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Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

1 Corinthians 3

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1 Corinthians 3:1,1 Corinthians 3:2 Paul showeth that he could not instruct the Corinthians in the higher doctrines of Christianity because of their carnal mind,

1 Corinthians 3:3,1 Corinthians 3:4 which temper discovered itself in their factions.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 The most eminent preachers of the gospel are but instruments employed by God in building his church.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 Paul hath laid the only true foundation, Christ Jesus; and others must take heed what they build thereon.

1 Corinthians 3:16,1 Corinthians 3:17 Christians are God’s temple, not to be defiled.

1 Corinthians 3:18-20 Worldly wisdom is foolishness with God.

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 They that are Christ’s must not glory in men.

Verse 1

The apostle plainly returneth in this chapter to reprove them for their divisions and factions, for which he had begun to reprove them, 1 Corinthians 1:11; and (as some think) here he anticipateth an objection, which they might have made against him, against his reproving and judging of them, whereas he that is spiritual (as he had now said) is judged of no man.

I, ( saith he), brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, that is, as to Christians who had made any great proficiency in the ways of God, and had arrived to any just degrees of spiritual perfection;

but as unto carnal, that is, persons who, though you axe not under the full conduct and government of your flesh and sensitive appetite, yet are far from being perfect, either in faith or holiness.

In Christ, but not as grown men, but as babes, as the apostle fully explaineth this term, Hebrews 5:12,Hebrews 5:13, such as had need be taught again which are the first principles of the oracles of God; and have need of milk, and not of strong meat: for every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.

Verse 2

Milk signifies what the apostle to the Hebrews calls the first principles of the oracles of God, and so is opposed to sublime spiritual doctrines, here set out under the notion of meat; called strong meat, Hebrews 5:14, fit for those of full age: as young children’s stomachs will not endure strong meat, so neither are sublime spiritual mysteries fit for new converts, until they have senses exercised to discern good and evil; and therefore the apostle gives this as a reason, why he had not communicated the deep things of God to them, because as yet they had not been able to bear the notion of them, nor indeed were they yet able: it should seem that there were many in the church of Corinth, who though they were true Christians, yet were not grown and judicious Christians, but had great imperfections, as indeed it will further appear in this Epistle.

Verse 3

For ye are yet carnal; not wholly carnal, but in a great measure so, not having your lusts and corrupt affections entirely subdued to the will of God, nor yet so much subdued as some other Christians have, and you ought to have. As an evidence of this he mindeth them of the

envying, strifes, and divisions that were amongst them.

Strife and envyings are reckoned amongst the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:19-21; they are all opposite to love, in which the perfection of a Christian lieth. He told us before what strifes and contentions he meant, and tells us it again in the next verse.

Verse 4

Not that Christians so large a city as Corinth might not put themselves under several pastors, or, as to themselves, prefer one before another, either in respect of the more eminent gifts of God bestowed upon one, (as doubtless Paul was preferable to Apollos), or in respect of the more suitableness of one man’s gifts to their capacities than another: but their adherence so to one minister of the gospel, that for his sake they vilified and despised all others, that were also true and faithful servants of God in the work of his gospel, this was their sin, and spake them to have vicious and corrupt affections, and to walk more like men than like saints, not having a true notion of the ministers of Christ, nor behaving themselves towards them as they ought to do.

Verse 5

Neither Paul, nor yet Apollos, are authors of faith to you, but only instruments; it is the Lord that giveth to every man a power to believe; or else that latter phrase,

as the Lord gave to every man, may be understood of ministers, whose abilities to the work of the ministry, and success in it, both depend upon God. The sense of the words is this, then: God giveth unto his ministers variety of gifts, and different success; but yet neither one nor the other of them are more than the servants of Christ in their ministry, persons whom God maketh use of to call upon and to prevail with men, to give credit to the doctrine of the gospel, and to receive and accept of Christ. The work is the Lord’s, not theirs.

Verse 6

God honoured me first to preach the gospel amongst you, Acts 18:1-28 &c., and blessed my preaching to convert you unto Christ; then I left you: Apollos stayed behind, and he watered what I had planted, daily preaching amongst you; see Acts 18:24-26; he was a further means to build you up in faith and holiness; but God increased, or

gave the increase, God gave the power by which you brought forth any fruit. The similitude is drawn from planters, whether husbandmen or gardeners; they plant, they water, but the growing, the budding, the bringing forth flowers or fruit by the plant, doth much more depend upon the soil in which it stands, the influence of heaven upon it, by the beams of the sun, and the drops of the dew and rain, and the internal virtue which the God of nature hath created in the plant, than upon the hand of him that planteth, or him who useth his watering pot to water it. So it is with souls; one minister is used for conversion, or the first changing of souls; another is used for edification, or further building up of souls; but both conversion and edification are infinitely more from the new heart and new nature, which God giveth to souls, and from the influence of the Sun of righteousness by the Spirit of grace, working in and upon the soul, than from any minister, who is but God’s instrument in those works.

Verse 7

So that, look as it is in earthly plantations, God hath the greatest influence upon the growth and fruitfulness of the plant, and the husbandman or gardener is nothing in comparison with God, who hath given to the plant planted its life and nature, by which it shooteth up, buddeth, and bringeth forth fruit, and maketh his sun to shine and his rain to fall upon it: so it is in the spiritual plantation, God is the principal efficient Cause, we are little instrumental causes in God’s hand, nothing in comparison with God. I have planted, Apollos hath watered; but if we see a soul changed, or grow, and make any spiritual proficiency, we must say, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be given the glory: God hath done the main work; we have not done any thing in comparison with him. These words do no more tend to vilify the ministry of the gospel, or make it useless, than, taking them in their native sense, as they respect earthly plantations, they would prove, that there is no need of the husbandman’s or gardener’s hand to plant or to water plants, because all that he doth of that nature is to no purpose, unless God first gives to the plant its proper nature and virtue, and then followeth the planting with the influence of the sun, dew, and rain. But yet it is observable, that the apostle doth not say, the man himself gives the increase, from the good use of the power that is naturally in his own will, but

God giveth the increase; which argues the necessity of special grace both to conversion and edification, superadded to the best preaching of his ministers. Though Paul himself by preaching plants, and Apollos watereth, yet God must make the soul to increase with the increase of God. Hence the apostle argueth their unreasonableness, in adoring one minister, and magnifying him above another, when indeed neither the one nor the other had any principal efficiency in the production of the blessed effect, but a mere instrumental causation, the effect of which depended upon the sole blessing of God, in comparison with whom, in this working, neither the one nor the other minister was any thing.

Verse 8

The ministers of Christ, though one be used in planting and another in watering, one in laying the foundation and another in building thereupon, yet are one; one in their office and work, one in their ministry, being all servants to Christ, who is one; all serving one and the same Lord, all doing the same business, proposing the same end, and with all their might labouring towards it; and therefore, as they ought not to divide into parties and factions, so you ought not for their sakes to be so divided. Yet they are not so one, but that one may labour more than another, and be honoured by God with more success than another, and every one shall receive a reward proportioned to his labour: the apostle saith not, according to the success of his labour, (that is not in his power), but,

according to his labour.

Verse 9

Though compared with God we are nothing, yet our station is no mean station; God works as the principal efficient Cause, we work with God as his instruments; God worketh one way, by his secret influence upon the heart, we another way, by publication of the gospel in people’s ears, but the scope and end of the work is the same. The Lord is said to work with his ministers, Mark 16:20, and they are here said to work with him. Hence he proveth what he had before said, that they should be rewarded; God will not suffer those who work with him to be without their reward: as also that they were one, for they are all labourers together with God. Yet do not think yourselves our husbandry, for you are

God’s husbandry: thus God’s people, Isaiah 61:3, are called the planting of the Lord.

God’s building: thus the church is called the house of God, 1 Timothy 3:15. Still the apostle minds them, that they were God’s, not their minister’s; it was God to whom they were beholden for their conversion, for their edification, &c.

Verse 10

According to the grace of God which is given unto me: χαριν here signifies either the ability which God hath given Paul to preach the gospel, or the apostolical office, to which God had called him; he maketh both to proceed from God, and to be the effects of his free love and favour to him. According to this he saith: Look,

as a wise master-builder first layeth the foundation, then buildeth upon the foundation which he hath laid; so

I, being the first whom God pleased to employ in this his work at Corinth, have laid the foundation, that is, have first preached the gospel in this famous city: thus the first preaching of the gospel is called, a laying the foundation, Romans 15:20; Hebrews 6:1.

Another buildeth thereon; afterwards Apollos and other ministers further carried on that work of preaching the gospel amongst them.

But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon; but (saith he) whoever cometh to preach after me had need take heed what he buildeth; for, Galatians 1:8, though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Verse 11

Can in this text doth not signify a mere natural power, but a rightful power: No man by any just right or authority can lay any other foundation, can preach any other doctrine of salvation, than that which I have already preached, which is the doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ.

Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, Acts 4:12.

Verse 12

The apostle is discoursing metaphorically, he had compared the church of Corinth to a building, 1 Corinthians 3:9, and called them there God’s building; they were built upon the doctrine of the gospel, the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, who had preached Christ to them, this was the foundation; and had told us, that none, by any pretence of right, could lay any other foundation. But there was to be a superstructure upon this foundation, which might be of various materials: he names six; three very good and excellent,

gold, silver, and precious stones; three others vile and invaluable,

wood, hay, stubble. By these he either means good or bad works, or rather, good or bad doctrines. Good doctrine is signified by the gold, silver, and precious stones mentioned; bad doctrine by the wood, hay, and stubble mentioned; by which may be understood various degrees of bad doctrine, as some doctrines are more pernicious and damnable than others, though the others also be false, unprofitable, trivial, and of no significancy to the good of souls, but bad, as they are unprofitable.

Verse 13

Now, saith he, there will come a time when every man’s, that is, every teacher’s, work, or doctrine, shall be made manifest. As the metal is brought to the touchstone to be tried, whether it be gold or silver, or some baser metal; so there will come a time, when all doctrines shall be tried and made manifest, whether they be of God or no.

For the day shall declare it: what day shall declare it is not so steadily agreed by interpreters. Some by a day here understand a long time, in process of time it shall be declared; as indeed erroneous doctrines have not used to obtain or prevail long: Dagon falls before the ark. Others understand it of a day of adversity and great affliction, the day of God’s vengeance; and indeed thus it is often seen, a false faith, or a lie believed, will not carry a man through the difficulties which he meeteth with in an evil day: the truths of the gospel are of that nature, that they will give a soul relief and support in a day of affliction and under God’s severest dispensations, but errors and falsehoods will not do it. Others understand by the day here mentioned, the day of judgment, which is indeed often called the day of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 1:8, and described by fire, Joel 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Peter 3:10; but this text saith not the day of the Lord, but only the day. It seemeth, therefore, rather to signify the bright shining out of the gospel; for the text seemeth to speak of such a manifestation as shall be in this life, not in the day of judgment.

Because it shall be revealed by fire; the same thing is also to he understood.

The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is: by the fire here mentioned, not the fire of God’s wrath, or the fire of affliction and adversity, nor the fire of the last judgment, but the truth of the gospel shining forth in the world, and burning up the dross and stubble of corrupt, false doctrine, that shall bring all the doctrines which men teach, to the trial.

Verse 14

If any preacher keeps the foundation, and the doctrine which he hath built upon the true foundation prove consonant to the will of Christ, God will reward him for his labour: he shall hear the voice saying: Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

Verse 15

But if his work do not abide, if it shall appear upon the more clear and bright shining out of the truth of the gospel, that though he hath held the foundation right, yet he hath built upon it wood, hay, and stubble, mixed fables, and idle stories, and corrupt doctrine with the doctrine of the gospel,

he shall suffer loss by it, either by the afflicting hand of God, or by a loss of his reputation, or some other way. But yet God will not cast off a soul for every such error, if he keeps to the main foundation, Jesus Christ; he shall be saved, though it be as by fire, that is, with difficulty; which certainly is a more natural sense of this text, than those give, who interpret as by fire, of the fire of the gospel, or the fire of purgatory, of which the papists understand it. For:

1. It is, and always hath been, a proverbial form of speech to express a thing obtained by difficulty; we say: It is got out of the fire, &c.

2. For the fire of purgatory, it is a fiction, and mere imaginary thing, and of no further significancy than to make the pope’s chimney smoke.

3. That pretended fire only purgeth venial sins; this fire trieth every man’s work, the gold as well as the stubble.

Verse 16

The apostle, 1 Corinthians 3:9, had called the church of Corinth, and the particular members of it, God’s building; after this he had enlarged in a discourse concerning the builders, and the foundation and superstructure upon that foundation; now he returns again to speak of the whole church, whom he here calleth the temple of God, with a manifest allusion to that noble and splendid house which Solomon first built, and was afterwards rebuilt by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah at Jerusalem, as the public place for the Jewish church to meet in to worship God according to the prescript of the Levitical law: in which house God was said to dwell, because there he met his people, and blessed them, and there he gave answers to them from the mercy-seat. He calls them the temple of God, because they were built, that is, effectually called, for this very end, that they might be to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved, Ephesians 1:6; and, as the apostle Peter further expoundeth this text, 1 Peter 2:5, the people of God are a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. And God by his Spirit dwelt in them, both by his person, and by his gifts and graces, which is a far more noble dwelling in them than the dwelling of God was in the Jewish temple. From this text may be fetched an evident proof of the Divine nature, of the Third Person in the blessed Trinity; for he is not only called here the Spirit of God, but he is said to dwell in the saints: which dwelling of God in his people, is that very thing which maketh them the temple of God; and those who are here called the temple of God, are, 1 Corinthians 6:19, called the temple of the Holy Ghost.

Verse 17

If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; the word which we translate defile and destroy (for the Greek word is the same for both) signifieth to violate, corrupt, or destroy. Our translators generally render it corrupt, 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 4:22; Jude 1:10; Revelation 19:2. The people of God, who are here called the temple of God, are defiled, either by imbibing false doctrine, or being tempted to any looseness of life and conversation. Now, (saith the apostle), if any one goes about to do this, which all preachers do who teach any false doctrine, or any principles that lead to a liberty for the flesh, or lead to an ill and scandalous life, God shall destroy those men.

For the temple of God is holy; for as the temple of God of old was a place built and set apart for holy uses, and therefore not without great peril to be abused and profaned; so those that are the people of God, are by God called and set apart in a more immediate, eminent manner for the honour and glory of God, and therefore cannot be debauched or defiled by any as instruments in that action, without exceeding great peril and hazard to them that endeavour and attempt any such thing.

Verse 18

Let not man deceive himself: there are some that, with their eloquence and flourishes of words, or with their philosophical notions and reasonings, {which, Colossians 2:8, the apostle calls vain deceit} or with their traditions after the rudiments of the world, ( as the apostle addeth in that place), would cheat and deceive your souls, under a pretence of making you wonderfully wise: the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.

If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world; if any of you seemeth unto others, or seemeth unto himself, that is, thinketh that he is endued with what the world calleth wisdom.

Let him become a fool, that he may be wise; if ever he would be truly wise, wise unto God, and to eternal life and salvation, let him be contented, by the wise men and philosophers of this world, to be looked upon as a fool; and let him be willing to deny himself in any notions or opinions of his own, which he hath taken up upon the credit of his natural reason and philosophical principles, which agree not with the Divine revelation, that so he may be truly and spiritually wise, truly understanding, savouring, and believing what God hath in his word revealed, and is alone able to make the man of God wise to salvation, thoroughly furnished unto every good work.

Verse 19

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; God accounteth that folly which the world calleth wisdom, and indeed it is so (for God cannot err, nor be mistaken in his judgment): the philosophers and wise men of the world propose the happiness of man as their end, which indeed is the true end which all men aim at, and do propound to themselves; true wisdom directeth the best means in order to the best end. Whatsoever directeth not to the best end, or to what is not the best means in order to that end, is not wisdom, but real folly; worldly wisdom neither directeth to the best end, for it looks at no further happiness than that of this life, nor yet to the best means, and therefore is truly, what God accounts it, foolishness.

For it is written: He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; and to see the wise and learned men of the world thus err both in their judgment and practice, is no wonder at all; for God is set out of old by Eliphaz, as one that taketh the wise in their own craftiness, Job 5:13.

Verse 20

And again, it was said by the psalmist, Psalms 94:11, that:

The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity: man’s counsels, imaginations, reasonings, they are all vanity; they propose to themselves ends which they cannot attain, and pursue them by means that are inefficacious with reference to their ends.

Verse 21

Seeing, therefore, that Christ is but one, his ministers but one, and no more than ministers by whom ye believed, 1 Corinthians 3:5; and the principal efficiency of any saving work begun, or carried on in your souls to any degree of perfection, is from God, and the minister’s work in that effect nothing compared with his; seeing you are God’s husbandry, God’s building, not merely man’s, and the temple of God, not men’s temple; leave your glorying in men, and saying l am of Paul, or I am of Apollos; glory only in this, that ye are Christ’s: besides, all things are yours; why do you glory in a particular minister, when all is yours? As if two joint-heirs in an estate should glory in this or that particular house or enclosure, when the whole estate is jointly theirs, all theirs.

Verses 22-23

Here are in these two verses three things asserted:

1. The believer’s title to all things.

2. The specialty of their title.

3. The force of the apostle’s argument from hence, why they should not glory in men.

He had said before: All things are yours, which he repeats again, in 1 Corinthians 3:22; they have a right and title to all things, and all things are for their good, use, and advantage. Amongst these he first reckons ministers: every one of them might lay a claim to Paul, to Apollos, to Peter; for they were all servants of Christ for the use of the church, a part of which they were. Then he goes on, and saith, the world, that is, the things of the world, are theirs; that is, whatsoever portion of them the providence of God orderly disposed to them, they had a true title to it, and it was for their use and advantage; so were the lives and deaths of God’s ministers, their own lives and deaths, all things present, and all things that were to come, they were all theirs by a just title; if the providence of God gave them to them in an orderly way, they might comfortably use them. They themselves were Christ’s; they were not of Paul, nor of Apollos, nor of Peter. He that had the bride was the bridegroom; these ministers were but the friends of their bridegroom.

And Christ is God’s, the Son of God by an eternal generation; the servant of God as man, and born under the law, so yielding obedience to his Father; the Messiah or Anointed, and sent of God as Mediator. All things are God’s, by God given to Christ, by Christ given to and sanctified for you; that makes the believers’ special title to all things. The men of the world derive their title to what they have from God alone, as Creator; they derive not from Christ, as being ingrafted and implanted into him. Hence the apostle rightly concludes their vanity, in glorying in their relation to this or that special apostle or minister, whereas they had a true and just right to the labours of all ministers, and ought to look upon all faithful ministers as God’s gifts to his whole church, and for the advantage and benefit of all: yet this hindereth not, but that people ought to have their particular pastors and teachers, to whom they ought ordinarily to attend in their ministry; but they ought not to have their persons in such admiration, as for them to despise or slight any other faithful ministers, nor to make parties and factions in the church of God.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.