1 Corinthians


3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21

iii] The unifying power of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:1-4:5

b) Time will test the value of our lives


In v10-17 Paul further illustrates and applies the principle, "the Lord assigned to each their task", and does so with the image of a building. This building, the church, "is a shrine being erected by local men upon Paul's foundation", Naylor, v10. "Let those teachers who add to the structure take care as to the quality of the materials they use in building on his foundation", Barnett, and this because their construction / building / ministry is going to be tested, v11-15. Paul then focuses on the building itself and makes the point that the congregation at Corinth / the church, is "a holy temple"; "the community gathered in Christ's name is the dwelling of the Holy Spirit", Garland, v16-17.


i] Context: See 3:1-9.


ii] Background: See 1:11-17. As already noted, it is unclear whether Apollos is responsible for forming the party in the Corinthian church which is opposed to the ministry of Paul. Apollos, as with Peter, and certainly as with "Christ", v23, cf. 1:12, may simply exemplify unidentified personalities (even cliques) who are responsible for the parties now present within the church. At this point Paul warns these teachers to take care how they build on his foundation. The implication is that there has been mismanagement on their part such that Paul's ministry as founding apostle has been undermined with an inevitable undermining of apostolic truth. The existence of party-spirit with its associated disputes evidences this failing.


iii] Structure: The passage presents as a straightforward warning to those who improperly build on an apostolic foundation:


the church is God's temple founded on the gospel / Christ.

Proposition, v10a:

Paul laid the foundations;

others have built on it.

Warning, v10b:

"build with care."

Proposition, v11;

the gospel / Jesus Christ is the only foundation for the building.

Warning, v12-15:

the work of each builder will be tested by fire, v12-13;

and rewarded accordingly, v14-15.

Application, v16-17:

the assembly of believers is God's temple;

the dwelling of God's Spirit;

God's temple is sacred;

harm comes to those who harm God's temple.


iv] Interpretation:

In chapter 3 Paul applies the principle "the Lord assigned to each his task", 3:5. In v6-9 Paul illustrated this principle with the image of the congregation as a cultivated field and the minister as a servant under the authority of the divine gardener. In applying this principle, he sought to correct the false views that had developed in the congregation with regard the nature of church and ministry. Paul now 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 church of God is like a building. As the founding apostle of the church in Corinth, Paul laid a gospel foundation. Those Christian ministers who have followed Paul need to take care how they build on this foundation. The one and only foundation for the church of God, the one that Paul laid down, is the gospel - Christ, his death and resurrection on behalf of broken humanity. Building with the gospel is like building with "gold, silver and precious stones". In the last day the building will stand firm, tested by the fire of divine judgment. There will be found standing in that terrible day a family of believers who were gathered and nurtured through a faithful ministry of God's Word. What greater reward can there be for Christ's ministers than to see the fruit of their labor survive into eternity, v10-14.

On the other hand, a minister can build a congregation out of "wood, hay or straw", out of social activism, legalism, ritualism, moralism, ...... In the day of judgment the fruit of that ministry will be consumed - become a nothing. In eternity that minister will be like Lot just getting out of Sodom in time, smelling of smoke, v15.

Paul goes on to remind the ministry team in Corinth that they have placed themselves in a position of extreme danger - terrible ruin, eternal loss. The temple of God is holy, it is his dwelling place, and the congregation at Corinth is that temple. If someone promotes heresy, party spirit, dissensions and the like, if they divide the unity of the Christian fellowship, then they will face the terror of God. The consequences are fearful, so take care, v16-17.


Judgment and Reward: In v14 Paul again mentions the reception of a reward, cf. 8b. The safest way through this rather difficult concept is to align with Fee who notes that when it comes to teachers and their "pay", whether it be monetary or status, "they labor under another who ... determines their pay." As to the divine "pay", it is everything in Christ, and this apart from our own worth or effort. So, the reward is obviously not salvation, cf. v15. Other limited rewards are suggested: Barnett suggests it is the "well done good and faithful servant" ("praise from God", Garland, cf. 4:5), although this pronouncement is to Christ and only comes to us in our union with Christ, irrespective of any personal worth on our part. Barrett holds that "the idea of reward is not absent in Paul's thought, though the notion that men can put God in their debt is." He suggests the idea at least implies God's approval, but again, approval before God is only found in Christ. Fitzmyer recognizes reward, although only in a general sense; "God will reward graciously those who serve him in this special way." There is certainly the hint in scripture that those who are faithful with their resources in this age will be entrusted with greater resources in eternity. So, there may be an implied reward of responsibility in the scriptures - the faithful servant is rewarded with greater responsibilities. There is, of course, the reward of a corporate salvation realized through a faithful ministry, Paul's "crown" as he calls it. Paul's reward "will be that his churches will be saved with him", Garland.

In v17 Paul again raises the issue of judgment. A warning of impending judgment always causes problems when it is directed at believers; it seems to undermine assurance. Yet, a word of judgment, in its own right, has the power to assure, ie. it turns the wayward believer around and so forestalls the judgment of which it warns. Other approaches are possible: Barrett, so also Godet, suggests that the warnings so far concern minor problems, eg. the adoption of Jewish traditions promoted by the Peter group. Now Paul has in mind more serious problems which undermine the gospel itself, eg. the nomism promoted by the "Christ" group, ie. Paul has in mind two different groups. Naylor argues that the verb means "ruin" and that the NT "never employs this term with reference to eternal destruction." It does seem though that Paul has all along been arguing against that which undermines the gospel and therefore this warning is real. "To damage the church so that the work of the Spirit becomes impeded is thereby to cut oneself off from the Spirit and one's own source of life", Thiselton, cf. Kasemann NT Questions.


v] Exposition: A simple verse-by-verse exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:10

The church / local assembly is God's building, v10-17: i] A warning of judgment upon those who improperly build on an apostolic foundation, v10-15. A marker of transition (ie., for us, a new paragraph) would be expected, but an syndeton (the omission of a conjunction where one would be expected) itself indicates a major step in the argument.

kata + acc. "by" - according to. Possibly expressing reference / respect; "with respect to / with reference to", but more likely expressing a standard "in accordance with / corresponding to"; "If you think of yourselves as God's building, then I am like a skilled master-builder who laid the foundation according to the grace which God gave me", Bruce.

thn carin "the grace" - A particular sense of "grace" is adopted by Paul here, namely the overflowing kindness of God in giving him the authoritative ministry of apostle, particularly as he originally persecuted the church. So, in accordance with "my commission from God", Moffatt.

tou qeou gen. "of God" - The genitive is ablative, expressing source / origin, "the grace that comes from God", but it could be classified as verbal, subjective, "the grace that God pours out." Some texts do not have "of God" possibly indicating its addition, an addition prompted by the fact that Paul often uses the more expressive phrase "the grace of God". In this instance, given the particular sense of "grace" here, it is likely that "of God" is not original.

thn doqeisan (didwmi) aor. pas. part. "has given" - having been given. The participle is adjectival, limiting "grace", "the grace which was given to me."

moi dat. pro. "me" - to me. Dative of indirect object.

eqhka (tiqhmi) aor. "I laid [a foundation]" - I put, placed. "Using the gifts God gave me as an architect, I designed the blueprints", Peterson.

wJV "as" - as [a wise builder]. Often as a comparison, "like a wise master-builder", Barclay, but here better expressing a characteristic quality, metaphorically. Paul is a wise builder because he builds with a wise message, namely "Christ crucified", 1:18-25.

de "but" - but, and. Here contrastive.

pwV adv. "[each one should be careful] how [he builds] / [each one should build] with care" - [let him beware] how [he builds upon]. Introducing an indirect question of manner / method.


The foundation of Paul's ministry is Jesus Christ.

gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why care must be taken when building a congregation. The analogy of laying a foundation and building on the foundation is slightly confused, but the point is clear enough. Those who build on Paul's foundation need to be very careful that they don't end up building on a different foundation, for there is only one foundation that has eternal significance and this is one that their apostle has laid down, namely Jesus Christ.

qeinai (tiqhmi) aor. inf. "[can] lay" - [is able] to put, lay. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verb "is able".

para + acc. "other than" - beside. Serving as a comparative; "than, other than, more than, rather than".

ton keimenon (keimai) pres. part. "the one already laid" - the one being laid down. The participle serves as a substantive.

o{V pro. "which [is Jesus Christ]" - who, which. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Referring to the foundation, "which is Jesus Christ". Probably with the intended sense of "Jesus Christ and him crucified". Certainly Barnett and Fee take this view, namely that the foundation is not the person of Jesus, but the message of Jesus, the gospel, the full realization of the covenant promises in and through the sacrificial death of Christ, cf.1:23, 22. "The foundation is the gospel, and its footings are anchored firmly in the message of Christ crucified", Garland.


The edifice built on a gospel foundation will take a variety of forms.

de "-" - but, and. Transitional connective, indicating the next step in the argument.

ei + ind. "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true, "if, as is the case, ..... then [each one's work will become manifest]". The apodosis is formed in v13.

tiV "any man" - a certain someone. Actually the sense here is "another" who is unstated, although obviously the congregation would know who Paul is referring to. This "another person" may actually be "other persons". Of course, not necessarily a sexist "any man".

epi + acc. "upon" - Spacial.

ton qemelion (oV) "this foundation" - The foundation of "Christ and him crucified."

cruson (oV) acc. "using gold" - gold. The accusative is adverbial, of manner / method; "with gold etc." The list of building materials, a kind of parenthesis, is made up of non flammable, permanent materials, "preaching of fine quality (the gospel)", Fitzmyer, and flammable, non permanent materials, "preaching of poor quality (stories and anecdotes of human wisdom)", Fitzmyer.


That edifice will be assessed in the day of judgment and its worth revealed.

genhsetai (gimomai) fut. "will be shown [for what it is]" - will become [plain, known, manifest].

gar "because" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why the value of a minister's work will ultimately be revealed; "for the day will make it clear because it reveals itself in fire."

hJ ... hJmera (a) "the Day" - the day. Presumably "the Day of the Lord" is intended; "the day of judgment", Barclay.

dhlwsei (dhlow) fut. "will bring it to light" - will make clear, visible, plain. "The Day of the Lord will disclose it", Cassirer.

oJti "-" - that. Probably causal, "because"; the day of judgment will expose the value of each person's ministry because that ministry will be tested by the fire of judgment on the last day, that great and terrible day. A ministry of the word which rests on the proposition "Christ crucified" ("gold, silver, costly stones") will produce a congregation of saved people growing in their Christian faith; they will survive the terrible day to testify to the worth of that ministry. A ministry of social activism, moralizing, legalizing, .... ("wood, hay or straw") will produce a congregation of pseudo saved people growing in social responsibilities, etc.; they will not survive the terrible day, but will melt into oblivion.

apokaluptetai (apokaluptw) pres. pas. "it will be revealed" - it is revealed. "The value of what each man has built will be obvious", Junkins.

en + dat. "with" - in, with / by. Possibly local "in", instrumental, "by", or modal, "with".

puri (pur puroV) dat. "fire" - Sometimes a reference to "fire" serves as an allusion to suffering / trial / persecutions, with the point being that persecution exposes the worth of a person's ministry. With this sense "fire" serves to purify rather than test, but it seems likely that the fire of judgment is in Paul's mind, ie., "test" in the sense of "that which discloses definitive approval", Thiselton. "For that day dawns in fire", REB.

kai "and" - and [of each one the work of what kind it is the fire will test]. Somewhat epexegetic, expanding on v13a; "that is, the fire will test what sort of work each person has done."


This "day", this "fire"; is it the day of judgment or any time of tribulation? Possibly both, but Fitzmyer argues that Paul is not speaking "of purification or refining by fire, but rather of a testing of constancy and a subsequent deliverance achieved only with great difficulty", Fitzmyer.

ei + ind. "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true, "if, as is the case, ..... then ...."

tinoV gen. pro. "-" - [if the work] of a certain person. The genitive is probably possessive, "if anyone's work", but the verbal noun "work" can prompt the classification of verbal genitive, subjective. Paul continues the indefinite identification of the builders, "if another's work remains".

epoikodomhsen (epoikodomew) "[what] he has built / has been built" - [which] he built upon. "If the work which a man has built on that foundation survives the test", Barclay.

menei (menw) pres. / fut. "survives" - will remain, endure. Only the accent determines whether this verb is a present, or future tense, and of course, accents were added long after the original text was written. "If our building is left standing", CEV.

misqon (oV) fut. "[he will receive his] reward / [the builder will receive] a reward" - [he will receive] a reward. Accusative direct object of the verb "to receive". Collins suggests "reward" comes with its common cultural sense of a favorable judgment after death.


Paul does seem to be saying that a believer who exercises a ministry which is flawed and so builds a worldly, rather than a spiritual edifice, will remain secure in their salvation, but will see their ministry judged as valueless; see "Judgment and Reward" above.

ei "if" - if. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, .... [but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire]" - so Fitzmyer as to the apodosis.

tinoV "-" - of the certain person, anyone's [work will be consumed]. The genitive is possessive, or verbal, subjective. Again an indefinite identification of the teacher concerned.

zhmiwqhsetai (zhmiow) fut. pas. "he will suffer loss" - he will be punished, suffer loss, lose his reward. Speculation is rife as to what is actually lost. If the reward is responsibility then the loss is of greater responsibilities. We are probably on safer ground if we view the loss as the fruit of ministry. In this case there is no fruit, people neither gathered to the Lord, nor built up in the Lord, and this because the ministry was not based on the truth of the gospel, "Christ and him crucified." "He will be a loser", Moffatt.

de "- / but yet" - but, and. Possibly connective, "and though he will be saved himself", Moffatt, or adversative / contrastive, as TNIV, "yet he himself will be saved." As noted above, here indicating the commencement of the apodosis of the conditional clause.

swqhsetai (swzw) fut. pas. "he [himself] will be saved" - Usually taken to refer to eternal salvation.

ou{twV de wJV "but only as / even though only as" - but like as. An adversative comparative construction.

dia + gen. "through [the flames]" - through / by means of. Instrumental, expressing means, "by means of", but possibly spacial, "through", or both! "But only as someone making his escape by passing through fire is saved", Cassirer. A spacial sense is probably best, "through fire" = a narrow escape, eg. Lot escaping Sodom. The point is that the teacher will be saved, "smelling of smoke", Fisk, but his ministry will be laid to waste. The image of surviving singed through fire possibly derives from, Amos 4:11.


ii] Christ is the foundation of the church, v16-17. Paul now moves away from the image of builders (ministers) constructing an edifice on his foundation (the gospel) and returns to "God's building" (the congregation) v9, and the issue of it being rent apart by dissension, v3. "By giving rein to the flesh they tend to banish the Holy Spirit and so to destroy the Temple constructed by His presence", R&P.

ouk "don't [you know]" - [do you] not [know]. This negation used in a question expecting a positive answer, "yes".

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception, what they should know.

qeou (oV) "God's" - of God. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, attributive, as NIV, or idiomatic, "the temple within which God has chosen to dwell."

naoV (oV) "temple" - temple, palace. Predicate nominative. Presumably the allusion is to the Temple in Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God / the dwelling place of his Spirit. We are reminded that Jesus promised to be present / in the midst of two or three who are gathered together in his name. Transferring the seat of God's presence from the Temple to the Christian congregation is a profound and radical idea and one which Paul, as the exegete of Jesus, has fully understood.

en + dat. "in [you] / in [your] midst" - in [you]. Local, expressing space. The difference between the NIV and TNIV indicates the difficulty we have with this statement. Is the Spirit's presence with the congregation or in the individual? It is likely that Paul has in mind the Spirit's presence in the "temple" of God's people, the church, the assembly of God's people.


It is well to take this warning to heart; we invite God's wrath when we harm the apple of his eye.

ei "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, ..... then [God will destroy this man]."

fqeirei (fqeirw) pres. "destroys" - destroys, corrupts, spoils, ruins [the sanctuary of God]. The present tense is possibly conative / tendential where the action is attempted, "if anyone attempts to spoil", "sets out to destroy", Barrett, or just "is destroying" = ongoing action against a local congregation. Possibly "desecrates", Knox.

fqeirei (fqeirw) fut. "[God] will destroy" - [God] will destroy [this man]. Double use of this liquid verb; "if anyone (attempts to) ruin the temple of God, God will bring them to ruin."

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why God will destroy that person, "because ...."

aJgioV adj. "sacred" - holy. Predicate adjective. "Not simple ritual holiness, but holy in the moral-ethical sense", Fee.

uJmeiV pro. "you [are] / you together [are]" - Nominative subject of the verb to beThe TNIV makes it clear that the "you" = you the congregation at Corinth.

oi{tineV pro. "that temple" - whichever / whoever [you are]. In Koine Gk. the indefinite pronoun is sometimes used for the definite, as here. Properly singular, but attracted to the plural "you". The antecedent is unclear; is it "temple" or "holy"? We can leave it up in the air; "and that is what you are", Moffatt, but most translations assume "temple"; "you are that temple / sanctuary."


1 Corinthians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]