THE TRAITOROUS FLESH

1. 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

4. 1 Corinthians 3:1–23

We know that the flesh is in rebellion against God, but do we also see how it is the traitor within which, if we let it, will destroy us?

We think we will be most fulfilled by doing amazing things for God, being closer to God than others, working harder and more creatively, being original and independent, being holier and cleverer. But these expressions of the flesh will bring division and damage to the body of Christ. We don’t generally see that, since God designed and created us, and saw our fall, He knows that our flesh is our enemy and also knows best what will fulfill us. He designed us for obedience and faith, for living humbly and serving others, for denying our flesh and loving those around us. And because He loves us, He tells us to do those things which we were designed for, which will bring us the happiness of fulfillment, and He has provided what we need to joyfully obey Him.

1 Corinthians 3

1 Brethren, I could not speak to you as spiritual, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

Paul loves these folk, but they have not learned to deny their flesh and listen to their spirits (where God communicates with us), and obey His leading and directions.

2 I gave you milk to drink and not solid food for you weren’t yet able to take it, and even now you still can’t,

Spiritual milk would be the very basics of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism in water, baptism in the Holy Spirit, laying on of hands, prayer, healing, obeying the Holy Spirit, etc. The solid food would be deeper teachings like suffering, temptations, spiritual attacks, and so on. These believers don’t want to talk about suffering or denying themselves in order to avoid sin.

3 for you are still in the flesh. For where there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and living like men?

Some of the newer translations put ‘the world’ instead of “the flesh,” and ‘worldly’ instead of “fleshly,” but there is a difference, and the Greek doesn’t actually mention the world at all. In this context their problem is their fallen nature, not Satan’s world.

As a result of their reluctance to move on and mature, they are falling into sin: being jealous of each other and falling out, rather than loving, serving and blessing one another in the joy of the Holy Spirit. As a result they are causing divisions among themselves, splitting the assembly which they are supposed to be building as they live and work in Jesus. This whole chapter is Paul’s response to that.

4 For when anyone says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” aren’t you in the flesh?

This would indicate a divisive or factious spirit among the saints, proving that they are not operating in the Spirit of God but in the flesh. If followed, the Holy Spirit will inevitably bring the assembly into unity as His leading to all will be consistent.

5 And who are Paul and Apollos, but servants through whom you believed—tasks the Lord provided for each of us.

Most translations seem to struggle with the meaning here. The last phrase refers to Apollos’ and Paul’s respective roles in soul-winning being assigned to them by God, which is confirmed by the next verse which elaborates on that.

6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God brings about the growth,

7 so neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, only God who causes the growth.

Basically, “stop looking at God’s messengers, and look at Christ!” There is nothing any man can do to ‘build the assembly’ of Christ, all must be from Him—if it’s built by man, it’s not the body of Christ.

8 The one who plants and he who waters are one, yet each will receive his own reward for his own work,

All saints are ‘one’ in Christ but that doesn’t mean our rewards will be the same.

9 for we are God’s fellow labourers; you are cultivated and built up by God.

We all work with God or our labour is wasted. At the same time all our spiritual growth is thanks to God, not to any man or woman.

10 In line with the grace which God, as the wise architect, gives me, I have laid the foundation, and another is building on it. So let everyone take care how they build,

All the translations misread the Greek word order and assume that Paul is claiming to be the ‘skilled master builder’ even though the Greek says “the wise architect.” If they were correct it would reveal a pride in Paul which is not part of his character in Christ. We know that God is “the wise architect,” so we can see it has to be God. The architect specifies the foundation, not a master builder, however wise or skilled.

So we know that Paul’s role is simply to lay this foundation—to describe and define it—using the grace God has given him, so that another may build. And again, the ‘another’ who must build is Christ, not other people, as they imply.

Most translations also put ‘a foundation’ though there is only one as we read, in the next verse, that the foundation is Christ.

11 for no one can lay a foundation other than the one being laid which is Jesus Christ.

Important note: the building is not “the church,” which is a man-made deception built on many lies.

This building is firstly the assembly (ecclesia) or body of Christ, and secondly, the holy character of each believer. Both of these we build in Christ by faith, through our obedience. Jesus is the only possible foundation for each of these purposes.

12 Whether anyone builds gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or stubble on this foundation,

All the newer translations assume these various things are building materials, but they are actually the results of our ‘work of obedience’ in the body of Christ and in our own lives.

13 the work of each will be disclosed, for the day will make it obvious, since it will be revealed by fire, which will test the value of all that has been done by each one.

As co-labourers with God, each of us must build in the Spirit, through obedience, and by faith. If we do so consistently, what we build in our own lives and the lives of those God sends us to, will be “gold or precious stones.” If we resort to the flesh, what we build will not stand the spiritual fire, being “wood or stubble,” however good our intentions.

A building is also known as an ‘edifice,’ from the same root as ‘edify,’ both of which coming from the Latin word for ‘build,’ so we see that we are to build ourselves and each other up in the knowledge of Christ, the practice in holy living, and the life in Christ, as the Spirit leads, while Jesus builds His assembly. Everything we ‘build’ must be founded on Jesus Himself, having its source in God.

14 If anyone’s work in building on it endures, he will be rewarded;

15 if anyone’s work is burned up, he will lose the reward (though he himself will thus be purified by fire).

All the translations (apart from the Amplified Bible which hints at the meaning), struggle with this verse, forgetting that the fire is for testing and purifying, so where the Greek reads ‘made whole’ we can see that it means ‘purified’ or ‘restored’ through testing—otherwise, if it meant ‘escaping through the flames,’ as most translations have it, the failing believer would not be cleansed, and heaven would be faced with a crowd of smoke blackened believers looking for a way in. But everyone must be utterly purified in order to gain access into heaven.

This fire is for purifying and cleansing the assembly, ready for the wedding of the Lamb. In the process, everything which did not originate from God, will be burned out of the assembly, and out of the personal labours of each believer. This will leave a purified body of Christ, and purified saints, but it will leave many of them with little fruit.

What we are considering here is the responsibility of those who attempt to ‘build in the flesh’ thus introducing foreign elements into the assembly. They don’t understand that there is a divine unity and perfection to the body of Christ, so anything which does not originate with God has no place and defiles. Our role is as an instrument in the hand of God or a labourer on His team: if the labourer feels he has a better idea than the architect, he will start to do things which are not on the plans, and very quickly spoil the architect’s vision.

16 Don’t you know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives within you?

The ‘you’ here is plural: the totality of believers is the temple of God, not each individually, though we do each have the Spirit. Here Paul reverts to his main argument: that their pointless divisions show a deep spiritual ignorance and that they are damaging the body of Christ by their fleshly behaviour. And Jeremiah 17:5 reads, ‘This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”’

17 If anyone damages the temple of God, God will destroy him; for his temple is holy, which is what you are.

Translation note: the word for “damages” or “defiles” is actually the same as the word for “destroy” in this verse, as the rabbis described a damaged or defiled sanctuary or altar as ‘destroyed.’ But, since Paul is not talking about ‘destroying’ the entire assembly of Christ, merely injuring it, and God would never ‘defile’ or ‘damage’ anyone, though He could obviously ‘destroy’ someone, I chose to follow the example of the King James version and use different words.

The point is that, as a divisive believer, one corrupts or ‘damages’ the body of Christ by forming a separate faction (as in “I follow Apollos”), thus breaking away from the body, possibly also taking others with you. In the process you would render yourself lost again and thus ‘destroyed’ when the world is judged. As believers we make up the temple of God which is holy, so separating or backsliding is cutting ourselves away—damaging that holy temple.

18 Let no one deceive himself—if anyone among you thinks himself wise in this world, he should make himself a fool so he may gain wisdom,

The worldly wisdom Paul is talking about is that which leads the “wise” to attempt to build in the flesh because they think they know best—because they don’t trust God to know better. The cure for this is to humble ourselves, accepting that our wisdom is foolishness compared to God’s understanding. This Paul describes as making ourselves fools in order to gain wisdom.

19 for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. As it is written, “he entraps the wise in their craftiness,”

This quote is from Job 5:13. Some people think that their wisdom, their intelligence or their cunning will save them, without reference to God, thus making their wisdom into a false god or idol. Clearly this is foolishness. Those who attempt to live this way are entrapped by their own cunning when it meets God’s real plan of salvation, as no amount of scheming can possibly substitute for God’s idea—simple faith and obedience.

20 and again, “the Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are worthless.”

And this is from Psalm 94:11. These are not really wise, as the contradiction is built into the verse with ‘worthless.’ Again, they are just wise in their own eyes, treating their common sense or their intelligence as if it were an idol, expecting to be able to save themselves.

21 So, let no one boast about people, for all things are yours—

22 whether Paul, Apollos or Cephas, the world, or life or death, the present or the future—all are yours,

All these things are ours in Christ. Initially this reads like a way of saying “all things are yours,” but these are very specific. Paul, Apollos and Cephas fulfilled their various callings for the foundation of the assembly and also stand for all our brethren in Christ; the world and life being the opportunity and circumstance for finding God, bringing others to faith, and building our holiness as we fulfill our own calling; death will deliver us into His awesome presence and heaven; the present for our journey with Him; the future for our reward.

23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Bless you folks, Geoff  >ᴥ<

1. 1 Corinthians 1:1-175. 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

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