We probably all know what an oxymoron is; it's a figure of speech with apparently contradictory terms joined together. For example:
- Original copy
- Alone together
- Honest politician
By definition an original isn't a copy and a copy isn't an original. Being alone doesn't involve being together with someone; otherwise you're not alone. And an honest politician, well you get the point.
Christianity has their own oxymorons. For example:
- Fallen Angel
- Pure evil
- Born again
Paul speaks of an oxymoron in the church of Corinth; the carnal christian. To be carnal is to be of the flesh, defined and driven by fleshly things. But a Christian is born again in the spirit; they have died to themselves - putting to death the things of the flesh. If these things are so, is there really such a thing as carnal christians?
1 Corinthians 3:1
At the end of chapter 3 Paul had completely denounced the wisdom of the world. He stated that spiritual things are discnerned by the spirit; the natual (or carnal) man is not equiped to receive spiritual things. Paul said we have the mind of Christ. As a believer we are equiped, whether we believe it not, whether we understand that works or not. There may have been some in the church of Corinth that were simply ignorant of spiritual things, not understanding we no longer lived in the flesh and for the flesh.
Paul doesn't seem to doubt these folks have been saved. Paul addressed these folks as saints from the beginning. There is no reason to think that's changed. Here he speaks to these carnal people and refers to them as babes in Christ. A babe in christ is one born again, but they may still have much about them that is defined by the flesh; thoughts, habits, language, etc. These are the things God works on as he begins to sanctify us.
But, in the church of Corinth, it seems these folks weren't growing. Its as if they rejected or stifled this sanctification by holding onto the flesh and the things of the world. They were leaning on worldly wisdom instead of letting go of it and leaning solely on the wisdom and power of God. Paul was disappointed that they had not listened to what he had taught them. His message to them wasn't anything elaborate or hard to grasp. He didn't come to them with intellectual speech or difficult principals, but he came simply with the gospel, preaching Christ crucified.
The gospel message is a simple message and once it is received it leads to the deep things of God. Paul expected to see evidence of growth from these folks and to be able to teach them the deeper things of God. What Paul found though was these folks were believers that had never stepped forward and let the Spirit teach them.
Our faith is life changing and its new life because you have surrendered the old life. It's not an insurance policy against bad luck or a bad lot in life. You can't take it and put it away in case you want to use it some day. We are to be filled with the living and active word that guides the steps our lives. Then when those who are Christ like gather they look like the body of Christ.
Paul acknowledges in his letter that these people had Spiritual gifts and we know they were believers but they had one foot in the world. They didn't want to let go of those things that might have been their favorite habits, hobbies or sins. They kept one foot in the world so they wouldn't have to let go of those worldly things they enjoyed. They had chosen to play in the world instead of being concerned with salvation, forgiveness of sins and being right with God.
Paul told them if you want deep things, come and get them, they are right before them. It seems they were not stepping forward because they wanted to pursue the deep things they thought would be found in the world. They wanted to explore great mysteries of life. They wanted the answers to the questions that everyone asks deep in their soul. Paul had to remind them that the wisdom of God searches all things, even the deep things. Can you imagine the mindset of these Christian men and women who didn't understand that God had the capacity for 'deep things'? That's astounding!
Chapter 3 opens with Paul saying that he could not speak to these saints as though they were spiritual people. That's a slap in the face isn't it? They thought of themselves as spiritual; they relished the gifts and they held to their divisions. These very things become evidence agaisnt them. Paul had to speak to them like they were carnal, as if they were babes in Christ. He believed he should be able to write to them as mature Christians.
Paul wasn't seeing maturity in this body of believers. There was an expectation or trajectory of growth among them; they were stunted, stagnant and not moving. Paul asked, 'How long will you remain a baby Christian?'
1 Corinthians 3:2-4
When do you plan on growing up saints of Corinth? At some point you need to start eating the solid food. When Paul had saw them last, they weren't able to receive it. Now, some time later, they still can't receive it because they were still carnal, they were still natural.
They had received Christ and they had received the Holy Spirit but nothing happened. They never grew and instead remained as if they were natural men. In their mind they thought they were ready for the deep things, like any kid they wanted to the do the things the adults were doing. They wanted the deep things handed to them. They weren't willing to grow in the Lord day by day and have the deep things revealed to them.
If there is carnality something is seriously wrong. Carnality is not a choice it's a condition. In this Carnal state you are lacking discipline and commitment to the Lord or maybe both. Being Carnal is an indication something is seriously wrong.
Paul noted that among them there was envy, strife, and divisions. And he asks, "Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" It's as if he asked, "Can you really make the case that you are seeking after the deep things of the Lord while you consumed with envy, strife and divisions?"
They were divided, following men, some saying I am of Paul and another group followed Apollos. Of course they were carnal they were taking sides, choosing up teams among men instead of being focused on the Lord. They weren't a fully functioning body of believers who were mature in the Lord yet knowing they could still grow. They weren't joined as the family of God, sons and daughters of the Most High, helping each other, encouraging, exhorting, discipling, praying, loving, caring and growing. The worldly wisdom had stunted their growth.
1 Corinthians 3:5-8
Not one of these Corinthians believers found their salvation in Paul. No one could look to Apollos as having done anything to do with their salvation. Paul and Apollos, and others were merely tools used by God. They were mere men called to proclaim the gospel. These saints of Corinth heard the message through these men but were saved by the Lord. Paul said he planted; yes, he planted the church. Apollos watered; yes, he was there discipling the saints. However, God is the one who gave the increase.
The planter and the waterer are just men. Both are doing what they were called to, being faithful in their gift. The waterer can't be envious of the planter and vice versa, just do what you were called to do and each of us will receive the reward due to us based on what we are supposed to be doing. God has assigned each of us a task and God has his part in each one
This whole analogy of planting and watering seems very basic. I think this again speaks to their spiritual immaturity. They surely weren't functioning as a body of believers. How do you join in fellowship and prayer when you are envious of someone's gift? They were putting value on the gifts and callings based on that worldly wisdom we spoke about in chapter 2. They assumed the person who stood up front and taught was more important than someone else. Or the one with the gift of mercy outranked someone else. They had established that prophecy made someone more special in God's eyes than some other person's gift. They had ranked the gifts. They had created a hierarchy based on how men valued the gifts.
We are also capable of doing this and in fact I think it happens all the time we just don't always recognize it. It's something every church has to watch for.
1 Corinthians 3:9
We are all fellow workers with God. He is calling all the shots and we just work with him. He allows us to help.
I remember many years ago dad built a dune buggy from scratch out in the garage. I remember that I was a great help to him. I'm guessing dad has a different memory of that. I was probably eight years old. Dad let me help. I had many very important jobs. I held the light a lot and from time to time I chased after a tool. At the time I thought he couldn't have done it without me. In spite of all my shortcomings and all the times I was probably in the way Dad still let me help.
I think that's the way it is with our Heavenly Father. We get in the way and mess things up but he lets us help anyway. The church of Corinth was God's field; a spiritual field to grow disciples and see them come to maturity. The New Testament calls it 'perfection' many times; this perfection is a completeness, where our faith invades and permeates every aspect of our life. If we, as a spiritual field, yield only worldly stuff, then the field has no spiritual value.
Not only are we God's field but we are God's building. In 1 Peter 2:4, Peter is saying a very similar thing. He said we are living stones that God uses to build a spiritual house. As a living stone it is a given we will be rejected by men. What the world finds worthless, God uses to build a house. Peter said this spiritual house and holy priesthood is a place where we offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus. This place of service to God is founded on Jesus Christ; He is the chief cornerstone. And if Jesus isn't the cornerstone upon which all is built, then He is the stumbling stone upon which all will stumble. We will be crushed and broken up this stone or this stone will crush us.
We are God's. If we are in Christ we have died to our self and turned from our old sinful ways. We then are God's; His workers to be about good works, His field in which to produce spiritual fruit, His building in which the saints of God thrive and becomes part of God's kingdom in service to God Most High.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11
Paul continues with the analogy of the builder. He had laid the foundation for this church of Corinth and He was only able to lay that foundation by the grace of God that was given him. It wasn't of his own power or strength or wisdom. It was God letting him help.
Paul was quick to point out that the only real foundation was Jesus Christ. And while others may build on it, they needed to be careful. You can't put the wrong building on the right foundation and you can't put the right building on the wrong foundation. You start with the correct foundation and then build the building that fits the foundation on all sides.
These other men causing division couldn't come in behind Paul and try to build a church based on worldliness on a foundation of Jesus Christ. It was a mismatch and it wouldn't work. It was the square peg in the round hole, the building just wouldn't stand.
This project was the building of the church. It wasn't a physical building, but a fellowship of believers. This project brought in new believers who learned from the older ones. It's the baby Christian's being born into the family and brought to maturity by the others. It was growth in numbers by mature believers reproducing through discipleship and evangelism.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15
Paul warns them to be conscious of their building materials. It's not about the amount of work, the test will be 'What sort it is'. You can build with gold, silver and precious stones or wood, hay and straw. Whatever building material you use it will be test in the future. The Day of the Lord will reveal each man's work to the fire. If your work endures you will receive a reward.
If your work burns away, you will still be saved. However, you will not receive a reward. Those that built with the wrong things will then realize that they wasted their life working for that which had no value. Can you imagine? There are many people who believe they are serving the Lord. Yet they are building with the wrong materials, not building with the lasting things. They will find out all their work came to nothing. In the end, in spite of what they saw as hard work they will find out they did nothing for the Lord.
Remember Paul is talking about a fellowship of people here. Don't get lost in this analogy of building and building materials, he's talking about their church. Jesus Christ was the foundation as laid down by Paul and others came and built on that foundation. These are other believers and teachers. Paul started this in Corinth. He had laid the foundation for the church of Jesus Christ and he expected it to be built and built well. Not with cheap materials that would burn away.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
You are the temple of God. The 'You' here is talking about this Church. They were the temple of God. The temple was the place where you met God, although God is everywhere, it represents the place where God resides. When a body of believers are gathered together and functioning in the correct way, they are the temple of God.
No one would build a temple of wood, hay and stubble for king? Yet, the folks of Corinth had built their church, which was the temple of God, out of the cheap, worthless materials. The church is to be built on the immovable foundation of Jesus Christ and built with the finest of materials. Then, in that Day, when those things are tested they will survive the fires of judgment.
The temple was symbolic of the presence of the Lord. God dwells in the Holy of Holies. Then Paul says something scary. "Anyone defiling the temple will be destroyed." Anyone defiling the church of Jesus Christ will be destroyed. This defiling was 'to corrupt or damage' something in even the slightest way. Everything in the temple was in order and in its place. When something was out of order or out of place the temple was defiled.
In Corinth, things were out of order. They were in disarray. They were to be the temple, the dwelling place of God, but God won't dwell in a place that has been defiled. They needed to clean things up and return to purity and the holiness.
1 Corinthians 3:18-20
This is the economy of God. It's upside down for us. The things that make the natural man wise are foolishness with God. The wise man will become foolish and the foolish are made wise. You can't fool God and deceive him by trying to build a church on a different foundation. And you can't do it with the wrong materials. In the end, it will be found out. Those who think themselves wise will be brought down. Their craftiness will become their own trap.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23
We know we don't have anything to boast about as men and women. Yet, all things are yours. The things that have been built up in you through pastors, teachers, Sunday School teachers, parents, family and friends. All these things are ours; all the teachings, bible studies, fellowships, experiences in life or death; the things of the past and the things of the present are all yours to experience and learn from.
These are the things that God uses to build his temple in us. I'm excited about holding tight to God's word. I'm thrilled about where we've been and I'm energized about where we are going. Are you ready? We are the temple of God.
©2016 Doug Ford