1 Corinthians 3:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
Carnal = Fleshly
Babes - Childlike or infant
Paul continues his discourse from Chapter Two. After explaining to these Christians that our gift from God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is to be able to understand the spiritual things of Scripture. Unfortunately, these Corinthians were trying to live the Christian life in the flesh and as a result, they were all acting like fleshly people. They were so powerless in the gospel that it almost seemed to Paul that they were unsaved. This problem was also prevalent in the people that the writer to the Hebrews wrote to.
(Heb 5:12-14 KJV) For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. {13} For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. {14} But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
This problem is also prevalent today among modern Christians. We have so many books by so many authors that Christians consistently receive mixed signals on the Scriptures, which sends confusion into the ranks. When the writer to the Hebrews is speaking to his readers about being teachers, he is not expecting them to be teachers of the commentaries. He is speaking to them that they should have had enough exposure to the word of God to be teachers of it. (Heb 13:7 KJV) Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Christians are to gain a good understanding of the Word of God and not the words of men. Reading the words of men will keep a Christian from growing because a Christian grows through the Word of God alone. Paul discusses the problem with the words of men later on.
1 Corinthians 3:2
I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
They were unable to understand spiritual things because they were living life in the flesh. Spiritual milk is for those who are newborn babes in the faith. Paul was continually feeding them milk for a long time and even at the point he is writing to them now, they are still too immature for the spiritual meat. Even today there are people who have gone to church for 30 years and can’t find Habakkuk. Spiritual milk can even be too in depth for those who have never grown even a little bit. In the next verse, Paul reveals to them why they have not grown.
1 Corinthians 3:3
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
Envying = Jealousy
Strife = Rivalry
Divisions = Dissension
The mark of an immature Christian or congregation is the level of strife it sustains. If there is a consistent squabbling in the church, there will never be any type of Christian growth. In fact, if the church does not come into Biblical guidelines, Christ may remove the candlestick from it and will go apostate. One of the marks of an apostate church is the glorification of the people who do the most “good works.” When that happens, you know they are a works based church and are completely void of what the church is supposed to be. Paul mentions the same problem in the church at Galatia, when he chides them for having the same type of problems. Jealousy, rivalry, and divisions are not the traits of a true Christian church.
(Gal 5:19-21 KJV) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, {20} Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, {21} Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 3:4
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
A great sign of carnality in the church is the division which is caused by following men. Let’s bring this statement into the modern church. “I am of Billy Graham, I am of John MacArthur, I am of R.C. Sproul, etc.” When this situation crops up in any congregation, it is the death knell for it. One reason for this is that the local teachers in that congregation will always be compared to these other “famous Christians.” That is a wrong thing to do. I wrote a treatise on the “1,000 year reign of Christ” and I gave a copy to a fellow in my church. He read it and said to me that I should send it to John MacArthur and see what he has to say about it. Shouldn’t the judge of my article be its faithfulness to the Scriptures rather than the Imprimatur of some other fallible human? A long time ago a friend handed out Radio Bible Class literature and we discussed it. They are Pre-Millennial and I am A-Millenial. After class, my friend said to me, “Do you think you know more than those at Radio Bible Class?” Both of these people did not understand that at the moment they began to elevate these people, they became their authority. We are to have no authority but the Word of God.
(Isa 42:8 KJV) I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
It is interesting to note that there was a vast difference between the way Jesus spoke and the way the Scribes spoke. This is a very important passage.
(Mat 7:29 KJV) For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
The Scribes were those who taught from their commentaries and their books but the Lord Jesus, every time He spoke, it was Scripture. The difference between the Christian with authority and the one without authority, is a simple one. The Christian who speaks with authority uses the Scriptures and sees the writings of men as ancillary to them. The Christian without authority uses the works of men and deems Scripture as ancillary to them.
Christians tend to find authors or preachers which they identify with more closely than they should. Some Christians take on a cultic following of certain men. This is the problem in the church, instead of filtering Scripture or situations through the Bible, they filter them through the writings of their favorite author. This is not to say that we should never read the writings of men, but we must learn where to draw the discerning line between God’s Word and the writings of man, and we must always realize that the writings of men are fallible and cannot fulfill the deeper spiritual needs of the Christian.
1 Corinthians 3:5
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
Ministers - servants
Paul asks a rhetorical question, who is he and Apollos? They are mere humans who must be given understanding in the Scriptures so they may go and fulfill the ministry that God has for them. The job that Paul and Apollos had was to lead people to the Lord and not to attempt to gain a following. Like the hymn says “Channels Only Blessed Master.” This is the commission of every child of God. Each Christian will have an aspect of the Great Commission which they will be responsible for fulfilling. Let’s ask the question in modern language. Who is Billy Graham or who is John MacArthur, but servants sent to preach the Word so you may believe. Let me just say here that no “non-famous” Christian is ever looked upon as less, by God, than those who are on radio or TV.
1 Corinthians 3:6
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
Planted - The word in the figurative sense means to beget.
Here we see the context being formed in this thread of verses from verse 6 to 15. It is surrounding the believer in sending out the gospel. Paul is saying that he planted. He was the first one who brought the gospel to Corinth but after he left, it was Apollos who either began the discipling ministry of new believers or continued in evangelism. Now the Scripture teaches that both of these men were involved in the ministry of the Word but we see that neither are capable of causing one to grow or become saved. God is the one who gives the increase in both knowledge and souls. The three words “gave the increase” are in the Imperfect tense. It may also be translated “was giving growth.” The Imperfect tense shows us that something is a continuous action occurring in the past. It reveals the progression of what is in view. So we see in this verse that God was giving the growth, and it could have been the church itself or individual Christians growing in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 3:7
So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
This verse is teaching us that all Christians are on even ground. There is none that is above anyone. Neither the one who brings the gospel initially or the one who disciples and nurtures the Christians, are better than each other. To God, all Christians stand equally. God is not saying that the work is in vain or means nothing, what the Bible is doing is placing our earthly ministries in a proper perspective. He wants us to realize that the public ministry holds no greater place than the personal ministry of a believer.
1 Corinthians 3:8
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
The Bible has just previously established that Christians have different offices and different ministries but the goal is always the same, and that is to further the Kingdom of God in this world. Now if you notice, the subject of rewards arrives on the scene in the context of ministry. This verse tells us that a Christian will receive a reward according to their own labour. For us to understand what a reward is according to the Scriptures, we must look at a passage of Scripture which will help open up our understanding of the rest of 1 Corinthians 3. The word “reward” in this statement is the Greek word “misqos" (misthos) which may also be understood to mean “payment or wages.”
(Mark 4:14-20 KJV) The sower soweth the word. {15} And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. {16} And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; {17} And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. {18} And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, {19} And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. {20} And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
Now as we look at this parable, we see that a sower went out and sowed the seed. This sower did not take the seed and plant it only on the good ground, but he went and planted it on all different types of soil. Each particular soil reaped a different result.
1. The first was sown by the way side and Satan immediately stole the word from them.
2. The second was sown on stony ground which gave no root to grow.
3. The third was sown among the thorns which was choked by the cares of this world.
4. The fourth was sown on good ground and brought forth 30, 60, 100 fold fruit.
It seems that three quarters of all the seed sown fell on bad ground and had no permanent fruit. One quarter was sown on good ground and the seeds germinated and abundant fruit was realized. Now do you remember the two, and five talent Christians and the abilities God gave them? (Matthew 25:14-30) Well, here we see the same principle in action. The good ground, which represents the believer, brought forth many fold of other believers, which is represented by fruit. Do you remember how Paul used agrarian representations concerning planting and watering? Here we see the same principle concerning growth. All the farmer can do is plant the seeds and only God can make the crop grow. It is the same in Christianity. We just send forth the gospel but it is only God who can produce a crop of Christians. Now we see the sower as losing seventy five percent of his reward because of no fruit. Keep in mind that the word “reward” is “payment or wages.” Now what is a laborer paid for? Is it for growing the crop or planting it and nurturing it if there is growth? He gets paid for the planting of it and the care if it grows. This verse states that every man will receive his own reward according to his own labor. In other words, the reward is payment or wages due on the work he has done. Now when we talk about receiving wages, what does the Lord have to say about it?
(John 4:35-38 KJV) Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. {36} And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. {37} And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. {38} I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.
Notice the Lord speaks in another agrarian setting and mentions wages of the reapers and gathering fruit unto eternal life in the same sentence. This is the sending forth of the Gospel to reap the Elect that God has throughout the entire world. When we enter into someone’s labor, it is a sharing in their ministry with the same goals. For example, we did not labor fifty years ago but we are building on the ministry of those that did. Many local churches in my area of central New Jersey (USA) were started in the 1700’s and the 1800’s. Those true believers involved in these churches are, in essence, building on the ministry of past generations, a place where they did not labor. Someone starts a ministry and other Christians join in by financially supporting it, they have not labored yet are entered into their labors. Do you see how intricate the body of Christ is when involved in sending forth the Gospel? The idea that some Christians will get a reward for certain ministries but other will not, is non-existent in the Bible. Let us go on in 1 Corinthians.