew that he should lament and condemn any division among them, though it were in favour of himself, or the dearest friend he had in the world;—and they cannot think that St. Paul would have described this supposed false Apostle as watering his plantation which he rather wasted; of have spoken of himself, and that messenger of Satan as one. See 1 Corinthians 3:8.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 3:5. Who then is Paul, &c.— Some would read this and the following verse thus: Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?—And as the Lord gave to every man, I planted, Apollos watered, &c. See Markland on Lysias, p. 560.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 3:8. Are one This is another cogent argument against division,—that though their labours were different, and their rewards proportionable, yet they had in the general one office, and were employed as workers-together by God, to plant the seeds of grace and holiness in the souls of men, and to bring them to perfection. St. Paul here introduces an excellent discourse of the happy consequences of faithfulness in the ministerial work, and the aweful account of it to be given up to God:—a subject familiar to his own mind; and so proper for their teachers, that if it render the epistle something less regular, it balances the account, by rendering it so much more useful. See Craddock's Apostol. Hist. p. 156.

Verse 9

1 Corinthians 3:9. For we are labourers together with God For we are the fellow-labourers of God. Doddridge.

Verses 12-15

1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Now if any man build, &c.— "Though no man who pretends to be a preacher of the Gospel can build upon any other foundation than that of Jesus Christ, yet you ought not to cry up your new instructor, who has come and built upon the foundation that I laid, for the doctrines that he builds thereon,as if there were no other minister of the Gospel but he; for it is possible that a man may build upon that true foundation wood, hay, and stubble, things which will not bear the test, when the trial by fire at the last day shall come; (ch. 1 Corinthians 4:5.) at that day every man's work shall be tried and discovered, of what sort it is. If what he taught be sound and good, and will stand the trial,—as silver, and gold, and precious stones abide in the fire; he shall be rewarded for his labour in the gospel: but if he has introduced false or unsound doctrines into Christianity, he shall be like a man, whose building being ofwood, hay, and stubble, is consumed by the fire; all his pains in building are lost, and his works destroyed and gone, though he himself should escape and be saved." Instead of as by fire, the Greek might be rendered more properly as through the fire. To be a brand plucked out of the burning, is well known as a proverbial expression, to signify a narrow escape from extreme danger. See Zechariah 3:2. Amo 4:11 and especially Isaiah 33:11-12, to which some have thought the Apostle here alludes. The phrase Δια πυρος is put for passing through the fire, as δι υδατος, 1Pe 3:20 signifies to be saved from the water by passing through it, as the ark did. See Jude 1:23.—The most approved heathen writers use the phrase in this sense. Many divines have well shewn how far this text is from giving any support to a popish purgatory. See Locke, Whitby, Stillingfleet, and Elsner.

Verse 16

1 Corinthians 3:16. Know ye not that ye are the temple, &c.— "I told you that ye are God's building, 1 Corinthians 3:9. I now observe more than that;—Ye are the temple of God, in which his Spirit dwells." Many of the first ancient writers represent a holy mind as the temple of God, and speak in the highest and strongest terms of the obligations men are under to keep his temples inviolate and unpolluted. Indeed, we cannot conceive a more forcible argument for internal purity, than this, which leads us to consider our bodies as the temple of God, inhabited by his ever-blessed and most holy Spirit. The word rendered defile, in the next verse, more properly signifies destroy, and should be so read, to keep up the contrast. See Elsner, Wetstein, Calmet, and Ostervald's useful treatise "on Uncleanness."

Verse 17

1 Corinthians 3:17. If any man It is not unreasonable to think, that, by any man, St. Paul designs one particular man;—namely, the false Apostle, who, it is probable, by the strength of his party, supporting and retaining the fornicator mentioned, ch. 5 in the church, had defiled it. We may look upon most of the disorders in this church as owing to the false Apostle; which is the reason why St. Paul sets himself so much against him in both these Epistles, and makes it a principal business of them to draw the Corinthians off from this leader; judging, as is probable, that the church could not be reformed, so long as that person was in credit and had a party among them. See Locke.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 3:18. Let no man deceive himself. It was not necessary for St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, who knew the matter of fact, to particularize what it was wherein the craftiness of the person here mentioned had appeared: therefore it was left us to guess; and possibly we shall not be much out, if we take it to be the keeping the fornicator from censure, so much insisted on by St. Paul, ch. 5. That by σοφος, or wise,—[seemeth to be wise in this world] the Apostle means a cunning man in business, is plain from his quotation in the next verse, where the wise spoken of are the crafty. "If any man seemeth to himself or others wise in worldly wisdom, so as to pride himself in his parts and dexterity in compassing his purpose, let him renounce all this wisdom, that he may become truly wise in embracing and owning no other knowledge than the simplicity of the Gospel." See Locke. Some would render the latter part of this verse, If any one be wise among you, let him be a fool in this world, that he may become wise. See Bengelius, and 1 Timothy 6:17.

Verses 21-23

1 Corinthians 3:21-23. All things are yours, &c.— How magnificently are the happy privileges of Christians, through Christ, set forth in this noble exultation! First, here is a full and vehement enumeration of particulars; and then a noble gradation, which rises up to Heaven, and terminates in God himself! See Blackwall's Sacred Classics, and Bengelius.

Inferences.—Who, that wishes for the welfare of the church of Christ, must not lament those sad remains of carnality, (1 Corinthians 3:1.) which are often to be found among them who have the greatest advantages for becoming spiritual, while the same contentious principles, fermented, no doubt, by the same malignant enemy of the whole body, breathe in so many of its members, and diffuse a kind of poison which at once swells and torments it? What envyings, and strife, and factions among those, who ought to join as brethren, and to know but one interest! 1 Corinthians 3:3. What a desire, in many instances, to increase the burdens of each other, instead of bearing them with friendly sympathy!

May Christians be cured of this dishonourable and fatal attachment to distinguished parties, and human names! May ministers feel more of that generous and noble spirit, which this great Apostle expresses, 1 Corinthians 3:4.—His reasoning has the same force still. Ministers are still intended to be only the instruments of producing and establishing faith in their hearers, and still depend as intirely as ever upon the blessing of God, to give the increase to their labours, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7. To that may they daily look; sensible that they are nothing without it; and that with it their part is so small, that they hardly deserve to be mentioned. May their hands and hearts be more united; and, retaining a due sense of the honour which God does them, in employing them in his vineyard, and in his building, (1 Corinthians 3:8-9.) May they faithfully labour, not as for themselves, but for the great Proprietor; till the day come, when he will remember them in full proportion to their fidelity and diligence.

With what delight may the Christian survey this grand inventory, 1Co 3:21-23 and, conscious that he is Christ's, call all things his own! With what pleasure survey the various gifts and graces of ministers, and consider them as given by God for his edification! With what complacency look round on things present, and forward on things to come, in this connection, and call the world his own; and count not only life, but death itself among his treasures! Both, in their different aspects, are made subservient to the happy purpose of glorifying God; and surely when by death we may do it more effectually, death should be more welcome than life. And welcome must it indeed be to every believer, as the appointed means of transmitting him to the sight and enjoyment of God, and the possession of better blessings than Paul or Apollos could ever describe, or any thing present, or any thing to come, in this world, could ever afford.

How should these sublime views elevate the Christian above those occasions of contention, which, for want of ascending to such noble contemplations, are often the source of innumerable evils! Nor let us fail to add that other consideration, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. If we are the temples of the Holy Ghost; if Christians indeed, we are inhabited by God,—even by his Spirit. Let this engage us to take the strictest care, neither to defile ourselves, nor to injure our brethren; lest, in either view, it should be resented and punished by the Holy GOD, as a sacrilegious profanation.

What cause have we to over-value the wisdom of this world, when we find it so little regarded by the all-wise GOD? (1 Corinthians 3:19.) Let us not be greatly concerned, if fools account our wisdom folly, and our life madness. So censured they the prophets and Apostles before us; nor did our Master himself escape the like calumny and outrage. Happy, sufficiently happy shall we be, if we approve our fidelity to Him,—if we build a wise superstructure on Christ, (1 Corinthians 3:11.) as the great, the only foundation.

His ministers especially should be solicitous, that they lose not the labour of their lives, by choosing unhappily to employ them in that which will turn to no account in the great day of his appearing. Let such carefully examine their materials: 1 Corinthians 3:10. Surely if they have senses spiritually exercised, it cannot be hard to distinguish between the substantial and undoubted doctrines of Christianity, which are as gold, silver, and precious stones,—and those fictitious, or at best dubious and intricate points, which in comparison with the former, are but wood, hay, and stubble: 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. And if, in urging these, they passionately inveigh against their brethren, and endeavour to bring them into contempt or suspicion, what do they, but cement these combustible materials with sulphur?

O let the frequent views of that last searching fire, that grand period of all, be much in our thoughts; that day, (1 Corinthians 3:13.) when not only the works of ministers, but of every private person, must, as it were, pass through the flames. May we then be saved, not with difficulty, but with praise and honour! May our works, of what kind soever they are, abide, so as to be found worthy of applause, and through divine grace receive a distinguished reward.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Apostle proceeds,

1. To rebuke the carnality, and contentions which reigned among the members of the Corinthian church. I, brethren, (for as such I regard you, notwithstanding the many imperfections which I perceive among you) could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ; for, greatly as many of you are enriched in gifts, (see chap. 1 Corinthians 1:5.) yet in grace your attainments are very low, and your affections too much grovelling still on earth: and therefore as babes I have fed you with milk, with the simplest and plainest truths of the Gospel, and not with meat, the more sublime points of revelation and the deep things of God; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able; you would not have been edified by them, but have abused them, and made them minister to your pride and disputatious humour. For ye are yet carnal, and shew too much of an unrenewed spirit; for whereas, or since there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? Whilst under the power of such evil tempers, wherein do you differ from the world that lieth in wickedness? For while one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal? Does not such a spirit of party prove the deep, unmortified remainders of carnality in your hearts? Assuredly. Note; (1.) Ministers must be faithful to the souls of the people, and never flatter. (2.) There may be great attainments in knowledge, and yet little grace in the heart; and this wisdom puffeth up. (3.) Among real Christians, there are great differences to be observed; some are weak as babes; others, strong as men grown to maturity. Our wisdom, as ministers, is therefore to give to every man his portion in due season. (4.) Nothing is more contrary to the spirit of Christianity than angry disputes, and schismatical divisions.

2. The Apostle ascribes to the rich grace of God all the success which the Gospel had met with among them. It became effectual, not through human instruments, but by divine energy. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? The men were mere instruments; it was the Lord alone who made their ministry effectual. I have planted, by first preaching the Gospel to you; Apollos watered, succeeding me in labouring among you: but God gave the increase, without whose operation and mighty influence, however great the natural abilities of either may have been, I must have planted and Apollos watered in vain. So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase, to whom the whole glory must be ascribed, exclusive of all the instruments that he may have been pleased to employ. And therefore they are not to be set up either as the authors of the Gospel, or the causes of its efficacy. Note; Ministers should ever be careful to ascribe to God the glory of all the success they meet with; we are nothing; he is all in all.

2nd, All faithful ministers are engaged in the same blessed cause, and have but one end in view, to glorify Christ and save immortal souls; and they shall not lose their reward. Now he that planteth, by first preaching the Gospel word, and he that watereth the seed sown by coming after him, are one in affection and intention: and therefore those who are converted under their preaching should be united also, nor think of setting up one against another: and every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour; when the great Master comes, he will give to every man according as his work is; to secure his approbation must therefore be our great design, and not the empty honour which cometh from man only, which some of you affect. For we are labourers together with God, united in the same service, and honoured abundantly by the very work committed to us: while ye are God's husbandry, your hearts the field wherein he sows the seed of spiritual life; ye are God's building, the spiritual temple which he erects, and where he is well pleased to take up his abode; for ye are the habitation of God through the Spirit. Of this building we may observe,

1. The foundation is Jesus Christ. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, who hath appointed me to the office, and qualified me for the service, as a wise master-builder I have laid the foundation of your faith and hope in a crucified Jesus; and another buildeth thereon, succeeding ministers have carried on the blessed work begun in your hearts: but, it is a needful and important caution, let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ, the rock of ages, the only hope of the miserable, and out of whom there is no salvation.

2. The superstructure must correspond with the foundation. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, inculcating the holy doctrines of the Gospel, and exhorting men to a heavenly conversation which may adorn them, such labourer's work will bear the severest scrutiny, and shine gloriously; but if they build wood, hay, stubble, urging their own conceits and fancies, and zealous about things insignificant and unessential, while the weightier matters are neglected, every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day of judgment shall shortly declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and, as the refiner tries the metal in the furnace, the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is; the exact scrutiny of that day shall prove whether men's opinions and practices corresponded with the Scripture standard or not; and the consequence of the trial will be awful. (1.) If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, and it appears before the great Judge that he has followed his plan, and corresponded with his designs, in building up men's souls in the doctrines of grace and holiness, he shall receive a reward, eminent and distinguished, according to his labours and fidelity. (2.) If any man's work shall be burnt, and his opinions and practices be found unscriptural and erroneous, however highly he may have valued himself upon his abilities, he shall suffer loss, and see his fine-spun conceits all destroyed: but, if he has himself been founded upon Christ, and, though weak or mistaken, yet was not allowedly wicked or licentious, he himself shall be saved from the wrath to come, yet so as by fire, with such difficulty as a man escapes naked from his house when in flames. Note; (1.) Before the great trying day comes, we should be often examining ourselves by that word of God whereby we must at last be justified or condemned. (2.) We must not be liberal of rash censures concerning the eternal states of men; but, while we condemn their opinions, must leave their hearts to the great Judge.

3rdly, The Apostle,

1. Presses the argument of holiness upon them from the consideration suggested, 1 Corinthians 3:9. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, designed in a more peculiar manner for his abode than that house which Solomon built; and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you, in his gracious presence and mighty operations? If any man defile the temple of God, and seek, by broaching his corrupt opinions, to subvert the foundation, or by evil practices to seduce and draw men away from the truth of the Gospel, him shall God destroy with more fearful judgment than was threatened against the defilers of the material temple: for the temple of God is holy, set apart for himself; which temple ye are, and therefore are bound to be holy in all manner of conversation.

2. He warns them against the danger of vain conceit in their gifts and attainments. Let no man deceive himself with high imaginations of his own superior excellence, and in consequence propagate as truth his own erroneous opinions. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, and values himself upon his attainments in philosophy and human literature, let him become a fool, that he may be wise, renouncing it all so far as it would beget perverse reasonings against the humbling truths of revelation, and content simply to embrace the doctrine of the cross, which the wise world counts foolishness; for thus only can any man become wise unto salvation: for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, all their systems of theology, and their learned disquisitions on religion, are mere folly compared with his glorious scheme of salvation through a dying Redeemer: for it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, their fine-spun reasonings are the nets wherein they entangle and ruin themselves: and again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are but vain; all their projects and designs, however deeply concealed, are open to his eye; and compared with his thoughts, weakness, folly, and vanity, and stamped upon them. Note; (1.) No man can become truly wise, till, sensible of his spiritual ignorance, like a little child he comes to God's word to learn the first elements of truth. (2.) How amazingly foolish will all the wisdom of this world shortly appear, when those who trusted on the powers of their fallen reason to lead them to happiness, will find it to have been like the deceitful meteor, a light only to delude them into eternal darkness.

3. He warns them against exalting men, even the best and wisest, or following any minister implicitly, when their faith ought to stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Therefore let no man glory in men, as being this or that man's disciples, despising others and undervaluing their ministry: for all things are yours, appointed for your blessing and advantage; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas; their gifts are bestowed on them for the edification of the body of Christ; or the world; the administration of it is in the hands of Jesus, and he will give his people such a portion of it as shall be most for their good; or life; he will preserve his faithful people so long, and in such circumstances, as shall be most for his glory and their eternal happiness; or death; he will disarm it of its sting, and, in whatever manner it may come upon the righteous, will cause it to prove their greater gain; or things present; the saints shall be watched over through their pilgrimage by his gracious providence; or things to come; an eternity of glory is before his saints; all are yours, every thing is made a blessing to holy souls, and all things work together for their good: and ye are Christ's, the objects of his love, the purchase of his blood, the members of his body; and Christ is God's, the appointed Mediator, the great Covenant-head, who has all things in his hands, and ever lives to perfect the salvation of his faithful saints, and to bring them to reign with him in Heaven, to the eternal praise of the glory of the grace of God.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1801-1803.
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