When a Christian fails to continue in his process of sanctification, he invites a carnal phase to his walk as
a Christian. Yet rarely are the consequences of this phase confined to only the backsliding Christian. The
consequences are often far reaching especially when other irresponsible Christians or non-Believers commune
together. Paul identifies this potential problem in the church of Corinth
(1 Cor 3:6-17).
1. Study 1 Corinthians 3:6-17. What do you see in
1 Corinthians 3:6-8? What is the context of the verses? What
does it mean?
In the preceding verses, Paul has associated the behavior of envy, strife and division among
the Corinthian Christians as carnal; sinful behavior that is motivated by selfish attitudes, worldly morals and
the result of Christians who are not growing spiritually.
Why do Christians divide themselves by taking pride in certain Christian leaders or claim
loyalty to their teachings? While Paul "planted" and started the church in Corinth, and Apollos "watered" and
ministered to the church after it was established, it was God who really worked and grew the church by drawing
non-Believers to Himself. Paul and Apollos knew they were merely servants through whom He worked.
Because God determines the results or outcome of one’s efforts, Christians are only responsible
for their efforts and quality of work.
2. Study 1 Corinthians 3:9-15. What is Paul referring to?
What is Paul building?
Paul and Apollos are "God’s fellow workers" who tended to and nurtured "God’s field", a metaphor
for Christians and collectively as "God’s building" the church.
Paul laid the foundation of the church on sound doctrine, which was the correct gospel and view
of Jesus Christ.
Apollos built upon that by teaching, training and enabling others in the process of
Using the metaphor of constructing a building to that of building up the church, Paul draws a
subtle contrast to the existence of envy, strife and division. Growth is in part the result of how Christians
(leaders as well as members) participate in the life of the church. However, this work is serious and done carefully
as Paul warns, "But each man must be careful how he builds on it"; each Christian is accountable to God for their
A Christian’s contribution to the church may be high quality as symbolized by "gold, silver"
or "precious stones". This would be lasting and enduring.
If the foundation is understood to be "Jesus Christ", then examples of valuable materials used
to build the church and supported by that foundation could be the teaching of sound doctrine and theology, prayer
and fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
A Christian’s contribution to the church may be low quality as symbolized by "wood, hay" or
"straw". This would be temporal, of little benefit and subject to decay.
The Corinthians may have been growing the church for other reasons such as around the person of
Paul, Apollos, Corinthian cultural practices or worldly wisdom.
Regardless of the work, there will be a "day" (verse 13), a time when Christ will judge the
works of Believers (2 Cor 5:10).
While it is not entirely clear of how God will judge, the Bible uses the imagery of "fire" in reference to the
evaluation of the Christian’s work. This imagery is more readily apparent in
Paul indicates that a Christian whose work meets approval after God’s judgment is credited, while
the worker of inferior materials is saved, he is not rewarded for his labor. Furthermore, Paul figurativly implies
that just as a worker knows about the quality of his building material, so does a Christian knows what work that
God approves of.
3. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, what is Paul referring to when
he speaks of a "temple?" Is he referring to the Christian’s life (hint: study the Greek verb endings and personal
pronouns that Paul uses in verse 16)? What does he mean "if any man destroys the temple"?
Greek verbs have distinct endings that show whether the subject of the verb is singular or
plural, first person (I, we), second person (you, you all), or third person (he, she, it or they). For pronouns,
there are different Greek terms for singular "you" or the plural "you all".
The Greek verb endings and pronouns of
1 Corinthians 3:16 all indicate the plural.
Do you not know that you (plural) are a temple (singular) of God and that the Spirit of
God dwells in you?
There are two different Greek terms for temple, which have two different meanings.
"Hieros" refers to a sacred building such as a temple building.
"Naos" refers to the sanctuary of the temple consisting of the Holy place and the Holy of Holies.
This is the term that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3:16
to describe the local church.
When considering the grammatical nuances and context, Paul is not thinking of individual
Christians as temples or dwellings of the Holy Spirit. Instead, he is thinking in the plural, the local church where
The clause "Do you not know" occurs 10 times in this letter and each time it precedes an
indisputable statement, which in this case is: "you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you."
In his confrontation of the Corinthian sin of coveting, division and strife, Paul takes the time
to explain to the Corintians what to do; yet, warns them of the danger of their behavior which could lead to the
destruction of the church. Christians ought to be taking part in the process of sanctification and building the
church up instead of taking part in sinful behavior and taking the church down.
This ultimate warning is directed towards the person who destroys the church: God will destroy
him. That would certainly stop someone from sinning further.