1 Corinthians 3
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
1 Corinthians Chapter 3

Such then is the ample complete and perfect provision of God for the blessing of His children by the truth to His own glory. His Spirit is everywhere the agent and power, as Christ is the object presented, and His work the efficacious ground and means, which His own sovereign counsels are the spring of all. Expressly is it the Holy Ghost who, as He reveals, and communicates in suited words, so enables the believer to receive, the things of God. And this led to a contrast between him that is spiritual, who discerns all things, and the natural man who does not receive and cannot know the things of the Spirit.

It is not however that the Corinthian saints were "natural" men, for this would imply that they were not born of God. This the apostle does not say or mean, but that they were "carnal," or "fleshly:" that is, flesh had still attractions for them. It was not judged, detected in principle, or hated in all forms and degrees. They still valued what was of man, wisdom, ability, or eloquence, as such. They had no adequate sense of nature's worthlessness in divine things. "Carnal," or "fleshly" describes not those dead in their sins, but those who, though quickened of the Spirit, are either not yet set free (as in Rom. 7) or still swayed by the influence of men, and nature unjudged - I do not say in its immorality, but in its estimate of itself. This last is before the apostle's mind here. The Corinthians might be babes in Christ, but they were not spiritual.

"And I, brethren, was not able to speak to you as spiritual, but as fleshly,* as babes in Christ. With milk I gave you drink, not meat; for ye were not set able, nor indeed are ye now able, for ye are yet carnal. For whereas emulation and strife** [are] among you, are ye not carnal and walk according to man? For when one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are ye not men?"† (Ver. 1-4.)

* The most ancient authorities ( A B Cp.m. Dp.m. 17. 67s.m. 71. and some Greek fathers, who however vary elsewhere) here give σαρκίνοις, in verse 8 all but Dp.m. F G on the first occurrence, all on the second. The difference is that σάρκινος means physically of flesh (2 Corinthians 3:8, Hebrews 7:16); whereas σαρκικός supposes a fleshly will (1 Peter 2:11; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4;), where it is not used generally as in Romans 15:27 and 1 Corinthians 9. In Romans 7:14 the best authorities (p.m. A B C D E F G and many cursives, etc.) give σάρκινος contrary to the reading of the common text. Here the importance dogmatically is great. The main question is which of the two should stand in 1 Corinthians 3:1. Tischendorf says on Hebrews 7:16, that in the apostolic age either form was undoubtedly applied in the same sense, and refers in proof to Romans 7:14 and 1 Corinthians 3:1; but these prove really that there is the difference in scripture which flows from the differing structure of each word.

* The common text (T. R.) adds καὶ διχοστασίαι on the authority of many MSS uncial and cursive, but contrary to the best copies ( A B C P 23. 46. 67. 71. 74. etc., Vulg. Cop. Arm. Aeth. and many Greek and Latin fathers).

† Instead of the vulgar reading σαρκικοί at the end of verse 4, the weight of authority is decidedly in favour of ἄνθρωποι ( A B C D E F G, etc., most ancient versions and fathers).

Thus the reason now given by the apostle for having urged on the Corinthians the elementary truths of Christ is their own state. They were not spiritual but fleshly. What a blow to their self-complacency! If they were but babes in Christ, what else would be suited food? That hankering after, or admiration of, the world's wisdom was its sure evidence: for flesh delights in what is of man, as the Spirit gives to enjoy what is of God.

It is quite an error however to suppose that all Christians are "spiritual" in the sense in which that term is used in chapter 2, which differs not at all from its use in chapter 3. In both it means those not merely quickened but walking, feeling, judging in the Spirit. To say in 1 Cor. 2 that one discerns all things but is oneself discerned by none conveys quite as much as the contrast with fleshliness in 1 Cor. 3. The mistake is in supposing that the apostle looks only at but two classes, whereas in truth he speaks of three: the natural man, the carnal, and the spiritual, the last two being Christians, but the state different. For "babes in Christ" does not refer to the recency of their conversion, but to their lack of growth. As the Hebrews were kept back by their religious prejudices (Heb. 5), so were these Greeks by their philosophising. In either way souls may be arrested, or misled, and stunted in growth. In one of the cases indeed it was from no want of time; for on this score they ought to have been teachers when they had need to be taught the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God, as the apostle put it to their great humiliation. So here: he gave them milk to drink. Meat was of no use in their actual state, nay, it might help on the mischief.

But there are other mistakes to guard against. Some in opposing the absurdity of reserve, Arcani Disciplina, etc., have laboured to prove that the same doctrine is in one aspect milk, in another meat. It is true that the Christ in whom the babes rested is more and more enjoyed of the fathers, but it remains certain that there is a whole range of truth as to Him which a carnal or even immature state. in the believer would render unseasonable. The mystery of Christ and the church in Ephesians and Colossians is more than the priesthood of Christ in Hebrews. It was not that the apostle could not have communicated the depths of God; but could they then profit by such teaching? Would it be of God to give meat beyond them or injurious to them? "Ye were not yet able, nor indeed are ye yet able." Nor was it from lack of natural ability, but on the contrary because they valued and trusted it to the hindrance of the Holy Spirit: "for ye are yet carnal." And this he proves from their state by incontestable evidence. "For whereas emulation and strife [are] among you, are ye not carnal and walk according to man? For when one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are ye not men?" Emulation and strife were works of the flesh, not fruits of the Spirit. Their existence in their midst showed how little they walked in self-judgment. It was the party work they were used to in the schools of men. Certainly party zeal for Paul or Apollos was no better than for Plato or Aristotle; it had all the same root. Nor is there any difficulty in conciliating such a reproof of not a few of the Corinthian saints with his thanksgiving for the church in the introduction of the epistle? For as already seen, this was for the privileges bestowed on them by the goodness of God, not for their actual state. Whatever their gifts, they were in fact grievously lacking in practical grace, and this, as it exposes to fresh or revived forms in which human nature works, so it would effectually hinder growth through the truth. The Holy Spirit in such circumstances must take of their things to show them their faults, not of Christ's things to glorify Him and comfort their hearts.

It is important, moreover, to see that it is a question not of morality according to the law, but of what suits, pleases, and magnifies Christ - the very object of the presence and action of the Spirit here below. Hence the apostle reproves them for walking, not as bad men merely, but "according to man." They ranged themselves under their new favourites in forgetfulness of Christ, and in abuse of their own mercies through His servants. "Are ye not men?" says he, indignantly protesting against such a state of things. They were saints and ought to walk as such.

Glorying in men, be they ever so blessed, is carnal, no less than self-assertion; they are indeed off-shoots of the same tree. How could those who are thus erected into heads of schools tolerate so false a position for themselves or their followers if indeed they have the eye single to Christ: if not, can they be trusted? Far different is our apostle who asks, "What* then is Apollos? and what† is Paul? "Ministers by whom ye believed, and as the Lord gave to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So that neither he that planteth is anything nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase. And he that planteth and he that watereth are one thing; but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour." (Ver. 5-8.)

* Τί is twice read by p.m. A B. 17. 46. 71. 121. Vulg. Aeth., etc.; τίς ("who") is found in the great majority of MSS and Vv.

† The order of P and A is thus given in A B C Dp.m. E F G P 17. 37. 46. 71. 116., etc. The best of these uncials ( A B C P) and the same cursive add ἐστίν which is left out of the vulgar text.

‡ The common text inserts ἀλλ᾽ ἤ, and so read Ds.m. L P, and most cursives, contrary to A B C Dp.m. E F G, a few cursives, several of the oldest versions, etc. It is hard to think what Calvin means, save that he is mistaken, in saying that in some copies καί is wanting, for this is not so. The Cod. Rescr. Ephr. of Paris leaves out ὡς, but I am aware of no support for this but a Latin copy. No Greek MS omits καί. He may confound ἀλλ᾽ ἤ with it, as to which we have already seen the evidence for and against. Calvin's critical remarks here, as often, are not to he trusted. His division of the verse is every way wrong, especially in making the last clause a further query.

Thus does God's wisdom correct the workings of unjudged nature, and this by a simple statement of the truth. For what are any? Servants at best in the proclamation of the gospel and the truth in general - servants by whom the Corinthian saints believed. Was there then no difference between Paul and Apollos? As the Lord gave to each. What room for boasting of men? Why not of the Lord who gave to each? Of this they had thought little. Grace unites. Flesh divides and scatters - flesh pre-occupied with this man or that, sometimes as here unable to find anything save in its favourites, sometimes heaping to itself teachers as at a later day. In either way there may be ever learning, but really no coming to the knowledge of the truth. The fact is that the Lord gives variously, nothing that is not good for the use of edifying, nothing in vain. It is not His way to form a class of labourers all alike, but to work differently by each. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." As it is in the work of the field where labour is expended in one form or another, but God alone can cause to grow, so it is in spiritual things. "So that neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase." How insignificant is any instrument! God it is who works efficiently. "And he that planteth and he that watereth is one thing." Here he sets ministry, or ministers, together as "one thing." The consequence is that God alone is seen to be of moment. But this very consideration, that they are "one thing," rebukes the party work of their flatterers; as his own reward for his own work to be received by-and-by is a serious suggestion for ministers who like or allow the unwise zeal of those who cry them up and depreciate others. Their differences vanish into nothingness before God who graciously deigns to use each for blessing; even as "each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour:" not according to his personal qualities, however cried up by his partisans, nor even according to the particular gift bestowed of the Lord, nor yet according to present results before the eyes of men often deceived and in no case able to discern as He does and will manifest by-and-by, but "according to his own labour."

How cheering to the despised but faithful and self-denying and gracious labourers; how humbling to Corinthian vanity which never took into account the one principle the Spirit here gives for the divine and enduring recompense! "For we are God's fellow-workmen; ye are God's husbandry, God's building." (Ver. 9.) This is the transition which justifies the foregoing, and prepares for the expansion of the last figure into the applications that follow. Whoever the servants may be, they are God's in direct responsibility, not in this sense the church's, still less of a party. Not that for this reason they do not serve the saints, for the more they preach not themselves but Jesus Christ, the more are they bondmen of the saints for His sake. But they are God's fellow-labourers, given of Him, doing His work, responsible in everything to Him, and finally to give Him an account. The phrase in no way means "workers together with God." This is not the gist of the argument in the context; it is a thought and language foreign to scripture; and also, in my judgment, unbecoming and presumptuous. The emphasis rests on "God's." They were "God's fellow-workmen, workers together," not rivals (as flesh in others or themselves might make them) but companions in work under God who employed them as such.

Nor is this all. The saints are God's husbandry, God's building, as emphatically. Were they producing what was suitable for Him who had the field tilled? Was the building as God's should be? I am surprised that any should think the meaning to be "with a view to your being God's husbandry and God's building;" for the apostle in saying "ye are" goes much farther. And duty is ever grounded on and shaped and measured by relationship.

We now come to language and application still more precise and solemn. "According to the grace of God that was given to me as a wise architect I laid the foundation and another buildeth on [it]. But let each see how he buildeth on [it]. For other foundation can none lay than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, the work of each shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare [it], because it is revealed in fire, and the fire shall try the work of each of what sort it is. If the work of any shall abide which he hath built on [it], he shall receive reward; if the work of any one shall be burnt up, he shall suffer loss, but himself shall be saved but so as through fire." Ver. 10-15.)

Even the apostle loved to connect his work and office with the grace of God rather than with abstract authority. It is this feeling which has so evaporated from Christendom, so that ministry has humanized and assumed even a worldly character, to the unspeakable loss of the church and the most serious dishonour to the Lord. Here he is careful to speak plainly; "according to the grace of God that was given me as a wise master-builder [or architect] I have laid a foundation, and another buildeth upon [it], but let each see how he buildeth on [it]." Here we have the responsibility of him who ministers. Apostolic place is maintained, but responsible service is affirmed, and it is a serious thing. "For other foundation can none lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any one buildeth upon the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, the work of each shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed by fire; and the work of each, of what sort it is, the fire itself shall prove."

Here all is in due proportion, and the revelation of God in Christ is laid as the foundation of all; but we see how man's responsibility remains. On that foundation very different material might be built up - not only what is precious, like the great and costly stones, etc., of the temple, but also what is worthless and vile. And here man's judgment is at fault; for doubtless many a Corinthian saint had prized the hay and straw of man's wisdom, and slighted the gold and silver of apostolic truth. Hence the need of another day and of the Lord's discernment. Therefore are they told that much may only be disclosed in the day that is coming. None but this day is to be revealed in fire. Then will the consuming judgment of God deal with each one's work. Even now there may be manifestations; but they are necessarily partial. The fire itself of that day will prove of what sort is the work of each. It is good to weigh this now. All that lets in the light of God's future on present occupation is wholesome not only for His servant, but for all concerned. There will be no mistake then: all must be in the light of God. "If any one's work which he hath built up shall abide, he shall receive reward." For reward there is to cheer in the midst of present sorrow with the hope of the Lord's recompense in that day. Present reward is a danger for every soul, especially in divine things. There is however comfort of love, and the more real it is the more we rest on Christ rather than on Christians. He then takes care that we shall have it in good measure, even if the sphere seem small. And so it must be in a day of general departure from faith. It is His love which constrains the servant, and confidence in His grace too which serves as a constant spring of action.

When so labouring, the hope of future reward from the Lord acts both safely and powerfully: otherwise there is danger. But it is dangerous also to despise the future as naturally do those who are too much occupied with present results. Will their work stand? "If the work of any one shall be burnt up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire." It is a powerful figure, and not hard to understand where the truth in general is held firm.

It is well known that Rome has founded on this passage one of its chief proofs of purgatory; but this is itself a sample of the refuse against which the apostle warns. For it is evident that not the faithful in general or their ways are in question, but ministers and their doctrine and again that a day of sifting judgment is meant and not some intermediate state now after death. Fire is the figurative expression of His judicial action which consumes all dross, not punishment for the separate spirit or soul, nor even a process of purifying it. "Saved, yet so as through fire," is to mark the difficulty of it; yet will God take care that so it shall be. So, as has been said, a builder might see his building ruined by fire, yet himself escape. Besides each one's work is to be thus tested - the apostle's work as certainly as that of his detractors, and gold, silver, and precious stones are subjected to the fire no less than the consumable material. Does all this apply to Romanist ideas of purgatory? The real point is the danger of introducing rubbish even where the true foundation is owned, not fundamental error or Antichristianism, but airy notions, lax maxims as to practice, etc., which the day of trial would detect and destroy. It was not so with his work whom some at Corinth had despised.

The figure of a building with its foundation, already used, furnishes the apostle with a yet fuller illustration. We have seen workmen wise or negligent, materials costly and durable or perishable and worthless, with a reward as the result on the one hand, or the workman suffering the loss of his work and his person only saved with difficulty. Now he develops on both sides, and contrasts the holiness of God's temple in the saints with the enemy's instruments in corrupting and destroying.

"Know ye not that ye are God's temple, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any one destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which ye are. Let none deceive himself: if any one thinketh himself to be wise among you in this age, let him become foolish that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written, He that taketh the wise in their craftiness; and again, [The] Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise that they are vain. Wherefore let none boast in men, for all things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye Christ's, and Christ God's." (Ver. 16-23.)

Thus God has His temple on earth now as surely as of old in Israel. But this is often not seen by those who confess that the old Levitical order is judged and gone, and that the effort to imitate it since redemption is to fall away from the grace and truth of God now come in Christ, and proclaimed in the gospel, and to be displayed in the Christian and the church. It was the presence of God always which constituted God's temple. Not the costliness of stones, nor the splendour of gold or silver, but the cloud wherein Jehovah was pleased to come down was its true glory, when Israel could boast of a habitation in their midst for the mighty One of Jacob. So now it is not merely that there are Christians, but God has His house or temple. It is the assembly, not the individuals considered as such, but those builded together for the purpose in virtue of the Spirit. See Ephesians 2:22. The Spirit dwells in each believer doubtless; but this is another truth and equally certain from God's word. "Know ye not that ye are God's temple, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you!" How solemn the fact that a divine person, the Holy Ghost, dwells where Christians are; and this, it may be added, because of redemption! For it was never so till the work of Christ was wrought, and He going on high sent the Holy Spirit down to be in the saints and abide with them for ever. It is God's testimony to the efficacy of His sacrifice. Whatever the mercies and blessings and privileges before, this could not be till the blood that makes atonement for ever was shed. Now the Spirit of God comes where that blood-shedding is confessed; and there He dwells, making those who confess Christ and His work God's temple.

But it is much to be weighed that the apostle is here showing the danger not only of unreality but of defilement. There are those who build wisely and well; there are those who, confessing His name, build on the one and only foundation unfit materials. But there is worse still. There is the enemy at work using men that bear the Lord's name to corrupt or destroy (the same word, and one may say, the same thing). For God speaks of evil doctrine according to its own nature if it work unimpeded; and this is the only result of heterodoxy so left. He who teaches it corrupts and destroys; and him who destroys (or corrupts) the temple of God shall God destroy. Awful end! but is there not a cause? is it not sufficient? Could the holy God feel or do otherwise? It is in vain to plead love; for in truth the blow of love in caring for the objects beloved is beyond all to be feared. And how does not God resent that evil which defiles the holy temple where His Spirit dwells in virtue and honour of the work of Christ on the cross? He will surely destroy those whom Satan thus employs, under whatever disguise, to pollute the very streams of life and blessing for souls, yea, to dishonour the temple wherein He Himself dwells.

It is to deceive oneself where any reason is allowed in palliation of evil. Men who so weaken - I will not say christian feeling only, but - common conscience may be found among those who bear the Lord's name; but, specious as they may seem and fine-spoken, it is not the wisdom of God in Christ, but of this age that comes to nought. How incomparably better and safer to become foolish that one may be wise! Such was the path the apostle took, obedient to the heavenly vision Did he not seem foolish in the eyes of all with whom he broke? Was he not wise, whatever a Festus might say? What and where is Festus now? and Agrippa and Bernice? and the high priest and the accusing chiefs of the Jews? They thought themselves wise; and so did others who in the Corinthian assembly brought in the wisdom of the schools to evade the cross and stand well with the men of the time.

But everywhere, without yet more than within, "the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God;" yet nowhere is its character so exposed, nowhere its indulgence so perilous, as in the temple of God - the church. So it is written in Job 4:13, and Psalm 94:11. Whether one look back on past experience or forward to the kingdom, it makes no difference: feast of all can human craft or sage reasonings suit God's temple, or those who traffic in them there escape His judgment. And why should those boast who have with Christ all things? For so indeed it is in the grace of God. "All things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye Christ's, and Christ God's." We have all and abound, not only all those whom flesh would set up as rivals, but all circumstances present and future, ours now through the grace of Christ, and ourselves His as He is God's, for ever and to His glory. flow blessed and infinite the associations which flesh overlooks and the world in its self-sufficient nothingness treats as nothing!

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

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