1 Corinthians


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

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

b) Carefully building a church


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 (ie., their 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 (or parties) 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 is mismanagement on their part such that the ministry of their founding apostle is being undermined, along with an inevitable undermining of apostolic truth. The existence of party-spirit, with its associated disputes, evidences this failing.


iii] Structure: Carefully building a church:

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

The art of building a Christian fellowship, v10 -11:

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

Fire will test the worth of the building, v12-15:

and the builder will be rewarded accordingly.

The assembly of believers is God's temple, v16-17;

the dwelling of God's Spirit;

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 crucified. 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. In that terrible day a family of believers, gathered and nurtured through a faithful ministry of God's Word, will be left standing. 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 nothing. In eternity, that minister will be like Lot, standing outside Sodom, singed and 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, causing party spirit, dissensions and the like, then they will face the terror of God. The consequences are fearful, so take care, v16-17.


v] Comment: Reward and Punishment in Ministry.

The issue of reward and punishment in the Scriptures is fraught, given that salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works.

In v14 Paul again mentions reward for service, cf., v8b. Fee 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. 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 punishment. A warning of impending punishment always causes problems when it is directed at believers; it seems to undermine assurance. Yet, a judgmental word, in its own right, has the power to assure, ie., it turns the wayward believer around and so forestalls the punishment 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, possibly nomism promoted by a "Christ" group. So, Paul may have in mind two different groups deserving of different punishments. 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.

There are no slick answers to the issue of reward and punishment, other than to rest in faith on God's grace in Christ. If we build with stubble, we still get to stand with Lot, singed but saved. None-the-less, it's best we build with gospel gold.


vi] 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] The art of building a Christian fellowship, v10-11. A marker of transition (ie., for us, a new paragraph) would be expected, but an asyndeton (the omission of a transitional conjunction like de 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 here by Paul, 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 don't have "of God", possibly indicating it is an 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" - i put, placed, laid [a foundation]. "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 [another builds on it]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast, "but".

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


The foundation of Paul's ministry is Jesus Christ.

gar "for" - for [other, another foundation]. 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 Paul laid down, namely Jesus Christ.

qeinai (tiqhmi) aor. inf. "[can] lay" - [no one is able] to put, lay, lay down. 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 [is christ jesus]. 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.


ii] Fire will test the worth of the building, v12-15. The builders need to remember that they will be rewarded according to the worth of their building effort, so let us aim at the gold standard of the gospel.

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 "other person" may actually be "other persons". Of course, not necessarily a sexist "any man".

epi + acc. "upon" - [builds] upon. Spacial.

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

cruson (oV) acc. "using gold" - with, using gold, [silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble]. 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. Fitzmyer just caught Jesus up in his put-down of "stories and anecdotes." When it comes to preaching, content is the issue, not technique, and in any case, there is more to gospel ministry than preaching sermons.


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

faneron adj. "[will be] shown for what it is" - [the work of each one will become] plain, known, manifest. Predicate adjective.

gar "because" - 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 that will not survive the terrible day, but will melt into oblivion; but see Reward and Punishment above.

apokaluptetai (apokaluptw) pres. pas. "it will be revealed" - it is revealed. "The value of what each man (minister) 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 proposed condition is assumed to be true, "if, as is the case, ..... then [a reward he will receive]."

tinoV gen. pro. "-" - [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. "a reward" - [then 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 Reward and Punishment above.

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

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" - then 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 in heaven. The safest argument is for a loss of the fruit of ministry. In the case where there is no fruit, people are 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." Yet of course, Paul may have something more in mind that just a failed ministry here on earth. "He will be a loser", Moffatt.

de "- / but yet" - but/and. Transitional, either as a 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 .... wJV "[but] only as / [even though] only as" - [but] like as. A comparative / correlative construction. He will be saved but only like / as someone who is only just saved from a burning building.

dia + gen. "through [the flames]" - through / by means of [fire]. Instrumental, expressing means, "by means of", but possibly spatial, "through", or both! "But only as someone making his escape by passing through fire is saved", Cassirer. A spatial 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.


iii] The assembly of believers is God's temple, 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. Christ is the foundation of the church.

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

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

qeou (oV) "God's" - [you are a temple] 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, sanctuary, 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" - [and the spirit of god dwells] 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" - [then 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" - [the temple, sanctuary of god is] 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 be. The TNIV makes it clear that the "you" = you the congregation at Corinth.

oi{tineV pro. "that temple" - who = which [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



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