A Work that Endures – 1 Cor. 3

  • Read Matthew 7:15-27 here and 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (2 August) you can listen to it here.

1 Corinthinas 3:10-15 provides a good example of how easy it is to lose track of the larger context.  The verses are clearly describing the church, and when we get to v12 which describes the materials used to build the church and v13 which calls the materials “work” we can run off on all sorts of tangents.

The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians address disunity within the church as various members align themselves to particular church leaders: Paul, Peter, or Apollos.  We see this expressed earlier in 3:3-4.  So from 3:5 Paul’s argument plays down the role of individual teachers in the growth of the church.  That his analogy of planting and reaping refers to the conversion process seems clear from the statement “through whom you came to believe” which precedes the analogy.  His overall point then, summarised in v8-9, is that the church leaders just fulfill the roles God has given them.  God will use them as He wills to grow the church.  The growth comes from God, not the leaders.hammer anvil 01

Likewise, in verses 10-15, Paul wants to make clear that he’s building on the foundation of Jesus, not his own charisma or efforts.  Some people will be added to the church whose faith will endure, while others will not persevere.  Just as Paul, and other leaders, should not receive glory for church growth, he shouldn’t be condemned when people turn their backs on their commitment to Christ.  The builder will still escape the consumation of Judgment.

In the big picture, the passage as a whole has a lot to say about our expectations and attitude toward church leaders/teachers and God’s role in church growth.  As we focus more closely on vs5-10 we see that it also teaches that not everyone who commits their lives to following Christ will finish their lives with the same commitment.  (If you accept this interpretation of “gold, silver and precious stones” then this is a good passage to argue against the doctrine of “once saved, always saved”.)

I find it interesting that the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 seems to have a similar message.  It warns agains false teachers.  It warns against people who think they’ll be saved but whose faith was insincere.  And it warns building one’s life on a foundation other than Jesus.  Could Paul have had Matthew 7 in mind as he wrote 1 Corinthians 3?

When we talk of reading the Bible in context, are there any particular verses that come to your mind that you’ve heard taught out of context?  Are there any passages where you’ve experienced and “Ah ha!” moment because you discovered the larger context? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences with others.


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