Exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:16-23, For the person who wants to have it all

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

16 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.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Verse 16 introduces a third metaphor, the church as God’s temple. Paul has been using the metaphor of constructing a building (1 Cor. 3:9b-15), but now he increases the stakes by saying the building is God’s temple and that the Corinthian Christians — even if scattered in house churches — are that temple! The Holy Spirit among them is proof enough of that.

The “don’t you know” style of question occurs ten times in the letter and works to puncture the arrogant claim from the Corinthians that “we all possess knowledge” (1 Cor. 8:1). However, the spiritual danger was greater than they imagined. In relation to verse 17, David Garland points out: “While some builders may do a lousy job of building on the foundation and their work will be consumed, some work moves beyond mere shoddiness and becomes destructive.”[1]

The clarity of 1 Cor. 3:17 presents a serious question. Garland Fee says: “The theological question as to whether a true believer could be destroyed by God lies beyond Paul’s present concern. . . . That these people were members of the Corinthian community seems beyond reasonable doubt; that Paul is also serving up a genuine threat of eternal punishment seems also the plain sense of the text.”[2] The ESV Study Bible concludes, “The one who destroys God’s temple (in this context, the church) is not part of God’s people and so faces eternal destruction on the last day.”

The updated NIV leaves the mistaken impression that verse 18 is speaking to the whole church, but it is addressed to individuals. “Guard against self-deception, each of you” (NET) is better. About what are they deceived? They regard themselves as wise, full of knowledge and spiritual. Fee shows how Paul uses humor to skewer this pompous attitude: “The opening salvo is irony once again: ‘If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age.’ Of course they do; that is quite the point.”[3]

It is astonishing that this critique fits so well in relation to America in 2017. Many ignore Christ crucified — or even scoff — and it is fashionable to leave God out of any serious thinking about the present or the future. Roman Corinth is not so far away!

In 1 Cor. 1:18-25, Paul spoke about how an unbelieving world and its rulers considered God’s wisdom to be foolishness. But 1 Cor. 3:18-20 says that God regards human wisdom as foolishness. Humanity does not know his thoughts — except for those who accept his revelation of them — but he knows all human thoughts and knows their wisdom is foolishness.

As he so often does, Paul quotes the Old Testament to prove his point (1 Cor. 3:19-20). God had warned against human wisdom long ago, but the Corinthians are self-absorbed and faction-absorbed and they do not know that fact, or possibly chose to ignore it.

The way Paul wraps up his argument (1 Cor. 3:21-23) is remarkable but a bit difficult to grasp at first. Suppose for a moment that you — like the Corinthian believers — wanted greater influence, access to power and a way to have a life of significance. With that assumption in mind, suppose you had your choice of three jobs: (1) chief of staff for the mayor of Dallas, (2) chief of staff for the governor of Texas, or (3) chief of staff for the president of the United States. Which one would you take? The obvious right answer is the last.

When the Corinthians say, “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos,” they are choosing a factional role that is even less significant than #1 above. That is really stupid when they all have the right to say I am of Christ, a role that is infinitely greater than #3 above. Because you are of Christ, and Christ is of God (1 Cor. 3:23), it follows that all things are yours (1 Cor. 3:21b).

Here again we arrive at the importance of our identity in Christ. By being in Christ, that is through our joining in his death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-14), all things become ours. In Christ we have it all!

Copyright 2017 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) 120.

[2] 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) 148, footnote 19.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 151.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:6-10a, Gods wisdom revealed in Paul’s message

1 Corinthians 2:6-10a

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” the things God has prepared for those who love him 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

After his rejection of human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1-5), Paul recounts his own message of wisdom among the mature (1 Cor. 2:6). In todays passage, he presents:

  • The origin of the wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6b-9)
  • The means by which the wisdom is revealed (1 Cor. 2:10-13)
  • The recipients of this wisdom (1 Cor. 2:14-16a)
  • The outcome of this wisdom (1 Cor. 2:16b).[1]

Paul explains these four points using a series of contrasting statements. As we get into them, you will do well to keep in mind Fees insight: The real contrast is therefore between Christian and non-Christian, between those who have and those who do not have the Spirit. Pauls concern throughout is to get the Corinthians to understand who they are — in terms of the cross — and to stop acting as non-Spirit people.[2]

First, the wisdom that comprises Pauls message is not from this age or its rulers but comes from God (1 Cor. 2:6b7). By this age he means the entire worldly arrangement of power, relationships, money and ideas that opposes God — an arrangement we still have in 2012 — which is already being replaced by the final age to come in which Christ reigns forever.

Fee defines the word mystery by saying that it ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but now revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit.[3] Fee goes on the explain that the mystery is also paradoxical in that it consists of the crucifixion — an expression of the greatest shame and degradation — of the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). Before time began, God determined that his people would attain glory through union with a crucified Christ.

If the rulers of this age had known this mystery, they would never have sealed their own downfall by crucifying Christ (1 Cor. 2:8). The irony is sweet. Paul concludes this idea by quoting a semi-poetic statement of Jewish reflection on the Old Testament (1 Cor. 2:9-10 citing Isa. 64:4):

What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived [human wisdom, so treasured by the Corinthians, drew a complete blank] — the things God has prepared for those who love him [which is Christ crucified, to win glory for his people] —10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit [Christ has been crucified and the significance is now unveiled to Gods people].

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) 90.

[2] 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) 101.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 105.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, The power is always from God

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Not only did Paul stick to the crucifixion of Christ as the message during his time in Corinth (1 Cor. 2:2), but he also reminds them that fancy rhetoric and human philosophy played no part in his presentation of the testimony about God (1 Cor. 2:1). Paul is not expressing anti-intellectualism here; he is running toward, and not away from, the message that is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23): Christ crucified.

Verse 3 is difficult, but it probably means that Paul was all-in with his counter-cultural approach to speak the message without the strength and boldness of a cultured orator.[1] One indication that this explanation is correct is that verse 4 says that in different words. The marvelous result of this modest method is that any result — such as those who trusted in Christ through the message — could only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit. By eliminating the negative clause, Paul says, “My message and preaching [came] . . . with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4). As a result, no one in Corinth could ever say that Paul used persuasion or rhetorical tricks to bring people to Christ. The many new Christians could only be a result of God’s power.

How could Paul speak of the Spirit’s power? In Acts 18:7-8, we learn that when Paul finished his preaching in the synagogue, the synagogue leader and his entire household trusted in Jesus as their Messiah and were baptized. Not long afterward, the Lord — meaning Jesus — spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

When the Holy Spirit is at work, the simple message of Jesus crucified is all you need.

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) 85.

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 1:18-25, God’s power and wisdom: Christ crucified

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

In verse 17 Paul has rejected words of eloquent wisdom (ESV) as not having anything to do with what God has done in the cross of Christ. Now, in verse 18, he adds that the “word of the cross” (ESV) divides the world into two parts: those who are perishing and [we] who are being saved.

The Greco-Roman system offered human wisdom — including philosophy, rhetoric and military power — as a solid basis for life, leading to the constant scramble for wealth and power. The cross of Christ stands in utter contradiction to all that. Garland summarizes: “The story behind Jesus’ death discloses that he was rejected by the very people he came to save, was deserted by his own disciples, was strung up by the proper authorities, and apparently was powerless to save his own skin.”[1] But God used this seeming defeat to pay the penalty for all sin, to reconcile humanity to God and to be the basis for those who commit themselves to Jesus to be eternally saved.

The choice is simple: jump into the Great Game of the World and join those who are perishing or rely on the cross of Christ, which made it possible for us to join those who are being saved. Paul immediately summons Old Testament Scripture (Isa. 29:14 LXX) to support his argument against human wisdom. The whole reason that human wisdom will not prevail is that God will not allow it to succeed! I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

In 1 Cor. 1:20, we find three different types of human experts representing rationalism, Jewish law, and Greek rhetoric. The idea behind the repeated “where is . . .?” is that in the realm of knowing God those three are not to be found. Garland says, “One can know God only according to the cross, not through human wisdom.”[2] The wisdom of the world is a general way of assessing life that is egocentric, and it leads away from the cross and its shame.

But the Bible informs us that our kind and loving God did not leave us in this clueless state. He both sent Christ to die for us on the cross and sent emissaries to tell how those who believed could be saved (1 Cor. 1:21). This belief consists of accepting the kindness of God-given to us in Jesus Christ.

Paul looks into the culture of his day and sees some demanding one sort of divine proof and others demanding another form, but God is revealing Christ crucified by preaching the message, no matter how it is received (1 Cor. 1:22-23). Garland explains: “The called . . . is parallel to those who believe in 1:21 and us who are being saved in 1:18. Part of being called is being able to hear God’s call and being open to it.”[3] Christ is both power and wisdom in one person.

Paul again displays his sarcasm in 1 Cor. 1:25, because there is no such thing as “the foolishness of God” or “weakness of God.” Only those committed to the world’s alleged wisdom and strength would discuss it as if it were comparable to God’s wisdom and strength. The death of Christ overturned all earthly wisdom, and the resurrection of Christ overwhelmed those powers resisting it.

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) 61.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 67.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 70.