Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. [The simplicity of Paul’s instruction had given occasion to the false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:12-15) to criticize him as a shallow teacher (2 Corinthians 10:10), rather than as one who had "the mind of Christ." To this the apostle replies that their own immature condition up to the time when he left them, rendered them incapable of any fuller instruction; for, far from being mature disciples (1 Corinthians 2:8; Ephesians 4:13), they were still swayed by the prejudices and passions of the unregenerate life out of which they had been but lately born, and to which they were not wholly dead.]

Verse 2

I fed you with milk, not with meat, for ye were not yet able to bear it [he had merely grounded them in first principles, and had not enlightened them as to those higher doctrines which lead on to perfection, because they could not grasp them. Comp. Hebrews 5:11-6:2; 1 Peter 2:2; Mark 4:33; John 16:12]: nay, not even now are ye able;

Verse 3

for ye are yet carnal [showing undue reverence for men, etc.]: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal [Galatians 5:19-20; James 3:16], and do ye not walk after the manner of men?

Verse 4

For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men? [Surely the Corinthians had no ground to argue with Paul as to their condition when he was among them, for their present condition was no better, since they were still swayed by the same prejudices and passions, and were showing themselves worldlings, rather than Spirit-led Christians-- Galatians 5:25]

Verse 5

What [the neuter of disparagement] then is Apollos? and what is Paul? Ministers [literally, deacons, i. e., servitors-- Acts 6:2; Colossians 1:7; not leaders-- Luke 22:25-26] through whom ["not in whom"--Bengel] ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him. [i. e., gave spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6); and success.]

Verse 6

I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

Verse 7

So then neither is he that planteth anything [in himself, without Christ-- 2 Corinthians 12:12; John 15:4-5; John 15:16], neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. [Paul brought them into the vineyard or kingdom, Apollos instructed them; but God gave the results, causing them to live and grow, and so to God alone was due the honor and praise (Psalms 115:1). Paul regarded it as his especial duty because of his apostleship to tarry in no territory already occupied, but to press into new fields and plant churches, leaving others to help water them-- Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16]

Verse 8

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one [with respect to their purposes, or the ends for which they labor: hence, not rivals]: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. [Since God gives the increase, the reward will be proportioned to fidelity, etc., rather than to results.]

Verse 9

For we are God’s fellow-workers: ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building [The supreme ownership of God is here emphasized, as is shown by the three possessives. Paul and Apollos were not fellow-workers with God, but fellow-workers with each other under God. The Corinthians were God’s field in which they labored, or his building which they reared; but workers, field and building all belonged to God.]

Verse 10

According to the grace [apostleship with its attendant gifts-- Romans 1:5; Galatians 1:15-16; Ephesians 3:8] of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation [In Corinth Paul had preached Christ as the foundation of the church and of each individual Christian, and this foundation admitted no mixture of philosophy and no perversion which could produce sects (Galatians 1:9). All this Paul asserts without any shadow of boasting, for the skill or wisdom by which he had done it had been imparted to him by God]; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon.

Verse 11

For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid [of or by God the Father (1 Peter 2:6); God laid him by gift, Paul by preaching], which is Jesus Christ. [Paul had laid Christ as the foundation (Matthew 16:18; Acts 4:11-12; Ephesians 2:20); and others (each being individually responsible, hence the singular) had been building carnal, worldly-minded factions upon it, and these are warned that the superstructure should comport with the foundation, for so worthy a foundation should have a correspondingly worthy structure.]

Verse 12

But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Verse 13

each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day [the judgment day] shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire [as to its quality]; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. [All of the building materials here mentioned were familiar in Corinth. The first three kinds were found in their fireproof temples--material worthy of sacred structures, and the latter three were used in their frail, combustible huts which were in no way dedicated to divinity. The argument is that Corinthian Christians should build the spiritual temple of God, the church, with as good spiritual material as the relative earthly material employed by their fathers in constructing idolatrous shrines. The church should be built of true Christians, the proper material; and not of worldly-minded hypocrites, or those who estimate the oracles of God as on a par with the philosophies of men. The day of judgment will reveal the true character of all who are in the church, as a fire reveals the character of the material in a temple structure. The Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory is in some measure founded on this passage; but the context shows a purging of all evil men from the church as an entirety. There is no hint that the evil in the individual is purged by fire, leaving a residuum of righteousness. Our sins are not purged by fire, but by the blood of Christ, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission-- Hebrews 9:22]

Verse 14

If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward.

Verse 15

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss [if a teacher’s disciples endure the test of judgment, he shall receive a reward, of which his converts will be at least a part (1 Thessalonians 2:19; Philippians 2:16); but if his disciples do not stand that test, he shall of course lose whatever property he had in them, and perhaps more-- 2 John 1:8]: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire. [The teacher may of course be saved independently of his disciples, for salvation is a gift and not a reward; but he will be saved as a steward who has lost the things of his stewardship; as a tenant who has had his harvest burned, or as a contractor whose structure has gone up in flames: see 1 Corinthians 3:9]

Verse 16

Know ye not [a touch of amazement at their ignorance] that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? [In verse 9 he had called them God’s building; he now reminds them of what kind the building was, and how exalted were its uses. The Jerusalem temple was honored by the Shechinah, but the church by the very Spirit of God.]

Verse 17

If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye. [The factions are here plainly made aware of the magnitude of their sin, and the severity of their punishment. They were destroying the church by their divisions (Ephesians 5:27), maiming and dismembering it by their discordant factions-- 2 Peter 2:1]

Verse 18

Let no man deceive himself. [By thinking himself wise enough to amend or modify God’s truth.] If any man thinketh that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. [Let such a one become a fool in the world’s sight, as Paul was (Acts 26:24; 1 Corinthians 4:10), that by preaching the so-called foolishness of God he may learn the real wisdom of it.]

Verse 19

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written [Job 5:13], He that taketh the wise in their craftiness:

Verse 20

and again [Psalms 94:11], The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain. [Alford interprets the passage thus: "If God uses the craftiness of the wise as a net to catch them in, such wisdom is in his sight folly, since he turns it to their own confusion." How foolish to modify or adapt the gospel to make it palatable and acceptable to sectarian spirits or worldly minds! Man is to be adjusted to God, not God to man, for he is unchangeable-- James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8]

Verse 21

Wherefore let no one glory in men. [A returning upon the thought at 1 Corinthians 1:31] For all things are yours [why, then, grasp a paltry part and forego the glorious whole?];

Verse 22

whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world [Matthew 5:5; Mark 10:29-30], or life [with its possibilities], or death [with its gain-- Philippians 1:21], or things present, or things to come [Revelation 21:5-27]; all are yours [This is a positive, as Romans 8:38-39 is a negative side of the truth at Romans 8:28 . All things further, and nothing hinders the saint’s prosperity];

Verse 23

and ye are Christ’s [and hence not the property of his servants]; and Christ is God’s. [These words are an echo of the prayer of the Master at John 17:21-23 . The church must have perfect unity in Christ that Christ may maintain his unity with God. Christ must of necessity quiet all contention between the members of his body (1 Corinthians 12:12); for if he is at variance with himself, how can he have unity with the Father? Variance is an infallible proof of imperfection, and imperfection can not have unity with God, who is perfection-- Matthew 5:48]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.