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1 Corinthians 3

New International Version

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly--mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere human beings? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building. 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved--even though only as one escaping through the flames. 16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become 'fools' so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness'; 20 and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.' 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
English Standard Version

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
King James Version

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 23 And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.
New American Standard Bible

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, 'He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS'; 20 and again, 'THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.' 21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
New Living Translation

1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. 2 I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, 3 for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn't that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren't you living like people of the world? 4 When one of you says, 'I am a follower of Paul,' and another says, 'I follow Apollos,' aren't you acting just like people of the world? 5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God's servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It's not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What's important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God's workers. And you are God's field. You are God's building. 10 Because of God's grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have--Jesus Christ. 12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials--gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person's work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. 16 Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world's standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, 'He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.' 20 And again, 'The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.' 21 So don't boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you-- 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Christian Standard Bible

1 For my part, brothers and sisters, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 because you are still worldly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not worldly and behaving like mere humans? 4 For whenever someone says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not acting like mere humans? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's coworkers. You are God's field, God's building. 10 According to God's grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one's work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one's work. 14 If anyone's work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved--but only as through fire. 16 Don't you yourselves know that you are God's temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is holy, and that is what you are. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become a fool so that he can become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, since it is written, He catches the wise in their craftiness; 20 and again, The Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise are futile. 21 So let no one boast in human leaders, for everything is yours-- 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come--everything is yours, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

What does 1 Corinthians 3 mean?

Paul made it crystal clear in chapter 1 that the Christians in Corinth would stand guiltless before God on the day of the Lord. Their saving faith in Christ had been affirmed by the fact that they had received gifts from the Holy Spirit. These Corinthians are undoubtedly Christians.

Now, though, Paul says the fact that they are saved does not mean he can call them spiritual people. They are not living as spiritual people. They are still living as if they were of the flesh. Paul compares them to a person stuck in infancy, who should have matured enough by now to be ready for the solid food of deeper Christian teaching. Instead, they're still on a newborn's all-milk diet. This is not an entirely unique problem, as the writer of Hebrews chastised his readers for a similar weakness (Hebrews 5:11–14). Instead of living in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and according to God's wisdom about spiritual things, the Corinthian Christians are still behaving as if they were mere, unspiritual human beings (1 Corinthians 3:1–2).

Paul's evidence of this is the issue he brought up in chapter 1. The church in Corinth is divided. Some claim to follow Paul and others Apollos and still others Peter. Likely, they are rejecting the other Christian teachers in misguided loyalty to the one they prefer. Paul wants them to move past any idea that he and Apollos are in competition with each other. He describes both as servants of the Lord who helped the Corinthians to come to faith in Christ. They each did the job the Lord gave them to do. Why would the Corinthians follow the servants instead of the master (1 Corinthians 3:3–7)?

Paul compares himself and Apollos to field hands. He planted the seed of the gospel and Apollos watered it. God, though, is the one who caused the crop of their faith to grow. The Corinthians may have pictured two young men in a field, one of them working the plow and scattering the seed, the other following with the water bucket. Neither field worker owns the field, of course, but their master sends them out because both jobs need doing. The two are not in competition with each other. They work together and both will be paid by the master. In this metaphor, Paul says, the Corinthians are the field (1 Corinthians 3:8–9).

In the next metaphor, they are a building belonging to God. Paul pictures himself here as a skilled master builder who laid a foundation in Corinth when he introduced them to faith in Christ. Christ is the foundation for the building. Now new builders have come to add to the work Paul started. Those builders must build carefully, Paul warns. Paul may be referring to every Christian who builds into the life of the church by serving each other or he may be addressing ministers, teachers, and other church leaders. In either case, the quality of their work and the materials they use matters. Will they build with materials that last or with cheap building supplies like hay and straw (1 Corinthians 3:10–12)?

A fire is coming to test their work, Paul writes. That fire is Christ's judgment of the work of Christians on the day of the Lord during the end times. Those whose work is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will receive a reward. Those whose work is shown to be weak and worthless will suffer a loss, but they will be saved by God's grace through faith in Christ. There will be no salvation, though, for anyone who destroys God's temple, the church (1 Corinthians 3:13–17).

Instead of being wise by the world's standards, Paul continues, one must become a fool in this culture to be wise before God. God will reveal the wisdom of those who deceive themselves by thinking they are wise to be worthless and futile. All things belong to those who are in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:18–23).