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Friday, February 12, 2016

1 Corinthians (Lesson 11)

Home Bible Study ©
Established November 2008
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4

1 Corinthians                                                                    (Lesson 11)

Introduction to 1 Corinthians Chapter 3

In chapter 3 Paul picks up right where he left off in chapter 2 reproving the philosophy, the pride, and the vain wisdom of the Greeks of Corinth.

This chapter is an account of Paul’s initial ministry with them too (Acts 18).  There’s some evidence which suggests that a false teacher or teachers entered this church after Paul left and they went right to work undermining his ministry (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).  During Paul’s initial 18 months at Corinth, Paul chose not to delve into the deeper truths of God’s Gospel but confined his teachings to the ABC’s of the faith instead.  We have Paul’s own words at 1 Corinthians 3:2 to support this fact.  False teachers, stepped into the vacuum created by his departure, forming sects in the church as they pretended to explain the many things that Paul left unexplained albeit incorrectly; hence the divisions and the quarrels in this assembly.

It then fell to Paul to explain why he restricted his instructions to the fundamentals of the gospel, and we find his reasoning for this at 1 Corinthians 5:1-11:  It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…

Paul addressed the most serious issue in this church at the beginning of this letter, which was an obvious example of their carnality or walking after the flesh.  Some of these Believers had aligned themselves with certain teachers, i.e. Apollos, Paul, and Peter, and they were causing contentions and divisions in Christ’s body by arguing which of these preachers was the most spiritual  (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:3-23).  Paul felt that trying to teach these people the deeper truths of God’s Gospel would be a waste of time so long as they continued to indulge in petty debates over who was the greatest!

Spiritual immaturity in the churches was a common issue back in Paul’s day although not to the degree of the Corinthian church. We find him addressing this matter in his letter to the Hebrews for example:  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food (Hebrews 5:12).
Spiritual immaturity remains a troublesome concern today.

Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 3:1. 

Foundations for Living

1 Corinthians 3

1: And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men (and women), but as to men of flesh (carnal), as to infants in Christ.

2: I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able,

3: for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  (Romans 13:13)

4: For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

5: What then is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.

6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

7: So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

I think we should define a few of the terms Paul uses in these verses before we proceed:

  • The term spiritual is applied to those who not only possess the gift of the Holy Spirit, but who walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). 

  • The phrase men of flesh or carnal, (Sarkikos in the Greek language), denotes those who walk after the flesh, i.e. controlled by their animal appetites, governed by their human (fallen) nature. 

  • The term milk (Gala in the Greek language – Strong’s Concordance #G1051) means the basic, elemental teachings of true Christianity first learned by new Believers – easy to digest (understand) spiritually. 

  • The term solid food or meat as used in other translations (Broma in the Greek language – Strong’s Concordance #G1033) means more solid, complete and deeper spiritual doctrines of the Gospel.   

Let’s examine verse 1.

1 Corinthians 3

1: And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men (and women), but as to men of flesh (carnal), as to infants in Christ.

The word flesh in the Greek language is Sarkinos (pronounced:  sar-kee-nos) and means – made of or derived from hearts of flesh, so this means made of flesh or fleshly.  Keeping it in context, Paul uses it of Believers who “have the Spirit;” meaning they’re saved, but they’re “walking after the ways of the world.”  This is one of the few places in the N.T. where this distinction is made and it speaks of the tragedy of salvation without sanctification.  That is claiming Jesus Christ as Savior, but not living as if He is your Lord.  The outward signs of this worldly behavior within the Corinthian church were being characterized by a factitious spirit, jealousy, and strife - among other things. 

…as to infants in Christ – the term “born-again” is used by Jesus Christ Himself to indicate that a person must be reborn from above; regenerated spiritually (John 3:1-21).  This occurs when you place your faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Eternal life is imparted immediately to each Believer by God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5). 

Drawing a comparison from when you were initially born into this world, unable to feed yourself without assistance, talk, or walk, you’ll note that you didn’t remain in that state.  You progressively developed in stages from a baby, to an infant, to a toddler, to a child, and so on.  In similar fashion, every new Believer’s begins at the same place, infants in Christ.  There isn’t a single Believer who starts they’re new life in Christ Jesus with a complete understanding of the Scriptures; obediently following every single command found in them.  Believe me when I say God doesn’t expect it of you or me either, hence the meaning of the word Grace.  He knows “old Adam” still lives within us (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15, 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-11); we have a long way to go before we become like His Son, but this is the goal (or certainly should be) of every Believer:  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Romans 8:29).  The long and short of it is we’re not to remain infants!

Let’s move on to verse 2.

1 Corinthians 3

2: I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able,

I gave you milk to drink, not solid food - Hippolytus of Rome (170-236 AD); bishop and martyr, tells us that the early church gave a glass of “milk” and honey to the new converts at their first communion to symbolize this Truth (see Canons of Hippolytus #19).

Because of the uncontrolled immorality being committed by the members of this church in Corinth, Paul opted not to teach them the deeper things of God’s Gospel.  He taught them the essentials of the faith and left it at that:  I gave you milk to drink.  Had this group of individuals shown more promise, been a lot less worldly in their behavior and in their thinking, in other words, Paul may have shared God’s deeper Truths with them as the next section of this sentence indicates:

…for you were not yet able to receive it (it being the solid food of God’s Word).
Paul closed chapter 2 saying, “But we (every Believer) have the mind of Christ.”  Meaning, he had revealed to the Corinthians His God-given message.  Although the Corinthian Church is gifted with the Spirit of God and is knowledgeable, they had received the “good news” of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for their sins; the message of Christ has not reshaped their thinking (Romans 12:1-2).  They have not matured in Christ.  By the time Paul got around to writing this letter many months had gone by.  Although it’s appropriate and in keeping with the norm to be a “baby Christian” at the start of your new life in Christ Jesus, it is shameful to be found still wearing “diapers” after many years have gone by. 

We know from Scripture that our Apostle Paul was a tent-maker by trade.  He also knew something about constructing a building for he likened himself to a wise master builder.  Anyone with any construction experience realizes the integrity of the structure begins and ends with a “firm foundation.”  As far as Paul’s ministry was concerned, in accordance with God’s building code, he only laid one foundation:  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). 

On the day you became a Believer, the Lord Jesus Christ became your Foundation for life (Matthew 7:24-27).  From the point of your conversion you began to build on this foundation.  We all must bear in mind that this Foundation was expensive.  It cost Jesus Christ His life.  In light of this, Paul admonishes us:  But each man (and woman) must be careful how he (or she) builds on it.  This means no Believer should use inferior building materials on such a costly Foundation.  Paul mentions six kinds of building materials:  gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw.  A wise builder will only select gold, silver, and precious stones.  Wood, hay, and straw are not nor do they meet God’s building code requirements (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Bearing this in mind, and because Paul chose to tackle the most serious issue of dissension and disunity in this church in chapter 1, we know his primary concern for the church at Corinth was for their spiritual maturity.  They were arguing amongst themselves over whom to follow, Apollos, Paul, or Peter, like young children or infants who become easily attached to an individual. 

Those who align themselves with one teacher or the other became quarrelsome and lose sight of the Main Thing or the One to whom they should cling wholeheartedly to – the Lord Jesus Christ: Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:1-3).

One of the purposes of the Gospel by which we are saved today (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) is to help us grow or mature in our salvation.  When I was in the first and second grade, I was introduced to mathematics.  I learned to count to ten, then to a hundred.  I progressed from that to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  The point being, I left the elementary teachings behind and moved forward, gaining more knowledge with each passing year. 

There comes a time when we need to leave “first principles” and grow up spiritually too:  Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a (what) foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.  And this we will do, if God permits (Hebrews 6:1-3).

…if God permits; faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only means by which we will mature or gain spiritual knowledge of Him.  Placing our faith in those who do the preaching or the teaching will not get the job done; they are merely servants of God (1 Corinthians 4:1).  The prophet Isaiah warned and admonished the prideful nation of Israel to, “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?”  (Isaiah 2:23)  Instead, Isaiah encouraged the people to go up to the house of God so that they could learn His ways.  They need to translate God’s teachings into a way of life. 

Let’s go to verse 3.

1 Corinthians 3

3: for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  (Romans 13:13)

The Corinthian Christians thought they were deeply spiritual but their jealousy and strife clearly demonstrate that they are fleshly.  Although they had problems in their human relationships, there is an underlying concern pointing to a much bigger problem.  There’s something seriously wrong with their relationship with God; evidenced by their worldly living, and thinking. 

And are you not walking like mere men?  The Greek word for walking is Peripateo (pronounced:  per-ee-pat-eh’-o) and means – to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self.  This word is used often in the Bible to indicate “conduct” or “act.”  People conduct themselves as human beings of this earth, that is, as people commonly act.  Instead of being led by the Spirit of God, the majority of people are led by the spirit of this world.  Note that Paul did not say they were acting like mere men (that is not saved), he said they were behaving like mere men forgetting on whom their Foundation had been built.

We who have the Spirit of God within us are to walk in the Spirit:  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).  This means do what you do each day by the Spirit; live your life from sun-up to bed-time by the power of God’s Spirit.  The opposite of walking by the Spirit is to give in to the desires of the flesh or those things we know are contrary to God’s will for us. 

Let’s go to verses 4-6.

1 Corinthians 3

4: For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

The Corinthian Believer’s were caught with their hands in the “cookie jar,” so to speak, so the way this is written, Paul is expecting a nod of approval.  Walking like mere men is the very essence of carnality, since spiritual maturity is witnessed by its fruits both in one’s actions and in one’s attitude. (Romans 8:1-11; Galatians 5:22-26).

5: What then is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave (the measure of faith or) opportunity to each one.

In essence Paul is saying who am I?  Who is Apollos?  Why are you folks forming sects in our name?  Who taught you to do such a thing; it certainly wasn’t of us.  We are the servants of Jesus Christ through whom you believed; not on whom you believed (1 Corinthians 1:13). 

6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

I was born and raised in farm country.  I know for certain that a farmer who plants a field of corn, waters and fertilizes it, doesn’t really make the corn grow.  The miracle of life does that (John 12:24).  All the farmer can do is provide the right environment for growth, and then God does the rest.  We Believers entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation do the same thing in ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ to other people (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). 

Some people in the church are under the mistaken belief that they are responsible for saving people.  You’re not going to find that doctrine anywhere in Scripture, only God can cause the growth.  Others get frustrated because they want to water when God has called them to plant, or they want to plant when God wants them to water. 

But here’s the thing:  you may introduce an individual to the gospel (plant), then someone else will come along and add something to that (water it) and the reality is it may take several other people or contacts before God opens the heart of this person to receive His Truth.  Bottom line: we’re going to show fruit when we are content doing what God has called us to do. 

And now verses 7-9.

1 Corinthians 3

7: So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

This verse isn’t saying our ministry of reconciliation is of no importance.  What it is saying is the one who plants and the one who waters holds no comparison to God in any way (1 Corinthians 1:28).  All glory and honor belong to God alone.  For apart from God’s help, we have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the growth of His church.

Paul is combating the Corinthian’s desire to divide over which preacher is more spiritual.  In effect, Paul is saying, “We’re all on the same team.”  To put it another way, how good would the quarterback be without the offensive line in front of him? 

Instead of arguing over which is more important, planting or watering, it’s time to get our priorities straight.  Both planting and watering are necessary, the kingdom of God needs both and both are working towards the common goal. 

8: Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his labor.

9: For we are God’s fellow workers’; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Note the statement of ownership by Paul.  We are not independent contractors or agents; Paul describes the Corinthians (and us) as working for God and with one another.  Therefore, what’s up with this disunity?  He goes on to say the church at Corinth or the Body of Christ in general, which he’s likened to a field and a building, is actually God’s field and God’s building. 

The shape of a building is determined by its Foundation.  The Foundation provides the parameters for how the rest of the building is constructed.  If God is going to sanction spiritual growth, it is imperative that we plant and water His field according to His “blueprint” or design.  We’ll follow up on this truth in the next Bible lesson. 

(To be continued)

[Published weekly on Friday]

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