One: 1 Corinthians 3:1-17
February 17, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:1–3:17
Intro: Ought Not Be
In another letter to another church (Colossians), Paul wrote that his life- mission was to bring as many people as possible to maturity in Christ. We can understand, therefore, why Paul is so frustrated with the Corinthian church. Though they confessed belief in the gospel, though they have been “enriched in every way” by the gospel, though they possess all that they needed to grow in the gospel, they refuse to act their age (spiritually speaking). The Corinthian church body is one adult-sized man-child acting in ways that contradict their identity. Spiritual man-children are self-destructive, relationally destructive, and missionally destructive—they only end up hurting themselves, others, and the church.
Back in 2011, as I was preaching Colossians, I ran across a subculture of people who actually choose to to remain immature. Suffering from a state of arrested development called infantilism, these physically mature adults live as babies complete with adult diapers, pacifier, bottles, baby toys, an adult-crib, an adult high-chair, and even going so far as to enlist mother-figure caregivers to babysit them. Adult-babies are an easy target. And while I can easily judge what appears creepy, I can’t truly judge the hearts of these individuals. But one thing is for certain, this is not how things ought to be (not what their parents envisioned for them).
A man living as an adult-baby is the poster-boy for Corinthian spirituality. Christians have struggled with the extended spiritual-adolescence for over 2,000 years. And while many of us have our reasons and excuses, biblically if someone has the Holy Spirit in them, it is not how things ought to be. Nevertheless we use our parents, our lack of education, our childhood traumas, our unhappy marriages, our difficult circumstances, our strained finances, our miserable jobs, our lack of time, our family commitments, our age, our personalities, and our busy lives to justify our delayed spiritual growth. What excuse do you use? The Corinthians think they have “arrived” but they are actually stuck in an extended-spiritual adolescence that is tearing their church family apart. But Paul is going to remind them that they are incomplete building project—our Father not only intends for us to grow up, but to be built up into something particular.
V. 1-4 God Wants you to Act Your Age
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Paul came to an unspiritual people, declared the gospel, and they experienced a spiritual rebirth. But they are still unspiritual; their lifestyle contradicts their identity in Christ. They say they love Jesus but they look like they love the world. So either they are miserable (because their identity is in Christ) or they are comfortable (a just like the “Christian” label) because they find their identity in the world. Spiritually speaking, the Corinthians are not acting their age. Paul is writing believers who have the Holy Spirit. Asking them to grow up is asking them to do something that they are fully equipped and empowered to do. You cannot expect a 2 year old to act like a 20 year old; but you can expect a 20 year old to not act like a 2 year old. An infant breastfeeding is sweet, a 20 year old breastfeeding is sick. So Paul comes at them hard because they are choosing act “human”, fleshly, or worldly instead of living as a chosen people, an empowered people, a governed people. When someone becomes a Christian, though they experience all of God’s transforming grace in their hearts instantly, they experience his reforming grace in their flesh progressively. But there is a progression—what God BEGINS he continues to BUILD we must not build against; we ought not regress, become immature, or grow backwards spiritually.
V. 5-9 God’s Building
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
The clearest example of juvenile spirituality is disunity as a church family. Paul says that they are full of jealousy and strife. The family does not trust one another and is not loving one another. You can tell a lot about man’s relationship with God by looking at his relationship with others. This kind of behavior is expected from those without the Spirit of God. Men, in their sinful rebellious state, are enemies of God. They have minds set on the flesh. Romans 8.7 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. BUT when God’s spirit is sent into a man’s heart, the hostility that exists between God and men ends. Romans 8.9 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. And the hostility that exists between men is ended. We are given the mind of Christ, meaning, we now relate with men differently.
The main issue for Paul is not JUST that they are quarreling amongst themselves; but how their view of their leaders is impacting their view (and treatment) of one another. In picking teams, the Corinthians are making two mistakes in how they view their leaders: 1) They are making TOO MUCH of some Christian leaders and 2) TOO LITTLE of other Christian leaders. Some they are worshipping and others they are condemning. Essentially, Paul upholds the unique value of ALL of their leaders. He tells them that their leaders are unified in their work; their leaders depend on one another’s work; and the leaders complement each other’s work—work that is under God. ALL of these men are servants, literally table waiters in God’s restaurant, fellow-workers on God’s worksite, different tools in God’s shed used by God to cultivate a field that is OWNED BY GOD. One tills, one plants, one waters, one prunes, one fertilizes—but only ONE can make it grow. The leaders have no independent importance and no independent power. I need you. You need me. We all need God…but God doesn’t need us. In pitting the rake against the shovel, they are in fact dishonoring God (who made and purchased the tools), hurting themselves, hurting one another, and destroying what God is trying to build.
V. 10-15 How God Builds
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Paul shifts from using a farm to talk about leaders, to using a building to describe the Corinthians. He describes himself as a master builder who laid a foundation—the cross of Jesus Christ. There cannot be a building without a foundation. And there can be no other foundation for the church other than Jesus. But even on the foundation of Christ, THERE IS MORE TO BE BUILT. We are, individually and corporately, a work in progress. It would be appropriate to put an UNDER CONSTRUCTION sign on our front door. As a work in progress, we are not complete. That is not the same as saying we are deficient, because God’s Spirit has given us all of the materials are there to complete us. It does mean, however, that our faith has unfinished areas, exposed areas, weak areas, even ugly areas. But there is a sense that the slowly, over time, our faith, and our faith family, will take on the shape, beautify, and function it God planned for us.
Follow this…if there is more to build, then there are builders in the church. Paul warns those who are “working” in and on the church. He is not concerned THAT they are working, but HOW they are working to shape it into something. There are several implications here:
1. FIRST, there is the implication that ALL are building. This is a CONSTRUCTION ZONE and if you are in Christ, you are have a hard-hat and part of the job. . Did you know that, as a member of God’s church, you are a fellow-worker and builder?
2. SECOND, everyone is designed to contribute something to the project, performing their unique part in the construction project. The church is full of different kinds of builders (teachers, preachers, servants, artists, etc.) all cooperating to build upon the one foundation. There are those who are not working at all. Something, therefore, is not getting built. Did you know you have a part to play?
3. THIRD, and most importantly, Paul says there is a right and wrong way to work. There are those who misread the blue prints, build out of turn, those who door poor construction, those who cut corners, and even those who sleep on the job. Paul is clear, there is a way to build and a way not to build—and quality workmanship matters. Did you know that you could get really good at the wrong thing?
Paul says that one day Jesus the building inspector is going to come through with a PURIFYING flamethrower and to test the believer’s workmanship. And when that fire comes, there are only two possibilities: GOOD work survives the fire = Reward. POOR work burns = Loss. This is the work of believers in building the church. Poor materials and/or workmanship will not threaten the loss of salvation, an eternal reward that cannot be lost. But Paul does seem to indicate that there is a loss of future reward. When Jesus returns to judge his enemy for their rebellion, He will also judge the work of His people. And on that day, genuine motivations, effort, and ‘spirituality’ of believers will be revealed for what it is, and much of what many do or pretend to do will prove to be “merely human” and contribute absolutely nothing for the kingdom. How does that make you feel?
V. 16-17 What God Builds
But what are we supposed to be building? Paul tells us. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Paul begins with a ‘Don’t you know’ statement, one that he will use 10xs in this letter. The statement itself implies that what he is telling them is obvious, at least to those who are as wise as they claim to be. God is not done with us. On the foundation of Christ, he is building his church. And God not only intends for this this to be a community project, God also intends for us his church to be built into something. God is not building us into a utility shed with helpful tools, a social club with cool members, a hospital for the sick, a warehouse to store boxes of traditions, a storefront to sell Christianity, a movie theater where you can be entertained, or a restaurant where you can “have it your way”. God is not building us into anything that is designed to compete with the world. We are not meant for so little. We are being built up as THE TEMPLE OF GOD. We are designed to be a place and a people who worship.
In the Old Testament, the temple was a building at center of Israel’s identity. Built by King Solomon, the temple was a sacred sanctuary like no other. God designed it to be more than a building. Among other things, it was called the House of God as it housed the Ark of the Covenant. After many years of construction, Solomon assembled the elders and leaders of Israel feasted and sacrificed before the Ark. After the priests placed the Ark into the Holy Place 2Kings 8.10-11. 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
1. Like the temple, church is being built up into a place where the Spirit of the LORD dwells with and within men—where the presence of God is made manifest. All too often we measure whether a place is “spirit-filled” by our emotional response. You can get tingles and tears anywhere. We want to be a people who experience the presence of God and the power of the Spirit in a way not possible elsewhere. God’s Spirit is in His Church and God builds us up as we experience the Spirit of God in and through one another. An experience that is painfully beautiful and transformational.
2. Like the temple, the church is where the people of God come together to worship God. The temple was the place where people praised God in song, read the Word of God, made sacrifices for their sins, and gave offerings to the LORD. We are not being built into a more spiritual or knowledgeable, as much as he is building us up as a more WORSHIPFUL people. This means much more than doing religious routines. As God builds us up, we begin to worship God through more and more aspects of our lives: attitudes, service, time, money, tongues, work, parenting, sexuality, etc.
3. Like the temple, the church is also a place built to display the wisdom and power of God to the world. The people of God are supposed to offer a picture of God’s Kingdom here on earth. God is not building us into a Christianized reproduction of the world—he is building His radically different Kingdom on earth. We don’t offer a better way life, an Adam 2.0, but an entirely new one in the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ.
Did you not know’, that WE are the dwelling place of God, built by God, on God, and for God? SO IF, by God’s Spirit, this is who we are and who God is making us to be even more, then everything in our lives, our attitudes, our perceptions, and our decisions making should be transformed more and more. We will stop asking me-centered questions like: does this make me look or feel spiritual? Does this make me happy? Does this get me ahead? Does this get me what I desire? INSTEAD, we knowing what we are and are becoming, we will begin to ask God-centered questions like: 1) Does this bring me closer to God, into his presence, where I can know him and depend on Him more? 2) Does this bring more glory and honor to God?—even if brings less comfort or ease to me? 3) Does this bring a greater witness to God, make much of His name—even if it makes less of mine? It’s never too late to start building, because God never stops. As Paul said, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1.6)