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1 Corinthians 3

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Verses 1-4


1 Corinthians 3:1. And I.—Q.d. “As any other ‘spiritual’ teacher would have to do.” So Ellicott; but perhaps laying undue stress upon the “and,” which, if more than merely a half-colloquial redundance, may rather be parallel with 1 Corinthians 2:1; q.d. “Accordingly I,” etc., i.e. in agreement with the broad lines of necessary procedure laid down in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. Spiritual.—In the precise and quasi-technical sense of chap. 2 [or inter alios, Galatians 6:1]. Carnal.—We should have expected “natural” (= “psychical, animal-souled”). But this would have denied to them any participation in the grace and awakening and renewal of the Spirit. They are Christians of a low type, but not so low as that. They are “in Christ,” but only as “babes.” Note the reading: only appearing in the Received Text in 2 Corinthians 3:3, but now here also and in Romans 7:14; Hebrews 7:16. Some deny any distinction between the old form and the new, except of literary rank. Trench would (§ 72) distinguish as between “fleshly” (= the displaced reading) and “fleshy” or “fleshen,” parallel to “wooden” (= the new reading, and in 2 Corinthians 3:3); as if distinguishing between men in whom “the flesh” was indeed predominant, but with many gracious checks and restraints, and men in whom the one apparent feature in life was so much the literal “flesh” that they were “not anti-spiritual, but un-spiritual, … flesh and little more, when they might have been much more.” Yet he regards the word as conveying a less grave accusation than the ordinary word for “carnal” (“fleshly”) does. The varying judgments of the authorities show how slight at best is the distinction.

1 Corinthians 3:2.—Cf. Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:4, where note that the doctrine of 1 Corinthians 15:0 is amongst the “elements,” the “milk” for babes. Also Paul “preached the Resurrection” to the merely “natural” men of Athens (Acts 17:18). Cf. “New wine in old bottles”; “new cloth on old garment.” So Christ only spoke plainly to the disciples about His death, when, e.g., Peter’s faith in His Godhead had first risen into a bold confession; and then also the announcement, so perplexing to a Jew, and so distressing to a friend like Peter, was followed up by a view of his Master in His true, native glory (Matthew 16:20-21). Cf. “Neither yet now are ye able” with “Ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). Also cf. “earthly things” and “heavenly things” (John 3:12).

1 Corinthians 3:3.—Helps to a definition of “the flesh”; as does Galatians 5:19-20, by no means a catalogue of bodily sins alone. See life in the flesh plainly differentiated from life in the material body (Romans 8:9), “Ye are not in the flesh.” Note the changes of translation in After the manner of men.—So in 1 Corinthians 15:32. But the special colouring of the phrase, whether neutral or condemnatory, varies from instance to instance of its use.

1 Corinthians 3:4.—Less complete enumeration than in 1 Corinthians 1:12. Perhaps for the reason explained in 1 Corinthians 4:6. Also he and Apollos were more closely connected than any others with the origin and growth of the Corinthian Church.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 3:1-4

Babes in Christ.”—(Read Critical Notes, on “carnal.”)

I. The Creator has stamped His own unity upon His many-sectioned creation in the many homologies which link together part and part, and, above all, natural things and spiritual things, physical facts and the facts of the world of morals and religion. Just because Christ knew these links of idea and these correspondences most perfectly, He spake parables as never man spake. He saw Nature parabolic as never man saw it. He stood at the central point of God’s Idea, and saw its radiating lines of expression touching, traversing, connecting, the concentric [and, as the geometer says, “similar”] areas of diverse classes of facts. The physical history of the human body, the natural, morally neutral history of the development of the human mind, is a Parable in Nature, easily, early, always read. [1 John 2:12-14 is a good example of this way of reading. (a) There are the “little children” who barely know more, but who do know this, that they “know their Father,” and that because of forgiven sin there is nothing but love between them. Loving, happy, living childhood, content to be alive and know Him and His favour. (b) There are the “young men,” victorious over the Wicked One, with well-knit body, and the firm tread of vigorous early manhood, to which the indwelling Word is bread and life. (c) There are the “fathers,” of whom only one thing is said—“they know Him that is from the beginning.” The strength, élan, enterprise, of manhood is perhaps gone; in a sense, the life has returned to its starting-point—as “children” they “knew Him”; but now with a deeper insight, with the experience of an intercourse of long years’ standing; as an adult, mature man who is a father, for the first time “knows” his father.] In St. Paul “babes” is never a word of praise. He hurries forward to, and hurries forward his converts to, “perfection”; the adult manhood, with its perfection; of harmonious development of every power and faculty and grace; of “knowledge of the world” of spiritual things with which for years the man “in Christ” has been conversant; of ripeness of character without any first touch of senile failure or weakness or decay. These are “babes” at Corinth.

II. Babes and carnal.—

1. “Natural” (chap. 2) would hardly have been too strong for the fact. “Envying,” “strife,” “schisms,” and these ruling and raging, are incompatible with the “spiritual” man’s life. These are “works of the flesh.” In fact, the discrepancy, as to area and included human contents, between the Ideal Church and its actual, historical, disciplinary expression and embodiment and enumeration, had already begun to appear. The Church, as its Lord reckons its census, may here and there overpass the bounds of the Church, as our humanly designed and most faithfully administered methods mark it off from “the world.” But much oftener it shrinks far within the boundary-line of our survey, and leaves the Church, of any real, effective, sanctified life, a central area of occupation within a much larger one which is hardly more than in name and claim and ownership still Christ’s. These men are still within the bound of the external organisation; the branch most utterly dormant, if not utterly dead, is still in mechanical connection with the Vine, as Paul cultivates and cares for it. He had not cut these off, as he bade them without pity or delay do with incestuous man (1 Corinthians 3:5). Indeed, in the hopefulness of charity, he goes further than logically would be possible, and speaks of these men over whom “sin has” such clear “dominion” (Romans 6:14), asin Christ,” though “babes.” [Does he? Has he really given to those who had lapsed from any but the external, mechanical connection with Christ, the elementary lessons which, elementary as they are, belonged really to a stage in advance of them?] But it is at most the tender judgment which without any tampering with, or disloyalty to, the inevitable distinction between “natural” and “spiritual,” is willing for the moment to look no deeper than the outward profession and the still maintained connection with the Church. None but a reckless hand will lightly disturb even the outward connection, if it has at one time meant life, and is not manifestly declared unreal by flagrant sin or long-continued indifference. So long as it continues, there is always the happy possibility that the branch may again fill and thrill and throb with life; it will not lightly be disturbed. The claim of the Church is paramount that it should be kept pure; the claim of the Head of the Church demands that all dead or unworthy membership be cut off; but the claim of the redeemed soul demands that the membership, once admitted, shall be tenderly dealt with, and rated at its most hopeful value. “Envying, strifes, partisanship,” and the like; yet Paul will concede to them a place “in Christ,” if it be only as “babes,” and will “speak to them” accordingly.

2. How many members never get beyond the stage ofbabes in Christ.”—There is a beauty about infancy, in nature and in grace. Nothing more charming than the simple, unaffected, direct love of God’s “little children” towards Him and towards each other. Happy manhood, both in nature and grace, which never loses the affectionate, childlike heart; keeping it fresh under, and along with, all the manly gains in knowledge and experience. A beauty about the simple directness of a child’s trust in all that is told to it; it may be deceived and misled, but the faith of a little child is more beautiful and more receptive of grace than the cynical scepticism of the man who always begins by suspecting, and presumes the worst. A beauty about the loving obedience which belongs to at least the ideal of childhood, and is one of the first, most tender fruits of the Spirit’s new birth. What music in God’s ear, and how delightful to a “perfect man” in the life of God, the first, unschooled, open, spontaneous, unconventional utterances of their thoughts and experiences, from the lips of God’s little children! But this beauty is no beauty when it becomes permanent. Fifteen, or fifty, with the face and mind and powers of five years of age, would be a calamity to the grown child, an agony to parents, a subject of mockery or of pity to outsiders. She sees of the travail of her soul and is satisfied,—that mother into whose arms is laid the helpless babe, that does not yet know her, or know itself, but simply lives, and is perfectly formed and healthy. To Him who died that His people “might have life,” that He might Himself “see His seed,” life is better than death; life is full of all possibilities; death has no possibilities, no future, but corruption. It is some measure of reward for His “pangs,” some measure of “satisfaction,” when His people begin to live, even as “babes in” Him. In a human home, in Christian lands at any rate, the child that grows weakling, puny, sickly, deformed, often calls out a love that seems intensified by the very need of love in the dependent creature; the tenderer the child, the tenderer the love. But the “satisfaction” is in the children who grow hearty and strong, who develop girlish beauty and youthful strength, until at last womanhood and manhood fill the parents’ heart with satisfying joy. What a disappointment to Paul [may the same human word be attributed to Christ also?] that after these years, since he first went to Corinth, these members of the Church there, “enriched in” everything for the sustenance and training of the new-born life (1 Corinthians 1:5-7), were still, at the most favourable estimate, only “babes in Christ”! There was no beauty or satisfaction or honour in such a standstill life. There are such in every Church. Always learning to stand, to walk, to do; never accomplishing much at either; indeed, spiritually always learning to live. To them the Church is hardly yet a school; certainly not a workshop; more truly a nursery. Every pastor has many such, who must not only be “looked after” incessantly, lest, like naughty or heedless children, they stray away into the world, but who must be nursed lest the feeble flicker of life be extinguished in death. How large a part of the work of the Churches, how large a part of the care of the ministry, must be absorbed in the working of keeping up to the level of even “babes in Christ,” some who have been in outward membership for years! [The coincidence of our paragraph with Hebrews 5:11-14 is noteworthy.]

3. Paul refers to their food: “Milk, not meat.”—No humble child of God’s family but acknowledges how often, in some of the lessons of God’s school, he has never seemed to get beyond the A B C of teaching. The same discipline year after year, the same trials, because the one lesson has never been perfectly learned yet. To promote His scholar into the work of the next higher “form,” whilst yet the lessons of the lower have never been mastered, would only be to ensure bad work, to attempt to “rush up” a building upon a badly laid foundation. The Jerusalem scoffers in Isaiah’s day cried half in scorn, half in anger, “Whom shall he [the prophet] teach knowledge?… weaned babes? Does he take us for such, with his precept upon precept, … here a little, there a little?” (Isaiah 28:9-13). The words are read by some, and are as true, if they be seriously spoken, perhaps by the prophet himself. What they said in scorn was a simple, sad necessity. They were fit only for such lessons. There are truths which alone the children can take in. There are truths which are of “the secret of the Lord,” only revealable to the grown men. There must not be on the part of the human teachers—from any mistaken policy, or from any fear of being misunderstood by their youngest pupil—any such keeping back of truth as makes what is taught all but falsehood. Economy, reserve, are not for man, for ecclesiastics, to practise. If the Spirit of God has only gradually (Hebrews 1:1) brought out the full round of truth, it has been from no desire to conceal anything; the disclosure has been conditioned by the receptiveness of the scholars, and by that only. To Nicodemus the Master Himself distinguished between “earthly things” and “heavenly things” (John 3:12), as being of different grades of comprehensibleness. Human teaching will adapt; it will not for the teacher’s sake reserve anything which is needful and can be communicated. The human difficulty is to teach elementary truth without so far distorting it that before anything more can be added, something must be unlearned; we must often pull down a little before we can “graft” the new work upon the old. The model should be the teaching of the Revealing Spirit; all absolutely true, so far as it goes; no need for unlearning in order to new learning; from milk to meat in His teaching is one orderly, harmonious progress and growth of truth. But how long He has to say, “Ye were not able to bear it; neither yet now,” etc.

4. Note the special token of carnality, of infancy.—They are children with their favourites, over whom they boast and wrangle and quarrel. No sign of “manhood in Christ,” to be so devoted to one man, or one type of minister, as to appreciate and be helped by no other.

Verses 5-9


1 Corinthians 3:5.—Better reading “what?” not “who?” Also “through.” Not, “As the Lord gave to every man of you the type of teacher he needed”; but, “As the Lord allotted to each teacher” the divided labour. Stanley suggests that Paul takes up, and with his own meaning adopts, their depreciatory distinction: “Yes, you did but plant. It was Apollos who watered, and so brought your work to anything like what could be called a successful issue!” Note here, as in 2 Corinthians 6:4, they are working under God’s orders, at God’s work. [In Mark 16:20, “the Lord (Christ) works with them.”] [Cf. the inscription on the University: “Louvain planted, Mechlin watered, Cæsar gave the increase.”]

1 Corinthians 3:8. One.—Our status, quâ the work, the increase, the Great Employer, is precisely the same. No parallel to John 10:30.

1 Corinthians 3:9.—Notice the Q.d. “All of us together belong to God, the field, the building, the company of workers in the field, or on the building. The fellowship only between man and man, God being above them all.” But A.V. is supported by Romans 16:3; Romans 16:9; Romans 16:21; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 8:23, also 1 Corinthians 6:1 (but note the reading). “Husbandry” speaks of growth from within; “building” of growth by additions from without.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 3:5-9

Paul; Apollos; God.—“Co-workers,” Paul ventures to say (2 Corinthians 6:1). Not only are Paul who plants and Apollos who waters “one” (1 Corinthians 3:8), but these “three agree in one” purpose and result.

I. Three ways of reading—three heart-inflections of tone in reading—this verse.—

1. “A Paul may plant, an Apollos may water; but God alone can give the increase!” The despondent, despairing tone of the physical and mental reaction of an earnest worker, after a day of effort and “failure”; said as if God gave charily and grudgingly the increase, and the chances were to be taken as against His giving. Or said by a worker who goes out mechanically, without much heart in his work, to discount apologetically beforehand the failure which he expects, and deserves; or his wonderfully wise “explanation” of his failure when the day is over: “Ah! you see, a Paul may plant,” etc. Very pious, but dishonouring to God.

2. “Paul must, … Apollos must, … God must,” etc. The formal, sometimes useful, summation of the conditions of success. One of the “Rules” hung up at the gate of the field, to be considered and complied with by every worker. On these conditions only can the work be done, on these only can success be claimed. Usually God will not do the work of Paul or Apollos, will do nothing without them. They must remember that they can effect nothing without His co-operation. Paul? Nothing! Apollos? Nothing! God? All in all! (1 Corinthians 3:7). Yet there is a better reading of the verse still.

3. “Paul planted, Apollos watered, God did give the increase.” The historical rendering and reading. Always, in invariable sequence, the history of any true labour for God. So certainly as the first two terms of the series are found, so certainly does the third follow to complete it. If Paul has done his part, if Apollos has done his part, God may be reckoned upon. God always does give the increase. The historical view is the healthy view, warranted by the history of the universal, working Church.

II. The human workers.—Are human. Macmillan (Bible Teachings in Nature, p. 101) points out that corn never grows spontaneously, is never self-sown, self-diffused; [this not true of Divine Truth, of the Bible, without limitation]; depends, as the seed of “life” does ordinarily, upon being sown by man’s hand. [The Greatest of the workers was human; Who might say to His Church, “I have planted, ye have watered”; Who said, “Others laboured, ye have entered into their labours.] With all human variety. Many and many-fashioned tools are needed to do the work of God. The material is many-fashioned. Each worker is made to be a specialist in some particular kind of material. Every kind of material, every type of mind and heart, is somebody’s speciality. The worker and the work, the minister and the man he is made to help, are both to be found; if only they find each other, all is well. The Great Director of the work knows where to lay His hand on the Paul, where to find the Apollos, the very man to do the work which wants doing. With all human limitations. Paul need not be distressed because he cannot do the work of Apollos. Nobody need blame Apollos because he cannot pioneer and “plant” like Paul. No man is made to do everything. Let a man frankly accept the limitation; let him consecrate to the Work and the Worker his ability thus bounded; then let him set himself to be at his own best for Christ. Paul is not to chafe against the fact that he is not an Apollos; still less is an Apollos to be thinking how much better he would have done the work, and how much more faithfully, than Paul, if only he had been set to Paul’s task with Paul’s talent. Depreciating criticism of others, disheartened views of oneself, are equally mischievous and needless. The work has always been done, and was intended to be done, by a division of work amongst workers, each of whom has a limitation of ability. Neither Paul nor Apollos was an “all-round” man, a monstrosity of all perfection. [It does not appear here; there was nothing in the facts of the case to suggest it, but ordinarily one must add, With all human infirmities. Ideally perfect work, even in a man’s own special “line,” never gets done. Nor does any most perfect plan ever get worked with ideal intelligence, or even with ideal faithfulness. “The Best is the enemy of the Good,” says a German proverb. Practical wisdom in the Church will not indeed be supinely indifferent to any chance of improvement of workers or methods, yet it will accept, and make the very most of, the workers who are “to hand,” with all their humanity. No organisation, no reorganisation, will ever eliminate from the conditions under which God’s work has to be done, the blameless, natural imperfections of the workers, or even their moral imperfections. See the men with whom God in Old Testament and New Testament alike did His work. We see the glorious results of the past; we see the best points of the conspicuous workers who contributed to them. But a nearer view, a more intimate acquaintance, would have shown them very human, most of them average, not only in ability, but in goodness; only a few of first rank in power and sainthood. But the glorious result is due to the great worker, God, who accomplished it by using the tools which were to His hand.]

III. The work.—Is of many forms. “Planting,” “watering.” No “reaping” is mentioned. A good case showing how such illustrative language does not bear insisting on beyond the one point of analogy which it is used to illustrate. Paul’s “planting” of a Church was a very real “reaping” of individual souls. The illustration here used is valid thus far—that many labourers, and many successive “layers” of faithful toil, contribute to the great Result. One man can in the deepest sense rarely claim to be the instrument (say) of a conversion. Ordinarily he has had the native ability, sanctified, to bring to a “head” what has been working in a soul pervasively, as the result of many a preceding labourer’s toil and prayers. How “planting” and “watering” are both needed to lead to full, ripe growth, is well seen in the case of the Master Himself. Any day of His three years’ ministry might be summarised in the sentence: “A Sower went forth (that morning) to sow.” He might have said, “I only planted.” The very parables of Matthew 13:0 illustrate His words. How few moments it occupies to read the Sower; how much time has been spent in expounding it. In how few words contained; how many myriads of words, how many acres of paper, spent in its enforcement. Rightly so. That morning He had gone out to sow; He was sowing from the boat that day seed truths, packed in small compass, but with living germs in them, which might be, and were meant to be, developed in many-branching expositions and applications of truth. His three years’ work was a seminal one, almost entirely; acts, works, Himself, in historical record,—the seed of a Gospel. But the Spirit of Pentecost “watered,” and, with a leap, that seed started into life and immediate blossom and fruitful harvest. “These things understood not His disciples at the first, but,” etc., (John 12:16). Perhaps not too much to say that without the watering of the Spirit the words of Christ must still remain seeds only, undeveloped potentialities, to some who read and even expound them. [Peter at Pentecost has got hold of all essential Christian truth, yet there is a development in some small degree to be traced in the clearness with which he and others apprehended Divine truth, particularly in regard to the Personality of their Master.] The work is to bring men to “believe.” It aims at making and building up “believers.” This certainly is a seminal, germinant work. When a sinner is brought to saving faith in Christ, a work is begun, and only begun, which may fruitfully fill eternity. How happy the selection and the succession of Pastors and Ministers with which the Great Head of His Church has often provided both its Churches and individual souls! How constantly the very man who can “water” is sent to follow up the man who can “plant”! How one man’s appeal follows up another man’s sermon! Would it not be oftener so, if in simple faith the choice and order were left to Him?

III. The increase and success.—“As the Lord gave to every man.” “Success” is as complex a thing as the labour which leads up to it; as many-sided as the work and the men. Again (as in 1 Corinthians 1:1), let it be said that there is always a real and true “success” and “increase” so surely as there has been the prayerful, faithful “planting” and “watering.” [N.B.—In the Sower (Matthew 13:0), if there are three causes of failure, there are also three degrees of success (in one case exceedingly abundant), as certainly as “a sower goes forth to sow.”] It may be a “success” whose full measure only begins to be seen at a second or third remove from the man whose work it really crowns. He is, e.g., a minister who only knows of the salvation of one man or one boy; but that boy becomes the evangelist who gathers in his sheaves by the hundred wherever he works. From heaven perhaps the original labourer sees for the first time his true success. Paul’s “success” and “increase” were not least when his words saved Luther, and when Luther’s comment on Paul saved John Wesley. [Eadie (Paul the Preacher, pp. 94, 95) gives a good case of germinant “increase.” There lived in last century in England an obscure woman with an only son. When he was but seven years old she died. But her image and her prayers haunted him by land and sea, in the ports of Britain, on the beach of Africa, when shipping manacled negroes, or carousing on shore with a seaman’s zest. His heart was touched; he became a minister renowned for his impressive conversation and correspondence. His words reached Claudius Buchanan, and sent him to India. The recital of his labours so attracted Judson that it drew him to Burmah. The same gift to a mother’s prayers threw light on the soul of Scott, the commentator. It also strengthened Cowper, and gave birth to the Olney Hymns. Wilberforce was greatly indebted to the same source, and his Practical View brought the truth home to the mind of Legh Richmond. Thus John Newton’s mother’s prayers gave birth to his preaching and correspondence, to two missionaries, a commentary, a Christian statesman, and a pastor. Yet her grave and her name are unknown.]

IV. The reward of the workers.—Over-subtle exegesis to say, “According to his labour, not according to his success.” Formally true, as a matter of lexical interpretation of “labour”; but too narrow for the thought of Paul, and for the fact. The Saviour has summarised the Divine Method of reward in the twin parables of the Pounds and the Talents [Luke 19:0; Matthew 25:0. As alike as twins, and as different. As alike as two faces, or twenty; built up on the same general plan, made up of the same basal facts (N.B. in the Pounds, however, two sets of facts are interwoven; there are subject-citizens who become rebels, as well as subject-servants); yet perfectly distinct and individual, in their occasion, in their construction, and in their teaching; each exactly congruous to its occasion and its audience; each, in even small details, internally harmonious and self-consistent.] In their contrast they exhibit complementary truths. Servants of Christ, with equal endowments [each of the ten a pound], may be in very diverse degree “successful.” One may be tenfold more diligent or devoted than another; with opportunities fairly equal the issues of their life’s “labour” may vary in the widest degrees. Some barely bring “one pound” of increase from their pound. Some of the same “pound” make ten. And the reward is proportionate. “Heaven” is no indiscriminate prize to every servant of God. There are many heavens in Heaven; as many heavens as men. Happy the man of a “ten cities” heaven. But on the other hand servants of God with widely different endowments may be equally faithful. It means as much for some to bring one “talent” for one, as for another to bring two talents where two were given. The man who adds five to five is no more “good and faithful a servant” than the man who should add one to one. The same words of praise, the same “joy of the Lord,” await the “labour” of those whose fidelity in labour has been equal. Success and results are not overlooked. Only God can appraise them truly. His servants may carve out for themselves the measure of their reward, whilst it is all of grace that there is a reward at all. But He does not overlook faithfulness. A Paul’s “labour” and the spirit of it; the “labour” of an Apollos and the fruit of it,—all is noted, and noted for exactly just “reward.”

V. The Great Worker is God.—“Ministers by whom,” instrumentally, God brings men to faith. They are only efficient when in His hands. The strength, the wisdom, for labour come from Him. The wisest “labourer” works where, and for so long as, He appoints him in the field, the vineyard. “God is all, in all” the work and “in all” the workers. That it is “God’s husbandry,” not Paul’s; that the real Worker, the real Author, of the “increase” is God, needs to be remembered by the human “co-workers” on two occasions:

(1) when they seem to have “succeeded”;
(2) and, more urgently, when they seem to have “failed.”

Verses 10-15


1 Corinthians 3:10.—Was given … I laid, q.d. “when I was at Corinth.” “A foundation,” “which I subjectively laid in my teaching at Corinth, because God had already laid the same objectively in heaven” (Evans). “Laid objectively for the whole Church in the Great Facts [by God], … laid subjectively in the hearts of the Christians at Corinth as the firm ground of their personal hopes by Paul” (Beet).

1 Corinthians 3:11-15.—See Homiletic Analysis; also Appended Note. No valid analogy to warrant the application of this to the doctrine of Purgatory. This rests upon (a) the distinction drawn between venial and mortal sins with temporal and eternal penalties attached, and (b) the doctrine of merit. The temporal penalty of sins not “paid off” at the date of death must be “paid up” in Purgatory fire. The accumulated stock of merit, of Christ and the saints—a surplus beyond their own requirements—may be drawn upon by an indulgence, and the amount be applied to reducing the purgatorial term.

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Work tried by Fire.

I. The imagery employed.—Ancient cities, and some modern ones (e.g. St. Petersburg), not so sharply divided into rich quarters and poor quarters as often the case with us. Houses of highest and humblest much more closely associated and intermingled. Palace and hovel might literally jostle. Buildings adorned with costly marbles [=“precious stones”], perhaps made priceless by the lavished art of the sculptor, stood surrounded with (sometimes literal “lean-to”) houses of stucco, of wood, or even of clay, thatched with hay and stubble, the houses of the artisan, the poor, the slave. St. Paul sees the work of a great fire, such as that which under Nero was made the occasion of a great persecution of the Christians, or that which a century before, on the capture of Corinth itself by Memmius, had laid the city in ruin. [Not to be made too precise, but may be conceived of thus:] The fire breaks out (say) at midnight, in some obscure dwelling, and quickly reduces to a heap of ashes the frail tenement of “wood, hay, stubble.” It catches adjoining houses; the winds fan and spread the flames, till a whole quarter of the city is wrapped in a conflagration which seems to Paul a fit emblem of the fires of “The Day” of all days, God’s Day of testing and doom. In the morning little knots of curious spectators and of sufferers wander about the ruins, discussing the work of the night. The slave is looking for his house of wood, hay, stubble. It stood there where that heap of ashes lies. He stirs them with his foot, and lays bare the stone foundations still unconsumed. The fire could not touch those. And, like many more, the homeless man recounts to any sympathetic listeners how his own life and that of his family are all they could save out of the wreck and loss of all. They were awakened, perhaps, and saved at the very last moment, “saved through the fire.” Another little group gathers round the stronger-built and still-standing stone walls of a better class of house. Stucco, woodwork, ornament have perished; but the man who built it “has his reward” for the money and pains spent over his substantial walls. There is something, more or less, to begin with, in restoring his ruined house. Close by stands a temple or a palace, as if almost contemptuous of its ruined neighbours, as it stands in the isolation of its survival. It has passed through the ordeal almost unscathed. Contents uninjured; cunning works of the goldsmith; spoils of conquered nations,—all untouched by the fire. Its costly marbles and statues within have not felt it. Its strong walls, besmirched with smoke indeed, have defied the flames. That builder, too, has his reward. He built with good material; it stands the fire.

II. Paul’s use of the imagery.—

1. In the course of a somewhat lengthy stay in the city, Paul had founded the Church of Corinth. No man could pretend to dispute or share with him the honour of being the “master-builder,” the first to preach Christ in the city. Some little time after his departure, he sent over from Ephesus his friend Apollos to carry on the work. Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, worked in perfect harmony of heart and aim after Paul; but perhaps felt himself more free than Paul had done to use the Alexandrian rhetoric and human learning in setting forth the Gospel. Every Greek was a born “politician,” or at least a born party man; the Corinthian Church early showed the effects of this partisan spirit within its membership. Parties sprang up with men’s names for their badges. [Little “schisms” Paul calls them, dissidences within the body, not yet grown to separations from it.] Whether we have the exact names 1 Corinthians 4:6 perhaps makes a little doubtful, nor is it clear that Paul’s list is exhaustive. Yet the characteristics and tendencies of the parties may be easily gathered.

2. There was an “Apollos” party. They liked such rhetoric as Apollos gave them, and chose to think their intelligence flattered by what of philosophy he may have employed in the shaping of the truth. Their danger was perhaps (e.g. in 1 Corinthians 15:0) to exalt reason at the expense of faith; we may not unreasonably think that in trying to be philosophical Christians they were denying or refining away the facts and doctrines of the Gospel, frittering away their power, or rejecting them as contrary to reason. It might not to be an unwarrantable borrowing of a modern name to call them the “rationalising” party at Corinth.

3. There was a “Cephas” party, belonging to that “wing” of the Christian Church who had been Jews, and whom at this period of Paul’s life we everywhere find dogging his footsteps, denying his Apostolic standing, often defaming his character. These at Corinth glorified Peter,—no, “Cephas.” “Call him by his honest Hebrew name!” Old school men, who could not so rapidly or readily unlearn as Paul had done the habits and training and teaching of years; who mistrusted him as “sadly radical”; who, though Christians, sought to enforce upon the Gentiles the worn-out ritual of Moses’ law and the now meaningless circumcision. Old style, conservative men, with a leaning to ceremonialism. The “ritual” party.
4. “No,” said another party. “We stand by Paul. He will have none of your Law for Christians. We will have none of it. He is a ‘liberty’ man. We are ‘liberty’ men too.” Only, where he meant the formal law of Moses, they meant the very principle of law itself. When he taught “liberty,” they interpreted “licence,” and some lived “licentiousness.” The Christian Church from the beginning has always had some too “liberal” in thought and in practice.
5. Yet one party more. They owned no human teacher, indeed. They had climbed to a sublime, serene height far above where their poor, misguided brethren were rallying round, and fighting over, this man or that, Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. Possibly hyper-conservatives, fresh from the Lord’s brother, James, in Jerusalem; at all events, they said, “We are of Christ!” A beautiful party-cry; very attractive to the unwary and simple-hearted. But when it means “Christ as we understand Him” it is not quite so beautiful.
6. So, then, to the Church at Corinth had happened on a small scale what has been happening in the Church of Christ ever since. These were all Christians as yet. The differences between them and their heathen or Jewish neighbours were far greater than those which distinguished them from each other. All acknowledged one Divine Head, and had some great doctrines connected with Him as a bond of union. But some of them were building up the Church [and Christian lives] with doctrine and practice which Paul regarded as “wood, hay, stubble”; useless at best, and sure to perish in “The Day,” when God’s judgment should “try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” Some there were, he knew, who happily were building after his own heart and judgment, “gold, silver, precious stone.” Great should be their reward! Some also there were whose work gave him only mingled satisfaction. “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour,” partly according to how much he has done, but still more according to what kind of work he has done. Of those for whom he feared that they should find the labour of their life wasted, yet he hoped they should at least “save themselves,” if even like men snatched out of the flames which left them nothing but “their foundation” and “their lives.” [The opening words of the paragraph suggest:] “Woe to any builders whose work should really be a disturbing of the very Foundation itself, other than which none may lay a basis for faith, or life, or hope.”

7. These Church parties at Corinth were our modern “Churches” and “sects” in miniature. The causes at work at Corinth have never ceased to work wherever we have Christian men, until we have a Christianity not even outwardly at one. Yet we need to give Paul’s recognition that they are nearer to each other than to the world outside. Their unity is a more striking and deep thing than their diversities. They are one Church still. The broadest and deepest diversities at Corinth were still within the Church, insomuch as they were only surface cleavages; they did not run down into the foundation. That was one. Men weep because there is not external unity of all the Churches in one communion. As well weep that the sapling, which a thousand years ago was one simple undivided stem, has branched out into the oak with its hundred arms, many of them really big trees themselves. The branching is an inevitable consequence of life. And the tree is one at stock and root. Minds will always differ in cast and capacity. Training is of endless diversity. Race will make a difference. No one man ever sees the whole round of a truth; hardly any one Church or age does; no two ever see the same phase of presentation of it. There will always be men liable to pay too great honour to Reason; always some too ready to insist upon and overvalue Ceremonial. Reasons convincing to one do not appeal to another. An order of service not to the taste of one suits another and helps him. And so on, in endless diversity. What then? Recognise the fact that the diversity is a necessity. It has often become an evil; it need not be, and will not be, when men become broad as Paul, and recognise other patterns of doctrine and life and church order as all fairly to be included in the One Church. 8. It were a good thing for some to be as narrow as Paul about the “One Foundation.” It is unreal “liberality” to attempt to include within the “Christian” Church both those whose Christ is God-man, the Father’s equal and man’s fellow, Messiah of the Jews, Mediator for the Race, and, on the other side, those whose Jesus is at the highest a creature whom His Creator could annihilate, and who was perhaps a mere man, who might or even did make mistakes, a man not superior to Paul, and to whom Christianity owes not more than it does to Paul. Their status and acceptance before God depend on other considerations, but they are not on the Foundation in Paul’s sense. The lesson of the paragraph is not indifference to what a man believes, or what his neighbour believes, or how he works or worships. Each should be honest and earnest in accepting and living and defending that special aspect or portion of The Truth, which he or his Church sees. Experience shows that, as a rule, they do most for the broad work of Christ who work with a fixed creed and with a definite Church attachment. Each should give and claim equal recognition. The paragraph teaches charity, since experience also teaches that perfectly honest church-and creed-builders have built in what others saw clearly was “wood, hay, stubble,” and have rejected what some saw was “precious stone,” if not “gold” or “silver,” of system and doctrine. Probably no uninspired teacher ever built upon the One Foundation nothing but what would endure the fire.

III. A personal application of the words lies not far from this.—

1. If a man is to be saved in “The Day” of God’s judgment, Christ must be the foundation of his life. “Saved” and “perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15) mingle together it the closest intercourse of life, with closest similarity of outward course and bearing. Indeed, sometimes the balance of amiability or of strict probity seems to be on the side of the “perishing.” What is there to make Paul’s classification so sharply definite?

2. Dig down to the foundations of the two lives.—In the man really “being saved” this is the starting-point: Time was when he felt himself a sinner, guilty before God, and his heart full of sin. He cast himself on God’s mercy in Christ; he was forgiven; ever since, the Spirit has dwelt in him, doing something towards cleansing the heart, and putting there a new motive for all he does and feels—love to God who gave him Christ. If not, he is not a Christian. Others are “perishing,” because, go back far as we will, dig down deeply as we may, we cannot find that. There never was the fundamental experience of “sin” and of “faith in Christ” as the “spiritual man” understands them. Reform may only be throwing the arch of a culvert over the sin of the past and the sin of the heart; the man covered up his past and began to build the new life over it. But there, lowest of all, are the past and the sin, not Christ and His atonement. The other foundation and beginning of all life-building is Rock! [Turning over a new leaf is a good thing if it do not mean simply fastening down the old, without having first the record “blotted out.”] The superstructure of Eddystone Lighthouse was good enough when it was removed a few years ago; but the sea was undermining the foundation. A good superstructure upon a good foundation: lesson the first.

3. Then build something upon the foundation.—See in the suburbs of growing towns unfinished property. Walls of a certain height, but left unfinished; perhaps hardly more than the foundations got in when the money failed. Ground lies waste; weeds grow, rubbish accumulates, till it becomes difficult to see without some search whether there are any foundations at all. Like some lives. The true foundation was made right some years ago, but scarcely anything has been put upon it since. The accumulations of a worldly life have gathered, until an observer—and perhaps the man himself—hardly knows whether the foundations are still there. Rear a Christian character; build a superstructure of work for Christ. No better evidence that the foundation is there, and is sound, than the growing, fair superstructure. Build something. Some builders never get very far. What they build is good—stone, if not gold or silver, but it never amounts to much. A day’s unfaithfulness pulls down a week’s building. “Sinning and repenting.” “Ever learning, never coming to the knowledge of the truth.”

4. Build something every day.—“How did Michael Angelo accomplish so much?” “Nulla dies sine linea!” he replied. No day without something which will endure the testing fire: this will be the secret of some very unobtrusive, little-noticed lives which by-and-by are crowned with large reward when the reward is according to the work—in amount as well as quality (cf. supra).

5. Test all employments by this.—“Will they stand ‘the fire’? Do they now help towards an abiding, thorough Christian character? Or are the things I have done to-day mere ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ sure to perish?”

6. Build something to-day; at least, find the foundation to-day.—If to lay the one and only foundation [so far as we can be said to lay it at all] were the last act of a wasted life, the builder should escape “saved as by fire.” But it would be a very unworthy use to make of Christ and His salvation. “To-day.”

Verses 16-20


1 Corinthians 3:16.—A temple (R.V.) misses, or denies, the typology binding Old Testament and New Testament together here. A case where, as often (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:20), one of the great leading facts of the Old Covenant is divested of its temporary, local robing and embodiment, and brought forward into the new world of the New Testament, to find a new embodiment in the Church. The old building has gone; the new shrine where God dwells on earth is growing, rising, every day. A local Church, and still more the aggregate Church, is the New Testament form of the old Temple idea. It is the Temple to-day. This a collective Temple; in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 an individual application of the same idea is found. The word here is that which signifies, not the whole structure inclusive of the surrounding courtyard, but only the actual Temple building itself. “In” is here practically “among”; as distinguished from the indwelling in the man, 1 Corinthians 6:19 (see Appended Note from Evans).

1 Corinthians 3:17.—Defile and destroy, same word; combining “impair,” “mar,” “ruin,” “destroy.”

1 Corinthians 3:18.—Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33 for the thought (not for the word); men seem to persuade themselves that they shall somehow evade the penalty of sin, although others do not escape. Thinks.—As 1 Corinthians 8:2; not with any hesitation, but with much confidence. Among you.—And yet taking his place, and holding his own, as a wise man of the world “in the world.” “Can’t be done! Incompatible things altogether!” The connection between inflated self-esteem and a slavish submission to party leaders is exposed in 1 Corinthians 6:6. Surely no implied caution to, or censure on, Apollos!

1 Corinthians 3:19.—Note the small change of translation. Quotation of words of Eliphaz, from Job 5:13. [On the general principle of such a quotation being taken as part of what “is written,” see Homily on xv. 33, § 1.]

1 Corinthians 3:20.—Psalms 94:11. “Reasonings” (R.V.).

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 3:16-20

The Temple of God.—Very little in this paragraph which is not dealt with elsewhere. For 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:18-20; for 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:18 sqq. Note, however, that the Temple is here collective, the whole Church; in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 it is individual—indeed, the very body of the Christian man.

I. Note how, from paragraph to paragraph, the illustrations change.—In 1–4 Paul is the “nursing father” (Isaiah 49:23); the Church is the house where “the holy seed” is growing up, or ought to be, into strength and ripeness of godliness. In 1 Corinthians 3:5 figure is dropped, unless “ministers” be a figure. Paul and his friend and successor Apollos are employés of God, enrolled in His service, to bring men to Christ and to faith in Him; John Baptist-like, to bring Bridegroom and Bride together. There has been “a division of labour,” and the thought is made pictorial in 1 Corinthians 3:6. Paul and his fellow-worker are seen toiling each at his task in God’s field or in God’s vineyard—“labourers in the vineyard,” each of whom is to receive “whatsoever is right” according to his work. [There is more in the Scripture than was in the Scribe. The mind of the Spirit is often fuller than any thought in the mind of the human writer. Yet the use of the illustration goes so little beyond the division of tasks amongst the qualified workers, and the payment according to results and fidelity, that an expositor may hesitate to fill out these two hints with the typology of the Vine and the Vineyard of God, found, e.g., in Psalms 80:0; Isaiah 5:2; Ezekiel 15:0; Ezekiel 17:0; Matthew 21:28; Matthew 21:33, sqq.; Luke 13:6 (where the two figures for Israel are conjoined); and, with most profound significance, John 15:1, and Matthew 26:20 (adding, perhaps, 1 Corinthians 9:7).] Then again the picture changes; as the “dissolving-view picture” fades out when another is superposed upon it, so the busy “labourers” at their “husbandry” have scarcely been shown to us before the field has faded and a “building” is rising as we watch. There is no doubt who is the Architect; whose is the great, leading, essential Idea of such a house. It is a busy scene. Not Paul or Apollos only are “workers together with God” this time. Every Corinthian teacher, every Corinthian believer, is a co-worker too. Paul has done his part of the work; “well and truly laid” does this Master-mason declare his foundation to be. Yet more truly the “foundation” is bed-rock; of God’s “laying,” in the prehistoric ages of a wider than earthly history (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:20).

“The Church’s one Foundation

Is Jesus Christ the Lord.”

What Paul or Cephas may lay is rather the lowest courses of the masonry, which, in their turn, rest upon this “Rock of Ages” (Isaiah 26:4, margin). It is mercy and blessing to man that he is permitted, privileged, to be a worker “together with God”; but we touch the fringe of The Great Problem in all human thinking—the problem of Evil—when we see how this has entailed the invariable consequence that the design of the Great Architect never gets fairly carried out. Nor is it only that the workers blunder or are innocently incompetent; the deviation from the design of the Great Builder has a moral character. The material is bad; the building is careless; the work will be fit for nothing but the fire—very much of it. In our paragraph the building is specialised in its character. What we saw as a great house rising is now the Temple of God. And then the figure drops once more. Upon the screen are portraits; Corinthians strutting themselves in their fancied “wisdom”; He who knoweth men pronouncing His verdict: “Fools! You are only setting a trap for your own feet!” And the chapter leads up to the last solemn sentences in which is recited God’s “grant” of all men, all things, to His Church, to the individual Christian. A party said at Corinth, “We are of Christ.” The truth is far wider than that. They all “are Christ’s”; He is not “divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13); He belongs to no one party; all the parties belong to Him; as yet, all the “schisms” at Corinth have not cut off any of them from Him. The seemingly so humble “We are of Christ” too easily passes over into the miserably exclusive “We are of Christ.” “Ye are all Christ’s; all that is His is yours; all things are yours.”

II. The Church is the Temple of God.—[N.B. the, not a.] Fulfilling the age-long truth that God loves to dwell amongst men. “God with us” is the keynote in which, if Sin had not put all things out of tune, the story of the relations of God and man would have run on in one lovely strain of most perfect music. He planted His Tent in the midst of the tents of Israel in the wilderness; He accepted the Royal Palace built for Him in His capital, Jerusalem, by His viceroy Solomon. Men looked from their housetops in the city across to the Temple; they hushed their thought as they passed beneath the boundary walls of its outer court—“The King, Jehovah, is within there!” And when their sin had cost them the presence of the occupying Shekinah-cloud, the Palace stood still, a witness to the desire of the heart of God to dwell amongst men. [All this is carried out in chap, 6, where see.] The word used is that for the actual Temple building, the Naos or Shrine. Around this lay broad outer courts, the outermost and largest being open to the world, the Court of (even) the Gentiles. It was an ill day for the Church when it added a great outer court, the Court of the World. In a true sense, perhaps, like the Court of the Gentiles, it may be included in the Hieron. The outer Court of the World does stand in a true relation to God. But the ill-day is when the court of the baptized, or unbaptized, world is counted part of the Naos; when the sacred name which belongs to the Shrine only is extended to the outer court, to the great confusion of thought and discipline and practice. “Ye are the Naos.” The Church with the “indwellingof theSpirit of God” is the present-day embodiment and exhibition of God’s Thought. [Not the last; the last but one. The last and most perfect is in Revelation 21:3. And in heaven to-day is another, concurrent, exhibition of it, where He sits who is, and will eternally be, the God-man. (The two are one: Ephesians 1:23).] The individual and the collective modifications of Paul’s illustrations are combined in 1 Peter 2:5. The whole building is instinct with Life, because every single stone is “living.” Peter’s figure hardly bears, even in a reader’s mind, to be put into visible shape. The truth is clear. The Temple is built up of temples. Men whose body is a temple, and they alone, build up the Temple of God. But there is a presence of God which specially belongs to the Church as such.

III. “Defile” and “destroy” are the same word.—A vox media, for which Evans suggests “mar.” Sin, as so often is repaid in kind. It shapes, as well as earns, its own punishment. [In part, a sinner makes his own kind of hell.] The man who does anything in the corporate life of the Church, which is a “grief” and an offence to the Divine Tenant of the Temple of to-day, shall find that he has grieved the Spirit of his personal life. It is the One Spirit of Holiness who everywhere, in church or soul, makes its most grievous penalty His own withdrawal. Let the life of the body depart, and from that moment it begins to be “marred” and “destroyed” by disintegrating moral corruption. In this particular instance the “defiling” is done by the introduction of party spirit, and by the introduction of the “wood, hay, stubble” into the structure, whether of Church order or Christian doctrine, or personal character and life; not to add by the envying and strife which proved the Corinthians “yet carnal.” Let every man in Corinth watch not only lest he offend against the holiness of his personal Christian life, but be jealous of anything which might impinge upon the corporate holiness of The Church of Christ. Let every Corinthian enrol himself in the honourable Guild of the Temple-guardians [lit. “Temple-sweepers,” Acts 19:35] of the shrine of the great God and His Spirit.

Verses 21-23


1 Corinthians 3:21-23.—See Homiletic Analysis. Note the unexpected turn of phrase; not “Christ is yours.” “Rise to the plane of His life and your relations to Him, then you are a possession, not owners. You are feudal holders of your estate, but the baron himself was the ‘king’s man.’ ”

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 3:21-23

Our Estate and our Title:All things yours.”

I. Incidental illustration of this in the occasion of the paragraph.—

1. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Corinthian Church a saddening spectacle to an observer, especially to one having Paul’s close personal interest in its welfare. Sad even at this distance of time to see the state of things in a Church hardly more than two or three years old, and endowed with gifts—many of them miraculous—beyond any other of that age. Members split into factions, party spirit running high. Some living in immorality “not even named amongst the heathen” around them (1 Corinthians 3:1); some defending such sin; others suffering “rationalising” scepticism to sap the foundations of their faith, and, which always follows, to eat away the vitality of their Christian life. One is sick at heart at the meanness and virulence of their personal feeling against Paul, the man to whom they owed their Church existence, who had “spent himself” for them, only to find that “the more he loved them the less he was loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). Yet to this condition of things we owe these two letters to Corinth; of all his longer Epistles the most human in their interest, and coming nearest to the every-day life of house, market, citizen, church. 2. Especially do we owe to this the many passages, of which this is a specimen, of greatest weight and importance. How again and again, in the midst of passages of rebuke or direction concerning the temporary and sometimes trivial points submitted by the Corinthians to Paul for his decision, do we find his pen guided to such passages of solemn or glorious truth as, e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, or as this paragraph. As the casual blow of the pick of the lucky miner strikes upon the precious nugget embedded in the rock of quartz, or as many a fair flower grows so strong and so fair out of, and because of, the very corruption with which its roots are fed; so out of the foolish and wicked party spirit of the Corinthian Church grows this glorious title-deed to the Universe and its contents, the estate of the Christian. The very parties in Corinth are “ours”! [How is the preacher to put all the estate, “all things,” into one homily? He and his people can but walk over a part of it, noting the things which lie next the path on either hand, or can be seen afar off in large outline. No matter in what direction they strike out together a path over such an extent of possession, new “views” open on this side and that, new “finds” of pleasure and profit lie close to their way! Before starting across in even one direction, let them look over their Title. “All is God’s; all is Christ’s, His Son; all He has is yours, His brethren.”]

II. The title by which the estate is held by the Church and the Christian.—At each link in the above chain of successive “conveyance,” from God to Christ, from Christ to His people, the ground of possession, the nature of the ownership, varies.

1. “Of, through, unto, God are all things” (Romans 11:36). They have being because He willed it; they are what they are, and as they are, and they continue, at His will. All the creatures, and pre-eminently Man, find in His glory the aim and end of their being. Sin would destroy this order. The germ, not only of heathenism but of all sin, is that “they worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The members of the Church have come again into harmony with the Creator’s design, and glory with David as he stood amidst his people’s offerings to God’s Temple on earth, bowing at our Creator’s feet with the homage, “All that is in the heaven,” etc. (1 Chronicles 29:11). All the voices of the universe were meant to be and ought to be in harmony with the cry of the four “living ones” and the four-and-twenty elders who, self-discrowned, bow before the Lord God Almighty in the temple of heaven, saying, “Thou hast created,” etc. (Revelation 4:11). He is Lawgiver to His universe. The “laws” which we laboriously make out, are nothing but expressions of His will, the ordinary, orderly methods according to which He is pleased to govern His great Kingdom. All is His, in virtue of His Creatorship; all is subject to Him; all at His disposal.

2. But there comes in between Him and His Created Universe His Son; between, not as a separation, but as a link; as a Mediator, not only between God and man in Redemption, but as between Creator and Creature in Creation and in Providence (John 1:1; Colossians 1:16). Even in the days of His veiled glory He once said: “All things that the Father hath are Mine”; and the writer of the Hebrews (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) allows us to see this “Son appointed Heir of all things, … sitting down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” And “all things” are His, subject to His power and at His disposal.

3. Then comes in the astounding revelation that He is all this, and has all this, for the sake of the redeemed race of man. [Note the force of Hebrews 1:3-4, “Being the brightness, etc., … sat down … when He, who was all the while this, had by Himself purged our sins.” The “purging” of our sins and the after-session “on the right hand,” etc., are “projected,” as it were, on the background of His abiding, continuous dignity as “the Brightness” and “the Image.”] Whilst He thus has all things for Himself, He has linked Himself with man, has taken flesh and come down to us, that He might lift us up with Himself to God, and join us with Himself in a possession as wide as His own ownership. The very heart of the argument of Hebrews 2:0 is here. Yonder sits One Man in whom all the dominion of Psalms 8:4-6, ascribed to man, is actually fulfilled; the only one wearing our nature in whom that dominion is as yet realised. But His enthronement and dominion carry the principle of Man’s restored dominion. His royalty is representative as well as personal. His people are so “partakers with Him” that they already enter into a life of rule rather than of subjection, and their ultimate and complete glory is sure. “Ye are Christ’s” carries with it an answer to the old question, “What is man?” such as was never dreamed of by him who asked it. The creature physically lost in the vastness of the universe, dwarfed into a point by the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, doomed to suffering and to death, in bondage all his life to the fear of death, and in that respect lower than the “cattle” and the humbler animated creation (Psalms 8:0), is already beginning, so our paragraph says, to realise that along with and like the Representative Man “he is crowned with glory and honour”; all things are put under his feet, and serve him; he is to become conqueror of death; angels are his servitors. Indeed, there is nothing, there is no being, in the whole contents of God’s creation-realm, that is not at His orders to serve the interests, and advance to its perfection the life, of those whom Christ has made His clients and His brethren. “He is head over all things to His Church” (Ephesians 1:22 [a paragraph thoroughly parallel to the thought of our present section]). Each member of His body—of His very Self—may say, “All things that the Son hath are mine.” The Lord of all that is or that begins to be, of all that happens in the unfolding of events, of all the forces and contents of the universe in all their capabilities and combinations, is making all ceaselessly contribute to and converge upon the interests of His people and of each single individual of their number. [May illustrate in homely fashion thus: The mere caller at a house is shown into one room; there stays, and only stays; takes nothing, uses nothing, of what is in it. The visitor in the family has the use, the “run,” of all in common use by the family, and of those set apart specially for him; but he feels that many are closed against him. In a very restricted way does he feel free to use what is at his disposal and service. But the child of the house has the free “run” of the house. Nothing is shut against him; in submission to his father’s wishes, all it contains may be called into requisition for his use and comfort and welfare.] The home belongs to the brethren of Christ. The estate is His; but, we may almost venture to say, not its smallest value to Him is that He can make His brethren sharers with Him in its possibilities of blessing.

III. The estate and its contents of good.—In a word, “everything.” There is nothing in the physical or the spiritual world; in the present, in the future; persons, circumstances, changes of condition,—nothing of which the Christian is not master instead of servant, and which cannot be made to issue in and contribute to the service and advancement of all his best interests.

1. The matter immediately in hand is the ministers and order of the Church: “Paul, Apollos, Cephas.” With fervid, slavish, personal devotion the Corinthians were ranging themselves very obediently as the adherents of this man and that. Indeed, they were fiercely contending for their favourite, under whose yoke they were eager to put the neck of their judgment and will and heart, almost as if their party-head had been crucified for them, or they had been baptized into his name and not Christ’s. No man contended more stoutly than did Paul (e.g. chap, 9) for his Apostolic rights and all due recognition of his status. But the place which some at Corinth would have given to him or to other apostles, was one which belonged to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:13). Such exaltation of an apostle into lordship over their own head and heart, was an inversion of the true order. As he looks at the humblest man in Corinth, ennobled by his brotherhood to Christ, he says: “Remember, the apostle is for your sake, not for his own glorification. The Church; its arrangements; its officers and their qualifications, exist for your salvation and sanctification, and not at all for their own advancement or glory. You are not theirs, not mine. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, we are yours!” There is no one pattern of “excellence” in the ministry, as there is no one pattern of need or character in the people. Every man is the “excellent” minister to somebody! The expositor of the Word, or the declaimer of theses on the topics of the day; the man who excels in pathos, or in historical word-painting, or in satire and shrewd analysis of character and its foibles; the man who “cannot preach,” and the man who can preach but who cannot organise; the man who is at his best in a sick-room, or that other who is a born ruler of men;—through all their infinite variety of gifts, there is no faithful minister of Christ who is not and has not something which somebody wants, or at some time will want. Each man will have his own aspect of truth to present and teach, the aspect which he sees most clearly, into which he enters most fully; and all are wanted, Paul and James, Cephas and John, Jude and Apollos, to give the whole round of truth. A many-sided, many-gifted ministry is not the smallest part of the wealth and rich heritage of the Church. Let the Christian man see what he can find for himself in each type of man. There is something. Let him not be so wedded to any one type, that he cannot enjoy, or find help from, or even think kindly of, a man who is not after the pattern of his own “best,” the style of minister who most helps him. And, similarly, first stands the interest of the individual soul, and next the form of Church organisation and administration. No form is worth anything which never was, or is no longer, of use towards helping those who belong to Christ. Any form, as any man, who does this, is to be recognised and to be utilised as part of the endowment of the people of God.

2. Then Paul’s view widens. His words grow broad in their range, even to indefiniteness. “World yours! Life yours! Death yours!” Then “the world”—and its predominantly ethical and evil significance need not be excluded from it—is no mere necessary evil, which must be endured and perhaps survived. There is no “must be” which ordains that life, with its business, its sorrows, its trials and conflicts, its unfriendly or uncongenial men and women, its strange perplexities and obstacles of circumstance, shall be of necessity a hindrance to growth in grace; putting the break on, even if it cannot quite stop all progress, as if a Christian could not hope to be thorough in service or enjoyment so long as life in “the world” lasts, and as if the one thing most to be desired was to “shuffle off this mortal coil” and be done with it all. Paul’s words in our paragraph say rather: “You are not to succumb beneath life’s burdens like that. You are not to acquiesce in a low type of spiritual life, because your circumstances and whole location in the world are not favourable to growth. The world is not to be master like that. Evil as it is, its evil is under the rule of your Christ. ‘God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly’ (Romans 16:20), and you may begin to enter into your victory and have your foot even now upon the power of evil; and then all the good there is in life and in the world may be set in motion and utilised for your enjoyment and help. The trials, the difficulties, the very temptations, are not to be met simply as the bulrush bows its head before the storm, praying that the storm may soon be over, and that you may not be uprooted utterly by its passing violence. Rather, like your Master, ride the storm, in His strength. Every hurricane obeys laws—His laws—and blows as He listeth, towards His goal and for His purpose towards you. The water outside will carry the well-found ship; admitted within, it will sink it. Keep the world outside your heart, and the world is yours, to use and rule and lay under contribution to your growth in grace.” Trials may teach. Crosses may lift nearer. [“Even so,” and in no other way, “must” every “son of man be lifted up!”] The very necessity of the strife and of unremitting watchfulness against evil will drive a man so often and so near to Christ his Source of strength, that he emerges from every specially severe testing-time with new knowledge and a new power in prayer. The very weight of life’s burdens will have forced him to find a Friend in Christ, whose strength and faithfulness the world has forced him to test and experience, as he would never otherwise have had occasion to do. He is a fine specimen of manhood, who has taken his place in the world, and felt its storm, and fought it when it assailed him, and after all is not hardened or “secularised” or soured, but is trained to patience and sympathy with others, and to a more perfect reliance upon his God. The fire will brighten and purify what it cannot burn. In “the world” it is true that the soldier is in an unfriendly country; but even the enemy’s country can be requisitioned for what will enable him to carry on the campaign. [The darkest days of life have often been the most fruitful in permanent advancement to the soul. The cross has had a jewel hidden beneath it which has repaid for lifting the cross. A true parable in a German Legend: A famous egg of iron was given by a prince to his bride, who flung down in displeasure so unworthy a gift. The concussion started a spring in the iron case, and revealed a silver “white” to the egg. Curiosity examined this, and found again within a “yolk” of gold. In this lay hidden a tiny ruby-set crown, whose circlet concealed a marriage-ring for the union of bridegroom and bride! So, at the very heart of the most forbidding experiences of “the world” and “life,” the soul has many a time found the pledge of new love and a closer union with the Christ who rules “the world” and “life,” and who gave the painful and hard experience, etc.]

3. Nothing seems more utterly master than “Death.” The natural heart often stoically looked life in the face and defied it; or sometimes sullenly, doggedly, went onward to meet its changing fortunes and crushing sorrows as the Inevitable. But reckon death a possession, part of one’s wealth? No; it must be submitted to! In all literature, except what is Christian, or at least Christianised, Death is the great Conqueror; knocking impartially at the door of palace and hovel, calling as imperiously the king from his throne as the beggar from his rags and wretchedness, and calling them at his own caprice; playing havoc with all men’s plans and work, breaking these off at most unlooked-for and unfortunate times; mocking the tears of affection over sundered bonds; defying all efforts to arrest his progress or stay his hand. On the contrary, they who are Christ’s see that He has conquered death, and they share in His victory. They already “have everlasting life.” Death has become dying only, simply an incident—no more—in the course of an “eternal life” which began when faith united to Christ, and which stretches on in victorious continuity through the important, but still accidental, change of surroundings and abode and conditions which dissolution occasions. They do not tremble at any capricious shooting of His arrows. The Lord of Life makes every arrow of Death to carry His message attached to it. He “has the keys of Hell and of Death” (Revelation 1:17). The realm of the “departed” is part of His dominion. His people enter it as possessors, not as prisoners. They are only advancing into another section of a life which is all theirs. Its doors are opened by Death when He wills, and at His bidding. And so far from putting an abrupt and inopportune end to the execution of their life’s purposes, or thwarting them, they are only by death advanced a stage nearer to their completion. Salvation is put out of peril; for the first time do the majority of His people then see their Lord. To wake up into the blessedness of that first moment, when their eyes at last see the Christ they have heard of, and trusted, and loved, and have tried to serve—Death which brings that is no dread, no enemy; it is a hope, it is their own.

4. Nor does anything seem less their own than the future. “Things to come” may unfold in such terrible possibilities, and may involve such unforeseen contingencies, as may set at nought all their wisest planning and blight all their brightest prospects. No dawn so clear but the noonday may be shadowed over with clouds which never lift again long as life’s day lasts. Men seem working life’s problem with a quantity unknown, incommensurable, when they must needs take the future into their reckoning. Masters of the future? No, not even its prophets! Rather its sport! “Things to come are yours.” What these shall be, He is deciding. They lie within the domain which is being ruled by the Son, and ruled by Him for His Church and for the individual Christian man. Even here He used to speak of the unseen world and its facts as one to whose foot the other side of the veil was as familiar ground as this side is to us. In like manner the future lies mapped out to His eye as clearly as, more clearly than, the past is to ours. For instance, some man will one day cross my path who will materially affect my whole after-life. Christ, the Ruler of the future, has His eye upon the point of convergence; and upon the path which that man, perhaps as yet altogether unknown to me, or far from me, in perhaps another hemisphere, is traversing, and which will bring him to the meeting-point by-and-by. When the moment arrives there is the man, just when, and just such as, my life needs. The present is being so guided into the future, and the future is being so fitted on to the present, as that the life of a man who is Christ’s, is in its whole stretch and extent one perfect harmonious whole (see Homily on 2 Corinthians 1:10). Somewhere in the whole round of His universal possession there is the very help and deliverance he will someday want; it will be brought out and forthcoming at the proper time, “in His times” (cf. 1 Timothy 6:15). As each stage of the earthly series of “things to come” is reached, relays of help [like the relays of fresh horses awaiting the travellers at each successive posting-station in the old “posting” days] will always be awaiting him. “My times are in” Christ’s “hand.”


The World is Yours.

I. To lodge in.
II. To study.
III. To use.
IV. To enjoy.
V. To conquer.—[J. L.]

Life is Yours.

I. As a daily gift of God.
II. As a period of discipline and instruction.
III. As a season of enjoyment.
IV. As an earnest of a more glorious life.—[J. L.]

Death is Yours.

I. To consider.
II. To terminate your sorrows.
III. To effect an important change.
IV. To unfold the mysteries of eternity.
V. To introduce you to eternal happiness.—[J. L.]

Things Present are Yours.

I. The dispensations of providence.
II. The provisions and arrangements of the Gospel.
III. All the supplies, agencies, and experiences of time.—[J. L.]

Things to Come are Yours.

I. The future of time.
II. The coming of Christ.
III. The resurrection of the body.
IV. The day of judgment.
V. Heaven.
VI. Everlasting life.
VII. God, who was, and is, and is to come.—[J. L.]


1 Corinthians 3:11 sqq. Since it was by preaching and teaching that Paul laid the foundation of the Church of Corinth, the builders must be different kinds of teachers. Since the matter taught is the material the teacher uses, this must be the gold, silver, wood, straw, etc. The results produced by the teacher in the hearts and lives of his hearer are the building he erects. He may produce good results which will last for ever and be to him an eternal joy and glory. Since these results are altogether the work of God, and are revealed in their grandeur only in the great day, they are a “reward” given by God in that day for work done on earth. But a teacher may produce results which now appear great and substantial, but which will then be found utterly worthless. He may gather round him a large number of hearers, may interest them, and teach them much that is elegant and for this life useful, and yet fail to produce in or through them results which will abide for ever. If so, the great day will destroy his work and proclaim its worthlessness. But he may be said to build upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ. For he is a professed Christian teacher, and people go to hear him as such. He may be a sincere, though mistaken Christian believer, and therefore be himself saved. But his work, as a teacher, is a failure. Now the permanence of a teacher’s work depends upon the matter taught. The soul-saving truths of the Gospel enter into men’s hearts and lives, and produce abiding results. All other teaching will produce only temporary results. We understand, therefore, by the wood and straw whatever teaching does not impart or nourish spiritual life. The three terms suggest the various kinds of such teaching. It may be clever or foolish, new or old, true or false; but not subversive of the “foundation,” or it would come under the severer censure of 1 Corinthians 3:16 sq.… We have Christian examples in many of the trifling and speculative discussions which have been frequent in all ages. We also learn that even of the teaching which produces abiding results there are different degrees of worth; in proportion, no doubt, to the fulness and purity with which the teaching of Christ is reproduced. In both cases the results are the results, lasting or transitory, produced in the hearers’ hearts by the use of these materials; results which are in some sense a standing embodiment of the teaching.—Dr. Beet.

By Fire.”—

1. It may be homiletically useful to cast into orderly shape the Bible use of “Fire.” Needless to say that the Bible is not pledged to any such unscientific piece of obsolete antiquity as that Fire is an Element—one of four. It is content to take the visible fact, and its palpable effects, as a serviceable illustration, apprehended readily by the child or the heathen, and perfectly good as an illustration, whatever be the scientific revision of our knowledge of the state of the case. For teaching purposes Fire is Heat and, still more, Flame. Flame is now understood to be gas so highly heated as to become in some degree luminous, and generally made more luminous by being loaded with incandescent particles, whether of carbon or other matter. That is nothing new to the Divine Author of Scripture and of Nature; nor was it unworthy of Him, or untrue, that what was to be the popularly apprehensible phenomenon should in the original planning of Nature be so adjusted and adapted as to lend itself well to teach moral truth. Indeed, the devout students of Nature find that both the superficial, phenomenal facts and the deep scientific “laws” are alike parabolic and didactic Nature is full of man, and of truth which man wants. Creation is didactic. “Creation is redemptive.”

2. A convenient starting-point is Hebrews 12:29 : “Our God is a consuming fire.” Closely connected with “God is Light.” The difference is here: Light is what God is in Himself; fire what He is in relation to (sinful) mankind. Hence frequently the chosen symbol of His self-manifestation,: the Bush, Exodus 3:2; the Pillar, Exodus 40:38; Tongues of Pentecost, Acts 2:3; Sinai, Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:36; Vision of God’s glory, Ezekiel 1:4; Exodus 24:9-11 (N.B. Nadab and Abihu), Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2. In Isaiah 4:5 we have three manifesting symbols of God combined—light, radiant splendour, burning fire. Still more frequently the accompaniment of His self-manifestation: e.g. “After the earthquake a fire,” 1 Kings 19:12; “fire goeth before Him,” Psalms 97:8. Loosely connected with all this are the fiery Chariot and Horses sent for Elijah, 2 Kings 2:11; fiery Chariots round about Elisha, 2 Kings 6:17. This last and the Pillar over Israel, or the Shekinah in its midst, are gathered up in Zechariah 2:5.

3. Hence when He accepted, “took,” “ate,” appropriated, a sacrifice, it was by a fiery manifestation. E.g. at the Ordination of Aaron and the Inauguration of the priestly system and ritual, Leviticus 9:24. So at the Dedication of Solomon’s Temple, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3. And in less important instances: Carmel, 1 Kings 18:0; on Araunah’s threshing floor, 1 Chronicles 21:26; Gideon’s sacrifice, Judges 6:21. The Burnt Offering, as distinguished from the Sin and Peace Offerings, and as symbol of an entire surrender on man’s part and an entire appropriation on God’s part, was (as its name says) burnt with fire. And this links on the foregoing to the twofold employment of the symbol as exhibiting the active relation of a Holy God to sinful man.

4. All that could, so to say, be volatilised went up purified and in perfect acceptance; all that was gross and earthly was left behind, to be cast out. Hence, “Baptized with … fire,” Matthew 3:11; Malachi 3:2 brings out the action of the refiner’s fire upon metals. So Isaiah 4:4, “Purged Jerusalem by the Spirit of Judgment and the Spirit of Burning”; “in that day,” primarily the return of a purified remnant from Babylon, then the setting up of a Christian Zion, perhaps, by-and-by, a restored and purified Israel once more. Isaiah 30:23, and more remotely still Isaiah 29:6, perhaps may better come in later on. The same Holiness which is purifying to the man who desires to be purified, burns as a consuming fire against sin and the sinner who will not be parted from his sin. Hence fire frequently sets forth the holy, active antagonism to evil and evil men, in defence of His people. Isaiah 30:27, “His tongue a devouring fire; lips full of indignation.” “Fury like a fire,” Jeremiah 4:4 (against unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem), Jeremiah 21:2. So it proved, Lamentations 3:3. So against the heathen and Idumæa, Ezekiel 36:5; against Gog, Ezekiel 38:18-19. [Psalms 83:14; Psalms 140:10; Ezekiel 24:9; Amos 5:6.] God and His people are so identified that they become a fire too, Obadiah 1:18; Zechariah 12:6. So in Isaiah 30:27-33 we have it again. Fire purging the faithful from the unfaithful, sifting the nations, then burning up the pile of Tophet. [But “the King” may (as Talmud) be the Eternal King, and Tophet the burning-place outside the purified, ideal Jerusalem, where all the refuse is to be cast (Matthew 13:50).] Certainly the twofold action is seen in Isaiah 31:9, “Fire in Zion; furnace in Jerusalem”; Isaiah 33:14. As the Assyrian invasion approached, and the denunciations of holy wrath against sinners in and enemies of Zion, “sinners in Zion are afraid.” “Who can dwell with devouring fire?” cry they, “… with everlasting burnings?” i.e. with a God whose holy antagonism to sin never relaxes, never spares, never ends. 1 Corinthians 3:15 is the answer. But the principle is here which has occasioned and justified a very frequent use made of this text. God’s fierce, fiery antagonism to sin cannot cease unless sin cease—must last everlastingly if sinners live on everlastingly sinners still. Same connection appears in Nahum 1:6. Indeed, the whole cycle of events connected with the Assyrian invasion seems the foundation of much Bible language concerning the punishment of wicked. Not only such as Psalms 46:9 (usually [not in Speaker] connected with these events), but Isaiah 9:5, bring up the fires with which the dead bodies and the wreck of the host were cleared away (1 Corinthians 9:5 = no fighting, no blood, but simply burning of the litter and refuse and the dead), with, by the usual analogy, a future fulfilment.Isaiah 66:24; Isaiah 66:24 (foundation of Mark 9:44-46 [cf. Stier, Words of L. J., i. 156]; rather the figure of a holy Jerusalem with its Gehenna, its burning-place for all the refuse of the city [Matthew 13:50]); here also the fires on the battle-field after Sennacherib’s defeat are evidently in the mind of the writer. The battle-field is one vast Gehinnom outside the city walls.

5. Many actual examples of God’s vengeance in which fire is the agent of punishment. N.B. these are all examples of sins very directly against His holiness and unique position and claims. Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:2; Taberah, Numbers 11:2; Achan, Joshua 7:25; Korah, Numbers 16:35; Elijah and the captains, 2 Kings 1:10 (unless, indeed, this be, first and chiefly, God’s manifestation of Himself, appealing both to Elijah and to the witnesses and hearers of the event). Above all Sodom, Genesis 19:24; referred to in Luke 17:29; and at least shaping the language of Psalms 11:6; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 21:18. [Imagery of Malachi 4:1-2 is anticipated by Genesis 19:24; Genesis 19:23.]

6. So, coming to the New Testament, we find three great cycles of type: (a) Sodom, (b) Gehinnom, (c) Assyrian invasion.


1. General.—God’s vengeance against sin is fiery, Matthew 3:10 (? primarily the Jewish nation), “Tree hewn down and cast into the fire”; Hebrews 6:8, the doom of the persistently barren ground. Also of individuals, Matthew 7:19; Luke 3:9; Hebrews 10:27, “Judgment and fiery indignation; 2 These. 1 Corinthians 1:8, “In flaming fire taking vengeance.”

2. God’s holiness is testing.—1 Corinthians 3:13 [though there is here very little of all this typology; hardly more than the commonly observed action of fire]; 2 Peter 3:7 (Luke 12:49-52 is connected).

3. Sodom.—Jude 1:7, “Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10, “Lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are” [Revelation 18:9, Babylon; cf. Abraham beholding the ascending smoke of Sodom]; the Devil; Gog and Magog deceived by him (obvious ref. to Ezekiel 38:22); who-soever “not found written in the book of life.” Revelation 14:10, worshippers of the beast and his image, who have received his mark.

4. Gehenna.—Matthew 18:9, “Worm dieth not,” etc.; Mark 9:44-46, referring to Isaiah 66:0. “Furnace of fire,” Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50, where the latter verse, having nothing in the parable connected with it to suggest it—the fish are cast into the water—shows that the phrase had become, or was now first made by Christ, a customary equivalent for the doom of the wicked.

5. The battle-field.—Linked with Mark 9:0, as above, but originating the phrase “everlasting burnings.” In Matthew 25:41; figure (almost?) lost. So completely the revelation of the future that we must say: “Whatever be the nature of the punishment of a lost, embodied spirit, if we might ask him what he suffered, he would say, ‘Fire,’ as the only earthly analogy available.”

6. Mark 9:47. A difficult verse. Every man shall—must—come into contact with the holiness of God. Will a man let it (Him) burn away all impurity, and himself thus become a sacrifice salted with grace, and so accepted? Or, refusing this, will he simply meet and feel the fire which never burns itself out?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17. There were Hebrew converts in Corinth, and such would easily catch St. Paul’s allusion … to the national Temple. This national Temple in the Apostle’s mind clearly enlarges and transfigures itself into a Temple spiritual. This living Temple of the Catholic Church is one Temple; it is one, yet elastic; it grows and expands, associating to itself and assimilating, so to speak, many lateral chapels. It is, in fact, an organic unity of several organs, each it itself a unity; it is, in brief, a unity of many contained unities. Each several Church, therefore, of the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church in miniature, so that of the whole all the several parts are themselves wholes; each branch of the Tree is a tree planted in Christ.—Evans, inSpeaker.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.