Foundations and Building Blocks of the Church.
This week’s text: 1 Corinthians 3:5-16
Questions to ask at the beginning of the book:
1. Who is the author of this book, and what do we know about them?
a. Paul again. We’re getting very acquainted with Paul’s writing style!
2. Who is the author writing to, and what do we know about them?
a. Paul is writing to the church that he founded in Corinth. Contrary to his three weeks spent in Thessalonica, Paul spent a whopping year and a half pouring himself into the Corinthian community. In Acts 18, we read about Paul’s time there. Corinth was a huge port city with many temples to Greek and Roman gods. After Paul’s time teaching and preaching the message of Jesus, a church community was born. And after some time, Apollos was sent to Corinth for a time of ministry to the church and refutation of the blasphemous Jews that had rejected Paul.
3. What is the genre of this book?
a. This book is a letter, one of the 13 written by Paul in the New Testament. This letter has a bit of a different feel than some of his others. Paul INVESTED in this church, and he’d been receiving some problematic reports. 1 Corinthians is most likely the second letter written to this church (In verse 5:9 we see he wrote to them before). He wrote at least 4 letters in total to the Corinthians, but at least two of those letters are lost. He loved this church like a father and had to admonish them like one as well.
Icebreaker: Have you ever experienced disagreements within a church? How did the church/pastor/leadership handle it?
1. Is there a key event (or events) happening in this chapter?
a. Paul had been receiving negative reports about the conduct of the church at Corinth. There were reports of division and different areas of sin. In the passage before, he calls out their immaturity and lack of readiness to dive into any advanced teaching. This section is Paul reviewing with them the foundational knowledge of what it means to be a servant of God. Their spiritual growth seems to be stunted because of the disruption and division happening within the church as a whole and within themselves as individuals.
Question: Are there concepts in scripture you wish you better understood? (could be the trinity, baptism, the second coming, the humanity of Jesus, etc.)
2. Who is involved in this event, and why are they significant?
a. Paul and Apollos are mentioned frequently together. We know who Paul is, but who is this Apollos fellow? Apollos, as stated before, had done ministry work in Corinth before. He was sent soon after Paul left. He’s described in Acts as an eloquent man and fervent in spirit, but it’s emphasized that he was well versed in Scripture and taught accurately about Jesus. After some training from Priscilla and Aquila, he was equipped and ready to minister to the Corinthians.
b. The church at Corinth was mostly made up of Gentiles, mostly Greeks and Romans. They believed in the message of Jesus Christ that was taught to them by Paul, but they weren’t used to the strict moral code of the Jews. The church, while gospel-believing, was conforming to the environment around them. They were in great need of discipline and guidance.
3. Is there any terminology we should break down?
There’s a mix of agriculture and construction imagery in this section so let’s break them down into two sections.
i. I planted – I’m working off of limited knowledge of gardening, BUT I do know that the first thing you do is actually place the seed in the ground. Paul founded the church at Corinth. Without the birth of the church, Apollos couldn’t water.
ii. Apollos watered – The second thing I know about gardening is that plants like water. I know there are a bunch of other things, but water is pretty important. This is referring to Apollos’ important ministry work in Corinth.
iii. God gave growth – Both planting and watering are important parts of gardening. But we can’t physically pull the plant out of the seed and make it grow. Only God does that. Without God actually causing our plants to flower, all we have is wet dirt. People in the church had been fighting over who was the best teacher to follow: Apollos or Paul? And Paul is making it clear here that this division is rooted in pride. And the only thing we have to boast in is the Lord. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen without God. Sure, he uses people, but it’s all by his grace and power.
i. Laying a foundation – the foundation of the church is “Christ crucified.” This phrase is used earlier in the letter and is not just the notion that the man of Jesus was killed on a cross. Remember, Christ means Messiah or Anointed One. Anointing someone means they are set apart for a specific purpose. And the purpose of Jesus was to become sin on the cross without ever having sinned himself, conquer death through the resurrection, and create a bridge between us and the Father since we couldn’t reach him on our own. That basic gospel message is “Christ crucified.”
ii. Building on the foundation – I know slightly more about construction than I do gardening, which isn’t saying much. I learned the basics from “The Three Little Pigs.” I know that building materials matter. Your foundation is important because without it, the possibility of a house is nonexistent. But you can’t just start building a house with straw. One big wind (or huff and puff from a wolf) and your house is gone. Paul and Apollos laid the foundation, but the leaders rising up in the church of Corinth were to be the builders.
1. Gold, silver, precious stones - Good building materials like these are sturdy, reliable, valuable, and will stand strong on the foundation. Teachings and actions that are in direct agreement with the Scriptures, Christ’s teachings, and Christ’s life/death/resurrection. Those teachings create a strong and unified church, ready to make disciples and spread the gospel among the nations.
2. Wood, hay, straw – These inferior materials are teachings, attitudes, or actions that go against the foundation of Christ. These teachings or actions cause division and destruction and cannot stand firm on the foundation. They cause the house to be susceptible to ruin. For example, Paul is about to call out sexual immorality running rampant in the church. Sexual Immorality can only harm the church, it doesn’t foster growth.
4. What does this event reveal about God and his character?
a. Paul’s first point with the agriculture imagery is to realize that a servant is nothing without his master. Our work here on earth, if not centered in Christ, is as useless as flowerless, wet dirt. Their spiritual growth cannot and will not happen if they don’t allow God to take over. It also reveals that God desires us to be his fellow laborers. Even though we are powerless alone, he wants to use us for His will and purpose. We are coworkers, submitted to God’s authority.
b. While God has the ability to create growth without our help, he wants to use us for his purpose and plan! God is absolutely delighted when his children abide in him and live a fruitful life in Christ. The church at Corinth is an example to us of how when we don’t abide in God, he doesn’t cause that spiritual growth to happen. God wants a two-way relationship with us. He’s not just this distant sky figure who doesn’t care what we do. He wants to be an intimate and active part of our lives.
5. Is there any present-day application we can take away from the text?
a. The foundation and building blocks of our churches are vital to spiritual growth. Corinth had the foundation, but weak building blocks. There was Christian leadership in the church doing harm. And that is possible in our churches today as well. Because we’re humans, Christians can have blind spots. Church leaders can fall prey to sin, teach doctrines incorrectly, and really hurt the church. That doesn’t always mean the foundation isn’t there, but it does indicate that the leadership may not be abiding in Christ in a way that fosters growth in themselves and, subsequently, their church. Accountability is a two-way street. That accountability works when both parties are bathed in scripture, eager to imitate Christ.
6. Is there any way we should respond to this text?
a. Do you ever evaluate your foundation and building materials? Are there areas in your life that either match/clash with the message of Christ that need accountability?
b. What are ways people in the church can hold each other accountable (hint: small group discipleship is a great answer. Other examples are things like gently confronting sinful behavior, consistently examining our own hearts, being vulnerable with others so it creates a safe place for accountability, etc. )?