Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread;
Defining the church
One of the key points was that the church had been called into a “gathered assembly” (EKKLESIA), and the next concern is the way the leading
teachers of the church fit into that process (ch3 vv5-15).
v5 Paul’s complaint at the beginning of the letter had been about the appearance of slogans like “I belong to Apollos” and “I belong to
The Corinthians were beginning to treat their teachers as their masters, perhaps because these were the people who brought them into the faith and
But who was Apollos, anyway? And who, for that matter, was Paul himself?
They were not masters, but servants, acting as God’s agents.
People had been called to the faith by means of one teacher or another, as God had assigned in each case, but the calling had not come from the
vv6-8 The church can be compared with a field, in which case Paul and Apollos are the farm-workers.
Paul planted the seeds (which gives him a certain priority), while Apollos came along later and watered the plants.
But neither of them were working for themselves.
They are “one”- they are on the same level- because they are fellow-labourers, employed and “paid” by the same farmer.
God owns the field (and must have provided the seeds in the first place).
Even as they were working, it was God who provided the increase.
So the workers themselves are “nothing” in this business, and God is everything
vv9-11 Or the church can be compared with a building-project, in which case Paul and Apollos are the building-labourers.
Once again, Paul had the first task.
It was his privilege to “lay the foundation” in this locality.
The work of Apollos is “building upon” that foundation.
What really matters is that the building-work cannot be based on anything but Jesus Christ.
As long as they’re using the same foundation, they’re doing the same work.
My commentators find a slight paradox here, because Paul says he laid the foundation, and the next verse says the foundation was laid already.
But I don’t think there’s any real conflict.
v11 is clearly about the “once-for-all” establishment of Christ as the foundation of the church at large, whereas Paul’s task was to place the
vv12-15 This passage, which talks of a man’s work going through the fire, and the man himself surviving, has long been one of the classic supports
of the doctrine of Purgatory.
Mistakenly so, because Paul has not changed the subject.
This is still a discussion about the teachers of the church, who are “building on” the foundation which Paul established.
He says that their work will be “tested”, as if by fire, on “the Day”, the day of judgement.
Obviously the image can’t be pressed too closely, because gold and silver and precious stones would not necessarily survive a fire in much better
condition than wood and hay and straw.
The difference between them is in terms of value, not in terms of durability.
In what sense are they going to be be tested?
Their labouring is in their teaching.
The result of their work is that they build or develop or affect Christian communities.
So when Paul says their work is going to be “tested”, that implies that the influence of their teaching is going to come under close scrutiny.
In what way would the teacher “suffer” or be “rewarded” as a result of the scrutiny?
Paul does not specify.
But he writes elsewhere of hoping to “rejoice” or “boast” about the Thessalonians in the presence of the Lord Jesus at his coming
(1Thessalonians ch2 v19).
He seems to envisage being able to offer his congregations to God like a proud mother or father presenting their children.
If everyone who has ever taught in the church, or laid claim to leadership in the church, were to stand in front of God in company with the results of
their labours, then many of them would have good reason to feel proud and approved (“Well done, thou good and faithful servant”), while others
would surely be plunged into intense embarrassment, at the very least.
We may want to link this with the occasional hints in the gospels about grades of honour in the kingdom of heaven.
As for those who drive “the children” away from the faith altogether, Jesus says about them that they would be better off buried in the deepest
ocean (Matthew ch18 v6).
Perhaps this is part of the difference between “reward” and “suffering”.
However, the lack of solid information prevents us from pursuing this question any further.
The moral of all this comes at the end of the chapter.
The Corinthians had been claiming to “belong to” various leaders.
The truth is exactly the other way round.
It is Paul and Apollos and Cephas who “belong” to them .
Along with everything these people have been teaching them, relating to life and death and this world and the life to come.
Nothing in this world, under God, can “own” them.
They belong only to Christ, who belongs to God (vv21-23).
This chapter has been about putting the leadership in their place.
They might be “charismatic” individuals, dominating a small band of people.
They might be hierarchies, convincing themselves that their human representative is capable of making “infallible” pronouncements on the teaching
of the gospel.
Nevertheless, they are nothing more than aspiring servants of God, acting as his agents, and believers must not be overawed by their prestige.
The time will come when these leaders and teachers will have to stand before God and have their work “tested”, as if by fire.
And some of them, when that time comes, might be receiving a lesser “reward” than they had been expecting.
The key to understanding the true place of human leadership is that our calling into the church does not come from those human leaders.
Our calling comes only from God.
edit on 7-10-2013 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)