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Bible: What Does 1 Corinthians 2-3 Teach Us About Divine Wisdom, Servanthood, and the Judgment Seat of Christ?

Updated on September 8, 2016

Christ and Him Crucified


The Apostle Paul


Gospel "Foolishness"

Preach Christ and Him Crucified

Paul reminds his readers that when he declared the testimony (mystery, NU) of God to them, he did not address them as a Greek orator or philosopher would; he approached them as one of “the foolish” and simply preached “Christ and Him crucified” (vv. 1-2).

Whether by a plan (“I determined”), or because of his infirmity—he was coming out of a rough experience in Athens (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 291)—, the apostle did not talk to them full of self-confidence and personal power (v. 3).

He did not dazzle the Corinthians with his eloquence and rhetoric, but relied on the power of the Holy Spirit as he delivered his message (v. 4).

The bottom line: God wants believers to trust in the Lord, not in human wisdom (v. 5).

Paul Speaks Divine Wisdom

While not arguing according to human wisdom (the “wisdom of this age,” “the wisdom of the rulers of this age” [diplomacy?]), Paul does not speak without wisdom altogether; he utters divine wisdom to mature believers (v. 6).

God determined from eternity past that He would reveal this spiritual understanding when the appointed time arrived—that is, at the time of Messiah—to those destined to dwell in God’s glorious kingdom.

No religious or political ruler of that time comprehended God’s message; for had they understood it, they would have become one of Christ’s disciples, not given orders to have “the Lord of glory” crucified (vv. 7-8).

The apostle delivers a free rendition of Isaiah 64:4, a verse indicating God’s plan to reveal salvific truth (“the things”) through the Holy Spirit only to those who love Him (vv. 9-10a).

Paul issues a strong statement supporting the omniscience and deity of the Spirit when he argues that just as a man’s spirit alone knows “the things of a man,” so the Spirit alone searches and knows “the deep things of God” (vv. 10b-11).

Mankind: Spiritual and Natural

The apostles (not all Christians) have received the Spirit of God—and “not the spirit of the world”—so that they might know the truth God has graciously revealed to them (v. 12).

The Holy Spirit then enables them to communicate spiritual truth to other “spiritual” people (v. 13).

Not only do unsaved (“natural”) human beings not accept God’s truth, thinking it foolish, they cannot even spiritually understand it; their spirit, dead in trespasses and sins, obviously lacks the ability to discern between spiritual truth and spiritual error (v. 14; cf. Eph. 2:1-2).

On the other hand, although the Christian (the “spiritual” man) can decipher the arguments and arrive at God’s truth, the natural man misunderstands him (v. 15).

God does not need anyone but Himself to know anything; likewise, the spiritual man only needs to learn from God, for he has “the mind of Christ” (v. 16).

[Should interpreters regard the “spiritual” man as a mature Christian, or as just a Christian (who may be either mature or immature)]?

Spiritual, Natural, or Babe?

In which category do you place yourself?

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I Corinthians 3

Babes in Christ

Besides the “natural man” and “he who is spiritual,” Paul discloses the existence of the “carnal”—people whom he identifies as “babes in Christ” (v. 1).

These believers cannot receive “solid food”as of yet; Paul can only feed them “milk” (v. 2).

[“Solid food” refers to more advanced Biblical teaching which “belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

“Milk” belongs to babes: Christians “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Heb. 5:13).]

They still behave “like mere men,” for they allow sinful attitudes (envy, strife, divisions) to rule their lives (v. 3).

In the present case, their sectarianism proves that they are allowing their “flesh” to control their behavior, and they are behaving just as the unsaved do (v. 4).

Paul and Apollos


Paul and Apollos: Merely Servants

The apostle points out that both he and Apollos are merely servants whom the Spirit of God used to win people to Himself (v. 5).

Paul worked to start the church at Corinth (“planted”), and Apollos taught more truth to the believers; without God’s power, however, the church would never have come into existence or grown spiritually at all (v. 6).

Paul emphasizes the relative unimportance of his and Apollos’ roles in establishing the Church compared with God’s (v. 7).

Both men labored together, and God will reward them according to the quality of their work (v. 8).

They cooperated with God on His project; the Corinthians constitute the environment (“field”) in which they all worked, and the structure (“building”) which they all built (v. 9).

Through God’s grace, Master Builder Paul laid the foundation, and Teacher Apollos built part of the superstructure in the past; now the apostle admonishes current and future teachers to construct the rest of the building carefully, and not try to lay another foundation (that is, gospel doctrine) other than that of Christ (vv. 10-11).

[One can construe “another” in verse ten as the individual Christian and not just teachers.

However, Paul later warns the builder not to defile the temple of God: a definite reference to the whole church (v. 17a).]

The Judgment Seat


Carnal Christians

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The Judgment Seat of Christ

Again, the “anyone” who builds upon the foundation can refer to a teacher or to the ordinary believer (v. 12a).

This person uses either “flame retardant” materials or combustible stuff (v. 12b).

“The Day” points to a time of judgment for believers; Paul notes that this day will occur when “the Lord comes” (v. 13a; cf. 4:5).

[This “coming” is neither each individual Christian’s death, nor Jesus’ Revelation at the end of the tribulation period to set up His earthly kingdom.

The Lord will come again to remove His Church (both the living [through translation] and the dead [through the resurrection of their bodies]) at the Rapture; afterwards, Christ will assess the value of each individual believer’s work, assaying it with purifying fire (v. 13b).]

The believer will receive a reward if his work passes the test, but will lose a reward if it does not (vv. 14-15a).

Paul is quick to point out that even though an individual’s works may not survive the judgment, the person himself will receive eternal salvation (v. 15b).

[If one’s justification guarantees some degree of sanctification, however small, how can fruitless Christians exist?]

The Holy Spirit Indwells Believers

He reminds the Corinthians that the Holy Spirit indwells them as part of the Universal Church (“the temple of God”), and therefore God has set them apart for Himself (vv. 16, 17b).

Divine chastisement will alight upon the teacher who defiles the Corinthian church (or by application, any local church) [v. 17a].

Paul continues his warning to any potential teacher who thinks himself wise, instructing him to “become a fool”; in other words, he tells him to accept God’s wisdom “that he may become wise” (v. 18).

God considers worldly wisdom foolish; the apostle cites Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 as proof texts (vv. 19-20).

[The Lord knows exactly what the “wise” plan to do, and brings it to nothing.]

For this reason, the Corinthians should not follow “wise” teachers.

They have access to all Christian teaching (vv. 21-22), and it all belongs to God (v. 23).

© 2013 glynch1


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