For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

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

They might be carnal, and immature, but they were still his brethren, and as such were very different from the unconverted.  As men in general are divided into two classes, saved and lost, so are believers also divided into two categories, spiritual and carnal, obedient or disobedient, for it is obedience or lack of it that makes the difference.  It is to be noted also that the carnal state of the believer is not to be confused with the natural state of the unconverted.  The man in his natural state does not have spiritual life.  The carnal believer does.  The natural man is going to hell; the carnal believer, just the same as his spiritual brother, is going to heaven, but the spiritual believer is walking according to the spirit; the carnal believer, according to the flesh.  The former is yielding his bodily members to the service of the new nature; the latter is yielding them to the service of the old.  Carnal is literally that which pertains to the flesh.

We should note that the new birth makes every believer a spiritual man as distinct from the natural man which he was formerly.  Disobedience makes the spiritual man carnal, but never merely natural.  Only a be­liever can be carnal, but only the new birth can make the natural man a spiritual man.

It wasn’t any lack of ability on Paul’s part that made it impossible for him to communicate with them on the spiritual level.  The lack was theirs.  They were living on the mere natural level, and thereby rendering themselves incapable of comprehending spiritual truths.  In this respect the carnal believer is little different from the natural man, who, as declared in 2:14, cannot understand spiritual things. 

When an audience complains that teaching is above their heads, the fault is rarely with the teacher, but with them, as is certified by the fact that even the most immature believer who is walking obediently can comprehend spiritual truth.

Those addressed by Paul had remained spiritual babes.  They had made no progress in spiritual things.  They had failed to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:20).  And the reason?  They were obeying the impulses of the old nature rather than the new.  One of the first truths a new believer must be taught is that the Holy Spirit will not bypass his will to compel him to live an obedient life.  If he is to live in obedience to the impulses of the new nature (which are those of the Holy Spirit) it is he, the believer, who must make the decisions as to which nature shall have the use of his mind, his eyes, his ears, his tongue, his hands, his feet.  He must by a conscious determination of his own will obey the exhortation of Paul addressed to the Roman believers, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Ro 12:1-2).

Nor should we miss the significance of that word sacrifice.  It embodies the thought of cost.  In other words the rendering of that sacrifice enjoined by Paul will cost us something.  It means that we will have to give up the things of the world.  And to bring that down to the practical level, it means that we must give up time that has formerly been given to other things.  The transition from spiritual immaturity to maturity cannot be made apart from time given to prayer and the study of Scripture, for it is impossible to obey God if we don’t know His will, and His will is revealed only in the written Word.

It must be remembered, however, that the transition from spiritual infancy to maturity is no more easily made than is the same transition in the physical realm, and that raises the question, Why should I bother to make it?  The answer to that question leads us into yet another realm of discussion.

First, one result of conversion is that the believer loves God, “We love him, because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19), something the natural man cannot do in spite of his claim that he does.  The believer’s love for God is expressed in obedience, as the Lord Himself told His disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15); “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21).  See also verses 23-24.  The disobedient believer contradicts his profession with his lifestyle, and renders his profession suspect.

Secondly, it must be remembered that old habits aren’t easily broken, nor a long-practiced life style easily changed.  We must be prepared to struggle to make the change, and to continue that struggle even in the face of failure, remembering the assurance of Php 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strength­eneth me.”

Finally, the new life will be enjoyed, the Lord’s peace and blessing known, only in proportion to the measure of our obedience.  We can’t rob God without also robbing ourselves, and disobedience is nothing less than robbing God of the glory which is His due.

“... even as unto babes in Christ.”  Peter reminds us that the only way to progress from spiritual infancy to maturity is by obedience to the written Word, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pe 2:2).  One of the marks of a genuine conversion is a hunger for the Word of God.  Where that hunger isn’t evident the profession is suspect.

3:2.  “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”

They had already been fed with spiritual milk, but the trouble was that they had made no progress, and were still unable to digest any stronger food.  We would do well to examine ourselves in this same area.

3:3.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

The obvious implication is that there ought to have been that progress which would have made them spiritual rather than carnal, and that same progress is what the Lord expects of every believer.

The evidence of their carnality was displayed in their envying (literally jealousy), strife, and division into quarrelling factions, evil things that can’t live in a spiritual atmosphere.  And the context makes it clear that the jealousy, strife, and divisions were not where we might have expected them, in connection with temporal things, but in relation to spiritual matters.  This is less surprising than might at first appear, for we must remember that only a believer can be carnal.  The natural man, having no interest in spiritual things, won’t contend over them except to oppose the Gospel.

When the Apostle declared that they were walking “as men,” he was simply saying that their conduct was contradicting their profession.  They were acting as those who did not possess spiritual life.  Their carnality wasn’t the passive type associated with the immaturity of the new convert: it was the active working of the flesh against the Spirit.  What destruction carnality can work in a company of believers!  These Corinthians were undoubtedly guilty of envying others their possession of literal riches, but in addition, and far worse, they were envying other believers their possession of spiritual gifts!  And whereas they ought to have been striving together for the Gospel, against the forces of evil, they were striving against one another, and thus hindering the Gospel!  Instead of being united against the evil world in which they were to be witnesses for God, they were dividing into warring factions, and bringing the world, its ways, and its thinking into the church.

3:4.  “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”

Their carnality and irrationality were disclosed in that the very leaders under whom they, in their folly, were attempting to place themselves, were bound together in the closest harmony, see verse 8, and Apollos, like Paul, would have also denounced their factiousness.  To be leaders of the different groups in Corinth would have required Paul and Apollos to be themselves at odds.  They weren’t!

3:5.  “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?”

It is generally recognized that “Who then is Paul, etc.,” is correctly “What then is Paul, etc.”  He hastened to point out that he and Apollos, so far from being worthy to be party heads, were them­selves but servants, as he reminded them in his second letter, “For we preach not our­selves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Co 4:5).  He demonstrated the absurdity of their conduct in attempting to place themselves under men who were, in fact, their servants. 

“... even as the Lord gave to every man” is thoug­ht by some to apply to the Corinthians, in the sense that God helped them to believe the message delivered by Paul and Apollos, but the reference seems to be to these two servants, each (Paul and Apollos) did the work given him by God, and by the use of the gift given each by God, which demon­strated the folly of the Corinthians in attempting to make them heads of opposing factions.

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

He and Apollos were simply God’s gardeners, one planting the seed, the other watering it, but both undeserving of any credit for the germination of that seed.  God alone was due that glory.  Only He had that power.  And so is it with all who serve the Lord.  We are simply His workmen.  It is He alone Who can cause the sown seed to germinate.

We are reminded, however, of the need to sow the good seed of the Gospel, so that there may be that upon which God can work; and that seed is to be watered by prayer, and unstinting effort to lead to the Savior, those in whose hearts that seed has been sown.

3:7.  “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”

This would not only rebuke the folly of the Corinthians in having chosen as leaders those who were only servants, but it ought to remind us of the need to keep always before us the fact that we ourselves can do absolutely nothing to produce conviction and repentance  in the hearts of the hearers.  That is God’s work, and His only.  Only God can produce life both in the physical and in the spiritual realm.

For any servant to claim credit for a man’s conversion would be as foolish as for a gardener to claim credit for the growth of the seed he had planted and watered.  Only a fool would claim such credit.  This, however is not to minimize the importance of the work with which God has entrusted us.  There is no work more important than that of spreading the Gospel, nor will any work bring a greater reward on that day when we shall stand at the Bema.  In connection with God’s work, however, Dr John Heading in his book First & Second Corinthians, makes the very pertinent observation, “If we use the wrong soil, the wrong depth or the wrong time of planting, can we expect the methods of nature to take over where we leave off?  The same applies to the service of God.  We have the handbook of His Word to guide in all planting.  He will then take over, provided what we have done fits in with His methods.”

3:8.  “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.”

There was unity between Paul and Apollos, and there is to be similar unity among all who seek to serve the Lord, nor should we forget that we are all given the privilege of rendering that service.

The unity existing between Paul and Apollos was itself the strongest possible rebuke of the divisions that had come into the Corinthian assembly.  Since Paul and Apollos were one, how then could they possibly be leaders of opposing parties?  The very idea was absurd.  Equally foolish are the present divisions amongst God’s people, which cause what is one body in God’s sight, to be divided into warring factions.  Such divisions dishonor God, and attest our own folly.

The unity and equality amongst the workers lie in the fact that they are all contributing to the common work of producing a harvest for God.  This, however, doesn’t annul individual responsibility.  The labor on earth permits of no inequality among the servants, but the rewards bestowed at the Bema will be in proportion to the faithfulness of the stewardship of each individual.  There will be inequality at the judgment seat of Christ, but it will be based, not on the faulty judgment of man, but on the perfect judgment of the Lord Himself.  Anticipation of that day of review and recompense would preserve us from the folly of indolence during our brief sojourn here on earth.

3:9.  “For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.”

Having stressed the unity between himself and Apollos, Paul then went on to emphasize the unity between Master and servants: not only did the servants work together in harmony, but that same accord existed between them and the Master.  While taking the low place of a servant, Paul was careful to emphasize the dignity that belonged to that service.  The servants worked, not only for, but with the Master Himself, a beautiful OT glimpse of this truth being given us in the book of Ruth where Boaz, the gracious beneficent master, is seen working in the field with his servants.  (Kelly rejects this interpretation, declaring it to be “unbecoming and presumptuous,” and suggesting that the proper meaning is that “They were God’s fellow-ser­vants,” i.e., the emphasis is not upon the unity between the servants and the Master, but amongst the servants themselves under God the Master).

Paul however, was equally careful to emphasize the supremacy of that Master Who graciously condescended to work with His servants.  He reminded the Corinthians, and through them, us, that we ourselves are like a field being tilled to produce fruit for God’s glory; a house being built according to His perfect design, so that our work isn’t limited simply to preaching the Gospel to the unconverted: it includes also ministry to those who are of the household of faith.  And in that great work there is ample opportunity for the exercise of all the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit, so that none can say, There is no work for me to do.

3:10.  “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.  But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”

What Paul was he was by God’s grace, that is, his being called to be an Apostle had been apart from any merit on his part, and so is it with all of us.  His work, and his gift had been assigned by God, and if Paul needed that call and endowment, it is clear that he who would attempt spiritual work without similar endowment and commission, is guilty of folly.  The activity of such a man will hinder rather than advance God’s work, as is painfully apparent in Christendom today, where theological education has largely replaced spiritual gift as qualification for ministry.

In describing himself as “a wise masterbuilder” Paul wasn’t boasting, but simply declaring the truth: what wisdom he had, had been given him by God, and so is it with every servant.  The measure of each man’s gift is as given by God, and is unrelated to any ability in the man himself.  As W. E. Vine points out, the word masterbuilder “denotes not a designer but a principal artificer.”

His assigned task had been to lay the foundation of the Church, by preaching the Gospel, but it is the work of others to continue building upon that foundation.  Incidentally, the term “another buildeth thereo­n” certainly includes, but isn’t limited to Apollos.  All who take part in that great work are included.

The exhortation to “take heed” how we build was never more needed than today, for there are many self-willed men, not called by God, who are presuming to put their hands to the work which God has reserved for spiritual men only.  These presumptuous meddlers intrude into a sphere from which God Himself has excluded them, and they do so, forgetting that the day is fast approaching when “the fire shall try every man’s work” (v.13).

Masterbuilder does not imply in any way that Paul was one who directed the work of others, for Scripture makes it perfectly clear that the assignment of each man’s work is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit alone, nor has He delegated that authority to any man, not even to Paul, or to the elders of the assemblies.

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

The foundation of the Church is not a doctrine, but a person - the Lord Jesus Christ, He alone being both the sure foundation stone, and the chief corner stone, rejected by Israel, “... but chosen of God, and precious” (1 Pe 2:4).  Paul had laid the foundation of the church in Corinth, in the sense that he had presented the Lord Jesus Christ to the Corinthians as the One in Whom they were to place all their hope for eternal salvation.  Relative to what is written in Eph 2:20 concerning the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Vine again points out that the words mean simply “the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets; they were not themselves the foundation.”

We should note also that it is first Jesus, and then Christ, for, as noted already, Jesus is the name linked specifically with salvation, while Christ is a title meaning anointed.  It is first as Savior that He is the foundation of the Church.

3:12.  “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;” 

This is one of the few places in Scripture where gold is mentioned before silver.  Usually silver precedes gold, and the reason is obvious: silver represents redemption; and gold, Divine glory.  We must be redeemed here on earth if we hope to behold God’s glory in heaven.  But in the present context we are being reminded that in connection with the work of building Christ’s Church, God’s glory must come first, just as at Calvary, Christ’s sacrifice was first for the Father’s glory, and then for the redemption of a ruined creation.  Whatever service we would seek to render is worthless if it isn’t first for God’s glory.

But since silver represents redemption, and in the present context, the preaching of the Gospel, we are being reminded that God is glorified first by our believing the Gospel, and then by an obedient life employed in willing Spirit-directed service.  Scripture reminds us that obedience is the ultimate expression of worship, e.g., “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sa 15:22). 

A truth that has been lost to the vast majority of professing Christians is that worship, not service, comes first.  We are to come in on the first day of each week to worship, and then go out to serve.  A disobedient Christendom, however, has substituted busy activity for the worship which God desires above all else; and because the Divine order has been abandoned, there is no blessing on all the religious busyness.  What passes in the average church for worship bears as much resemblance to the Scriptural ideal as night does to day.

Silver, however has its proper place in the building.  We must preach the Gospel, for God’s house is built of living stones, i.e., men and women brought to Christ, and there can be no living stones apart from the Gospel.

The precious stones may represent believers, reminding us, not only of the value we have to God, but of the value we ought to have to one another.  The ministry in the Gospel to the unconverted is to continue in a loving care for those who become believers.  Some view the precious stones as being representative of those truths which emphasize the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ, and certainly it is a view which may not be lightly dismissed.

The last three materials, on the contrary, represent that which is worthless.  Wood represents what is human in contrast with what is spirit, and the lesson here is that the unconverted have no place in the assembly.  Those who creep in, or who are brought in, in defiance of God’s Word, will be burnt up.

Here however, the wood speaks primarily of that activity of the believer which is prompted by the flesh and not the Spirit.  All such work will be found to be worthless on that day when we stand at the Bema.

Hay is the food of animals, and would direct attention to what ministers to the flesh.  What caters to the old nature has no part in spiritual work.  Sadly though, the professing church has resorted to a great many things that cater to the flesh, both to bring people in, and then to keep them entertained once they have come in.  All such work will be burned up in the day of judgment.

Stubble is what is left in the ground after the harvest has been reaped.  It would seem to speak of that which is offered to God last.  Instead of giving Him the best of our time and talents, we offer Him what is left over after we’ve given the best to business and pleasure.  We offer Him of our money the barest minimum, after carelessly squandering on ourselves what remains after meeting legitimate necessary expenses.  Some Christians, for example, squander on a restaurant meal, on clothing, on entertainment, what would feed a more frugal family for a week.  God’s estimate of such “left-overs” may be measured in His scathing denunciation of Israel’s having offered him in sacrifice, maimed and sick animals, see, for example Mal 1:7-14.

We should note also what is written in 2 Co 9:6-15 relative to giving, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.  Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudg­ingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver .... Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”  Love expresses itself in giving, God Himself being the great Example, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16).

3:13.  “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”

The context makes it clear that the reference is to the works of believers, not of unbelievers, for there is a very great difference between the two.  Believers will be examined at the Bema after the Rapture of the Church, the purpose of that examination being to determine the amount of reward to be given for the service rendered on earth from the moment of conversion until the moment we enter heaven.  The judgment of unbelievers will be a thousand years later, at the great white throne, after the Millennium, and will be to reveal the degree of punishment to be endured eternally in the lake of fire.

The Bema will be in heaven; the great white thron­e, in space, for no unbeliever will ever enter heaven.

This warning is recorded to remind us of the need to live our lives in view of that coming day of judgment, as did Paul, who wrote, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:13-14).  What unavailing regrets there will be on that day, over time, talents, money, etc., used on earth to please self, instead of in the service of Christ!  As to that which will try every man’s work, the fire here refers to the holiness of God, and reminds us that the standard of judgment will be according to that same absolute holiness.  It will go beyond the deeds, and embrace also the motives.

3:14.  “If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.”

This continues to emphasize that it is not a question of the man’s eternal security, but rather, the testing of the quality of his works, only that which is done for Christ, out of a pure motive, being worthy of reward.  How differently we would live if we, like Paul, had our eyes fixed on “the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”!  He is a wise man who lives in view of that coming day of judgment, evaluating the things of time in the light of eternity, and examining with scrupulous care the motives behind his every activity.

As to the nature of that reward, Scripture indicates that it will be related to the assignment of our place in the administration of the universe as we reign eternally with Christ, see Mt 26:14-29; Lk 19:12-26; Re 3:21; 22:5.  As to the extent of that reward, it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Co 2:9); and concerning loving Him, He Himself has declared, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15); “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (Jn 14:21).  It is our deeds, not our words, that reveal how much we love Him.

3:15.  “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

This deals with the opposite - the case of the man whose work is found to be worthless, and it continues to emphasize that the safety of the man himself is not in question.  It is his works, not he himself, that will be burned up.  The believer can never lose his salvation.  The loss resulting from disobedience will be of reward, not of eternal life.  The picture is of a man whose house, filled with all he possesses, is on fire, and he himself just escapes the flames, but his possessions are consumed in the fire.  So will it be with the believer who has lived for self rather than for the Lord.

3:16.  “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”

Paul now narrows the focus down from the fact that God is building a house, of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation, and believers, the living stones comprising the building, to remind them that they, as a local assembly, and as individuals, are the house of God, for each believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment he is born again until he enters heave­n.  And because we are the temple or house of God, Paul exhorts, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (spiritual worship).  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Ro 12:1).

It is to be noted that the word used for temple or house is literally sanctuary, the place in the Temple which was particularly associated with the presence of God.  This declares the need of holiness in connection with our bodies.  They are not to be used in the service of sin, but rather devoted entirely to the service of God.

Our being the house of God clearly carries with it the implication that just as our houses are for our use, so are we, who are God’s house, to be for His use; and as a house reflects something of the owner’s character, so ought we to reflect in our daily lives the character of God, as it is written, “Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever” (Ps 93:5.)

In his epistle to the Romans Paul reminds his readers that obedience is profitable, not only for eternity, but also for time.  As we are obedient we will prove that God’s will is “good, and acceptable, and perfect,” so that amid all the changing circum­stances of life, we will be able live in the enjoyment of “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Php 4:7).  The seeming adversities will be seen as simply some of the things which God has either ordained or permitted, and which He works together for good to them that love Him (Ro 8:28).

3:17.  “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” 

It is to be noted that in the original defile and destroy are the same word, i.e., ruin, so that the verse is literally, “If any man ruin the temple of God, God will ruin him.”  The word ruin here has the sense, not of annihilation, but of being reduced to a ruin, for no matter how disobedient he may be, the genuine be­liever will never be destroyed in the sense of being annihilated (nor, for that matter, will the unbe­liever).  Just as a house uncared for, eventually assumes the appearance of a ruin, so is it with the disobedient believer.  His life becomes a ruin in the sense that there is no outward evidence of God’s dwelling there.  The Holy Spirit, grieved and quenched, continues to inhabit the “house,” but there is no visible evidence of His being in residence. 

Very often, to the eye of the natural man, there may be much evidence of prosperity in the life of the believer whose life has become a spiritual ruin, for not infrequently, leanness of soul is the concomitant of the pursuit of earthly riches and pleasure.  In such cases, where man, measuring things by the standards of earth, sees prosperity, the eye of God beholds a ruin, for He sees the eternal results of the life lived on earth.  Consider, for example, the case of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, mentioned in Luke 16.  To the eye of man, Lazarus was the “ruin,” but how different from God’s perspective!  The passage of both from the temporal to the eternal state revealed the true condition of each.  So was it with Paul.  His peers, no doubt, considered that he had made a ruin of his life.  Eternity will reveal the error of their estimation, and the wisdom of his choice made that day on the Damascus road when he was given a glimpse of Christ and the glory of heaven.

It is only as our eyes are on Christ, and are blinded to the allurements of earth by the glory of heaven, that our own lives will be preserved from becoming a ruin.

“... for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”  Holy is connected with the idea of separation, reminding us that believers have not only been separated from sin, but also separated unto God.  Holiness is to mark our living, as it is written, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pe 1:15-16).

Having said all this, it must be recognized that Paul’s words may be directed, not to disobedient believers, but to unbelievers whose evil work was wreaking havoc in God’s house, they having crept in there unawares to do Satan’s work amongst the saints.  God will destroy (ruin) them, not by annihilation, but by consigning them, first to hell, and finally to eternal torment in the lake of fire.

3:18.  “Let no man deceive himself.  If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.”

He who prizes worldly knowledge, or thinks that he is wise, deceives himself, and the sad truth is that in our modern world there are many professing Christians making ruin of their lives just because they do prize worldly knowledge above spiritual.  And that this folly is pervasive in the professing church is painfully evident in the extent to which educated, but spiritually ignorant men seize, or are invited to accept, positions which God has reserved only for those He has gifted.  It is almost impossible, for example, for a man, no matter how spiritually gifted, to minister today unless he has a degree in theology; and a man is little likely to be recognized as an elder unless he gives evidence of being a successful administrator in the business world, even though the Word of God is silent as to any administration in the Church, other than that of the Holy Spirit.

When God says, “Let him become a fool,” it is apparent that the obedient believer will be a fool only in the eyes of the unconverted, and the carnal amongst God’s people.  His compensation is that he will be wise in the eyes of God, his wisdom being revealed to all where it matters - in eternity.

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

The world’s wisdom is foolishness with God because it leads men away from Him.  Craftiness is literally “unscrupulous conduct,” which, Vine reminds us, tends to party-making to achieve one’s ends. 

It isn’t clear just how God takes or traps the wise in their own cunning, unless it is that since his natural wisdom makes him the enemy of God, man cannot hope to emerge the victor in that conflict, but will rather, find in the end, that his natural wisdom has made him the victim of God’s anger, whereas spiritual wisdom would have made him an heir of blessing. 

True wisdom shows man his need of a Savior, and leads him to put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ; worldly wisdom, on the other hand, teaches man that he can fit himself for heaven, or deludes him into believing that there is no hereafter, and so accomplishes his eternal ruin.

3:20.  “And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”

The worldly-wise man may refuse to take knowledge of God, but God takes knowledge of man, and while the natural man cannot discern the mind of God, God discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart of every man.  But what the natural man can’t do, the new man can.  Indwelt as he is by the Holy Spirit, he has the capacity to know the mind of God, for His mind is revealed in His Word, and from that same Word the born-again man discovers the justification of his faith, for it reveals that what he was willing at first to accept simply by faith, is, in fact, confirmed also by reason.  That revelation, however, eludes the most brilliant unrenewed mind.

The word vain here conveys the thought of being futile or fruitless.  The most learned speculations of the unbeliever are futile, for they profit him nothing for eternity.

3:21.  “Therefore let no man glory in men.  For all things are yours;”

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:”

The thought here appears to be that of doing what God forbids, namely, the judging of God’s servants (Ro 14:4), and the elevation of one over another, which, in having chosen party leaders, is exactly what the Corinthians were guilty of.  And Paul emphasizes the folly of what they were doing, by reminding them that the very men they were promoting were those who had been given by God to be their servants, and not just the servants of a special clique, but of the whole assembly!

Their folly was further compounded by virtue of the fact that, not only were Paul and Apollos and Cephas their servants, but the whole world was theirs: they would reign over it with Christ.  And life was theirs: they had eternal life; they would live for ever.  Death too was powerless against them.  It could but cause the body to sleep for a little while, but only until the resurrection of life, when that sleeping body would awake, and rise up, glorious, immortal, powerful, spiritual, to meet the Lord in the air.  The present was also theirs, for as those who belonged to God, they lived in the assurance that every circumstance of life was being woven together by God for their good.  And the future was theirs.  They would live for ever as heirs of God, and joint heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ.  What utter folly, then, to be quarrelling over who should be their master, when they themselves were the masters, responsible only to One, the Lord Himself!

3:23.  “And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”

The only One higher than they was Christ Who belonged to God the Father, and Who was Himself God the Son.  Failing to comprehend their glorious standing in Christ, failing to understand the heights to which grace had lifted them, they lived  on the low plane of mere human experience, where mere human wisdom (which was folly in God’s sight, and should have been in theirs) ruled.  How many of us are guilty of the same folly!

[1 Corinthians 4]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough