1 Corinthians 3

In this chapter Paul paints three pictures of the Church and, using these pictures, points out what the ministry is supposed to accomplish.

– The Church is a family and the goal is maturity.

1 Corinthians 3:1-4
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?”

– The Church is a field and the goal is quantity.

1 Corinthians 2:5-9
“so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. 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. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”

– The Church is a temple and the goal is quality.

1 Corinthians 3:9-23
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his 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 man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”


1. THE FAMILY – MATURITY, 1 Corinthians 3:3-4

Paul explains that there are two kinds of saved people:
– Mature (spiritual)
– Immature (carnal)

A Christian matures by allowing the Holy Spirit to teach him and direct him by feeding on the Word.

The immature Christian lives for the things of the flesh, and has little interest in the things of the Spirit.

(Of course, some believers are immature because they have been saved only a short time, but that is not what Paul is discussing here.)

Paul was the “spiritual father” who brought this family into being – 4:15.

During the 18 months he ministered in Corinth, Paul had tried to feed his spiritual children and help them mature in the faith.

Just as in a human family everybody helps the new baby grow and mature, so in the family of God we must encourage spiritual maturity.



a) You can tell the mature person by his diet.

As children grow, they learn to eat different foods.

According to the apostle Paul, they graduate from milk to meat.

“Milk” here could represent the easy things in the Word, while “meat” represents the hard doctrines.

The Word of God is our spiritual food:
Milk – 1 Peter 2:2
Bread – Mat 4:4
Meat – Heb 5:11-14
Honey – Psalm 119:103

Just as the physical man needs a balanced diet if his body is to be healthy, so the inner man needs a balanced diet of spiritual food.

The baby begins with liquids, but as he grows and his teeth develop, he needs solid food.

It is not difficult to determine a believer’s spiritual maturity, or immaturity, if you discover what kind of “diet” he enjoys.

Do you live on Bible stories or doctrines?

Do you want to be tickled or instructed?

Do you want to be enlightened, edified or entertained?

b) The mature Christian practices love and seeks to get along with others.

Children like to disagree and fuss.

Children like to identify with heroes.

The “babes” in Corinth were fighting over which preacher was the greatest: Paul, Apollos or Peter.

When immature Christians without spiritual discernment get into places of leadership in the church the results can be disastrous. 

The work of the pastor is to help the church grow spiritually and mature in the Lord.

This is done by the steady, balanced ministry of the Word – Ephesians 4:1-16.

As the believers grow, they build the church.

‘A maturing Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about.’

Many of the members of the Corinthian church enjoyed “showing off” their gifts but they were not interested in saving one another and edifying the church.

What is the ministry all about?

It involves…
– Loving
– Feeding
– Disciplining
… God’s family so that His children mature in the faith and become more like Jesus Christ.


2. THE FIELD – QUANTITY, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

Paul was fond of agricultural images and often used them in his letters.

Paul believed that the local church is a field that ought to bear fruit.

The task of the ministry is the:
– Sowing of the seed
– Cultivating of the soil
– Watering of the plants
– Harvesting of the fruit.

How did this image of the Church as a “field” apply to the special problems of the Corinthians?

To begin with, the emphasis must be on God and not on the labourers.

Paul, Apollos and Peter were only servants who did their assigned tasks.

It was God who gave life to their efforts.

It is wrong to center the attention on the servants.

Look instead to the Lord of the harvest, the source of all blessings. 

Why compare preachers or statistics?

God is the source of the growth; no man can take the credit!

Furthermore, no one man can do all the necessary work.

This is why Paul argues…
– Paul planted the seed
– Apollos watered it
… But only God could make it grow.


Three main lessons appear from this image:

a) Diversity of ministry

One laborer plows the soil, another sows the seed, a third waters the seed.

As time passes, the plants grow, the fruit appears, and other laborers enjoy reaping the harvest.

b) Unity of purpose

No matter what work a person is doing for the Lord, he is still a part of the harvest.

“The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose.” (verse 8)

Paul, Apollos and Peter were not competing with each other.

Rather, each was doing his assigned task under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

c) The need for humility

It is not the human laborers that produce the harvest, but the Lord of the harvest.

God has ordained that human beings should be His ministers on earth, but their efforts apart from God’s blessing would be failures.

The Corinthians were proud of their church, and various groups in the assembly were proud of their leaders.

But this attitude of being “puffed up” was dividing the church because God was not receiving the glory.

God wants to see increase in His field.

He wants each local church to produce:
The fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23
Holiness, Rom 6:22
Giving, Rom 15:26
Good works, Col 1:10
Praise to the Lord, Heb 13:15
Souls won to Christ, Rom 1:13

Those who serve in ministry must constantly be caring for the soil of the Church.

It requires diligence and hard work to produce a harvest.

Satan is busy sowing discord, lies, and sin.
We must be busy cultivating the soil and planting the good seed of the Word of God, remembering that “each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” (verse 8)

What men may think of our ministry is not important; what God may think is of supreme importance.

Our reward must not be the praise of men, but the “well done” of the Lord of the harvest.


3. THE TEMPLE – QUALITY, 1 Corinthians 39-23

God is concerned that we build with quality.

The Church does not belong to the pastor or to the congregation.

It is God’s church.
“You are God’s building.”

If we are going to build the local church the way God wants it built, we must meet certain conditions:

a) We must build on the right foundation, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11.

The foundation is Jesus Christ.

The Corinthians were emphasizing personalities – Paul, Peter, Apollos – when they should have been glorifying Christ.
The foundation is laid by the proclaiming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And the foundation is the most important part of the building, because it determines the size, shape, and strength of the super-structure.

b) We must build with the right materials, 1 Corinthians 3:12-17

Paul described two opposite kinds of materials.

The Corinthians were trying to build their church by man’s wisdom, the wisdom of this world, when they should have been depending on the wisdom of God as found in the Word.

Gold, Silver, Precious Stones: permanent, beautiful, valuable, hard to obtain

Wood, Hay, Stubble: passing/temporary, ordinary (even ugly), cheap, easy to obtain

This says to me that ministers of the Word must dig deep into the Scriptures and mine out the precious gold, silver, and jewels, and then build these truths into the lives of the people.

The faithful minister can work in the field and see increase, and he can build with the Word of God and see beauty and lasting blessings.

It is a serious thing to be part of the building of God’s temple.
“If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”

So be careful which material you are using!

c) We must build according to the right plan, 1 Corinthians 3:18-20.

We cannot manage a local church only by doing things the same way we run a business.

This does not mean we should not follow good business principles, but the operation is totally different.

There is a wisdom of this world that works for the world, but it will not work for the church.

The world depends on:
– Promotion
– Prestige
– Influence of money
– Influence of important people

The church depends on:
– Prayer
– Power of the Holy Spirit
– Humility
– Sacrifice
– Service

The church that imitates the world may seem to succeed for some time, but it will turn to ashes in eternity.

Though the Church must be identified with the needs of the world, it must not imitate the wisdom of the world.

d) We must build with the right motive, 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

That motive is the glory of God.

The members of the Corinthian Church were glorying in men, and this was wrong.

They were comparing men – verse 4:6. And they were dividing the church by such carnal deeds.

Had they been seeking to glorify God above, there would have been harmony in the assembly.

We must not permit our personal preferences to become divisive prejudices.

Each believer possesses all things in Christ.

Each one of God’s servants belongs to each believer.

If all things belong to all believers, then why should there be competition and rivalry.

Paul admonished:
“Keep your eyes on Christ, and work with Him in building the Church.”