Read 1 Corinthians 3.
Back in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul expressed a great deal of confidence about the salvation of the Corinthian believers. He talked about all the ways in which God had enriched them (1:5) which confirmed their acceptance of the gospel (1:6) so that they had every spiritual gift (1:6). At the end of chapter 1 he explained that their salvation came from Christ crucified not from human wisdom and in chapter 2 he described how their faith was a spiritual work done by the Holy Spirit of God.
Here in chapter 3, he made a turn in his message to the Corinthians. Although they were saved by the Spirit, he could not speak to them as if they were spiritually mature; rather, they had to be addressed as if they were babies in Christ (vv. 1-3). This is quite a put down–not an insult but a needed adjustment to their self-assessment. The Corinthians were proud of how advanced they were spiritually–just look at all the spiritual gifts they had!
But, contrary to their beliefs about themselves, Paul told them that they were acting in a spiritually immature manner, like babies in Christ. What caused him to say that? It was the fact that there was “jealousy and quarreling” among them (v. 3). That jealously and quarreling was about who was the best spiritual leader–Paul, Apollos, or someone else (v. 4). But Paul and Apollos were not competitors; rather, they were servants of God who both made meaningful contributions to the church (vv. 5-9).
Verses 10-17 are often misunderstood in part because Paul will later in this same book talk about our human bodies as the temple of God. That’s what he meant in chapter 6, but here in chapter 3 he is not referring to the human bodies or their individual spiritual lives.
Instead, the context of verses 10-17 refer to the church itself. The foundation Paul laid is the foundation of the church at Corinth, the Lord Jesus Christ himself (vv. 10-11). Apollos, or anyone else who serves the church, is building on that foundation. But it is God who will test the quality of everyone’s work (vv 12-14). The “temple” Paul is referring to here, then, is the church itself in Corinth (v. 16) and the warning against “destroying the temple” is a warning against tearing the church apart through “jealousy and quarreling” (v. 3) or any other way that creates disunity.
What are some sins that tear churches apart? One answer is sin of any kind that goes unconfessed and unaddressed, and the Corinthian church was full of that. Just from this letter we know that the Corinthians had:
- incest (1 Cor 5)
- lawsuits among believers (1 Cor 6:1-11)
- sexual immorality of all kinds (1 Cor 6:12-20)
- unbiblical divorce (1 Cor 7)
- abuses of Christian liberty (1 Cor 8-10)
- disorderly worship (1 Cor 9:1-16)
- abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 9:17-34)
- and more
The warning in today’s passage is very serious: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (3:17). How many churches have been torn apart by sin–sin among leaders or sins within the body? How many congregations have been ripped apart by gossip? How many have been weakened or killed by failing to follow biblical leadership?
Understand, then, that as a church member, your choices affect far more people than just you. If your choices cause harm to the body of Christ, God promised to deal with you severely for the harm you’ve done to his work (v. 17). This passage should sober us and cause us to realize the importance of making godly choices not only for our own walk with God but for the spiritual health and strength of his church.