Bible Commentaries

Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible

1 Corinthians 3

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 3:11

"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 3:11

We are very eager to put our hands to work. Like Uzzah, we must needs prop up the ark when we see it tumbling; when faith totters, we must come to bear a helping hand. But this is prejudicial to the work of God upon the soul. If the whole is to be a spiritual building; if we are "living stones" built upon a living Head, every stone in that spiritual temple must be laid by God the Spirit. And if Song of Solomon, everything of nature, of creature, of self, must be effectually laid low, that Christ may be all—that Christ, and Christ alone, may be formed in our heart, the hope of glory.

How many trials some of you have passed through! how many sharp and cutting exercises! how many harassing temptations! how many sinkings of heart! how many fiery darts from hell! how many doubts and fears! how much hard bondage! how many galling chains! how often has the very iron entered into your soul! Why? That you may be prevented from adding one stone by your own hands to the spiritual building.

The Apostle tells us that "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid," even Jesus Christ. He then speaks of those who build "wood, hay, and stubble," as well as of those who used "gold, silver, and precious stones;" and that the "wood, hay, and stubble" must be burned with fire. It is after the Lord has laid a foundation in the sinner"s conscience, brought him near to himself, made Jesus precious to his soul, raised up hope and love in his heart, that he is so apt to take materials God never recognizes, "wood, hay, straw, stubble," and rear thereby a flimsy superstructure of his own. But this gives way in the trying hour—it cannot stand one gust of temptation. One spark of the wrath to come, one discovery of God"s dread majesty, will burn up this "wood, hay, and stubble" like straw in the oven.

The Lord"s people, therefore, have to pass through troubles, trials, exercises, and temptations, doubts and fears, and all that harassing path that they usually walk in, that they may be prevented from erecting a superstructure of nature upon the foundation of grace—"wood, hay, and stubble" upon the glorious mystery of an incarnate God.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 3:13

"The fire shall test every man"s work of what sort it is." 1 Corinthians 3:13

How careful and anxious we should be to have two points well secured in our hearts. First, to be right as concerns the foundation. "Do I believe in the Son of God? Have I clear views of the Sonship, the Deity, and the pure humanity of Christ? Have I drunk in no secret error? Am I hiding in my bosom no corrupt doctrine? Is my creed sound? Is the word of God received by me, as God has revealed it, into a believing heart?" How many are wrong as to the foundation itself.

Then comes, "Am I upon the foundation? Did God himself put me there? Did I see its suitability to my lost and undone soul? Did the blessed Spirit take of the things of Christ and reveal them to me in the hour of need? Was the Son of God made precious to my soul by an act of faith? Am I looking to him, cleaving to him, longing for him, hanging upon him, and trusting wholly to his Person and work? How stands the foundation? Am I on it?"

The next important question Isaiah, "How stands the superstructure? Has the Holy Spirit wrought anything with a divine power in my soul? The faith I profess, is it of God? The hope I enjoy, do I believe it came from the Lord himself to support my soul in the trying storm? My repentance, is it genuine? My profession, is it sincere? My walk, is it consistent? My conscience, is it tender? My desires, are they spiritual? My prayers, are they fervent? My heart, is it honest? My soul, is it right before God? What am I looking to as the foundation, and what am I looking to as the superstructure? Do I hang all my hopes upon Christ as the Rock, and all my religion upon the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart?"

If you can answer these questions as in the sight of God, "Yes, yes, ten times yes;" then you are right, you are right. If you stand upon the foundation that God has laid in Zion, you are right; you are right if God the Spirit has wrought a living faith in your heart. But you are wrong, you are wrong if you stand not upon God"s foundation; you are wrong, you are wrong, and that for eternity, unless the Holy Spirit is at work upon your conscience.

"The fire shall try every man"s work of what sort it is." 1 Corinthians 3:13

The fire which is to prove every man"s work of what sort it Isaiah, is not merely God"s wrath as manifested at the last day; but his fire as significative of the fiery trial which takes place in this life, and which God mercifully brings upon his people to burn up their wood, hay, and stubble. Now it is an inestimable mercy to have all this combustible material burnt up before we come to a death-bed. Fiery trials, such as God sends through afflictions, temptations, distressing feelings, and painful soul exercises, will burn up the wood, hay, and stubble which any of his saints may have gathered up as a superstructure. Guilt pressing upon a man"s conscience; the terrors of the Almighty in a fiery law; his arrows deeply fixed in the breast and drying up the spirit; fears of death, hell, and judgment; and the terrible consequences of dying under the wrath of God; all these are a part of the fiery trial which burns up the wood, hay, and stubble heaped by Babel builders on the foundation. All sink into black ashes before this fire, which proves what they are, and what a vain refuge they afford in the day of trouble.

What then stands the fiery trial? God"s work upon the soul, the faith that he implants by his own Spirit. It may be weak; it must be tried; it may seem at times scarcely to exist; and yet being of God, it stands every storm, and lives at last. A good hope through grace, a hope of God"s own communicating and maintaining—like a well-tried anchor, this will stand the storm; like gold and silver, this will bear the hottest furnace; lose its dross, but not lose the pure material, but be refined, purified, and manifested all the more as genuine metal. Song of Solomon, also, these "precious stones" ( 1 Corinthians 3:12), these heavenly visits, sweet manifestations, blessed promises, comforting discoveries, and gracious revelations of the Son of God, with the whispers of his dying, bleeding love—these heavenly jewels can never be lost and never be burnt up. They may be tried, and that keenly and sharply, but being of God"s gift and operation, they are essentially indestructible.

Verse 18

1 Corinthians 3:18

"If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." 1 Corinthians 3:18

The fruit and effect of divine teaching Isaiah, to cut in pieces, and root up all our fleshly Wisdom of Solomon, strength, and righteousness. God never means to patch a new piece upon an old garment; he never intends to let our Wisdom of Solomon, our strength, our righteousness have any union with his; it must all be torn to pieces, it must all be plucked up by the roots, that a new Wisdom of Solomon, a new strength, and a new righteousness may arise upon its ruins. But until the Lord is pleased to teach us, we never can part with our own righteousness, never give up our own Wisdom of Solomon, never abandon our own strength. These things are a part and parcel of ourselves, so ingrained within us, so innate in us, so growing with our growth, that we cannot willingly part with an atom of them until the Lord himself breaks them up, and plucks them away.

Then, as he brings into our souls some spiritual knowledge of our own dreadful corruptions and horrible wickedness, our righteousness crumbles away at the divine touch; as he leads us to see and feel our ignorance and folly in a thousand instances, and how unable we are to understand anything aright but by divine teaching, our wisdom fades away; and as he shows us our inability to resist temptation and overcome sin, by any exertion of our own, our strength gradually departs, and we become like Samson, when his locks were cut off.

Upon the ruins, then, of our own Wisdom of Solomon, righteousness, and strength, does God build up Christ"s Wisdom of Solomon, Christ"s righteousness, and Christ"s strength—as Jesus said to his servant Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness;" and this brought him to that wonderful conclusion, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" ( 2 Corinthians 12:9). But only so far as we are favored with this special teaching are we brought to pass a solemn sentence of condemnation upon our own Wisdom of Solomon, strength, and righteousness, and feelingly seek after the Lord"s.

Verse 21

1 Corinthians 3:21

"Therefore let no man glory 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." 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

Whatever there be in heaven, whatever there be in earth, that can be for your spiritual good, all is yours so far as you are an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. The silver and the gold and the cattle upon a thousand hills are all Christ"s because all power is given to him in heaven and in earth. Whatever your temporal needs may be, he can supply them, because he is king on earth as well as in heaven. Whatever enemies you may have, he is able to defeat them; whatever evils may press upon you, he is able to subdue them; whatever sorrows surround you, he is able to console you under them. Everything in time, everything in eternity, in this world and in the world to come, are all on your side, that are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

Verse 22

1 Corinthians 3:22

"Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours." 1 Corinthians 3:22

"LIFE," says the Apostle, is "yours." But how can this be? In two ways. Life present and life future, both are the Christian"s, according to the words, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now Isaiah, and of that which is to come." But life present is natural and spiritual. In three senses, therefore, is life the portion of Christ"s people; life natural, life spiritual, life eternal. Life natural is theirs, for they alone can truly enjoy it. What is natural life if it hangs by a thread over a dreadful eternity? How soon spent and gone, and how soon death and judgment close the scene. But the Christian"s very natural life is his season for faith and prayer, the seedtime of an immortal harvest. Most men are life"s slave, but he is life"s master; to most, life is but an opportunity of evil, but to him an opportunity of good. Spiritual life is peculiarly his, for he alone possesses it. Natural men share with him natural life; but he alone enjoys spiritual life. This life is his because Christ is his. Christ is his life, and because Christ lives, he lives also. And then there is life eternal, which commencing now in life spiritual is transplanted above to bloom in immortality.

And then, more wondrous still, "DEATH," that last enemy, that king of terrors, who makes the strongest tremble, and the stoutest heart quake; that, also, is yours, if you are Christ"s. Death is not your enemy if you are Christ"s, but your friend. He may indeed in the dim and distant prospect seem to come in the guise of an enemy; you may dread the thought of his approach, and may even sink down with fear how it may be with you in that solemn hour. But if you are Christ"s, death is yours as well as life, for he has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light. Death then cannot harm you, because Christ died for you. Death will merely cause your poor body to drop into the ground, while it will open to your soul the everlasting doors through which the King of glory, the Lord mighty in battle, entered as your forerunner when he went to prepare a place for you.

Verse 23

1 Corinthians 3:23

"And you are Christ"s; and Christ is God"s." 1 Corinthians 3:23

"Christ is God"s." These are remarkable words, and need to be carefully and reverently opened up. The fullness of the mystery is beyond our grasp. Still, we may attempt to look at it in faith and godly fear. How, then, is Christ God"s? First, he is God"s SON—not a Son by covenant or by office; in other words, not a nominal, but a true and proper Son—a Son by nature, by his eternal mode of subsistence as a Person in the Godhead. "This is my beloved Son" was twice proclaimed by God the Father with an audible voice from heaven.

Second, but he is also God"s SERVANT. "Behold my servant whom I uphold" ( Isaiah 42:1). "It is a light thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob" ( Isaiah 49:6), and this he was as Messiah. But because he is by office God"s servant, he is not less by nature God"s Son.

Here, however, he is spoken of as the God-man MEDIATOR, the Son of the Father in truth and love, the great High Priest over the house of God; and especially what he is as viewed in union with the Church, the Bridegroom with the bride, the Vine with the branches, the Shepherd with the sheep, the living foundation with the living stones built into and upon it. Christ, therefore, in our text is said to be God"s not only as the only-begotten Son of God, but as "the HEAD of the body, the Church" ( Colossians 1:18); for, says the Apostle, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" ( Ephesians 5:30). Christ, then, is God"s, with all those that belong to him—he as much as they, they as much as he. Look, then, at these glorious truths. "You are Christ"s" because by donation, purchase, and possession you are members of his body. "Christ is God"s" as Song of Solomon, as Servant, as Mediator, as Head of the Church. Then you too are God"s, because you are Christ"s; for the members are one with their covenant Head.

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Bibliographical Information
Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible.