by Mike Ratliff
1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλʼ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. 2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα· οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλʼ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε, 3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε; 4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (NA28)
1 And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men but as to carnal men, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, for you were not yet able to receive it. 3 But, you are still not able, for you are still fleshly. For while there is jealousy and strife in you, are you not of the flesh and according to the ways of man? When one says “I indeed am of Paul,” and another, “but I am of Apollos,” are you not being mere men? Corinthians 3:1-4 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
God has always given some in the Body of Christ discernment as they have matured, become humble, and become adhered only to the Word of God as the arbiter of what is truth from what pretends to be the truth, but is of the Devil and this World. This discernment is not to be used for self exploitation for any reason whatsoever nor is it to be used to maliciously tear down ministries or God’s men for any reason. No, this discernment is only for one purpose and that is to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ by exposing false teachings and those behind them.
I once received an inquiry from a reader to compare 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 with the life and ministries of men like Charles Finney and Rick Warren. The concern was if these two men were examples of those who built upon the foundation of Christ with wood, hay, and stubble, and would, in the end, see all their works be consumed in the fire of judgment, suffering eternal loss, but themselves being saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). As I studied this passage I did what I always do, I put it into context. The immediate context of vv10-15 would be 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 in which Paul addressed the issues and the cause of divisions in the Corinthian church. However, we must remember, that this must also be put into the larger context of Paul’s entire message of this Epistle. A good break down of 1 Corinthians would place chapter 3 right in the middle of a section that runs from 1:10 through 4:21 in which Paul specifically addressed Disunity in the Church. In fact, chapter 3 would be contained in the subsection of that breakdown that would probably best be titled something like “The Need for Unity.” Therefore, with that in mind, we will focus in this post on 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 alone which focuses specifically on divisions in the Church. Within this, we will also address the question very well about vv10-15 and any questionable “Christian leader.”
I placed the Greek and my own translation of the first four verses from 1 Corinthians 3 at the top of this post. Read it carefully. Notice that there are problems in this church that have to do with a decided lack of spiritual maturity. How do we know that? There is jealousy and strife in the local body. This is a marker of people being controlled by their flesh rather than by the Spirit of God. How do truly spiritual people behave?
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NASB)
Notice that the focus is not “self.” In any case, this is the opposite of what was running rampant in the Corinthian church and that is why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Carnality produces the attitude of envy, a severe form of selfishness, which produces the reaction of strife and subsequent divisions. Also, the fact that they were acting as “mere men” was Paul’s way of saying they were being acting as unsaved men. In any case, Paul answers his own rhetorical question from 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 with more rhetorical questions followed by a humble yet accurate description of his and Apollos’ true role in the Corinthian’s salvation and spiritual growth.
5 Τί οὖν ἐστιν Ἀπολλῶς; τί δέ ἐστιν Παῦλος; διάκονοι διʼ ὧν ἐπιστεύσατε, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ κύριος ἔδωκεν. 6 ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλʼ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν· 7 ὥστε οὔτε ὁ φυτεύων ἐστίν τι οὔτε ὁ ποτίζων ἀλλʼ ὁ αὐξάνων θεός. 8 ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν, ἕκαστος δὲ τὸν ἴδιον μισθὸν λήμψεται κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον κόπον· 9 θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί, θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NA28)
5 What then is Apollos and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you believed, and to each as the Lord gave. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God grew; 7 so that neither the planting or watering are anything, but only God gives the growth. 8 The one planting and the one watering are one, and each will receive his wage according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s co-workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
It is the Lord alone who can give the faith to the spiritually ignorant as we have seen in our Bible studies on this blog over and over again clearly taught in Scripture. People do not “decide” via their own abilities to be saved. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9). Salvation is God’s work of grace to whom He chooses to give it. In vv8,9 we see that all human instruments God uses to produce salvation life are equally considered and rewarded for their willingness to be used by God. However, all the glory goes to Him, who alone saves. Paul, Apollos, Peter, and all ministers are equal workers in the field, but the spiritual life from that field is entirely by God’s grace and power. Now we come to the moving from the analogy from the field to the building. Here is vv10-15 from the Greek text and the NASB.
10 Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ. 1 Corinthians 3:10 (NA28)
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. 1 Corinthians 3:10 (NASB)
11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NA28)
11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NASB)
12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους, ξύλα, χόρτον, καλάμην, 1 Corinthians 3:12 (NA28)
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 1 Corinthians 3:12 (NASB)
13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει, ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται· καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ [αὐτὸ] δοκιμάσει. 1 Corinthians 3:13 (NA28)
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. 1 Corinthians 3:13 (NASB)
14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν, μισθὸν λήμψεται· 1 Corinthians 3:14 (NA28)
14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 1 Corinthians 3:14 (NASB)
15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός. 1 Corinthians 3:15 (NA28)
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:15 (NASB)
In v10 the NASB translates σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων as “wise master builder.” Paul is describing God working through him to design and build spiritual foundations (cf. Romans 15:20). The word σοφὸς or sophos describes a wise and skillful expert. The word ἀρχιτέκτων or architektōn is the root for the English word “architect.” However, an ἀρχιτέκτων contains the idea of a builder, as well as designer. Paul was used by God to establish the groundwork for churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. Timothy and Apollos (among others of course) built the churches up from his foundations. That God used him in that way was all of grace and Paul knew it (cf. v7; 15:20; Romans 15:18; Ephesians 3:7, 8; Colossians 1:29).
What or who is the foundation of the Church? It is none other than ᾿Ιησοῦς Χριστός, that is, Jesus Christ. It isn’t man’s puny efforts. It isn’t gospel contextualizaton. It isn’t global dominionism. It isn’t Rick Warren. It isn’t the Purpose Driven Paradigm. It isn’t the Seeker Sensitive non-gospel. It isn’t the purpose driven non-gospel, it isn’t the Social Justice/Critical Race Theory/Intersectionality paradigm, nor is the merging of any of them. No, it is Jesus Christ alone. Paul says that no one can lay another foundation other than that which has already been laid, Jesus Christ. That is why all these religious empires men have built will all simply be burned up in the end.
Read vv12-13 together. The building is done by evangelists and pastors and all believers who are called to build the church through faithful ministry. The gold, silver, precious stones represent faithful, dedicated spiritual service to build the church. On the other hand, the wood, hay, and straw refer to shallow activity with no eternal value. These do not refer to evil activities, but religious works in the church. What is “the day?” This refers to the time of the judgment seat of Christ so we know that those who will be judged there are ALL believers. No non-believers will be there.
The works done, the good works and the shallow works will be revealed by fire on “the day” at this judgment. According to 2 Corinthians 5:10, the wood, hay, and straw are “worthless” things that do not stand the test of judgment fire. On the other hand, the works that do survive the test of fire are those which have been accomplished in God’s power and for His glory. These will survive. This is not a judgment for sin because Christ has paid the price on the Cross for all the sins of the elect (Romans 8:1). Therefore, no believer will ever be judged for sin. This judgment is only to determine eternal reward. Now we come to v15.
No matter how much is worthless, no believer will forfeit salvation. No non-believer will participate in this judgment. Theirs will be at the Great White Throne Judgment and that will be totally different.
Will wolves and apostates and false prophets be at the judgment seat being saved but only as through fire? I do not think so because these men are teaching what is evil. They pervert God’s Word. They are not building upon the Foundation of Christ, but are attempting to build on a totally different foundation. They exclude the Jesus Christ of the Bible and try to create one of their own for their own purposes. Therefore, I do not think these will be at this judgment, but, instead, will be amongst the goats on our Lord’s left who actually thought they should be amongst the sheep on His right. They will hear Him say, “depart from Me for I never knew you.” I believe this because of the foundation upon which they are building. It isn’t the foundation of Jesus Christ. As we see attempt to change the Gospel and the mission of the Church through whatever man-made philosophy be it NAR or Social Justice then we know that those behind that are wolves for they are attempting to build on a different foundation other than Jesus Christ. How do we know that? They misrepresent Jesus completely that their Jesus is “another Jesus.” Any who do that are guilty of building on foundation that isn’t Jesus Christ and are, therefore, nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Therefore, we must all examine ourselves and our ministries. Are we truly building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ alone and not another of our own making? What about our works? If we are working in our ministries in the flesh then all of that is wood, hay and straw. No, the only eternal works that go with us into eternity are the gold, silver, and precious stones which are works done in God’s power for His glory alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!