Today: [1 Corinthians 3:] Spiritual or Carnal? In chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians, we consider the meaning of two words that Paul coins being that of “spiritual” or “carnal.” The Corinthians had a problem from Paul’s point of view because they understood the kingdom from a metric much smaller than the measure God uses. They were choosing one teacher over another and setting up camps between them which Paul carefully and resolutely tears down as we should likewise allow to happen if we are thinking such things today.
[1Co 3:1-23 KJV] 1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [even] as unto babes in Christ. 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. 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? 4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I [am] of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who [is] Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, [ye are] God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 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. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are. 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. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ [is] God’s.
You know you are not ready for deep teaching when there is envy, strife, and divisions in our midst. If these exist there are always pretexts for so doing. Paul dismisses any rationalization for disharmony with the conclusion that there is no excuse. If you are sectarian in your thinking, divisive in your understanding of the community of faith or picky in the teachers you choose or reject then you are carnal walking, conducting yourself as mere men instead of the God carriers you are called to be.
Again Paul brings up the preferences others had in Corinth, one for Paul, the other for Apollos. To choose one over the other is to fail to discern the harvest. One plants says the apostle and another waters, but it is God who gives the increase. We need to hear this. We need to absorb this thinking, or we fall prey to the commercialization of the gospel. He that plants is nothing (v. 7), neither is he that waters. All are one. We are laborers together. You are God’s vineyard. You are God’s building – we are just the janitors and maintenance personnel.
In verse 10 Paul speaks of himself as a master builder, responsible for laying foundation. Just because you lay a foundation doesn’t mean you put on the roof. Paul didn’t stay in Corinth. He moved on. Apostles and Prophets need to hear God and move on when God says to move on. We aren’t building our stock portfolio we are building the house of God. If you have started a ministry v. 10 instructs you to let others build thereon. To do otherwise is malfeasance in office and God knows how to get you out of His way. If you are one that comes to build where others have labored you better not take a scorched earth approach to obliterate the work of your predecessor. Take heed how you build if you build on another man’s foundation work.
What is the foundation? It isn’t a building or a community presence or reputation. It is none other than Christ Himself. The apostle is the gift or “doma” of God. They lay far more than natural infrastructure in the community or in your life for that matter. In verse 12 we see that building can be with gold, silver, precious stones, etc., this is figurative speech. Gold represents wisdom. Silver represents redemption. Apostles lay redemptive lay lines in your life when they remit your sin according to John 20:23. This is not papism. This is the authority God gave uniquely to the apostle not just to forgive sin that is God’s work alone but to remit or divorce you from the sting of sin, the consequence of sin. What are the stones, the precious stones? These are jewels that are formed by heat and pressure. The wisdom and lessons your mentors learn by undergoing heat and pressure become the truths that decorate your life.
What of wood, hay or stubble (v.12)? These are the works of impostors and vain professors. They come with much fanfare and make a lot of seeming progress but when the fiery trial comes they with their works soon vanish leaving nothing but ashes of disappointment behind them. If however you lay down the work of your heart and it abides and endures the test of time and testing (v. 14) there will be reward.
If this language seems veiled to his readers, Paul draws back exclaiming “what? know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within you?” Why does he bring this up? Because there was doctrine in Corinth, that the work of God was one thing and life in the flesh was another. They believed they could sin at leisure and the cause of Christ would be illustrated and not defamed by their iniquity. Paul contests this saying that they were as a body and as individuals nothing other than the temple of God. Even in pagan Corinth, the people understood desecration as a vile sin. We are the temple of God. If you pollute your body or your mind, you defile the temple, and there are consequences not because God doesn’t love us but because he does. Let no man be deceived then (v. 18) using religious wisdom to talk himself or others out of accountability to God for living a separated and holy life.
Paul stresses this exhortation to circumspect living in v. 20 says that God knows the vanity of men’s thoughts and we are not to glory in our humanity or to glory in this ministry or the other ministry. Ministry does not sanctify us. Whether it is Paul, Apollos, Cephas or any other consideration all things are ours? No man is his own from the internal perspective but at the same time all things are yours, and you are Christ and Christ is God’s. In that light let us rejoice in sobriety and maturity accepting the fullness of God not in a doctrine or a man but in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
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