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On Divisions in the Corinthian Church

 3

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.


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1Co 3:1-23. Paul Could Not Speak to Them of Deep Spiritual Truths, as They Were Carnal, Contending for Their Several Teachers; These Are Nothing but Workers for God, to Whom They Must Give Account in the Day of Fiery Judgment. The Hearers Are God's Temple, Which They Must Not Defile by Contentions for Teachers, Who, as Well as All Things, Are Theirs, Being Christ's.

1. And I—that is, as the natural (animal) man cannot receive, so I also could not speak unto you the deep things of God, as I would to the spiritual; but I was compelled to speak to you as I would to MEN OF FLESH. The oldest manuscripts read this for "carnal." The former (literally, "fleshy") implies men wholly of flesh, or natural. Carnal, or fleshly, implies not they were wholly natural or unregenerate (1Co 2:14), but that they had much of a carnal tendency; for example their divisions. Paul had to speak to them as he would to men wholly natural, inasmuch as they are still carnal (1Co 3:3) in many respects, notwithstanding their conversion (1Co 1:4-9).

babes—contrasted with the perfect (fully matured) in Christ (Col 1:28; compare Heb 5:13, 14). This implies they were not men wholly of flesh, though carnal in tendencies. They had life in Christ, but it was weak. He blames them for being still in a degree (not altogether, compare 1Co 1:5, 7; therefore he says as) babes in Christ, when by this time they ought to have "come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). In Ro 7:14, also the oldest manuscripts read, "I am a man of flesh."

2. (Heb 5:12).

milk—the elementary "principles of the doctrine of Christ."

3. envying—jealousy, rivalry. As this refers to their feelings, "strife" refers to their words, and "divisions" to their actions [Bengel]. There is a gradation, or ascending climax: envying had produced strife, and strife divisions (factious parties) [Grotius]. His language becomes severer now as He proceeds; in 1Co 1:11 he had only said "contentions," he now multiplies the words (compare the stronger term, 1Co 4:6, than in 1Co 3:21).

carnal—For "strife" is a "work of the flesh" (Ga 5:20). The "flesh" includes all feelings that aim not at the glory of God, and the good of our neighbor, but at gratifying self.

walk as men—as unregenerate men (compare Mt 16:23). "After the flesh, not after the Spirit" of God, as becomes you as regenerate by the Spirit (Ro 8:4; Ga 5:25, 26).

4. (1Co 1:12).

are ye not carnal—The oldest manuscripts read, "Are ye not men?" that is, "walking as men" unregenerate (1Co 3:3).

5. Who then—Seeing then that ye severally strive so for your favorite teachers, "Who is (of what intrinsic power and dignity) Paul?" If so great an apostle reasons so of himself, how much more does humility, rather than self-seeking, become ordinary ministers!

Paul … Apollos—The oldest manuscripts read in the reverse order, "Apollos," &c. Paul." He puts Apollos before himself in humility.

but ministers, &c.—The oldest manuscripts have no "but." "Who is Apollos … Paul? (mere) ministers (a lowly word appropriate here, servants), by whom (not "in whom"; by whose ministrations) ye believed."

as … Lord gave to every man—that is, to the several hearers, for it was God that "gave the increase" (1Co 3:6).

6. I … planted, Apollos watered—(Ac 18:1; 19:1). Apollos at his own desire (Ac 18:27) was sent by the brethren to Corinth, and there followed up the work which Paul had begun.

God gave the increase—that is, the growth (1Co 3:10; Ac 18:27). "Believed through grace." Though ministers are nothing, and God all in all, yet God works by instruments, and promises the Holy Spirit in the faithful use of means. This is the dispensation of the Spirit, and ours is the ministry of the Spirit.

7. neither is he that … anything … but God—namely, is all in all. "God" is emphatically last in the Greek, "He that giveth the increase (namely), God." Here follows a parenthesis, 1Co 3:8-21, where "Let no man glory in men" stands in antithetic contrast to "God" here.

8. one—essentially in their aim they are one, engaged in one and the same ministry; therefore they ought not to be made by you the occasion of forming separate parties.

and every man—rather "but every man." Though in their service or ministry, they are essentially "one," yet every minister is separately responsible in "his own" work, and "shall receive his own (emphatically repeated) reward, according to his own labor." The reward is something over and above personal salvation (1Co 3:14, 15; 2Jo 8). He shall be rewarded according to, not his success or the amount of work done, but "according to his own labor." It shall be said to him, "Well done, thou good and (not successful, but) faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Mt 25:23).

9. Translate, as the Greek collocation of words, and the emphasis on "God" thrice repeated, requires, "For (in proof that "each shall receive reward according to his own labor," namely, from God) it is of God that we are the fellow workers (laboring with, but under, and belonging to Him as His servants, 2Co 5:20; 6:1; compare Ac 15:4; see on 1Th 3:2) of God that ye are the field (or tillage), of God that ye are the building" [Alford]. "Building" is a new image introduced here, as suited better than that of husbandry, to set forth the different kinds of teaching and their results, which he is now about to discuss. "To edify" or "build up" the Church of Christ is similarly used (Eph 2:21, 22; 4:29).

10. grace … given unto me—Paul puts this first, to guard against seeming to want humility, in pronouncing himself "a WISE master builder," in the clause following [Chrysostom]. The "grace" is that "given" to him in common with all Christians (1Co 3:5), only proportioned to the work which God had for him to do [Alford].

wise—that is, skilful. His skill is shown in his laying a foundation. The unskilful builder lays none (Lu 6:49). Christ is the foundation (1Co 3:11).

another—who ever comes after me. He does not name Apollos; for he speaks generally of all successors, whoever they be. His warning, "Let every man (every teacher) take heed how," &c., refers to other successors rather than Apollos, who doubtless did not, as they, build wood, hay, &c., on the foundation (compare 1Co 4:15). "I have done my part, let them who follow me see (so the Greek for 'take heed') to theirs" [Bengel].

how—with what material [Alford]. How far wisely, and in builder-like style (1Pe 4:11).

buildeth thereupon—Here the building or superstructure raised on Christ the "foundation," laid by Paul (1Co 2:2) is not, as in Eph 2:20, 21, the Christian Church made up of believers, the "lively stones" (1Pe 2:5), but the doctrinal and practical teaching which the teachers who succeeded Paul, superadded to his first teaching; not that they taught what was false, but their teaching was subtle and speculative reasoning, rather than solid and simple truth.




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