Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg – Bible Study Material on 1 Cor. 3:10-23
This lesson on 1 Cor 3:10-23 looks at the image of the Church as a building (God’s Temple). In this regard, Paul uses himself and the other leaders in the Corinthian Church as builders of the Church. Specifically, an attempt is made to reflect on Paul’s caution of the believers about how they are to build God’s Church.
Perspectives on 1 Cor 3:10-23
This text appears to be one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. The Roman Catholics use it to “support” their doctrine of purgatory.” To them, the fire will purify people in the next life and make them fit for heaven. The modernists use it to “prove” salvation by good works. And many evangelical believers interpret this section as applying to the judgment of individual believers rather than the building of the local church.
While this passage teaches that there will be a judgment of believers’ works at the judgment seat of the Messiah, the basic application is to workers and pastors of the local churches. In this case, the local church is compared to a building or a temple. The pastor is a builder whose responsibility is to keep the materials in the temple at their very best. Paul was the builder God used to lay the foundation at Corinth. And that foundation was Jesus as preached in the Gospel. Along came Apollos, who built upon that foundation, and other pastors followed him. From Paul’s point of view, “Each one should be careful how he builds” (1 Cor 3:10).
Three kinds of workers in God’s Church
From 1 Cor. 3:14-17, Paul seems to describe three kinds of builders in God’s church.
The wise builder (1 Cor. 3:14)
The first worker uses lasting materials (gold, silver, jewels) and not the cheap, shabby things of the world (wood, hay, stubble). This builder seeks to honour the Lord, aiming for quality that will glorify Him—not quantity that will win the praise of people. Wise builders use the Word of God. They pray and depend on the Spirit. As a result, their work is lasting. When the fire tries their work in glory, it will stand!
The worldly builder (1 Cor. 3:15)
The second builder uses materials that cannot stand the test. This is the worker who is in a hurry to build a crowd but does not take the time to build a church. The materials come from the world—wood, hay, stubble. These workers do not test people’s confessions of faith by the Word to see if they are truly born again. They merely take them into the church and rejoice in bigger statistics. When this ministry is tested in eternity, it will burn up. The worker will be saved, but there will be no reward. Like Lot, the worker will be saved, as by fire.
The destroyer (1 Cor. 3:17)
Finally, the destroyer does not build the church but tears it down. The word “defile” in 1 Cor. 3:17 really means, “destroy.” It takes no talent or intelligence to tear something down. Even a child (and the Corinthians were like babies) can destroy something. Sad to say, there are believers whose selfish ministries destroy local churches instead of building them up. God has a severe judgment awaiting them.
Exhortation and application
It is important to keep in mind that Paul’s motif for saying all this is to teach the Corinthian believers to love and respect their pastors. In addition, to pray for them because they had this tremendous task of building the local church for God’s glory. The believer who follows just the preacher is helping to build with wood, hay, and stubble. The church member, who loves the Word, obeys the pastor’s teaching of the Word. He/She seeks to keep the local church at its best spiritually and is helping the pastor build with gold, silver and precious stones. The judgment seat of Jesus Christ will reveal that many great churches were not great at all.
In 1 Cor. 2:5, Paul warned the Corinthians not to trust in men. Now he warns them not to glory in men (1 Cor. 3:18-23). Immature believers love to be around and glory in “great men and women of God.” Paul refers to Job 5:13 and Psalms 94:11 in verses 19 and 20. We are encouraged not to glory in people when in Jesus, we have all things. If Paul or Apollos was a blessing to them, they should glorify God and not the men.
As “plots of land” in God’s garden (1 Cor. 3:6-9), we receive the seed of the Word and bear fruit. As living stones in the temple (1 Cor. 3:10-15, and 1 Peter 2:4-8), we help the temple grow and be strong for the glory of God. The lives that we live help to determine whether the church is being built with gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble. Believers are not to glorify their pastors but are to respect them and obey them as to the Lord (Hebrews 13:17).
- State three ways that 1 Cor 3:10-23 has often been interpreted.
- Name and explain the three kinds of workers in God’s Church as a building.
- What kind of worker are you in God’s Church?
- Describe three desirable attitudes of Church members towards Pastors.