1 Corinthians 3:4-8
For while one said, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal?…
I. OUR PRAISE FOR ANY GOOD WE HAVE RECEIVED SHOULD BE GIVEN, NOT SOLELY TO MEN, BUT MAINLY TO GOD. The Corinthians felt that gratitude was due somewhere, but Paul was afraid lest they should give it to himself and Apollos instead of to God.
II. IT IS TO GOD WE MUST LOOK FOR ALL FURTHER GROWTH. We must conscientiously employ such means of grace as our circumstances permit; but, above all, we must ask God to give the increase.
III. IF WE ARE GOD'S HUSBANDRY AND BUILDING, LET US REVERENCE GOD'S WORK IN OUR-SELVES.
1. It may seem a very rickety and insecure structure that is rising within us, a very sickly and unpromising plant; and we are tempted to be dis. appointed at the slow progress the new man makes in us. But different thoughts possess us when we remember that this transformation is not a thing to be accomplished only by ourselves through a judicious choice and a persevering use of fit means, but is God's work.
2. For the same reason we must hope for others as for ourselves. It is the foundation of all hope to know that God has always been inclining men to righteousness and will always do so.
IV. But Paul's chief inference is THE GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY OF THOSE WHO LABOUR FOR GOD IN THIS WORK.
1. As for Paul's own part in the work, the laying of the foundation, he says that was comparatively easy. "Other foundation," &c. Any teacher who professes to lay another foundation thereby gives up his claim to be a Christian teacher. He who uses the Christian pulpit for the propagation of political or socialist ideas may be a sound and useful teacher; but his proper place is the platform or the House of Commons. The question at present, says Paul, is not what other institutions you may profitably found in the world, but how this institution of the Church, already founded, is to be completed. Other foundation no Christian teacher is proposing to lay; but on this foundation very various and questionable material is being built. In Corinth itself huge slabs of costly and carefully chiselled stone lay stable as the rock on which they rested, but now the glory of such foundations was dishonoured by squalid superstructures. The picture in Paul's mind's eye of the Corinthian Church vividly suggested what he had seen while walking among those heterogeneous buildings. The foundation, he knows, is the same; but he sees the teachers bringing, with great appearance of diligence, the merest rubbish, apparently unconscious of the incongruity of their material with the foundation they build upon. What would Paul say did he now see the superstructure which eighteen hundred years have raised on the one foundation? How obviously unworthy of it is much that has been built upon it; how many teachers have laboured all their days at erecting what has already been proved a mere house of cards; and how many persons have been built into the living temple who have brought no stability or beauty to the building. How careless often have the builders been, anxious only to have quantity to show, regardless of quality. As in any building, so in the Church, additional size is additional danger if the material be not sound.
2. The soundness of the material which has been built upon the foundation of Christ will, like all things else, be tested. The Corinthians knew what a trial by fire meant. They knew how the flames had travelled over their own city, consuming all that fire could kindle on, and leaving of the slightly built houses nothing but charred. timber, while the massive marbles stood erect among the ruins; and the precious metals, even though molten, were prized by the conqueror. Against the fire no prayer, no appeal, prevailed. Its judgment and decisions were irreversible: wood, hay, stubble, disappeared: only what was solid and valuable remained. By such irreversible judgment are we and our work to be judged. Fire simply burns up all that will burn and leaves what will not. So shall the new life we are to pass into absolutely annihilate what is not in keeping with it, and leave only what is useful and congruous. The work that has been well and wisely done will stand; foolish, vain, and selfish work will go.
3. Paul accepts it as a very possible contingency that a Christian man may do poor work. In that case, he says, the man will be in the position of a man whose house has been burnt. He may have received no bodily injury, but he is so stripped that he scarcely knows himself, and the whole thought and toil of his life seem to have gone for nothing. To many Christians it seems enough that they be doing something. If only they are decently active, it concerns them little that their work is really effecting no good. Work done for this world must be such as will stand inspection and actually do the thing required. Christian work should not be less, but more, thorough.
4. There is a degree of carelessness or malignity to be found in some Christian teachers which Paul does not hesitate to doom (ver. 17). A teacher may in various ways incur this doom.
(1) He may in guiding some one to Christ fit him obliquely to the foundation, so that firm rest in Christ is never attained; but the man remains like a loose stone in a wall, unsettled himself and unsettling all around him. Any doctrine which turns the grace of God into licence incurs this doom.
(2) To lift stones from the mire they have been lying in and fit them into the temple is good and right, but to leave them uncleansed and unpolished to disfigure the temple.
5. But we are responsible as well as our teachers for the appearance we present in God's temple. Would it not make a very obvious change in the appearance and strength of the Church if every member of it were at pains to set himself absolutely true to Christ? Some persons are prevented from resting satisfactorily on Christ because some pet theory or crotchet has possessed the mind and keeps them unsettled. Some will not rest on Christ until they have such repentance as they judge sufficient; others so rest on Him that they have no repentance. But, alas! with some it is some worldly purpose or some entangling and deeply cherished sin. One sin consciously retained, one command or expression of Christ's will unresponded to, makes our whole connection with Him unsettled and insecure.
6. And more must be done even after we are securely fitted into our place. Stones often look well enough when first built in, but soon lose their colour; and their surface and fine edges crumble and shale off. So do the stones in God's temple get tarnished by exposure. One sin after another is allowed to stain the conscience; one little corruption after another settles on the character, and eats out its fineness, and when once the fair, clean stone is no longer unsullied, we think it of little consequence to be scrupulous. Then the weather tells upon us: the ordinary atmosphere of this life, with its constant damp of worldly care and its occasional storms of toss, and disappointment, and social collisions, and domestic embroilment, eats out the heavenly temper from our character, and leaves its edges ragged; and the man becomes soured and irritable, and the surface of him, all that meets the casual eye, is rough and broken.
7. Above all, do not many seem to think it enough to have attained a place in the building, and take no step onwards during the whole remainder of their lives? But it is in God's building as in highly ornamented buildings generally. The stones are not all sculptured before they are fitted into their places; but they are built in rough-hewn, so that the building may proceed: and then at leisure the device proper to each is carved upon it. This is the manner of God's building. Long after a man has been set in the Church of Christ, God hews and carves him to the shape He designs; but we, being not dead, but living, stones, have it in our power to mar the beauty of God's design, and indeed so distort it that the result is a grotesque and hideous monster, belonging to no world, neither of God nor of man.
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?