Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:12–20 God’s choice about gifts must prevail

1 Corinthians 12:12–20

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul began his letter to the Corinthians by expressive his anguish over divisions in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:10–13). Throughout the letter he has appealed for unity and the love necessary to sustain it. He continues that theme in our passage by using a metaphor the believers in Roman Corinth would understand: the human body and its various parts.

The Corinthians would have found this metaphor familiar in two ways. First, Corinth had an important temple of Asclepios, the god of healing. The Corinth Archaeological Museum contains “a large number of terra-cotta models of heads, hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, ears, and every part of the body . . . [created] in prayer or in thanks for restoration of health.”[1] Second, the Corinthians would have understood language about the body and its parts “as language traditionally used to argue for unity on the basis of a hierarchical political structure.”[2] (emphasis original). Since ancient political writers used this metaphor to appeal for unity within a city or larger group of people, Paul did the same.

Several times in our study of 1 Corinthians, we have looked at the organization of Paul’s argument to help us understand it better. David Garland shows that the literary structure for this week’s biblical text fits a pattern of ABBA, meaning that the verses labeled “A” complement each other, as do the verses labeled “B.” In this case that looks like this:

A   The body as one but with many members (12:12–14)

      B   The inescapable diversity of members within the body (12:15–20)

      B   The inescapable interdependence of members of the body (12:21–26)

A   The differing functions within the body (12:27–31)[3]

Today we will cover the first AB of the pattern. Concerning verse 12, Thiselton argues that the grammar puts greatest emphasis on Christ, next most emphasis on the unity of the one body, and third most emphasis on the plurality of the parts of the body.[4] Garland supports this idea by saying, “’Unity dominates diversity and makes diversity genuinely meaningful and constructive.’”[5] Keep in mind that the metaphor involves the human body, but the way that metaphor was understood in Roman Corinth involved unity within a hierarchical structure. The one at the top of the hierarchy is plainly Christ the Lord.

Gordon Fee explains Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 12:13 by saying: “What makes the Corinthians one is their common experience of the Spirit . . . . The Spirit is essentially what distinguishes the believer from the nonbeliever (2:10–14).”[6] Since Romans 8:9 also makes it abundantly clear that having the Holy Spirit is the difference between being a Christian or an unbeliever, we get some clarity on the baptism referred to in verse 13. This cannot be a reference to water baptism because those who trust in Christ do not do so while being baptized in water. Instead, baptism in this verse is a metaphor for the immersion in the Spirit that happens to “all,” whether “Jews or Gentiles, slave or free” (1 Cor. 12:13), at the moment of salvation.

Paul again changes metaphor in the clause “we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13b). The Greek verb can mean drink or even refer to “being watered, saturated or drenched in the Spirit”[7] as it does in 1 Cor. 3:6–8.

Since 1 Cor. 12:13 is the only place in the New Testament where the biblical text expressly speaks of baptism in/by the Spirit, it has unfortunately been used by some Christian groups to support the idea of a Spirit-experience at some time after salvation. Thiselton explains why this idea is wrongheaded: “Any theology that might imply that this one baptism in 13a in which believers were baptized by [or in] one Spirit might mark off some postconversion experience or status enjoyed only by some Christians attacks and undermines Paul’s entire argument and emphasis.”[8] (emphasis original).

Verse 14 strikes a blow against anyone who would try to exalt one spiritual gift as the sole mark of spirituality. It also ties the need for diverse gifts to the created order. Garland aptly states: “One person alone, no matter how gifted, cannot play a Beethoven symphony, act a Shakespearian tragedy, or compete against another team. The same is true in the church.”[9]

1 Cor. 12:18 shows us that God is the one who has placed the parts of the body into their harmonious arrangement, and he does not need any help from those who think they have a better design. It was God’s creative choice to have the body consist of many parts, not just one (1 Cor. 12:19). But those many parts work together to function as a single body (1 Cor. 12:20).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 7.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 992.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 589.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 996.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 590, quoting M.L. Soards.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 603.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1000-01.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 997-98.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 589.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:4–7 Paul’s synopsis

1 Corinthians 12:4–7

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Compare 1 Corinthians 12:1 with 12:4, paying attention to the word translated “gift.”

 Now about the gifts (pneumatikos) of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Cor. 12:1)

 There are different kinds of gifts (charisma), but the same Spirit distributes them. (1 Cor. 12:4)

 The Greek word translated “gifts of the Spirit” in verse 1 (pneumatikos) means “having to do with the divine Spirit.” It could be a reference to either “spiritual things” or “spiritual persons.” The English versions have translated pneumatikos in a more specific manner in 1 Cor. 12:1 due to the context beginning in verses 4–6, where Paul begins his extensive argument about spiritual gifts. But this contextual translation obscures the fact that Paul has changed words and uses the Greek noun charisma in verse 4, meaning “that which is freely and graciously given.”[1] This word is closely related to the Greek noun charis, which is usually translated “grace.” God’s grace has come to us through Christ crucified.

So, what is the point? Some of the Corinthian believers — and some believers today — want to focus attention on themselves as spiritual by using the spectacular gift they have been given as proof of their supremacy over others. Paul is saying that emphasis is all wrong! God gave them this spiritual ability as a free gift, a grace-gift, not as their due. All honor should go to the gift-giver, not to the gift-holder.

It is easy to spot the deliberate parallels in 1 Cor. 12:4–6. Note, for example, the phrases “different kinds” and “the same” that occur in each verse. This heavy use of parallel phrasing focuses the mind on the few differences between the verses.

One such difference is the progression “Spirit . . . Lord . . . God,” a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus and God the Father. In short, the entire Trinity is involved in providing spiritual gifts for the good of the church. Further, the Father, the Son and the Spirit are all different, but they are totally unified in their actions. Even the Corinthians should have gotten the hint that the variety of spiritual gifts should operate in unity and not division.

Another progression is the sequence “kinds of gifts . . . kinds of service . . . kinds of working.” At first glance, these phrases seem to focus on the gifting, service or work carried out by each believer, but that misses the point. We have already noted that the gifts are apportioned by the Spirit (verse 4) as a matter of God’s grace or kindness. The different types of service are all designed to honor the same Lord (verse 5). The phrase “kinds of working” (verse 6) speaks not only of work but of bringing about results[2], and Paul attributes this working to “the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6b, NET). So, there is much more emphasis on what God is doing than initially comes to our attention.

Another difference stands out in the parallel phrasing of verses 4–6; it is the phrase “in all of them and in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6).Thiselton explains that in verses 4–6 Paul is succinctly introducing his coming argument in 1 Cor. 12:7–30.[3] So, it is vital right at the start to say that every single Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit. This leaves no room to claim — as some were doing in Roman Corinth and as some are doing today — that only those with certain gifts, notably tongues, could be considered spiritual.

If taking personal credit is a warped attitude about spiritual gifts, what can we say about the right attitude. Thiselton gives us a treasure when he says, “Jean-Jacques Suurmond sums up this issue well: ‘It is not so much a matter of having a gift, as of being a gift.”[4] That comes close to expressing all that Paul is saying about a Christ-centered life in First Corinthians!

Now it should be clearly stated that since God has graciously gifted you as a Christian with a specific spiritual gift, he is expecting results. You are a steward of all that God has given you, and a day has been set for your stewardship to be evaluated. Since your gift is given “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7), it is clear what the evaluation will entail. Heads up!

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 [1] BDAG-3, charisma, gift, q.v.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 933.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 929.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 902.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:1–3 An all-consuming confession

1 Corinthians 12:1–3

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Having dealt with provocative worship conduct and abuses of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11, Paul continues to correct problems within the worship setting in 1 Cor. 12–14. But the problem he addresses is likely the most serious due to the amount of space he devotes to it. It relates to problems he has already addressed in this letter — pride, lack of love, and the scramble for status.

What is this important issue that Paul must address? In yet another example of competitiveness instead of community, some are using the spiritual gift of tongues to exalt their own spiritual status above that of others.

By now we should be accustomed to expect a slow and gradual start in Paul’s argument followed by a hard-hitting conclusion. Accordingly, we must be patient in anticipating his conclusions in chapter 13 (love is superior to all the gifts) and chapter 14 (worship must be conducted decently and in order). For the moment, Paul will concentrate on showing the diversity of spiritual gifts and the unity of the church in needing every one of them.

David Garland takes Paul’s perspective to show how the apostle intends to address the distortion of spirituality in Corinth: “From Paul’s perspective, the basic issues are, What does it mean to be spiritual? and How are Christians to exercise their spiritual gifts in the church?”[1]

Paul gets the ball rolling in 1 Cor. 12:1 by announcing his subject — “gifts of the Spirit” — and adding, “I do not want you to be uninformed.” By putting the matter in these words he is subtly suggesting that they are uninformed in light of what is going on among them. Very slick work, Paul!

Verses 2 and 3 are a lot harder than they look. Garland suggests that Paul describes three religious experiences:

1. Pagan experience: being led astray to dumb idols [verse 2]

2. Jewish experience: declaring Jesus is anathema [verse 3a]

3. Christian experience in the Spirit: confessing Jesus is Lord [verse 3b][2]

NIV follows their normal custom in 1 Cor. 12:2 by using verbal variety (“you were influenced and led astray”) for two Greek verbs that are close relatives. The NIV translation puts the matter into the realm of the mind and suggests inner devotion to dumb idols. But what if Paul is using a more literal activity to illustrate his point? In many cultures a festival parade in the city streets was used to draw adherents along with the action, then into an idol temple and finally to the very foot of the images themselves. Anthony Thiselton says such a scenario is attractive though impossible to prove: “The [festival parade] then symbolizes the ignorance and slavery of the Corinthians’ pre-conversion life, in which they simply followed where they were led, like the sacrificial animals in the procession.”[3] This is the type of “spirituality” the Corinthians had known before. (A lot of Americans are behaving this way in our time.)

As to the Jewish experience Paul is referencing in the first part of verse three, recall that Paul knows he also is writing to some who were converts from Judaism. Paul describes their experience in the synagogue (1 Cor. 12:3a). Garland explains, “Since the evidence reveals that this cursing of Jesus actually occurred in synagogues, it is the most likely background.”[4]

But neither the pagan processions through the streets to idols nor the complete renunciation of Jesus in the synagogue represent spirituality. Only those who confess that “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3b) speak by the Holy Spirit.

We might put Paul’s reasoning in a formal argument:

1. Christians all confess “Jesus is Lord.”

2. Only those who confess “Jesus is Lord” assuredly speak by the Holy Spirit.

3. Therefore, all Christians are spiritual, because they all speak by the Holy Spirit.

As we will soon see, spirituality is not the possession only of those who have the most spectacular or showy gifts of the Spirit. Every Christian is spiritual and every gift is needed for the church to function as it should.

Note carefully that this description of spirituality is Christological. It depends directly on confessing Christ as Lord. Thiselton says that the identification of Jesus as “Lord” is Paul’s favorite description, occurring 220 times in his writings. Thiselton adds, “On one side, Christ takes responsibility for the believer as his or her [Lord]; on the other side, the Lord is the authority to whom the believer is responsible and from whom the believer derives his or her lifestyle and ethics.”[5] This exchange is how the new covenant in Christ’s blood works.

By redefining all Christians as spiritual, Paul lays the foundation for his description of spiritual gifts and their use in the church (1 Cor. 12:4–11). It all starts with Christ as Lord.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 558.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 571.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 912.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 571.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 926.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 Firmly accept your new identity in Christ

1 Corinthians 6:9–11

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Since he has raised the issue of the world’s ways penetrating the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:1–8), Paul negatively describes the future awaiting wrongdoers, those whose behavior matches that of the world (1 Cor. 6:9): they “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” After describing the types of wrongdoers he is talking about (1 Cor. 6:9b–10), Paul then tries to restore the Corinthian believers to a proper understanding of their identity in Christ (1 Cor. 6:11).

It is easy to overlook Paul’s command: “Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9). History and experience amply demonstrate that Christians have taken too casual an attitude toward sin in their own lives. This is especially tragic since God has given us the Holy Spirit, who enables us to refuse sin’s overtures (Rom. 6:1–14).

Paul presents a list of ten practices, five of which are sexual and five of which are not (1 Cor. 6:9b–10). Kenneth Bailey reminds us, “Idolatrous worship in Corinth involved sacred prostitution with the priestesses of Aphrodite/Venus, and thus idolatry in Corinth involved fornication.”[1] Still, if you are counting the list as translated by the NIV, you may come up with only four sinful practices in 1 Cor. 6:9. However, the phrase translated as “nor men who have sex with men” actually includes two Greek nouns. Ben Witherington explains, “The two terms refer respectively, then, to the leading and following partners in a homosexual [encounter].”[2] In other words, either role is unacceptable to God.

The five sexual sins are not said to be any more repugnant to God than the five non-sexual sins listed in 1 Cor. 6:10. All ten are part of the problems in Corinth and are discussed in different parts of the letter.

In 1 Cor. 6:11, a heavy emphasis lies on the first verb translated “were.” It is a common Greek verb whose form refers to continuous action in past time. What time is that? The remainder of the sentence makes it plain that the time of such behavior was prior to making a commitment of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul looks back on their conversion and probably puts the verb “washed” first for literary reasons; they have been washed clean of the ten sins listed above.

Far too many Christians look upon their conversion to Christ as being related solely to avoidance of eternal punishment; perhaps they add to that an expectation of heaven. But such a conception leaves out all the time between trusting Christ and going to heaven. Gordon Fee tells us, “For Paul there is to be the closest possible relationship between the experience of grace and one’s behavior that evidences that experience of grace.”[3] The Holy Spirit transforms us to live for Christ until he comes!

Paul’s closing emphasis on Christian identity in verse 11 has an implicit command: “Therefore, live out this new life in Christ and stop being like the wicked.”[4]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 178.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 166.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 248.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 245.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:4–8 Live “as you really are”!

1 Corinthians 5:4–8

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The first two verses (v. 4–5) of our lesson have challenged many interpreters. Verse 4 speaks of the assembled church with whom Paul is spiritually present along with “the power of our Lord Jesus.” Note carefully that while Paul orders the expulsion of the man guilty of incest, it is the entire church that must carry out that action. Remember that in 1 Cor. 3:16–17, Paul said: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” The church’s toleration of blatant incest — along with their spiritual complacency — is destroying the church in Corinth!

The most convincing analysis of 1 Cor. 5:5 arises from demonstrating that Paul, drawing on his familiarity with the Old Testament prophets, uses a literary structure with certain verses being parallel to others. If, for example, we could show an A-B-A literary structure was present, this would mean that the two verses labeled with the letter “A” were similar and thus could be used to clarify each other. In our case, such a pattern does exist[1] and 1 Cor. 5:2b is parallel to 1 Cor. 5:5a. Let’s put those two verses together and see what we learn.

1 Cor. 5:2b = “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this”

1 Cor. 5:5a = “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”

What does the comparison of these two verses tell us? Many have puzzled over the meaning of 1 Cor. 5:5a, wondering what “hand . . . over to Satan” might mean. The Greek verb for “hand over” has an ominous history; it is used in the Gospels for handing over Jesus for trial by the Jews and later Pontius Pilate, so it means here to give into the custody of Satan. Similar language occurs in 1 Tim. 1:20 in relation to two men guilty of blasphemy.

Anthony Thiselton further explains, “Consigning to Satan means ‘putting him outside the sphere of God’s protection within the church, and leaving him exposed to the satanic forces of evil in hope that the experience would cause him to repent and return to the fellowship of the church.’”[2] The last part of that quotation might seem confusing to those who thought “the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5a) meant physical death, but the interpretation affirmed here is that the word “destruction” has metaphorical force.

For that matter, “flesh” is also metaphorical. Gordon Fee explains, “’Flesh’ means the whole person as oriented away from God.”[3] David Garland similarly says that ‘flesh’ is “the sin-bent self characterized by self-sufficiency that wages war against God.”[4]

How do we know that “destruction” does not mean death? Consider the purpose stated for putting the man out of the church: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b). Thiselton says, “What is to be destroyed is the ‘self-glorying or self-satisfaction of the offended and perhaps also of the community.”[5] Of course, Paul does attribute some deaths in the Corinthian church to abuse of the communion table (1 Cor. 11:30).

In 1 Cor. 5:6, we begin a section in which Paul uses three metaphors about leaven and Passover. To unravel its meaning requires some background.

Modern Bible translations sometimes fail to distinguish between leaven and yeast. Unlike today, yeast was generally unavailable in the ancient world. C.L. Mitton explains: “In ancient times, instead of yeast, a piece of dough [called ‘leaven’] was held over from one week’s baking to the next. By then it was fermenting, and so could cause fermentation in the new lot of dough, causing it to rise in the heat.”[6] This was handy but not safe because dirt and disease could be passed from week to week. The Jewish feast of Passover broke the leaven cycle and was followed by eating unleavened bread for seven days (Lev. 23:6). That information will help.

Consider the following A–B–A literary structure in 1 Cor. 5:6–8 (ESV):

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? OLD LEAVEN A
7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. New Dough
For Christ, our Passover lamb, CHRIST/LAMB B
has been sacrificed. Sacrificed
8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, Feast
not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, OLD LEAVEN A
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Unleavened Bread

(adapted from Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 166).

The sin they are tolerating (“leaven”) affects everyone (v. 6). They must expel the man committing incest (“the old leaven” v. 7a) to demonstrate their renewal in Christ and their true identity as a people no longer dominated (“unleavened”) by the sin of their former lives. Christ died and enabled us to live each day (present tense “celebrate the festival” v. 7b) not as the people we used to be (“the old leaven . . . of malice and evil” v. 8) but as those whose lives show the presence of the Spirit (“the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” v. 8b).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011) 163.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 397, quoting J.T. South, Disciplinary Practices in Pauline Texts (New York: Mellen Press, 1992) 43.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 212.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 175.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 396.

[6] C.L. Mitton, The Gospel according to St. Mark (London: Epworth, 1957) 61.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:1–9 Misunderstanding life in the Spirit

1 Corinthians 3:1–9

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul seriously disagrees with his Corinthian audience about their identity. Certainly they are Christ-followers as shown when he addresses them as “brothers and sisters” (1 Cor. 3:1). They think of themselves “as people who live by the Spirit” while he says that they are “worldly — mere infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1). That is a big difference indeed!

The statement “I gave you milk, not solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2) has generally been misunderstood to mean that Paul was talking about an elementary grasp of the gospel (milk) and a deeper grasp of doctrine (solid food). To the contrary, Gordon Fee says: “For Paul the gospel of the crucified one is both ‘milk’ and ‘solid food.’ As milk it is the good news of salvation; as solid food it is understanding that the entire Christian life is predicated on the same reality [i.e., Christ crucified].”[1]

While the Corinthians thought themselves ready for more than “milk,” Paul says they were not ready when he was with them and still have not become ready (1 Cor. 3:2). The proof is that there is “jealousy and quarreling among you.” What Paul means by “worldly” is explained by the phrase “acting like mere humans” (1 Cor. 3:3), which means people who lack the Holy Spirit.

The factions are wearing masks of spirituality in that one claims to “follow Paul” and another to “follow Apollos” (1 Cor. 3:4). The evident folly of that behavior is that neither Paul nor Apollos are leaders; they are servants given their respective roles by Christ (1 Cor. 3:5). Some in Corinth have believed, but Paul only claims to have “planted the seed” and Apollos merely “watered it” (1 Cor. 3:6). It is, however, God who “has been making it grow” — a Greek imperfect verb indicating continuous action in past time.

Rather than placing their attention on two supposed leaders, the Corinthian believers should focus on God who sent the two servants (1 Cor. 3:5–7). Note that while the one planting and the one watering had a common purpose, they will be individually rewarded “according to their own labor” (1 Cor. 2:8) by the master.

Paul’s metaphors overturn the Corinthians’ viewpoint. In Roman culture it was fashionable to be a client of a powerful leader who could pull you up to a higher place. But Paul says that he and Apollos are only servants, and field hands at that! Paul calls them “co-workers in God’s service” (1 Cor. 3:9).

The Corinthian believers thought themselves in a position to choose among powerful leaders, but Paul says, “You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). David Garland says, “The images convey that the Corinthians are still a work in progress.”[2] After all, it’s hard for a turnip to boast.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 125.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 113.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:10b–13 The Spirit enables us to know God

1 Corinthians 2:10b–13

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

If, as Paul has asserted, human wisdom cannot know God and his wisdom, how can the gap be bridged? Paul’s clear answer is “the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10b). This is explained using a Greek philosophic principle of “like is only known by like,” meaning here that only God can know God (1 Cor. 2:11). Therefore, God must take his knowledge of himself and make it known to us.[1] He did this by sending the Holy Spirit to live within every Christian.

Of course, God also revealed himself through the incarnation, the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as through what is revealed in the Bible. But the focus here is that God has given us his Spirit to aid our understanding of all these sources of spiritual knowledge.

Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12), not least so that we can understand what God has done for us in Christ crucified (“what God has freely given us”). The source of this Spirit is not the world because the Spirit is “from God.” God wants us to understand him and intends that we do so, so he has arranged to make it possible.

For God to do this for us is another act of grace or kindness that is hidden within the language “what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12). This is the Greek verb charizomai, which has the same root as the noun for “grace.” One Greek reference says: “The verb . . . is used primarily in connection with the decisive, gracious gift of God. Rom. 8:32 speaks of the all-embracing gift of God in giving his Son (cf. John 3:16).”[2] The verb can also mean to forgive.

In verse 13, Paul returns to his idea in 1 Cor. 2:4, that his preaching to the Corinthians had been “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” He was “explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). So, his message came from God.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 110.

[2] New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Verlyn Verbrugge, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 603.