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1 Corinthians Chapter Three


I. Content of the Chapter


The Main Reason for Divisions in the Church is the Wrong Views on Workers

A.  It is the condition of being carnal that believers boast of workers and there are envy, strife, and divisions among them (v.1-4);

B.  The workers are only God's fellow workers (v.5-9);

C.  The workers do the building, and every work should be tried through fire (v.10-15).

D.  Workers are for the church, and the church is for God:

1.    The church is the house of God (v.16-17).

2.    Workers are of the church, and the church is of God and Christ (v.18-23).


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


1Cor. 3:1 “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.”

   YLT: “And I, brethren, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly -- as to babes in Christ;”

Literal Meaning: “and I, brethren, could not speak to you”, the intimate address “brethren” shows that the words as follows are spoken in love on the status of the children of God.

“As to spiritual people”, “spiritual”: those who are mature in spirit (see 1Cor. 2:6) and are governed, controlled, motivated and guided by the Spirit in walking.

“But as to carnal”, “carnal”, in the original it is “fleshly”, which is different from the word “carnal” in verse three. In this verse, the word refers to man who is totally composed of flesh. It is worse than “carnal” ---- be governed by the flesh ---- in verse three.

Here, the flesh does not refer to the body in general meaning, but the flesh with the passions and the lusts and sin (see Rom. 7:14, 18; Gal. 5:24) after the fall of man.

“As to babes in Christ”, “babes” refer to those who have not grown up in spiritual life and are ignorant and immature in walking. 

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    Here, there is a truth. Paul does not write to men of the world, but to Christians, namely, those who have been born again and have new life. He says, yes, they are babes and brothers. Their problem is that they are not spiritual, but carnal.

2)    Whether one has been grown up or mature in his spiritual life will influence his interest, judgment and conception of life and etc.

3)    The disadvantage of babes is that they are too ignorant to be deceived and can neither judge nor discern and their moods are capricious. They cannot know things of grown-ups. They can neither understand the love of their parents nor share their burdens. Moreover, babes enjoy the love of others but do not give their love. They always need the help from others but never desire to help others.

4)    Paul compares the disadvantages of babes to the spiritual conditions of believers at Corinth. They have no spiritual judgment and are easy to be deceived and changed and feel difficult to understand spiritual things. What they seek has not great spiritual value.

5)    The growth in gifts and the riches in the knowledge of the truth are different from the maturity of spiritual life. He who has gifts and knowledge may not be spiritual. He who is mature in spirit and like Christ more is really spiritual.

6)    The key problem is here. Those who have received the gifts of life should have experiences and be able to guide others on things concerning walking in the Lord’s way and obedience unto the Lord and reliance on God. However, they are still ignorant until now. They are still babes in Christ and are controlled by life in the lower level. Their thoughts are still be governed by carnal, physical and secular things.


1Cor. 3:2 “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;”

   YLT: “with milk I fed you, and not with meat, for ye were not yet able, but not even yet are ye now able,”

Literal Meaning: “I fed you with milk and not with solid food”, “milk” refers to some simple and preliminary knowledge, which is mainly for babes in Christ (see v.1; Heb. 5:13; 1Pet. 2:2). “Solid food” relates to the profound knowledge that should be understood by spiritual mind, and it is prepared for those who are full-grown in spirit (see Heb. 5:14).

“For until now you were not able to receive it”, “were not able to receive”, be unable to eat sold food (see Heb. 5:12).

“And even now you are still not able”, it contains a tone of strong blame in the original. They were supposed to depart from the stage of babes, but they had no growth in spirit even though their physical age increased.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    Ministers of the words of God in the church should provide spiritual food to believers according to their respective spiritual stature and condition rather than treat all of them alike.

2)    Some of the words of God are easily known, just like “milk”, and some are uneasily known, just like “solid food”. Nevertheless, they are all spiritual food that makes us grow up after “eating” them. Therefore, we should desire earnestly the pure mental milk of the word (see 1Pet. 2:2) and learn to eat spiritual solid food of God.

3)    “Milk” is digested indirectly, which refers to the secondhand provision. “Solid food” is digested directly, which refers to the firsthand obtainment. The apostle says that those who are carnal can only be fed by milk but not eat solid food, indicating that all those who can only receive the secondhand provisions from others and can not receive food from the Lord directly are all are immature and carnal.

4)    He who is fed by milk receives directly, for milk is given to babes after digestion by the mother. He who eats solid food receives directly, just like believes understand the words of God directly.


1Cor. 3:3 “for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? ”

   YLT: “for yet ye are fleshly, for where among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not fleshly, and in the manner of men do walk?”

Literal Meaning: “for you are still carnal”, “carnal” means one is controlled and dominated by the flesh and walks under the influence of the evil nature of the flesh.

  “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you”, “envy” shows that one thinks others are unworthy of owning status and possessions more excellent than him so that he is jealous of the accomplishments of others. “Divisions” refer to actions out of an envious heart, including strife, quarrels and friction and etc. Envy, strife and divisions are marks of being carnal (see Gal. 5:20-21). Those who are carnal like to exalt them, but depress others.

  “Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” ---- It shows that they walk according to the course of this world, doing what the flesh and the thoughts willed to do (Eph. 2:2-3). They are like men in the world, not men of God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    All things that hinder man from focusing on Christ and Him crucified are all of the flesh, and they will obstruct the growth of him and spoil the function of the church. It is because man is subject to the lower part in his nature ---- the flesh.

2)    Believers should consider others (see Rom. 12:10), but those who are overwhelmed by envy and strife and divisions only care for themselves. The condition of a believer can be seen from his attitude toward others. If a man really loves God, he shall also love men (1John 4:20-21).

3)    The relationship of a man with God can be seen from his relationship with men. The interpersonal relationship of us in the church is an index of our relationship with God.

4)    Those who are fleshly like to behave as men in the world. As a result, they will lose the separation from men in the world but associate with them, thus lacking testimonies. However, those who are spiritual are unwilling to be conformed to the world (see Rom. 12:2) but stand firm and shine as lights in world (Phil. 2:15).


1Cor. 3:4 “For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal?”

   YLT: “for when one may say, `I, indeed, am of Paul;' and another, `I -- of Apollos;' are ye not fleshly?”

Literal Meaning: “for when one says, "I am of Paul"”, it shows that he boasts of following Paul (see 1Cor. 1:12).

  “And another, "I am of Apollos"”, in chapter one, those who cause the divisions fall into four sorts. Here, it mentions two sorts only to blame their faults of upholding workers.

“Are you not carnal”? ---- Such condition is exactly the same with that of men in the world who exalt leaders and compete against one another.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    All men in the world have the concept of adoring great men. No matter what reason of we believers, if any of us upholds one above what is written in the Scriptures (1Cor. 4:6), he has made the same mistake with men in the world.

2)    Believers can only of God, of the Lord and of the Spirit, but by no means of any man. Once we are of men, we shall be alienated from God. When we are saved, the Lord has broken down the middle wall of partition between God and men and among men (Eph. 2:14). However, many believers have built another wall of partition after are saved.


1Cor. 3:5 “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?”

   YLT: “Who, then, is Paul, and who Apollos, but ministrants through whom ye did believe, and to each as the Lord gave?”

Meaning of Words: “minister”: servant, waiter;

Literal Meaning: “who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers”, “who is…”, it shows that they are unworthy of being treated like this. “But ministers”, they are merely servants who fulfill their ministry according the Lord.

 “As the Lord gave to each one?” ---- According as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith and gifts (see Rom. 12:3; 1Cor. 12:11).     

“Through whom you believed”, “believed”, the past tense means that it refers to the process of believers’ at Corinth believing the Lord.

The workers of the Lord introduce the Lord to us. And we should not shift our eyes to His workers.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The workers of the Lord should always remember: no matter how great gift the Lord gives you, no matter how great works you have done, you are still of nothing.

2)    The real work is done by God. Paul and Apollos are merely vessels, through whom God works. The preachers work according to the gifts “given by God to them”.

3)    If the preachers have some distinct gifts, they are all given by God. We need not fall into envy or contentions.

4)    Even though all the workers are of great talents and have right view of the truth and their works are important, if they exist alone, their messages are still imperfect.

5)    In the church at Corinth, these difficulties are directly related to Paul. But the explanation of Paul here shows that he is absolutely above these conditions and is detached from these contentions. He has none sense of personal gain or loss, but merely stands on pure spiritual positions and brings brothers and sisters out of difficulty. Oh, such a servant of God! How selfless his attitudes are, and how pure his spirit is! It was so rare throughout the whole church history in the past two thousand years.


1Cor. 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

   YLT: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was giving growth;”

Literal Meaning: “I planted”, “plant” makes Paul have the sense of mission. Paul’s works focus on opening the barren land and preaching the gospel where Christ has not been named (see Rom. 15:19-20).

“Apollos watered”, “water” is to help them grow up. Apollos’s works focus on helping those who have believed the Lord (see Acts 18:27).

“But God gave the increase”, the law of the growth of life is of God’s creation (see Mark 4:27), and the progress of the growth is governed by God.

The tense of “planted and watered” and “was giving” in the original show that the works of workers will pass by but the works of God that makes believers grow are continual.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    Only God makes spiritual works effective, so we should pay more attention to God’s workers. Besides, he that plants and he that waters are one. Otherwise, the works cannot be accomplished.

2)    Though the works of planting are important, the law of life is not in the planting of man, but in the seeds that He sows. It is an important work of planting the seeds into the land. He who sows cannot give life to seeds. He can only sow the seed into the land.

3)    Planting is good. Any crop cannot lack it. The mystery of growing lies in the seed itself. It needs to be planted and watered. However, the life manifests in the harvest time is not of the one who plants or waters. It is still neither the soil nor the water, but the seed itself.

4)    This verse shows the way of the growth of Christians’ spiritual life. One receives the planting and provision of brothers and sisters outside, and grows up through the great power of God’s life inside.


1Cor. 3:7 “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”

   YLT: “so that neither is he who is planting anything, nor he who is watering, but He who is giving growth -- God;”

Literal Meaning: “so then neither he who plants is anything”, the evangelist himself should not occupy a great measure in the hearts of believers.

“Nor he who waters”, the ministers who feeds and edify believers are unworthy of excessive adoration.

“But God who gives the increase”, all the accomplishment of believers should be due to God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The servant of the Lord himself has not brought the power of life. Why there are envy and contentions among preachers? They should accomplish what God has asked them to so and rejoice at the gracious arms of the Lord.

2)    God uses men as His vessels, through whom He preaches His messages of the truth and love. Only God can awake man’s heart to receive the life of God. Only God can create man’s heart and only Him can create man’s heart again.

3)    We should give all glory unto God, not boast of man’s advantages.


1Cor. 3:8 “Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. ”

   YLT: “and he who is planting and he who is watering are one, and each his own reward shall receive, according to his own labour,”

Meaning of Words: “labor”: works, toil; “reward”: wages, pay;

Literal Meaning: “now he who plants and he who waters are one”, they have the same contribution to believers’ spiritual life.

“And each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor”, when the Lord comes again, He will come to reckon with His servants (see Matt. 25:19).

“Own” refers to personal responsibility. The Lord’s workers in their works should have the spirit of labor and the sense of personal responsibility at the same time.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    We should try our best to serve in the church. When we have accomplished our respective duties, we should stand aside and leave the chances to others, for the chief principle in the body is “he who plants and he who waters are one”.

2)    It is God, not we, that decides what the reward is and how much one shall receive! Note that the reward is according to not “one’s accomplishments”, nor “the comparison with others”, but “his own labor”.

3)    The reward is personal, not corporate. The reward of a faithful servant of the Lord should not be affected by the unfaithfulness of others or the worse condition of the group he is in, for his reward is according to his own labor. This is a great comfort. No matter where the workers of the Lord are, as long as they walk according to the Lord’s will, they will surely be rewarded.

4)    Don’t your works have effect? Do not be discouraged, for “we know that our toil is not in vain in Lord”.


1Cor. 3:9 “For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.”

   YLT: “for of God we are fellow-workmen; God's tillage, God's building ye are.”

Meaning of Words: “land”: farm, field;

Literal Meaning: “for we are God's fellow workers”, God works with us in our works (see Phil. 2:13). In the commentary of Darby, “to be God’s fellow works” means that “God is the master, and we are fellows doing the chief’s work. Man’s position in the Lord’s work is different from that of God. The fellows must be governed by the master.

“You are God's field, you are God's building”, “field” refers more to bearing the fruit of life to satisfy God. “Building” refers to establishing a suitable habitation to let God rest.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The service of Christians is “to be fellow workers of God”. How honorable and valuable! Someone says, “We can do nothing without God. And God desires to do nothing without us”.

2)    He who serves and the one whom is serviced are merely vessels of God. All of them are out of God and of God.

3)    Here, it mentions “building” and “field” in the same breath, unveiling that the building of God is completely a story of the growth of the spiritual life. The actions of building are “planting” and “watering”. And the condition of being built is “that God gave the increase” (v.6). Otherwise, it is not building.

4)    If what is sown in the field is Christ, the fruit in the future is bound to be Christ. If the root of the house is Christ, the building later must be also according to Christ. In the works of God, what is of man should not be mixed in. The best responsibility of man is cooperation without hindrance to God’s works.

5)    Field and building point out two different positions of believers. The field represents one’s inner life and the building the outside living. It is because the field has life ---- if the seed is sown, it will grow up. The field is the place where life is yielded, which can represent the growth of believers’ life. Building stands for the rest of life. All men desire to have their houses, where they can enjoy both physical and mental rest. God shall do two kinds of works on us ---- one is life field and the other is like building. Both of them need to pay costs.

6)    “You are God … building”, building represents the character of the master. There is on place that manifests one so much and so clear, except for his house. The condition of one’s house shows the owner himself. The building of God shows the nature of God ---- His glory, love and righteousness.


1Cor. 3:10 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. ”

   YLT: “According to the grace of God that was given to me, as a wise master-builder, a foundation I have laid, and another doth build on,”

Meaning of Words: “grace”: gift, graciousness; “master”: builder, chief constructor, architect;

Literal Meaning: “according to the grace of God which was given to me”, Paul means that though he is unworthy of this, the grace and power gifted by God makes him equal to this responsibility and obtain accomplishments.

“As a wise master builder”, “wise” means keeping the will of the Lord (see Matt. 7:24). “Master builder” refers to the chief workman. Especially to the churches that Paul built, he was the master builder who established and guided the building work.

“I have laid the foundation”, “foundation” refers to Jesus Christ (v.11). Paul laid the foundation at Corinth by preaching Christ and Him crucified (1Cor. 1:23; 2:2). Here, Paul declared that he did the work of laying a foundation in the service of building.

“And another builds on it”. ---- “Another” refers to all the fellow workers of Paul, including Apollos, but not Apollos only. “On it”: on the foundation;

“But let each one take heed how he builds on it”, “let each one take heed”: it is a general encourage and admonishment to all the fellow workers, not some fellow workers only (e.g. Apollos, Cephas). The focus here is not to encourage fellow workers to do the building, but to remind them “to take heed how” to build.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    If those who serve God can clearly see the works are of God like Paul, and our guidance and power are also of God, our excessive worries will be removed and we will also find the honor of the divine works.

2)    The election of the foundation is not our responsibility, for the foundation has already been laid, and no other foundation can anyone lay. No matter when one receives Christ, once Christ has entered into him, the foundation has been laid. And the children of God will thus stand on the foundation firmly and continue their building. The problem now is that what we will build on the foundation.

3)    If we want to build on this foundation, we should take heed, lest we build nothing valuable. What we build is house (see v.9), namely, a corporate temple (see v.16-17) ---- the church, and the respective temples of believers (1Cor. 6:19), which let God dwell and manifest God.

4)    The whole life and works of us are a work of building, which will be tried before God in the future.

5)    Everyone who works for the Lord should take heed of his building. And he should also know that it is foolish to cause divisions if he only plays a one-man show and preach a part of the truth and finally he shall lose the glory of the whole work.

6)    The words “another” and “each one” here not only refer to the workers of the Lord but also common believers. Not only the workers of the Lord should take their responsibility, but also should every believer work according to the measure of every part (see Eph. 4:16).


1Cor. 3:11 “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

   YLT: “for other foundation no one is able to lay except that which is laid, which is Jesus the Christ;”

Literal Meaning: “for …than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”, Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, and the only foundation of the building of the church (see Matt. 16:16-18). This foundation is also laid by other apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).

  “No other foundation can anyone lay”, “other”: other gospel is not gospel (see Gal. 1:6-7), and other foundation is not foundation. A church that does not take Jesus Christ as foundation is not the church of Christ.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The only foundation of our Christians is Jesus Christ. No matter our life, or works, or gathering, or service, we should all take refuge in the Lord and let the Lord hold us. Otherwise, everything shall be in vain.

2)    “The church” is a building of life, a living temple (1Pet. 2:5). Only this living Christ can be her foundation. Therefore, the church should wholly rely on Jesus Christ rather than physical possessions or power.

3)    The fact of our faith is built on Jesus Christ.

4)    Since the foundation is Jesus Christ, what is built on the foundation should also be Jesus Chris. No one can lay other foundation nor use other materials, but Christ only.

5)    Please remember God builds Eve by Adam. And the foundation of God’s building the church is Christ. The best morality out of men can not be mixed in the building of God. The works of God should be firstly done by God in us and then God works through the spirit in us, thus building the church.

6)    We should not build “Christianity” outside of Christ ---- good works, humanism, social service, and charity and etc. should never be the foundations of the building of the church.


1Cor. 3:12 “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,”

   YLT: “and if any one doth build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw --”

Literal Meaning: “if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones”, “gold, silver, precious stones” refer to the works that have spiritual value, honorable, and endurable and can endure the judgment and trial of God.

“Wood, hay, straw” refer to the works that have no spiritual value, low and unendurable and will fail in the trial of God (see v.13).

Wood, hay, straw refer to what are of man. Man’s glory like flowers and grass. Man’s disposition is like hay. And the result of man’s work is like straw.

“Builds on this foundation”, it shows that the foundation (Christ) of the building is right and is the same. What are different are the materials of building.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    Gold represents what is of God ---- the works of God. Silver refers to redemption ---- the works of the Lord on the cross. Precious stones relate to the works of the Spirit ---- it is the Spirit that constitutes the life of God in us by revelation and makes God and man one. This is the subjective experience of us today.

2)    Gold refers to the disposition and glory of God. Silver relates to the works of the redemption of Christ. These are materials that God counts. It is not only what we preach, but should be what we are. It is not knowledge, but works of God in us that let us have part in the nature of Christ by the commandments and trials of God and the patient works of the Spirit in us. All the works of God have been through the cross.

3)    Precious stone is a kind of chemical compound. In the process of chemical combination, it should be burnt by high heat and then be carved by craftsman and thus become shining precious stone, so should be the works of God in believers. On one hand, God uses various environments, like burning with raging fire. On the other hand, we should also be dealt with by the hands of God ---- remove what is not needed by the revelation of the Spirit and retain what is needed ---- then we shall shine light and have part in glory.

4)    The precious stone is often formed in worries and tribulations. God lets us “pass through water and fire” and brings us into a wealthy place (Ps. 66:12).

5)    A valuable and eternal building is to develop and apply all things that are included in Jesus Christ.

6)    Gold and silver and precious stones are not grown on the face of the earth, but shall be obtained by digging deeply. Wood, hay and straw are grown on the earth and are easy to obtain. Therefore, all that is yielded from the depth of one’s inner part has the works of God therein. All that is done according to the flesh is of man and has no value.

7)    For example, concerning the preachment of a sermon or the preachment of the gospel, someone has to wait for and rely on God before Him and then works according to the burden he has got, just like what is born from the one who conceives a baby. These are works of gold, silver and precious stones. Someone can preach without any preparation because of his agile mind, good eloquence and much knowledge in his memory, so he is busy working. However, his works are wood, hay, straw and of no spiritual value.

8)    The six materials can be divided into two sorts representing the life of two kinds of believers and preachers: one is rich and substantial and the other is vain and apparent. They can also represent two kinds of service: one is eternal and can endure the trial, and the other is temporal and cannot endure the trial.

9)    Wood, hay, straw also refer to what is of man and of the flesh, including what are common, quick, low-priced and also easily to be destroyed. Hey, it exists today, but where is it tomorrow? Man’s wisdom may make us understand the knowledge of the Scriptures. Natural eloquence may be attractive. Affections seem to be able to affect us. Apparently, they can guide us, but they are of little avail to our spiritual life.

10) In our works, many of them are not according to His will and purpose, but our mutable feelings. Even sometimes our works are like chaff and straws blown away by the wind. When we are in good mood, we may be very jealous for God. However, if we are slightly frustrated, we will surrender utterly. We should know that one day fire will prove that it is of no avail to work for God through emotions or zeal. Once God gives His commandment, no matter whether we have feelings or not, we should study to do according to His words.

11) What’s the building of little avail? It is things that restrict and resist against the eternal truth concerning Jesus Christ. Any doctrine that makes Christians doubt the power of the gospel or the will of the Lord or the love of the Lord or lowers His position in us is the building of little value. That is the building of wood, hey and straw.

12) What Paul considers here is not wrong materials, but insufficient materials. Some preaches the Christianity weakened by dullness. Some lacks balance ---- stresses on one side but ignores the other side. Some distorts the truth ---- even the greatest truth is twisted.


1Cor. 3:13 “each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.”

   YLT: “of each the work shall become manifest, for the day shall declare , because in fire it is revealed, and the work of each, what kind it is, the fire shall prove;”

Literal Meaning: “for the Day will declare it”, “the Day” refers to the Day when Christ comes again, namely, the Day of judgment (see 1Thess. 5:4; Heb. 10:25). “It” refers to the works of everyone, and can also refer to the Day. “Declare”, everything is clear, and nothing is hidden.

“Because it will be revealed by fire”, it is the judgment of God.

“And the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is”, it shows that man’s work should be tried and judged like fire (1Pet. 1:7).

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The work of building is not judged by the effect today, but by the result that whether it can exist until the Lord’s second coming.

2)    There is one point worthy of being noticed that fire is sometimes compared as the word of God in the Scriptures (see Is. 5:24; Jer. 23:29). The word of God in the future will try our works before the judgment seat of Christ, but can be known and held by us today. If we build according to the teaching of the Scriptures, our works shall be remained until that Day.

3)    Here, time is an element. In the light of God, something shall be destroyed spontaneously even though the fire has not come. What have endured the trial of God in time is indeed of true value.  


1Cor. 3:14 “If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.”

   YLT: “if of any one the work doth remain that he built on , a wage he shall receive;”

Meaning of Words: “reward”: wages, pay;

Enlightenment in the Word: all that is of the natural life should be burnt up by fire. Only those of the risen life of Christ shall remain forever.


1Cor. 3:15 “If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

   YLT: “if of any the work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; and himself shall be saved, but so as through fire.”

Meaning of Words: “suffer loss”: be cast away, lose;

Literal Meaning: “If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss”, “suffer loss”, it is not only losing the reward (v.14) but also being disciplined by the Lord (see Matt. 24:51; 25:29-30). 

“But he himself will be saved”, once believers are saved, they will be saved forever, for the life we have obtained is the eternal life of God. Therefore, we shall never perish (John 10:28). The works that believers have done and the life that believers have obtained are two matters and cannot be mixed.

“Yet so as through fire”, “as” shows that believers will not be really burned in fire, but will feel as afflicted as being burned in fire.


1Cor. 3:16 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

   YLT: “have ye not known that ye are a sanctuary of God, and the Spirit of God doth dwell in you?”

Literal Meaning: “do you not know that you are the temple of God”, “do you not know”, there is a slight tone of blame; “you”: it is not an individual believer; “the temple of God”, the single form indicates that it is the church that is the temple of God (see Eph. 2:21).

  Temple” means sanctuary in the original, which points that the nature of the church is holy. Paul regards the church as a whole and holy and honorable.

“And that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” ---- “In you”: in the church;

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    Have we let the Spirit dwell in the church freely? Have we hindered the liberty of the Spirit because we often mind carnal interest and prejudice or worldly ideals and boastings?

2)    The church is the temple of the Spirit and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. We should not cause divisions because of walking according to the lusts, but should walk by the Spirit and let Him work in us.

3)    We are the temple of God. Our Christian life is also like the conditions in the temple of God. There are many men who slaughter sheep or bull to sacrifice. It is busy there, but is tranquil in the Holy of holies. As for our Christian life, though we are busy outside, we are not stirred up in spirit.


1Cor. 3:17 “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. ”

  YLT: “if any one the sanctuary of God doth waste, him shall God waste; for the sanctuary of God is holy, the which ye are.”

Meaning of Words: “defile”: destroy, ruin;

Literal Meaning: “if anyone defiles the temple of God”, if anyone divides the church of God, the church will lose the testimony.

“God will destroy him”. ---- “Destroy”, it is not perish. He will be severely punished.

“For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are”, the church is separated from the world unto God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The mark of the church is love. He who hurts that love hurts the church and defiles the temple of God.

2)    The church is the temple. If a temple is divided into several unconnected brackets and walls, the temple cannot be stood firmly or straightly. The worst enemy of the church is division. Divisions in the church defile the church, namely, destroy the spiritual testimony of the church or destroy the oneness of the church in Christ.

3)    The temple of God is holy, so the materials and manner of building should also be holy. If one mixes his own thought into the word of God, or serves by his natural power or brings the elements of the world into the church, he has defiled the church. Such man must be punished by God.


1Cor. 3:18 “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. ”

   YLT: “Let no one deceive himself; if any one doth seem to be wise among you in this age -- let him become a fool, that he may become wise,”

Literal Meaning: “let no one deceive himself”, the commanding tone showed that there were indeed men among them who were deceiving themselves, so Paul commanded them to stop this condition. Their “deceiving themselves” was “seeming them to be wise”.

  “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age”, many believers at Corinth thought they were wise and pursued the leaders they liked (see 1Cor. 4:6), causing divisions in the church. Therefore, Paul repeated again that the wisdom of the world was of no use (see 1Cor. 1:18-29).

  In the original, “among you” is closely connected with the phrase “in this age”. It is quite interesting. Many believers at Corinth were seemed in the church, but were actually living in the age and walking according to the principles of this age. 

  “Let him become a fool”, it means that he is shaken up out of the wisdom of man and is no longer “think he is wise in this age”. “Let”: it gives a clear suggestion.

“That he may become wise”, it is the true wisdom (see 2Cor. 2:6).

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The wisdom of the world often makes men deceive themselves. Once a man obtains the wisdom of the world, he may despise the spiritual wisdom. The knowledge of the world sometimes may hinder man from receiving spiritual wisdom.

2)    As ancient saying goes, “if an ignorant man does not know his ignorance, he is a fool ---- we should keep away from him. And if an ignorant man knows his ignorance, he is a wise man ---- we should instruct him”. The only way of becoming wise is to know our foolishness. The only way of obtaining learning is to confess our ignorance.

3)    One who is complacent cannot be taught. Plato says, “The wisest man knows that he is poor in many things, so he seeks wisdom earnestly”.

4)    He who desires to obtain real spiritual revelation must think counter to the values of the wisdom of the world. In other words, if one really desires to have true spiritual mind, he should become “foolish” in the eyes of the world and forsake “the wisdom of the world”, thus receiving true wisdom.


1Cor. 3:19 “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness";”

   YLT: “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, for it hath been written, `Who is taking the wise in their craftiness;'”

Literal Meaning: “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God”. ---- The wisdom of the world is utterly restricted in the physical realm and cannot surpass the realm to see further or deeper things. Such wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of God (see 1Cor. 20).

“For it is written”, it is quoted from the Book of Job (5:13).

“He catches the wise in their own craftiness", he who is wise is even stumbled by his wisdom. Man thinks the wisdom of the world is powerful, so he wants to learn spiritual things by the wisdom of the world. However, he has finally misunderstood spiritual things as a result of his own wisdom.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    All those who think they are wise are deceiving themselves. If man does not receive Christ as his wisdom, there will be full of traps in the way of his life. And all his life and works shall fall into the traps of Satan.

2)    The craftiness of man can only deceive man, not God.


1Cor. 3:20 “and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." ”

   YLT: “and again, `The Lord doth know the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain.'”

Meaning of Words: “futile”: vain, useless, fruitless;

Literal Meaning: “and again”, the following scriptures are quoted from the Book of Psalms (94:11).

  “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile”, “the wise” refers to those who have the wisdom of the world. “Futile”, it indicates that the wisdom of man is transient and has no eternal value (see Ps. 94:11), but they still boasts of it and are arrogant.

  Here, it shows that God knows the thoughts of man and nothing can be hidden before God. And God knows that the thoughts of man are of no value.

Enlightenment in the Word: the wisdom of the world is only restricted in the limited physical sphere and the limited life or talent, and cannot enter eternity. Therefore, the ideals of many people are only vain dreams that cannot be realized. They shall also perish eventually. 


1Cor. 3:21 “Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours:”

   YLT: “So then, let no one glory in men, for all things are yours,”

Literal Meaning: “therefore let no one boast in men”, “boast in men”, to boast of following a certain leader; the mind of adoring leaders is the main element of the divisions of the church.

“For all things are yours”, “all things” include all the workers of the Lord, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come (v.22). What the church inherits in Christ is really measurelessly rich (see Rom. 8:32).

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The carnal one boasts of man who is created, but the spiritual one boasts of the Lord who creates all things.

2)    Christians should know that all things in Christ surpass all things in the world. If we Christians boast of the wisdom of the world and the insignificant men, we have just cheapened ourselves, for in the grace of Christ “all things are ours” and we are of Christ (see v.23). Therefore, we should boast of Christ so as not to be partial to others.

3)    The church shall inherit all things with Jesus Christ (see Eph. 1:10-11). Therefore, the church should boast of Christ who is above all things instead of having divisions or boasting of men.

4)    To uphold any worker of the Lord will bring us loss, not profit. The measurelessly precious treasure does belong to believers, but they are willing to give up the treasure for the sake of a certain worker.

5)    If one identifies himself with the party groupings, he just puts himself on the position of bondman. However, believers in fact should be masters of all things, not belong to any individual or group.


1Cor. 3:22 “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours.”

   YLT: “whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things about to be -- all are yours,”

Literal Meaning: “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas”, they refer to the workers of the Lord. The workers of the Lord belong to those whom they serve ---- believers and the church.

“Or the world or life or death”, to believers who live for the Lord, “the world” exists for us. And if it is really to live is Christ to us, to die will gain (see Phil. 1:21).

“Or things present or things to come--all are yours”, what the church inherits in Christ is not limited by this age.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    Believers who are carnal at Corinth think they are “of Paul”, or “of Apollos” (v.4). Paul says the workers belong to believers. Therefore, no matter how perfect the gifts of God’s workers are, or how great their functions are, the workers are still for and of the church. They have no special position that above the church.

2)    No matter how effective the works of the Lord’s workers are, they can still not be compared with Paul. No matter how eloquent the Lord’s workers are, they can still not be as powerful as Apollos (Acts 18:28). No matter how great the workers of the Lord’s are, they cannot be greater than Peter. However, all of them belong to the church. How do the workers of the Lord become the masters of the church today?

3)    Someone claims that this verse is “the list of the possessions of the children of God”. The servants of God are ours, so it is foolish if we say we belong to any of them. Besides, the world is ours. Since we are joint-heirs with Christ, we will possess the world one day.

4)    “Life” is ours. It refers to not only the existence on the earth today, but also the realest and richest life. The life in Christ is the only true life. Since Christ has overcome the death, believers’ “death” is not evil news but “profit” (see 1Cor. 15:55-57), though those who have not believed the Lord regard death as adversity.

5)    All the experiences in life, including the death itself are of believers, and they will finally profit believers.

6)    Things present and things to come are ours, it shows that all things work for those who love God (see Rom. 8:28). Robeson said, “to the one who partakes God’s counsel of redeeming all the nations, all the stars in the circle are fighting for him”.

7)    Paul here has not mentioned things in the past. May be it is because what has passed away is not our responsibility and we can do nothing to change things in the past. However, things present and things to come are different, for they belong to those who believe the Lord ---- they can cooperate with God in His counsel.

8)    Those who cause divisions in the church have given up their rights of enjoying all things, but have thrown all their power and hearts into some insignificant things and restricted his life within a small circle. How foolish!

9)    As long as a worker of God has the gift of God, no matter whom he is, he should be commonly received. However, if one feels in his spirit or manifests in his actions that he is of a certain worker for he has received many provisions from that worker. It is conversed!


1Cor. 3:23 “And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”

   YLT: “and ye Christ's, and Christ God's.”

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    We can see clearly an order from verse 23 and 24: the first is God, and the second is Christ, and the third is the church (believers) and the fourth is the workers.

2)    If the church belongs to a certain worker of God, she has not been directly belonged to the Head Christ ---- “you are Christ's, and Christ is God's”, nor been governed by Christ solely.

3)    We believers should have the testimonies of life worthy of being called that “we are Christ’s”. Our life shall bear witness of our position.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


The Features of Babes in Christ

A.   Who are not spiritual, but carnal (v.1);

B.   Who can only drink milk, but not eat solid food (v.2);

C.   There are envy, strife, and divisions among them in the church (v.3).

D.   Who uphold spiritual leaders (v.4);


The Carnal Christians

A.   Their life is young ---- babes (v.1);

B.   Their mind is poor ---- cannot eat solid food (v.2);

C.   Their bowels are small ---- envy and strife and divisions (v.3);

D.   Their visions are narrow ---- I am of one certain worker (v.4);


The Workers of God

A.   Who are ministers (v.5);

B.   Those who plant and water (v.6);

C.   Who are fellow-workmen (v.9);

D.   Who belong to believers (v.22);


Why Should Believers not Uphold the Workers of God?

A.   The workers of God are nothing but ministers who serve believers only (v.5).

B.   The workers of God plant and water the field only and yet cannot give them increase (v.6-7).

C.   The workers of God should be responsible to God. We have no right to judge them (v.8).

D.   The workers of God are for believers and are ours (v.21-22).


The Reasons Why the Workers of God Should not Scheme for Power

A.   Concerning the hearts of the workers:

1.    They should be fellow workers and be one-minded, not have contentions (v.5-15).

2.    They should only desire to work and serve instead of distributing the possessions of the Lord (v.16-23).

B.   Concerning the positions of the workers:

1.    The workers of the Lord are equal. Believers should not show partiality to the workers (v.5-15).

2.    The workers of the Lord are all servants of the Lord. They are not higher than believers (v.16-23).


What Christians Are and What Christians Need

A.   Who are God's field (v.9):

1.    Who need to be planted (v.6-8) ---- namely, preaching the gospel;

2.    Who need to be watered (v.6-8) ---- namely, providing spiritual food;

3.    Who need to be grown up (v.6-7) ---- namely, spiritual growth;

B.   Who are God's building (v.9):

1.    Who need to lay good foundation ---- namely, Jesus Christ (v.10-11);

2.    Who need to build on the foundation ---- namely, the works of God’s workers (v.10);

3.    Who need to build with gold, silver and precious stone ---- the work should pass the trial of fire (v.12-15);

C.   Who are the temple of God (v.16):

1.    Who should honor the Spirit of God that dwells in them (v.16);

2.    Who should not defile temple (v.17);

3.    Who should keep the holy nature (v.17);


See the Nature of the Workers From the Three Parables

A.   The parable of the field ---- though the works of the workers are different, they have still not given the increase (v.5-7);

B.   The parable of the building ---- the worker should take heed how he builds on it and should be responsible to the Lord (v.13-15);

C.   The parable of the temple ---- the workers of the Lord should not be masters, for God is the Lord of the temple (v.16-17);


See Our Duties From the Three Parables

A.   The parable of the field ---- we should do our own work (v.8);

B.   The parable of the building ---- one should take heed of our work (v.13-15);

C.   The parable of the temple ---- one should keep our holiness (v.16-17)


One Should Take Heed How He Builds His Work

A.   Are we really “fellow workers of God” in the works of building? (v.9)

B.   Is the foundation of building “Jesus Christ” only? (v.11)

C.   Are the materials of building “gold, silver and precious stones” only? (v.12)

D.   Can the work of building endure the “trial of fire”? (v.13)


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou