1 Corinthians 3 Study Notes


3:1-3b Many of the Corinthians were immature in the Lord. They were not able to receive solid food (advanced teaching) because they were full of envy and strife (rivalries), which marked them as babies in Christ who needed milk (fundamental Christian instruction) rather than adult fare.

3:3c-4 In a second analogy, this one borrowed from slavery, Paul observed that the Corinthian believers were behaving like mere humans (lit “walking according to man”), following human masters in a slavish, partisan manner. This has to be one of the most stinging indictments a believer can ever hear. The phrase was often an idiom for living like a slave. This meaning is supported by the servile cries Paul attributed to the Corinthian believers, I belong to Paul and I belong to Apollos.

3:5-6 Paul made the Corinthian believers aware that both he and Apollos, the founding evangelists of the Corinthian church, were dispatched servants (Gk diakonoi) through whom they believed the message of the gospel. Most scholars understand planted to be a reference to Paul’s founding of the church and watered to refer to Apollos’s later ministry after Paul left Corinth.

3:7 The Lord was to receive all the credit for the growth; therefore, the servants were nothing. The reputation of the owner-grower was everything since it is God who gives the growth.

3:8-9a Paul and Apollos were equal servants in the gospel work, and each would receive commendation for his labor among the Corinthian believers (i.e., “God’s field”; cp. v. 10) at the Lord’s return (4:4-5). Paul and Apollos were God’s coworkers who worked his field (the Corinthian congregation).

3:9b-17 Paul identifies God’s building as the congregation at Corinth (v. 17), but the metaphor is justly extendable to the universal church (1Pt 2:5). The word translated “building” usually designates a structure still under construction. This fitting metaphor designates the church as a work both accomplished and ongoing: its foundation of Jesus Christ is secure and permanent (1Co 3:11), but various builders continue the work of adding stones (believers) to the structure.

3:10a-c As a skilled master builder, Paul laid a foundation—the message of Christ crucified (v. 11; 2:2). The key word in this context is “skilled,” referring to his expertise and wisdom as a builder to construct with “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The believer who wishes to help spread the gospel must be properly instructed (Ac 18:26). The phrase another builds on it refers to later builders who would have a role in building the body of Christ at Corinth (v. 5). These builders included Apollos and others who followed Paul.

3:10d-12 With the word for, Paul explained how future builders must build on the foundation that he had already laid. As a “skilled master builder” (v. 10), Paul issued a warning (as found in construction contracts) to any builder-leader who should follow him to be careful how he builds, choosing to use only quality materials, which is symbolic of faithfulness to his God-given duties as builder of God’s church. The urgent reason for this diligence is revealed in vv. 13-17.

3:13 Even in the ancient world large buildings were required to be tested and approved. Stipulations within the building contract stated when the inspection day would take place. Paul used the exact words commonly used to refer to this inspection—the day will disclose it. Paul was speaking of the eschatological inspection day when God will examine how builders have built the building of God, the body of Christ, on the foundation of the “foolish message” (1:18,23; 2:2,5).

3:14-17 In this section Paul gives three different scenarios describing three different types of subcontractors who were constructing the building of God. He begins each scenario with the expression if anyone’s work . . . if anyone (vv. 14-15,17; cp. v. 12).


Greek pronunciation [mihss THASS]
CSB translation reward
Uses in 1 Corinthians 4
Uses in the NT 29
Focus passage 1 Corinthians 3:8,14

The Greek noun misthos means pay, wage, reward, recompense. Other related terms are mithios, hired worker (Lk 15:17,19) and misthotus (Mk 1:20; Jn 10:12-13), hired man, hired hand; misthoo (to hire someone, Mt 20:1,7); misthoma (something rented, Ac 28:30); misthapodosia (reward in Heb 10:35-36; penalty in Heb 2:2); and misthapodotes (rewarder, Heb 11:6). The main idea in this word family is compensation for a task.

The term misthos often refers to monetary payment but its main use is to describe some aspect of divine evaluation of human activity. Jesus used misthos several times in the Sermon on the Mount in reference to rewards that the ungodly receive in this life (Mt 5:46; 6:2,5,16; see 2Pt 2:13,15; Jd 11) in contrast to rewards that believers will receive in heaven (Mt 5:12; 6:1; see Mk 9:41; Lk 6:23,35; 2Jn 8).

Paul used the term misthos four times in 1 Corinthians, and all four refer to the reward that comes from Christian ministry. At the day of judgment the Lord will test by fire the purity of everyone’s ministry. Some will receive a reward, while others will endure loss, though not the loss of salvation (1Co 3:10-15).

3:14 In the ancient world, a reward (Gk misthos) was granted to those who constructed the building on time, within budget, and according to specifications.

3:15 Paul warned those who built carelessly that they would suffer loss.

3:16 Paul called on the Corinthians to have self-awareness about the ultimate identity of their corporate body. They were a temple built by God, and the Spirit of God resided among them.

3:17 Paul gave stern notice to those who corrupted the church (chap. 15; 2Co 11). In a wordplay on the verb destroy, Paul warned that anyone who “destroys” (Gk phtheiro, “ruin,” “corrupt,” “defraud,” “destroy”) God’s temple will, as recompense, be destroyed by God. The word destroy was used in construction contracts to describe building a structure with the intent to defraud. Thus the image here is of a church leader (builder, v. 12) who is willfully negligent.

3:18 Paul’s advice to the self-deceived: let the one who thinks he is wise in this age become a fool by embracing the message of “foolishness.” The fool who trusted the foolish message would be wise from God’s viewpoint.

3:19-20 God determines what constitutes foolishness. These verses are filled with courtroom terminology from OT Wisdom literature (e.g., Jb 5:12-13). Paul affirmed from these witnesses that any disputations (reasonings) made before God’s bench would be foolish if based on human wisdom.

3:21-23 The remedy for divisions in the church is the recognition that all gospel servants—even prominent figures such as Paul . . . Apollos, or Cephas—are not their own, but belong to Christ, who in turn belongs to God. In this light, servants must never become a distraction to the church, and believers must never mistake them for the Master.