1 Corinthians 3


Because of the carnal, divided state of the people at Corinth,

the apostle was obliged to treat them as children in the

knowledge of sacred things, 1-3.

Some were for setting up Paul, others Apollos, as their sole

teachers, 4.

The apostle shows that himself and fellow apostles were only

instruments which God used to bring them to the knowledge of

the truth; and even their sowing, and watering the seed was

of no use unless God gave the increase, 5-8.

The Church represented as God's husbandry, and as God's

building, the foundation of which is Christ Jesus, 9-11.

Ministers must beware how and what they build on this

foundation, 12-15.

The Church of God is his temple, and he that defiles it shall

be destroyed, 16, 17.

No man should depend on his own wisdom; for the wisdom of the

world is foolishness with God, 18-20.

None should glory in man as his teacher; God gives his followers

every good, both for time and eternity, 21-23.


Verse 1. I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto

spiritual] This is a continuation of the preceding discourse.

See the notes there.

But as unto carnal] σαρκικοις, Persons under the influence of

fleshly appetites; coveting and living for the things of this


Babes in Christ.] Just beginning to acquire some notion of the

Christian religion, but as yet very incapable of judging what is

most suitable to yourselves, and consequently utterly unqualified

to discern between one teacher and another; so that your making

the distinctions which you do make, so far from being a proof of

mature judgment, is on the contrary a proof that you have no right

judgment at all; and this springs from your want of knowledge in

Divine things.

Verse 2. I have fed you with milk.] I have instructed you in

the elements of Christianity-in its simplest and easiest truths;

because from the low state of your minds in religious knowledge,

you were incapable of comprehending the higher truths of the

Gospel: and in this state you will still continue. The apostle

thus exposes to them the absurdity of their conduct in pretending

to judge between preacher and preacher, while they had but a very

partial acquaintance even with the first principles of


Verse 3. There is among you envying, and strife, and

divisions] ζηλοςκαιεριςκαιδιχοστασιαι. There are three

things here worthy of note: these people were wrong in thought,

word, and deed. ζηλος, envying refers to the state of their

souls; they had inward grudgings and disaffection towards each

other. ερις, strife or contention, refers to their words;

they were continually disputing and contending whose party was the

best, each endeavouring to prove that he and his party were alone

in the right. διχοστασιαι, divisions, refers to their conduct;

as they could not agree, they contended till they separated from

each other, and thus rent the Church of Christ. Thus the envying

and grudging led to strife and evil SPEAKING, and this led to

divisions and fixed parties. In this state well might the apostle

say, Are ye not carnal, and walk as men? Ye act just as the

people of the world, and have no more of the spirit of religion

than they.

Verse 4. For while one saith, I am of Paul, &c.] It was

notorious that both Paul and Apollos held the same creed; between

them there was not the slightest difference: when, therefore, the

dissentients began to prefer the one to the other, it was the

fullest proof of their carnality; because in the doctrines of

these apostles there was no difference: so that what the people

were captivated by must be something in their outward manner,

Apollos being probably more eloquent than Paul. Their preferring

one to another on such an account proved that they were carnal-led

by their senses and mere outward appearances, without being under

the guidance either of reason or grace. There are thousands of

such people in the Christian Church to the present day.

See Clarke on 1Co 1:10, &c.

Verse 5. Ministers by whom ye believed] The different

apostles who have preached unto you the word of life are the means

which God has used to bring you to the knowledge of Christ. No

one of those has either preached or recommended himself; they all

preach and recommend Christ Jesus the Lord.

Even as the Lord gave to every man?] Whatever difference there

may be in our talents, it is of God's making; and he who knows

best what is best for his Church, has distributed both gifts and

graces according to his own mind; and, as his judgment is

infallible, all these dispensations must be right. Paul,

therefore, is as necessary to the perfecting of the Church of

Christ as Apollos; and Apollos, as Paul. Both, but with various

gifts, point out the same Christ, building on one and the same


Verse 6. I have planted] I first sowed the seed of the Gospel

at Corinth, and in the region of Achaia.

Apollos watered] Apollos came after me, and, by his preachings

and exhortations, watered the seed which I had sowed; but God gave

the increase. The seed has taken root, has sprung up, and borne

much fruit; but this was by the especial blessing of God. As in

the natural so in the spiritual world; it is by the especial

blessing of God that the grain which is sown in the ground brings

forth thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold: it is neither the sower

nor the waterer that produces this strange and inexplicable

multiplication; it is God alone. So it is by the particular

agency of the Spirit of God that even good seed, sown in good

ground, the purest doctrine conveyed to the honest heart, produces

the salvation of the soul.

Verse 7. So then, neither is he that planteth any thing] God

alone should have all the glory, as the seed is his, the ground is

his, the labourers are his, and the produce all comes from


Verse 8. He that planteth and he that watereth are one] Both

Paul and Apollos have received the same doctrine, preach the same

doctrine, and labour to promote the glory of God in the salvation

of your souls. Why should you be divided with respect to Paul and

Apollos, while these apostles are intimately ONE in spirit,

design, and operation?

According to his own labour.] God does not reward his servants

according to the success of their labour, because that depends on

himself; but he rewards them according to the quantum of faithful

labour which they bestow on his work. In this sense none can say,

I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought.

Verse 9. For we are labourers together with God] We do

nothing of ourselves, nor in reference to ourselves; we labour

together in that work which God has given us to do, expect all our

success from him, and refer the whole to his glory. It would

perhaps be more correct to translate θεουγαρεσμενσυνεργαι, we

are fellow labourers of God; for, as the preposition συν may

express the joint labour of the teachers one with another, and not

with God, I had rather, with Bishop Pearce, translate as above:

i.e. we labour together in the work of God. Far from being

divided among ourselves, we jointly labour, as oxen in the same

yoke, to promote the honour of our Master.

Ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.] θεουγεωργιον

θεουοικοδομηεστε. The word γεωργιον, which we translate

husbandry, signifies properly an arable field; so Pr 24:30:

I went by the FIELD, γεωργιον, of the slothful; and Pr 31:16:

The wise woman considereth a FIELD, γεωργιον, and buyeth it. It

would be more literal to translate it, Ye are God's farm: γεωργιον

in Greek answers to sadeh in Hebrew, which signifies properly

a sown field.

Ye are God's building.-Ye are not only the field which God

cultivates, but ye are the house which God builds, and in which he

intends to dwell. As no man in viewing a fine building extols the

quarryman that dug up the stones, the hewer that cut and squared

them, the mason that placed them in the wall, the woodman that

hewed down the timber, the carpenter that squared and jointed it,

&c., but the architect who planned it, and under whose direction

the whole work was accomplished; so no man should consider Paul,

or Apollos, or Kephas, any thing, but as persons employed by the

great Architect to form a building which is to become a habitation

of himself through the Spirit, and the design of which is entirely

his own.

Verse 10. As a wise master builder] ωςσοφυςαρχιτεκτων.

The design or plan of the building is from God; all things must be

done according to the pattern which he has exhibited; but the

execution of this plan was entrusted chiefly to St. Paul; he was

the wise or experienced architect which God used in order to lay

the foundation; to ascertain the essential and immutable doctrines

of the Gospel-those alone which came from God, and which alone he

would bless to the salvation of mankind.

Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.] Let him

take care that the doctrines which he preaches be answerable to

those which I have preached; let him also take heed that he enjoin

no other practice than that which is suitable to the doctrine, and

in every sense accords with it.

Verse 11. Other foundation can no man lay] I do not speak

particularly concerning the foundation of this spiritual building;

it can have no other foundation than Jesus Christ: there cannot be

two opinions on this subject among the true apostles of our Lord.

The only fear is, lest an improper use should be made of this

heavenly doctrine; lest a bad superstructure should be raised on

this foundation.

Verse 12. If any men build-gold, silver, &c.] Without

entering into curious criticisms relative to these different

expressions, it may be quite enough for the purpose of edification

to say, that, by gold, silver, and precious stones, the apostle

certainly means pure and wholesome doctrines: by wood, hay, and

stubble, false doctrines; such as at that time prevailed in the

Corinthian Church; for instance, that there should be no

resurrection of the body; that a man may, on his father's death,

lawfully marry his step-mother; that it was necessary to

incorporate much of the Mosaic law with the Gospel; and, perhaps,

other matters, equally exceptionable, relative to marriage,

concubinage, fornication, frequenting heathen festivals, and

partaking of the flesh which had been offered in sacrifice to an

idol; with many other things, which, with the above, are more or

less hinted at by the apostle in these two letters.

Verse 13. The day shall declare it, because it shall be

revealed by fire] There is much difference of opinion relative

to the meaning of the terms in this and the two following verses.

That the apostle refers to the approaching destruction of

Jerusalem I think very probable; and when this is considered, all

the terms and metaphors will appear clear and consistent.

The day is the time of punishment coming on this disobedient

and rebellious people. And this day being revealed by fire,

points out the extreme rigour, and totally destructive nature, of

that judgment.

And the fire shall try every man's work] If the apostle refers

to the Judaizing teachers and their insinuations that the law,

especially circumcision, was of eternal obligation; then the day

of fire-the time of vengeance, which was at hand, would

sufficiently disprove such assertions; as, in the judgment of God,

the whole temple service should be destroyed; and the people, who

fondly presumed on their permanence and stability, should be

dispossessed of their land and scattered over the face of the

whole earth. The difference of the Christian and Jewish systems

should then be seen: the latter should be destroyed in that fiery

day, and the former prevail more than ever.

Verse 14. If any man's work abide] Perhaps there is here an

allusion to the purifying of different sorts of vessels under the

law. All that could stand the fire were to be purified by the

fire; and those which could not resist the action of the fire were

to be purified by water, Nu 31:23.

The gold, silver, and precious stones, could stand the fire; but

the wood, hay, and stubble, must be necessarily consumed. So, in

that great and terrible day of the Lord, all false doctrine, as

well as the system that was to pass away, should be made

sufficiently manifest; and God would then show that the Gospel,

and that alone, was that system of doctrine which he should bless

and protect, and none other.

He shall receive a reward.] He has not only preached the

truth, but he has laboured in the word and doctrine. And the

reward is to be according to the labour.

See Clarke on 1Co 3:8.

Verse 15. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer

loss] If he have preached the necessity of incorporating the

law with the Gospel, or proclaimed as a doctrine of God any thing

which did not proceed from heaven, he shall suffer loss-all his

time and labour will be found to be uselessly employed and spent.

Some refer the loss to the work, not to the man; and understand

the passage thus: If any man's work be burned, IT shall suffer

loss-much shall be taken away from it; nothing shall he left but

the measure of truth and uprightness which it may have contained.

But he himself shall be saved] If he have sincerely and

conscientiously believed what he preached, and yet preached what

was wrong, not through malice or opposition to the Gospel, but

through mere ignorance, he shall be saved; God in his mercy will

pass by his errors; and he shall not suffer punishment because he

was mistaken. Yet, as in most erroneous teachings there is

generally a portion of wilful and obstinate ignorance, the

salvation of such erroneous teachers is very rare; and is

expressed here, yet so as by fire, i.e. with great difficulty; a

mere escape; a hair's breadth deliverance; he shall be like a

brand plucked out of the fire.

The apostle obviously refers to the case of a man, who, having

builded a house, and begun to dwell in it, the house happens to be

set on fire, and he has warning of it just in time to escape with

his life, losing at the same time his house, his goods, his

labour, and almost his own life. So he who, while he holds the

doctrine of Christ crucified as the only foundation on which a

soul can rest its hopes of salvation, builds at the same time, on

that foundation, Antinomianism, or any other erroneous or

destructive doctrine, he shall lose all his labour, and his own

soul scarcely escape everlasting perdition; nor even this unless

sheer ignorance and inveterate prejudice, connected with much

sincerity, be found in his case.

The popish writers have applied what is here spoken to the fire

of purgatory; and they might with equal propriety have applied it

to the discovery of the longitude, the perpetual motion, or the

philosopher's stone; because it speaks just as much of the former

as it does of any of the latter. The fire mentioned here is to

try the man's work, not to purify his soul; but the dream of

purgatory refers to the purging in another state what left this

impure; not the work of the man, but the man himself; but here

the fire is said to try the work: ergo, purgatory is not meant

even if such a place as purgatory could be proved to exist; which

remains yet to be demonstrated.

Verse 16. Ye are the temple of God] The apostle resumes here

what he had asserted in 1Co 3:9:

Ye are God's building. As the whole congregation of Israel were

formerly considered as the temple and habitation of God, because

God dwelt among them, so here the whole Church of Corinth is

called the temple of God, because all genuine believers have the

Spirit of God to dwell in them; and Christ has promised to be

always in the midst even of two or three who are gathered together

in his name. Therefore where God is, there is his temple.

Verse 17. If any man defile the temple] This clause is not

consistently translated. ειτιςτονναοντουθεουφθειρειφθερει

τουτονοθεος. If any man destroy the temple of God, him will God

destroy. The verb is the same in both clauses. If any man

injure, corrupt, or destroy the Church of God by false doctrine,

God will destroy him-will take away his part out of the book of

life. This refers to him who wilfully opposes the truth; the

erring, mistaken man shall barely escape; but the obstinate

opposer shall be destroyed. The former shall be treated

leniently; the latter shall have judgment without mercy.

Verse 18. If any man among you seemeth to be wise] ειτις

δοκεισοφοςειναι. If any pretend or affect to be wise. This

seems to refer to some individual in the Church of Corinth, who

had been very troublesome to its peace and unity: probably

Diotrephes (See Clarke on 1Co 1:14) or some one of a similar

spirit, who wished to have the pre-eminence, and thought himself wiser

than seven men that could render a reason. Every Christian Church has

less or more of these.

Let him become a fool] Let him divest himself of his worldly

wisdom, and be contented to be called a fool, and esteemed one,

that he may become wise unto salvation, by renouncing his own

wisdom, and seeking that which comes from God. But probably the

apostle refers to him who, pretending to great wisdom and

information, taught doctrines contrary to the Gospel; endeavouring

to show reasons for them, and to support his own opinions with

arguments which he thought unanswerable. This man brought his

worldly wisdom to bear against the doctrines of Christ; and

probably through such teaching many of the scandalous things which

the apostle reprehends among the Corinthians originated.

Verse 19. The wisdom of this world] Whether it be the

pretended deep and occult wisdom of the rabbins, or the wire-drawn

speculations of the Grecian philosophers, is foolishness with God;

for as folly consists in spending time, strength, and pains to no

purpose, so these may be fitly termed fools who acquire no saving

knowledge by their speculations. And is not this the case with

the major part of all that is called philosophy, even in the

present day? Has one soul been made wise unto salvation through

it? Are our most eminent philosophers either pious or useful men?

Who of them is meek, gentle, and humble! Who of them directs his

researches so as to meliorate the moral condition of his fellow

creatures? Pride, insolence, self-conceit, and complacency, with

a general forgetfulness of God, contempt for his word, and despite

for the poor, are their general characteristics.

He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.] This is a

quotation from Job 5:13, and powerfully shows what the wisdom of

this world is: it is a sort of craft, a subtle trade, which they

carry on to wrong others and benefit themselves; and they have

generally too much cunning to be caught by men; but God often

overthrows them with their own devisings. Paganism raised up

persecution against the Church of Christ, in order to destroy it:

this became the very means of quickly spreading it over the earth,

and of destroying the whole pagan system. Thus the wise were

taken in their own craftiness.

Verse 20. The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise] They are

always full of schemes and plans for earthly good; and God knows

that all this is vain, empty, and unsatisfactory; and will stand

them in no stead when he comes to take away their souls. This is

a quotation from Ps 94:11. What is here said of the vanity of

human knowledge is true of every kind of wisdom that leads not

immediately to God himself.

Verse 21. Let no man glory in men] Let none suppose that he

has any cause of exultation in any thing but God. All are yours;

he that has God for his portion has every thing that can make him

happy and glorious: all are his.

Verse 22. Whether Paul, or Apollos] As if he had said: God

designs to help you by all things and persons; every teacher sent

from him will become a blessing to you, if you abide faithful to

your calling. God will press every thing into the service of his

followers. The ministers of the Church of Christ are appointed

for the hearers, not the hearers for the ministers. In like

manner, all the ordinances of grace and mercy are appointed for

them, not they for the ordinances.

Or the world] The word κοσμος, here, means rather the

inhabitants of the world than what we commonly understand by the

world itself; and this is its meaning in Joh 3:16, 17; 6:33;

Joh 14:31; 17:21. See particularly Joh 12:19: οκοσμοσοπισω

αυτουαπηλθεν, the WORLD is gone after him-the great mass of the

people believe on him. The Greek word has the same meaning, in a

variety of places, both in the sacred and the profane writers, as

le monde, the world, literally has in French, where it signifies,

not only the system of created things, but, by metonomy, the

people-every body, the mass, the populace. In the same sense it

is often found in English. The apostle's meaning evidently is:

Not only Paul, Apollos, and Kephas, are yours-appointed for and

employed in your service; but every person besides with whom you

may have any intercourse or connection, whether Jew or Greek,

whether enemy or friend. God will cause every person, as well as

every thing to work for your good, while you love, cleave to, and

obey Him.

Or life] With all its trials and advantages, every hour of It,

every tribulation in it, the whole course of it, as the grand

state of your probation, is a general blessing to you: and you

have life, and that life preserved in order to prepare for an

eternity of blessedness.

Or death] That solemn hour, so dreadful to the wicked; and so

hateful to those who live without God: that is yours. Death is

your servant; he comes a special messenger from God for you; he

comes to undo a knot that now connects body and soul, which it

would be unlawful for yourselves to untie; he comes to take your

souls to glory; and he cannot come before his due time to those

who are waiting for the salvation of God. A saint wishes to live

only to glorify God; and he who wishes to live longer than he can

get and do good, is not worthy of life.

Or things present] Every occurrence in providence in the

present life; for God rules in providence as well as in grace.

Or things to come] The whole order and economy of the eternal

world; all in heaven and all in earth are even now working

together for your good.

Verse 23. And ye are Christ's] You are called by his name;

you have embraced his doctrine; you depend on him for your

salvation; he is your foundation stone; he has gathered you out of

the world, and acknowledges you as his people and followers.

υμειςδεχριστου, ye are of Christ; all the light and life

which ye enjoy ye have received through and from him, and he has

bought you with his blood.

And Christ is God's.] χριστοςδεθεου, And Christ is of

God. Christ, the Messiah, is the gift of God's eternal love and

mercy to mankind; for God so loved the world that he gave his only

begotten Son, that they who believe in him should not perish, but

have everlasting life. Christ in his human nature is as much the

property of God as any other human being. And as mediator between

God and man, he must be considered, in a certain way, inferior to

God, but in his own essential, eternal nature, there is no

inequality-he is God over all. Ye, therefore, do not belong to

men. Why then take Paul, Apollos, Kephas, or any other man for

your head? All these are your servants; ye are not their

property, ye are Christ's property: and as he has taken the human

nature into heaven, so will he take yours; because he that

sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified are all of one: ye are

his brethren; and as his human nature is eternally safe at the

throne of God, so shall your bodies and souls be, if ye cleave to

him and be faithful unto death.

1. A FINER and more conclusive argument, to correct what was

wrong among this people, could not have been used than that with

which the apostle closes this chapter. It appears to stand thus:

"If you continue in these divisions, and arrange yourselves under

different teachers, you will meet with nothing but disappointment,

and lose much good. If ye will have Paul, Apollos, &c., on your

present plan, you will have them and nothing else; nor can they do

you any good, for they are only instruments in God's hand, at

best, to communicate good, and he will not use them to help you

while you act in this unchristian way. On the contrary, if you

take GOD as your portion, you shall get these and every good

besides. Act as you now do, and you get nothing and lose all!

Act as I advise you to do, and you shall not only lose nothing of

the good which you now possess, but shall have every possible

advantage: the men whom you now wish to make your heads, and who,

in that capacity, cannot profit you, shall become God's

instruments of doing you endless good. Leave your dissensions, by

which you offend God, and grieve his Christ; and then God, and

Christ, and all will be yours." How agitated, convinced, and

humbled must they have been when they read the masterly conclusion

of this chapter!

2. A want of spirituality seems to have been the grand fault of

the Corinthians. They regarded outward things chiefly, and were

carried away with sound and show. They lost the treasure while

they eagerly held fast the earthen vessel that contained it. It

is a true saying, that he who lends only the ear of his body to

the word of God, will follow that man most who pleases the ear;

and these are the persons who generally profit the soul least.

3. All the ministers of God should consider themselves as

jointly employed by Christ for the salvation of mankind. It is

their interest to serve God and be faithful to his calling; but

shall they dare to make his Church their interest. This is

generally the origin of religious disputes and schisms. Men will

have the Church of Christ for their own property, and Jesus Christ

will not trust it with any man.

4. Every man employed in the work of God should take that part

only upon himself that God has assigned him. The Church and the

soul, says pious Quesnel, are a building, of which GOD is the

master and chief architect; JESUS CHRIST the main foundation; the

APOSTLES the subordinate architects; the BISHOPS the workmen; the

PRIESTS their helpers; GOOD WORKS the main body of the building;

FAITH a sort of second foundation; and CHARITY the top and

perfection. Happy is that man who is a living stone in this


5. He who expects any good out of God is confounded and

disappointed in all things. God alone can content, as he alone

can satisfy the soul. All our restlessness and uneasiness are

only proofs that we are endeavouring to live without God in the

world. A contented mind is a continual feast; but none can have

such a mind who has not taken God for his portion. How is it that

Christians are continually forgetting this most plain and obvious

truth, and yet wonder how it is that they cannot attain true peace

of mind?

Copyright information for Clarke