Christian maturity is stunted by carnality, carnality is rooted in vanity, and vanity always causes disunity. In this message on 1 Corinthians 3:1–23, Pastor Jim Shaddix reminds the church that God is the star of the gospel. The wisdom of the world is so deceptive, but the wisdom of God is dominant.
- The reason for disunity in the church is carnal Christianity.
- God is the star of the gospel.
- We should boast only in God.
First Corinthians 3—if you’ll open your Bible to that place. Let’s continue our journey through this book, as Pastor David said. Grab your worship notes there, and if you don’t have a Bible, I trust there’s someone near you that you can look on with. If you’ve got a Bible and don’t know where 1 Corinthians is, look in the Table of Contents in the second major division of your Bible called the “New Testament.” Paul wrote two letters to the church at Corinth. We’re studying the first one, and we’re in 1 Corinthians 3.
In just a couple of minutes—that’s not true; it’s not going to be a couple minutes; it’ll be a bit longer than that. That’s terrible to start off a sermon with a lie, isn’t it? I mean, that’s not very good. Before we leave today—how about that?—our elder council is going to put forward three new candidates for our consideration for our elder body. David talked about how God has led us to this study. There has been time and time again where that has been evident. I think today is another one of these. We did not plan to be in 1 Corinthians 3 on the same day that we would introduce some new elder candidates, but we come to 1 Corinthians 3 that has so much to do with leadership and unity around leadership. I think, again, another indication of God’s direction for us in this study.
You know, there have been few areas in the church’s life throughout church history that have created more division and disunity than the area of church leadership. And that’s kind of a weird deal, because it’s God-ordained and it’s so vitally important. But it’s been a reality and the church has gotten its leaders, as we still do, from a number of different spheres. Sometimes from outside the church itself or a particular local body. Like Barnabas going to get Saul to help out in Antioch. Like Paul leaving Titus in Crete to set things in order there. So sometimes a church has called its leadership from outside.
Other times a church has raised its leadership up from within. Like Paul and Barnabas appointing elders in every city where they went in their missionary journeys. And like Timothy, being called upon by Paul to hold the qualifications high for enlisting elders from within the church family itself. But, regardless of where the leaders came from, leaders oftentimes have been—not most of the time, I don’t want to suggest that at all—but oftentimes have been at the center of divisiveness in the local church.
Now, sometimes that divisiveness is at the hands of the leaders themselves. It’s their own fault because of scandalous activity, pursuing personal agendas, or sometimes with competing with one another—either from church to church or even within a particular local church family. But sometimes, as is the case here in Corinth in the subject of our study, the fault has been at the hands of the congregation, where people have put their leaders up on pedestals in an unhealthy way. And they have pitted them against one another within the context of a local body. Regardless of whose fault it’s been, church, we need to hear this, possibly: Nothing grieves the heart of our God more than for His body to be divided over His good gift of leadership. This precious gift that He’s given us—this that He has ordained in the church. What a tragedy! How it breaks the heart of God if a local congregation ever allows that to become a point of divisiveness.
1 Corinthians 3 Discusses Leadership and Unity
So, here’s what we have in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. These two chapters, this week and next week, we’ll deal with them as we have the convergence of these two issues: The issue of leadership and the issue of unity. We’ll focus more in 1 Corinthians 3 this week on unity, more next week in 1 Corinthians 4 about leadership in general. But these two chapters deal with both of these subjects. Certainly, it is timely that we would come to this place on this day, not because we’re aware of any divisiveness in this faith family over its leadership, but because it is certainly crucial that, moving forward—every time we come to this place, every time we come to select new elders, every time we come to raise up a new small group leader or a ministry head in some other area—that we have these truths in mind.
The Big Deal with Disunity Over Church Leaders …
The Reason: Carnal Christianity
So, as a faith family of The Church at Brook Hills that comes to this place on this particular day, let’s give our attention to the big deal about disunity over church leadership because, obviously, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul makes much of this. So let me tell you what we’re going to do—plan of attack here. I want us to think about the reason that Paul points out in this passage of Scripture that there’s disunity at the church at Corinth, as well as the disunity that could arise in any local congregation. And then, we’re going to hear him give us a reminder about how we avoid that and how we maintain unity when it comes to leadership. And then, at the end of this chapter, Paul is going to call us to one logical response to all of his teaching in this passage of Scripture, and it needs to be our response, as well. We’ll give most of our attention to the front and the back of the first point and the second one and spend some time in the middle.
But let’s look at this reason that Paul puts on the table. You know what it is? It’s a thing that’s been called “Carnal Christianity.” That was the issue here. Let me get us started by reading these first four verses. You follow along in your copy of God’s Word as we think about Carnal Christianity. Paul says:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
You know what was going on here? The Corinthians weren’t being true to who they were in Christ Jesus. Matt quoted a passage of Scripture from Colossians 2:6 just a few minutes ago: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” Well, the Corinthians weren’t doing that. They received Christ Jesus as Lord, but they weren’t walking in Him when it came to this particular area of church leadership.
Now, if you put it in reverse just a little, glance back in your Bible to the end of 1 Corinthians 2. Let me remind you that Paul had finished that chapter by saying basically there are two kinds of people in the world. All the people in the world are going to be divided into two groups. There are natural people and there are spiritual people. Natural people, he said, are people who don’t have the Spirit of God living inside of them. Spiritual people are people who have the Spirit of God living inside of them. Natural people are lost. Spiritual people are saved. Natural people are unbelievers. Spiritual people are believers.
That’s the way Paul had led up this point, and then he comes in 1 Corinthians 3 in our Bible, and you know what he says? He says, “But you Corinthians, who were in the spiritual category, aren’t acting like it. You’re not acting like who you are.” And you know what? The same thing can happen for any Christian in any evangelical church—any Christian church in our culture, in this “celebrity preacher” culture, in this culture where we’ve allowed competition to infiltrate denominations, local churches and even small group ministries within churches. The same exact thing can happen, and the same exact thing could be said.
Christian maturity is stunted by carnality.
Now, how does that happen? Well, Paul tells us here, and he begins by basically saying, “Christian maturity is stunted by carnality.” That’s where we get this idea of Christian carnality. Paul says it stunts Christian maturity. Now, watch this, Brook Hills. Make no mistake about this. The Corinthians were Christians—at least the majority of them. Paul was looking at them as a body, and he was saying to those in the church. I’m not saying everybody in Corinth; I’m saying everybody in the Corinthian church—all right?—at least most of them. Paul’s assuming that they were in that category of spiritual people.
Look down in verse 1 of your Bible. He calls them “brothers.” He didn’t do that with unbelievers. Later in the verse, he says—referring back to the time when he first came to them, recording in Acts 18, and they had embraced the gospel. He had referred to them as “infants in Christ.” He saw them as “in Christ.” Why? Because that’s exactly what they were. They were new converts. They were infants back then, and so Paul says, “I did for you what you do with infants. I gave you milk. I didn’t try to force-feed you with solid food, because that’s what you do with babies.” And we know that, right? That’s why we give babies milk; we give them liquid food. They can’t handle solid food. And those of you that have babies, maybe even in this service, you know that somewhere close you have a burp rag, because their digestive tracts and systems aren’t fully developed.
I was at the ballpark yesterday watching Pastor David’s boys play ball. Amy was there, and she had Baby Isaiah. At one point, I was standing next to her, and she held him out and said, “You want to hold him?” And I thought, “Well, just maybe for a split second.” She threw the burp rag over my shoulder and handed me the baby. I held Isaiah for a minute and then quickly gave him back. Why? Because they leak, and they… I need to get used to this—I’m about to be a granddad, so I know this is coming. And I’ve got to go back to those… And they leak, and they leak in a lot of different places. Why? Because their digestive systems aren’t fully developed, so you don’t give them solid food. You give them milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do with babies.
But here’s the deal: That’s supposed to change, right? I mean, if you get into high school, and your mom’s carrying around a burp rag for you, something is wrong, right? I mean, because you’re supposed to grow out of that. And that’s what the Apostle Paul says: “Babies are supposed to grow up.” But look at this piercing statement that he makes in verse 2. I mean, it sticks like a knife when he says: “And even now you are not yet ready.” You see it?
You see, everything up to this point was natural. It’s the way it was supposed to be. They were babies—supposed to get milk, not solid food. But now they’re several years old in the Christian faith and should have grown into adulthood. Paul says, “And even now you are not yet ready.” Everything up to this wasn’t a problem. That was a problem! It wasn’t supposed to still be that way, but it was.
Now, look at verse 3. He carries it a step further and says, “…for you are still of the flesh.” This is the language of the New Testament. The idea is “being characterized by the flesh.” These Corinthians—watch it now—were relating it to their leaders in the same way that unbelievers who don’t have the Spirit of God might relate to their leaders. And Paul said, “That is a problem. That is not spiritual adulthood; that is spiritual infancy.”
1 Corinthians 3 Introduces the Idea of Carnal Christianity
You know what he’s describing here? He’s describing Carnal Christianity. And right here Paul introduces this very biblical idea into this conversation. And, Brook Hills, I want us to hear this. I want us to hear this carefully, because Paul moves the spiritual category. Remember, two kinds of people in the world: Natural people and spiritual people. Now he’s in the spiritual category, and he says, “Guess what? There are two kinds of people in the spiritual category. There are people who are progressing in their Christian life, and then there are people who are not progressing in their spiritual life. There are maturing Christians, and then there are carnal Christians. Maturing Christians are coming to the faith, and they’re growing into Christlikeness and just rolling along. Carnal Christians—not so much. So they’ve got into this thing at least in some areas, and they’ve hit the emergency brake. The emergency brake doesn’t go along with movement or progress.
Now, don’t confuse this with some erroneous ideas that have surfaced during the course of church history. And they even surface today. Somebody says, “Well, I was saved, but then I walked away from the faith and I lost my salvation.” No you didn’t! Not according to Scripture. It can’t happen if you really had it in the first place; you couldn’t have gotten eternal life at one point, and then it ceased to be eternal at another point. That doesn’t make sense. The Apostle John said of people who had abandoned the faith, “They went out from us…” Why? “…but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:9). That’s reality. You can’t lose it if you’ve really got it in the first place.
Somebody else says, “Well, I received Jesus as Savior, but then later on down the line, I received Him as Lord.” You ever heard that? The Bible says, “No, you didn’t. Can’t happen.” Jesus didn’t die on the cross and rise from the dead to let you set the terms of salvation—to let me set the terms of salvation. He didn’t put that option on the table and say, “You can receive me as Savior at one point and then as Lord at another.” He comes in as Lord and Savior, or He doesn’t come at all.
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” He didn’t say, “If you confess Him as Savior and then, somewhere down the line, decide you want to get serious about it and let Him be Lord, then you’ll be saved.” Not according to Scripture. That can’t happen.
And then somebody else says, “I’ve received Jesus as Lord and Savior,” but then there’s been absolutely no transformation in their life. The Bible would say, “No, you didn’t. No, you didn’t receive Him as Lord and Savior, because Jesus didn’t die on the cross and rise again from the dead to come into your life in those two roles and leave it the same. He doesn’t do that.” That can’t happen.
But, church, let me tell you want can happen based upon what the Apostle Paul says here. What can happen is Jesus can forgive your sin, come into your life and be seated on the throne of your life as Lord. Yet, there will still be some battles that are raging in outer-lying areas of the flesh. That’s what Paul’s talking about.
John Piper describes this in an interesting way. He parallels it to a coup, a righteous coup. That’s what Jesus did when He saved you. It wasn’t because you invited Him in, and you said, “I’ve been pursuing you, and I want you.” Jesus came in and He took over. He pursued you. And when He took over, He took over as Savior and Lord. But, just like with any coup, there are always some skirmishes in outer-lying areas that it takes awhile to finish up. There are some fires to be put out.
World War II officially ended on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. But it took months, even better than a year, for skirmishes on the different islands in the Pacific to be quelled and then to come to an end, because there were just troops that didn’t believe the war was over. And guess what? It happens with our flesh sometimes, with areas that we allow it to go on. Jesus can be Lord and Savior, but there will still be some battles that are going on out there in the flesh. That’s carnality. That’s when we are being more characterized by the flesh. Doesn’t mean it has to happen. Doesn’t mean it should happen. It simply says that it can happen.
We start the Christian life, and then we hit the emergency brake—sometimes over issues like leaders in the church, other times it’s things related to substance abuse, sex, relationships or anything else where we are not yielding to our God. It can happen to us. Doesn’t mean we’re not saved. Doesn’t mean we need to get “re-baptized.” It means we’re acting like babies, and we’re acting like infants. And we need to grow up. Growth is stunted because we act, sometimes, more like unbelievers than we do believers.
Sometimes we hear testimonies from this baptistery right here of people who made false professions of Christ early in life. And then, as a spiritual rite or ritual, they got dunked. They didn’t necessarily get baptized. You don’t get baptized until after you’re truly saved, but they went through a spiritual, religious rite. And then God, in His grace, pursued them, and He graciously intervened in their life and called them to Himself. Then, they truly confessed Christ, and they truly were baptized. That does happen. We should celebrate it, and we do celebrate it. But, sometimes, some of us, we hear testimonies like that, we don’t process it through the lens of Scripture, and we get confused. We develop a false impression. And that is, if there’s one area or some areas in my life where there’s still a battle going on, then it must mean that my salvation didn’t take and it wasn’t real. The Apostle Paul says, “No! That’s not necessarily true!”
Beloved, let me tell you something. If there has been an identifiable change in your life and there’s clear evidence of God’s Spirit transforming attitudes and actions in your life and a different perspective of your conscience that is inside of you, but you notice that there are some outer-lying areas there where there’s still a battle raging, please hear the Word of God today. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not saved and you have to get re-dunked. It may just mean that you’re carnal; you’re an infant when you ought to be an adult. And you need to grow up.
Now, listen to me. I’ve got to stop right there and say, “Don’t be deceived by the enemy at this point.” Some of us don’t need to hear this morning—hear what I’m saying—hear the teaching of this passage and say, “Whew! Boy, I’m so glad to hear that! I’m so glad to know that there is a backsliding state and that I’m really saved! And, boy, I’m just carnal. I’m just glad that…” Are you kidding me? Would we ever be satisfied in a state that breaks the heart of God? Would we ever be okay with that? Would the Spirit of God ever allow us to let that be a relief in our life?
Now, listen to me. The first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to be honest with yourself. If there’s never been any identifiable change, no clear evidence of the transformation of the Spirit of God in your attitudes and your actions, then you need to be honest with that and acknowledge the fact that Christianity was probably never a reality. That’s when someone needs to repent. That’s when somebody needs to confess Christ as Lord. And that’s when somebody needs to be baptized for the very first time in reality.
But let me just say to you: If you know there’s been identifiable change, and there’s been transformation in attitudes and actions, please acknowledge that is carnal Christianity. It’s acting like a baby. Repent of it and grow up. You don’t have to get saved again. You don’t have to get baptized again. But you need to repent and honor God in what He has saved you to be.
Paul tells us why this happens. He tells us that the very root of our hearts why Christian carnality is a reality. You know what it is?
Christian carnality is rooted in vanity.
Christian carnality is rooted in vanity; it’s rooted in vanity. Carnal Christianity is rooted in our pride and our self-centeredness. Look at verse 3. Paul says, “There is jealousy and strife among you.” I mean, he knew what little children together look like. He knew that the little child would say, “Mine! Mine!” There’s a bunch of toys in the room and you put kids in there, and they’ll say, “This one’s mine!” They say, “Mommy, he took my toy!” And there’s going to be this kind of outlook.
These Corinthians were fighting. What were they fighting over? They were fighting over leadership. That’s why verse 4 says—look at it—“Paul is mine! Apollos is mine!” And we’re saying, “Well, they stole our leader.” Or, “I want to be in that person’s small group!” Somebody else says, “Well, our church has got the best pastor. Our pastor’s better than your pastor.” This is what was going on here. This is where carnality begins.
You know where it begins? It begins with that personal pronoun “I.” Emphatic position in verse 4 in the biblical text. I am of Paul. I am of Apollos. That’s where carnality begins. It’s rooted in our selfish pursuit of our wants, our desires, our agendas. All of us know when you put a group of little, selfish children in the same room, ultimately, there’s going to be some fighting. There’s going to be some division. There’s going to be some jealousy. There’s going to be some disunity.
Christian vanity always causes disunity.
That’s why Paul says here what that result is: Christian vanity always causes disunity; Christian vanity always causes disunity. This is where it ends up. That’s the real problem there. Corinthians were divided over their leaders, not because of anything the leaders had done, but because the church members viewed these leaders and related to them in unhealthy ways. It was because of their own selfish desires. That’s exactly what will happen to us or any congregation if we allow vanity and self-service to creep in. It’ll rip us apart. This is why we have to guard against it.
The Reminder: God is the star of the gospel.
So, how do we avoid it? Well, that’s where Paul gives us the reminder—a reminder of something that has already been introduced in this book. You know what it is? A reminder that God is the star of the gospel; God is the star of the gospel; He’s the hero. And so Paul takes three paragraphs in our English translations—most of them—to call attention to this one truth. He uses three illustrations to point to the reality that God plays the feature role in the gospel, and therefore, He deserves the focus of our attention and our affection, as opposed to those things being on our leaders.
So there are three images—three word pictures here—that all point to that same thing: The beckon call to cherish the goodness of God more than the labor of our leaders. I’ll be honest with you. There’s a part of preparing this message that I struggled with. Though I saw the timing of God in coming to this particular day, I thought, “Whoa! This is going to sound like we’re trying to say that the leaders are not worthy, and they’re not important, and we push them aside.” That’s not the case at all! Wait till we get to 1 Corinthians 4. But here the Apostle Paul wants to emphasize to us that we are not to come to this time in an unhealthy way.
The church is God’s field.
So let me show you these three images. Here’s the first one. It’s in verses 5 through 9. Paul says, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “The church is God’s field.” That’s how he characterizes us. When it comes to gospel witness, he says—really—three contrasts, three comparisons here.
Here’s the first one: Leaders are the servants, but God gives the jobs. That’s what you have in verse 5: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” So Paul and Apollos, they’re servants. Our leaders are servants, but the Lord is the one that is dishing out the jobs and making the assignments.
Secondly, leaders work the ground, but God gives the growth. Look at verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered…” Paul came in to Corinth in Acts 18, and he preached the gospel; people got saved. Later, the eloquent Apollos came in, and he nurtured them in their faith. But look at what he says in verse 6: “…but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters…” That’s Paul or Apollos or any other leader. “…is anything…” In comparison, Paul said, “…but only God who gives the growth.” You see how God reigns? He’s supreme. His role is more important.
And then thirdly, leaders work together because God gives the wages. Verse 8: “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” From who? By implication, from God. He’s the one who’s paying the salary. Verse 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers…” he says. We work together in this deal, but God is the one who is paying the wages. Church, you are God’s field.
The church is God’s building.
Second illustration: The church is God’s building. That’s what he says of us. We’re God’s building. Verses 9 through 15—and, again, Paul unpacks it in a couple of ways, where he begins in verse 9: “You are…God’s building.” And then he says this: “God gives the grace, so leaders build cooperatively.” Verse 10: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder…” Like a skilled job superintendent, Paul said. How do you become a skilled superintendent, Paul? It’s the grace of God. This word “grace” is an indication of the ability that God gives as the resource, the ministry. He not only does it for leaders, but He does it for every one of us who have named the name of Christ to carry out the ministry.
And this is what Paul says, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” He says, “God’s the one that gives the ability; we just build this thing out accordingly.”
1 Corinthians 3 Calls Leaders to Build According to the Gospel
And then, he says, “God gives the gospel, so leaders build accordingly. Verse 11: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is…” Who? Jesus Christ, right? Two verses, verses 10 and 11, Paul says, “I laid the foundation,” but he didn’t say, “I produced the foundation.” When he identifies the foundation as Jesus, it becomes clear who gave the foundation. God gave the foundation! That’s what He does for us as a church. He laid the foundation. He gave us the gospel.
What do leaders do? Leaders just build on it accordingly. We don’t raise up leaders or call them from the outside and say, “Bring in your agenda. You lay the foundation; we’ll build on it.” We say, “We’ve got a foundation. God has laid it. We want you to come help us build out the building.” Paul continues to do the same thing, showing the superiority of God over the role of leaders.
And then, finally in that paragraph, God gives the rewards so leaders build for eternity. See it in verse 12 and following? “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones…” Those are things that last when they get in a fire. Then, he goes on: “…wood, hay, straw.” Not so much. Those things don’t last. “…each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though…” Watch it now, “…he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Now, what in the world is going on here? Well, Paul’s referring to what’s variously known as the judgment of the believer’s works—the judgment seat of Christ, or the “Bema” judgment. He’s talking about the time at the end of the age when our works as believers will be judged to determine the rewards that we get in heaven. This is not a reference to the judgment of our sin. Why? That’s already been taken care of. Our sin has already been judged on the cross.
Paul is now taking this theological reality that there’s going to come a day in which the things we’ve done as believers in Christ are put under the fire of God to determine whether they were authentic, genuine, done in the right motives, and we will receive our rewards in heaven based upon that, not our sin; that’s been dealt with on the cross. Paul takes that, and he applies it to leaders. It’s the same deal.
They’re going to be judged with regard to rewards based upon their service, their motives and the quality of those with regard to their fitting the gospel agenda. Paul wants us to know that that’s going to be a reality, but he says, “Don’t forget. God’s the one that does the judging. He is the one that dishes out the rewards. That makes Him greater.” This is his comparison.
Before I go to the last image, let me just stop at that point and say just a word to those who may be here this morning or are listening by podcast that have never confessed Christ as Lord and Savior. I want you to hear this idea very closely about the judgment of the believers’ works. Scripture teaches this: Christians have been judged on the cross for their sins. We don’t have to anticipate a day when our sins will be judged again. That’s been taken care of. Our sins have been cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness, removed as far as the East is from the West, because we know that we cannot stand on our merit, and we can’t forgive our own sins. All of us have sinned, and we’re all guilty before a holy God.
But I want you to understand that, outside of Christ, this isn’t speaking about you. This isn’t speaking about a person who says, “I don’t need God’s forgiveness. I don’t need what Christ has. I don’t have time for Jesus. I’ll take my chances.” Because, you see, the Bible describes that person in Revelation 20 as standing before God at a different judgment. And that judgment is the “Great White Throne” judgment, when the Bible says the books will be opened. And God will look to see whose names are written in the Book of Life. And if someone’s name is not written in the Book of Life, then Scripture very clearly says two times in that paragraph: “He will be judged for what he has done.”
You know what that means? It means you’re on your own. You’re on your own with regard to your sin. You’re responsible for your sin, and you’ll be accountable for your sin in all of eternity if you have ignored the forgiveness of Christ. The Bible says very clearly that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all separated from Him. None of us are righteous; no, not one. And that means, Beloved, you don’t stand a chance on that day.
So, I would just take the judgment of the believer’s work, contrast it with the judgment of the unrepentant sinner who wants to stand on their own and let the chips fall where they may, and plead with you today: Don’t take that chance. You will lose. Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead to give you back the life of God. The Bible says, when a person cries out to God in repentance and faith, then Christ forgives that person’s sins. Your sins will be taken care of and have been. The price has been paid on Calvary’s cross. That applied to your life. And, while you would still look forward to this time when your works in this life would be judged for rewards, you would not anticipate a time when you’ll be held accountable for your sins. Give your life to Jesus today.
The church is God’s temple.
Let me show you this third picture: The church is God’s temple. Look at verses 16 and 17: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” So word picture, image number three, church, is that we are God’s temple. This is what he says about us. But he’s making the same point: God is the good giver of the gospel, and so He deserves to be cherished over our leaders and the work that they do.
But I want you to notice something. Paul brings a unique slant to this third word picture, and you know what it is? He’s not just applying it to leaders. He’s applying it to everybody in the church. He unpacks that for us in this way: First, God gives His Spirit and each local church gets to host Him; God gives His Spirit, and each local church gets to host the Spirit of God. We’re His temple. We’re His house. He’s chosen to dwell in us. What an incredible privilege that we get to host the God of the universe, and we are the embodiment of His Spirit! This is what Paul would say to the Ephesians, when he said, “…Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20b–22). That’s incredible! Paul says to the Corinthians, “Don’t forget who’s living inside of you!”
And then he says, “God gives His holiness, and each believer must preserve it.” Did you know that God has trusted you individually and corporately with His character? With His nature? That’s exactly what He says here, and we’re responsible. He says that He’s given to us His holiness.
Now, there’s a phrase here that’s bothersome. And that is where Paul says here: “God will destroy him.” And I want to be honest with you and tell you we’re not told exactly what he’s referring to in this context. We know he’s not talking about losing salvation. He might be talking about losing some rewards in heaven. He could be talking about, maybe, some people in the church who weren’t really saved who would suffer eternal condemnation. He might be talking about premature death that God allows an unrepentant, disobedient, carnal believer to experience, because they refuse to grow up and repent from some carnality. We don’t know for sure.
But I’m going to tell you what we do know. We do know what the context tells us. And the context tells us that there’s a group of people in this church that were creating division by putting leaders up on pedestals and pitting them against one another. And Paul’s point is that God takes that very seriously. He takes it seriously when we profane His character, and He won’t let it go unaddressed. That’s what Paul wants us to see. He’s holy, and He won’t tolerate us mocking His holiness by being selfish, prideful and giving His glory to men. This is a warning, Beloved.
When I drive in and out of my neighborhood, if I ever pass an unkempt yard or a house on the exterior that’s trashed, it always causes me to wonder. I wonder about the people living inside. I wonder if there’s a dad who’s busy traveling and doesn’t have time to keep up his yard. I wonder if there’s a single mom that lives there that doesn’t have anybody to help her with the upkeep. I wonder about a couple there that might be having marriage problems. I wonder about a family that might be going through a financial crisis and is behind on their house payment.
Now, none of those may be the case, but I still wonder why because external condition often is a reflection of an internal situation. And you know what? It’s no different for God’s house, the church. Our visible condition, watch it now, whether it’s holiness or unrighteousness or whether it’s unity or disunity, reflects on the character of the God who lives here. That’s serious stuff, and Paul wants us to take it seriously.
1 Corinthians 3 Reminds Us of the Importance of Good Leaders in the Church
Now, before we move on to the last paragraph, let me just say something about the leaders we raise up, the ones we call to become a part of… this is a good list! This is a good list for us. We want God to raise up people who will lead us, be servants and work the field of the church. They have a good work ethic, and they work hard for the sake of the gospel. They’re not just in it for a title, a reputation or a position. They work together. They help build this church on the gospel alone, and they do it as an eternal investment, not for their own glory in this world.
And I would challenge us as a people: Look for those kinds of men. Look for those kinds of leaders. When we’re nominating elders, look for those men in your small groups and other places and recommend them. When we’re looking for small group leaders, identify men and women that fit that bill right there. Recommend them to your leadership. Put them forward. We need help identifying people like this. This is a good list. Leaders and potential leaders, let me say to us: Let’s use this criteria here to sharpen one another and encourage one another in these things. To all of us as The Church at Brook Hills, let’s nurture God’s Spirit and represent His character of holiness well.
The Response: Boast only in God.All of that leads to one logical response. You know what it is? Boast only in God. No surprise to you. Boast only in God. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If God is the star of the gospel, as opposed to any of our church leaders—or any of us, for that matter—then it only makes sense that we would only boast in Him. That’s why Paul summarizes his exhortation in verse 21. Do you see it? “So let no one boast in men.” This is what he’s been saying in the whole book. First Corinthians 1:12, he says, “What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” He comes to 1 Corinthians 3:4: “One says, ‘I follow Paul.’ And another, ‘I follow Apollos.’” These people were glorying in the styles, the personalities and the presentations of their leaders instead of the God who called those leaders, the God of the gospel.
And you remember Paul’s great concern. His great concern is reflected back in 1 Corinthians 2:5, when he said, “What that leads to is you putting your faith in those people instead of the power of God, which is the only thing that has the potential of fostering authentic faith and lasting faith in you.” That’s why Paul was so serious. So, he pleads with them again to stop putting undue confidence in their leaders and put their confidence in God
I can’t imagine that, even this far into this letter, if there weren’t some of the Corinthians who were tired of hearing that. You can imagine, and you’re saying, “Come on, Paul! Enough already! Let’s move on! You said it in 1 Corinthians 1. You said it in 1 Corinthians 2. Now you’re talking about in 1 Corinthians 3. Get over it. We’ve got it. ‘Don’t put your confidence unduly in leaders, but put it in God.’ Now, let’s talk about something else.” And when I thought about that, it caused me to wonder how it must feel to us as well, even in a series like this.
“David? Jim? We get it! We get it! Let’s move on. Let’s talk about some of those other subjects, like church discipline, marriage, divorce, singleness or those kinds of things. We get it! Don’t put your confidence unduly in leaders.” But then we have to pause, and we’ve got to ask the question, “Why does Paul keep repeating? Why, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does he keep saying it?”
The wisdom of the world is so deceptive.
Let me show you why he keeps harping on it. Look at verse 18: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” You know why Paul keeps harping on it? Because the wisdom of the world is so deceptive, he said; the wisdom of the world is so deceptive. This thing is so misleading. Think about it. It’s so natural to put your faith in what you see—our leaders in the church—as opposed to what you don’t see—God! Isn’t it natural to trust in what the world trusts in—giftedness, presentation, personality and popularity—as opposed to putting your trust in a homeless guy who dies on a cross out by the city dump? That makes no sense whatsoever! It seems to make sense the other way.
It’s so easy to buy into the world’s wisdom and deny the true source of God’s power and life-change. So Paul says, “We’ve got to keep talking about this.” And, Church at Brook Hills, we can’t let this be the last time. We must keep reminding one another and coming back to this subject, because it is so deceptive.
The wisdom of God is so dominant.
Then Paul says the wisdom of God is so dominant on the other hand. What a contrast! Look at verse 19: “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, and they are futile.’” Get it, church! God’s on top of this. A whole world system is foolishness to Him, and He’s not being fooled by anybody. Pulls a couple of passages, Paul does, out of the Old Testament—Job 5 and Psalm 94—to show that God’s salvation is superior to all the discoveries of human wisdom, and, ultimately, the tricky thoughts and ways of thinking and words of man will ultimately become the net that they get trapped in. God’s wisdom dominates. And so it raises the question: Why would we want to put our confidence in anything or anyone else?
The glory of God is so desirable.
All of that comes to this crescendo. The Apostle Paul says the glory of God is so desirable; the glory of God is so desirable. The simple point is this—don’t miss this—the telescopic nature of life demands us to ask the question, “Why would we put our confidence in the small end?” Let me tell you want I mean. Have you ever seen a collapsible telescope? You know what a telescope does? You look in a small end. It has a bigger end. It’s bringing small objects way out there closer, making them larger. Collapsible telescope: The front end goes into the middle end; the middle end goes into the larger end. It just kind of folds up. There are lots of images that we could draw from.
That’s what the Apostle Paul is doing here in this last statement. He’s saying, “Have you ever thought about how, when you put your confidence in men, you’re putting your confidence in the smaller end of this deal?” It’s kind of like we as Christians in the church would be right in the middle. And the Apostle Paul says, “All things are yours. You’ve got to hang on. Life and death—you’re not afraid of those things. You’re not afraid of the present and the future. Those things are yours. And, not only that, but your leaders are yours. They’re in you. They’re part of you. And God has saved us together out of the world, and He has seated us in heavenly places. How? Why? In Christ Jesus!”
Then, Paul says, “Those things are in you. They are yours, but now you are in Christ, and Christ is God’s.” That’s the large end of the telescope. That’s where all of this is headed. God is the end game. His glory and His honor in all of eternity—that’s where we are headed. That is what is most desirable. That’s why we do this. That’s why we’re on this journey. And so Paul simply points out: “What sense does it make? You who are right in the middle, who have this world as yours, your leaders are yours, but you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” That’s where this is going.
Why would you want to boast in the small end of the telescope, when the small end of the telescope is just part of the journey to lead you to the large end? To lead you to God in His glory, in His grandeur. Church at Brook Hills, when we come to this time—and any time—to consider new leaders, we are considering God’s precious gift of individuals that He has given to us—not as an end, in and of itself, but to lead us to His glory, His honor and His fame.
The Cross and Christian Unity
1 Corinthians 3:1-23
The big deal with disunity over church leaders…
The Reason: Carnal Christianity
- Christian maturity is stunted by carnality. (1-3)
- Christian carnality is rooted in vanity. (3-4)
- Christian vanity always causes disunity. (3-4)
The Reminder: God is the star of the gospel.
- The church is God’s field. (5-9)
- Leaders are the servants, but God gives the jobs.
- Leaders work the ground, but God gives the growth.
- Leaders work together because God gives the wages.
- The church is God’s building. (9-15)
- God gives the grace, so leaders build cooperatively.
- God gives the gospel, so leaders build accordingly.
- God gives the rewards, so leaders build for eternity.
- The church is God’s temple. (16-17; cf. Eph. 2:21-22) 🔾 God gives His Spirit and each local church gets to host it.
- God gives His holiness and each believer must preserve it.
The RESPONSE: Boast only in God.
- The wisdom of the world is so deceptive. (18)
- The wisdom of God is so dominant. (19-20)
- The glory of God is so desirable.
(21-23; cf. Eph. 1:20-23)