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1 Corinthians Chapters 2 and 3, Verse by Verse, Part 3

by Karl Kemp  
9/08/2015 / Bible Studies

We continue with the eight paragraph double bracket under 1 Cor. 3:1 here in Part 3 of this verse-by-verse study on 1 Corinthians chapters 2 and 3.

The use of this Greek adjective ["sarkinos"] in ROMANS 7:14 is instructive: "For we know that the Law [the Mosaic Law, which was the foundation for the old covenant] is spiritual [in that it came from God; masculine, singular of the Greek adjective "pneumatikos" that agrees with the masculine, singular Greek noun for "Law," "nomos."], but I am of flesh [[The word "flesh" was translated from the masculine, singular of the Greek adjective "sarkinos." There is no difference in meaning between "of flesh" here in 7:14 and being "in the flesh ["sarks"]" in Rom. 7:5.]], sold [better, "having been sold"; perfect tense in the Greek] into bondage to sin." We know what the apostle Paul meant by "having been sold into bondage to sin," because in Rom. 5:12-21 he discussed how Adam and all of his descendants came under the condemnation of spiritual death and bondage to sin through Adam's rebellion/transgression.

In Romans chapter 7 Paul was making the super-important point that people who are spiritually dead and in bondage to sin need more than the Mosaic Law and the old covenant to save them. God always planned to save all believers (including believers from Old Testament days) through the new covenant established on the shed blood of the Lamb of God. As the apostle showed throughout Romans chapters 1-8, for example, we must be born-again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and then walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis by faith, to have the authority and power to live in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God (for the glory of God).

With the words "I am of flesh, having been sold into bondage to sin" of Rom. 7:14, Paul was speaking for those who were under the Mosaic Law, with a strong application for the rest of mankind too (we were all spiritually dead and in bondage to sin). There is no way that Paul could have said that he, as a Christian, was "of flesh, having been sold into bondage to sin." That would contradict what he had just said throughout Romans chapter 6, what he said in Rom. 7:5, 6, and what he will go on to say in Romans chapter 8, for example, about our being set free from spiritual death and bondage to sin through the powerful saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ, which includes all the work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all born-again Christians. The apostle powerfully demonstrated in Rom. 7:14-25 that those under the Law (along with the rest of mankind that were not under the Law) were not able to keep the Law because they were still "of flesh, having been sold into bondage to sin." To be "of flesh" in this context meant, for one primary thing, that they were still spiritually dead, not having been born again by the Spirit and indwelled by the Spirit of life, truth, righteousness, and holiness. The new birth wasn't available until after the Lamb of God had been crucified, resurrected, taken up to the Father's right hand and received the promised Spirit, which He began to pour out on believers on the Day of Pentecost (cf., e.g., Acts 2:33; Rom. 8:2-4, 9).

These super-important things (including Romans chapter 7) are discussed in detail in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" and in my recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." The e-book serves as an introduction to the paperback book and should be read first. (Both books are available at Romans chapter 7 is also discussed in some detail in a paper on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). It is significant that I haven't been able to find any Christian writers in the early Christian church before about AD 400 who understood Rom. 7:14-25 to teach that Christians will continue to sin. (See my e-book and the paper on Romans 7.)

To be "of flesh" in Rom. 7:14 includes the idea of being spiritually dead, which includes not being indwelled by the all-important Spirit of truth, life, righteousness, and holiness. Paul's use of the same Greek adjective (in the masculine, plural) that is translated "men of flesh" in 1 Cor. 3:1 demonstrates, for one thing, that it is totally unacceptable for Christians to be "men of flesh." That was a very insulting thing to say of the Christians at Corinth (or anywhere else). However, the context (for example, he called them "brethren" and "infants [or babes] IN CHRIST") makes it clear that Paul wasn't denying that they were born-again Christians. But he was clearly saying that they were not living much by the Spirit, which Christians are called, enabled, and required to do on a continuous basis. Paul was strongly insulting them and exhorting them to become what they are called, enabled, required, and privileged to be by God's definition.

I'll quote part of what Gordon D. Fee says here ("First Epistle to the Corinthians" [Eerdmans, 1997], pages 123, 124): "By saying that he 'could not address them as spiritual,' he seems to be allowing that there are 'unspiritual' Christians - which is both true and not true. It is not true in the sense that the Spirit is the crucial factor in whether one is or is not a believer; one cannot be a Christian and be devoid of Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9; Gal. 3:2-3; Tit. 3:5-7). On the other hand, the Corinthians are involved in a lot of unchristian behavior, in that sense they are 'unspiritual,' not because they lack the Spirit but because they are thinking and living just like those who do. ... shame them into reality.... They consider themselves "pneumatikoi" [spiritual], whatever else. ...."

I'll also include a few sentences from what Fee says under 3:4 (page 128). "[Some wrongly infer] that because these people are believers, yet 'carnal [fleshly],' it is therefore permissible to be 'carnal Christians.' That, of course, is precisely the wrong application. There is no question that Paul considers his Corinthian friends believers [at least most of them] and that they are in fact acting otherwise. But Paul's whole concern was to get them to change, not to allow that such behavior is permissible since not all Christians are yet mature [or, perfect (2:6)]. Paul's language is ironical, not permissive. ... Remaining worldly ["fleshly"; "worldly" was used in the NIV, which Fee was using] is not one of the options."

Walking in the flesh is dangerous. For one thing, believers can become unbelievers (see my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site; Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). The apostle was repeatedly exhorting, insulting (with much biting sarcasm), and warning the Christians at Corinth that they must repent where repentance was required (see 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 10 for example, and 2 Cor. 5:20-6:1; in 2 Cor. 13:5 he exhorted them to test themselves to see if they were in the faith (if they were real Christians).]], as to infants in Christ. [[As I mentioned, these words confirm that Paul was not saying that the Corinthians were not born-again Christians, but also that these words were very insulting, designed to hopefully humble them and wake them up. It is significant that Paul spent 18 months in Corinth when he first visited the city (Acts 18:11). That was a long time for him to be there, and the Corinthians had the great privilege of hearing the gospel from a person who was greatly anointed by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles, and who understood the gospel and lived it on a very high level. There was no excuse for them to be unspiritual, fleshly, infants in Christ. As I have mentioned, Paul undoubtedly overstated their fleshiness, etc. with his strong insults in an attempt to wake them up, but the problem at Corinth was quite serious.]] (2) I gave you milk to drink [[The "milk" that the apostle gave them was glorious indeed. It was more than sufficient for them to be born-again (which they were) and to walk in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God with the victory over all sin (which they weren't).]], not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, (3) for you are still fleshly [[Greek adjective "sarkikos," masculine, plural. This Greek adjective, like the Greek adjective "sarkinos," which was used in 3:1, was derived from the Greek noun "sarks," which is typically translated "flesh." I don't believe Paul intended any very important distinction between these two adjectives in 3:1 and 3. Both adjectives put the emphasis on the fact that they were not spiritual by the Spirit, even though they were born-again Christians. I'll quote part of what the BAGD Greek Lexicon says under "sarkikos" (page 914): " 'sarkikos' means 'belonging to the "sarks" ' (opposite 'pneumatikos'), 'fleshly'; on the other hand, 'sarkinos' is 'consisting/composed of flesh,' fleshy. Our literature, or at least its copyists, for the most part did not observe this distinction in all occurrences of the word. The forms are usually interchanged in the tradition; for exceptions see...."]]. For since there is jealousy and strife among you [cf. 1 Cor. 11:19; Rom. 13:13] are you not fleshly ["sarkikos," masculine, plural as earlier in this verse], and are you not walking like mere men? [[The Greek would be more literally translated "are you not walking in accordance with man?" The context shows that Paul means unbelieving man. All of the things the apostle said about the Christians at Corinth in 3:1-3 (and apparently including 2:14-16) were powerfully insulting, on purpose, as we have discussed. With these last words, for example, he said they were walking like the unbelievers walk. No surprise since he has already told them that they were not spiritual by the Spirit, but were "men of flesh" and "fleshly" instead of being spiritual by the Spirit and "infants in Christ," along with what he said in 2:14-16. And here in 3:3 he mentions two manifestations of their unspiritual, fleshly behavior, "jealousy and strife." In the next verse he goes on the show that jealousy and strife were manifested, for one way, in the way they destroyed the unity of the church in that they chose one leader over another (Paul and Apollos, for example) in a way that mimicked the unbelievers.

I'll quote a few sentences from what Simon J. Kistemaker says here ("1 Corinthians" [Baker, 1993], page 102): "When Clement of Rome wrote his epistle to the Corinthians near the end of the first century [Paul went to Corinth about AD 50 and wrote 1 Corinthians about AD 55], fully aware of their numerous congregational problems, he frequently used the terms 'jealousy,' 'envy,' and 'strife.' [Kistemaker lists some passages from 1 Clement in a footnote.] Choosing words that depict the life of the Corinthians, Clement notes the vices that for many decades have plagued them (compare James 3:14). The Corinthians quarreled among themselves, were devoid of love for one another, and behaved like unspiritual people." They were "unspiritual" people in that they did not walk by the Spirit of God on a consistent basis, by grace through faith, in accordance with the requirement of the gospel. I trust we can all agree that the problems at Corinth cannot be laid at the apostle Paul's feet, or in any defect in the gospel or the grace of God available to the Corinthians. The proud, fleshly Christians were responsible. This teaching is needed by many Christians in our day. It is easy to be fleshly.]] (4) For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not walking like mere men? [[Compare 1 Cor. 1:10-17. See under verse 3 for the interpretation. The apostle Paul just has the words corresponding to "are you not men," but the translation of the NASB communicates his meaning OK. The KJV and NKJV have "are you not carnal?," following the Greek texts that have the reading "sarkikoi" instead of "anthropoi" for "men." There is no substantial difference in this context between walking like unbelievers and being carnal/fleshly.]] (5) What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. [[Paul used Apollos and himself in verses 5-9, 21-23 to show that the Christians at Corinth (and elsewhere) must look to God and give Him all the glory for everything, very much including giving Him the glory for those He uses to minister to us (they minister by His grace, for one thing [cf. 1 Cor. 3:10, 11; 15:10; 2 Cor. 3:5, 6; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:25). We must be thankful for the ministers God uses in our lives and appreciate them, but we must not give them any of God's glory. Also, ministers must be careful that they do not look for, or accept, any of God's glory.]] (6) I planted [cf. 1 Cor. 3:10, 11; 4:15; 9:1; 2 Cor. 10:14-18], Apollos [cf. Acts 18:24-28; 1 Cor. 1:12] watered, but God was causing the growth. [God was causing the growth along with enabling Paul and Apollos to minister by His grace. Also see the next verse.] (7) So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. [The apostle Paul goes on in verses 8 and 14 to mention that God will reward faithful ministers for their work (their work of ministering by His grace).] (8) Now he who plants and he who waters are one [[Paul and Apollos were united and not competing with one another, or jealous of one another, etc., as it must be. To the extent ministers are doing any of these things (which things take place when we are walking and ministering to some extent in the flesh), it seriously harms the unity of the Body of Christ and is a serious problem. The apostle wrote what he did in these verses knowing that some of those who ministered at Corinth were guilty of doing this. I believe he could have mentioned the names of some who ministered at Corinth, including some who were Corinthians along with some who came to Corinth, but he chose to use Apollos and himself to make his point.]]; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.]. [[Compare 1 Cor. 3:14; 4:5; Gal. 6:4. For one thing, the reward of one minister is not increased or decreased because of the performance of other ministers. It doesn't work for the good of one minister, for example, if another minister fails, but it robs God of glory and harms the Body of Christ.]] For we are God's fellow workers [cf. Mark 16:20; 2 Cor. 6:1]; you are God's field [cf. Isa. 61:3], God's building [cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:5]. (10) According to the grace of God which was given to me [[Paul emphasized the point, as he so often did, that God must be given all the glory for everything He enabled Paul (and all of us) to do by His grace. If he didn't make it a top priority to minister by the grace of God in Christ, he couldn't have accomplished what he did, and if he didn't consistently make it known that he ministered by the grace of God, but took the glory for himself (or some of the glory) through pride, he would have destroyed his ministry.]], like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. [[The apostle Paul is concerned here with some of the other people who ministered at Corinth after he laid the foundation. (It is true, of course, that every true Christian is building on the foundation of the Lord Jesus, but in this context Paul is dealing with the ministers. The ministers, some more than others, have more influence to bless or to hurt the Body of Christ.) The apostle's words here zero in on his work at Corinth, but they would apply to the Christian church anywhere. As I mentioned, I believe Paul could have mentioned the names of some people who were ministering at Corinth who needed to be warned and corrected.

Paul wanted to exhort and encourage those who were faithfully ministering and building on the foundation that he laid, but his primary purpose here was to exhort and warn those who were not faithfully ministering and building on that foundation, for whatever reason. He goes on to warn that those born-again ministers who are building with fleshy materials and methods will suffer loss of rewards when God puts their ministries to the test at the end. That will prove to be quite significant! This is no light matter! For one very important thing, every minister must face the fact that their fleshiness hurts other Christians and robs God of glory.

Fleshy materials and methods include relying on human wisdom (rather than having an adequate understanding of God's wisdom that is contained in His Word and comes by the Holy Spirit [see the "word of wisdom" in 1 Cor. 12:8, for example; cf. James 1:5; 3:15, 17, 19), philosophical presentations, eloquence, personalities, criticizing Paul and others trying to make themselves look better, flattery, etc. The apostle would have been concerned about the Corinthians who were "ministering" improperly at Corinth and "ministers" who had come to Corinth, which in the worst-case scenario included "false apostles" (2 Cor. 11:12-15). Some were so far off that they were destroying the foundation laid by the apostle Paul; their "ministries" served to destroy the church (see 3:16, 17). They were not genuine Christian ministers.]] (11) For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. (12) Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones [[The apostle is speaking here in 3:12-15 of born-again Christian ministers. The fact that Paul says that they will be saved in 3:15 demonstrates that he is speaking of true Christians who ascribe to the foundational Christian doctrines (doctrines like everything that exists was created by God; the deity of Christ and His atoning death and resurrection and that He is coming again to save and to judge; the reality of sin and eternal judgment [heaven and hell], etc.). However, there is a very big difference between those who walk and minister by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis, with a strong emphasis on the truth (it is totally necessary for Christians to rightly interpret, believe, and walk in line with the truth of God's Word), righteousness, and holiness of God and the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) and those who are fleshly to one degree or another, which is easy to do, especially in an environment like Corinth (or much of the world in our day). The old man always wants to manifest itself in sin, and it has the support of the world and the devil and his evil angels and demons.

All of the problems that the apostle Paul was concerned about as he wrote 3:12-15 (and most of the rest of the verses in this chapter) could be described by the word "fleshiness." The ministers Paul is speaking of here are all born again Christians, but (although all Christians are enabled and required to walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis [Gal. 5:16 for example]) it doesn't always happen. Fleshiness is contrasted with being spiritual by walking by the Holy Spirit (walking by the Holy Spirit includes walking in line with the Word of God) on a continuous basis by faith. Fleshiness opens the door for every kind of sin.

To build on the foundation with "gold, silver, [and] precious" stones is to do the things that God requires of each minister, with the right attitudes, motives (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5), and priorities, things that establish the Body of Christ in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God and lead to the growth and fruitfulness of the church (including the fruit of the Holy Spirit [Gal. 5:22, 23]), being enabled by the Holy Spirit, by grace through faith, all of which brings glory to God. Those ministers who build with gold, silver, and precious stones guide, encourage, and motivate Christians to love God (and other Christians and all people) and to trust Him and obey Him, and to have a super-solid hope regarding the future, especially referring to heaven. For one thing, gold, silver, and precious stones represent eternal things, things that will endure in God's kingdom forever. The things that are represented by wood, hay, and straw will all perish when they are tested by fire (see 3:13-15); they cannot be accepted by God or rewarded; quite the opposite; they will perish; there is no room for them in heaven.]], wood, hay, straw [[At least they are building on the right foundation (of Christ and Him crucified), but the "wood, hay, and straw" represent building with fleshy materials and methods, "fleshy" in contrast with building by the enablement of the Holy Spirit with a strong emphasis on the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God and all the fruit of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. To the extent that Christians walk by the flesh (very much including ministers) attitudes, motives, and priorities will often be wrong, and pride will be manifested instead of being humble before God and people; and, as I mentioned, fleshiness opens the door for sin to be manifested, where righteousness should be manifested. Christians are forgiven when they sincerely repent, but all sin is destructive, and ministering in the flesh harms the Body of Christ and robs God of glory.

One way we can build with fleshy materials (and this often happened in the early church and is still happening in our day) is to add secondary things to the gospel, things that may, or may not, be good in themselves, but things that are not required by God and which confuse the issue. If we are not careful, the heart of the glorious gospel is obscured and diluted by the things we have added that God didn't include in the gospel. This is easy to do in many different areas. In 2 Tim. 2:14-26 the apostle Paul spoke of some of the things ministers must do and some of the things they must not do. One serious problem was that some were insisting that Christians are required to keep the ceremonial law of the old covenant. This can be done in a way that totally confuses the issue and changes the gospel, which is not subject to change (cf., e.g., Gal. 5:1-12; Col. 2:1-23).]], (13)

We will finish this verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians chapters 2 and 3 in Part 4, starting with 1 Cor. 3:13.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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