1 Corinthians chapter 3

The believers in Corinth were acting like babies. They needed to drop their partisanship. A solid rock foundation survives the fire.




SUMMARY: The believers in Corinth were acting like babies. They were fighting over which leader was the best. Their partisanship was stunting their spiritual growth and dividing the entire community. They needed to drop this whole issue.


VERSE 1. Brothers, I couldn’t speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ.

fleshly. This is where we get the idea of a “worldly” believer. Such a person professes to have faith in Christ. However, the way they live their life suggests that they are not committed to Christ at all.

babies in Christ. A worldly believer is a “baby” believer.


VERSE 2. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you weren’t yet ready. Indeed, you aren’t ready even now,

I fed you with milk. What is this “baby food” that Paul had to feed to these spiritual infants in Corinth?

not with meat. What is the solid food that Paul wished he could have been feeding them? Here are three popular replies:

EVANGELICALS. The “milk” is the Bible. The “meat” is acting on the Bible.

CATHOLICS. The “milk” is the Bible. The “meat” is the sacraments.

MYSTICAL. The “milk” is the Bible. The “meat” is union with God.

not even now are you ready. They are still just as infantile as before. They have not grown at all.


VERSE 3. for you are still fleshly. For insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions among you, aren’t you fleshly, and don’t you walk in the ways of men?

strife, and factions among you. One of the scourges of the Christian movement is quarrelsome people. Congregations always have plenty of them. Lots of pulpits are staffed by quarrelsome people.


VERSE 4. For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you fleshly?

I follow. The core of their worldliness was partisanship. They fought each other over which leader was the best.

In our day, this happens all the time. People fight about which Christian leader is best, or which preacher is best, or which bishop is best, and so on.

aren’t you fleshly? Theirs was the same impulse that drives secular politics. People lobby in favor of their favorite leader, and try to destroy all the others.

The motive is simple. It is to impose your own will on other people. It is a fundamentally self-centered thing to do.


VERSE 5. Who then is Apollos, and who is Paul, but servants through whom you believed, and each as the Lord gave to him?

servants. Christian leadership is a ministry gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a role of servanthood. However, leadership usually gets turned into a cult of personality.

through whom you believed. Their leaders gave them the good news.

Christian leaders are called to freely pass on what God has freely given to them.

However, they almost always make it seem as though they are the only one who possess the “real” message. They brainwash people into believing them above all else.

People end up saying things like this: “So-and-so is promoting the “real” message, unlike all the false apostles out there everywhere.”


VERSE 6. I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase.

I planted. Humanly speaking, it was Paul who did the hard work of evangelism. He was the human agent through whom they were influenced to decide to accept faith in Jesus Christ.

In an egotistical way, Paul could validly have claimed that they were “his” converts. But Paul knew that they were God’s converts.

Apollos watered. Humanly speaking, it was Apollos who then trained those brand new converts in the ways of Christian discipleship.

In an egotistical way, Apollos could have claimed that they were “his” disciples. But Apollos knew that they were God’s disciples.

God gave the increase. Ministers often talk of “their” converts, or “their” disciples. However, the converts and disciples “belong” to God. The minister is merely a hired hand, somebody who helps out for a little while.


VERSE 7. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.

neither he who plants is anything. Paul says that he, as the evangelizer, is nothing.

nor he who waters. Paul says that Apollos, as the discipler, is nothing.

God who gives the increase. The only one who deserves the credit is God Almighty.



SUMMARY: This passage describes the final judgment of Christian leaders. But some people say it describes Purgatory.


VERSE 8. Now he who plants and he who waters are the same, but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

he who plants. That is, the evangelizer, the one who leads people to an initial faith in Jesus Christ.

he who waters. That is, the discipler, the one who trains the converts in the ways of Christian discipleship.

will receive his own reward. This “reward” is not the same as eternal salvation itself.

Eternal Salvation is the thing that matters. A “reward” is an optional add-on.

See verse 13 and verse 14, below.


VERSE 9. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s farming, God’s building.

we are God’s fellow workers. Truly great Christian leaders such as Paul and Apollos are merely fellow workers with God.

Sure, they evangelize and they disciple. But they are merely bit-players. The only important thing is what God is doing.

you are God’s farming, God’s building. In our day, we are the Temple of God. The Holy Spirit of God dwells within us.

What God is doing in you is far more important than which Christian leader you follow.


VERSE 10. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But let each man be careful how he builds on it.

as a wise master builder. Paul was truly a wise master builder. In our day, few Christian leaders are. Most misuse their pulpit in the juvenile promotion of self.

I laid a foundation. Paul laid the foundation in the lives of the believers in Corinth. He evangelized them. He led them to their initial faith in Jesus Christ. The foundation is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Rock Foundation. Are you building your life on the solid rock of Jesus Christ? Read more »

another builds on it. Apollos built on the foundation that Paul had laid. Paul converted them; Apollos trained them in the ways of Christian discipleship.

let each man be careful how he builds. Many Christian leaders squander their position.

Instead of using it, like Paul did, to lead people to initial faith in Jesus Christ, or instead of using it like Apollos did to train converts in the ways of Christian discipleship, they use their leadership position to promote their own fragile ego.


VERSE 11. For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ.

no one can lay any other foundation. There is no foundation worth building on except Jesus Christ.

However, many Christian leaders build an edifice upon themselves. Sure, they use the jargon of the Bible and Christian faith. But in the end, its been all about themselves.

which is Jesus Christ. Few people in Christian ministry are capable of promoting Jesus Christ, and him alone.


VERSE 12. But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or stubble,

if anyone builds on the foundation. Every person in Christian ministry is building upon something. They are adding to something that already exists.

What is it that they are adding? Are they adding things that are all about themselves? Or are they truly promoting Jesus Christ?


VERSE 13. each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is.

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.

fire itself will test … each man’s work. In eternity, the ministry of Christian leaders will go through a cleansing fire.

This fire will burn away every aspect of their ministry that was centered on themselves instead of Jesus Christ.

On Judgment Day, our lives will go through a cleansing fire. It will burn away all self-centered deeds from the history of our lives. Will any of your deeds survive? Read more »


VERSE 14. If any man’s work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward.

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.

If any man’s work remains. After the cleansing effect of this fire, few Christian leaders will have anything left.

This is because their ministries were all about themselves and their own egos, and Jesus Christ alone.

But if what they have built survives …

he will receive a reward. Here again is this word “reward.” As we noted in verse 8 above, this “reward” is not the same as eternal salvation itself.

Some people interpret this verse to be about Purgatory. People go through the “cleansing fire” of Purgatory so as to be ready to behold God face-to-face. Any residual effect of sin will be burned away.


VERSE 15. If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.

If any man’s work is burned. Many in Christian leadership will find that their ministries are completely burned away.

he will suffer loss. To see one’s entire life’s ministry burned away would be a personal tragedy.

he himself will be saved. This cleansing fire is not about eternal salvation. Even if their entire earthly ministry is destroyed in the fire, they themselves still have the prospect of eternal salvation.

but as through fire. These self-centered ministers will still face the prospect of eternal salvation. However, their arrogance about their ministry accomplishments will have been burned away.


VERSE 16. Don’t you know that you are a temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

KJV translation: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from First Corinthians.

you are a temple of God. In ancient days, God took up his dwelling in a man-made structure. However, in our day, God lives in human hearts.

God’s Spirit lives in you. You are God’s modern-day temple:

Isaiah 45:14. The LORD says: “The labor of Egypt, and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sabeans, men of stature, will come over to you, and they will be yours. They will go after you. They shall come over in chains. They will bow down to you. They will make supplication to you: ‘Surely God is in you; and there is no one else. There is no other god.

1 Corinthians 3:16. Don’t you know that you are a temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

Philippians 2:13. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.


VERSE 17. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is holy, which you are.

God’s temple is holy. Ever since there was an earthly temple, God wished for it to be holy.

which you are. You are that temple of God.


VERSE 18. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise.

If anyone thinks that he is wise. Many people in positions of Christian leadership portray themselves as truly wise.

let him become a fool. Such a person should become a fool. They should reject their own ego and their own wisdom.

that he may become wise. True wisdom is to promote Jesus Christ, and him alone.


VERSE 19. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.”

the wisdom of this world. Most of us expend great effort to gather wisdom. We prize it.

is foolishness with God. But the aggregate total of our human wisdom is foolishness. Compared to the wisdom of Jesus Christ, we are ignorant savages who know nothing at all.


VERSE 20. And again, “The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is worthless.”


VERSE 21. Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,

let one one boast in men. The identity of our Christian leader should be a trivial matter, something we view as inconsequential to our status with other people.

For all things are yours. The Christian believer has all things. This is a mysterious reality.


VERSE 22. whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours,


VERSE 23. and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.


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Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.


Author: todd

At Explore the Faith, I share insights into the Bible and theological writings. If you like what I write, become my partner by donating. Help me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.