1 Corinthians 3:1-15
Acts 18:1-22 serves as the backdrop to Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. Corinth was an amazing city in the ancient world. It was a strategic location for a church. In fact, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Dr. Gordon Fee refers to Corinth as the “New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas of the ancient world” (Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987, p. 3). 3:1-3 – Grow up! In the opening words of our passage, Paul is addressing the entire congregation at Corinth – “brothers and sisters.” He critiques their behavior as being “unspiritual.” “I can’t address you as spiritual people” – in other words, these folks are living as they did prior to conversion.
In verse 3, he speaks a harsh word to them by calling them “worldly.” That word actually translates the Greek word for “flesh.” What Paul really accuses them of – is being of the flesh. They are still satisfying their fleshly desires.
Consequently, Paul summarizes his dilemma in verse 2. He laments that they remain in the infant stage and have not matured enough to eat solid spiritual food. He is chastising them for not growing in Christ. Paul has already referenced his ability to speak to those who are grown up in Christ (2:6) but he is now expressing his frustration that he is unable to share these deep teachings with the entire church because of its immaturity.
3:4 – Exhibit A of immaturity – how does Paul know these folks remain immature in their faith? Because they are divided in their loyalties. They are quarreling with each other and causing division in the body.
3:5-15 – Working with Each Other – Paul addresses the divided Corinthian church by asserting the truth that the leaders of that congregation have worked with each other. He reminds the church that he and Apollos are mere men – and servants at that.
Paul uses the imagery of building and farming to make his point. He also uses this situation to challenge the Corinthians to think about God’s judgment at the eschaton (vv. 13-15). These folks are going to be held accountable for their behavior. This is a word to us as well. Our works as believers will be “tried by fire” (v. 13) and only that which is of God will survive.
In any event, Paul reminds these believers that he and Apollos helped to establish this church. The believers there now are the ones who are responsible for the care and growth of the church. They need to be careful how they build. The church was established on Jesus Christ as the true foundation. These believers need to be true to the foundation and not embark on selfish ventures rooted in their divisions. They need to be unified as a body and put aside their immature desires that are damaging the church.
In the midst of Paul’s challenge to them, he illustrates the principle of interdependence that is germane to our discussion today. As I mentioned, he uses examples from agriculture and construction.
In 3:5 – Paul reminds us that we have each been given a task to perform. God has provided gifts and opportunities for us to use those gifts in service to Him and His interests. We have already learned that we are both called and gifted to work. We need to discover our “assignment” as we engage ourselves both in our vocation and in our service through the church.
In 3:6-9, Paul uses agricultural imagery and in verses 9-15 he uses construction imagery. His point is the same. We all work together for the common good. We are to work with each other! God is the one who gets the credit – but he has chosen to use us!
We are co-laborers together in our endeavors. We can expand this idea and concept to our working life. Whatever God has gifted or called you to do – you will perform it in concert with other people. Your gifts will be complementary and will work together for the accomplishment of the common good.
For example, the composer may write the orchestration and music for the symphony. The engineer and architect will design the concert hall. The construction team will build the building. A staff of folks will maintain the building, sell the concert tickets, advertise the showings and provide the support for a concert. The musicians will perform the music, led by a conductor and enjoyed by an audience that has purchased the tickets because they have jobs that enable them to do so. And – guess what? The greater good is served!
We are working with each other!