Fighting and Fellowship - 1 Corinthians chapter 3  

1 Corinthians chapter 3: 

One of the many practical chapters of 1 Corinthians 
Perhaps not by intention but as a consequence of what it is, it acts as a kind of spiritual health check 
In many ways the whole of the Bible, certainly the bulk of the NT epistles are that, yet if I was asked for a chapter of the Word of God which would act as a one stop spiritual health check, I would find it  difficult to think of one as well rounded and as concise as chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians. 

In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, as a consequence of their failure in these areas, the apostle will deal with: 

Feeding on Christ (3:1-5) 
Fellowship in the Field (3:5-9) 
Building on the Foundation (3:9-15) 
Worshipping in the Sanctuary (3:16-18) 

The emphasis of our ministry so far has been on our personal relationship with Christ, of getting that right. 

This is still my burden and my message. 

This interestingly stands first in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, in this spiritual health check. 

If we get that wrong, there is nothing else; “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) 

For the believer who has grasped this and has made progress in this, who has in a sense got sorted out with the Lord, we now look for the eyes of this man to look out at the bigger picture. 

Just as sin draws men deeper into themselves, into self centredness, selfishness, greed and lust so the work of the Spirit of Christ in them draws a man out, in love towards others. 

A soul who is feeding on Christ will have a bigger and broader and bolder vision than themselves. 

Feeding on Christ (3:1-5) 

These believers have a problem which is hindering them in their relationship with Christ. 


You'll notice that the problem is not one of availability 

There have been times when food has been unavailable and that has caused problems – Jacob and and sons in famine conditions; days of Elisha in Samaria in 2 Kings chp 6 but this is not a problem of availability, it is a problem of suitability. 

Its not that the food isn't available, rather the apostle isn't going to give them the food! 

Interesting to take this angle on the problem; that God is withholding solid nourishment from them as part of His judicial dealings with them. 

In other words they may not be getting the ministry they desire but they are getting the ministry they deserve. 

That doesn't excuse superficial or sloppy preaching or microwave ministry. 

There may well have been the frustrating feeling, amongst some, among the more perceptive group at Corinth, and there was such a group, we saw them in chapter 1 (1:11) – believers who were unhappy with the way things were going, that they were not growing the way they ought to be growing, not getting the quality of ministry that they ought to have been getting, they were not making the progress they ought to have been making. 

They weren't going to make that progress. 

They were up against God on this one. 

God was not going to give to them. 

God was not going to allow them to make that progress, until they dealt with certain issues. 

The metaphor of the ministry is straight forward and clear: 

Physical food is matched to a physical appetite and maturity 
Spiritual food is matched to a spiritual appetite and maturity 

The cause of the problem strikes me as somewhat surprising / shocking! 

They are “carnal” : “sarkikos” / (“sarkinos” according to Vine and some more reliable MSS) (v1) and “sarkikos” (2:3). 

The 'flesh' has a powerful pull on them 

They are genuine believers (3:1): 

“babes in Christ” 

We would not expect the flesh to have a great appetite for spiritual things and we are not surprised that the flesh does not have a great appetite for spiritual growth. 

What is surprising is what the apostle identifies as: 

Characteristic of their carnality if not 
Causal of their Carnality (3:3) – the Gk text would bear the meaning of cause 

With so many sins to choose from at Corinth, so many problems at Corinth: 

Moral problems (chp 5) 
Material problems (chp 6) 
Marital problems (chp 7) 
Meat offered to idols (chp8-10) 
Meeting problems (chps 10 to 14) 
Miracle of resurrection (chp 15) 
Money (chp 16) 

Plenty of big serious carnal problems to choose from, yet the apostle identifies the cause of their carnality and the character of their carnality as lieing in their: 


Instead of: 

FEEDING on Christ 

they are: 

FIGHTING with one another 

Ever tried feeding 5 boys that are fighting? 

It doesn't work! 

There is an: 

'envy' : 'zelos' 

We have in English traditionally drawn a distinction between: 

'jealousy' – I want what you've got 
'envy' – I don't want you to have what you've got 

Consider the manifestation in the Word of God: 

Cain and Abel – there was no way that Cain could steal Gods commendation from Abel but he could with an envious malice make sure that Abel stopped enjoying it. That was malicious envy, it dis not do Cain the slightest bit of good. 
Jacob and Esau – Jacob clearly wanted what Esau had, not just to take it from Esau but to get it himself. 

Some of the secular Greek writers held to that as well: 

Aristotle: 'the one makes himself get good things by jealousy while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy.' 

The word here would seem to tend more towards the jealousy side of the definition for it results in strife to get what the other has. 

'He that is jealous is not in love' – Augustine 



What is it about this sin of schism that is so serious as to CAUSE and CHARACTERISE their carnality? 

Cause – it is the flesh – malice, envy, jealousy, strife – work of the Devil 

Character – In focusing on men they miss the one true source of all spiritual growth and nourishment – the ONE MAN - “I AM He” 

Heb 1:12 “but thou art the same,” taken from Psalm 102:27 
cf. Isaiah 52:6 “Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I.” 
Heb 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” 
'turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace' 

Consequence – It cuts them off from the very means of blessing: “and I brethren could not speak unto you...” Do we ever come across a schismatic attitude amongst some Christians? They wouldn't ever invite nor listen to brothers A, B, C, D an the irony is their ministry may just be the breath of fresh air they are needing? 

So as a consequence of this they never matured and were able only to receive the milk and not the meat. 

What is the 'meat' which we ought  to be aiming for? 

Chapter 3 falls into the 1st of 4 divisions in Hebrews, 4 divisions outlined for us in 1 Co 1:30: 

Wisdom (chps 1 to 4) 
Righteousness (chps 5 to 6) 
Sanctification (chps 7 to 10) 
Redemption (chps 10 to 15) 

In chapter 2 the apostle desires to bring them forward in their understanding of: 

“the wisdom of God in a mystery” (2:7) 

Probably not: 'mysteriously speaking the Wisdom of God' – a technique perfected by some preachers over the years 

Probably rather: 'speaking the mysterious Wisdom of God' 

They are hindered in the apprehension of this mystery wisdom by their carnality. 

What is this mystery wisdom of God? 

Mystery: 'truth once concealed and now revealed' 

Not a wonderful definition: 

Tells us little about what a mystery actually is! 
Some mysteries are still to be revealed (2 Thess 2:7-8) 
Some mysteries will in their fullness never be revealed (1 Tim 3:16) 

What is a mystery? 

'A mystery is Gods deliberate and determinative purpose for His creation in Christ , which has as its goal, the Glory of His Son and as a consequence the blessing of His people. It is a purpose which may only be perceived by supernatural revelation at the time of fulfilment.' 

Such an ordained purpose in Christ includes: 

The Mystery of Israel in Unbelief (Rom 11:25) 
The Mystery of the Gospel of Gods Grace in Christ (Rom 16:25; Eph 6:19) 
The Mystery of the Rapture (1Co 15:51) 
The Mystery of Gods Will in gathering together in one all things in Christ (Eph1:9) 
The Mystery of Christ – the bringing in of the Gentiles into one Body (Eph 3:4-5) 
The Mystery of the Union of Christ and His Church (Eph 5:32) 
The Mystery of Christ in You (Col 1:26-29) 
The Mystery of Christ (Col 4:3) 
The Mystery of the 7 Stars (Rev 1:20) 
The Mystery of God (Rev 10:7) 
The Mystery of Iniquity (2 Thess2:7) 
The Mystery of the Faith (1 Tim 3:9) 
The Mystery of Godliness (1 Tim 3:16) 
The Mystery of Babylon the Great (Rev 17:7) 

Fellowship in the Field (3:5-9) 

One of the many ironies of 1 Corinthians: 

The fruitfulness they fight over would come only from a fellowship the destroy. 

We notice that in 1 Co 1 a 4 fold division is noted: 


Here in chapter 3 only a 2 fold division is noted. 

Why is this? 

There is a particular lesson in the relationship between Paul and Apollos. 

The secret of their success (3:6) lie not in fighting but in fellowship: 

Firstly with Christ 
Secondly with one another 

Building on the Foundation (3:9-15) 

The encouragement is given to build upon the foundation with: 

'gold, silver and precious stones' 

rather than: 

'wood, hay and stubble. 

But what are these, 'gold, silver and precious stones?' 

It is compatible with Christ (3:10-11) 
It has eternal value and qualities (3:13-14) 

But can we be any more specific than this? 

These physical objects; 'gold, silver and precious stones' do have certain spiritual  associations in the OT: 

all 3 are found together in the construction of the temple (1 Chron 29:2) 


Associated with Righteousness (Exodus 28:36; 39:30; Malachi 3:3) 


Associated with Redemption: Exodus 28:35 – half shekel of the sanctuary, Lev 5:15; Numb 3:46 – all the firstborn redeemed with 5 shekels 

Precious stones – often linked with wisdom in the OT: 

Job 28:1, 12, 18: “The price of wisdom is above rubies” 
Prov 8:6: “Wisdom is better than rubies” 
Linked with Solomon; 1 Kings 10:2,10,11; 2Chron 9:1 
Present on the Crown, crowning the head of the King; 2 Sam 12:30; 1 Chron 20 
Christ – Isaiah 28:16 
Wisdom of the King of Tyrus (Lucifer): “Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.” (Ezek 28:13) 

Worshipping in the Sanctuary (3:16-18)


Notes from a sermon preached by Dr J Stewart Gillespie as part of our systematic bible study series on 1 Corinthians.

Free audio, mp3 downloads  available above, of these messages as we expound verse by verse through the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.