Read 1 Corinthians 3
The Church and Its Leaders
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 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. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their 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 person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
In this chapter, Paul continues to lay out for the Corinthians where they need to course-correct. As we have picked up on already, he was unsettled by the reports he was getting about the behavior of its members and the trajectory on which the church at Corinth was headed. But Paul wasn’t just interested in behavior modification–he was far more interested in heart change. It’s one thing to tell somebody they should change their behavior. It’s another thing to explain to them why their behavior should change because of the gospel.
Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians is that they weren’t living as people who believed what they claimed to believe; there was no distinction between them and the rest of Corinth. At the root of all of this was a lack of spiritual depth, with Paul calling them “mere infants in Christ” (verse 1). These internal disputes about who to follow (Paul, Apollos, or Peter) were indicative of the spiritual immaturity that was rampant in Corinth. The Corinthians had belief, but they hadn’t yet moved beyond belief into becoming true disciples of Christ.
Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians is every bit as applicable to us nearly 2000 years later as it was to them. Too often, we come to faith in Jesus, but our progress stalls somewhere soon after belief. We become complacent or apathetic. We don’t develop into fully mature followers of Jesus. But we don’t have to settle for that. Instead, we can move on from milk to solid food because we’re ready for it. Living in community, practicing spiritual disciplines, and repenting and fleeing from sin are all tools at our disposal to chip away at those rough edges to help us develop into the disciples Jesus has called us to be.
What sticks out to you most about Paul’s instructions in this chapter?
Paul calls out the jealousy and quarreling among the Corinthians. Where have you experienced this yourself in the church? How can you put to bed feelings of jealousy or any quarrels amongst you and other believers?
Verses 6-9 are foundational in our understanding of how evangelism and discipleship work. Sometimes you’ll be planting seeds, sometimes you’ll be watering. Sometimes you’ll do both. But God is ultimately responsible for making things grow. How does understanding this concept affect how you go about living out the Great Commission?
Did You Know?
We don’t know exactly why some of the Corinthians favored Paul or Apollos or Peter more than the others, but we know it was divisive. It was common for each philosophical school in Greece to have a “chief teacher” and the competition among those teachers to be regarded as the best was often fierce. Paul’s point, however, is that there’s no place for that amongst servants of Christ.