Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 3:5 - 3:15

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Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 3:5 - 3:15

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5Who then is Paul, who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as 6the Lord gave to every man? I have [om. have] planted, Apollos watered; but God gave [was giving] the increase. 7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man [each one] shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. 10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have [om. have] laid the foundation, and another 11buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire [itself: áὐôü ] shall try every man’s work of what sort it Isaiah 14 If any man’s work [shall] abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.


“From this point onward to 1Co_3:23, Paul proceeds to explain in what light the Corinthians were to regard their spiritual teachers, and the work which these performed among them. And first, from 1Co_3:5-9, he deals with the relation which the human instrumentalities sustain to the Lord who employs them; then, from 1Co_3:10-15, with the responsibility which they have for their work and the decision to which it is liable; and, finally, from 1Co_3:16-23, with the position which the Church holds and ought to pursue towards them.”—Burger. 1Co_3:5.—Who then is Apollos? and who is Paul?—The reading ôß : what, is at least as easily explainable on the ground that the answer given appears to point rather to “what?” than to “who?” as the reading ôßò is capable of being accounted for from the effort to assimilate the genders.—[“ ïὖí : then, follows on the assumption of the truth of their divided state.”—Alford.] The question here put is not to be regarded as coming from the readers (Rückert) q. d. “Who are Apollos and Paul, if we may not have them as our leaders?” This thought would have been expressed in quite a different manner—more his own.—(Comp. 1Co_15:34; Rom_9:19 ff.). It is simpler to understand the connection thus: “You call yourselves after Apollos and Paul. Who are these persons, then? From the answer given, it is clearly implied that the partizanship of their followers does not accord with the spirit of the leaders they have chosen, and is condemned as a carnality.—Ministers, through whom ye believed.—Were ἀëë ̓ : but, to be taken as genuine (see under the text), then we should have here an emphatic implication that Apollos and Paul were nothing else than mere ministers. There is in these words a mixture of two constructions: ïὐäὲí ἄëëï , ἀëëÜ : nothing else but; and ïὐäὲí ἄëëï ἤ : nothing else that. So Meyer on 2Co_1:13. Fritzsche, according to Hermann on Viger, construes it otherwise: “but either—or I know not what.” The phrase is to be found in Luk_12:15, where its correctness is undisputed. It was plainly, therefore, not rejected because of its objectionableness. äéÜêïíïé : deacons, ministers, is here to be understood in its broadest sense, as contrasted with leaders. We may supplement “of your Church,” comp. 1Co_3:21, and Mat_20:28; or “of God,” or “of Christ,” comp. 1Co_3:6 ff; 2Co_6:4, etc. The words following would favor the one as well as the other, or perhaps hint at a combination of the two=“ministers of Christ in your behalf.” (Col_1:7.)—through whom ye believed.—Bengel says briefly and forcibly; “Through whom, not in whom” (Jam_1:7). They are thereby designated as instruments in God’s hand for the production of faith. And such they were in their function as preachers and teachers of truth. But this instrumentality was of different kinds; that of Paul, for the exercise of the faith, of Apollos, for its further development. This process is expressed in the aorist tense, as in Rom_13:11 : Gal_2:16.—even as, the Lord gave to each one.—This statement is made to bring forward prominently the fact of the dependence of the ministers on the Lord, both for their gifts and their ministry, and so to dampen the disposition “to boast in men.” êáὶ ἑêÜóôù ὡó ὁ êþñéïò ἔäùêåí , not an instance of attraction, as if ἔêáóôïò sc. äéÜêïíïò ἐóôéí , ὠò ἔäùêåí áὐôῷ . But ἐêáóôῷ stands first by way of emphasis, as in Rom_12:3, because having spoken of them in general, he wishes next to designate what is peculiar to each one. There is no need of taking “the Lord” to mean God, instead of Christ [so Hodge], contrary to the usage of Paul, nor are we compelled to this by 1Co_3:6; 1Co_3:9-10. The endowment of ministers with manifold gifts is also ascribed to Christ in Eph_4:7 ff. In what follows, when “God” is introduced, the Apostle is speaking of something else, viz. of the Divine blessing, and of the dependence on God for desired results.

1Co_3:6. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was giving the increase.—Under these figures Paul exhibits partly the diversity of operation between him and Apollos, and partly their equal dependence on Divine favor for success. Paul labored for the founding of the Church, for the planting of the spiritual crop; Apollos for the further development of the life of faith thus begun, for the edification of the Church; he watered and helped to mature the growing crop. But after all it was to God, as the efficient cause, that both owed the results obtained. It was His power, working in them and through them, that caused the faith to strike root, and spring up, and bring forth fruit. “ ÁὐîÜíåéí : to increase, a designation of the attainment of an object which had been furthered by the Divine powers at work in the instruments, and by divers other auxiliary operations of grace which accompanied or prepared the way for them. [“ çὔîáíåí : was giving. Observe the force of the Imperfect, intimating a continued bestowal of Divine grace as distinguished from the transitory acts of His ministers whose operations are described by aorists.”—Words.].

1Co_3:7. So then [“ ὤóôå : an illative particle of frequent occurrence” Words.] neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but He that giveth the increase, even God.—The inference here drawn goes to the discrediting of all human organs taken by themselves, and to the rebuking of all partisanship, ἔóôé ôé : is any thing, either in numero est: in account (comp. Acts 3:36) or yet more strongly, is absolutely any thing. On the other hand, to the last clause we naturally supplement ôὰ ðÜíôá ἕóôßí : is all (1Co_15:28; Col_3:11). Bengel: “is something, and, because He is alone, all things.” What is here viewed separately for the purpose of counteracting the tendency to unduly exalt the instrument is elsewhere taken together; the agency of the instrument and the agency of God in their concrete unity (Rom_11:14; 1Ti_4:16). [“In this passage ministers are brought into comparison with the Lord, and the reason of this comparison is, that mankind, while estimating grudgingly the grace of God, are too lavish in their commendation of ministers, and in this manner they snatch away what is God’s, with a view of transferring it to themselves.” Calvin.].

1Co_3:8. Now He that planteth and He that watereth are one.—[“ ἕí ; one thing neuter. God is ὁ åἱò , mas. He is the one agent; they are an instrument in His hands; and they are one as united together in Christ. But they are not what you would make them by your party factions to be, separate persons and rival heads and leaders of opposing sects.” Words.]. Paul does not here intend to deny the different merits of ministers or their separate worth, as though they all stood at par (Bengel, Billroth); he is referring only to their office and services. They are alike ministers. And in so saying he means to counteract all rivalry and all exaltation of one over another. The unity and mutual connection, which he asserts, do not, however, exclude diversities both in their labors and in the recognition of these labors, on the part of the Lord, in ways corresponding thereto.—And each one shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.—The words “his own”—“his own” stand in contrast with “are one.” Bengel styles it “an appropriate repetition antithetic to the “one.” êüðïò . denotes not the result, but the labor, the effort put forth. This, however unsuccessful, involves a fidelity and devotion which can be estimated by God alone. êáôÜ indicates also the qualitative, and not merely the quantitative relation— ἴóéïí : own, that which especially belongs to each one, both in the labor expended and in the reward. The ìéóèüò , as the context shows, signifies the Divine recompense. The full ëÞøåôáé ( ëÞõøåôáé , Altic Ionic form) points to the reward which will be conferred at the coming of Christ. (Comp. 1Co_4:5; 1Th_2:19; 2Ti_4:8; Dan_12:3; Mat_25:20 ff.; 1Pe_5:4). This reward is praise bestowed for the labor done. According to Bengel, “Something more than salvation.” It is an addition to the blessedness common to all the subjects of grace, which, as Osiander observes, consists in the various degrees of glory ( äüîá ) conferred on them (comp. Luk_19:17 ff.); moreover it is a reward of grace, since the whole thing rests upon the plan and promise and operation of grace. Yet it is apportioned in righteousness, “to each one his own.” “Relatively to redemption nothing can be said of desert. But within the sphere of redemption, the question comes up, ‘how faithfully has a person employed the grace received and wrought with it. Here it can be asserted ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ This is what Paul means by reward.” Neander. That such a reward is to be expected appears from what follows:—

1Co_3:9. For we are God’s fellow-laborers, God’s husbandry, God’s building are ye.—The emphatic word here is èåïῦ , God’s. Since it is God’s work to which we devote our labor, each in his own part, we are therefore to expect it from His truthfulness that He will not refuse to us the corresponding reward. This reference to what precedes (Meyer) has a decided advantage over that interpretation which regards these words as a comprehensive exposition of the calling of spiritual teachers, and their debt of service to the congregation (1Co_3:5 ff.), and especially of their oneness in it (1Co_3:8). In this case the ãÜñ , for, in relation to the first clause, would be explanatory and in reference to the second, causal (Osiander). “It is also preferable to that interpretation which, in order to make out here a rebuke of party spirit, takes the sense to be: Every thing is to be ascribed to God; therefore to God be all the glory.” Burger. Inasmuch as the idea of a reward recurs also in what follows, it perhaps would be more proper to regard these sentences only as confirmatory of what was said respecting the reward. [Stanley takes the “for” as giving the reason for the oneness among the teachers. “Their object is the same (though their modes of working are different), for it is God who is our fellow-laborer, etc.; therefore they cannot be set against each other.” Hodge combines the two ideas]. Èåïῦ óõíåñãïß =God’s helpers, who work with God,—not: “who do God’s work associatedly” [as Olshausen], for this would be etymologically inadmissible. Even so óõíåñãὸí ἡìῶí , 1Th_3:2. Although God works all in all, yet He works through His servants, whom He recognizes as helpers in His work, and whom he suffers to work, each one in his own peculiar way. Calvin: Eximium elogium ministerii, quod, quum per se agere possit Deus, nos homunciones tanquam adjutores adsiscat, per quos ita solus agit, ut tamen vicissim cum eo laborent (cf. Osiander in loco). Here we have a hint of the dignity of the ministerial office, and of our obligation to keep in view God’s objects in it. [Though, indeed, it must be said that the design of the argument is not to dignify the teachers, but to abate the excessive estimate put upon them]. Èåïῦ ãåþñãéïí , a field belonging to God; so also èåïῦ ïἰêïäïìÞ ], God’s building. The Genitive of cause (=it is God who built you) [so Alford] is less fitting here, since Paul is speaking in the context concerning the performance and the reward of teachers, and in these statements he is establishing the expectation that God will grant to them their reward on the ground that that on which they are at work, belongs to Him. Ãåþñãéïí (also in Pro_24:30; Pro_31:16)= tilled land, a field, a garden, a vineyard; ïἰêïäïõÞ , a word of the later Greek ïἰêïäïìéá = ïἰêïäüìçìá . Both indicate the kind of labor pursued by God’s co-workers: the cultivation of a field, the rearing of a building. But in making God ( èåïῦ ) prominent, the subjects on both sides retire into the background in a corresponding degree. Hence neither “we” ( ἡìåῖò ) nor “you” ( ὐìåῖò ) is expressed. Taking the whole context in its broader scope, and considering the aim of the whole paragraph, we might suppose with Chrysostom, that in the repeated mention of God in the last clause there was an implied rebuke of the tendency in the Church to call themselves after men [so Words.] (1Co_3:4) (cf. Osiander). The figure in ïἰêïäïìç (building), analogous to that in the “temple of God” (1Co_3:16; 2Co_6:16; Eph_2:21) is carried out still further in what follows.

1Co_3:10. Paul here proceeds to state what he himself had done towards erecting God’s building.—According unto the grace of God, which was given unto me.—By “grace” he means not the Apostolic office as such, but those peculiar endowments which qualified him for laying the foundation (comp. 1Co_1:3-4). Lit. ‘by virtue of the favor shown unto me.’ And this favor was manifest both in the call to office and in the bestowment of those gifts which enabled him to become a co-worker with God. By this acknowledgment of his indebtedness in advance, he obviates all misconception with a wise humility, and avoids all appearance of arrogance. The same expression occurs in Rom_15:15; Rom_12:3; Gal_2:9; Eph_3:2.—as a wise master master-builder I laid the foundation.—This was done in that preaching of Christ crucified, which had first elicited their faith (1Co_3:11; 1Co_2:2). [“ èåìÝëéïí , a foundation. St. Paul uses the masculine form, 1Co_3:11, and 2Ti_2:19. St. Luke the neuter (Act_16:26); which is Attic. The masculine is very appropriate here, because the foundation is Christ.” Words. In saying that he laid this “as” a wise masterbuilder, “he does not vaunt himself, but propounds himself as an example,” Chrysostom]. The wisdom he claims, might be regarded as that betokened in the act of laying a foundation, since the attempt to build without such preliminary work would indicate a lack of sense. Yet 1Co_3:11 seems to imply that he had reference to the nature of the foundation, in that it was the only one suited for a “building of God,” and such a one as a wise builder would alone lay. [Why not both?]. Óïöüò , wise, skilful—thoroughly understanding his art. The same usage occurs in the classics. The claim here made, tells against the partisan disparagement of his labors.—and another buildeth thereon.— ἄëëïò another, not merely Apollos, but also every person who had engaged in the work of the ministry at Corinth, “more especially those successors of his who were still laboring in the Church.” Osiander. (Comp. 1Co_4:15). To such, he, as the Apostolic “masterbuilder,” gives the caution.—But let each one look how he buildeth thereon.—“How,” i.e. in what way, and with what material. He thus warns them of the greatness of their responsibility, and of the importance of making the edifice correspond with the foundation. On this point he explains himself further by showing what is the only proper foundation of a church.

1Co_3:11. For other foundation can no man lay besides that lying there.—He here explains why he speaks simply of building the superstructure, and says nothing in regard to the foundation. This had been already laid, and was confessedly all right. There could possibly be no idea of changing or modifying that. [“In taking this for granted, he implies the strongest possible caution against attempting to lay any other.” Alf.]. The emphasis here rests on “foundation,” which is accordingly put first in the sentence, äýíáôáé , not may, but can. Paul here wishes to express the absolute impossibility of change, without entirely destroying the character of the building. And hence there naturally follows the utter inadmissibleness of attempting to lay any other foundation. The thing is so contrary to the nature of the case, that no Christian teacher can be supposed willing to undertake it. ðáñÜ , alongside of, and yet not touching; hence, besides, beyond, contrary to. In regard to êåßìåíïí , lying there it may be asked, whether the idea involved in ôÝèåéêá , I laid, of 1Co_3:10, is here resumed, so that it refers to what Paul had done [“in which case it would have been ôåèÝíôá .” Words.], or whether it implies what had been done by God in sending His Son to be our Redeemer, and laying him as the precious cornerstone of His Church [or whether it is with Words, to be taken in the middle sense as lying there “by His own free will and act.”]. Adopting the second of the above interpretations, the verb “I laid,” in 1Co_3:10, would indicate Paul’s accordance with the Divine procedure. He had laid in its place at Corinth that foundation which God had provided for the Church universal, by proclaiming Christ there as the only proper object of faith. This would accord better with the more general form êåßìåíïí , and also establish the impossibility declared in the words, “can no man.” ‘If God has laid a foundation, then surely no Christian teacher will think of laying any other. Accordingly, I also have made this the basis of the Church at Corinth, and could do no otherwise.’ [“This Word, êåῖôáé , from which êåßìåíïí comes, descriptive of Christ’s character as the one foundation of His Church, is applied to Him in His first presentation in the material temple at Jerusalem. Luk_2:34, ïῦ ̔ ôïò êåῖôáé åἰò ðïῶóéí . It is observable also that the man of sin, who places himself as a foundation of the Church, in the room of Christ, is called ὁ ἀíôéêåßìåíõò . 2Th_2:4.” Words.]. What this foundation is, is expressed in the relative clause,—which is Christ Jesus.—By this he means Christ in His own person, not simply the doctrine of Christ as being a fundamental doctrine. [“The former interpretation which is adopted by many distinguished commentators (de Wette, Alf., Stanley), is more in accordance with the common representations of scripture, and perhaps also with the form of expression here used. The second, however, is certainly more consistent with the context. In saying that he had laid the foundation, Paul could only mean that he had in Corinth taught the doctrine concerning the person and work of Christ.” Hodge. But surely it was not the doctrine as such that was the foundation. The doctrine availed only as it brought Christ directly and personally present to the mind of the Church, and induced them to build on Him. The distinction Kling maintains is a very important one. There is constant danger of persons mistaking the doctrine of Christ for the person of Christ. The former is the foundation of a theology, the latter of a life.]

1Co_3:12. The nature of the foundation being settled, he now proceeds to consider the several ways in which superstructure might be carried up.—But—[“The äÝ implies that though there can be but one foundation, there are many ways of building upon it.” Alf.]—if any man build upon the foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.—He here illustrates the various kinds of material that might be employed in the edifice, either worthy and durable, that could stand the test of fire, or worthless and incapable of passing the ordeal. Both sorts are mentioned in lively succession, without any express exhibition of the diversities implied. According to the best and largest number of commentators, from Clem., Alex., down to Osiander and Meyer, Paul here intends to denote by this building material, not persons, but doctrines, such as when joined with faith in Christ may or may not suit the foundation; such as in worth and durability do or do not correspond with the precious indestructible corner-stone. That the wood, hay and stubble were designed in general to signify such teachings as mingled the weak and disfiguring products of human wisdom, art, philosophy and Jewish traditions with the truth of God, is very evident. But any attempts to particularize, either as to the dogmas referred to, or as to the parts of the building they were intended for, would be futile and out of taste. Moreover, we are to hold fast to the idea of but one building contemplated, into which all the different kinds of material specified are worked, and not to imagine [as Wetst., Billr., Stanley] that two sorts of building are had in view, such as a palace and a hut; or that a whole city was intended, “the city of God,” for instance. We might also very appropriately, but rather by way of accommodation, bring under consideration here the distinctive practical fruits produced under the different kinds of teaching and the different sorts of church members brought in and trained under the same. [So Theodoret adopted by Stanley, who deems the practical fruits the main thing referred to, and adds, “He is here preparing the way for the accusation of the incestuous person.”]. To suppose, however, with Olsh., that there is any allusion to the private work of personal sanctification, would be untenable, inasmuch as the entire context treats solely of ministerial functions. Rückert’s interpretation is too abstract and general. Proceeding on the ground that “work” ( ἔñãïí ) with Paul signifies the entire business of life, he takes the sense to be: “only he who builds upon the true foundation in a right manner, so that his work will abide the test, is entitled to a reward. He who builds on it unsuitably, can expect none. This only, however, can be said for his comfort, that he will not forfeit his salvation since it was his will at least to further the work of the Lord.” On this whole subject, consult Osiander and Meyer. [“Precious stone” here means stones valuable for building, such as granite and marble. “Gold and silver,” were extensively employed in adorning ancient temples, and are therefore appropriately used as symbols of pure doctrine, “Wood, hay and stubble.” are the perishable materials out of which ordinary houses were built. Wood for the doors and posts, hay mixed with mud for the walls, and straw for the roof. These materials, unsuited for the temple of God, are the appropriate symbols of false doctrines.” Hodge].

1Co_3:13. Every man’s work will be made manifest.—The worth or worthlessness, the durability or perishableness of what a man has wrought is not to remain concealed.—For the day will declare it.—i. e., will make evident what is genuine or not genuine, what is truth and what mere show. This is a matter which often remains for a long time uncertain. But what are we to understand by this day of revelation? Not certainly the time of Jerusalem’s overthrow [as Starke], for the Apostle is not speaking here of Jewish traditions, the vanity of which would then be exposed. Nor yet time in general, or any prolonged lapse of time, for the term “day” is never used in this sense by the New Testament writers, nor would it suit the following context. Ever since the period of the Reformation, Calvin’s view has widely prevailed, that the allusion here is to the time when the pure knowledge of the Gospel should spread over the earth. So others also. But the apostolic usage and modes of thought warrant our understanding it only of the day of Christ’s second coming (comp. 1Co_4:5; Rom_2:16; 2Co_5:10). This is the period of that searching, sifting trial which is to begin at the house of God (1Pe_4:17), and which after manifold preludes will reach its consummation in the appearance of our Lord. In this sense the word “day” stands without any explanatory term in Heb_10:25; 1Th_5:4 ss.—Because it is revealed in fire.—What is revealed? The work of which he has just said “it shall be made manifest.” To this it is objected that the sentence would in that case be tautological. But a repetition of this prominent thought will appear less strange in view of the fact that it is more distinctly defined by the additional words, “by fire,” and that the following clause appears to be a fitting further development of them. It would indeed be most natural to regard “day” as the thing revealed. [So Alf., Stanley, Words., Hodge]. But nowhere is it said that the day of the Lord is revealed. Such a mode of speech would be unusual. It were better, with Bengel, to supply “the Lord” as the nominative, since indeed it is the day of the Lord that is referred to, and this construction would have its parallel in 2Th_1:7 : “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire.” Here lire is represented as accompanying the manifestation of Jesus, (not, however, as a means of vengeance). But such a supplying of a word is warranted only in case no other suitable explanation can be found. If then “work” be the proper subject, “the fire” must be taken to denote that by which the work is tested. The relation of this clause to the foregoing then would be this: because fire is the agency by which the work is tried, therefore will the day of the Lord, who is to appear in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1), the day which is to burn as an oven (Mat_4:1), make this work manifest. [“To show the certainty and perpetual imminence of that fiery trial of the Last Day, Paul uses the present tense ( ἀðïêáëýðôåôáἐ ) is revealed!” Words.]—And each one’s work, what sort it is this fire itself shall prove.—This clause stands independently of ὅôé , because, and sums up the whole truth, stating once more the ordeal contemplated and the peculiar means of its accomplishment. It is the fire that is to try the work, and demonstrate its quality— ôὸ ðῦñ áὐôü , the fire itself, by its own specific action. That this means neither the Holy Spirit nor yet persecutions of any sort is evident from the interpretation given to the word “day.” Still less tenable is the Roman Catholic interpretation, which discovers herein an allusion to purgatory. (Council of Florence). [“The fire of which St. Paul speaks is the Fire of the Great Day; not a Fire of any intermediate state. And the Fire which he describes does not cleanse, as that intermediate fire is feigned to do, but tried and destroy. It is not a Purgatorial but a Probationary Fire.” Words. Besides “Paul is here speaking of ministers and their doctrines, and not of believers in general.” Hodge, 9, 1Co_5:1]. “We deny not that anticipations of the judicial fire of the Last Day may be traced in the fiery trials with which God will visit His own house (1Pe_4:12-17); but the fire by which Christians will be refined and purged before the end comes will burn not on the other side but this side of death.” W. F. Besser. Neander on the contrary says: “The fire is an image of the progressive purifying process which goes on along the course of the development of the Church. This process will allow only what is genuine and Divine to stand.” It is, however, the outward and substantial manifestation of the judicial energy of the Lord, who will work as a purifying flame, so that everything in the labors of those who have been endeavoring to build up the Church, that does not carry the Divine impress, but is the vain and perishable invention of man, will be brought to nought. Of this manifestation we have a prelude now in the continuous judgment of the Holy Ghost, and in the persecutions which the Church here suffers. The effect of it is exhibited antithetically in

1Co_3:14-15. If any one ‘s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward.—This is the positive side. Ìåíåῖ , shall abide (the future corresponds with êáôáêáÞóåôáé ), shall stand the fire which is to consume all that is unworthy. “Reward,” as in 1Co_3:8. By this we may understand on the one hand, a presentation before Christ as a faithful and true workman, whose work is honorable to the Master (1Th_2:19 ff.; Php_2:15 ff.); and on the other hand, an appointment to higher trusts in the kingdom of God (Dan_12:3; Mat_19:28; 2Ti_4:8; Mat_25:21-23). “The abiding of his edifice will be itself his great reward, just as Paul terms the fruit of his labor, and of his founding the Church his boasting and his crown in the day of the Lord (2Co_1:14; Php_2:16; 1Th_2:19). Still we do not in this completely gauge the reward of a true builder.” W. F. Besser.—Next comes the negative side.—If any one’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.—The omission of the conjunction is owing to the rapid rush of the thought, and renders the style more vivid. The “loss” spoken of is not of “the work,” but “the reward.” True, the judicial fire, which consumes all impure and untenable doctrines, will also consume his whole performance; but the consequence will be that he will forfeit his reward, and so incur damage (comp. æçìéïῦóèáé , 2Co_7:7-9; Php_3:8; Mat_16:26). [“It is possible that this whole image, as addressed to the Corinthians, may have been suggested or at least illustrated by the conflagration of Corinth under Mummius; the stately temples (one of them remaining to this day) standing amidst the universal destruction of the meaner buildings.” Stanley].—But he himself shall be saved;— áὐôüò äὲ , he himself, as contrasted with the reward [and also with the work]. Here it is presupposed that the individual has been building indeed upon the true foundation, Christ, but has failed only in respect to the manner of his building (from infirmity of the flesh or from ignorance, as Calvin suggests). Altogether superfluous and incorrect would it be to translate it ‘he can be saved.’ To supply the condition, ‘if it be possible,’ is wholly arbitrary; and still more so to assume that by ‘work’ is meant the scholars of a good teacher who perish without his fault. Many of the Fathers interpret óùèÞóåôáé , be saved, in the sense of ôçñçèÞóåôáé , should be preserved, as if it meant: shall be not annihilated but kept alive in eternal torments and in fire. But this, apart from all other objections, is contrary to the usage of the word in the New Testament. It can only mean: he shall obtain salvation in Christ. “Here we have one clear evidence that salvation is not a reward, but is freely given to us through the merits of Christ.” W. F. Besser.—Yet so as through fire.—( äéὰ ðõñüò ). Herein is expressed the narrowness of the person’s escape. He will be snatched as a brand from the burning, saving nothing but his bare life (comp. Zec_3:2; Amo_4:11; Jude 23). The image is not that of a man living in a house, but of one occupied with the building of it, and who just delivers himself with great effort from the conflagration that has caught his work, and sees in sadness and anxiety the loss of all he has done, to the marring of his blessedness. And such a person attains only to a lower stage of bliss (comp. Mat_20:16; Mar_10:31, last clause). So Meyer, rejecting however, the idea that words embody anything of the nature of a proverb, since Paul is here speaking literally of a consuming fire. But nevertheless the use of the word þò , as, constrains us to regard it as such. For although we should interpret “as” in the same manner as we do in Joh_1:14, and render, ‘just as one would expect in the case of a conflagration,’ still it would amount to about the same thing. Only we might say it is not to be understood as a proverb merely (comp. Osiander, p. 174 f).


1. Ministers are co-workers with God.—It is in this that the highest dignity of the Christian teacher consists. To wish to be nothing but an instrument for performing the Divine will, to aim at nothing but the fulfilment of God’s designs, to desire to have and to exercise no power save what this line of action includes, to covet no reward, no honor, no enjoyment, excepting what comes from such labor, and helps to the more complete discharge of this calling, this is the characteristic of a servant of God, who follows Christ in self-denial and love, and purposes only to save souls for God and consecrates to this all his faculties, and is diligent to present to God a work pleasing to Him and honorable to His holy Son, and neither seeks nor strives after any glory for himself, but is content that God be exalted Supreme over all, and that His will alone should prevail. To such a person, nothing is too insignificant to be undertaken, provided it serves this end. No work will he be ashamed of or shun, even though it be among those who are low, or despised, or degraded, provided the gracious designs of God may be accomplished thereby. Such servants are, in truth, co-workers with God. He takes them into a fellowship of labor with Himself. He shares with them His exalted work of renewing, blessing, sanctifying and glorifying lost creatures. He shares with them also His authority, His power, His honor, His joy in this work. And this He is able to do because they have entered into a fellowship with Him in His thoughts and intentions by the operation of the Holy Ghost; because the spirit of Christ, God’s perfect servant, animates them; because His mind is also their mind; and because the holy will of a self-denying, self-devoted love is alive and strong in their hearts. For this reason, they will have nothing to do with partizanship. It sickens them to see poor lost souls clinging to them and wishing to make them masters alongside of Christ, or in His place; to see people following their directions, and exalting their merely human and personal peculiarities into a standard of authority by which to regulate their conduct. Such proceedings they repel, and they strive with all their might instead to fasten souls upon Christ as their only master. The higher God places them, the more intent are they on being nothing, and passing for nothing, in themselves. Then and thus the Church of God is built up in truth.

2. This Church is God’s field.—This truth controverts all party action in the same way that the view just given, of teachers being God’s servants and co-laborers, controverts it. The Church belongs to God; He it is who tills the field—externally, by the preaching of the Word—internally, by His Spirit. What teachers do is to plant and to water. But the word sown is His seed; all the ability employed in its first planting and after culture is His gift; on Him depends all success. Without His blessing, all planting and all watering, however skilful and careful, amount to nothing. What thus belongs to God is a sacred possession, which must be secured for Him. To wish to introduce another there as co-possessor is a wicked ignoring and contemning of God’s right. Indeed, not to acknowledge this right in its entireness, is virtually to deny it altogether. And such denial takes place when we adopt human teachers as our masters, and follow them, and call ourselves by their names. Then God is robbed of what is His (Rom_2:22).

3. The Church is God’s house.—Christ the foundation-stone, laid by Him.—This is the ground and measure of all sound teaching. The foundation is of Divine worth and of lasting duration. To build anything on this, which is not according to the mind of Christ, which does not carry the impress of His Spirit, which does not spring from Him, but which originates in a foreign spirit, and is the product of human art, or science, or opinion—this is to introduce into God’s building something, which, however highly it may be estimated by man, is in truth worthless. It cannot stand in the day of God’s judicial purgation, however skillfully we may be able to vindicate it on human grounds. When Christ reveals Himself as the One to whom all judgment is given, when, by his majesty as Judge, he sifts out and destroys everything that is not His, then will this be found not proof. The fire of His judgement will annihilate it. Thus will the work of such a person come to naught. He can not be honored as one who has assisted in God’s building. He cannot confront the Lord his judge with joy,—beholding in Him the Rewarder of his fidelity. On the contrary, he will shrink back in sorrow, pained at the thought of having wrought foolishly and to no purpose. Yet with all this, he will still have reason to congratulate himself that he may nevertheless snatch his soul from the flame which devours his unprofitable work. Thus it happens that the person himself may be saved, while all his doings prove worthless. From the common salvation, indeed, he may not be excluded, since he held fast to the foundation; but he forfeits the glory of being accounted a co-worker with God.

[4. Every believer’s work in life awaits a searching ordeal, which is to prove its genuineness. The times of such ordeal are called in Scripture “days of the Lord.” They occur for individuals and for communities all along the course of human history, and are the preludes to a final “day” when the Judge in person shall appear to purge His Church—the living temple—of all that is corrupt, and to set it up complete in the perfection of its beauty. Then will the value of each one’s labor be fully manifest.

But what the specific means of this ordeal will be is a matter of question. Whether it will be by literal fire or by some other more spiritual instrumentality, of which fire is but a symbol, it were hard to determine. The latter seems the more probable in view of the declaration of the Baptist that Christ would “baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Such a baptism of purification is observable even in this age to some degree; yet it is not by material fire. We see the chaff of false doctrine and hypocritical performances, consuming and passing out of sight, as if perishing in consuming flames, while the golden truths of God, wrought out in the experiences and doings of the true believer, grow brighter, and live on to be a blessing to subsequent ages; and who can tell in what way the precious shall be taken from the vile at the last day? Sufficient to be assured that the ordeal will be applied in the most searching manner, and that it awaits every member of the Church. Judgment is to begin at the House of God.]


Rieger: 1. Mischievous zeal. a. How kindled? By making too much of diversities of gifts in ministers. Here one is blamed if the Church be not edified, and there another is extolled, if by his preaching the light begins to burn more brightly, and people consider not that with the one as well as with the other, “the increase” depends on God, and that the inequality of results, so far as it lies with men, may be attributed not so much to the preacher as to the peculiarity of times and circumstances. b. How shall such evils be guarded against? Safety will be found just in proportion as the minister follows the simple word of God, and resolves to be nothing, and seek nothing for himself; just in proportion as he endeavors to improve impartially every thing that God sends, without attempting to determine prematurely to his own injury what the distinctive importance of it is in the sight of God.

2. Co-workers with God.—God has chosen laborers, a. not because he needs assistance, but b. out of his own good pleasure, inasmuch as he desires to work on men through men, so that each person’s love for the truth, and readiness to obey may be more signally manifested.

3. Caution in building.—a. In building each one must take heed not only that he builds on the foundation, but that he uses good material and builds well. He must speak the truth in love, bring sound doctrines into their proper connection, employ suitable aids to discourse, and learn the art of seizing upon the hearts and consciences of men. b. The hearers, too, have need of care rightly to improve their advantages, since much of the preacher’s success depends upon their fidelity in receiving and practising what they hear.

4. Differences in the superstructure, though resting upon the right foundation, are found according as a person a. either adheres to that which is closely akin to the foundation, selecting that which promotes the salvation and edification of souls, b. or prefers what is alien in character, resorting to what pleases men, or promotes his renown, or gratifies a vain curiosity, rather than to what is of solid worth and promotes vital godliness.

5. [Preparation for the final ordeal. If there is to be a day of visitation and trial, how important to be examining our own work in advance and subjecting it to the most rigid tests, lest we be overwhelmed at last with utter dismay at our loss, and have the mortification of discovering too late that we spent our strength for naught, and have only our souls for a prey. 1Co_3:13 ff.].

Starke:—All good comes from God and must be ascribed to him. No boasting. No exaltation of one at the expense of another (10, 11). Not wrong to prefer listening to enlightened and regenerated preachers, rather than to such as are carnally minded. Wrong comes when amid diversified gifts in genuine ministers we cleave to one and contemn the rest. This is to sin not only against those contemned, but also against God. This is to evince a lack of just spiritual taste, and to bring to the sermon, the ear rather than the heart. The preachers office an effective instrumentality for saving souls. The gifts and labors of the ministry diversified yet inseparable. One plays into the hands of the other. Preaching must be followed up. Instrumentalities are needed in the spiritual as much as in the temporal husbandry. Their efficient power, however, comes from God. It lies in the word as it lies in the seed. God works through the word on the heart. (1Co_3:6-7). Be satisfied with planting and watering. Should no crop ripen accept it as God’s will. Let not those more richly endowed and occupying more elevated positions exalt themselves above those holding a lower station. Nor let those below be troubled because they are there. All alike are servants of God (2Co_12:11) (1Co_3:8). Ministers labor with God, not as though associating their power with His, but as having His power working in them, (by the grace granted them of God, 1Co_15:10; 2Co_3:5 ff.); yet according to the degree of culture enjoyed by each one, and also according to the native talents possessed which the Lord sanctifies (Hedinger). He who wishes to have part in the heavenly paradise, must first consent to form a part of God’s earthly farm, and suffer himself to be ploughed, and sowed, and reaped (1Co_3:9). As a house is not built in a day, so neither is the Church. It rises gradually (1Co_3:9). Christ is the foundation, 1. in His Person, as God (Col_1:17), and man, (Act_4:12), and in both his natures; the whole Church (Eph_2:20) and each believer is firm only when resting on Christ. Yea, since believers are “lively stones” (1Pe_2:8) and Christ a living foundation, all the stones must be supposed to derive their life from Him. 2. in doctrine, by means of which we are brought to Him as the sole Life-giver (Joh_14:6), and by faith are justified, sanctified and glorified. They who would build a church for Christ by insisting only upon a reputable conduct, erect a structure without a foundation. It musty therefore, fall of itself (Ver.13). Better erect no superstructure and stop with the foundation, than to go on piling wood and stubble. Better simplicity in Christ with a little knowledge, than much learning without Christ, and a brain full of the fine spun cobwebs of worldly wisdom (Hedinger) (1Co_3:11). Fire tests and destroys. By the cross, by persecutions, by death through the judgment it will be shown what is wheat and what chaff, what is a pithy saying and what the dry lifeless conception of some subtle logician or wrangler of the schools (Hedinger) (1Co_3:13).

Heubner:—The Christian Church is a garden; ministers the gardeners. The analogy may be carried out to the full, both as to labor and dependence (1Co_3:6). God’s Spirit has his times and seasons for operation (1Co_3:7). Ministers, however various in character and office, have one problem to work out, and therefore should be harmonious. Hereafter all will enjoy the work of all (1Co_3:8). What an honor to assist the Almighty! God’s part in the work, however, is the chief thing. If He leaves the field—the human heart, waste, it lies eternally waste. But He does work on us. And how faithfully oftentimes on one single soul! Ministers come in as instruments. They work under Him upon the field, which has to be broken up by the ploughshare of the Law, sown with the seed of the Gospel, warmed by the influences of the Holy Spirit, and fructified by the dew and rain of divine grace (1Co_3:9). An ordeal is coming. Anticipate it. Examine thyself in all that thou thinkest, teachest, preachest. Inquire whether thou art trusting to thyself for vindication at the bar of God (1Co_3:13).

Gossner:—The love we show to ministers should be very different from that we show to Christ, They only proclaim grace; He bestows it. Hence while they are welcomed, He should be beloved. With them it is an honor if they may only preach, but He saves at the cost of His own blood (1Co_3:5.) God is so gracious that although He is the source of all goodness, yet He rewards His servants as if they had done it all (1Co_3:14).

[F. W. Robertson:—The preaching of Christ means simply the preaching of Christ. Recollect what Paul’s Christianity was—how he sums all up. “That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection,” etc. Settle it in your hearts; Christianity is Christ; understand Him, breathe His Spirit, comprehend His mind. Christianity is a life—a Spirit (1Co_3:11). There is a distinction between the truth of work and its sincerity. In that day nothing shall stand but what is true; but the sincere worker, even of untrue work, shall be saved. Sincerity shall save him in that day, but it cannot accredit his work (1Co_3:15).

M. Henry:—The ministry is a very useful and a very gracious institution; and faithful ministers are a great blessing to any people; yet the folly and weakness of people may do much mischief by what is in itself a blessing].

[1Co_3:5. If Paul and Apollos were nothing but servants, and refused the position of party leaders, how much more should this modesty appear in their successors. Who will arrogate the honors in a church which a Paul declines?]

[J. Saurin.11–15:—The different methods of preachers. I. The occasion of these words, as shown in the Epistle. II. The design of the Apostle,—to rectify our judgments in regard to three different classes of preachers; a. such as preach the word of man not only different from, but directly opposite to the word of God (1Co_3:11); b. such as preach the pure word of God free from human admixtures (1Co_3:12); c. such as indeed make the word of God the ground of their preaching, but mix with it the explications and traditions of men (1Co_3:12). III. Explain the metaphors, a. Christ, the foundation, b. Gold, silver, and precious stones—doctrines sublime, excellent, demonstrable, c. Wood, hay and stubble—doctrines less considerable, uncertain, unimportant, d. The revelation by fire—the examination and disclosures of the last judgment, not the destruction of Jerusalem, nor the fire of purgatory. IV. Application—in what manner we are to regard the three classes of ministers].


1Co_3:5.—The Rec ôßò , instead of which Lach. and Meyer read ôß [following A. B. Cod. Sin. and others] is sustained by nearly the same preponderance of authorities as declare for the mention of Apollos first. The received text, which puts Paul first, is to be explained from 1Co_3:4; 1Co_3:6. The repetition of ἐóôßí is also established by the better authorities.

1Co_3:5.—Before äéÜêïíïé the Rec. which Tisch., 6th ed., follows, has ἀëë ̓ . This makes the question continue to ἐðéóôåí ́ óáôå . But the best authorities are against this reading, and it is therefore rejected by Lach. Tisch. and others. [For the true rendering see the Exegetical comment.]

1Co_3:10.—The Rec. ôÝèåéêá is retained by Tisch. ed. 6 [also Alf., Words.]. But Lach. following A. B. C. [Cod. Sin.] reads ἔèçêá .

1Co_3:11.—The Rec. Ἰçóïí ͂ ò ὁ ×ñéóôüò is feebly supported. Better Ἰçóïí ͂ ò ×ñéóôüò . Tisch., ed 6, ×ñéóôüò ̓ Éçóïí ͂ ò .

1Co_3:12.— ôïíôï ͂ í is rejected by Lach. according to A. B. C. [Cod. Sin.] but is retained by Tisch. in accordance with many weighty authorities [so too by Wordsworth, Alford].

1Co_3:13.— áí ̓ ôü is inserted after ðí ͂ ñ by Lachmann, Meyer, Tisch. [Alford, Wordsworth, Stanley] according to the beet authorities. [A. B. C. Cod. Sin. Origen, Chry. Eus., etc.]

1Co_3:14. ìåíåῖ , future, is better authenticated [Latin version]. Received ìÝíåé [see note].