An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 8)

M.A. Rudge

Every departure from the Divine pattern in building the house of God is something to be ashamed of before God (Ezek. 43:10,11). How much better it is to measure our building by the Divine pattern and be ashamed of all shortcomings now, when there is time for adjustment, than to leave it to the coming day of testing when all that is out of keeping with the mind of God will be burned up, and the careless or disobedient builders must suffer eternal loss (1 Cor. 3:15). A point of great importance might be raised here. If any building not according to the mind of God in a company founded upon the true foundation will be burnt up, what can be expected of that which is built into a company not founded upon the only true foundation? Let us see to it that we do not waste our energies by trying to build up companies that are not true assemblies of God. (J. G. Toll Present Truth, 1994).

The laborers must "take heed" how they build upon the foundation laid (v. 10). It is not only a question of the methods adopted in the work of building but also the materials used (v. 12). This calls for consideration of the quality of the workmanship. Three materials are described which require patient and hard labor to make them available; "gold, silver, precious stones." They are known for their lasting value and durability. The other three materials, "wood, hay, stubble," are quickly assembled in large quantities but are not comparable in value and lack durability. They are easily combustible. Emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. Only that which is of lasting value will stand the test of the searching character of the judgment-seat of Christ, "the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is" (v. 13).

Speaking in general terms, gold, silver and precious stones, represent material provided by service which is according to the mind of God and undertaken by spiritual believers. It will "abide" and receive reward at the judgment-seat of Christ, whereas wood, hay and stubble, represent that which is not according to the mind of God, service undertaken in the energy of the flesh, carnality. The latter type of service will not abide the searching character of the judgment seat of Christ. More specifically, "gold" is representative of Divine glory and what is Divine in character (Rev 21:11,18; 1:12,20). Building upon the foundation "gold", answers to work which builds up the distinctive character of the assembly and which is glorifying to God. Silver speaks preeminently of redemption (Ex. 30:12,13,16; 38:25) and sanctified service. The "atonement money" (silver) was appointed "for the service of the tabernacle" (Exod 30:16). It was used in the construction of the sockets for the boards of the tabernacle and the pillars of the court, so that these silver sockets stood between the tabernacle structure and the desert sands. This clearly typifies the believers standing in Christ and the corresponding truth of separation from the world and sanctified service. Worldliness has many forms, worldly religion, intellectualism, secular ambition, seeking social status, worldly entertainment, watching television, even excessive attention to legitimate occupations and any of these things can mar the spiritual life and spoil the character of the assembly and its sanctified service. Precious stones represent the spiritual features in the saints, which reflect the beauties and graces of Christ (1 Peter 2:7 RV). The third figure used for the assembly is "temple of God" (3: 16,17). Again, there are distinctive features associated with this figure and the main emphasis is upon the assembly and its sanctity, with its important association with unity. This aspect of truth is dealt with in the next section (5:1-6: 11).

In verses 19-23, Paul resumes the earlier references to human wisdom and the party-spirit, with its tendency to "glory in men." The apostle’s warning against self-deception, both on the part of would-be party leaders and their followers, is still needful today. To be "wise in this world" as a follower of Christ is to become a fool, to die to its perceived wisdom. True wisdom requires us to reject human wisdom, both in ourselves and in others. The situation which had developed at Corinth was in direct conflict with the truth of Scripture, "that which is written" (vv. 19, 20; 4:6), and the same is true today, wherever a similar situation exists. Rather than believers belonging to a party or group attached to a certain teacher, the truth is, that it is the teachers who belong to them. Servants are given as a gift to the Church for its edification, "For all things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas,...all are yours." They should really have said "Paul is mine..." not "I am of Paul." It should be noted that Paul does not say, "Christ is yours." Christ is viewed here as the Giver, the One who gives gifts to men and gifted men to the Church (Ephes. 4:7,8,11).

Verse 22 reads like a spiritual inventory of what the child of God posseses. Paul is saying, not only teachers but "all things are yours." He then repeats the latter expression at the end of the verse. There is no need for any believer to feel deficient in any way that might make them feel beholden to a group or a party. It may be that this is a major underlying cause of party groupings, the need to feel that we belong, to feel elevated by association with others.

"...Or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours" (v. 22). In the next statement, "or the world...or things to come," Paul turns to things which might be considered adverse. Even these are not to make the believer feel inadequate or deficient. They are all turned to good account under the overruling hand of God. "Things present" refers to all that can happen to us in the present state of things and as long as we form part of it, while "things to come" denote the great expected transformation, with its eternal consequences.’ (Godet).

"And ye are Christ’s;..." (v. 23). Not some of you, or a special party, but every believer, the whole Church, belongs to Christ. "And Christ is God’s. " It seems that in this final point, Christ stands in the same relation to God, in His manhood, as believers stand in relation to Christ and to the outworking of God’s purpose. Christ receives all from God. This is comparable to 11:3.

In chapter 4, Paul continues to speak of himself and Apollos as examples, as "ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." (4:1 -5). They are accountable to Christ and faithfulness to Him is an essential requirement. Again, the judgment-seat of Christ is referred to as "the time" when all servants and stewards will receive their true evaluation and reward. The example of Paul and Apollos is continued in vv. 6-13, "that ye might learn in us not to go beyond that which is written." The general teaching of Scripture, "that which is written", emphasizes the nothingness of man and the giving of glory to God for that which is done, rather than the human chancel The apostle gives a deeply instructive description of apostolic life-style, which formed a striking contrast to the life-style of many at Corinth. His description should be read carefully. It will search the heart of every reader. They were indeed "fools" from a worldly-minded point of view, but they were "fools for Christ’s sake" and when the day to "reign as kings" does come, they will have their reward. Cp 3:18.

Paul writes as a father to his ‘beloved children’ (v. 14 RV) and as one whose example should be imitated (v. 16). Did they want him to come to Corinth as a father "with a rod" and deal with outstanding matters which called for discipline, or in the way in which he desired to come, where his love for them could be shown in the happy relations which should exist between a father and his children, "in love and in a spirit of meekness.?" The subject of necessary disciplinary measures, serves as an introduction to chapter 5 and the next section (5: 1-6:11).