1 Corinthians, Lesson 4: What God Gives, How He Gives It, and What Will Remain

wood on fire (610x350)After 1 Corinthians mentioned what God had called Paul and Sosthenes to do, to preach and teach the wisdom of God, Paul then again got personal.  He said the Corinthian Christians had not grown in the Faith as they should have.  They were still “fleshly infants”: they haven’t grown in stature and lost their “baby fat.”  And part of that lack of growth manifested itself by the “cult of personality”: people focused on their favorite pastor instead of Christ.  Paul continues his personal appeal to them.


God gives the growth

Read 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

  • Whose bidding is a servant supposed to follow, his own or the one for whom he works?


  • Explain how God used His servants, Paul, Apollos, Peter, etc., through whom the Corinthian Christians believed?


In verses 6-7, Paul used parallelism (a form of poetry) to bring out the connection between God and pastors (Paul, Apollos, etc), stressing that God is the cause of faith (and even growth in the faith).

A  I planted, Apollos watered,

.     B  but God gave the growth.

A’ So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything,

.     B’ but God who gives the growth.

  • How does that help deal with the problem the “cult of personality” or “celebrity pastors”?


Excursus: A look at Synergos and Its Implications for Us

1 Corinthians 3:9 has the term “fellow workers,” which is a translation of the Greek work synergoi, the plural of synergos.  The usual way we convey that idea of synergos in English is by using the word “coworker.”  In verse 9, Paul referred to himself and Sosthenes as God’s co-workers.  We know the “we” in that verse refers to them because in the second half of the verse, Paul used a “you,” referring to the Corinthian congregation.

Yet, being God’s coworker was not to elevate himself—Paul just said he was nothing!  So then, why did Paul say that he and Sosthenes were coworkers of God?  It was to make this point: God comes to His people in the way that He chooses.  If you bypass the ways that God has chosen to come to you, you bypass God!  (This is a hard truth for Americans to accept, often perceiving differences in vocation as inequality, which in God’s Church is not the case.)

God comes to you through His “means of grace”: Baptism (Matthew 28:19-10), Absolution (John 20:23), the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28), the sermon (Luke 25:47), and faithful teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).  Those were the tasks that Jesus commanded the New-Covenant Church’s pastors to do until He returns on the Last Day.  And yet, someone does not abstractly grab those means of grace out of thin air; they are, instead, administered by God’s “coworkers” to His “field,” His “building,” His Church.

God calls pastors (through His Church) to shepherd His flock, so God’s people are not left on their own without an overseer (bishop).  This is all so people know where to go and how they receive what God wants to give them to bring about growth in the faith.


4 Through Whom You Believed


Building on Christ

Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

  • What point is Paul making in verse 10?


  • Who is the foundation of the Church?


  • If Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church (other passages also call Him the cornerstone), then how does that shape who the Church is and what the Church does?


Building on the Foundation of Christ

Read 1 Corinthians 3:12-13

  • How does someone build on the foundation of Christ? (vs.13)


4  Good Works, Building on the Foundation of Christ


  • When will those works be revealed for all to see? (vs. 13) (see also Matthew 25:31-45)


  • Looking at the building materials listed in verse 12, which materials will survive the fire?


  • Discuss the difference between works that are “gold” and works that are “straw.”


Our Good Works Burning Up and Surviving on the Last Day

Read 1 Corinthians 3:14-15

Following Paul’s timeline of doing good works now, which is building on the foundation of Christ (3:10-12), he then progressed forward in time to the Last Day (3:13).  

  • Following Paul’s progression, when will someone’s works be burned up? (vs. 14-15)


  • Discuss: Why would some works need to be burned up and not others? (vs. 13)


  • Bases on Paul’s timeline, if there is a “purgatory,” when does it take place? (vs. 13)


Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-55

  • Remembering that this burning up of one’s works takes place on the Last Day, how “long” will this process of being “saved through fire” last?


  • Discuss: What is burned up and what survives?


4  Purgatory


Excursus: Eternal Rewards

“If the work that anyone has built on the foundation [of Christ] survives, he will receive a reward [on that Day].” 1 Corinthians 3:14

The Apostle Paul elsewhere said: “Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly as to the Lord, as something done for the Lord and not for people, for you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).  Here, the “reward” is defined as the “inheritance” of eternal life.

Romans 2:6 tells us this: “God will reward each one according to his works.”  The Greek word for “reward” in Romans 2:6 is the same “reward” that Jesus used in Matthew 16:27: to give back what is due.

Jesus says in Matthew 16:27: “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.”  Jesus is describing what He will do when He returns on the Last Day.  The “reward” Jesus will give is the same as reward described in Romans chapter 2: either eternal life or eternal condemnation.

Does this teach salvation by works?

No.  If our salvation depended on what we did, then it could not be called an “inheritance” (Colossians 3:24).  We are saved by grace alone through faith; however, Scripture does teach that we are judged by our works, not saved by our works.  Jesus says: “Every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-18).

  • If we still sin after being brought to faith (and we do), then why are we not producing “bad fruit”?


  • What does this say about the “good works” done by a “bad tree,” that is someone who does not have faith in Christ? Why are such “good works” still “bad fruit”?


Will some receive more “reward” in eternity than others?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (1 Corinthians 15:35-42, especially vs. 41)

  • In eternity with God, if you see someone with greater rewards than you have, how will the sinless you understand and respond to that reality?


Click here to go to the next lesson.