Spiritually Examining Divisions
Having identified what a spiritual person is, and having explained how spiritual people are to view and examine things, Paul returns to his counsel to the Corinthians about divisions so as to allow them an opportunity to revisit their divisions, this time with a spiritual eye:
“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?”
– 1 Corinthians 3:1-4
Up until this point, Paul could not effectively counsel them or help them to understand that their inability to see beyond the flesh, and comprehend the spirit behind Jesus’ teachings, is the source of the divisions. He had to first explain how the spirit works and give them a new paradigm from which to look at life. Having brought them to the precipice of a spiritual understanding, he could give his counsel:
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe —as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
Here, Paul makes his point – that we do not belong to anyone but the Father. Their divisions, and our divisions, are illusions based on fleshly, human reasoning. He continues:
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved —even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
Here, Paul is explaining that there is no need to condemn the works of our brothers. We are simply building with different materials – different doctrines and modes of behavior. While these ‘materials’ may be destroyed by the tribulations of life, and their value revealed as valueless, if we keep our hearts – our spiritual lives – focused on the Father, we will still be saved though our works destroyed. Do we understand what Paul is telling us?
The important thing is not doctrine, but worship. Remember, the Father is looking for those who will worship Him with spirit and truth (John 4:23), not works and facts! Paul wanted the Corinthians to know their personal value to God regardless of which ‘fellow worker’ led them to the Father:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
He did not want us to be deceived into thinking that one association is better than another.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
All talk boasting about the superiority of our association – belonging to Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or Baptist, Catholic or Jehovah’s Witness – is foolishness to the Father. As sons of God, all things belong to us, and nothing, “not the world or life or death or things now here or things to come,” can change that.
Paul counseled them not to belittle themselves by engaging in petty squabbles over facts, but to rejoice in the truth. There is a huge difference! (Please see our article Worshiping with Spirit and Truth.) Paul did not concern himself with such trivial matters; instead, he left all such judging to the Father.
“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
–1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Paul used himself and Apollos as examples of spiritual men who remained in the teachings of the Christ. He did not want them to get caught up in personal interpretations that ‘go beyond what is written’ so as to show one’s teachings as superior to the teachings of others:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
– 1 Corinthians 4:6-7
He reminded them that no one has been appointed as king with authority to rule over God’s people, not even the apostles. For if such an appointment had been made, then all of us would be ruling as kings as well:
“Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.”
– 1 Corinthians 4:8-9
Rather than being ‘shepherds of God’s flock’ (1 Peter 5:2-3), Paul, partly sarcastically, explained that those taking the lead as ‘fellow workers with God’ should be modest servants.
“We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”
– 1 Corinthians 4:10-13