Summary: Resting on the sure foundation of the proclamation of the Cross of Christ, as opposed to worldly wisdom.
A BUILDING FIT FOR GOD
The Apostle Paul refers to the church as God’s ‘building’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9). This applies not only to the church at Corinth, but to ‘all who in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul then refers to himself as “a wise architect”, who “by the grace of God” has laid the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10).
That Paul refers to himself as “wise” is ironic. The expression ties in with the previous contrast between:
The foundation of the church therefore, Paul continues, is none other than Jesus Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). Or more specifically, ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2). There is no church without the ‘scandal’ of the cross of Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
[I was surprised to discover that the following verses (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) are not discussing what we as individuals might build upon the foundation of our own personal salvation. Rather, these verses are discussing the substance of what other builders than Paul might build upon the foundation of the church as laid by him. The dispute over who follows which leader (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12), whether or not the named leaders were in any way responsible for it (which I doubt), was causing divisions in the church at Corinth - and ultimately exposing it to the danger of schism.]
So what kind of building is the church? Well, says Paul, we are collectively “the temple of God” in whom “the spirit of God” dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16). This would have been an astonishing statement, given that the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing at the time of Paul’s writing. However, that Temple had ceased to be relevant as a dwelling of God at the very moment when Jesus died ‘and the curtain in the Temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom’ (cf. Mark 15:38).
Not only are we collectively ‘called to be holy’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2), but as the Temple of God we collectively are holy (1 Corinthians 3:17). Therefore, the divisions in the church at Corinth - and anywhere else - fall under the strictest of condemnations. As Jesus said, ‘woe betide that man by whom the offence comes’ (cf. Matthew 18:7).
Yet offences do come. There are ideas that enter into the church, even through the instrumentality of good men, that are nothing better than worldly wisdom in Sunday dress. Let such men be wary of deceiving themselves (1 Corinthians 3:18), and (which is far worse) leading astray the very flock of God (cf. Jeremiah 23:2).
Paul again emphasises that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). The Apostle warns us that the wise will be caught in their own craftiness. All merely human schemes within the church will be brought to a quick end (cf. Job 5:13).
Another quotation is, ‘The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are vanity’ (Psalm 94:11). Paul reads this as “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain” (1 Corinthians 3:20). It is worldly wisdom, even when it is supposedly harnessed by godly men, that is in the dock.
So let no one boast about human leaders (1 Corinthians 3:21). Why? Because all things are yours, church.
All things? Yes: whether church leaders, the world, life, death, things present, things to come (1 Corinthians 3:22). All things are working together for the ultimate good of the church (cf. Romans 8:28).
That is because we are Jesus’ people, and He is God’s Son (1 Corinthians 3:23). And there is nothing – absolutely nothing – that is ‘able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (cf. Romans 8:38-39). On this foundation we rest.