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1 Corinthians 3: God's Field and God's Temple Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 30 August 2015

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A few years ago, my wife and I planted a garden. We asked our neighbor to bring his tractor over and dig up a spot in our backyard. We went to Lowe’s and picked out the stuff that we wanted to grow: bell peppers, jalepeno peppers, tomatoes, and some other stuff I can’t remember. We prepared the soil (or we dug around in it like we knew what we were doing) and planted our crops. I think we watered it some, but not nearly enough. We tried to keep the weeds out, but eventually gave up. We had no idea what we were doing. But eventually, things started growing. Unfortunately, the squirrels and the birds and maybe even a rabbit or two ate most of our produce, but we did get to enjoy some of it. We planted a garden and edible things actually grew up out of the ground. Amazing.

As Paul continues his appeal for the unity of the Church in Corinth, he uses an agricultural analogy to drive home his point. His original readers were way more familiar with growing a garden than I am, but the point rings true even today. Although Paul is building upon what he has already written in the letter up to this point, his argument in chapter 3 can stand alone. He begins with an introduction in the first few verses, then moves to some examples to support what he is teaching, and then offers a brief conclusion at the end. Let’s trace this argument together this morning.

Introduction: ‘You are behaving in the flesh’ (v. 1-4)

Even though the believers in Corinth had the Spirit, as Paul has just argued (see 2:6-16), that did not mean that they were acting very ‘spiritual.’ Look what he says to them in verses 1-3a. Paul calls these believers infants in Christ. When he came to them he had fed them with spiritual milk, for that is what infants need (trust me I know!) But even now, a few years later they are still not ready for solid food. Why does Paul think that they are still infants? Look at what he says in verses 3b-4.

Paul calls them infants because of their behavior. A person may be an adult in years, but that does not mean that they act like it. These Corinthians were acting like infants because of their jealousy and strife. Such sinful action is not the right behavior for spiritual people. They were acting in their flesh and showing their immaturity in the faith. Just because a person truly has the Spirit does not mean that they will always act in the Spirit. At times, they will act in the flesh. Of course, if this is their normal pattern of action, then it could be that they are not truly in Christ. But for this situation, Paul felt that these people were truly Christians, they just were not acting like it by being divided over who follows Paul and who follows Apollos. He wants them to see and correct that error.

Two images to encourage unity: the field and the temple (v. 5-17)

After reasserting his appeal for unity, Paul then uses two images to drive home his point. These images are very helpful for our understanding of the local Church and the role that the leaders play in regard to the community of faith. We need to hear again what Paul writes.

The first image is that of a field.

Look at verses 5-7. What is the role of leaders in the local Church? They are to be servants who play their part by using their gifts to plant and water. In Corinth, Paul came first planting the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of these believers. Then Apollos came and watered those seeds through faithful teaching of the Word. Yet, in both instances, Paul and Apollos were only servants of the Lord and any growth that happened was only by His strength and by His grace. These two men were not at odds, they were merely using their gifts in the service of God. Paul describes this in verses 8-9. Look at those with me. Paul doesn’t want a party following after him. He doesn’t want the Church to divide over loyalty to him and loyalty to Apollos. No, he wants them to recognize that they are both just fellow-workers for God. The field belongs to Him for only He can give the growth.

It is important for all believers, leaders and church members, to remember these truths. Sometimes leaders act as if they own the Church, especially when things have gone well. At other times, individual members act as if they own the Church because of how long they have attended or how much money they have contributed. But both of those scenarios are wrong. None of us own Trinity Baptist Church. She belongs to Christ. She is His field. We may plant and we may water, but only He gives the growth.

The second image is that of a building or a temple.

Paul has laid a solid foundation for the Church in Corinth. Look at what he says in verses 10-11. His concern in this paragraph will be the issue of how a person builds upon the foundation of Christ. The Corinthians faith was established upon the preaching of the gospel. Paul told them of God the Creator and man’s rebellion against Him. He told them of Jesus’ perfect life and His death upon the cross for their sins. He told them about His resurrection and pleaded with them to repent and believe in Jesus, which they did. Thus, Christ and the good news of His death and resurrection is the foundation of the church at Corinth.

But what will be built on this foundation? That is the issue that Paul takes up next. Look at verses 12-15. Like any building, the quality of the materials is critical for the temple of God. If a person does not build with eternal, lasting truth upon the foundation of Christ, then their work, their ministry, will be burned up on the last Day, even though they may still be saved. Yet, if they faithfully build through preaching the gospel from the Word and making disciples of Christ, then their ministry will survive and they will be rewarded on the last Day. Paul does not tell us here or elsewhere what that reward will consist of, but it is a motivation for faithful ministry.

These verses should be a sober warning to all ministers who labor in leading the Church. They should encourage us to teach and lead in a way that will survive the coming judgment. One of my commentator’s notes: “Gospel work is hard and always has been. People are resistant; the opposition is strong. But we need to have the conviction that it is the quality of each man’s work that God is concerned with, not its apparent outward success.” 1

Paul gives an additional warning in verses 16-17. Look at those with me. People often misunderstand these verses because they get lost in translation a bit. When Paul writes: Do you not know that you are God’s temple...the pronouns translated by ‘you’ are plural. If you live in the South, then you could read it like this: ‘Do ya’ll not know that ya’ll are God’s temple.’ It’s not eloquent, but it helps us understand what Paul is saying. Later he will talk about individuals being the dwelling place of the Spirit (see 6:19-20), but here he is talking about the Church collectively. We are the temple of the Spirit.

Thus, anyone who seeks to destroy the Church through division is placing themselves under the judgment of God. It is bad enough to build with poor materials, but seeking to destroy the Church will lead to personal destruction. Again, we cannot be overly certain about what that means, but neither temporal nor eternal destruction from God is something that we want to risk. We must not destroy His Temple, the Church.

Conclusion: Do not divide over men, but be unified in Christ (v. 18-23)

Paul brings his argument to a conclusion in verses 18-23. He again encourages them to avoid being taken in by the wisdom of this age. Look at verses 18-20. The Corinthians were being lured away from the message of the cross by the wisdom of the world. Paul reminds them again that such a move is complete folly. Do not let the stuff of earth keep you from the truth of heaven. The wisdom of men is folly with God. We must not be taken in by it. Rather, instead of boasting in men, we should be unified in Christ. Look at verses 21-23. Some want to follow Paul, while others want to follow Apollos or Peter. But Paul says why divide over these men when you have everything you need in Christ. In Him you have all that you need. Keep your eyes on Him. Be united through your faith in Him. Do not be divided over men.

Paul gives us a straightforward argument against division in 1 Corinthians 3. Division over men comes from the flesh and not the Spirit. Men are just servants in God’s field. They may work in various ways, but only He gives the growth. We should labor together in faithfully building on the solid foundation of Christ and avoid destroying God’s temple through division. In short, we should be faithful fellow-workers, laboring together for building up of the Body of Christ.

What does a faithful fellow-worker look like? First, he does not divide the Church. He knows that to do such is acting in the flesh, so he does all that he can to avoid it. Second, he works as a servant. He does not labor for recognition or fame. No, he plants or he waters knowing that only God can give the growth. A faithful fellow-worker never takes credit for the fruit produced by his labors. He directs all praise to the founder and perfecter of our faith, Jesus our Savior (Hebrews 12:2). Finally, a faithful fellow-worker builds well upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. In all his teaching and discipling and serving and modeling, he is pointing others back to Christ. He is not impressed by present day ‘success’ or quick fix methods. He keeps his eyes on the Final Day and works accordingly. He points people to Christ and does the hard work of helping them become faithful followers of Him. So then, what about you? Are you a faithful fellow-worker? By God’s grace, may we all be faithful as we labor together in God’s field and God’s temple. Amen.

1 David Jackman, Let’s Study 1 Corinthians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), p. 58.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 September 2015 )

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