1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

4 For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.

9 For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," 20 and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."

21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future -- all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Version: New Revised Standard Version.



  • Although the Corinthians should (theoretically) have the mind of Christ (2:15), the Corinthians were immature spiritually (v.1ff).
    • Jealousy, quarrelling, and sectarianism reveals their infantile status in Christ.
    • Note: Paul doesn't say they aren't Christians, only that they seriously need to grow.
  • Leadership must be seen in perspective (v.4ff).
    • Leaders are only servants, instruments of God. Paul describes their work with an agricultural metaphor.
    • Each has a different role, a different function.
      • Membership is enhanced by its diversity, not by its uniformity. (For more, see chapter 12.)
      • While we should imitate hearts (4:16; 11:1), we are not called to become clones of other Christians, no matter how spiritual they are.
      • The operative principle is teamwork.
    • Only God gets the glory for making the church grow!
  • Now Paul switches the metaphor from agriculture to construction (vv.9ff). The Corinthians are not only a field, but also a building.
    • The foundation is Christ.
    • The superstructure, resting on this foundation, may be solid or shoddy, beautiful or common, stable or unstable, fire-resistant or a fire hazard.
      • Paul is not contrasting six different qualities of church, but two: Those built to last and those built shabbily.
      • Time will test the quality of the building.
      • Those church builders who built badly will likely lose most of the fruit of their labor (the people), but this doesn't mean that they themselves will lose their salvation. Though accountable for the loss, they will not forfeit their souls.
  • Then Paul changes metaphors yet again (v.16). This time he conceives of the church as a temple. (See also Ephesians 2:22.)
    • Since the church is a temple, it is intrinsically holy. Disunity then is not only an affront to the Lord, but an assault on the temple.
    • What is the difference between the temple in chapter 3 and the temple in chapter 6? Click here.
  • Paul now returns to the theme of worldly and godly wisdom (v.18ff).
    • Smart people are just not as smart as they think!
    • For a parallel thought, see James 3:13-18.
    • We ought not to take too much pride in human leaders (v.21); this is a recurrent cause of division in biblical history. When we have God's perspective, everything is seen in its proper and relative light (v.22).


  • In regard to the fire of verses 14-15:
    • This obviously has nothing to do with the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, since the discussion centers on church building, not atonement!
    • One person emailed me about the "fire test" in this passage. Here's my response.
  • The O.T. citations in verse 19 are from:
    • Job 5:13
      • This quotation is actually the words of Eliphaz, one of Job's "miserable comforters," who at the end of the book was rebuked for misrepresenting God (Job 42:8).
      • Clearly not everything Eliphaz said was wrong, even though he was deeply mistaken about some things. For more on Job, click here.
    • Psalm 94:11. (See also Romans 1:21.)

Thought questions:

  • Am I sectarian in my spirit, or do I respect all Christians? How do I relate to those in different groups? (For more on this, click here.)
  • If I am a leader or church builder, is my ministry characterized by impatience, short-cuts, or humanism? Do I pray regularly for humility, in order to better serve others?
  • Do we take ourselves too seriously? Think too much of our own thoughts? (See Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 5:21.)