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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 3

 

 

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Verse 1

2. This God-revealed philosophy not understood by the partisan carnality of the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 3:1-4.

1. And I—In accordance with the elevated character of the spiritual in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16.

Could not—Consistently with the reality of the case.

Spiritual… carnal… babes—In 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, the spiritual man is opposed to the natural, or entirely unregenerate; here he is opposed to the regenerate, who are in Christ, and yet, by being in a degree carnal, are but babes. Were they wholly carnal they would not even be babes, but be unregenerate. Short-comings, infirmities, and sins, have reduced them from spiritual manhood into babyhood. For these carnal are clearly a part of that whole who are called in 1 Corinthians 1:2, saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus. They are that same class as in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 are guilty of the shame of going to law, and yet, 1 Corinthians 3:11, are in part sanctified. And throughout this epistle the class so severely reprehended, and even menaced, by St. Paul, are held by him Christians, but faulty Christians, who needed to ascend into a higher level of holiness. From this it follows that there may be “sin in believers.” Not every sin forfeits regeneration. Such sin dwarfs the spiritual stature, and lessens the glorious reward. But not until all justifying faith is lost is the name blotted from the book of life. As babes is the antithesis in the Greek to perfect— adult, in 1 Corinthians 2:6—so it duly defines it. Babes implies childhood; perfect simply implies adulthood. So the Jews had the distinction of novices or babes, and adults or full grown, in knowledge of the law. And Alford quotes Philo as saying, “Since to babes the food is milk, and to adults (same Greek word as perfect, 1 Corinthians 2:6) cookeries of grain, so also there are of the soul milk diets suited to child-stature; adult foods for men.” A perfect man in Christ Jesus is simply an adult man in Christ Jesus. But this adult man is also the spiritual, and includes the full attainments and privileges of 1 Corinthians 2:12-16. Any thing short of this is short of adulthood in Christian life, and approximates toward childhood.

But many commentators err in making this adulthood, or Christian perfect growth or perfection, depend, as in physical development, upon time. Scripture and experience show that in spiritual life there is many a babe of two and threescore; many a soul that springs almost from spiritual birth, by a strong, living, persevering faith, to vigorous adulthood.

These two classes may not be divided by a sharp line; they may, indeed, shade into each other, just as the old and the young are classes that shade into each other; but they are, on the whole, so clearly diverse that they can be classified and specified by two different terms. Such a spiritual class is recognised in 1 Corinthians 14:37. It does not appear, here or elsewhere, whether the individual made a distinct profession of being spiritual; though others may have recognised him as such from his life and spirit. Yet it cannot be required of the man who lives in nearness to God that he should withhold full statement of the fact, whether profession or not. It is the best kind of profession of holiness when a man does not so much profess it himself as oblige his friends, by his holy life, to profess it for him.

Carnal—According to the best readings, the Greek word here rendered carnal differs in termination from that in 1 Corinthians 3:3-4. The former is σαρκινοις, the latter σαρκικοι. The terminations differ needy as our English terminations ine and ic differ; the former indicating the material of which a thing consists, the latter the quality of the thing. The former word, signifying consisting of flesh, is used in 2 Corinthians 3:3 in a good sense. As σαρκικοι is a New Testament word, not used in the classics, Stanley thinks that the other word has here been substituted by copyists, to make a confirmation with classical usage; but Alford believes it to be the true reading. The meaning would then be, as unto beings made of flesh— human—like the men of 1 Corinthians 3:3.


Verse 2

2. With milk… meat—By these terms is not meant the easier and the harder doctrines of theology, as foreknowledge and predestination, resurrection, etc. These are easily intelligible by the logical understanding to those who are not even babes in Christ, but are unregenerate. Paul refers to the principles of the lower and the higher Christian life. Milk is the doctrine of repentance, of avoiding sin, while meat represents those higher views of the spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) which the carnal could not receive, such as deep communion with God, profound purity of conscience, and the utter consecration of all to holiness and God.

Yet now—This entire epistle, as to babes, deals almost exclusively with the principles of Christian ethics and doctrine; whereas that to the Ephesians, as to spiritual, mounts to the very heights of Christian spirit and life.


Verse 3

3. Yet—The reports by the household of Chloe indicate no advance in spirituality.

Carnal—Fleshly. Though their strifes were what are distinctively called “sins of the spirit,” their existence proved to the apostle’s mind their fleshly quality. This use of the word flesh is not founded in the doctrine of the necessary evil of matter, but in the fact that our bodily appetites are so largely the source of temptation and sin.

Properly regulated—fixed upon the right object in the right degree—all our appetites, desires, and passions are right. It is in their exercise on the wrong object, or their exercise in excess, that the act of sin lies.

As men— Note on 1 Corinthians 3:4.

Are ye not carnal—True reading, are ye not men? in which men is a synonyme for unspiritual. So our Lord’s words, But beware of men. Matthew 10:17.


Verses 3-11

3. From these partisanships are deductively stated the true responsibilities of their ministers, as imposed by God, 1 Corinthians 3:5-15.

a. Their success (based on Christ) solely from God, 1 Corinthians 3:5-11.

As simply instruments of God, ministers are one, 1 Corinthians 3:5-10. But let every man (minister) beware, that on Christ for his foundation he build truth, otherwise his building will be burned, and he escape like a man from his burning dwelling, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.


Verse 4

4. The true position of the people under such ministry, 16-23. As the temple of God, he by whom they are destroyed shall be himself destroyed, 16, 17. Knowing the folly of all sophia, (see notes, 1 Corinthians 1:12, etc.,) let them glory in no special leading men, but claim all as their own, as they are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.


Verse 5

5. Ministersδιακονοι, deacons or servitors. Notes Acts 6:1, and 1 Timothy 3:8-15. We are not leaders of philosophical sects (note on 1 Corinthians 1:10, etc.) but simply servants, and servants under divine selection and guidance.

Every man—Rather, and as the Lord gave to each one. That is, ye believed as the Lord gave to each minister the gift of attracting your belief. Paul proceeds to show how God gave different gifts to himself and to Apollos. And this connexion shows that every man, like any man in 1 Corinthians 3:12, and every man in 1 Corinthians 3:13, refers to teachers, and not, as Alford, to hearers.


Verse 6

6. Planted—It was Paul’s pre-eminent gift to be a founder. His was the rare power, less conspicuous in Apollos and John, to convince the unbeliever, and create a new Church. Hence he sought new fields, and avoided to build on any other man’s foundation. Note on Romans 15:20.

Increase—Growth. As the seed planted in the earth produces no herb or fruit without the showers and sunshine from above, so the preached Gospel, sown in the soul or in the world, produces no increase without God’s gracious aid.


Verse 7

7. Any thingAny thing to be followed by partisans, as if, like the philosophers, their effects were all produced by their own brains.


Verse 8

8. Are one—And so should not be divided between contending parties.

Every man—That truly either plants or waters God’s heritage.

According to his own laborer—As is fully shown in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.


Verse 9

9. Labourers… with God—Literally, For we are God’s fellow-labourers; God’s farm, God’s building are ye—The distinction already existing between ministers and people is very marked through this and the next chapter, as begun in this verse. It is by no means correct to say that in the Church of the New Testament this division had not commenced. The figure of a building here commenced is continued to 1 Corinthians 3:17.


Verse 10

10. Wise master-builder—At the proper time Paul does not hesitate to style himself a sophos—a wise.

I laid… another—Nor does he at all abdicate his prerogative as founder.

But—From this point commences a solemn caution to ministers, even who build on Christ as their foundation, what structure of doctrine, or morals, or churchdom they build thereon. The fire of the judgment day will test whether its materials be combustible. If so, the building will be burned up; yet the builder, as having built on Christ, will escape, like a householder, through the conflagration of his home, losing all else, but saving his life. All this, and what follows to 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul figuratively speaks as in the persons of himself and Apollos, 1 Corinthians 3:4-8; but it is equally applicable to all other preachers and to all ministers in all ages.


Verse 11

11. Can no man lay—For other foundations, however laid, would prove to be no foundations at all.


Verse 12

b. Every man’s work subject to the test of fire, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

12. Any man—Any preacher of religion.

Gold—Paul mentions six materials: three incombustible and precious, and three combustible and inferior.


Verse 13

13. Work—Whether doctrine he has taught, or morals he has enjoined, or Church organization he has founded.

Made manifest—Shall come under clear review.

The day—Not as Calvin, the day of millennial enlightenment; nor the day of Jerusalem’s destruction, with which the Corinthians had no relation; nor the process of time: but the day of Christ’s coming to judgment. See notes on 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.

Declare it—As if the shades of uncertainty were dispersed by the light of the judgment blaze.

Revealed by fire—Its true, indestructible character be disclosed by the fiery test.

Every man—No teacher or founder’s work will evade this trial.


Verse 14

14. Abide—Unconsumed.

Built thereupon—Upon Christ, the true foundation; for those who build not on Christ but reject him, will not only suffer loss but be lost.

A reward—For him whom Christ is the foundation, good works are an investment with God. See note on Romans 3:27.


Verse 15

15. Suffer loss—Like a householder who loses his home. It is true, the parable starts with the man as a builder; but the image becomes more expressive by allowing a change; namely, from a builder to an occupant.

As by fire—Like a refugee from his own “house-a-fire;” his home lost, his life scarce saved. This text plainly teaches the doctrine neither of purgatory nor of restorationism. It describes not the purging away by fire the sin or guilt within a man either before the judgment day, as in purgatory, nor after, as in a temporary hell; but the destruction of all false systems by the light of Christ’s final judgment, and the loss of their reward by the inventor of those systems.


Verse 16

16. Know ye not—Recognise you not this solemn fact?

Temple of God— Not only are ye a building, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15, but ye are a temple.

Dwelleth in you—As the Shekinah or divine Presence, dwelt in the holy of holies.


Verse 17

17. Any man—Note on 1 Corinthians 3:12.

Defile—Or destroy, instead of building up, like a wise master builder, 1 Corinthians 3:10.


Verses 18-21

18-21. In this passage Paul slightly reiterates his repudiation of human wisdom, fully expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where see notes. It is this wisdom which, arousing sectarian strifes, is threatening to defile, destroy, the temple of God, in 1 Corinthians 3:17, and which now calls for this reiteration.

Wise—Claims to be a leader from his philosophic ability.

A fool—Abdicate his pretended philosophic profundity, and accept the revelation of the Gospel.

May become wise—May attain the divine philosophy of 1 Corinthians 2:7-16.


Verse 19

19. Wisdom… foolishness—Parallel with 1 Corinthians 1:25, where see notes. Own craftiness—So that this world’s wisdom is the destruction of its possessor and professor.


Verse 20

20. WisePsalms 94:11. Instead of the thoughts of the wise, the Hebrew has it, “the thoughts of men;” a term which includes, of course, men especially who pride themselves in original and philosophic thoughts and reasonings.

Vain—Liable to error and defect.


Verse 21

21. Glory in men—As the Corinthians were so zealously doing. 1 Corinthians 1:11-16; and 1 Corinthians 3:4-5.

Let no man be fascinated by, and proud of, some partisan leader.

All things—Why greedily snatch for particular favouritisms and special leaders when you may comprehensively claim all as your own?


Verse 22

22. Paul—Claim not one or two apostles sectarianly; but liberally make them all your own collective wealth.

Cephas—In 1 Corinthians 3:4-5, where he speaks depreciatingly, he selects himself and his dear associate Apollos; but now, when he speaks honouringly, he brings in Peter, who was claimed by the party opposed to himself.

World… to come—Compare notes on Romans 8:38-39. Not only were all the apostles and all Christian teachers theirs, but all the glorious truths and wonders revealed by Christianity through those apostles are also theirs. They, under Christ, as Christ under God, are proprietors of all things. For as God has made Christ heir of all, and the Christian is heir of (or with) Christ, so the Christian inherits all. Away, then, with human philosophies and leader-ships. The world is viewed as created for unfallen man. Lost by Adam, it is regained by Christ. Lost for all in Adam, it is regained for all renewed by Christ. Hence, though the wicked seem to possess the world, it really possesses, masters, and ruins them. This world, then, is the theatre for the Christian’s development for the world to come. Life is the Christian’s commencement for a life eternal. Death is the gate through which he passes from the lower life to the higher.

Things present—All events and objects that fill this world and this life.

Things to come—The glorious events, sceneries, and personages of a blessed eternity.

All are yours—How, then, in view of so sublime and boundless a wealth, can you be engrossed in quarrels and partisanships about the comparative talents of your Christian leaders? And so, also, Paul asks, 1 Corinthians 6:4, since Christians are judges of angels, how can they be judged by pagan courts?

Wonderful it is how this apostle, surrounded by the pomp and power of the world, should be thus able to see by the eye of faith and truth that the world belonged to his humble flock of despised disciples of Jesus. It was because he was gifted with the power divine to look through the deceptions of the phenomenal and temporal, and descry the real and eternal.

Ye are Christ’s—As all below you belong to you, so you belong to Christ above.

Christ is God’s—The God-man is now subordinate to the Supreme Deity, whose only begotten Son he is. And so God is now supreme, as he finally will become all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:28.

Both as the result of 18-24, and as the point to which the whole epistle has thus far tended, St. Paul has shown how apostles, and so all Christian teachers, must not be viewed, namely, as partisan dividers of the Church: he will now describe how they should be viewed. 1 Corinthians 4:1-13.

There are many at the present day who declaim vigorously and indiscriminately against creeds and dogmas. They are fond of saying that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life. It is easy to carry such declamation to a dangerous extent. Christianity is both a doctrine and a life. No doubt there are unessential dogmas, and subtle distinctions, which, even while valuable in themselves, should not be allowed to produce quarrel and division. Yet there are truths which even he who builds on Christ may neglect or deny to his own loss. There are doctrines of great positive value, and it is right that they should be expressed in concise forms and adopted as articles of Churchly concord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-corinthians-3.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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