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Bible Commentaries

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians
1 Corinthians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Transition from the defense of his mode of preaching to the subject of their divisions, 1 Corinthians 3:1-5. The true relation of ministers to the church as servants, and not party leaders, vv. 7-23.

Reproof of the Corinthians for Their Dissensions about Their Religious Teachers — 1 Corinthians

The apostle resumes the subject of the contentions in the church of Corinth. He passes to that subject from the defense of his mode of preaching by a natural association. One of the objections against him was, that his preaching was too simple. He answers, he could not make it otherwise, because they were there babes in Christ. The proof of their being in this infantile or carnal state was that strifes and divisions existed among them; one saying, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, 1 Corinthians 3:1-4.

As their dissentions had reference to their religious teachers, the apostle endeavors to correct the evil by presenting the ministerial office in its true light:

1. Ministers were not heads of schools or rival sects as were the Grecian philosophers, but there servants, without any authority or power of their own. One may plant, and another water, but the whole increase is of God, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.

2. Ministers are one. They have one master and one work. They may have different departments in that great work, but they are like fellow-laborers on the same farm, or fellow-builders on the same temple, 1 Corinthians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 3:9.

3. In the discharge of their respective duties they incur a great responsibility. If they attempt to build up the temple of God with the rubbish of their own wisdom, they will be severely punished. If they employ the materials which God has furnished, they will be rewarded, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

4. is because the church is the temple of God, that ministers will be held to this strict account for the doctrines which they preach, and for the way in which they execute their office, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 3:17.

5. No minister need deceive himself in this matter. He cannot preach a higher wisdom than the wisdom of God; and to learn that wisdom he must renounce his own, 1 Corinthians 3:18-20.

6. Therefore the people should not place their confidence in ministers, who belong to the church, and not the church to them. To the interests and consummation of the church, all things, visible and invisible, are made subservient, 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, ‹4› (even) as unto babes in Christ.

There were two classes of opponents of the apostle in Corinth. The false teachers, some of whom he denounces as anti-Christian, and others he speaks of as only errorists; and secondly, those members of the church whom these false teachers had seduced. As against the false teachers and the unconverted Jews and Greeks he upheld the simple gospel as higher man the wisdom of the world. His only answer to their objection that he did not preach with "the wisdom of words," was that the wisdom of the world was foolishness with God. To the objection, as urged by believers, that his preaching was too elementary, he answered, it was adapted to their state. He could only speak to them as to children.

They were babes in Christ, that is, children in Christian knowledge and experience. This idea he expresses by saying they were not spiritual but carnal. Now as all Christians are spiritual, in the sense in which that term is used in the preceding chapter, to say that men are not spiritual in that sense, would be to say they are not Christians. Here, however, the apostle tells those whom he admits to be Christians, and whom he calls brethren, that they are not spiritual. He must use the word therefore in a modified sense. This is a very common usage. When we predicate spirituality of a Christian as compared to other Christians, we mean that he is eminently spiritual. But when the distinction is between Christians and the world, then every Christian is said to be spiritual. In like manner we speak of some Christians as worldly or carnal, without intending to deny that they are Christians. It is obvious that the apostle uses the terms here in the same manner. He is not speaking of Christians as distinguished from the world, but of one class of Christians as distinguished from another.


Verse 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.

As they were children, he had treated them accordingly. He had fed them with milk; literally, ‘I gave you milk to drink and not meat.' A concise form of expression. What is the distinction which the apostle here makes between milk and meat? It is evidently not the distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ, and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians. Neither does he sanction any thing of the nature of the Disciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing beginners from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the doctrine of reserve, as it is called, which the Romish church has so extensively practiced and taught, inculcating a blind faith, and keeping the people in ignorance. Neither is the distinction that which also extensively prevailed in the early church after the age of the apostles, between truth as the object of faith and truth as the object of knowledge. This is a distinction true in itself, but as men understood, it meant nothing less than the difference between the doctrines of the Bible and the speculations of men. Philosophers of our own, and of every other age, have been willing to allow the people the truth as presented in the Scriptures, provided they themselves were allowed to explain them away into philosophical formulas. The true nature of the distinction is to be learnt partly from the import of the figure, and partly from parallel passages. The import of the figure leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather in the mode of instruction, than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk, in another form strong meat. "Christ," says Calvin, "is milk for babes, and strong meat for men." Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians, is taught to children. We teach a child that God is a Spirit, every where present and knowing all things; and he understands it. We tell him that Christ is God and man in two distinct natures and one person for ever. This to the child is milk, but it contains food for angels. The truth expressed in these propositions may be expanded indefinitely, and furnish nourishment for the highest intellects to eternity. The difference between milk and strong meat, according to this view, is simply the difference between the more or less perfect development of the things taught. This view is confirmed by those passages in which the same distinction is made. Thus in Hebrews 5:11-14, the apostle speaks of his readers as having need of milk and not of strong meat. The reference is there to the distinction between the simple doctrine of the priesthood of Christ and the full development of that doctrine. The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorized to keep back from the people. Every thing which God has revealed is to be taught to every one just so fast and so far as he has the capacity to receive it.


Verse 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?

Their unfitness to receive any other nourishment than that adapted to children, is proved by their being carnal; and their being carnal is proved by the divisions existing among them. Ye are yet carnal, i.e. under the influence of the flesh, or corrupt nature. They were imperfectly sanctified. Even Paul said of himself, ‘I am carnal.' This term therefore may be applied even to the most advanced Christians. Its definite meaning depends on the context.

The existence among them of the evils mentioned was proof of their low religious state. Of these evils the first was envying ( זח ͂ כןע). The word means zeal, fervid feeling. Whether good or bad, and of what particular kind depends on the connection. Here party spirit would seem to be the special evil intended. This gives rise to strife ( ו ̓́ סיע), and that again to divisions ( היקןףפבףי ́ ב), literally, standing apart; here not sects, but parties. If these things are among you, asks the apostle, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? ‘To walk as men' is to be guided by principles which belong to men, as distinguished from the Spirit of God. The doctrine that human nature is corrupt, and that all holiness in man is due to the influence of the Spirit, is taken for granted every where in the Bible. Therefore "the world" means the wicked or the unrenewed; to be worldly, or to act after the manner of men, is to act wickedly.

The description here given of the state of the church of Corinth is not inconsistent with the commendations bestowed upon it in the beginning of the first chapter. Viewed in comparison with the heathen around them, or even with other churches, the Corinthians deserved the praise there given them. But judged by the standard of the gospel, or of their privileges, they deserved the censures which the apostle so faithfully administers. Besides, in addressing the same church, the apostle has sometimes one class of its members in view, and sometimes another. He therefore sometimes speaks as if they were all Jews, at other times as though they were all Gentiles; sometimes as though they were weak and narrow-minded, and sometimes as if they were latitudinarian — one time he addresses them as if they were in a high state of piety, and at another, as if they were in a very low state. His language is to be limited in its application to those for whom the context in any case may show it was intended.


Verse 4

For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I (am) of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

This confirms the fact that there were such divisions among them as proved them to be governed by unholy feelings, and also explains the nature of those divisions. There were in Corinth, as appears from 1 Corinthians 1:12, more parties than two; but the apostle confines himself to those here mentioned, because throughout the whole discussion he has had reference to the opposition of the Grecian element in the church, and because from the intimate relation between himself and Apollos, he could speak of him as freely as he did of himself. As the party spirit which disturbed the peace of the Corinthian church arose from wrong views of the relation of ministers to the church, the apostle endeavors to correct the evil by presenting that relation in its true light.


Verse 5

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

This passage may read, ‘Who then is Paul, and who is Appollos? ministers by whom ye believed,' etc. Ministers are mere instruments in the hands of God. The doctrines which they preach are not their own discoveries, and the power which renders their preaching successful is not in them. They are nothing, and therefore it is an entire perversion of their relation to the church to make them the heads of parties. In the oldest MSS, the name of Apollos stands first; and some of them have פי ́ instead of פי ́ ע. ‘What then is Apollos, and what is Paul.' Both these emendations are adopted by the later editors.

Paul and Apollos, men of the highest office and of the highest gifts, are ministers ( היב ́ ךןםןי) waiters, attendants, servants; so called not from their relation to God merely, as those who serve him, but also because of their relation to the church, whose they are, to whom they belong, and whom they serve.

By whom, i.e. by whose instrumentality, ye are believers, or, became believers. The design of the ministry is to bring men to "the obedience of faith," Romans 1:5. It is appointed for that end by God himself, and therefore it is of the greatest importance and value. This Paul does not deny. He admits, and often urges the necessity of the office for the extension and edification of the church, Ephesians 4:11-16. The people, therefore, are bound to regard the ministry as a divine institution, and to value its services; but preachers are not to be regarded as party leaders, or as lords over God's heritage.

Even as the Lord gave to every man; literally, to each one, i.e. to each minister. They are all servants, and each has his appointed work to perform, Romans 12:3. The Lord here probably refers to God, though elsewhere the appointment of ministers and the distribution of their various gifts are referred to Christ. Here, however, 1 Corinthians 3:9, 46 3:10, the reference is to God. In scripture the same act is sometimes referred to one, and sometimes to another of the persons in the Trinity, because they are one God.


Verse 6

I have planted, Apollos watered: but God gave the increase.

This illustrates two points; first, the diversity of service on the part of ministers, spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3:5, one plants and another waters; and secondly, the entirely subordinate and instrumental character of their service. As in nature, planting and watering are not the efficient causes of vegetation; so in the church, ministerial acts are not the efficient causes of grace. In both cases all the efficiency is of God. And as in nature, planting and watering by human instrumentality, are not the necessary conditions of vegetation, so neither are ministerial acts the necessary conditions of faith. On the other hand, however, as the work of the husbandman is the ordinary and appointed means of securing a harvest, so the work of the ministry is the ordinary means of conversion.


Verse 7

So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth: but God that giveth the increase.

This is the conclusion. Ministers are nothing. They are the instruments in the hands of God. He only is to be looked up to as the source of truth, of strength, or of success. To him is to be referred all the good ministers may be the instruments of effecting. If this be so, if ministers are thus inefficient, why should any one say, I am of Paul? as though Paul would save him; or, as though a mere instrument could forgive sin or impart grace.


Verse 8

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.

Are one. Ministers have the same office; they have the same work, they stand in the same relation to God and to his Church. They are fellow-laborers. To array the one against the other, is, therefore, inconsistent with their relation to each other and to the people whom they serve.

Every man shall receive his own reward. Diversity and unity is the law of all God's works. Ministers are one, yet they have different gifts, different services to perform. One plants and another waters, and they have different rewards.

According to his own labor. The rule of reward is not the talents or gifts, nor the success of ministers, but their labors. This brings the humblest on a level with the most exalted; the least successful with the most highly favored. The faithful, laborious minister or missionary who labors in obscurity and without apparent fruit, will meet a reward far beyond that of those who, with less self-denial and effort, are made the instruments of great results. Corinth was the field of labor of a multitude of teachers, some faithful, and some unfaithful; some laborious, and others indolent and self-indulgent. Each would have to answer for himself, and would receive a reward proportioned to his fidelity and self-denial.


Verse 9

For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, (ye are) God's building.

For we are laborers together with God. This is at once the reason why ministers are one, and why they are to be rewarded according to their labors. They are one because they are all co-workers with God in the same great enterprise; and they are to be rewarded according to their labor, because that is the rule according to which laborers are rewarded. The propriety of this representation is apparent, because the church is God's husbandry, or farm, which he renders fruitful by the light of truth and the dew of his grace, and on which his servants labor. This is a familiar scriptural illustration, as the church is often called the vineyard of the Lord, in which his ministers are laborers. A laborer who does not labor is a contradiction; and a minister who is not a worker cannot expect a laborer's reward. Ye are God's building. A still more frequent figure; as the church is so often compared to a temple which is in the course of erection, and of which ministers are the builders, Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5. Union and fidelity in labor are required of those engaged in tilling the same farm, or in the erection of the same building; and they are no less required in those engaged in cultivating the vineyard of the Lord, or in erecting his temple. The apostle drops the former, and carries out the latter figure.


Verse 10

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

According to the grace of God given unto me. Paul often speaks of his apostolic office as a grace or favor which he had received of God, but here, as in 1 Corinthians 15:10, the reference is more general. By the grace of God he means all the gifts and influences of the Spirit, which not only qualified him for his work, but rendered him so laborious and faithful. Here, as elsewhere, he attributes to God all he was, and all that he was enabled to accomplish.

As a wise master-builder. Wise ( ףןצן ́ ע), i.e. skillful. The word is familiarly used of artificers. Paul was not only a laborer, but an ( ב ̓ סמיפו ́ ךפשם) architect. To him was revealed the whole plan of the building, and he was inspired to develop that plan, and to prescribe the way in which it should be carried out. He laid the foundation. The same idea as was expressed above by saying, "I have planted, Apollos watered." He began the work in Corinth. Those who came after him were to carry on the edifice which he had commenced. The building must be erected upon the foundation and according to it. And, therefore, he adds, Let every man (i.e. every builder) take heed how he buildeth thereupon. In the whole context he is speaking of ministers, and therefore this clause must be considered as a warning addressed to them. They are to take heed how, i.e. with what materials, they carried on the building of this holy temple. Fidelity as well as diligence is required in a minister. No matter how laborious he may be, unless he employs the proper materials, he will lose his reward. Nothing but truth can be safely used in the development of Christian character, or in building up the Church. To mix the wisdom of men with the wisdom of God in this work, is, as the apostle afterwards says, like using alternate layers of straw and marble in the erection of a temple. Let no man deceive himself in this matter. He will prove himself a fool, if he attempts to substitute philosophy for the gospel in the work of saving men.


Verse 11

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

For, others can only carry on the work already begun, for the foundation cannot be changed. The foundation of the church is Christ. Isaiah 28:16. Acts 4:11. Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6. This may be understood either of the person or of the doctrine of Christ. In either way the sense is good. Christ, as the incarnate Son of God, according to one scriptural figure, is the head of the church which is his body, that is, he is the source of its life; according to another figure, he is its foundation or corner stone, because on him all the members of the church, considered as a temple, rest for salvation. On the other hand, however, it is also true that the doctrine concerning Christ, is the fundamental doctrine of the gospel. We may, therefore, understand the apostle to say, that the work of the ministry is to build up the church on the foundation which God has laid in the person and work of Christ. There can be no other ground of confidence for the justification, sanctification and salvation of men. Or we may understand him to say, that the work of those who followed him in Corinth was simply to build on the foundation which he had laid, in preaching the doctrine of Christ and him crucified, for there can be no other foundation of the church than that doctrine. The former interpretation, which is adopted by many distinguished commentators, is more in accordance with the common representations of Scripture which speak of God having constituted Christ the corner-stone of the church. It is also perhaps more in accordance with the form of expression here used. Jesus Christ himself is the foundation, which was already laid. The second interpretation, however, is certainly more consistent with the context. In 1 Corinthians 3:10 Paul says, he had laid the foundation. This can only mean that he had in Corinth taught the doctrine concerning the person and work of Christ. This is the only sense in which he can be said to have laid that foundation which is Jesus Christ. Besides, the whole passage has reference to doctrine. Paul had preached the truth; those who came after him must take heed what they preached.


Verse 12

Now, if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 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.

In consistency with the context, gold, silver and precious stones, can only mean truth; and wood, hay and stubble, error. If by the foundation which Paul had laid were intended the first converts in Corinth, then the above terms would naturally be understood of good and bad members of the church. The sense would then be, ‘I laid the foundation of the church in Corinth by receiving true believers to its communion; let others take heed with what kind of members they build up the church.' But as the foundation which Paul laid is expressly declared to be Jesus Christ, or the truth concerning his person and work, the words above mentioned must refer to true and false doctrines. ‘I have laid the foundation of Christ crucified; do you take heed with what kind of doctrine you carry on the work.' Besides, the whole discussion has reference to preachers and their duties. Precious stones here mean stones valuable for building, such as granite and marble. Gold and silver were extensively employed in adorning ancient temples, and are therefore appropriately used as the symbols of pure doctrine. Wood, hay, and stubble are the perishable materials out of which ordinary houses were built, but not temples. Wood for the doors and posts; hay, ( קן ́ ספןע) dried grass mixed with mud for the walls; and straw, ( ךבכב ́ לח) for the roof. These materials, unsuitable for the temple of God, are appropriate symbols of false doctrines.

Every man's work shall be made (or, become) manifest. In this life it may be disputed whether a man's doctrines are true or false. He may have great confidence in their truth, and set himself above his brethren and even above the Bible. But his work hereafter will appear in its true character. For the day shall declare it. The day does not mean indefinitely time, ‘Time shall declare it;' nor the day of tribulation; nor the day of light and knowledge as distinguished from the present ignorance; but the great day, the day of judgment, or, as it is so often called, the day of the Lord. That day shall make manifest the truth or falsehood of the doctrines taught, because it is (i.e. is certainly to be) revealed by fire; literally, in or with fire ( ו ̓ ם נץסי ́). In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, it is said, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire," i.e. in the midst of flaming fire. Fire is the constant symbol of trial and judgment. The meaning therefore is, that the day of the Lord will be a day of severe trial. Every work will then be subjected to a test which nothing impure can stand. The context shows that the word day, and not work, is the nominative to revealed. ‘The day of judgment shall declare every man's work, because that day shall be revealed with fire.'

And the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. The figure is that of a building on which many workmen are engaged. Some use proper materials, others wood, hay and stubble. The building is to be subjected to the test of fire. The wood, hay and stubble will be burnt up; only the solid materials will stand. False doctrine can no more stand the test of the day of judgment, than hay or stubble can stand a raging conflagration.


Verse 13

Now, if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 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.

In consistency with the context, gold, silver and precious stones, can only mean truth; and wood, hay and stubble, error. If by the foundation which Paul had laid were intended the first converts in Corinth, then the above terms would naturally be understood of good and bad members of the church. The sense would then be, ‘I laid the foundation of the church in Corinth by receiving true believers to its communion; let others take heed with what kind of members they build up the church.' But as the foundation which Paul laid is expressly declared to be Jesus Christ, or the truth concerning his person and work, the words above mentioned must refer to true and false doctrines. ‘I have laid the foundation of Christ crucified; do you take heed with what kind of doctrine you carry on the work.' Besides, the whole discussion has reference to preachers and their duties. Precious stones here mean stones valuable for building, such as granite and marble. Gold and silver were extensively employed in adorning ancient temples, and are therefore appropriately used as the symbols of pure doctrine. Wood, hay, and stubble are the perishable materials out of which ordinary houses were built, but not temples. Wood for the doors and posts; hay, ( קן ́ ספןע) dried grass mixed with mud for the walls; and straw, ( ךבכב ́ לח) for the roof. These materials, unsuitable for the temple of God, are appropriate symbols of false doctrines.

Every man's work shall be made (or, become) manifest. In this life it may be disputed whether a man's doctrines are true or false. He may have great confidence in their truth, and set himself above his brethren and even above the Bible. But his work hereafter will appear in its true character. For the day shall declare it. The day does not mean indefinitely time, ‘Time shall declare it;' nor the day of tribulation; nor the day of light and knowledge as distinguished from the present ignorance; but the great day, the day of judgment, or, as it is so often called, the day of the Lord. That day shall make manifest the truth or falsehood of the doctrines taught, because it is (i.e. is certainly to be) revealed by fire; literally, in or with fire ( ו ̓ ם נץסי ́). In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, it is said, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire," i.e. in the midst of flaming fire. Fire is the constant symbol of trial and judgment. The meaning therefore is, that the day of the Lord will be a day of severe trial. Every work will then be subjected to a test which nothing impure can stand. The context shows that the word day, and not work, is the nominative to revealed. ‘The day of judgment shall declare every man's work, because that day shall be revealed with fire.'

And the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. The figure is that of a building on which many workmen are engaged. Some use proper materials, others wood, hay and stubble. The building is to be subjected to the test of fire. The wood, hay and stubble will be burnt up; only the solid materials will stand. False doctrine can no more stand the test of the day of judgment, than hay or stubble can stand a raging conflagration.


Verse 14-15

If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

This is an amplification of what precedes. If the materials employed by a spiritual builder stand the test of the day of judgment, he shall receive the reward of a faithful servant. Which he hath built thereupon, i.e. upon the foundation. Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:12. If any man's work shall be burned ( ךבפבךבח ́ ףופבי for ךבפבךבץטח ́ ףופבי); that is, if the materials used by any builder shall not stand the test of that day, he shall suffer loss ( זחלישטח ́ ףופבי see 2 Corinthians 7:9; Philippians 3:8). That is, he will lose his reward.

But he himself shall be saved. Just as a man who has built his house of combustible materials, though he may escape when the fire comes, his property is lost, and all his labor comes to nothing. The apostle is here speaking of those teachers who, although they retain the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, yet combine them with error. This is plain from 1 Corinthians 3:12, "If any man shall build on this foundation." It is not enough, therefore, that a minister hold fast to fundamental truth; he must take heed what he teaches in connection with that truth. If he mingles with it the wood, hay and stubble of his own philosophy, he will find himself a loser on the day of judgment. Many of the Fathers understand ףשטח ́ ףופבי here in the sense of shall be preserved. His work shall be consumed, but he himself shall be kept alive in the midst of the fire. It is not then the salvation, but the final perdition of the false teacher that the passage teaches. This, however, is contrary to the uniform meaning of the word in the New Testament. The common interpretation is therefore to be preferred.

Yet so as by fire, i.e. with difficulty. Comp. 1 Peter 3:20; Jude 1:23; Zechariah 3:2. He will just escape with his life, as a man is rescued from a burning building. His salvation will not only be effected with difficulty, but it will be attended with great loss. He will occupy a lower place in the kingdom of heaven than he would have done. Romanists found their doctrine of purgatory on tradition rather than on Scripture. They are glad, however, to avail themselves of any semblance of scriptural support, and therefore appeal to this passage to prove that men are saved through fire. But,

1. Paul is here speaking of ministers and of their doctrines, and not of believers in general.

2. The fire of which he speaks is not a state of trial preceding the judgment, but the judgment itself.

3. The fire is that in the midst of which Jesus Christ is to appear.

4. Paul does not say, the man is to be saved by being purified by fire, but simply ‘with difficulty,' as the expression "so as by fire" familiarly means.


Verse 16

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and (that) the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

The apostle justifies the representation given above of the responsibility of ministers. The unfaithful builders deserve to be thus punished, because they are engaged in the erection of no ordinary building. They are not raising up a house for themselves, to be constructed of what materials and on whatever plan may suit their taste. They are building the temple of God. This truth the Corinthians seem to have forgotten, for they regarded their teachers as men allowed to preach their own speculations, and valued them according to their proficiency in "the wisdom of words." He, therefore, asks them, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" See 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21. A temple is a house in which God dwells; and therefore, it is added, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. This indwelling of the Spirit constitutes each believer, every separate church, and the Church collectively the temple of God. As in the Jewish temple, in its inmost recess, the Shechinah, or glory of God, was constantly present, and conferred on the building its awe-inspiring power, and rendered any profanation of it a direct offense to God; so does the Holy Spirit dwell in the Church, the profanation of which by false doctrine is therefore sacrilege.


Verse 17

If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which (temple) ye are.

The word translated defile in the first clause of this verse, is the same as that rendered destroy in the second clause. It ( צטוי ́ סש) has the general meaning to bring into a worse state. In the lxx, as well as in the New Testament it means to mar. The passage may, therefore, be rendered, ‘If any man injure the temple of God, him will God injure.' The temple cannot be injured with impunity. Under the old dispensation the penalty for defiling the sanctuary was either death, Leviticus 15:31, or excision from the people, Numbers 19:20. God is not less jealous of his spiritual temple, than he was of the typical temple, built of wood and stone by the hands of men. Ministers injure the souls of men and injure the church when they preach false doctrine, and therefore they defile the temple of God, and will certainly be punished.

For the temple of God is holy, i.e. sacred; something which cannot be violated with impunity. In this sense every thing consecrated to God is holy, and especially any place or person in which he dwells. Which (temple) ye are. As the word for temple is not in the text (which reads ןי ̔́ פיםו ́ ע ו ̓ ףפו ץ ̔ לוי ͂ ע) the reference may be to the word holy. ‘The temple is holy, which ye also are.' The same reason exists why the church cannot be defiled or injured, that there is that the temple could not be profaned. Both are sacred. The view given in our version is commonly preferred.


Verse 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.

Let no man deceive himself. ‘Let no man doubt the truth of what I have said of the worthlessness of human wisdom, and of the danger of substituting it for the wisdom of God. If he does, he will find himself mistaken.'

If any man among you seemeth to be wise, ( הןךוי ͂ ףןצן ̀ ע וי ̓͂ םבי), thinks himself to be wise. In this world may be connected with the word wise, ‘wise with the wisdom of this world.' Or, it may be connected with the whole preceding clause. ‘If any imagines he is wise among you, in this world.' The former explanation is more in keeping with the whole context. "Wise in this world" is equivalent to "wise after the flesh," 1 Corinthians 1:26.

Let him become a fool, that he may be (or, become) wise. Let him renounce his own wisdom in order that he may receive the wisdom of God. We must be empty in order to be filled. We must renounce our own righteousness, in order to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We must renounce our own strength, in order to be made strong. We must renounce our own wisdom, in order to be truly wise. This is a universal law. And it is perfectly reasonable. We are only required to recognize that to be true, which is true. We would not be required to renounce our own righteousness, strength, or wisdom, if they were really what they assume to be. It is simply because they are in fact worthless, that we are called upon so to regard them.


Verse 19

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

We must renounce our own wisdom because it is folly. The infinite mind sees that to be folly which we children think to be wisdom. There are two senses in which this is true, or in which wisdom may be said to be folly. Even truth or true knowledge becomes folly, if employed to accomplish an end for which it is not adapted. If a man attempts to make men holy or happy; if he undertakes to convert the world, by mathematics, or metaphysics, or moral philosophy, he is foolish, and his wisdom, as a means to that end is folly. He must renounce all dependence on those means if he would accomplish that end. But in the second place, much that passes for wisdom among men is in itself, and not merely as a means to an end, foolishness. Both these ideas are evidently comprehended in the apostle's statement. He means to say that human knowledge is entirely inadequate to save men; because that end can only be accomplished by the gospel. And he means also to brand as folly the speculations of men about "the deep things of God."

In proof of the assertion that the wisdom of men is foolishness with God, he quotes two passages of Scripture. The first is from Job 5:13 the second is from Psalms 94:11. The former is a fragment of a sentence containing in the Greek no verb. Our translation renders the participle ( ן ̔ הסבףףן ́ לוםןע) as though it were a verb. Those passages clearly express the same sentiment which the apostle had uttered. They declare the impotency and insufficiency of human wisdom.


Verse 20

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

We must renounce our own wisdom because it is folly. The infinite mind sees that to be folly which we children think to be wisdom. There are two senses in which this is true, or in which wisdom may be said to be folly. Even truth or true knowledge becomes folly, if employed to accomplish an end for which it is not adapted. If a man attempts to make men holy or happy; if he undertakes to convert the world, by mathematics, or metaphysics, or moral philosophy, he is foolish, and his wisdom, as a means to that end is folly. He must renounce all dependence on those means if he would accomplish that end. But in the second place, much that passes for wisdom among men is in itself, and not merely as a means to an end, foolishness. Both these ideas are evidently comprehended in the apostle's statement. He means to say that human knowledge is entirely inadequate to save men; because that end can only be accomplished by the gospel. And he means also to brand as folly the speculations of men about "the deep things of God."

In proof of the assertion that the wisdom of men is foolishness with God, he quotes two passages of Scripture. The first is from Job 5:13 the second is from Psalms 94:11. The former is a fragment of a sentence containing in the Greek no verb. Our translation renders the participle ( ן ̔ הסבףףן ́ לוםןע) as though it were a verb. Those passages clearly express the same sentiment which the apostle had uttered. They declare the impotency and insufficiency of human wisdom.


Verse 21

Therefore let no one glory in men: for all things are yours.

To glory in any person or thing is to trust in him or it as the ground of confidence, or as the source of honor or blessedness. It is to regard ourselves as blessed because of our relation to it. Thus men are said to glory in the Lord, or in the cross; because God, or Christ as crucified, is regarded as the ground of confidence and the source of blessedness. Others are said to glory in the flesh, in the law, or even in themselves. The apostle having shown that ministers are mere servants, nothing in themselves, and that the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, draws from these premises the inference that they are not the ground of the believer's confidence. The Corinthians did glory in men, when they said, I am of Paul, I of Apollos, and I of Cephas. They forgot their own dignity when they regarded as masters those who were their servants.

For all things are yours. The amplification of these words, given in the next verse, shows that they are to be taken in their widest sense. The universe is yours. How unworthy men is it, that you should glory in men. Paul often appeals to the dignity and destiny of the church as a motive to right action. "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?" 1 Corinthians 6:2. There are two senses in which the declaration, "All things are yours," may be understood. It means that all things are designed to promote the interests of the church. The consummation of the work of redemption is the great end to which all things are directed, and to which they are to be made subservient. And secondly, the church is the heir of the world, Romans 4:13. All things are given to Christ as the head of the church and to the church in him. For his people are to reign with him, Romans 8:17 and the glory which the Father gave him, he gives them, John 17:22. The church, which is to be thus exalted, is not any external society with its hierarchy, nor is it the body of poor, imperfect believers as they now are, who for their own good are despised and down-trodden. But it is the consummated church to be formed out of materials now so unpromising. The people of God, however, should not be unmindful of their high destiny, nor act unworthily of it.


Verse 22

Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;

This is the amplification of the preceding verse. In the "all things" there mentioned are included,

1. The ministry, which belongs to the church and is designed for its edification. The church does not belong to the ministry, as a kingdom belongs to a king, but the reverse.

2. The world ( ךן ́ ףלןע) in its widest sense. The present order of things is maintained and directed to the promotion of the great work of redemption.

3. Life and death. This means not merely that the question whether the people of God live or die, is determined with reference to their own good; but also that life and death are dispensed and administered so as best to fulfill the designs of God in reference to the church. The greatest men of the world, kings, statesmen and heroes, ministers, individual believers and unbelievers, live or die just as best subserves the interests of Christ's kingdom.

4. Things present and things to come, i.e. the present and the future. It is no temporary subjection of all things to the church which is intended. The plan of God contemplates the permanent exaltation of the redeemed.


Verse 23

And ye are Christ's: and Christ (is) God's.

As all things are subject to the church and belong to it, the church itself can be subject and belong to none but Christ. In him, therefore, only can it glory.

Christ is God's. As the church is subject only to Christ, so Christ is subject only to God. The Scriptures speak of a threefold subordination of Christ.

1. A subordination as to the mode of subsistence and operation, of the second, to the first person in the Trinity; which is perfectly consistent with their identity of substance, and equality in power and glory.

2. The voluntary subordination of the Son in his humbling himself to be found in fashion as a man, and becoming obedient unto death, and therefore subject to the limitations and infirmities of our nature.

3. The economical or official subjection of the theanthropos. That is, the subordination of the incarnate Son of God, in the work of redemption and as the head of the church. He that is by nature equal with God becomes, as it were, officially subject to him. The passages the most directly parallel with the one before us are 1 Corinthians 11:3, and 1 Corinthians 15:28, but in Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 1:3, and in many other passages, the same truth is taught.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hdg/1-corinthians-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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