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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 1
THE design of this chapter is substantially the same as the former. It is to reprove the pride, the philosophy, the vain wisdom on which the Greeks so much rested; and to show that the gospel was not dependent on that for its success, and that that had been the occasion of no small part of the contentions and strifes which had arisen in the church at Corinth. The chapter is occupied mainly with an account of his own ministry with them; and seems designed to meet an objection which either was made, or could have been made by the Corinthians themselves, or by the false teacher that was among them. In 1 Co 2:12-16, he had affirmed that Christians were in fact under the influence of the Spirit of God; that they were enlightened in a remarkable degree; that they understood all things pertaining to the Christian religion. To this, it either was or could have been objected that Paul, when among them, had not instructed them fully in the more deep and abstruse points of the gospel; and that he had confined his instructions to the very rudiments of the Christian religion. Of this, probably, the false teachers who had formed parties among them had taken the advantage, and had pretended to carry the instruction to a much greater length, and to explain many things which Paul had left unexplained. Hence this division into parties. It became Paul, therefore, to state why he had confined his instructions to the rudiments of the gospel among them—and this occupies the first part of the chapter, vers. 1—11.
The reason was, that they were not prepared to receive higher instruction, but were carnal, and he could not address them as being prepared to enter fully into the more profound doctrines of the Christian religion. The proof that this was so, was found in the fact that they had been distracted with disputes and strifes, which demonstrated that they were not prepared for the higher doctrines of Christianity. He then reproves them for their contentions, on the ground that it was of little consequence by what instrumentality they had been brought to the knowledge of the gospel, and that there was no occasion for their strifes and sects. ALL success, whoever was the instrument, was to be traced to God, 1 Co 3:5-7; and the fact that one teacher or another had first instructed them, or that one was more eloquent than another, should not be the foundation for contending sects. God was the Source of all blessings. Yet, in order to show the real nature of his own work, in order to meet the whole of the objection, he goes on to state that he had done the most important part of the work in the church himself. He had laid the foundation; and all the others were but rearing the superstructure. And much as his instructions might appear to be elementary and unimportant, yet it had been done with the same skill which an architect evinces who labours that the foundation may be well laid and firm, 1 Co 3:10,11. The others who had succeeded him, whoever they were, were but builders upon this foundation. The foundation had been well laid, and they should be careful how they built on it, 1 Co 3:12-16. The mention of this fact—that he had laid the foundation, and that that foundation was Jesus Christ, and that they had been reared upon that as a church—leads him to the inference, 1 Co 3:16,17, that they should be holy as the temple of God; and the conclusion from the whole is,
(1.) that no man should deceive himself, of which there was so much danger, 1 Co 3:18-20; and,
(2.) that no Christian should glory in men, for all things were theirs. It was no matter who had been their teacher on earth, all belonged to God; and they had a common interest in the most eminent teachers of religion, and they should rise above the petty rivalships of the world, and rejoice in the assurance that all things belonged to them, 1 Co 3:21-23.
Verse 1. And I, brethren. See 1 Co 2:1. This is designed to meet an implied objection. He had said, 1 Co 2:14-16, that Christians were able to understand all things. Yet, they would recollect that he had not addressed them as such, but had confined himself to the more elementary parts of religion when he came among them. He had not entered upon the abstruse and difficult points of theology —the points of speculation in which the subtle Greeks so much abounded and so much delighted. He now states the reason why he had not done it. The reason was one that was most humbling to their pride; but it was the true reason, and faithfulness demanded that it should be stated. It was, that they were carnal, and not qualified to understand the deep mysteries of the gospel; and the proof of this was unhappily at hand. It was too evident in their contentions and strifes, that they were under the influence of carnal feelings and views.
Could not speak unto you as unto spiritual. "I could not regard you as divested of the feelings which influence carnal men, the men of the world, and I addressed you accordingly. I could not discourse to you as to far-advanced and well-informed Christians. I taught you the rudiments only of the Christian religion." He refers here, doubtless, to his instructions when he founded the church at Corinth. See Barnes "1 Co 2:13-15.
But as unto carnal. The word carnal here, sarkikoi is not the same which in 1 Co 2:14 is translated natural, qucikov. That refers to one who is unrenewed, and who is wholly under the influence of his sensual or animal nature, and is nowhere applied to Christians. This is applied here to Christians—but to those who have much of the remains of corruption, and who are imperfectly acquainted with the nature of religion; babes in Christ. It denotes those who still evinced the feelings and views which pertain to the flesh, in these unhappy contentions, and strifes, and divisions. The works of the flesh are "hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings," Ga 5:19-21, and these they had evinced in their divisions; and Paul knew that their danger lay in this direction, and he therefore addressed them according to their character. Paul applies the word to himself, Ro 7:14, "but I am carnal;" and here it denotes that they were as yet under the influence of the corrupt passions and desires which the flesh produces.
As unto babes in Christ. As unto those recently born into his kingdom, and unable to understand the profounder doctrines of the Christian religion. It is a common figure to apply the term infants and children to those who are feeble in understanding, or unable, from any cause, to comprehend the more profound instructions of science or religion.
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