1 Corinthians 3 – The Church and it’s leaders





As we have seen over the past weeks the Corinthians prided themselves on the wisdom of their culture. Philosophy and worldly wisdom was elevated in the culture of the day. It was the teachers of this philosophy that were held up and almost worshipped.

ILLUST: In America it has been and may still be fashionable for those in society circles to have “Their Therapist


In Paul’s day it was fashionable in Corinth for everyone who was anyone to have their Philosopher. This party spirit was carried over into the Church. The Corinthians Christians were aligning themselves with different prominent Church leaders.

“I follow Paul! I follow Apollos! I follow Peter! I follow Christ!


Paul has already made a strong appeal in Ch.1 not to cause these divisions.  You are one body!

Hear the admonition in his voice:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? [1v13]


Having dealt with Wisdom in the second half of Ch. 1 and ch. 2 Paul now comes back to the divisions in the church.




The Corinthians Christians were not new converts. Paul had originally spent 18 months with them and had been gone for some time and others like Apollos had taught them. One would expect Paul to address them differently to the way he does.

“But mere lapse of time does not bring Christian maturity” [Barrett]


ILLUST: TEFL Teacher – 12 years experience or 1 year experience 12x.


v1. worldly = fleshy  – infants- babies: What does Paul mean?

Does he mean that they are not Christians? NO! He is addressing them as “Brothers” and as infants “in Christ”. They may be infants but they are still in Christ and in that sense are spiritual because you can’t be a Christians and not have the Holy Spirit.


So what does Paul mean? He has been dealing with wisdom. The Corinthian Christians have been behaving in a worldly/fleshly way – their actions have been infantile. The issue is not that they are drinking milk when they should be on solid food because spiritual milk and meat are necessary for Christians growth.

The issue was that they had preferred the synthetic substances. What they needed was to move away from their present preoccupation with wisdom back to the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.


There is always a danger that Christians move away from the simple doctrine of the faith because they think it is “old hat”. We are not to move away but to go deeper. The idea that we can rum 6 week discipleship course and then graduated to a higher level is false. We never graduated from being disciples – we are rather to learn move so we can obey more.


It was not that the Corinthian Christians didn’t have spiritual life but that they were living as if they didn’t have it.


ILLUST: Steak – leathery [leather-like]     saddle – leathern, made of leather


They were Christians but they were living as if they were not.


We, too, are always in danger of this.


ILLUST: A little baby drinking milk and still in nappies is cute and wonderful.  At 20 year old in the same situation in heartbreaking.


Paul gives them an indication as to how he knows that they are still “fleshly” [worldly].

Since there is jealousy and quarreling among you are you not worldly? [3v3]


Jealousy was a big problem in Corinth. They were constantly comparing gifts and seeing who had the more spectacular gifts. Little cliques had formed and competition and jealousy abounded.

When there is jealousy quarreling always results. Jealousy is the attitude and quarreling the behavioural outworking of it.


ILLUST: Children behave in this fashion. “That’s mine give it to me! I’m not going to play with you any more! What you are doing is so stupid!”


Paul says: “Stop acting like a baby and grow up!”


There is no place for competition in the Church or for cliques! It causes division and disunity.


Spiritual people, as the Corinthian Christians are, should walk by the Spirit and not follow worldly/fleshly systems.




Paul now goes on in this next section to show that their behaviour is not only infantile but totally illogical.


READ v5.


Paul and Apollos are mere servants! Is it not idiotic to worship the servant rather than the master.

WHO are these two? They are nothings in comparison to the master.


If we begin to follow personality and try to play one off against the other then we are on the slippery slop to disaster!


The purpose of having different leaders with different gifts is so is so that the overall task can be accomplished THEREFORE Paul uses the illustration of the farmer’s field.


What kind of a farm would it be if every labourer did the same task – well it would be pretty dumb!


Paul’s purpose is two-fold: (1) stressing that the difference between Paul and Apollos Paul wants to show that this is not occasion for division by following a human leader but they are both God’s servants, indeed ALL Christians are only God’s servants.


When we compare leaders or preachers we are falling into this trap. We are all different and all our gifts are God given.

(2) Paul stress that the focus should be on God not his servants.


He uses the illustration of the field; the important thing is that GOD is both the one who give the growth and the owner of the field.


We are all just worker in God’s field. Different gifts and different functions but no one person more important than the other. That does not mean that there are no leaders but the leaders are also only servants of God. Paul is stressing here the unity and the diversity of Church leadership.


No one person can do it all (1) it is and impossible task (2) it is unbiblical.


ILLUST: Do you think I could preach all the sermons, lead all the Bible studies, visit everyone who comes and the sick, and counsel everyone who needs it – I wouldn’t last a week.


If that is your expectation of a pastor or parish priest you will be bitterly disappointed. It is impossible and unbiblical.


Paul stresses that it was through his ministry and that of Apollos and others that they came to faith in Christ but they are insignificant in comparison to God Himself.


It is human wisdom to follow human leaders, it is also childish, BUT it is spiritual wisdom to follow Christ who alone is the one who can bring us to maturity.




Paul now changes the metaphor from a field to a building.


READ  v10-14


Describes himself as an expert builder. “wise architect” are actually the words. Continuing the theme of wisdom. He is a wise architect/master builder and as such knows like any architect that he can’t build alone. He depends on the skills, craftsmanship and sheer hard work of others.


Paul has done what God gifted and called him to do. Laid the foundation. What is that foundation?? JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED. The son of God is the only sure foundation upon which to build a church. Trying to build on any thing or any one else will only and always lead to disaster.


Trying to build on a foundation other than Jesus Christ is like the Foolish man who build his house on the sand rather than on the rock. “On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.


Each one of us who are God’s people are involved in the building up of the Church, the body of Christ and how we build will not always be evident to others and we can even fool ourselves but not God. And on the day of Judgment it will all be revealed.


ILLUST: Bodger builds with inferior materials and then papers over. It won’t stand the test.


California – earthquake proof  buildings – how do we really know if they are earthquake proof. After the earthquake they are still standing.


Is the work we are doing for God Fire proof?


Do not need to go into too much detail about the gold, silver, precious stones – The point is they will stand the fire test. Whereas wood, hay and straw will not.


None will ever have work that is absolutely pure and we shall all have some sadness at seeing our work burnt up but this should spur us on to be extra careful as to how we build.


ILLUST: Jim Elliott – Martyred by Auca Indians in Ecuador “Life is short it will soon be past, only what is done for Jesus will last


Working for God and building up his Church are not the things that save us. Salvation is only by his grace based on what Jesus Christ did for us. BUT Works are the marks of salvation.


Those who work well and whose work is acceptable to God and stands the test will be rewarded. Those whose work is wood hay and straw and see it all go up in a puff of smoke will not lose their salvation. We are not saved or damned according to our works BUT according to the grace and mercy of God. THEREFORE even if a persons work is burnt up:-


but he himself will be saved,

but only as one escaping through the flames [v15]

Those who have believed in Jesus Christ are secure in Him.

Jesus said: “Truly, truly I say to you,

he who hears my word and believes

him who sent me, HAS ETERNAL LIFE;

he does not come into judgment but has

passed from death to life [Jn.5v24]


REWARDS. What are these rewards? The Bible mentions rewards in a number of places. And we can affirm that there will be rewards BUT what exactly those rewards will be we do not know. The Bible does not spell it out.


Our salvation is secure BUT God scrutinizes our work for him and his Church. WHY? because the church is the Temple of God. It is where his presence dwells and his glory is at stake.

God’s Spirit dwells in you.[v16]

The “you” is pl. [else where it is sg. but not here] God’s spirit lives in us as a body and we must not allow anyone to destroy of abuse the Church of God. NOR must we its members abuse ourselves.


When there is division and dissension and shoddy building then we are abusing ourselves.


There is a stark warning to those who would oppose the church of God.

If anyone destroys God’s temple,

God will destroy him;

for God’s temple is sacred,

and you [pl] are that temple [v17]


ILLUST: Church in RSA – 5-6 men in leadership blocking Church growth and manipulating decisions. Some people started to pray for God to do something. In 6 months all were either transferred by their companies or dead.


God doesn’t always act so quickly but he will not tolerate anyone destroying HIS Church.


We can only build God’s church God’s way – Jesus the foundation. Working together. Complementing each other not competing with each others. When we focus on God and on others the perspective is right. BUT when we turn in on ourselves, individually and as a church, then division and disunity result.




Paul now begins to conclude his argument by referring again to wisdom. When we move away from God’s agenda for his people and substitute man’s wisdom we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight

As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”

and  again: “The lord knows that the thoughts of the wise

are futile”  [v19-20]


People think that they are so clever and have all the answers and therefore do not need God in their lives. It is difficult to teach some one who thinks they know it all.

[Mac Arthur]The Roman Teacher Quintilian said to some of his students: “They would doubtless have become excellent scholars if they had not been so fully persuades of their own scholarship”.


The only true wisdom is knowing that we are totally dependent on God for everything. We can do nothing without God. Not just spiritual but nothing. Can’t walk, talk, eat, breathe without God – He holds everything in his hands.


Everything we have and are and do is because of God’s grace how stupid then to boast.

This is Paul’s summing up argument:

So then, no more boasting about men!

All things are yours whether Paul, or Apollos

or Cephas [Peter] or the world or life or death

or the present or the future –

all are yours, and you are of Christ and
Christ is of God. [20-23]


What is the point of being jealous of each other we all have all things in Christ. There is nothing that I have that you don’t or that you have that I don’t because we are all Christ’s and he is ours.


Doesn’t mean that we are identical – we have different gifts and abilities – but they are God given and they are his ultimately. So we must turn away from comparing ourselves with each other and together glorify God in our work for and worship of Him.


PRAYER:       Lord you prayed to your father for your disciples:

I am not praying for the world but for those you

have given me, for they are yours.

All I have is yours and all you have is mine.

… My prayer is that…. they may be one as we are one:

I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity

to let the world know that you sent me and I have

loved them even as you have loved me. {Jn.17}

Lord may this always be true of us here at Binscombe that as a result

 of your love for us we might be united in our loved and work for you

and our love for each other so that your great name might be glorified.



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