Exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Grace and a test by fire

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Paul consistently gives credit to God, but he does not hesitate to speak about the responsibility God has placed on him. When Paul mentions the grace God has given me (1 Cor. 3:10), Fee says, it would refer especially to his apostolic task of founding churches.[1] The updated NIV says Pauls role was builder, but most other translations say master builder (ESV, NET, HCSB, CEB, NASB, NAB, RSV, NEB, KJV) for the Greek architekt?n, a combination of recognized skill and project oversight.[2] In matters of identity, details matter because it is God who has given us our identity in Christ. In relation to the Corinthians, Paul was not merely a wandering teacher, he was the God-appointed master builder.

Paul changes from the metaphor of the church as a field (verses 6-9) to the church as a building. What makes him a skilled master builder is that he laid the foundation of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 3:11). Now others are building on that foundation, but with what skill? Each one should build with care (1 Cor. 3:10).

Ben Witherington makes the notable point that Pauls work could be harmed either by the Corinthians tinkering with the foundation and changing it or by the Corinthians building the wrong sort of superstructure on the right foundation.[3] The reason to build carefully is based on the certainty that a fiery day of testing is coming to test the quality of each persons work (1 Cor. 3:13). Garland pointedly says, Whether ones work will endure awaits more than the test of time; it awaits the test of the end time.[4]

Whether or not the Corinthians have concern for Pauls opinion, the Day (1 Cor. 3:13) is coming when the fire will test the quality of each persons work. David Garland says, The day refers to the end-time judgment (cf. Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Thess. 2:2). The more fully expanded name is the Day of the Lord, an Old Testament term that Paul converted into the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:8).

Verse 14 seems plain enough — if what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward — and yet it has produced controversy. Gordon Fee says: The theme of reward harks back to v. 8, and suggests that appropriate pay will be given for appropriate labor. For some this has been a difficult idea to reconcile with Pauls doctrine of grace [Gods kindness toward us in Jesus Christ] . . . . How can grace receive pay?[5]

Your understanding of grace — Gods kindness — will be greatly enhanced if you pay attention to what it says about God rather than what is says about us. Out of a heart of love, God sent his Son to die for the sins of the world (John 3:16). This act had nothing to do with obligation and everything to do with the merciful nature of God. On this basis of Christ crucified, this gift of grace, God made it possible for us to accept the amnesty he offered and be saved from eternal judgment.

In a similar way, God was not obligated to offer reward for faithful service, but it pleased him to do so. Jesus expressly taught his disciples that he expected their faithful stewardship until he returned and that they would receive reward commensurate with that service, some more than others. See Luke 19:12-27, Matt. 25:14-28 and Matt. 24:45-51 for the details.

There will be some whose work is consumed by the fire of judgment (1 Cor. 3:15), and yet their salvation will stand. Garland aptly summarizes both outcomes by saying, Brilliant work does not earn salvation; lackluster work does not lose it.[6]

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 137-138.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 308.

[3] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 133134.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)117.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 143.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 118.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:26-30, God’s grace brings him honor

1 Corinthians 1:26-30

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

In this section Paul demonstrates his deep insight into the shape of God’s wisdom and power. He asks the Corinthian believers to look around the room and see the kind of people God had summoned into unity with Christ (1 Cor. 1:26). If God operated his eternal kingdom according to the world’s values — the values of imperial Rome — most of them would never have been allowed in it! But Paul calls them brothers and sisters, so he is placing himself with them, not above them.

When Paul says, “Not many of you were wise by human standards” (1 Cor. 1:26), the italicized portion translates the Greek phrase that means “according to the flesh” (NIV alternate reading). Garland explains that: “It refers to evaluations made by unregenerate [non-Christian] humans employing criteria that are revealed to be bogus in light of God’s measures.”[1] The Greek word for “flesh” (sarx) generally refers to life and behavior apart from God. That is why the flesh is often contrasted with the Spirit, whose presence within a believer is proof that they belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9).

Garland then makes a crucial point: “These worldly norms only factor into the equation those things that can be shown off and admired. They foster boasting and self-reliance, which lead one to spurn God’s truth because it challenges all human illusions.”[2] These concepts will help you understand every part of First Corinthians!

Three times in verses 27-28, Paul speaks of God’s choosing, and three times he uses the phrase “of the world” to speak of the world’s estimation. It was the world that considered foolish and weak and despised those who were willing to entrust their lives to a crucified Christ. But those trusting Christ were the very ones God chose, and the very fact that he chose them will ultimately heap shame on those who clung to the world and its values rather than clinging to Christ.

What, then, do the weak, the foolish and the despised — in the world’s estimation — have to boast about? Only about God! Since God did everything to send Christ and make their salvation possible, he alone deserves the praise. Not one single Christian has anything personal to boast about in relation to their acceptance by God (1 Cor. 1:29). Those who chose the world’s values have even less to say.

God’s grace or kindness is assumed in 1 Cor. 1:30. It is more explicit in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Our salvation is from God (1 Cor. 1:30, HCSB) and “this is not from yourselves” (Eph. 2:8, NIV).

God’s wisdom has been expressed for all time in Jesus Christ. We who have trusted the crucified Christ have received the righteousness, holiness and redemption that come only from union with him (1 Cor. 1:30). Since the only basis for our standing with God comes from God’s grace in Christ, it is him who we brag about. (All Texans take note!)

Copyright 2012 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) 73.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 73.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Unity under the cross of Christ

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Verse 10 marks the sharp transition from prior thanksgiving into issues within the Corinthian church. Paul states from the outset that a problem within the church demands resolution in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:10). Hidden within the English translations is a threefold repetition of the Greek word for “same”: “all say the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10, NET Bible margin) . . . “be restored with the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10b, Common English Bible).

The Greek verb Paul employs for “agree” (1 Cor. 1:10) is colorful. It is used in Mark 1:19 for mending a torn fishing net; it also was used to describe setting a broken bone.[1] The restoration of unity in relation to witness, mind and purpose would satisfy the appeal that there be no divisions among you (1 Cor. 1:10). We do best in applying these ideas when we stress Paul’s solution — a thorough pursuit of unity — rather than entering into speculation about the exact nature of the disagreements in the Corinthian church.

In calling the Corinthians “brothers and sisters” (1 Cor. 1:11), Paul speaks as no Roman would speak except to a blood relative. He is emphasizing their unity in Christ. Paul has had word of actual quarrels in the church that involve people taking different sides. Paul identifies these groups by using the names Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), and Christ (1 Cor. 1:12). The best explanation appears to be that Paul made up the slogans (e.g. “I am of Apollos”) to be put-downs of such petty bickering rather than actual self-designations by the groups involved. He presents a childish caricature to illustrate the presence of radical individuality in the church.[2]

It is likely that the final clause “I follow Christ” is a sample of Paul’s sarcasm,[3] yet it has a literary purpose in that it allows Paul to simultaneously lampoon the divisions while gathering all of the Corinthian Christians under the banner of Christ as he develops his argument.

In 1 Cor. 1:13, Paul resorts to shocking language to make his point. The question “Is Christ divided?” expects the answer yes! By their disunity, it is as if Christ has been torn into parts! Greek grammar next signals that the following two questions (“Was Paul crucified for you?” “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”) expect the answer no. It is absurd to put Paul on the level of Christ, who alone went to the cross for our sins. Equally foolish is the idea that anyone would have been baptized into union with Paul — no!

Almost as an aside, Paul mentions baptizing Crispus and Gaius (1 Cor. 1:14). We learn in Acts 18:8 that Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord. They were among the first to believe Paul’s preaching in Corinth. Another who trusted in Christ was Titius Justus, a Gentile whose large house stood next to the synagogue (Acts 18:7). When Paul mentions in Rom. 16:23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, many believe his full name is Gaius Titius Justus.[4]

Paul returns to the subject of 1 Cor. 1:1, his sending by Christ. He was sent to preach the good news with plain speech about the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:17) because those persuaded by clever rhetoric would not experience the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. No one, then or now, is won by clever speech; we gain salvation only by trusting in Jesus, who died for us on the cross and rose again to a new life for God.

Copyright 2012 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) 43.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 48.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 49.

[4] 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) 62, footnote 71.