1. Corinthians 3 - What did the disputes show?

Erkki Koskenniemi

At the beginning of the first chapter and in the second chapter, Paul tells that the Gospel of Christ does not come from mankind but from God. This was Paul's response to the internal disputes in the church of Corinth.

Then Paul continues his response to the internal disputes. Paul is now speaking more simply than in the previous chapter.

Simple diet 3:1-4

When entering Corinth, Paul did not reveal all the secrets of God at once. He acted like a mother, who gently cherishes her children and nurses her baby. A newborn child can’t eat what adults eat. The result would be terrible. In the same way, Paul took good care of the Corinthians, repeated the basics over and over again, and did not proceed to deep and difficult questions.

Deeper teaching would have been too much for them - and apparently, it was too much for them even now. This was apparent from the fact that they were so eager to fight with each other over their two teachers. It seems like, yet again, the Corinthians needed milk - that is, going through the basics once again.

Even so, the Corinthians considered themselves “spiritual”. When using the word ‘spiritual’ (verse 1), pneumatics, Paul clearly refers to the abundance of the gifts given by Holy Spirit for the church of Corinth. It was suddenly revealed that those who thought they were living by the Spirit of the Lord were, in fact, still first-graders learning the ABC of Christian faith.

The importance of preachers 3:5-9

The members of the church in Corinth were divided into two arguing parties. There were those who supported Paul and those who supported Apollos. Especially Apollos, who was a talented speaker (see Apostles 18), seems to have attracted many people. Now Paul says that this taking sides is wrong and should be stopped. In verse 9 he stresses that the apostles are God's fellow workers, the mission fields belong to God himself, and the Corinthians are God’s building. As the field and the workers belong to God, there is no sense in forming parties in keeping with preachers.

One preacher does one thing, and the other something else. Paul had set up the church of Corinth, so he was the planter. Apollos took care of the church, so he watered the seedlings. Behind it all, however, is God who gave the growth. Both Apollos and Paul will each receive their own reward from God according to their own labour. Everyone is responsible for their own work. So, Paul does not say that preachers have shared responsibility, despite the fact that they all are doing service for God.

Preachers' task 3:10-17

Paul continues to use metaphors. The church is God's building. After arriving at Corinth, Paul had built a solid foundation for the church. Another God’s worker, i.e. another preacher, had continued this work by building on the foundation that Paul had laid. The building did not belong to Paul, any more than it belonged to the other builder, but to God himself.

Paul had laid the foundation of the church, and the foundation was Christ and his death on the cross. Now he strongly warns against building on any other foundation. Christ is the only foundation that will last. Every worker builds upon that foundation as well as they can, using various building materials. On the Judgment Day, the building will be tested by fire.

It may happen that on the Day of Judgment, someone’s building work is revealed to be worth zero. In other words, it may be that a construction – such as the Corinthian church – built with great effort, will burn down, and none will be saved. However, if a worker of God has built on the rock of Christ, though poorly, he himself will be saved. But it will be like going through fire, without getting anything with him to the Kingdom of God.

Thus this chapter does not refer to purgatory. Those words are meant for shepherds of congregations, who have been entrusted with the responsibility of God’s church. Still, reading these startling verses is good for all Christians. On the last day, judgment begins from the house of God - that is, from the church. That day reveals whether a building will last or not. Paul's words are a warning to the teachers of Corinth.

Paul brings up one more word of warning. In Corinth he had not built just another house, but the temple of God in which the Spirit of the Lord dwells. The Old Testament stresses several times that the Temple of God is a holy, inviolable place, which no one can destroy (Ps 125, 129, 132). Now, if someone has sabotaged the church of Corinth and brought it to give up the right doctrine, there will be serious consequences. If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him.

Throughout this chapter, we will see that in addition to the spiritual priesthood of all Christians, there is a shepherd's position. Someone is responsible for the church, and what he has done and taught there.

Disputes and desire for division 3:18-23

In this chapter, Paul is gradually moving towards a summary that he makes in the 4th chapter. Here he highlights how dividing into parties and arguing are completely unnecessary and silly. The reason for these is people's desire to think that they are wiser than others. Paul returns to the topic he discussed in chapter 2. Human wisdom does not understand the doctrine of the Gospel. If someone thinks he is wise, let him/her become stupid and have wisdom in Christ. In God's church, there is no point in arguing about people.

Paul, Apollos and Keefa (=Peter) are all God’s workers in God's own field. All this is meant for the good of the Corinthians, just like God has given other gifts to them lavishly. Pampered by God, no one should think that the church belongs to them. It belongs to Christ, and through him, to God only. The Corinthians were baptized in the name of Christ. Therefore, the members of the Church must learn to give honour to the Lord alone.