The Problem of Pride

Studies in First Corinthians

Lesson 15: The Problem of Pride

I Corinthians 4:6-8


Have you heard the story about the proud owner of a Rolls Royce who was so proud of himself and his car? He was always looking for an opportunity to work his car into any conversation. Then one day a fellow member of the country club couldn’t get his car started. The Rolls Royce owner insisted on giving him a ride. As they started down the driveway the proud owner said, “I guess you’ve never ridden in a Rolls Royce before!” To which the passenger replied, “well, never in the front seat.”



And that is the picture of pride. It is so ironic. Such a paradox. In chapter 4 of First Corinthians the focal point is pride. And we are seeing that it is a very insidious enemy against the Lordship of Christ in our church and in our lives. In our last study we talked about “the paradox of pride,” how foolish it is to be proud. Now in verses 6 through 8 Paul is going to point out some of the problems of pride – and there are several. The first problem that we have to keep in mind is its subtlety as it is brought out in verse 6.


Now these things brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against another.


The first significant phrase to notice in this verse is “puffed up on behalf of one against another.” Now what could be wrong with thinking highly of another person? Well, carried to its logical conclusion, it leads to exaltation of self – because the next verses are addressed to those who exalt themselves and their groups. So the first subtle influence of pride is the fact that it can actually be based on another person (or group or (of particular importance to this study, a denomination.) To be proud of a man or a group and our association with them causes an inability to see things in a true perspective. You see, we can be so wrapped up in a person or a group that we refuse to listen even to legitimate criticism of them – and possibly even follow them right into false teaching!


The Corinthians were so wrapped up in their various groups that Paul had to use examples and illustrations or they wouldn’t have gotten his point. This is what is meant by the phrase “figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos”


So one of the problems of pride is its subtlety. But in verse 7 we find another one: it is subversive nature”


For who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as though you had not received it?”


Actually this subject is introduced in verse 6 with the phrase “that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written . . .” Exaltation of men comes from ignoring the scripture. The record of scripture shows again and again that humans are failures. Individuals who failed the Lord include such notables as Adam, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and on and on we could go. And groups such as the disciples, etc.


Paul had summarized this principle back in 3:5-7, saying that even a sincere servant of the Lord is nothing unless “God gives the increase.”


A third emphasis in this letter is that whatever greatness God has allowed anyone to have has been merely to show His grace through them. So with all of that in mind coming back to verse 7, it is the height of foolishness to take pride in anything! Even if, from a human standpoint, you actually are better than someone else it is only because God has allowed it to be so. In fact, there is a real sense in which if you are being used by God it is actually less impressive than others –  because “God has chosen the weak things of the world to accomplish His purposes.


At the beginning of the book of Revelation the Holy Spirit had the Apostle John write letters to seven churches that were active in the area of Palestine in the first century. And without taking the time to go into the messages of each of them, one of them was the church at Laodicea recorded in chapter 3, verses 14 through 17. And it forms God’s perspective of proud people.


And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, “these things says the amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the beginning of the creation of God: (15) I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot, and because you are neither cold nor hot I will spew you out of my mouth. (17) Because you say “I am rich, have become wealthy” – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked . . .


So the bottom line, you see, is that pride is subversive. It makes us think the very opposite of what is true about ourselves!


But then there is a third problem with pride. Not only is it subtle and subversive, but verse 8 shows that it is spurious as well.


You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us – and indeed I wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!”


Incidentally, Paul’s sense of humor shows in the last line of verse 8 – “I wish it were so”

Here Paul sarcastically points out the attitudes they have because of pride. Rich!, Full! Reigning  as kings! And the interesting thing is that these attitudes were not correct or accurate in the first place. Remember chapter 1 verse 26?


For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise, according to the flesh, not many mighty not many noble, are called . . .”


But really, isn’t this a good picture of pride? Here is its end result: thinking things about ourselves or our group that aren’t even true! Other suggested pictures of pride include someone bragging about how well he can opens birthday or Christmas presents, or, as someone else said, “That person was born on third base, but he acts like he hit a triple.”


Well, by this time hopefully we can see what a terrible thing pride is, but fortunately, verses 9 through 13 give us the picture of victory over pride. In these verses Paul uses himself and the other apostles as examples of humility. And this is ironic, because these were the very men who were most worthy of exaltation, if anybody was. But in these verses he gives us three attitudes that put pride in its proper place. First, a lowly position in the eyes of the world in verses 9 and 10.


“For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. (10) We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong You are distinguished and we are dishonored!”


Verse 9 brings out an example that would have been familiar to the Greek and Roman empires. After a victory in battle there would be a great victory parade in the homeland. And the captives who were sentenced to death – the worst of the enemy – would be last in the procession. Verse 10 says that the apostles were “fools” for Christ’s sake (because the preaching of the cross is “foolishness.” They were weak (because God has chosen the weak things of the world,) despised (because the gospel is so contrary to the world’s wisdom.) And yet the Corinthians were priding themselves on the very opposite of each of these things (notice the point by point comparison.) So this point is saying that a really good solution to pride is to remember the lowly position that servants of God hold in the eyes of the world!


But there is a second principle here that also helps give victory over pride: a loose hold on possessions in the world – look at verse 11


Even to the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are poorly clothed, and beaten and homeless.”


The apostles had not always been in this condition – they had been businessmen, and homeowners, etc. So he is not saying that there is something inherently spiritual about being poor. (a lot of unsaved people are poor too) But he is saying that Christians face the possibility of giving up their possessions for the sake of doing God’s will.


A lowly position in the “eyes of the world” and a “loose hold on possessions” are good preventatives for pride. But there is a third principle in verse 12.


And we labor, working with our hands, being reviled, we bless, being persecuted we endure it”


Each of these things would have been completely repulsive and even unnatural to a polished Greek. Manual labor, returning reviling with blessing, taking persecution with patience, and yet these are the very things Christ did – and exactly what He tells us to do. And if you will compare these things with Galatians 5:22 you will see that they all come from the fruit of the spirit.


We live in a day when it is not hard to be a Christian. In fact, there are some Christians who are in very prominent and highly respected places in our society. And probably none of us suffer in the ways that Paul has been describing in these last few verses. But it hasn’t always been that way – and it may not always be. And if we were to lose these things we would find out very quickly what the real values in life are all about! So how silly it is when we become proud of those things that have just been given to us in the first place. And above all, remember that as we have been seeing again and again in this section of this book, that the real accounts are settled at the judgement seat of Christ (“therefore judge nothing before the time. . .


The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at








A Motivation for Ministry

Studies in I Corinthians

Lesson 13: “A Motivation for Ministry”

I Corinthians 3:18-23


In the musical “The Sound of Music” one of the most beautiful songs is “Climb Every Mountain” It is sung by the Mother Superior of a convent to the young Maria, who is trying to decide what to do with her life. And the song is all about motivation. And the message of the song is that nothing should ever stand in the way of accomplishing one’s dream. But the Word of God speaks of motivation from a much higher standpoint: Not the accomplishment of a dream, but the exaltation of a Savior. Not climbing every mountain and fording every stream,” but walking with the Lord in a personal relationship.


Let me ask you today, what is your motivation; what is it that keeps you going in life? What are you trying to accomplish? As we come to the end of chapter 3 of First Corinthians we want to think about the motivation for ministry in verses 18-23. Now as I hope you remember, in our last study we talked about the judgement seat of Christ – the sobering fact that everything we have done since the day of our salvation will be judged as to its motive. Those things that have been done with the motive of honoring Christ and furthering His kingdom will be rewarded, and the things that have been only for ourselves will not. And the rewards will be used to tangibly thank and worship Jesus Christ for our salvation. And certainly that is a motivation for ministry. But in these verses Paul is going to focus on some principles that be helpful to us as we live our lives in an increasingly secular society. And there are three principles in that regard:


First, the pointlessness of creating celebrities in verses 18 through 20. Then in verses we have the possessions of common Christians in verses 21 through23a, and, the position of Jesus Christ in verse 23b


So let’s begin our study by looking at the first of these principles: The pointlessness of creating celebrities in verses 18 through 20. As we look at this paragraph we need to remember again that the basic theme of this whole first section of the book is the danger of exalting men. Paul has already pointed out several aspects of this danger, and now he comes to another one: many times our exaltation of men is for the wrong reasons. As we have seen before, the Corinthians were not exalting these various men because some of them were more knowledgeable than others, but because of personality and background, or the academic degrees they may hold – they all taught the same doctrines. So in these verses Paul is going to warn about what can happen when we elevate men for the wrong reasons. And the first reason that it is pointless to do this is that there is confusion in wisdom, according to verse 18.


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.


The first thing we want to notice in this verse is the phrase “let no man deceive himself.” This is a translation of a Greek word which means “that which givers a false impression, whether by appearance or statement or influence.”


If we were to trace it through the New Testament we would find that it is most often used with reference to “money” or “lust.” Nothing is as deceitful as money or lust. Both of them lead to a false basis for your thinking. It is very easy to get the impression that if you have money you are automatically important (which is a lie) – you may or may not be important, but money is not the determining factor.) If you give yourself to lust, it leaves you with the impression that you are going to find excitement and stimulation – which is also a lie. The law of diminishing returns soon makes you a slave to lust!


So coming back to our text, the person who makes human wisdom and the personalities of mere men his standards is deceived about spiritual things!  So there is “confusion in human wisdom” according to verse 18, Now we will come back to the rest of that verse in a few minutes, but at this point notice the contrast to human wisdom  that we find in verses 19 and 20.


For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, for it is written “He catches the wise in their own craftiness; (20) and again, the Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”


These two verses are quotations of Old Testament verses. Verse 19b is a quotation of Job 5:13, and verse 20 is from Psalm 94:11. Now these verses speak pretty clearly for themselves, but there is a passage that articulates this principle even more clearly. Look at James 3:13 through 18.


Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom (14) But if you have bitter envy and self seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. (15) This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic (16) For where envy and self seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there. (17) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (18) Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.


These verses make it clear that there are two kinds of wisdom: In verses 13 through 16 there is the wrong kind of wisdom. And notice the description – earthly, natural, demonic, sensuous, filled with selfish ambition and disorder . . .”


This sounds just like what we’ve been reading about the Corinthian church, doesn’t it? But that shouldn’t surprise us, because they were depending in the wrong kind of wisdom; human wisdom; earthly wisdom; “wisdom that is from beneath.” Now put all of that together and you will realize that wisdom that does not come from God is based purely on intellect, culture, education, and so forth.


But in verse 17 there is a description of God’s wisdom.


But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.You be the judge: what are the characteristics of the wisdom that guide your life? Are the decisions that you make and the lifestyle you follow “pure,” “peaceable, willing to yield – without hypocrisy? These are the characteristics of the wisdom that God gives! And in the context of our study, these are the things that characterize a church that operates on God’s wisdom (and vice-versa).


Now going back to First Corinthians, the third thing we want to notice about the pointlessness of creating celebrities is in verse 21: the conclusion about human wisdom  Therefore, let no man boast in men. . .”


Notice the word “therefore,” – it indicates that a conclusion is to be drawn from the above information. And what he is saying is “since there is confusion and deception in human wisdom, and since there is a contrast between God’s wisdom and human wisdom, here is the conclusion that we should draw: “don’t boast in men.” And the last part of the verse tells us why:  for all things are yours . . .”  (and that leads to the next point): Not only is it pointless to create celebrities, but we don’t have to boast in men at all because of the possessions of common Christians in verses 21b and 22. God has provided you with not only prominent Christians to help your Christian life, but with all things that we need for Christian living. And samples of these possessions are in verse 22.


Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas or the world, or life, or death or things present or things to come – all are yours.


Notice that he begins the list of possessions with the very men they were exalting – and Paul says they are all for you – don’t limit yourself to just one! But it goes on much beyond that – the whole world! First Timothy 4:4 says that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” And First Timothy 6:17 says that “God gives us all things richly to enjoy” And First Corinthians 4:15 says “all things are for your sakes.” And verse 22 gives some examples of all those things: the ministry and ministers belong to believers – Paul, Apollos, Cephas”  (so to limit ourselves to only one is cheating ourselves)


The world belongs to believers – the orderly system of the universe belongs to believers. It is for the benefit of the believer (unbelievers just get to share in it.) Life certainly belongs to believers – Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly.”


And even death is for believers – Hebrews 2:14 and 15 says that


Christ’s death destroyed him who had the power of death, that is the devil and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”


Believers have nothing to fear in death – to be absent from the body is to present with the Lord.”


So those are “samples of the possessions of common Christians – every Christian can have these things. But in verse 23a  we should notice the source of those possessions  And you are Christ’s .  How is it that the common Christian can have victory over all things? We don’t need to be in bondage to anything. We don’t need to use any thing or person as our standard. But instead we can have the benefit of “all things richly to enjoy.”  To put it simply: “we belong to Christ, and therefore these things belong to us. Now doesn’t that put things in perspective? Why exalt man? Why exalt a human creed? Why have our motivation based on what we can attain and acquire? All those things are already ours!


And that brings us to the final statement of verse 23 . . . . “and Christ is God’s (the position of Jesus Christ.) Don’t glory in men. There is no man great enough to glory in. Someone has said, “men and machinery will fail you.” Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of glorying in. And why? Because “Christ is God’s” And that is the motivation for the ministry – the fact that we are personally related to the God of the universe!



The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at




Proof of the Ministry

Studies in First Corinthians

Lesson 12: Proof of the Ministry

I Corinthians 3:13-17


Bobby Dodd, the Athletic Director at Georgia Tech tells the story of a coach who, with his team leading 7 to 6 in the last minute of the game, told his quarterback not to pass under any condition. But when the ball was carried within the opponent’s ten-yard line, the quarterback was overcome by temptation. He threw a short pass, and sure enough, it was intercepted by the other team’s fastest back, who broke into the open and raced for the goal. It looked hopeless until out of nowhere the quarterback who had thrown the interception overtook him and threw him down. After the game the losing coach said to the other coach, I’ll never understand how your quarterback was able to catch my fastest back.” The other coach replied, “That’s simple: your boy was running for a touchdown; my boy was running for his life.”


This little story deals with the importance of motivation: it can make all the difference. And that is the subject of the passage to which we come today. What is your motivation in the Christian life? The focus in this part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is on the fact that every Christian is a “minister” – a servant of Christ. So that rather than exalting a few men as the Corinthians were doing, we should all be exalting Christ together. And in this middle section of chapter 3 Paul is giving “a message to ministers” along those lines.


In our last study we looked at the message to ministers from three standpoints: first: “as to position” – laborers together with God and at the same time, the product of God’s labor – in verse 9, second “as to pursuit” – doing whatever God gives you to do, regardless of what someone else may be doing. – verse 10. And third, “as to purpose” – to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and to build with right materials – verses 11 and 12.


So that brings us today to verses 13 through 17, where we have a fourth part of the message, and it is “a message as to our proving.” In the verses just above this, he has been talking about two kinds of building materials: “gold, silver, and precious stones” and on the other hand, “wood, hay and stubble.” And as we saw in our last study, gold, silver and precious stones represent works done with the motivation of honoring Christ. And wood, hay and stubble represent works done with the motivation of pleasing ourselves. Now think for a moment: What is the basic difference between these two types of building materials? It is simply motivation isn’t it?  How much do we want to please and honor Christ? Therefore, it is very difficult for human beings to distinguish between the two. And therefore God has arranged a foolproof method of “proving” the work. Look at verse 13:


Each one’s work will become clear, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire shall test each one’s work, of what sort it is.


First notice the thoroughness of the judgment – the fire shall test each one’s work. . ..” This is not just for the “super spiritual.” Rather every one of us who know Christ as Savior, whether we plan on it or not, will face this inspection! And then notice the time of the judgment: the fire shall (future tense.) test the works This is a very important point to keep in mind since it is so difficult to distinguish. In fact, in chapter 4 verse 5 Paul especially warns about this.


Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the councils of the hearts; and then shall each one’s praise come from God.”


Just because somebody else is not doing things the way you would do them doesn’t mean he is a false teacher. And on the other hand, just because somebody else is doing things in a flashier way than you are doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gold silver, and precious stones.


The most important thing to remember about this judgment of works is that only God really knows why people do what they do (or don’t do) Great damage is done to the body of Christ when we try to make these kinds of judgments about others. Look back at verses 4 and 5 again: then shall each man’s praise come from God.


A third thing to know about this judgement is the topic of the judgment. It is a judgment of works, not of sins. The sin question was settled at the cross. But this judgement has to do with the use of our time. There is a parallel passage that gives us further insight on this whole concept. Look at II Corinthians 5:10


For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.


There are two important concepts to notice in this verse: First, the word “judgement seat” is a translation of the Greek word “Bema,” which refers to the raised seat occupied by the judge in the Olympic games, not the “judgement bar” of a courtroom. And second, the word “bad” is a translation of the Greek word “phallos,” which means “wasted” or “empty” (the word from which we get our word “fallow” as in a “fallow field.”) So again, the concept is an examination of the works of believers, not a public revelation of sins.


Now going back to I Corinthians chapter 3, notice the types of rewards that will be given in the judgement in verses 14 and 15. First there is the reward for what we might call “the wise wor­ker” in verse 14:


If anyone’s work which he has built on that foundation endures, he will receive a reward.  What kind of material would survive a fire? gold, silver and precious stones. So the wise worker is the one who has spent his time on earth honoring Christ. And notice that “he shall receive a reward.” Now this isn’t talking about salvation. First, because the only people at this judgement are believers. And second, because salvation is always spoken of as a gift, never as a reward. The only specific rewards mentioned in the scripture are crowns. There is “the crown of righteousness” for those who “love His appearing,” in II Timothy 4:8, and “the crown of life”for those who love God” in James 1:12 and “the crown of glory”for being a good elder” in I Peter 5:4 and “the crown of rejoicing for soul winning and discipleship in I Thessalonians 2:19 and the and the incorruptible crown for those who have run the Christian race well in I Corinthians 9:25


And Revelation 4:10 shows what the purpose of the crowns is: not in any way to boast or show off, but to cast them at Jesus’ feet in praise. But there is also a second type of worker at this judgement – look at verse 15:


If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.


Here is what we might call the “unwise” worker.”


Notice very carefully: it is possible that a person will stand at the judgement seat of Christ and discover that everything he did during the period of time after he was saved until he stood at the judgement was only for his own glory, and that none of it glorified Christ. Now look carefully here: does it say that that kind of worker will go to hell because he wasted all that time? No it says he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved,” but they are going to be there, by God’s grace. Their lives wasted as far as bringing honor and glory to Him, but they will be there. Saved, “yet so as by fire, but saved.” So the unwise worker is one who has wasted his time.


Verses 16 and 17 close with a solemn warning that this ministry and its judgement is so important that God will not tolerate those false teachers who would try to destroy the body of Christ, God’s temple. Now as we draw this study to a close, lets remind ourselves that in the context of the first part of the chapter Paul is saying that a minister is only a servant. You and I as ministers are all only servants of God. But even as servants, each one of us is very significant in God’s sight. We are responsible to God for our time and our efforts. And the day is going to come when our work is going to be examined and rewards are going to be given.


So you see its not just a matter of ambling through day by day but a matter of carefully using the time that God has given to each of us and the gifts He has given us, to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ, recognizing that everything that we do in this life gives us further opportunity to worship Him in eternity! And what better motive could there be for the Christian life?


The purpose of these studies is to move you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand Romans 3:23, which says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23, which says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Acts 16:32, which says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at




A Message to Ministers

Studies in I Corinthians

Lesson 11: “A Message for Ministers”

I Corinthians 3:8-12


The members of the first century church in the city of Corinth had a problem that is repeated sometimes in our society today: the problem of exalting men. And in the process of that exaltation they were creating divisions within their group. People were taking sides about who was the better teacher, and those kinds of things. And this is one of the several problems about which the Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthians.  It is the first problem he addresses. And he says three things about the problem here in chapter 3: First, in verses 1 through 8 he talks about their “misconception of the ministry.”


We saw in those verses that there is a sense in which every believer is a minister. And then in verses 9 through 17 he gives “a message to ministers.” So this “message to ministers” is not just to the “professional” clergy, but to all of us as believers.


Since there is a misconception of the ministry that is easy to develop, there is a very important “message to ministers” that needs to go along with that. And that is what we want to talk about in this study. And then the third part of the chapter has to do with “a motivation for ministry” which we will talk about in our next study.


But for now we want to talk about “the message for ministers” that we find in verses 9 through 17. And the first thing to notice about the message for ministers has to do with “their position” in verse 9.


For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.


Now remember that in the previous verses Paul had said that it is wrong to exalt ministers – especially one over another. And that it is a misconception of the ministry to think that men are important in God’s work. Because in verse 7 he said


Neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters, but God gives the increase.


Now because of those kinds of statements we might get the idea, “well if men are not important in God’s work, then what part do we play? And why is it important that we even pay attention to what we’re doing, if its only a matter of being available for God’s use? And that’s the idea that he has in mind as we come to these verses. Going back to verse 9, notice first of all, the phrase “laborers together with God . . .” (Now isn’t that a wonderful thought?)  It’s a wonderful thing to know that if we are a planter, or a waterer, of a weed puller or whatever else it is that God has given us to do, we’re not out there trying to do it in our own strength. In fact, the misconception that Paul dealt with in our last study was that if you’re out there trying to do it in your own strength then it is a total waste of time. But by contrast, if we’re being faithful to God in what He’s given us to do, then we can be considered laborers together with Him!


But there’s something else to notice about verse 9: Notice the phrase “You are God’s husbandry, you are God’s building


Not only are we laborers together with God, but at the same time we are the product of God’s labor. God not only allows us the privilege of working with Him, but He also is the one who has made us usable to begin with! “Here is what I like to call “the principle of overflow.” This is the idea that as we take in the Word of God for our personal use, out of that overflows the ministry that He may give us for other people. The best example of this is the Old Testament priest, Ezra, who was involved in the highly successful rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. The secret to Ezra’s ministry is found in Ezra 7:10


Ezra had set his heart (“made up his mind”) to seek the law of God and to do it and to teach statutes and judgements


In other words, Ezra had made up his mind to learn the Word of God, not just so that he could be a great teacher, but so that he could be obedient to it. And as a result of his obedience to the Word of God he became one of the most effective Bible teachers in history. And that’s the way God wants to operate in your life and mine. So the message to ministers as to their position is that we are not to be some exalted highly regarded individual; but that we are simply laborers together with God.


Now in verse 10 there is another part of the message. Here we find the message to ministers as to their pursuit


According to the grace of God which was given to me as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds upon it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.


God had given Paul the ability to found the church, and the gifts necessary to get things started.

But he knew that somebody else would come along who had other abilities and gifts and develop the church further. And so our “pursuit” as ministers is to do whatever God has given us to do.


Just because Paul had foundation laying abilities didn’t mean that everybody who came after him had to do things the same way he had done them. this is going to be much more fully developed over in chapter 12 with the explanation of spiritual gifts and the illustration of the parts of the body working together. Don’t try to be somebody else! Your pursuit as a minister should be to be the best minister you can be in the place that God has put you.


Then in verses 11 and 12 he talks to ministers as to their purpose.


For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.


Remember that this is addressed to all of as ministers. And what is that purpose? Actually it is two-fold: First, to build on the right foundation: Jesus Christ. And not only that, but to build only on that foundation! It is very easy, if we’re not careful, to make some other aspect of the Christian life foundational. And there are a lot of very important doctrines that really need emphasis in our world today. But the foundational doctrine is “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” There are a lot of different kinds of ministries – helps, showing mercy, giving, administration, etc. but no matter what your ministry is, be sure that sooner or later it comes back to the presentation of Jesus Christ. If you are doing good works just for the sake of good works, there are a lot of unsaved people who can do those things, so how are you any different?


Now we said that there were two purposes for ministers. The first is to build on the right foundation, but the second is to build with the right materials – look at verse 12:


Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw –


Following Paul’s metaphor of building, he says that there are two kinds of building materials we can use on this foundation of Jesus Christ. First there is “gold, silver, and precious stones.” These materials represent true doctrine and practice. The are the very kind of thing we’ve just been talking about – doing things in the name of Jesus Christ. And this imagery would have been familiar to Paul’s readers – idol temples were often decorated with these kinds of ornaments. In fact, down in verse 16 he is going to carry the metaphor further in saying that we are the temple of God! God hasn’t adorned His physical temple in that way, but He wants to adorn our lives in that way.


But there is another kind of building material in verse 12 too: “wood, hay, and stubble.” And these represent the opposite of the gold, silver and precious stones – things that are not done in the name of Christ. And also in the sense of the metaphor, these were the materials of which homes for mere mortals were made.


As we conclude this study, let me ask you: as a minister of Jesus Christ, what are you building on the foundation of Jesus Christ? – Is it a beautiful ornament or a shabby little hovel? When you see someone who has a need, do you respond in a manner that is worthy of Christ?



The purpose of these studies is to move you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at



The Pastor’s Duty

Studies in First Corinthians

Lesson 10: “The Pastor’s Duty

I Corinthians 3:5-17


Back in the day when “Chain Letters” were popular, this one appeared on the scene: “Results of a recent computerized survey indicate that the perfect pastor preaches exactly 20 minutes. He condemns sin, but never embarrasses anyone. He works from 8:00 A.M. to midnight and is also the janitor. He makes $1,000 a month, wears good clothes, drives a new car, and gives $100 a week to the poor. He is 28 years old, has been in the ministry for 25 years, is wonderfully gentle and handsome, loves to work with teen-agers, and spends countless hours with senior citizens. He makes 15 visits a day to church families, hospital patients, and shut-ins and is always in his office when he is needed. If your pastor does not meet these standards, send this letter to six other churches that are dissatisfied with their pastors then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of this list. Within one month you will receive 1,643 pastors. Surely one of them will be perfect for your church!


Many people have a misconception of the pastor and his place in the church. And that was certainly the case in Corinth in the first century – they had “a misconception of the ministry” In the first part of this chapter Paul has been talking about “the participants in the misconception – and he says that there are two kinds: Those who are “unable” to understand Biblical concepts because they are unsaved. And those who are “unstable” because of carnality (being controlled by the desires of the body rather than the Holy spirit.)


So that brings us today to the principles of the misconception What kind of misconceptions do people get?  Paul mentions two in the next paragraph: The first is in verses 5 and 6: and that is that men are important in God’s work. Now that may sound surprising to you, so let’s notice carefully what he says in these verses:


Who, then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? (6) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.


The most important word in verse 5 is the word “ministers” It is a translation of the Greek word “diakonai,” which means “servant,” or even “slave,” or more specifically “a waiter of tables” (a common figure in a Roman home)


And the point that this verse makes is that the “Pastor,” or “preacher” or “minister” or whatever else he may be called, is not the high and mighty head of the church but is actually the servant of the church!


Now incidentally, although it is a bit of a digression, this verse also has an opposite application: as I have already pointed out, the “minister” is a servant of God. So conversely, anyone who is serving the Lord is a minister! There is a very real sense in which there is no difference between the “clergy” and the “laity” (both of these are terms used in the Roman Catholic to refer to “priests” and “church members.” But in biblical terms, every Christian who is seeking to serve the Lord in whatever you do is in the ministry.


In fact, there are many places where you can minister and people to whom you can minister where a pastor would not be listened to.


So, coming back to the text, what we are seeing is that the first misconception of the ministry is that the minister is the “boss” or “CEO” of the church. Or, to put it in a more general way, that men are important in God’s work. And verse 6 underscores that point – look at it again:


I planted, Appollos watered, but God gave the increase.


First, notice that not everybody has the same job in the ministry – some “plant” and others “water” One of the reasons we misunderstand the ministry is that some people think that unless you are what many churches call “the senior pastor” you aren’t really in the ministry. One of my friends who has an important position on the staff of a large church, says that every time he goes back to visit his family, some of the older family members will ask him if he has “his own church” yet. Another reason we misunderstand the ministry is that if you are not a pastor or a full time evangelist or a foreign missionary you are not really “in the ministry.” But here were two men whom the Corinthians were exalting, and their work was so different from each other that it could be characterized as the difference between planting and watering! But there is something else even more important to notice in verse 6 – notice the phrase “God gave the increase.”


Paul’s planting and Apollos’ watering would have amounted to nothing if God hadn’t increased it.


Going back to our text, why do we say that men are not important in the ministry? Because they are entirely dependent on God for the results. Clever programs and eloquence and personality may build a “following,” but only God can build a “flock”


So, on the one hand, there is a sense in which men are important in God’s work, because for reasons known only to Himself He has chosen to work through men. But in the sense of accomplishment that counts for eternity, you and I and every other “servant” of Christ is absolutely dependent on God to give the increase!


So that is the first misconception. But in verses 7 and 8 there is a second one. And that is that some men are more important than others in God’s work.


So, then, neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. (8) Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.


Verse 7 is a summary of the previous point. But verse 8 makes a new point, and that is the proper relationship between servants of God.  And what is that relationship? All ministers and ministries  are interconnected! (He who plants and he who waters are one . . .” God’s plan does not call for the jealousy and rivalries that we sometimes see in ministries today. In fact, just the opposite – everyone who is preaching the truth is part of God’s team. Paul even said in Philippians 1:18 that he rejoiced when Christ was preached by people with the wrong motive! (although note that he was talking about the preaching of Christ, not false teaching)


Thus it is unbiblical to think that one man is more important than another in God’s work just because he pastors a bigger church, or baptizes more people, or speaks more places, or takes in more money than someone else, or to think that evangelism is more important than teaching (or vice versa) or that feeding the hungry is more important than pastoring a church or that building an orphanage is more important than pastoring a church or being a faithful witness in your workplace(!)


He who plants and he who waters are one!


But there is something else to notice in verse 8. It also speaks of the perfect reward that comes with serving the Lord – note the last phrase again:


“. . . and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”


The subject of “rewards” is beyond the scope of this study, but the thing we want to notice at this point is the phrase “his own reward” and his own labor.


And God doesn’t reward you for what you have done in relationship to someone else; He rewards in relationship to the opportunities you had (and what you did with them.) And you can be confident of the fact that if you are a Christian businessman or homemaker or student or military man who has done what God gave you the opportunity to do, you will be just as richly rewarded as the person who has spent his whole life in some outpost in the jungle as a missionary.


I hope you have a different concept of the ministry now than when we started this study. What this passage tells us is diametrically opposed to the practice of many churches today. And because of that the actual work that God wants to do in the world today has often been hindered by some of the very people whom we might have expected to be accomplishing great works for Him.


Don’t be dependent on the pastor for the work of the ministry; work with him in the ministry! Let me ask you something: Have you done all that the Holy Spirit has led you to do during the past week?  (Never mind what He has led the pastor or someone else to do.) That is the question that matters.


The purpose of these studies is to move you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him it is my prayer that the studies will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If you are already a believer in Christ we hope that the studies will help you to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” If I can be of help to you at any time I can be reached at


Misconceptions of the Ministry

Studies in   I Corinthians

Lesson 9 Misconceptions of the Ministry

I Corinthians 3:1-4


Trying to describe a Christian is a lot like the old story of a group of 4 blind men who had been given the task of describing an elephant by feeling of the various parts. The first man felt of the legs, running his hands up and down the length, and circumference of each leg, and pronounced that an elephant looks very much like a small grove of trees. The second man felt of the tail, and insisted that an elephant looked like a thick rope. The third felt of the trunk and reported that an elephant looks like a firehose. And each of the men insisted that they were right and the others were wrong!  And to the unsaved that can be very confusing – in fact chapter 2 is going to say that the unsaved really cannot understand the Christian.


But actually those differences don’t need to be so confusing – in I Corinthians 2:14 through 3:4 Paul divides the whole spectrum of Christianity into 4 basic categories. And in our last study we looked at the first two of those: “the natural man” in verse 14, and “the new man” in verses 15 and 16.


Now as we move into chapter 3, the chapter at which we will look today, Paul is going to continue the same theme, but with a little different emphasis. While the first part of the chapter will look at two more classes of Christians, it will also deal with something that results from immaturity in Christians.


By way of outline, the chapter falls into 3 parts:


A Misconception of Ministry in verses 1 through 8.

Then  A Message for Ministers in verses 9 through 17.

And third,  motivation for Ministry in verses 18 through 23


So we will begin our study of chapter 3 with the misconception of ministry in verses 1 through 8.

Among the problems in the church in Corinth (and sometimes in churches today) was a misconception of leadership. And further down in the chapter Paul is going to elaborate on those details. But in the first few verses he continues talking about the theme from chapter 2 by talking about the participants in the misconception.  And there are two kinds: First, “the unable” in verses 1 and 2 – some who were simply unable to understand the correct concept of the ministry.


And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, even 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.


The key word in verse 1 is the word “babe” And we have to be careful, because that term can be used in a couple of different ways. It can refer to “baby” Christians – new Christians. Or it can refer to one who is so immature that he acts like a baby Christian. Or it can refer to one who has been a Christian for some time, but is still so immature that he acts like a baby even though he should be more mature. But notice that verse 1 is written in the past tense – so it is describing their condition when he first came to Corinth. So actually the category he is describing is that of the “new” Christian. And the primary characteristic of the new Christian is in verse 2: he is limited in his ability to understand spiritual truths.


I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.


They could take in milk, but they couldn’t take in meat. Thus they were somewhere in between the two types of people described in our last study: “natural” (unsaved) and “new” (believers.) Incidentally, “milk” and “meat” are sometimes confused. We tend to think of the doctrine of salvation as “milk” but election and prophecy or predestination as meat. But in reality, all of the “simple” doctrines have unfathomable depths. And some of the most difficult doctrines have aspects that even a new Christian can understand. So these terms don’t refer to two separate areas of truth, but to the “depth” of the various truths. John Calvin (of all people,) Said, “Christ is milk for the babes and meat for the men.” Also – teachers and parents: there are not some truths that you need to hold back until later.


Paul is an example: he taught the Corinthians many truths – didn’t hold any back. But even though he taught them truths such as election (in chapter 1) he didn’t go to the depths of it that he later did with the Romans in Romans 9. Our responsibility as teaching parents and pastors or Sunday School teachers is to give a balanced diet of all of the doctrines of scripture, but on a level that our particular hearers can understand and assimilate. Now there is something else to notice about this verse: Notice that there is reprimand in the first part of the verse for being immature.


I fed you with milk and not with solid food:


But the last phrase of the verse does contain a reprimand:  . . . for until now you are not able to receive it.


The problem was that these particular people had had enough time to become mature, but they were still like babies. And that leads to the next point . . . remember now, Paul is talking about “the participants in a misconception of the ministry. And he has said that one group that often participates in this misconception is the unable, according to verses 3 and 4


But a second group that participates in this misconception is the unstable, according to verses 3 and 4


For you are still carnal For where there are  envy, strife, and divisions among you are you not carnal and behaving as mere men? (4) For when one says “I am of Paul,” or I am of Apollos, are you not carnal?


Again there is a key word here – the word “carnal.” It is the translation of the Greek word “sarkakos,” which means “fleshly.” And the way it is structured Greek (and the English) indicates being under the control of the flesh.


We saw that the “natural” man is under the domination of the soul (the psychological aspect of things) And the “spiritual man is under the domination of the spirit (which is under the control of the Holy Spirit). And in the same way, the “carnal” man is under the domination of the flesh – this life and bodily activities. Satisfaction of the senses is involved in even whatever spiritual activities he may be involved in. In fact, there is an example right here in verse 4: “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” is satisfying to the ego and/or the intellect rather than the spirit. Or an example from experience might be that the Holy Spirit might direct someone to witness, but it’s too embarrassing. Or to have early morning devotions but its too hard to get up, or to be more honest in business, but that is too demanding. And the result of all this domination by the flesh is in verse 3: “envying and strife and division”


There are many symptoms of carnality, but these are probably the most obvious. And it is very natural: if these believers have the ability to be in step with God but they aren’t, how can they be in step with other believers?


There is one final thing to notice about this carnal man, and it is back in verse 2:


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.


Why were they not able? Because they chose to satisfy the demands of the flesh rather than the demands of the Spirit.


When we see a human baby that is under developed mentally or physically, it is very sad – even though it is no one’s fault. Think how much sadder it is in the eyes of God when a spiritual baby chooses to remain in that condition!


The secret of the Christian life is not some great or mysterious experience. It is not the result of some self effort program, it is really not even a “secret” at all. It is a process of growth. Taking in the word of God and being obedient to it, and moving ahead on that basis.


A simple example of Christian growth is from earlier times in history when a little girl was visiting with her grandmother until after dark. The grandmother gave her a lantern and said, “Just walk to the edge of the light and you will be all right.



The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him it is our prayer that these studies will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” If you are already a believer in Christ we hope that the studies will help you to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” If I can be of help to you at any time I can be reached at