Divisions in the church. That’s the non-inspired heading in my bible for 1Corinthians 3. That’s the overall topic Paul’s addressing. That’s the context.
And as I sit back and look at my now colored page, it’s all the red-shading that catches my eye — observations about the people of God.
In chapter 3 the following terms are applied to people in the church:
- not spiritual people
- people of the flesh
- infants in Christ
- God’s field
- God’s building
- God’s temple
Hmm . . . pretty diverse set of terms. A split between who they are in Christ and how they’re behaving in the flesh. The family of God but acting like baby brothers and sisters. A spiritual field, but sowing seeds of the flesh. A spiritual temple of God under construction yet acting anything but spiritual and so tearing down rather than building up. Seems that’s the dynamics of division.
Paul’s going to address a lot of issues in this letter to the church at Corinth. But I think it’s significant that the first one he tackles out of the gate is division. He addresses the “jealousy and strife” among them as it’s the evidence that they are “not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (3:3). I’m guessing that behaving only in a human way is probably at the heart of all the stuff Paul’s going to take on later in the letter.
Behaving in a human way. Other translations render it: “living like ordinary people” (CSB); “walking, [or living, or acting] like mere men” (NASB, NIV, NKJV). NLT says “living like people of the world.” Division in the church was a sign of being overly-influenced by the prevailing culture. It stunted their growth as a heavenly temple because it kept bringing in materials valued from an earthly perspective. The world outside influencing the ways of the church inside stunting the growth of the place where God desired to reside. That’s the dynamics of division.
And so, Paul’s exhortation to these baby brothers and sisters:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
(1Corinthians 3:10-11 ESV)
How quickly I apply this verse to me, myself, and I. Thinking exclusively along the lines of, “What am I doing to build on the foundation of my salvation?” But given the context, shouldn’t I be thinking also along the lines of Matthew 16:18, recognizing I’ve also been saved to build on the bedrock of Christ the Son of the living God as He builds His church? Could be.
Rather than thinking only about me standing before the Bema Seat (1Cor. 3:13-15, 2Cor. 5:10) and giving an account for how I participated in my own spiritual growth, wouldn’t it be reasonable to also anticipate a question along the lines of “So, how did you build up your church, My field, My building, My temple? Or did you keep undermining the structure with contention and wrangling?”
Seems to me that at least part of what Paul’s saying here is that spiritual people, mature believers, are recognized by how they put their shoulder to the task of building God’s spiritual temple. And infants in Christ, people of the flesh walking like the rest of the world, get caught up in the dynamics of division and compromise what the Lord wants to build on the foundation of His Son.
Something to chew on, I think.
By His grace. For His glory.