Bible Commentary

1 Corinthians 3

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of 1 Corinthians 3)

Verse 1

[1] And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

And I, brethren — He spoke before, 1 Corinthians 2:1, of his entrance, now of his progress, among them.

Could not speak to you as unto spiritual — Adult, experienced Christians. But as unto men who were still in great measure carnal, as unto babes in Christ - Still weak in grace, though eminent in gifts, 1 Corinthians 1:5.

Verse 2

[2] I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

I fed you, as babes, with milk - The first and plainest truths of the gospel. So should every preacher suit his doctrine to his hearers.

Verse 3

[3] For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

For while there is among you emulation in your hearts, strife in your words, and actual divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk according to men - As mere men; not as Christians, according to God.

Verse 4

[4] For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

I am of Apollos — St. Paul named himself and Apollos, to show that he would condemn any division among them, even though it were in favour of himself, or the dearest friend he had in the world.

Are ye not carnal — For the Spirit of God allows no party zeal.

Verse 5

[5] Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

Ministers — Or servants. By whom ye believed, as the Lord, the Master of those servants, gave to every man.

Verse 7

[7] So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

God that giveth the increase — Is all in all: without him neither planting nor watering avails.

Verse 8

[8] Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

But he that planteth and he that watereth are one — Which is another argument against division. Though their labours are different. they are all employed in one general work, - the saving souls. Hence he takes occasion to speak of the reward of them that labour faithfully, and the awful account to be given by all. Every man shall receive his own peculiar reward according to his own peculiar labour - Not according to his success; but he who labours much, though with small success, shall have a great reward. Has not all this reasoning the same force still? The ministers are still surely instruments in God's hand, and depend as entirely as ever on his blessing, to give the increase to their labours. Without this, they are nothing: with it, their part is so small, that they hardly deserve to be mentioned. May their hearts and hands be more united; and, retaining a due sense of the honour God doeth them in employing them, may they faithfully labour, not as for themselves, but for the great Proprietor of all, till the day come when he will reward them in full proportion to their fidelity and diligence!

Verse 9

[9] For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

For we are all fellowlabourers — God's labourers, and fellowlabourers with each other.

Ye are God's husbandry — This is the sum of what went before: it is a comprehensive word, taking in both a field, a garden, and a vineyard.

Ye are God's building — This is the sum of what follows.

Verse 10

[10] According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

According to the grace of God given to me — This he premises, lest he should seem to ascribe it to himself.

Let every one take heed how he buildeth thereon — That all his doctrines may be consistent with the foundation.

Verse 11

[11] For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

For other foundation — On which the whole church: and all its doctrines, duties, and blessings may be built.

Can no man lay than what is laid — In the counsels of divine wisdom, in the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, in the preaching of the apostles, St. Paul in particular.

Which is Jesus Christ — Who, in his person and offices, is the firm, immovable Rock of Ages, every way sufficient to bear all the weight that God himself, or the sinner, when he believes, can lay upon him.

Verse 12

[12] Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

If any one build gold, silver, costly stones — Three sorts of materials which will bear the fire; true and solid doctrines.

Wood, hay, stubble — Three which will not bear the fire. Such are all doctrines, ceremonies, and forms of human invention; all but the substantial, vital truths of Christianity.

Verse 13

[13] Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

The time is coming when every one's work shall be made manifest: for the day of the Lord, that great and final day, shall declare it - To all the world.

For it is revealed — What faith beholds as so certain and so near is spoken of as already present.

By fire; yea, the fire shall try every one's work, of what sort it is — The strict process of that day will try every man's doctrines, whether they come up to the scripture standard or not. Here is a plain allusion to the flaming light and consuming heat of the general conflagration. But the expression, when applied to the trying of doctrines, and consuming those that are wrong, is evidently figurative; because no material fire can have such an effect on what is of a moral nature. And therefore it is added, he who builds wood, hay, or stubble, shall be saved as through the fire - Or, as narrowly as a man escapes through the fire, when his house is all in flames about him. This text, then, is so far from establishing the Romish purgatory, that it utterly overthrows it. For the fire here mentioned does not exist till the day of judgment: therefore, if this be the fire of purgatory, it follows that purgatory does not exist before the day of judgment.

Verse 14

[14] If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

He shall receive a reward — A peculiar degree of glory. Some degree even the other will receive, seeing he held the foundation; though through ignorance he built thereon what would not abide the fire.

Verse 15

[15] If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

He shall suffer loss — The loss of that peculiar degree of glory.

Verse 16

[16] Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Ye — All Christians.

Are the temple of God — The most noble kind of building, 1 Corinthians 3:9.

Verse 17

[17] If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

If any man destroy the temple of God — Destroy a real Christian, by schisms, or doctrines fundamentally wrong.

Him shall God destroy — He shall not be saved at all; not even as through the fire."

Verse 18

[18] Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

Let him become a fool in this world — Such as the world accounts so.

That he may become wise — In God's account.

Verse 19

[19] For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

For all the boasted wisdom of the world is mere foolishness in the sight of God.

He taketh the wise in their own craftiness — Not only while they think they are acting wisely, but by their very wisdom, which itself is their snare, and the occasion of their destruction. Job 5:13.

Verse 20

[20] And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

That they are but vain — Empty, foolish; they and all their thoughts. Psalms 94:11.

Verse 21

[21] Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;

Therefore — Upon the whole.

Let none glory in men — So as to divide into parties on their account.

For all things are yours — and we in particular. We are not your lords, but rather your servants.

Verse 22

[22] Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;

Whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas — We are all equally yours, to serve you for Christ's sake.

Or the world — This leap from Peter to the world greatly enlarges the thought, and argues a kind of impatience of enumerating the rest. Peter and every one in the whole world, however excellent in gifts, or grace, or office, are also your servants for Christ's sake.

Or life, or death — These, with all their various circumstances, are disposed as will be most for your advantage.

Or things present — On earth.

Or things to come — In heaven. Contend, therefore, no more about these little things; but be ye united in love, as ye are in blessings.

Verse 23

[23] And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

And ye are Christ's — His property, his subjects. his members.

And Christ is God's — As Mediator, he refers all his services to his Father's glory.

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