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1 Corinthians Chapters 2 and 3, Verse by Verse, Part 4

by Karl Kemp  
9/09/2015 / Bible Studies

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

(13) each man's work will become evident [[That is, the work of ministry (made up of individual works) of each minister will become evident: Were the works of God (of His will and by His grace) and beneficial to the Body of Christ and did they glorify God? Or were they of the flesh and not beneficial to, or harmful to, the Body of Christ and did not glorify God?]]; for the day [[The apostle is speaking of the day when we will stand before God to be judged according to our works at the end of this age (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 1:8; 4:5; Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:8). In this context the apostle is speaking of the work of ministers being tested, but there is an application for all Christians.]] will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. [[There is no idea here that true Christian ministers will be punished by fire on that day (or before that day), but that their work of ministry will be tested by fire. The things they have built, so to speak, while ministering, picturing their work as a building (or part of a building), will be tested with fire. The faithfulness and fruitfulness or the unfaithfulness and unfruitfulness of their ministries will then be manifested. That which was rightly done by the grace of God in Christ, in agreement with the will of God, which is represented by the gold, silver, and precious stones, will remain (endure) after being tested by the fire, and they "will receive a reward" (3:14). That which was done in the flesh, the wood, hay, and straw, will not endure the testing fire; those things will perish in the fire; and the ministers "will suffer loss" (3:14).]] (14) If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward [[Compare 1 Cor. 3:8; 4:5. All Christians will be rewarded for faithfulness, but in this context Paul is speaking of ministers. I'll quote 1 Cor. 4:5, "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time [In this context the apostle is referring to the fact that some of the Corinthians Christians were (wrongly) judging him in various ways], but wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts, and then each man's praise [or something else] will come to him from God." The praise of God (cf. Rom. 2:29; 1 Pet. 1:7) is a great reward, not to mention having a never-ending existence in heaven, the glory of which is too great to fully comprehend, and even reigning forever and ever with God and His Son (cf. Rev. 22:5). Based on verses like Matt. 25:21, 23 (cf. Luke 19:17, 18), we can see that the reward will include being given authority along with the words that all true Christians want to hear, "Well done good and faithful slave [servant]." I'll quote 1 Pet. 1:7, "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."]]. (15) If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss [[For one thing, he will suffer the loss of rewards (or some rewards). Also, it will be obvious that his fleshy ministry has hurt the Body of Christ and robbed God of glory. This is a weighty matter! We must not take these things lightly! The apostle wanted to motivate those who needed to change to change now, so they will be fully ready to stand before God. Anywhere any Christian needs to repent, NOW is the time to do it. God calls us to repent because He loves us, not to mention that He wants every minister to fully accomplish His will for the good of the Body of Christ and for His glory. We were created, and saved, to glorify God, to be loved by Him and to love Him.]], but he himself will be saved [[In other words, he will have entrance into God's eternal kingdom because he became, and continued to be, a born-again Christian, by grace through faith, even though quite a bit of fleshiness was manifested in his ministry (which is far from being acceptable). We are called, and enabled, to walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis. Fleshy Christians will typically have quite a bit of error in their teaching, but the Christian ministers Paul is speaking of here were not denying essential Christian doctrines.

Fleshy Christians typically do not realize that they are fleshy. I have heard Christians say that making it to heaven is all that really matters, but that is a totally unacceptable way to think. What about doing the will of God, which God's people are required, and enabled, to do according to God's covenant? What about the first great commandment about the need to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. What about not being a blessing to, or even hurting, other Christians (or non Christians).]], yet so as through fire [[(This double bracket goes on for six paragraphs.) Compare Job 23:10. The fire is explained by the context. Some ministers who are so proud of their ministries will find themselves running out of the building, or their part of the building, that they were so proud of. When their work is tested with fire, it will be shown that much of their ministry was built on things of the flesh, like worldly wisdom, eloquent speaking, flattery and manipulation, or other things that didn't come from God that were added to the gospel that confused the issue. If you give Christians what they want, so far as the flesh is concerned, you can typically build a big ministry, but the fire will not be kind to such building projects when they are tested.

I'll quote part of what R. C. H. Lenski says under 3:15 ("St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians" [Augsburg Publishing House, 1937, 1963], pages 144, 145): "For the builder the result is: 'he shall suffer loss.' All to which he devoted his life shall be suddenly swept away. He shall stand bare where he might have had so much. Hence there is, of course, no thought of wages for him, and this is the great loss [at least this is a significant part of the loss]. Many great 'works' shall thus go down in ashes in the judgment and be absolutely disowned by the Lord. Many proud builders who were acclaimed by men while they lived and were honored with great tributes when they were buried shall hang their heads when all their work becomes nothing in the fire test. But many humble preacher, of whom nobody made much in life, shall shine at that day because he wrought gold, silver, and precious stones.

... 'Yet as through fire' indicates the narrow escape. He is like a man who flees from a burning building, is badly frightened, and saves nothing but his life. ... The picture seems to be somewhat on this order: this builder stands in the house of his work, and when the judgment-fire strikes and devours it, he rushes out. Who wants to spend all his life in the ministry and then end in such a way?"

I'll quote part of what Charles Hodge says under verses 14, 15 ("1 and 2 Corinthians" [Banner of Truth Trust, 1983 reprint; his "1 Corinthians" was originally published in 1857), pages 57, 58): "... The apostle is speaking of those teachers who, although they retain the foundational doctrines of the gospel, yet combine them with error. This is plain from v. 12, 'If any man shall build on this foundation.' It is not enough, therefore, that a minister hold fast to fundamental truth; he must take heed what he teaches in connection with that truth. If he mingles with it the wood, hay and stubble of his own philosophy [or any other wrong source], he will find himself a loser on the day of judgment. ...."

And I'll quote part of what F. Godet says under verse 15 ("First Epistle to the Corinthians" [Zondervan 1971 reprint, originally published in French in 1886], page 190; these words first got my attention when I read them more than forty years ago and they still get my attention): "[The fire] comprehends all the terrors of this judgment: the shame of this revelation, the horror caused by the look of the offended Judge, the grief of seeing the work on which he congratulated himself reduced to nothingness, and the souls whom he thought he had built up incapable of undergoing the last trial, and lost partly through his fault...!" Hopefully this minister gave them enough of the essential truth of the gospel so that he was not responsible for the loss of any people (if not it is a very serious matter that is almost too much for any minister to contemplate, that their ministry was responsible for people being eternally lost), even if he did incorporate some fleshiness in his ministry. Words like this should motivate all ministers to evaluate their ministries. It makes a gigantic difference whether we minister as we are enabled and required, or whether we (one way or another) have eliminated foundational doctrines or presented an admixture of the things of the flesh.

And I'll quote several sentences from what Godet said later on this page" "Some Catholic commentators have thought to find in the words, 'as through fire,' a proof in favour of the doctrine of purgatory, and the Council of Florence, in 1439, based the dogma on this passage [[and he referred to T. C. Edwards on 1 Corinthians. I'll quote Edwards footnote dealing with this topic (Klock and Klock reprint of Edwards's 1885 edition, page 81): "Gregory the Great (Dial. IV. 39) [who was the pope from 590-604], who consolidated the floating notions of earlier writers [very much including Augustine] into a doctrine of purgatory, and the Council...of Florence, AD 1439, base the doctrine on this passage. [And he goes on to mention some Roman Catholic expositors who reject the interpretation.] ]] This is to forget 1. That the fire is allegorical [figurative] like the building; 2. That it is only teachers [ministers] who are in question; 3. That the trial indicated is a means of valuation [testing], not of purification [or punishment of purgatory]' 4. That this fire is lighted at Christ's coming, and consequently does not yet burn in the interval between the death of Christians and that advent [the return of Christ]; and 5. That the salvation of the worker, of which Paul speaks, takes place not 'by,' but 'in spite of' the fire."]] (16) Do you not know that you [plural; the church at Corinth] are a temple of God [Or we could translate "the temple of God" (cf., e.g., Eph. 2:19-22).], and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (17) If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are [The Body of Christ, which includes all true Christians, is called, enabled, and required to be holy, to be set apart for God and His truth, righteousness and holiness from everything unholy and defiling [cf. 2 Cor. 7:1, for example]. [[(This double bracket goes on for three paragraphs.) The fact that the Greek shows that all four uses of "you" in verses 16 and 17 are plural is important information. It shows that the apostle is concerned with "Christian ministers" (cf., e.g., the false apostles of 2 Cor. 11:13-15) doing things that could potentially destroy the church at Corinth, if God permitted that to happen. He was not speaking (as you often hear these verses interpreted) of Paul dealing with Christians for not taking adequate care of the temple of their bodies. Christians have some responsibility to take care of their bodies, but that is a small problem compared with "Christian ministers" doing things that could totally destroy the church at Corinth: Things like heretical doctrines that deny the deity of Christ or that minimize, or even deny, the need for Christians to live for God in His truth, righteousness, and holiness by His grace through faith.

The Gnostics (that the apostle John dealt with in his first epistle) even denied that sin is the problem and that the blood of the sacrificed Lamb of God is relevant to our salvation. If the Spirit of God does not dwell in us individually and corporately we are not true Christians (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:9). We must be born again by the Spirit of God (cf., e.g., John 3:1-8), and we must walk by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis (cf., e.g., Gal. 5:16).

There is a big difference between fleshy ministers who are building on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ (3:10-15), who will suffer loss but make it into the heavenly kingdom, and "ministers" who are destroying the foundations of Christianity through their "ministries."]] (18) [[The NASB shows that a new paragraph began with verse 16 by having the 16 in bold letters. They also showed (correctly I believe) that another new paragraph begins here with verse 18. Verse 18 and the verses that follow deal, at least for the most part, with the fleshy (but who will be saved [3:15]) ministers at Corinth that the apostle was dealing with in 3:1-15 and in chapter 2. Those that "God will destroy" (3:17) will not be saved.]] Let no man deceive himself [cf. Isa. 5:21]. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age [[Compare 1 Cor. 1:18-27. Some of the Christians at Corinth, including some ministers, thought they were wise in this age, but they had humbled themselves to some extent to become Christians; however, as this epistle shows, there still was a problem with many of the Christians at Corinth because of their fleshiness, which manifested itself, for one way, in their being proud of their presumed wisdom.]], he must become foolish [[In other words, he must humble himself and begin to manifest humility through walking in line with the Word of God and by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis, "so that he become wise," with the true wisdom that comes from God.]], so that he may become wise [[I'll quote a few sentences from what David E. Garland says under 3:18-21a ("1 Corinthians" [Baker Academic, 2003], page 123): "To be wise one must be willing to become a fool in the eyes of the world. ... Those who are wise in their own eyes have not yet come to terms with the fact that they still have to reckon with God, who makes human wisdom look foolish. Paul assumes that human judgments are inherently skewed until they are set aright by God's Spirit. Consequently, humans must empty themselves of their own wisdom to be filled with God's wisdom (Calvin...)."]]. (19) For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. [I'll quote the last sentence of 1 Cor. 1:20, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"] For it is written, 'He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS [cf. Job. 5:13]'; (20) and again, 'THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.' [[The Greek Septuagint for Psalm 93:11 (94:11 in the English Bibles) is the same as the quotation here in verse 20 except the Septuagint has the Greek for "of men" instead of "of the wise."]] (21) So then let no one boast in men. [Compare 1 Cor. 1:10-17. Our boasting must be in God (cf. 1 Cor. 1:29-31).] For all things belong to you [[speaking of all things that God has given to us ("things present or things to come" [3:22]) through new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus, including the ministers He raises up to minister to us (including those who have writings included in the New Testament), like "Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter]" (3:22). See 1 Cor. 3:4-9. God raised Jesus (the God-man) over all things (cf., e.g., Eph. 1:19-22) and then He gave Him with His authority over all things to (and for the benefit of) the church (cf. Eph. 1:22). Since God has given all things to us in Christ Jesus, we need not, and we must not look to any other sources for the things we need (like other religions, occult power, worldly wisdom and philosophies), and we must be thankful to God and make sure we give Him all the glory.]], (22) whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter; cf. 1:12] or the world [[For one thing, we will inherit the world at the end of this age (cf., e.g., Rom. 4:13; Matt. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3), very much including the new heaven and new earth with its new Jerusalem in the eternal state after the millennial kingdom (cf. Rev. 20:11; 21:1-22:21). The devil still is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), but because of our relationship with God in Christ, the devil and his evil angels and demons and sin do not have any legitimate authority over us. Our salvation in Christ Jesus makes all the difference.]] or life [[We have spiritual, eternal life now in Christ. In the future we will inherit the fullness of eternal life (cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 6:12, 19; Titus 3:7; and Rev. 12:5 [Revelation 12:5 is discussed in detail in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture" and my recently published e-book, "Introduction to the Mid-Week Rapture"; both books are available at; I recommend reading the e-book first.]) and be glorified.]] or death [[For one thing, the apostle Paul informs us in Rom. 8:38, 39 "that neither DEATH, nor LIFE [my capitalization for emphasis], nor angels [evil ones], nor principalities [evil ones], nor things present, not things to come, nor powers [evil ones], nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing [evil thing], will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Although physical death is still an enemy in some ways, for us to die is gain (Phil. 1:21, 23; 2 Cor. 5:1-8 [I'll quote 2 Cor. 5:8, "we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord]; and see 1 Cor. 15:50-57).]] or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, (23) and you belong to Christ [And we must be faithful to Him and the One who sent Him and walk by the Holy Spirit He gave to dwell in us on a continuous basis (by grace through faith).]; and Christ belongs to God." [[The fact that the Lord Jesus has been given to us is a major feature of new-covenant salvation. First, He was given to us in His all-important atoning death. I'll quote Rom. 8:32, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"

In some ways the Lord Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, is subordinate to God the Father in His role in the Trinity (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:27, 28), but He is fully deity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (I have four papers dealing with the Trinity or God the Father and God the Son on my internet site: "Who Do We Worship?"; "Who Do We Pray To?; "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son"; and "More on the Trinity"; Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).]]

May this paper fully accomplish the purposes of God and be a blessing to His people. In Jesus' name.

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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