1 Corinthians

A wisdom unsuitable for babies, 3:1-9


In our passage for study Paul addresses the terrible spectre of division within the church of Christ. In v1-4 he labels the members of the congregation who have come to oppose his ministry as "worldly." They think they are "spiritual", but their "jealousy and quarreling" shows that they are actually "worldly". In v5-9 Paul begins to correct the false views that have developed in the congregation with regard the nature of church and ministry. He makes the point that church leaders are merely servants of Christ; together they are "God's fellow workers" and are not special in their own right.

The passage

v1-2. Paul had argued in the previous chapter that true wisdom is only ever perceived by spiritual people. Sadly, many members of the Corinthian congregation have shown themselves to be unspiritual, mere men, worldly, infants, and therefore are unable to receive true wisdom.

v3-4. The "secular" nature of many in the congregation at Corinth is evidenced in two ways: First, dissensions exist within the congregation - there is jealousy, quarreling and the like; Second, party spirit is the order of the day - "I am one of Paul's people, I am one of Apollos' people." Apollos came to Corinth after Paul had left and became an important teacher in the church. Although there is no indication that he was opposed to Paul, it does seem he became the focus of one of the parties in the church.

v5. The members of the Corinthian church have failed to understand the true nature of ministry and have fallen under the cult of personality. The minister's ministry is what is important, not their personality. As C.K. Barrett puts it, to each one was assigned a task, as the Lord gave it, and each performed his own duty."

v6-7. Each minister exercises their spiritual gifts and it is through these gifts that God gives the growth. The true minister in the church of God is but a servant, a workman for the Lord. It is the Lord who grows his people; ministers are but servants who tend his creation.

v8. There is no difference between ministers who exercise different gifts; they are all on the same team. Their reward is heavenly; the adulation of their followers is no reward at all.

v9. Ministers "are God's servants, working together", NRSV, while the congregation is God's field, his vineyard; God's house, his temple.

The nature of ministry

Our passage for study highlights the nature of Christian ministry. Today we are faced with numerous forms of ministry style and so it difficult to decide what to expect in a faithful ministry within our church. Are we too look for the great orator, the person with high academic qualifications, a counselor, a manager .....? By what standards do we judge whether our minister is performing a Biblical ministry? To some degree these questions are answered in this passage and the answers are not necessarily the ones we would expect.



The pastoral ministry of prophecy, teaching and exhortation, is primarily exercised in the mainline denominations by ordained persons, that is, by believers who are set apart to fulfill pastoral ministry within a particular congregation. In this passage, Paul gives us some clues as to the nature of this ministry.

i] Servant

In Luke 22:24-27 Jesus describes the role of his disciples as that of a servant. The one who rules must be like the one who serves and our example of service is Jesus himself. Paul uses the term "servants of Christ" to describe Christian ministry. A Biblical pastoral ministry must show itself in a life given for the sake of the church, rather than as an opportunity for personal fulfillment.

ii] Christ-centered

A Biblical pastoral ministry must be itself submissive to Jesus and under his direct control, or as Paul puts it, "servants of Christ entrusted with the secret things of God." The life-example of Jesus and his teachings, must be the central emphasis of pastoral ministry. The Christian life can only grow on that foundation.

iii] Mature

The prime function of a Biblical pastoral ministry is to build up the children of God "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ". Such a ministry draws out the lost, builds them up, and so presents them mature in the last day. It is a ministry that prepares believers for the struggle of life, enabling them to stand against temptation, persecution, trouble ..... Preparation for eternity, that's its business.

iv] Rewarded

The greater the gift the greater the expectation. "To him who has even more will be given." So, a faithful handling of the responsibilities of the things of this life will produce the gift of greater responsibilities in the age to come. On the other hand, faithlessness in ministry will result in a loss of responsibilities. The test of the faithfulness of a person's ministry rests in the preparedness of those ministered to. If all crumble under the onslaught of the Evil One, if all fall in these days of testing, then there was no upbuilding in the Word.


1. Divisions, quarreling and jealousy. Expose these problems and identify other problems which divide a congregation.

2. Paul develops a number of ideas concerning the Christian pastorate. In v5 he gives a general principle. What is it? Identify how Paul illustrates this principle and applies it in the following verses.

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