Where God Is at Home

1 Corinthians

Biblical Truth: Collectively and individually, believers have the Holy Spirit living in them: thus they are to honor God in all their actions.

Stand on One Foundation: 1 Cor. 3:9-11.

[9]  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. [10]  According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. [11]  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.      [NASU]

[9]  Note the threefold use of God’s to convey the idea of possession. Paul’s point is that he and Apollos work under God as jointly commissioned by God. The Corinthians are God’s field, but the word suggests a field under cultivation rather than simply land suitable for cultivation. The image of the people of God as God’s planting has many biblical echoes [Exodus 15:17; Isaiah 5:1-2,7; 61:3; Jer. 2:21; Amos 9:15]. Building was a term widely used for the process of construction on a building site, and Paul also uses the image of building up the church in 14:3,5,12,26. Both images are passive indicating that the Corinthians are the objects of God’s work. The images of planting, watering, producing steady growth [3:6], and laying the foundation and building up [3:10] contrast with ideas of instantaneous puffing up [4:19]. The images convey that the Corinthians are still a work in progress.

[10-11]  Paul continues to develop the image of the community as God’s building. Paul asserts that he laid a foundation which is the gospel and which is anchored firmly in the message of Christ crucified. That foundational work is completed, and another builds upon it. Paul does not complain about this development, because he expects others to build up the church. Builds on refers to preaching and instruction. The warning but each man must be careful how he builds on it expresses the main point of this unit. They can only add what the foundation will bear. They must use fit materials and follow the plans of the architect (who is God) and the building code. And Paul insists that this one foundation is Jesus Christ. Therefore whoever seeks to build upon this one foundation must do so in a way that is consistent with the gospel.

Build with Lasting Works: 1 Cor. 3:12-17.

[12]  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, [13]  each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. [14]  If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. [15]  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. [16]  Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? [17]  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

[12]  The list of construction materials emphasize the wide variety of building materials that builders can use to build on the foundation. Some are excellent builders, using materials of exceptional quality; others are less so, using materials of inferior quality. Some materials will endure; others will not. What makes for imperishable building materials for building the church? The wise master-builder laid a solid foundation, and his message of Christ crucified is the standard by which to evaluate all other builders and their materials. Those attempting to build with human wisdom construct a flimsy house of straw.

[13-15]  Paul takes advantage of the Corinthians’ aspirations for reward, status, and praise by reorienting their attention to the future judgment of God, who knows all things and judges according to divine, not human, standards. Each one’s workmanship will become evident on that day which refers to the end time judgment. The purpose of the fire in this context is not to punish, or to destroy, or to refine, but to disclose the quality of the work of Christians. Each individual bears responsibility for their contribution to the building and will receive a reward or a loss on the basis of the quality of the workmanship. If the building goes up in smoke, the builders discover they have labored in vain. If the building stands, the builders will be rewarded for faithful service. The phrase “to receive a reward” means to receive wages for work done. Paul is not referring to salvation, as if it were a reward proportional to the work. The loss suffered is not the loss of salvation but the loss of a reward, which, in the context, is simply defined as praise from God [4:5]. The idea of receiving special recognition or reward from God in the judgment [cf. 2 Cor. 5:10] should be read in light of Paul’s comments in 1 Thess. 2:19-20. He names the Thessalonians as his hope, joy, and crown of boasting, and his glory and joy [cf. Phil. 2:16; 4:1]. The crown that Paul looks forward to receiving is the blamelessness of the Thessalonian Christians in Christ at His parousia. He links his reward at the judgment to their fidelity to the gospel. His reward will be that his churches will be saved with him. This idea lies behind his comments in 2 Cor. 1:12-14. On the day of the Lord Jesus, when they pass through the judgment together, they will know that his work with them has been accomplished with frankness and godly sincerity, by the grace of God, and that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours [2 Cor. 1:14]. The one whose work is incinerated by the blaze will be saved through fire. The laborer who used cheap materials and took shortcuts will be pulled out of the flames and the rubble heap in the nick of time. But they will still be saved. Paul’s main point is found in the explicit command each man must be careful how he builds on the one foundation [3:10].

[16-17]  Paul switches to direct address and a third metaphor that now depicts the church as God’s temple. The you is plural, and Paul speaks of the community gathered in Christ’s name, not individuals, as the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul cites the Spirit as the epistemological key for understanding the wisdom of the cross in 2:10-16 and now credits the indwelling Spirit as the key to their unity. Since this community building is the temple of God, where the Spirit of God dwells, Paul introduces a new, more serious threat. While some builders may do a lousy job of building on the foundation and their work will be consumed, some work moves beyond mere shoddiness and becomes destructive. Paul assumes that the community can be destroyed by insiders, not by outsiders. This is a severe warning. Paul has real destruction in mind, and those who destroy God’s temple will also be destroyed. Paul does not describe how the temple is destroyed, but it undoubtedly relates in some way to their boastful arrogance, their eagerness to appraise others, and their competitive partisanship, all the things that divide Christ. Paul allows the readers to imagine that their petty jealousies [3:3], boasting [1:29; 3:21; 4:7], arrogance [4:6,18,19], and quarrels [1:11; 3:3] might qualify for this bleak judgment. 

Live for God’s Glory: 1 Cor. 6:12-13,18-20.

[12]  All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. [13]  Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. [18]  Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. [19]  Of do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? [20]  For you have been brought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.  [NASU]

[12]  Many Corinthian Christians were looking in the direction of sexual promiscuity for satisfaction of their needs under the pretense of Christian liberty. So Paul was compelled to take them up on their own presuppositions. Their major premise was All things are lawful for me. It is even conceivable that they were mimicking Paul himself, because it could certainly have been one of his own catch-phrases. Either way, whether a Corinthian password or a Pauline motto, it needed reinterpretation in rather the same way as Augustine’s off-quoted dictum, “Love God and do what you like.” Paul’s dilemma was accentuated by the presence in the church at Corinth of both antinomians and legalists. He was bound to fight the battle on both points. If he conceded too much in one direction, he would give too much leeway to those at the opposite extreme. Walking in the Spirit is always a matter of steering the middle and narrow course between too much license and too many rules and regulations.

In dealing with this slogan, Paul sees the necessity of qualifying what could look like blanket-approval for anything a Christian might feel like doing. If we put together 6:12 and 10:23, we have three crucial qualifications on this apparent freedom to do whatever one desires. In these three statements Paul is enunciating principles for the whole of our daily behavior in the world. First, he maintains, not all things are profitable. It is certainly true that the Christian gospel is a message of freedom; but that does not mean that anything and everything is helpful or advisable. Paul wants to ensure that what he does is genuinely helpful for his daily witness to unbelievers, for his work in the church and for his walk with Christ. Paul’s second qualification on the all things are lawful slogan contains an interesting play on words, best captured by the paraphrase: ‘All things are allowed me, but I will not allow anything to get control of me.’ In chapters 8-10 we shall see Paul arguing passionately and persuasively that the essential Christian freedom is the freedom not to be free, i.e. a deliberate choice to restrain my freedom for the sake of the gospel. The man who has to express his freedom is actually in bondage to the need to show he is a free man. The genuinely free man has nothing to prove. It is, in fact, very likely that Paul’s word-play here pinpoints a major area of debate between the apostle and the Corinthians. Between 6:12 and 11:10 there are sixteen uses of the root-word, variously used in the Greek either as a verb or as a noun. It would appear that Paul is having a head-on confrontation with the Corinthians on the ageless question of a person’s ‘rights’. The Christians at Corinth were very conscious of and insistent upon their rights. In the specific issue at stake in 6:12, Paul seems to be saying that rights of any kind are of no determinative value in his daily life. That is an extremely revolutionary statement and denotes a measure of freedom unfamiliar to most Christians, let alone the unbelieving world in general. If I am constantly concerned about my rights, like the Christians at Corinth, how can I be genuinely free to respond to what my Lord wants me to do? Paul’s ‘rights’ cover the whole of life, but he is not going to allow those universal ‘rights’ to dictate to him. Only Jesus Christ can do that, and He has total right over every part of Paul’s life. Once we have been liberated from the need to receive, let alone to assert, our rights, we can then see clearly the habits and the things which tend to enslave us. If there is anything I find I cannot give up, that has become an infringement of my freedom in Christ. Paul is adamant that he will not surrender the control of his life to anyone or anything but the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God. He regards himself as a bondslave of Jesus Christ and there is no way in which he will allow his person or his behavior to be controlled by another force. Paul’s third qualification comes at 10:23, but not all things edify. Paul’s major preoccupation is that the body of Christ in Corinth should be built up, not just on the right foundation, but by the wise use of sound materials.

[13]  Before giving his rich exposition of a truly Christ-centered attitude to the body, Paul dismisses a diversionary tactic about the stomach. This was probably presented in the form of another catch-phrase bandied about by those who were attempting to justify each and every physical indulgence. He deals abruptly with their slogan by making it plain that he is not thinking about stomachs or bellies at all. There is all the difference in the world between food, which is digested by the stomach and passed out through the bowels, and sexual intercourse, which affects the whole person and cannot be dismissed flippantly as a purely physiological phenomenon. The stage is now set for Paul to unfold his view of the body, in contrast with prevailing views held by both pagan philosophers and untaught Corinthian Christians. When we pause to recall that the language of the body is fundamental to several chapters in 1 Corinthians, each with a different emphasis in application, we are in a better position to appreciate Paul’s theology. God has a purpose for our bodies, and it is certainly not for us to indulge them with sexual immorality of any kind, let alone the special kind rampant in the licensed prostitution of contemporary Corinth. The fact that Jesus Himself took human flesh and blood shows that the Lord is for the body. His resurrection shows also that death does not terminate God’s purpose for our bodies. The body is for Christ, to belong to Him and to serve Him, and Christ is for the body, to inhabit and to glorify it.

[18-20]  Here Paul’s plea for Christ-centered purity is the habitation of our bodies by the Lord, by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not simply physical shells of remarkable composition: they are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Earlier [3:16-17] Paul affirmed that the whole church of God at Corinth was God’s temple, with stern warnings against any who might destroy that temple. Now he uses the same metaphor to remind individual Christians at Corinth that God has given to each the gift of His indwelling Holy Spirit, whom you have from God. Paul’s final plea for purity is based on the cost of redeeming our bodies: you are not your own; for you have been brought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. Before they began to experience the freedom for which Christ had set them free, the Corinthians were in the most servile bondage. They were slaves to themselves, their self-centered desires, self-indulgence and bodily passions. Then came a master with the resources to set them completely free. He paid the necessary ransom. They had been set free from the futility and servitude of their previous manner of life. Their bodies were no longer like chunks of flesh up for sale to the highest bidder in the slave-market, or available to a cult-prostitute for a fee. They had been bought with a price and they now belonged to a new master. His orders now mattered, not their own fancies or foibles. He now intended every physical faculty they had within them to express the glory of God. So far from despising their bodies, marked as they were by all the degradation and indiscipline of sin, He was committed to working out from within the redemption of their bodies. So we are urged to learn from the Spirit of God what it means to glorify God in our bodies: not to pander to them, make excuses for them, or be flippant about the many powerful temptations to abuse them.

Paul forthrightly commands the Corinthians to flee immorality. Christians today do not have to be citizens of Corinth to discover the practical wisdom of running away from temptation when the odds are stacked too high against them. This, however, is the negative (though necessary) aspect of Christ-centered purity. Paul’s last word on the subject is far more challenging and positive: glorify God in your body. Paul tells us to display positively in the use of our bodies the glory and especially the holiness of the heavenly Master who has taken possession of us.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          How should your attitudes and actions be affected by the fact that your church is the temple of the Holy Spirit [3:16]? That your body is the temple of God [6:19]?

2.          In verses 3:9-17, Paul compares the church to a building with a foundation. Explain Paul’s metaphor. What is the foundation? What are the best building materials to use? Why is it important that the building be true to the foundation?

3.          What three crucial qualifications does Paul make to the premise that all things are lawful for believers who have been set free by the blood of Christ?

4.          How can we use our bodies to glorify God?



1 Corinthians, David Garland, Baker.

The Message of 1 Corinthians, David Prior, Inter-Varsity.

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