1* Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people,* as infants in Christ. 2I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now,a 3for you are still of the flesh. While there is jealousy and rivalry among you,* are you not of the flesh, and behaving in an ordinary human way?b 4Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?c
The Role of God’s Ministers.* 5What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers* through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.d 7Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. 9For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.e
10* According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, 11for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13the work of each will come to light, for the Day* will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work.f 14If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved,* but only as through fire. 16Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?g 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.*
18Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise.h 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written:i
“He catches the wise in their own ruses,”
“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.”j
21* So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,k 22Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, 23and you to Christ, and Christ to God.
* [3:1–4] The Corinthians desire a sort of wisdom dialogue or colloquy with Paul; they are looking for solid, adult food, and he appears to disappoint their expectations. Paul counters: if such a dialogue has not yet taken place, the reason is that they are still at an immature stage of development (cf. 1 Cor 2:6).
* [3:1] Spiritual people…fleshly people: Paul employs two clusters of concepts and terms to distinguish what later theology will call the “natural” and the “supernatural.” (1) The natural person (1 Cor 2:14) is one whose existence, perceptions, and behavior are determined by purely natural principles, the psychē (1 Cor 2:14) and the sarx (flesh, a biblical term that connotes creatureliness, 1 Cor 3:1, 3). Such persons are only infants (1 Cor 3:1); they remain on a purely human level (anthrōpoi, 1 Cor 3:4). (2) On the other hand, they are called to be animated by a higher principle, the pneuma, God’s spirit. They are to become spiritual (pneumatikoi, 1 Cor 3:1) and mature (1 Cor 2:6) in their perceptions and behavior (cf. Gal 5:16–26). The culmination of existence in the Spirit is described in 1 Cor 15:44–49.
* [3:3–4] Jealousy, rivalry, and divisions in the community are symptoms of their arrested development; they reveal the immaturity both of their self-understanding (1 Cor 3:4) and of the judgments about their apostles (1 Cor 3:21).
* [3:5–4:5] The Corinthians tend to evaluate their leaders by the criteria of human wisdom and to exaggerate their importance. Paul views the role of the apostles in the light of his theology of spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12–14, where the charism of the apostle heads the lists). The essential aspects of all spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4–6 presents them as gifts of grace, as services, and as modes of activity) are exemplified by the apostolate, which is a gift of grace (1 Cor 3:10) through which God works (1 Cor 3:9) and a form of service (1 Cor 3:5) for the common good (elsewhere expressed by the verb “build up,” suggested here by the image of the building, 1 Cor 3:9). The apostles serve the church, but their accountability is to God and to Christ (1 Cor 4:1–5).
* [3:5] Ministers: for other expressions of Paul’s understanding of himself as minister or steward to the church, cf. 1 Cor 4:1; 9:17, 19–27; 2 Cor 3:6–9; 4:1; 5:18; 6:3–4; and 2 Cor 11:23 (the climax of Paul’s defense).
* [3:13] The Day: the great day of Yahweh, the day of judgment, which can be a time of either gloom or joy. Fire both destroys and purifies.
* [3:15] Will be saved: although Paul can envision very harsh divine punishment (cf. 1 Cor 3:17), he appears optimistic about the success of divine corrective means both here and elsewhere (cf. 1 Cor 5:5; 11:32 [discipline]). The text of 1 Cor 3:15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this.
* [3:21–23] These verses pick up the line of thought of 1 Cor 1:10–13. If the Corinthians were genuinely wise (1 Cor 3:18–20), their perceptions would be reversed, and they would see everything in the world and all those with whom they exist in the church in their true relations with one another. Paul assigns all the persons involved in the theological universe a position on a scale: God, Christ, church members, church leaders. Read from top to bottom, the scale expresses ownership; read from bottom to top, the obligation to serve. This picture should be complemented by similar statements such as those in 1 Cor 8:6 and 1 Cor 15:20–28.