Study Notes for I Corinthians 3:1-9 (click here for Study Sheet)
In this passage Paul again addresses the Corinthians' problem of spiritual immaturity.
"I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly," he says to them. "Since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?"
Paul is not telling the Corinthians that they have lost or are in danger of losing their salvation. Rather, he's pointing out to them that they're not growing spiritually. They are still allowing their "natural man" to dictate their behavior. The thing for which he reprimands them, in fact, is not "worldly"; rather, he reprimands them for following different religious leaders. The irony is that their loyalties to their favorite leaders has caused decidedly worldly jealousy and quarreling among them.
The problem, Paul tells them, is that he and Apollos and other leaders are servants of Christ. They are not authorities in their own right. The church members should not be identifying with these and seeing themselves as their followers.
"What, after all, is Apollos?" Paul asks; "and what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe"
The church members are to see themselves as followers of Christ, not of different teachers. They are to depend upon the Holy Spirit and upon their own study of the scriptures to verify the doctrines and interpretations they hear from their mentors. They are Christ-followers, not Paul-or-Apollos-followers.
Milk and Solid Food Identified
Paul is concerned because the Corinthians are still not ready for solid spiritual food. By now they should have moved from spiritual milk to real meat. Hebrews 5:136:3 identifies spiritual milk and solid food. Milk, according to this passage, is "the elementary teachings about Christ" including "the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment."
Solid food, according to this same passage is "the teaching about righteousness" (verse 5:13). This is "for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."
By now, Paul is telling the Corinthians, they should be moving from the basics of the Christian faith to understanding how to live righteously with the Spirit. By now they should be exercising their gifts of the Spirit and learning to know the difference between good and evil without depending on someone to tell them what's good and what's evil. The Holy Spirit will inform them personally.
As long as they are caught up promoting the theological interpretations of their favorite teachers, they are not listening to the Holy Spirit. They are stuck in spiritual infancy, and they are not able to grow. In fact, not only are they spiritual infants, but they are acting unspiritually, as "mere men". They have to be willing to let go of their attachments to their favorite teachers and let the Holy Spirit become their Teacher.
Ultimately, we all are called to allow the Holy Spirit to define our understandings of truth. We learn from each other, but in the final analysis, we cannot depend on another human to interpret doctrine or practice for us. We must let the Bible and the Spirit confirm whether the lessons we learn are truth or deception.
God's Field and God's Building
Paul uses two evocative metaphors to describe the church: God's field and God's building. The church leaders, he said, are God's servants appointed to work in the field and on the building.
He makes it clear that those called to be teachers and leaders have specific jobs to do. None of them is responsible for the whole project. They are "only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each his task." (verse 5)
Neither the one who plants the seed nor the one who waters the seed "is anything, but only God, who makes things grow," Paul declares. Each person has his or her own purpose, and each person "will be rewarded according to his own labor."
God calls us to specific jobs. Those are the things for which He holds us accountable. God wants us to let go of our drives to control the whole project; our job is to do the things He puts before us.
In these metaphors the field and the building are the objects of God's special attention and care. The servants called to nurture and build them are doing God's work, and the field and the building expand and grow under the servants' attention. In these pictures of the church, it's clear that those called to positions of leadership are really called to serve. The field and the building-the church-are the focus of attention and reflect the glory of Christ. The servants labor to enhance the beauty of the church; they are not the focus of attention nor the recipients of glory.
The modern church has twisted this paradigm. In many cases the church has become a means of promoting charismatic leaders instead of the leaders building the body of Christ.
Paul chastises the Corinthian church for making their leaders the focus of attention. Our job as church members is to grow in Christ, increasingly living with the Spirit. When we become followers of a charismatic teacher, much of our emotional and spiritual energy is drawn away from Christ and focused on a person. Even if the leader is preaching truth, that truth cannot transform us if our spiritual energy is diverted to a person. Truth is only transforming when it moves from being intellectual assent to spiritual understanding, and spiritual understanding is possible only when we are open to hearing and knowing the Spirit. When we follow and depend upon another human, we do not give the Holy Spirit his rightful place in our hearts. Truth remains external knowledge instead of internal transformation.
God's Presence on Earth
As God's field we are alive. We expand; we produce fruit that feeds the world, and our seeds create new growth. We are God's vitality on earth. We are changing, nurturing, expanding, green with new life and ripe with harvests. The wind of God's Spirit blows through us, and we drink the water of life. When God calls us to tend the field, its health and growth become our delight. We respect each other as co-laborers, and we rejoice in the life and love of God reflected in the field's growth.
As God's building we are invulnerable. Our foundation cornerstone is Jesus, and the capstone that holds the superstructure together is also Jesus. As God's building we have replaced the Old Covenant temple as the dwelling place of God. Just as the law is now written on tablets of human hearts instead of tablets of stone (II Cor. 3:3), so the temple of God is now his church. As this building grows, God's presence becomes increasingly powerful on earth. As God's building we bear the presence of God in the world and become a place of salvation and grace.
As God's servants we are called to carry love and grace to a dying world. We are called to uphold each other and bear each other's burdens. We are called to let God's plans be our plans. We are called to let the Holy Spirit show us our jobs.
As God's servants we are called to follow Him through the flames and to share His glory. We are called to be one with Him.
As God's servants we are called to Love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.