1 Corinthians 3:1–17: The Temple of God
Paul has just finished a long argument against reliance upon human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:17–2:16). Through this argument, Paul has demonstrated that human wisdom cannot reason up to God’s wisdom, nor can eloquent speech capture the depths of God’s wisdom. Instead, we human beings must depend entirely upon God to reveal his wisdom in his way. Through Christ and him crucified, God has finally accomplished the plan of his wisdom hidden in a mystery from before the ages (1 Cor. 2:7). God reveals this wisdom not through wisdom of word (1 Cor. 1:17), but through plain, simple, weak preaching (1 Cor. 2:3–4). This message falls on spiritually deaf ears, however, unless the Holy Spirit reveals the truthfulness, goodness, and beauty of Christ and him crucified by a demonstration of power through the effectual call (1 Cor. 1:24, 26; 2:4–5, 10–12). The Holy Spirit accomplishes his work by renewing a spiritual sense of discernment that transforms “natural people” (psychikoi) into “spiritual people” (pneumatikoi) who can discern the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14–15). This extended argument stands on its own as a profound explanation of how people with blind eyes, deaf ears, and dull hearts come to believe in Christ and him crucified.
If this is true, what impact does this principle teach us about the Church? How does God give growth to his Church? How have the Corinthians’ obsession with human wisdom compromised this growth? How do ministers influence this work within the Church? What is the larger purpose that God is seeking to accomplish in and through his Church? Why is this work so important? In 1 Corinthians 3:1–17, Paul enters into one of his most complex—and most important—discussions on the nature and purpose of the Church. Here, we see that, in the Church, God is finishing Christ’s finished work through his people.
1) How does true Church growth come about (1 Cor. 3:5–9a)? Who gives the growth? If God gives the growth, then why are human beings important for the growth of the Church at all? Why does the Church need people to perform different roles? What role do all of us have in the growth of the Church? What promises does God make regarding out labor?
2) Why does Paul shift his metaphor of the Church from agriculture to construction (1 Cor. 3:9b)? What specific building does Paul speak about building (1 Cor. 3:16)? What is the foundation of this building? Why does Paul describe Christ as the foundation? In what sense does Paul lay this foundation at Corinth? In what sense does God lay this foundation in Christ?
3) What different materials does Paul mention for the construction of the temple (1 Cor. 3:12)? Which of these materials will withstand the scrutiny of Christ’s building inspection on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ? What does this extended metaphor of construction materials teach us about ministry in the Church? What does this teach us about God’s promise of rewards?
4) Why is it important to recognize that we are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16)? What value is it for God’s Spirit to indwell us? How does the indwelling of the Holy Spirit relate to God’s overall work of salvation in the world? What kind of protection does God promise to those whom he indwells (1 Cor. 3:17)? What does it mean that the Holy Spirit’s presence makes us holy?