Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2016
Lesson 9: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 (ESV)
You’ve Got It All
Children love to ask why things are the way they are. We do our best to explain why the clouds don’t fall down, why children shouldn’t cross streets alone, why they have to go to bed when we tell them, and why they have to eat green vegetables. When they get older they ask things like “why can’t we wear what everybody else wears?” “why can’t we get more money to spend?” “why do we have to be home so early every night?”
When we get even older, we wonder why groceries cost so much? why do prices seldom ring up right at the checkout? why are the tasty foods so bad for me? and we begin to wonder why years have gotten so much shorter recently?
But there are harder questions, ones that trouble us all through our lives: We wonder why people can’t always be trusted to tell the truth and to keep their promises? Why do some people have to be so mean and inconsiderate? Why do the ones I love so much get sick or hurt in accidents? Why is it so hard for people to really understand one another and get along?
There’s a sense in which we are mis-fits in our world. We were created in a state of goodness, and designed to live to give God glory and to enjoy him forever. But when humanity fell in Eden it changed our relationship with God and his world. It made us self-centered and prone to sin. And it made us look for the answers to our questions in all the wrong places.
One of the best selling types of books for the past few decades have been the self-help books. There are seminars, websites, apps, CDs, and DVDs, about how to overcome fear, inferiority, inner-conflicts, and family problems. These are very real needs all humans struggle with as fallen souls in a fallen world. People are hungry to find out how to deal with their personal and inner needs, and how to put up with all the challenges that come from others and from our circumstances.
Sadly, most of the advice in those popular books and lectures is not good. They give the impression that we all have the power within ourselves to fix things on our own. Gifted authors and skilled public speakers give God a very small part in it, if any at all. The problem is, they’re tampering with issues they don’t really understand themselves.
They often borrow ideas from God’s word, sometimes without even realizing it. The Bible teaches us to examine ourselves and correct our wrong attitudes. It tells us we need to support one another for encouragement and strength. But it begins with the gospel, and it shows us things the way they really are. Rather than trusting some inner goodness, we need to honestly admit our own inability and our fact of sin and self-deception. We need to trust fully in the promises of the Bible, secured by the work of Christ. Even the popular religious books rarely deal adequately with these hard but fundamental facts.
The new church in Corinth had followed after some persuasive and eloquent men. They brought culturally popular ideas into the church that were inconsistent with God’s truth. They promised happiness and prosperity in ways that sounded good and contemporary, But they were mislead and blind, even though their ways fit in well with the world-view of those around them. This caused divisions in the church. Each group had his own way. Parties were forming around every deviation from the gospel, each thinking its way was best.
Paul was concerned because few in the church were showing evidence of spiritual growth. Instead, they were going off after current fads and popular movements. They put their hope in the persuasive powers of skilled and talented speakers and teachers, instead of in the power of the Holy Spirit working by God’s all-sufficient word.
Paul, Apollos, and Peter had laid a solid foundation for the church there. But some who were now leading the people were bringing in other ideas.
Their lack of spiritual maturity was a dangerous sign that something was wrong. Those who never show spiritual growth have cause for concern about their spiritual condition. God doesn’t regenerate a soul without giving it new life and a desire to please God. Paul’s warning was that the Corinthians had better get back to the pure means of grace, to show that they were a true building of God constructed on a firm foundation, and not just a facade built on shifting sands.
and added even more encouragement in chapter 3:16-17.
16. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
17. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Earlier in this letter Paul said that God’s church was like a building. The faithful ministers of the gospel laid a good foundation in Christ the Redeemer.
Here he tells them that the one who lives in that spiritual building of the church is God himself. True believers are God’s temple which our Savior protects and defends. This is nothing new. It’s something Paul expects they should already know. God indwells them in a special way.
As Jews they knew about the physical Temple in Jerusalem. That was a visible lesson that taught about God’s presence among his people. But now, the truth it illustrated had become a spiritual reality. The church of Jesus Christ was what the Temple represented. True believers united together are specially the place where God shows himself to the world, and ministers to us as his children.
God doesn’t take it lightly when someone disrupts the unity and purpose of his precious family. Those who harm that work will face God’s wrath.
Exodus 28 and Leviticus 16 warned the sons of Aaron that priests who carelessly or daringly defiled the physical Temple would die. This lesson was to prepare us to understand the high value of God’s special presence. The church completes that lesson. Those who distupt the church and defile her purity tamper with holy things.
Paul was warning the believers not to follow after those who abandon the foundation. As popular and as appealing as their slick and well presented ideas were, the Christians should not be deceived by them. Those who mislead are damaging something very dear to God. They show that they are not transformed by the true gospel of grace.
But the faithful should not get discouraged: God never abandons his own nor can he be defeated. The destroyer will be destroyed. He will not go unpunished.
were not as wise as they claimed to be.
18. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
19. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
20. and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
Words can be powerful, particularly when they’re delivered well by good communicators. Some people seem to be born to be celebrities. They have good looks, comfortable voices, and learn how to groom themselves and dress well. Those skills can be used either for good or for evil. They can become great teachers and servants of God’s kingdom, or dangerous manipulators. Those who were leading the Corinthians astray were eloquent speakers. In chapter 2 Paul said they used “lofty speech” and “plausible words of wisdom”.
But those being lead astray by their fancy words didn’t see the danger in them. They were deceived into thinking that these eloquent personalities should be followed. They put their hope in untruths and in vain promises that seemed wise, but were not.
But rather than just condemning, Paul offered a solution: They needed to humble themselves, admitting that their humanistic wisdom is foolishness in God’s eyes. We need to realize that fallen creatures are easily deceived. The only really helpful teaching comes from the Scriptures rightly and carefully presented.
So many even today offer innovations. But they deny man’s true depravity, and modify or ignore God’s absolute sovereignty.
Their standard list of remedies are poisoned perversions of what really helps. Meditation is not helpful if it’s not a directed thinking about what God himself is, has said, and has done. Support groups are no help if they are not made up of committed and mature believers in Christ. Their sermons are not great if they do not promote the truths God has made known. We do not need our ears tickled with cute stories and catchy phrases. Things like that may help us remember and understand what was said, but there must be more. We need our hearts and ways to be challenged by God’s word carefully and fully expounded.
We do not need to be told that all the power we need is hidden deep inside us. We need to prayerfully rely upon the Holy Spirit as he directs God’s word in our redeemed hearts.
The vanity men call wisdom stands in the way of true Godly wisdom. True wisdom isn’t how the world around us perceives things. It comes from seeing things as they really are, as God sees them.
God’s word is clear about the destiny of those who plot to undermine the work of God. In verse 19 Paul quotes from two well known passages of Scripture:
Job 5:13 says, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.”
The word for “catches” in 1 Corinthians 3:19 is “drassomai” (δράσσομαι). It means to grasp, take, lay hold of something not letting go. The imagery is either of grasping a wild animal or bird in a trap, or of capturing fleeing men. God will see that these deceivers are caught by their own traps in the end.
Then he quoted Psalm 94:11, “the LORD–knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.”
There the Psalm speaks of the thoughts of men, here Paul applies it to the falsely “wise”. These men of alleged wisdom are well known by God to be empty frauds.
Psalm 94 is very clear about this lack of true wisdom in those who are foolish and influential.
94:2 “Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!”
94:4 “They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.”
94:8 “Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?”
These who are dull or fools are not victims of a low IQ or an inability to memorize things. They may have a very good education, and know many facts and theories. But because of their false view of the way things really are, they cannot really help us. God will expose them eventually, that they are vain and useless. His truth will always prevail.
by these convincing but foolish preachers.
21, So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
22. whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours,
23. and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Christians do not need to find their strength in men, not even in the best of them. It’s not the power of Paul, or Apollos, or Peter that stirred them to new life. Today we might add the names of some popular preachers on TV, the Internet, radio, or authors in print. Very few are free from making serious errors, and delivering mixed messages clothed in the words of Scripture.
They are delivered powerfully in settings that captivate people’s attention. Some follow after this teacher, others follow another, each has his own little gimmick or teaching. This is exactly what Paul was warning against in his letter to the Corinthians.
But there are no secret ways or magical prayers to pray. Believers already have all they need because of the work of Jesus Christ in them. Paul, Apollos, and Peter were stewards of God’s message. They were servants of God and of his church. They did not come to start sectarian movements. The “party spirit” is not right, even if it might seem like a quick and easy answer to the questions of spiritually immature hearts.
Today we see those who build mega-churches, and found ministries of the arrogant and proud. They look down on solid preaching as if it’s inferior to their more positive and inventive message. They see small faithful works of God as insignificant and unworthy of consideration.
But they repeat the same error that troubled Corinth. They amass great followings, but distort God’s truth with their worldly methods and vain theories. Believers rush out to buy the latest fad books, try to figure out the end times, imagine secret codes in the Bible, or hope to find religious relics and supernatural powers. They get all worked up with musical performances, fancy rhetoric, and impressive staging. But they remain immature spiritually because they do not rely on the true promises of God.
We do not need to discover secrets or inventive methods. We need to return to the simple truths of the ancient gospel. It may not appeal to a world in love with fancy words, cute stories, and deceptive fantasies. But it assures us that if we are redeemed in Christ, we are heirs of all that really matters. We have the promises of God, promises extended to the weak and needy who by humble faith trust in God’s word.
Besides having what God’s ministers offer, Paul adds that we have all things. Though the worldly cannot appreciate it, all things belong to the God who made everything. As heirs of Christ we are children of the King of kings and all things are ours. The real mysteries of life and death do not belong to the mystics, they are ours. In Christ alone we have true life, and the sting of death itself is taken away.
This means that everything present, and those things yet to come are ours too. All is in God’s hands and it will not be manipulated by deceived sects who imagine themselves to be more enlightened.
This reminds us of something Paul had written in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The fact of God’s sovereign power is one of the things most often denied by false wisdom. The fallen soul imagines that it can help itself by determination and the power of positive thinking.
But God is Lord over all — and we who are redeemed by him are his children. Therefore we need nothing more spiritually than what our Creator promises. Our duty is to trust these words of God. We need to rest in them with no reservations. We should never think we need more than the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of God applied to hearts restored through Christ by grace alone.
The reformer Martin Luther wrote in his hymn A Mighty Fortress, “The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through him who with us sideth;”
The little piece of logical reasoning that follows is amazingly simple. “all things are yours … you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s”
Ultimately everything is God’s: created by him and sustained for his glory. He even uses the rebellious ones to fulfill his plan, even though the wicked are not aware of it. Since the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is God, the second person of the Trinity, all is his. And since believers belong to Christ and are heirs through him, all things are their’s to be used and managed for God’s glory, and therefore for their good.
So we do not belong to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, but to Christ. We are his much loved children. We are his not only because he created us, but also because he redeemed us. Believers are his by his eternal covenant – a covenant of grace.
Our hope isn’t found in charismatic leaders and self-help plans. Hope isn’t found by mixing contemporary theories with words lifted from the Bible. We do not need those things. Everything we need for inner peace and maturity is already available to us. The power of the Holy Spirit working by God’s written word is our all-sufficient help.
Deceivers get us off track and divide God’s kingdom into proud, jealous factions. We have all we need in the promises of the gospel of grace. It’s tragic that so many who say they are believers are not satisfied with that. They flounder in life looking for more when they already have it all!
We can best fit in with things as they really are, if we see them as God sees them. A good diet of daily Bible study empowered by prayer and good Christian fellowship liberates the searching soul to find that peace which passes understanding.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)