Building On The Foundation Of Christ
[1st Corinth. chapter 3]
This week’s Bible study of the writings of the apostle Paul will be on the third chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In this passage of Scripture, Paul is teaching about building on the foundation of Christ as a way to avoid divisions within the church, and he is doing so in the context of the state of the early Church at that time. Paul is addressing specific issues that had been brought up previously by this congregation, presumably regarding certain disagreements and arguments that had sprung up among them. In the early part of this chapter Paul finds himself having to rebuke this congregation for their lack of unity due to disputes among them concerning their views on what it meant to be Christian. We will begin at the first verse as usual.
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul’, and another, ‘I follow Apollos’, are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (I Corinthians 3: verses 1-9 NIV)
As you can see, Paul is telling the early Corinthian church to grow up, stop fighting among themselves and to quit acting like children in the faith. Paul is admonishing them to become more mature in their faith as God first intended. But he is also saying that it doesn’t matter how they first heard the Gospel being preached or from who they heard it. What is important is that the Gospel originates from God, not from mere men. Jesus is the message, and we are the messengers. Paul then refers to a well-known Old Testament verse, “One man plants, another man waters, but it is God who gives the increase”, stating, “…for we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”, with another translation of ‘building’ in this context being ‘storehouse’ or ‘barn’. Paul is saying that all blessings come from God, and He can send even enough to fill up any storehouse. Paul then continues in verse 10.
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (I Corinthians 3: 10-17 NIV)
When Paul says “I laid a foundation as an expert builder”, he is speaking in the context of himself being the founder of the church at Corinth. He then states definitively that anyone building on his foundation had better not use any combustible materials, referring to the Old Testament, which calls God a “consuming fire”. This was written as a warning to the church against the pursuit of material gain and the hoarding of money and goods. This same warning is just as valid to the church today as it was when those words were first written nearly 2,000 years ago. Paul then adds that putting too much faith in our earthly works and treasures won’t necessarily prevent us from getting to heaven when we die, but it will be the same as escaping from a fire with nothing but the clothes on our backs. It was also a warning that Christ is the only true foundation upon which the Church is built, and that anything less is impure at best, and heresy at worst. Finally, Paul compares the early church to a new temple of the Lord in which He can dwell, and he reminds us that, “…God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” Paul then concludes the chapter beginning at verse 18 by completing his warning to keep the church on the foundation of Christ.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 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’. So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas 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.” (I Corinthians 3: verses 18-23 NIV)
To put this into 21st century English, Paul is warning the church, “Don’t kid yourselves. People who think they are smart aren’t as smart as they would like to think. In the end, everything belongs to God. Anything that is not consumed in His consuming fire, will stand the test of time and be permanent. Everything else is just temporary anyway.” And I believe Paul is telling us these things to make sure we keep our values in perspective, so we can be more spiritual and less superficial. This is a good thing for all of us to put into practice, so let’s all start to do this today. That way we’ll be able to advance the state of all our lives as we transition into tomorrow.