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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 3

 

 

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Verse 1

As if the apostle had said, "My brethren, although I speak the highest wisdom amongst them that are perfect, yet could not I speak the unto you as unto spiritual persons, but as unto carnal: because the works of the flesh are found with you, and at the best you are but babes in Christ."

Learn hence, That even amongst those who are the true and real members of the visible church, some are spiritual, some are carnal: some are men, some are babes. The apostle doth not call them absolutely carnal, as if they were wholly given up to the works of the flesh; but comparatively so, having too much carnality and corruption in them, and savouring too much of the flesh, though for the main truly pious: and therefore he uses the word as for mitigation sake; I could not speak unto you, but as unto carnal.


Verse 2

With milk, that is, with easy and common truths; not with the mysterious parts of gospel knowledge; with the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and not with the higher doctrines of Christianity, which neither then nor now are ye able to bear.

Learn hence, That it is great prudence and wisdom in the ministers of Christ to instruct people in the first principles of religion, in order to their regularly advancing higher in Christianity. Ministers are spiritual nurses; they first must feed with milk, then with meat, otherwise they will not nourish, but destroy.


Verse 3

That is, "Ye are in a great measure carnal; for your envy, strife, and divisions prove you to be so, and that you live according to the corrupt nature of man." They had the seed and root of grace abiding, and yet the relics of corruption remaining in them. There is a vast difference between weak grace and no grace, between the presence of sin and the power of sin.

But how could the apostle here call the Corinthians carnal, and babes in Christ, when in 1 Corinthians 1:5 he affirmed that they were enriched with all knowledge and utterance?

Ans. That might be true as to some particular persons amongst them, who had those extraordinary gifts of tongues and miracles given them for the confirmation of the gospel; and yet what is here said be true, as to the generality of them, that they had too much carnality and unmollified corruption remaining in them: Ye are yet carnal.

Observe next, What proof he gives of it, namely, ocular demonstration; for, says he, there are among you envying, strife, and divisions. Envy, as the root, bears strife, and strife breeds divisions and factions. Envy is a pestilent lust; it makes another's good our grief. The devil envies God and man their happiness; he rejoices at the destruction of sinners, though he has no advantage by it; nay, though it increaseth his torment, because they were tempted by him to sin. There is nothing so like the devil as an envious man, with his cloven foot, to make division wherever he comes.

Learn hence, 1. That envy is the cause and companion of strife.

Learn, 2. That strife and contention, differences and divisions, are often found in the churches of Christ, and among particular Christians.

Learn, 3. That so far as these prevail in and among any, it evidences that they are carnal, and walk as men.


Verse 4

That is, one saith, in opposition to another, I am the disciple of Paul; and another I follow Apollos: and thus, probably, they call themselves after the names of their admired preachers, factiously crying up one minister above another.

Hence learn, That although it be a people's duty to have a great and high esteem of the ministers of Christ, yet must not their respect degenerate into a sinful admiration of their persons; for their factious affecting of one minister above another, is both sinful and dangerous. When the gifts and abilities of one minister are cried up, to the contempt of others, it occasions enmity and dissension amongst ministers themselves, and their people also. Are ye not carnal, when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; And I of Christ; 1 Corinthians 1:12. That is, they factiously said they were of, or for Christ, in opposition to his ministers. They pretended to the immediate teachings of Christ, and had no need of the ministry either of Paul or Apollos.

Learn hence, That although Christ only is to be relied upon as head of his church, yet it is not his will we should despise his ministry, or contemn his ministers, under that pretence.


Verse 5

As if the apostle had said, "Neither Paul nor Apollos were the authors of your faith, but only ministerial helpers of it, as God is pleased to furnish them with gifts, and to give a blessing to their ministerial endeavours." Your ministers give out to you as God gives in to them: and therefore you ought not factiously to boast of their gifts, nor to make parties upon that account.

Learn hence, 1. That the ministry of the word is the instituted mean and instrumental cause which God hath appointed for working faith in the hearts of men.

2. That God has furnished his ministers with variety of gifts and abilities; all which he makes use of in order to that end.

3. That therefore the ministers of Christ ought neither to be deified nor nullified, neither to be cried up nor trodden down; we are not efficient causes, but only instrumental means of faith. Render therefore unto God the glory of the author, and unto ministers the honour of the instrument. Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers?


Verse 6

I planted; That is, I first preached the gospel among you, and first instructed you in the principles of Christ. I converted you to Christ: after me came Apollos, and watered the seed which I had sown: but God it was, and God alone, that caused the seed (which I sowed, and Apollos watered) to fructify and increase.

Learn, 1. That it is an act of discriminating grace and favour in God, to send out his ministers to plant the gospel amongst a people that never before heard it.

2. That it is an act of farther favour and grace in God, to follow a people with a succession of ministers in order to the watering of the seed formerly sown amongst them.

Learn, 3. That all that ministers can do, is but to plant and water; they cannot give increase, nor procure the success of their ministerial endeavours.

Blessed be God that he doth not require the success of their ministerial endeavours.

Blessed be God that he doth not require the success of our labours at our hands.

Woe unto us, should he say, "Either reconcile my people to me, or I will never be reconciled unto you." Diligence and endeavour is ours, the blessing and success is God's: he will never blame us for not doing his work.


Verse 7

The sense is, "Neither he that planteth is to be esteemed as any thing, nor he that watereth as any thing, but the glory of all must be ascribed to God that giveth the increase:" yet must we understand the apostle speaking thus not absolutely, but comparatively; "They are not any thing, that is, not any thing of themselves alone, without the concurrence of the Spirit; what excelleny gifts soever they have, they cannot of themselves make the word they preach effectual."

Lord! how many souls do find both ministry and ministers to be nothing as to them; If they be any thing to purpose to any soul, 'tis God and not his ministers, that makes it so. The best and ablest ministry is nothing to any saving purpose, without God's power giving the increase.


Verse 8

He that planteth and he that watereth are one: that is, in their design and scope, in the aim and end of their ministry; therefore they should not be factiously divided, either among themselves or by their hearers. Although there is a variety and diversity in the gifts of Christ's ministers, yet the intent and design of their ministry being one, they all ought to agree as one. They should be one in doctrine, and one in affection; aiming at one and the same mark, namely, the glory of God, and men's salvation, as they are one in their office, institution, and end.

It follows, Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour.

Thence learn, That every man, especially every minister, is sure to receive a proportionable reward hereafter, according to his labour and working for God here.

Learn, 2. The approbation and distinction of this reward; He shall receive his own reward: implying that there are degrees of reward and glory in heaven, according as men have laboured more or less for God here on earth: according to this gradual diversity, shall be gradual degrees of reward and glory in heaven, according as men have laboured more or less for God here on earth: according to this gradual diversity, shall be gradual degrees of glory.

Learn, 3. The measure and rule of this reward: according to the fruit of his ministry. If he labours faithfully, God will reward him proportionably, though few or none have believed his report.


Verse 9

Observe here, 1. The honourable title put upon the ministers of God, they are labourers or workers together with God.

But in what sense are they so?

Ans. Not so by any power or their own to produce any spiritual effect, as if they without God could work faith and repentance in the hearts of sinners; but they work only by an external application of the ministry of the work, and the means of grace to the souls of men. They are under-labourers to God, and God honours them by working by them, and working with them, for the conversion of men.

Observe, 2. The honourable relation in which the church stands to God: the church and people of God are his husbandry, and his building: Ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

Which phrase implies, 1. Power and goodness in making them so: a building is not of itself, nor is a field clothed with goodly corn of itself.

2. It implies dominion and absolute sovereignty: the master is the orderer of the house, and the husbandman the disposer of his ground.

3. It denotes propriety and interest, that we are not our own, but God's. The house is the owner's, not its own. God is theirs, and all that God has is theirs also.


Verse 10

Observe here, 1. The character which St. Paul assumes to himself, namely, that of a master-builder, yea, of a wise master-builder.

But was it not vain-glorious in the apostle thus to describe himself? Is not Christ the great and wise master-builder of the church?

Yes, undoubtedly: but the apostles were instruments in his hand, which he honoured with success: for which reason St. Paul thus speaks.

Learn hence, That in some cases it is not vain-glory, but a necessary duty, for the ministers of Christ to magnify their work and office received from Christ.

Observe, 2. The special work performed by St. Paul, the wise master-builder: he laid the foundation; that is, he first acquainted them with the rudiments and fundamental principles of the Christian religion, which they had never heard of before.

Learn thence, That it is a special part of divine wisdom in a minister to lay at first a good foundation of scripture knowledge in the minds and understandings of his people. Unless we having a knowing people, we are not like to have a gracious people. All our sermons will be dashed to pieces upon the rock of our people's ignorance, if they be not well catechised and instructed in the fundamentals of Christianity.

Observe, 3. How very careful our apostle is to ascribe all his strength, his assistance and success, as a master-builder, to the grace of God: According to the grace of God given to me.

Learn thence, That it is the property of every godly man, much more of every gracious minister, to attribute all that good which is either received or done by him, to the grace of God. What man ever received more grace from God, or did more service for God, than St. Paul? And so enlarged is he upon all occasions in magnifying the grace of God, that he is never satisfied in exalting of it: Not I, but the grace of God that was with me, &c.

Observe, 4. The cautionary direction by St. Paul, to all succeeding ministers of Christ, to take heed that they lay no other foundation than what was laid by him; and that they build suitably upon that foundation : Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon.

Learn hence, That the ministers of Christ are to take especial care that they preach no other doctrine than what Christ and his apostles preached, and laid as the foundation of Christianity: and that they do not build upon that foundation any doctrine which may endanger their own or their people's salvation: I have laid the foundation, and let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.


Verse 11

That is, no other foundation can man lay, than that which is already laid by me; namely, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and faith in him.

The ministers of Christ ought to lay no other foundation than Christ: they are to lead their people to, and build them upon, no other rock but Christ.

All threatenings, promises, commands, duties, privileges, are to be preached and pressed with respect to Jesus Christ; he is to be laid as the only foundation in respect of knowledge, in respect of faith, in respect of justification, in respect of intercession and acceptance with God.

The minister's great work is to set Christ forth in all his glorious fulness, to represent him in all his offices, as a glorious object for the eye of our faith to look unto, and fix upon.


Verse 12

In these words the apostle speaks of two sorts of preachers, under the metaphor of builders.

1. Some that are sound and orthodox, who hold the foundation, and build upon it gold, silver, and precious stones; that is, such sincere and wholesome doctrine as will bear the touchstone and trial.

2. Others that are unsound and erroneous, who hold indeed the foundation of Christianity, but build upon it such doctrines as will not bear the trial, expressed by wood, hay, and stubble, which are not proof against the fire.

Learn hence, That the doctrine of Christ, and the truths of the gospel, are very excellent and exceeding precious; compared to gold, silver, and precious stones, for their usefulness and preciousness.

Learn, 2. That all errors and falsehoods in religion, all erroneous and false doctrines, though not fundamental, are yet no better than hay or stubble, vain and unprofitable, vile and contemptible.

Observe, 3. As a twofold event declared: some men's works, that is, their doctrines and practices, will abide the fire; others will be burnt up, and suffer loss.

Where by the fire, understand the word and Spirit of God. A probatory, not a purgatory fire, is here intended: because it is said to burn not the person but the action, and every action too, of every man. Now the popish purgatory fire tries not all persons, some are exempted, as martyrs: and not all actions neither, but wicked ones only; whereas this fire shall try every man's work.

The meaning is, that the light of God's word and Spirit will manifest the verity or vanity, the soundness or falseness, of doctrines delivered by all preachers. Sound doctrine, that, like good metal, will endure the furnace, shall be rewarded; but such doctrines as will not endure the trial, shall miss of the reward.

Learn hence, 1. That all the ways and works of wickedness in general, and all hidden and secret ways of false doctrine in particular, God will one day reveal and make manifest: Every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it.

Learn, 2. That the true and sincere doctrine of the gospel is firm and durable, and such as will abide the closest trial; yea, and will grow more illustrious and glorious thereby.

Learn, 3. That men may hold the foundation, and maintain the fundamentals of Christianity, and yet may so superstruct thereupon it, and superadd so many things unto it, whereby they may greatly endanger their own and others' salvation. They shall be saved, yet so as by fire: that is, with great difficulty, having exposed themselves to the utmost hazard and danger.

The speech is proverbial, and signifies both the greatness of the danger, and the difficulty of escaping it; intimating that errors in judgment endanger a person's salvation as well as ungodliness in practice.

He that has a due care of his soul's salvation, will be as well afraid of erroneous principles as he is of debauched practices; for error is as damnable as vice: the one is an open road, the other a by-path, to hell and destruction.


Verse 16

Our apostle here, in the judgment of some interpreters, makes use of a farther argument to convince the Corinthians of the evil of their divisions. They are the church and temple of God, therefore not to be profaned by divisions; Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?

As if the apostle had said, "You Corinthians, by being converted to Christianity, are become a Christian church, an holy temple, in which the Spirit of God doth dwell, and where the spirit of division ought not to dwell; for if any man defile the temple of God by dividing the church into factions and parties, him will God destroy; for the temple of the Lord is holy, and not to be profaned by your dividing lusts: which temple ye are."

Learn hence, 1. That the people of God met together to worship him, are the church or spiritual temple of God.

2. That the Spirit of God dwells in the church, or temple of God; and this dwelling implies propriety, familiarity, authority, residency, and fixedness of abode.

Learn, 3. That such as defile the holy temple of God, either by factious divisions or erroneous doctrines, do provoke God to destroy them; that is, to punish them with temporal destruction, and, without repentance, with eternal damnation. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.


Verse 18

Observe here, 1. A word of caution: Let no man deceive himself. Self-deceit is the ground of all other deceit. Whatever deceit is abroad, it begins at home. A deceitful heart will not spare so much as itself, although the self-deceit be most unnatural and monstrous, most fatal and pernicious.

Observe, 2. A word of exhortation: If any man seem to be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise: that is, "If any man seem to be wise in the wisdom and learning of this world, let him embrace the doctrine of Christ, which the world calls foolishness, and so become a fool to them, that he may be wise according to the wisdom of God."

Learn hence, That all human and worldly wisdom cometh far short of, and is but a mere shadow and appearance, compared wiht the wisdom of God manifested in the gospel.

Observe, 3. A word of enforcement: For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 'Tis so in God's opinion and estimation; he accounts it so. If we compare wit with grace, learning with religion, a rational head with a gracious heart, the latter infinitely transcends the former in the account of God. All the admired wisdom of worldly men is nothing but contemptible folly in the esteem of God. The world's wise man is God's fool.

Observe, 4. A double testimony which the apostle produces out of the Old Testament to prove his assertion, that the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God: the first is He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. Job 5:13

Learn hence, That no wisdom or craftiness of man can stand before the wisdom and power of God.

The second testimony is The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man that they are vain. Psalms 94:11 that is, the choicest and best thoughts of the wisest men are vain, yea, vanity.


Verse 21

Here the apostle closes his discourse with an inference not to glory in any teacher whatsoever, either in Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, seeing they were all theirs; that is, all the apostles and ministers of Christ, from the highest to the lowest, from the greatest to the least, and all their ministerial gifts and labours, are all ordained and appointed by God for their use and service: All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas.

Learn hence, That all ministers, and ministerial abilities, are wholly for the church's service, and spiritual advantage: all their power is for the church's preservation, all their gifts are for the church's edification. Their message is for the church's comfort and consolation: thus all things, in and belonging to the church, are ours.

Next he mentions the things of the world are ours. Or the world, that is, all the good things in the world are ours, houses, lands, honours, friends, relations so far as God sees them good for us.

But are there not many that are Christ's who want houses and friends, and other comforts; how then can they be said to have them?

Ans. 1. They have all things eminently and transcendently in God and Christ, by whom they have a title to all things, Revelation 21:7.

2. They have all things virtually, in their contentment and satisfaction of mind which they do enjoy.

3. They have all things eventually: they have the good of all things, when they have not the actual possession of all things; their very wants, in the event, work for good.

Or life; this is ours two ways; the comfort of life is ours, and the end of life is ours, with the true use of it; for the sincere Christian only lives to purpose, by answering the great end of life, which is the promoting God's glory, and securing his own salvation.

Or death; that which is in itself so terrible is for the believer's advantage, their friend, their privilege, their passage to heaven, their deliverer from sin, the perfecter of their grace; when we come at heaven, and not till then, we shall fully understand what this meaneth, Death is ours.

Or things present: that is, all the events of providence which befall us, whether prosperity or adversity, health or sickness, riches or poverty, they are all sanctified to us, and are instrumental for the sanctifying of us. They are covenant blessings, and dispensed in love to us.

Or things to come; that is, all future things which may befall us in this world, and in the world to come, shall be to our abundant advantage; whether they be merciful or good things, or grievous and sad things: particularly death is to come, but to die is gain.

Christ's death was the death of death; he has disarmed death of its sting; the believer fears not its dart; it is not an hurting, but an healing serpent: there is no venom or malignity in it, but that which was before in the number of threatenings, is now brought within the compass of the gospel promises: all things are ours, life or death, things present and things to come.

And ye are Christ's: that is, not Paul's or Apollo's disciples or servants, but only Christ's, therefore glory only in him, and in him only.

And Christ is God's: that is, as you are Christ's, and for his glory; so Christ, as Mediator, is God's, and for his glory. He is God's servant, to do his will, to execute his pleasure. he was begotten of his Father before all time. He sought not his own, but his Father's glory, in the doctrine which he preached, in the miracles which he wrought; but lived in an entire resignation to his Father's pleasure.

Lord! how will it shame us thy servants, to follow thy servant Christ, and to be called by his name, if we seek not his glory and exalt not his will, and live not to his praise, who died for us and rose again!

 


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Bibliography Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/1-corinthians-3.html. 1700-1703.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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