In this chapter the Apostle Paul instructed the saints at Corinth on the subject of CHRISTIAN SERVICE, using himself and Apollos as examples. He faithfully addressed various needs connected with service by teaching them NOT TO EXALT GOD’S SERVANTS but rather to EMULATE THEM. How? By taking the FOUNDATIONAL TRUTHS they had learned from them and BUILDING ON THAT FOUNDATION (by ministering the truth to others in service to the Lord).

In verses 1-4 Paul had to rebuke the saints with these words, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife and DIVISIONS among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (NKJV)  What Paul is really charging them with is a lack of spiritual growth. They should have been ready to advance from the “milk of the Word” (i.e. elementary truths) to “solid food” (i.e. deeper truths), but instead they had remained “baby Christians.” This was evidenced by their being “carnal,” which means they were still in a “fleshly state of soul.” Paul knew this because they were acting like unsaved men who formed parties around certain men; in this case some were boasting of Paul and others of Apollos.

In verses 5-9 Paul sets them straight by saying, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” Paul is emphasizing the truth that he and Apollo were “merely SERVANTS” who were privileged to “sow the seed of God into their hearts,” yet it was “God who gave the increase.” In other words, they should not exalt the one who plants the seed, but the One who brings the seed to fruition! He then adds that servants should work “together as one” as “fellow workers with God.” If we do serve the Lord in this way, the Lord will graciously, in a coming day, “reward us according to our labors.” What grace! That we should be privileged to minister God’s truth to others and then be rewarded for this work even though it is God Who is doing the real work in the hearts of men to bring them to salvation and spiritual growth.

Paul had just spoken of REWARDS and now he elaborates on “the Day” when rewards will be given out to believers if they are faithful. “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I HAVE LAID THE FOUNDATION, AND ANOTHER BUILDS on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, EACH ONE’S WORK WILL BECOME CLEAR; FOR THE DAY WILL DECLARE IT, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (verses 10-15). Paul had given them the FOUNDATIONAL TRUTHS OF CHRISTIANITY and they were to “build on that foundation” by teaching others those same truths. In “the Day” when Christ returns He will review each one’s work and if it endures (like gold, silver and precious stones), “he will receive a reward.” But if it is burned (like wood, hay and straw), “he will suffer loss”; that is, he will “suffer the loss of a reward.” Yet Paul assures them that the “soul will still be saved,” for the subject here deals with SERVICE and not with SALVATION.

In verses 16-17 Paul holds out a warning for anyone who may be a FALSE TEACHER (and thus an UNBELIEVER) who is guilty of seeking to “destroy God’s temple” instead of “building it up.” Thus we read, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys (ruins) the temple of God, God will destroy (ruin) him. For the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (NASB). How solemn! If anyone “pretends to be a servant of God” yet brings in “corrupt teachings,” they will be “brought to ruin” (in Hell!) by God. 2nd Peter 2:1 describes this class of servants: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be FALSE TEACHERS AMONG YOU, who will bring in DESTRUCTIVE HERESIES, even denying the Lord who bought them, and BRING UPON THEMSELVES SWIFT DESTRUCTION.” Paul ends on the same note in which he began, by exhorting them NOT TO BOAST IN MEN. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness’; and again, ‘The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ Therefore LET NO ONE BOAST IN MEN. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” This means that “servants are given to us from God” as a blessing, so we should exalt the “Giver” and NOT the “gift.” (399.3)  (DO)