God’s Ministers in God’s Temple 1 Cor 3:1-23

God’s Ministers in God’s Temple 1 Cor. 3: 1-23 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO

Paul was dealing with carnal Christians in Corinth.  They walked as men [1 Cor 3:3].  Hence, they were not walking in the Spirit [Gal 5:16].  They had trouble with three things that are common problems for carnal Christians:

  • Envy – Jas 3:13-16
  • Strife – Jas 3:13-16
  • Divisions – I’m of Paul or I’m of Apollos [1 Cor 3:4]

Therefore, they were not able to handle the meat of the word.  They were still on milk as babes in Christ [1 Cor 3:1-2].  If they would grow up in Christ and die to themselves [Rom 8:5-10], they would not be carnal and could then handle the meat of the word.  The meat of the word to a carnal Christian just fuels more envy, strife and division, until he’s mature enough to handle it.

Paul had to explain to them that they were God’s husbandry and God’s building [1 Cor 3:9].  And so he described the ministry as planting and watering and as laying a foundation and building thereupon.  

Understandably, the men whom the Lord called to work in his husbandry and in his building each had different jobs to do.  But they were still working together on one farm, and they were all building only one building.  So, for the Corinthians to divide over who led them to the Lord or whose preaching and ministry they liked best was, indeed, carnal [1 Cor 3:4].

Concerning God’s husbandry, Paul was the minister whom God used to get things started in Corinth [Acts 18:1-11].  Therefore, he said of himself that he planted [1 Cor 3:6].  Apollos came later to continue the work Paul had begun [Acts 18:24-28].  Therefore, Paul said of him that he watered [1 Cor 3:6].  They were both ministers used by the Lord [1 Cor 12:18] to preach the gospel and minister to the Corinthians [1 Cor 3:5].  Regardless whether they believed through Paul’s preaching or Apollos’s, it was God who gave the increase [1 Cor 3:6].

Paul diminished his and Apollos’s roles as planter and waterer in God’s husbandry, and magnified God, instead [1 Cor 3:7].  Furthermore, he explained that, though he and Apollos labored differently, they were one; they labored together with God [1 Cor 3:8-9].  And yet each will receive his own reward for his own labor [1 Cor 3:8; Col 3:23-24] because each must, individually, appear before the judgment seat of Christ [Rom 14:10-12].

Concerning God’s building, Paul was the wise master builder whom God called to lay the foundation [1 Cor 3:10].  Other men build on that foundation.  The foundation of God’s building is Jesus Christ [1 Cor 3:11].   Men who build on any other foundation are not working for God.

Paul said “let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon,” [1 Cor 3:10].  Not every man, who says he’s working for the Lord, is building with the right material or in the way that the Lord wants the building built.  Paul explains the difference in the next few verses.  

Men build God’s building with two different kinds of building materials [1 Cor 3:12].  Some use gold, silver and precious stones, like they used for the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament [Ex 35:5, 9; 1 Chr 29:1-5].  And some use wood, hay and stubble, like they used when they built the cities for Pharaoh in Egypt [Ex 1:11; Ex 5:7, 12].  Paul was building with the gold, silver and precious stones of God’s words [Ps 19:9-10], God’s wisdom [Prov 8:10-11, 18], and God’s gifts [Prov 17:8].  Evidently, some men had come behind Paul in Corinth with the inferior building materials of man’s wisdom [1 Cor 3:18-20] represented by the wood, hay and stubble.

At the judgment seat of Christ, “every man’s work shall be made manifest,” [1 Cor 3:13].  The building will go through fire [Heb 12:29].  And the fire will reveal “what sort” of building material was used.  Obviously, the gold, silver and precious stones will “abide,” [1 Cor 3:14].  The men who built with these “shall receive a reward.”  Conversely, the wood, hay and stubble “shall be burned,” [1 Cor 3:15].  Men who built with these “shall suffer loss.”  The men will be saved, but their work will go up in smoke.  They will be like Lot, who got out of Sodom alive but lost everything he had worked for in the fire.

In 1 Cor 3:16, Paul told the Corinthians that this building is the temple of God, which is made up of all who are saved.  He said, “… ye are the temple of God.”  See Eph 2:19-22.  All of us together are the habitation of God.  “The Spirit of God dwelleth in” us.  

God’s temple is holy.  Therefore, God will destroy any man who defiles his temple [1 Cor 3:17].  Paul warned the Corinthians about the kinds of things that men can do to defile the temple of God in 1 Cor 10:6-11.  Consider these instances.  Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5:1-11].  The young man fornicating with his father’s wife [1 Cor 5:1-7].  Those who were eating and drinking the Lord’s supper unworthily [1 Cor 11:29-30].  Those who shipwrecked faith [1 Tim 1:19-20].  Those who caused others to not obey the truth [Gal 5:7-12].  If God doesn’t destroy them here, he will destroy everything they worked for hereafter.  He will not let his holy temple be defiled.

God doesn’t need help from man’s wisdom in the construction of his building.  A man who believes that God does is deceived [1 Cor 3:18].  Paul said that a man should forsake his own worldly wisdom, which is foolishness with God [1 Cor 3:19], and become a fool [1 Cor 4:9-13].  God doesn’t need men’s “craftiness.”  Help from man’s wisdom is “vain,” [1 Cor 3:20].  Men who use their own wisdom, instead of God’s, to build God’s temple are simply seeking their own “glory,” [1 Cor 3:21].  Can you not see how foolish men are to think that corrupt modern translations and worldly programs are useful in building God’s temple?  They are vain, foolish, crafty attempts by men who seek their own glory.

Conclusion: Paul concluded this chapter [1 Cor 3:21-23] by telling the Corinthians that they have everything in Christ.  Christ is not divided and, therefore, no one has something better than another based on whom God used to minister to him [1 Cor 1:12-13].  We have Christ’s eternal life.  It is by Christ’s death alone that we are saved.  The things we have now, like grace, peace, and mercy, are ours through Jesus Christ.  The things we will have in the future, like our mansion in heaven or our reward, are prepared for us and given to us by Jesus Christ.  And all of this comes from God, with whom Christ is one.  Let us glory in the Lord [1 Cor 1:31] and not in men [1 Cor 3:21].