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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
1 Corinthians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-3

1 Corinthians 3:1-3. And I, brethren — The apostle having, in the latter part of the preceding chapter, observed that mere natural men, still unenlightened and unrenewed, receive not the things of the Spirit, begins this chapter with informing the Corinthians, that though he was an apostle, fully instructed in the mind of Christ, he could not, during his abode with them, speak to them as to truly spiritual persons: inasmuch as they really were not such, but still in a great measure carnal, even mere babes in Christ; as little acquainted with, and experienced in, the things of God, as babes are with respect to the things of the world. He had spoken before (1 Corinthians 2:1) of his entrance, now he speaks of his progress among them. I have fed you with milk — With the first and plainest truths of the gospel, alluding to milk being the proper food of babes: not with meat — The higher truths of Christianity; such as are more difficult to be understood, received, and practised, and therefore belong to those believers who have made some considerable progress in Christian knowledge and holiness. For ye were not able to bear it — Your state of grace has been, and still is, so low, that it would not properly admit of such a way of teaching. So should every preacher suit his doctrine to the state and character of his hearers. For ye are yet carnal — That is, the greater part of you are so in some degree; for whereas there is among you envying — One another’s gifts in your hearts, or uneasiness of mind that others have greater gifts than yourselves: or the word ζηλος may be rendered, emulation, a kind of rivalry, or a desire of superiority over others; and strife — Outward contentions in words and deeds; and actual divisions — Of one party from another; are ye not carnal — Is not this a clear proof that you are so; and walk as men? — κατα ανθρωπον, according to man; as worldly men walk, who have no higher principle from which to act than that of mere nature, and not according to God, as thorough Christians walk.


Verses 4-7

1 Corinthians 3:4-7. For while one saith, I am of Paul — I am one of Paul’s disciples, admiring his sublime sentiments, and being greatly edified by his instructive discourses: and another, I am of Apollos — I give the preference to Apollos, being delighted with his fine language, and the pleasing manner of his address. St. Paul names himself and Apollos, to show that he would condemn any division among them, even though it were in favour of himself, or the dearest friend he had in the world. Are ye not carnal? — For the Spirit of God allows no party zeal. Who then is Paul — That some of you are so attached to him; and who is Apollos — That others of you are so charmed with him? Are they the authors of your faith and salvation? Surely not: they are but ministers — Or servants; by whom — As instruments; ye believed — The word of the truth of the gospel, as the Lord — Of those servants gave to each of them gifts and grace for the work. I have planted — A Christian Church at Corinth, being instrumental in converting many of you to the faith of Christ: Apollos came afterward, and, by his affecting and useful addresses, watered what I had planted; but God gave the increase — Caused the plantation thus watered to grow, quickened and rendered effectual the means used to produce the fruit of the conversion of souls to God, and their confirmation in the faith and hope of the gospel. So then, the inference to be drawn is, neither is he that planteth any thing — Comparatively speaking; neither he that watereth — When you compare our part with that of God, it appears even as nothing: but God that giveth the increase — Who by his efficacious operation causes fruit to be produced, is all in all: for without him, neither planting nor watering avails.


Verse 8-9

1 Corinthians 3:8-9. He that planteth and he that watereth are one — United in affection, and engaged in one general design, the design of glorifying God in the salvation of souls, though their labours may be in some respect different: and hence, instead of being pleased, we are rather displeased and grieved with those invidious comparisons in favour of one against another. Our great concern is to please our common Lord, to whom we are shortly to give up our account; and from whom every man — He primarily means every minister of Christ; shall receive his own reward — The reward in some respects peculiar to himself; according to his own peculiar labour — For as some labour with greater zeal and diligence, and others with less, so they shall be rewarded with different degrees of felicity and glory. He does not say, according to his success, because he who labours much, supposing he labours with a single eye to the glory of God, from a principle of love to him, and a conscientious regard to his will, shall have a great reward, though it may please God to give him little success. Has not all this reasoning the same force still? Ministers are still barely instruments in God’s hand, and depend as entirely as ever on his blessing, to give the increase to their labours. Without this they are nothing; with it their part is so small, that they hardly deserve to be mentioned. May their hearts and hands be more united; and, retaining a due sense of the honour God doth them in employing them, may they faithfully labour, not as for themselves, but for the great Proprietor of all, till the day come when he will reward them in full proportion to their fidelity and diligence! For we are labourers together, &c. — Greek, θεου γαρ εσμεν συνεργοι, we are fellow- labourers of God; or, we are God’s labourers, and fellow-labourers with each other. Ye are God’s husbandry — Or God’s tillage, God’s cultivated ground: a comprehensive word, taking in a field, a garden, and a vineyard. This is the sum of what went before. Ye are God’s building — This refers to what follows.


Verse 10-11

1 Corinthians 3:10-11. According to the grace of God — This he premises, lest he should seem to ascribe any thing to himself; as a wise master-builder — A skilful architect, directed by divine wisdom; I have laid the foundation — Jesus Christ and him crucified, a foundation sufficient to support the whole fabric of Christianity, with all its blessed effects: and another buildeth thereon — Succeeding teachers bestow further labour for your instruction and edification. But let every man — Every minister; take heed how he buildeth thereon — That all the doctrines which he teaches may be consistent with the foundation. For other foundation — On which the whole church, with all its doctrines, privileges, and duties, may be built; can no man lay — How much soever he may endeavour to do it; than that which is laid — In the counsels of divine wisdom, in the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament, and in the preaching of Christ himself and his apostles, St. Paul in particular; which is Jesus Christ — Who in his person and offices, in his love and sufferings, his humiliation and exaltation, his atoning death, his victorious resurrection, his glorious ascension, and his prevalent intercession, is the firm, immoveable rock of ages; a foundation every way sufficient to bear all the weight that God himself, or the sinner, when he believes, can lay upon him, even to support his immortal hopes. Christ, in his prophetic office, as a teacher come from God, is the foundation of all the doctrines of Christianity, and as made of God unto us wisdom, the source of our knowledge of, and faith in those doctrines: in his priestly office, atoning and interceding for us, he is the foundation of all the privileges of Christianity; and, when made of God unto us righteousness, puts us in possession of those privileges; in his kingly office he is the foundation of all the duties of Christianity, and when made of God unto us sanctification, of our power to perform those duties; for when the tree is good, the fruit is good; when we are created anew in Christ Jesus, good works are the never-failing consequence, Ephesians 2:10. Add to this, that as the firstborn of them that sleep, and our forerunner into glory, he is the foundation of all our hopes; and when made of God unto us complete and eternal redemption, he brings us to the enjoyment of the blessings hoped for.


Verse 12

1 Corinthians 3:12. If any man build upon this foundation — Thus firmly laid; gold, silver, precious stones — The most valuable materials in nature, the most solid, durable, and precious, and which can bear the fire. And here they stand for true, firm, and important doctrines; doctrines necessary to be known, believed, and laid to heart, and which, when so received, fail not to build up the people of God in faith, love, and obedience; rendering them wise unto salvation, holy and useful here, and preparing them for eternal life hereafter. The apostle mentions next, as materials wherewith some might possibly build, and with which indeed many have built in all ages, wood, hay, and stubble; materials flimsy, unsubstantial, worthless, if compared with the former, and which cannot bear the fire. And these are here put, not merely for false doctrines, condemned or unsupported by the word of God, or doctrines of human invention, but all ceremonies, forms, and institutions, which have not God for their author, and are neither connected with, nor calculated to promote, the edification and salvation of mankind: all doctrines that are unimportant, and not suited to the state and character of the hearers; all but the vital, substantial truths of Christianity. To build with such materials as these, if it do not absolutely destroy the foundation, yet disgraces it; as a mean edifice, suppose a hovel, consisting of nothing better than planks of wood, roughly put together, and thatched with hay and stubble, would disgrace a grand and expensive foundation, laid with great pomp and solemnity.


Verse 13

1 Corinthians 3:13. Every man’s work shall be made manifest — God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil, Ecclesiastes 12:14. There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid, that shall not be known. But the apostle’s primary meaning here is, that it shall be made manifest what kind of materials every spiritual builder uses, that is, what kind of doctrines every minister of Christ preaches, whether they are true or false, important or trivial, calculated to produce genuine repentance, faith, and holiness in the hearers, or not; to promote the real conversion of sinners, and edification of believers, or otherwise: and of consequence, what kind of converts every minister makes, whether they be such as can stand the fiery trial or not. For the day shall declare it — Perhaps, 1st, η ημερα δηλωσει, might be rendered, time will declare it; for time, generally a little time, manifests whether a minister’s doctrine be Scriptural and sound, and his converts genuine or not. If his preaching produce no saving effect upon his hearers, if none of them are reformed in their manners, and renewed in their hearts; if none of them are turned from sin to righteousness, and made new creatures in Christ Jesus, there is reason to suspect the doctrine delivered to them is not of the right kind, and therefore is not owned of God. 2d, The expression means, The day of trial shall declare it; (see 1 Peter 4:12;) for a day of trial is wont to follow a day of merciful visitation; a time of suffering to succeed a season of grace. Where the gospel is preached, and a church is erected for Christ, the religion of such as profess to receive the truth is generally, in the course of divine providence, put to the test; and if it be a fabric of wood, hay, and stubble, and not of gold, silver, and precious stones, it will not be able to bear the fiery trial, but will certainly be consumed thereby. The religion (if it can be called religion) of those who are not grounded on, and built up in Christ, (Colossians 2:7,) will evaporate like smoke from wood, hay, and stubble, in the day of trial. But, 3d, and especially the day of final judgment, the great day of the Lord, is here intended, and this day shall declare it; shall declare every man’s work to all the universe: because it shall be revealed by fire — Which shall consume the earth with its increase, and shall melt down the foundations of the mountains; the heavens and the earth, which are now, being kept in store, reserved unto fire, against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, 2 Peter 3:7. And the fire shall try every man’s work — As fire tries metals, and finds out and separates whatever dross is mixed with them; or, as the fire of that great and awful day will penetrate the earth to its centre, and consume whatever is combustible, so shall the strict process of the final judgment try, not only the religion of every private Christian, but the doctrine of every public teacher, and manifest whether it came up to the Scripture standard or not. Although there is here a plain allusion to the general conflagration, yet the expression, when applied to the trying of doctrines, and consuming those that are wrong, and the trying of the characters of professors, is evidently figurative; because no material fire can have such an effect on what is of a moral nature.


Verse 14-15

1 Corinthians 3:14-15. If any maws work abide which he hath built, &c. — If the superstructure which any minister of Christ raises on the true foundation, if the doctrines which he preaches can bear the test by which they shall be tried at that day, as being true, important, and adapted to the state of his hearers; and the converts which he makes by preaching these doctrines, be of the right kind, truly regenerated and holy persons, he shall receive a reward — In proportion to his labours. If any man’s work shall be burned — If the doctrines which any minister preaches cannot bear the test of the great day, as being false or trivial, or not calculated to convert and edify his hearers; or if the converts which he makes by preaching such doctrines be only converts to some particular opinion, or mode of worship, or form of church government, or to a certain sect or party, and not converts to Christ and true Christianity, to the power as well as the form of godliness, to the experience and practice, as well as to the theory of true religion, and therefore cannot stand in that awful judgment, he shall suffer loss — Shall lose his labour and expectation, and the future reward he might have received, if he had built with proper materials; as a man suffers loss who bestows his time and labour on the erection of a fabric of wood, hay, and stubble, which is afterward consumed. But he himself — That preacher himself; shall be saved — Supposing he himself be a true disciple of Christ, built up in faith and holiness on the true foundation; yet so as by fire — As narrowly as a man escapes through the fire, when his house is all in flames about him: or rather, if so be that his own religion, his personal faith and holiness, can bear both the fiery trial which he may be called to pass through on earth, whether of reproach and persecution, or of pain and affliction, or any other trouble, and also the decisive trial of the last day. Let it not be supposed by any that the apostle is here putting a case that never occurs, or can occur: such cases, there is reason to believe, have often occurred, and still do and will occur; in which ministers, who are themselves real partakers of the grace of Christ, and truly pious, yet, through error of judgment, attachment to certain opinions, or a particular party, or under the influence of peculiar prejudices, waste their time, and that of their hearers, in building wood, hay, and stubble, when they should be labouring to raise an edifice of gold, silver, and precious stones; employ themselves in inculcating unessential or unimportant, if not even false doctrines, when they ought to be testifying with sincerity, zeal, and diligence, the genuine gospel of the grace of God. Dr. Macknight, who considers the apostle as speaking in these verses, not of the foundation and superstructure of a system of doctrines, “but of the building or temple of God, consisting of all who profess to believe the gospel,” gives us the following commentary on the passage: “Other foundation of God’s temple, no teacher, if he teaches faithfully, can lay, except what is laid by me, which is Jesus, the Christ, promised in the Scriptures. Now if any teacher build on the foundation, Christ, sincere disciples, represented in this similitude by gold, silver, valuable stones; or if he buildeth hypocrites, represented by wood, hay, stubble, every teacher’s disciples shall be made manifest in their true characters; for the day of persecution, which is coming on them, will make every one’s character plain, because it is of such a nature as to be revealed by the fire of persecution: and so that fire, falling on the temple of God, will try every teacher’s disciples, of what sort they are. If the disciples, which any teacher has introduced into the church, endure persecution for the gospel without apostatizing, such a teacher shall receive the reward promised to them who turn others to righteousness, Daniel 12:3. If the disciples of any teacher shall, in time of persecution, fall away, through the want of proper instruction, he will lose his reward; he himself, however, having in general acted sincerely, shall be saved; yet, with such difficulty, as one is saved who runs through a fire.” But, as by the foundation, which he says he had laid, the apostle undoubtedly meant the doctrine concerning Christ, and salvation through him, it seems more consistent with his design to interpret what refers to the superstructure attempted to be raised by different builders, of doctrines also, and not of persons introduced by them into the Christian Church: and to understand him as cautioning the Corinthians against disfiguring and destroying the beautiful edifice, by inculcating tenets which were heretical, and pernicious to the souls of men, and would not stand the test of the approaching fiery trial. Thus what follows.


Verse 16-17

1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Know ye not, &c. — As if he had said, You should also lake heed what doctrine you deliver, lest by teaching what is false, unimportant, or improper to be taught, you should defile or destroy the temple of God; that ye — True believers, genuine Christians; are the temple of God — Whether considered collectively as a church, (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Timothy 3:15,) or as individuals and members of one, (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:22; Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5,) being set apart from profane uses, and dedicated to his service, among whom, and in whom, he manifests his gracious presence by his Spirit. See on Romans 8:9. If any man defile, corrupt — Or destroy rather, (as it seems the word φθειρει should be rendered,) that is, should divide and scatter a Christian church or society, by schisms or unscriptural doctrines, or leaven with error, and lead into sin, a real Christian; him shall God destroy — Punish with eternal condemnation and wrath; so that he shall not be saved at all, not even as through fire: for the temple of God is holy — Consecrated to him, separated from all pollution, and to be considered as peculiarly sacred; and therefore it is an awful thing to do any thing which tends to destroy it. Which temple ye are — Called and intended to be such.


Verses 18-20

1 Corinthians 3:18-20. Let no man deceive himself — Neither teacher, by propagating errors through pride of his own understanding; nor hearers, by a factious preferring of one above another for his gifts. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world — Be wise with respect to the things of this world only, and on that account be puffed up with pride; let him become a fool — Such as the world accounts so; let him renounce his carnal wisdom, and submit to the doctrine of the gospel, which the world considers as folly; that he may be — Prove himself to be, wise — Namely, spiritually, and in God’s account; wise in matters that concern his everlasting salvation. For the wisdom of this world — However men may boast of it, and think highly of themselves because they suppose they possess it; is foolishness with God — Is accounted so by him. For it is written, (Job 5:13, where see the note,) He taketh the wise in their own craftiness — Not only while they think they are acting wisely, but by their very wisdom, which itself is their snare, and the occasion of their destruction. In other words, they are entangled and brought to ruin by those subtle contrivances, whereby they thought to secure themselves. The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise — The worldly wise, or of those that think themselves wise; that they are vain — Empty, foolish, unprofitable, ineffectual to secure themselves against God.


Verses 21-23

1 Corinthians 3:21-23. Therefore — Upon the whole, considering all that has been advanced, and especially considering in what view the great God regards these things which we are so ready to value ourselves upon; let no man glory in men — So as to divide into parties on their account; for all things are yours — And we in particular. We are not your lords, but rather your servants: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas — We are all equally yours, to serve you for Christ’s sake: or the world — This leap, from Peter to the world, greatly enlarges the thought, and argues a kind of impatience of enumerating the rest. Peter, and every one in the whole world, however excellent in gifts, or grace, or office, are also your servants for Christ’s sake; or life or death — These, with all their various circumstances, are disposed as will be most for your advantage; or things present — On earth, or things to come — In heaven. Contend therefore no more about these little things, but be ye united in love as ye are in blessings. And ye are Christ’s — His property, his subjects, his members; and Christ is God’s — As Mediator, he acted as his Father’s servant, and referred all his services to his Father’s glory. Others understand the passage thus: “All things are appointed for your good, and ye are appointed for Christ’s honour, and Christ for God’s glory.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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