1 Corinthians 3

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These small group studies of 1 Corinthians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

1 Corinthians 3 Inductive Bible Study and Discussion Questions

Outline:

  1. The Corinthians are still immature (1-16)

    1. Paul still has to feed them milk (1-2)

    2. Their jealousy and strife shows they are immature (3)

    3. Their divisions show they are immature (4)

      1. There is no reason for divisions (5-16)

        1. Paul and Apollos each had a part helping the Corinthians, but God should receive the credit (5-9)

        2. Every person is responsible themselves for serving the Lord (10-12)

        3. God is going to test every person’s contributions (13-15)

        4. We are a temple of God (15-16)

  2. Worldly wisdom is useless (18-23)

    1. We must become foolish in the eyes of the world (18)

    2. The world’s wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of God (19-20)

    3. God doesn’t want boasters (21)

    4. Believers should be united as they share in the blessings of God (22-23)

Teaching Points

1-3

What is the problem of the Corinthian church in verses 1-3?

What does it mean that they are fleshly?

Immaturity

1 Corinthians 14:20 – Stop thinking like children. They should only be infants in their knowledge of evil, not in their knowledge of good.

Ephesians 4:13-15 – Don’t be infants, but be mature.

Hebrews 5:12-14 – Another group should have been teachers, but was still taking milk. Solid food is for the mature.

James 4:1-2 – Their strife and divisions came from the evil desires that they were fighting within them, the fleshly desires.

Ephesians 4:22-24 – We should put off the old man and put on the new.

In these verses Paul really comes to the core of the problem of the Corinthian church. It was carnal, worldly, immature, fleshly (these are all words used for it in different translations and verses). It just hadn’t grown as it should have. The influences of the world were to strong in the church. Paul wanted to go on and speak deeper things, and give them solid food, but they weren’t ready. He had to keep on repeating the same basic principles to them again and again.

What is milk? What is solid food? How come Paul still had to give them milk to drink?

Milk is what young babies drink and solid food is what you start eating when you grow up. Any examples? In academics milk would be (2+2 = 4). Solid food would move past simple addition to multiplication, subtraction, division and so on. Spiritually, milk might be something like God is powerful and can answer prayers (Jesus had to teach this same lesson to the disciples again and again, that He could do miracles). Milk might be “don’t be influenced by the culture around you” and solid food might be “this is how you can influence the culture around you”.

The Corinthian church was fleshly. They loved the world and the things of the world too much. It was influencing them. They were prideful. They exalted human wisdom as opposed to God’s wisdom. They created factions. They weren’t being the kind of testimony they should be to others. How can a believer be fleshly? As believers we still have our old nature. It doesn’t rule over us, but it still effects us. It is a continual battle that we have to fight. The Corinthians were losing the battle at that point in time. We need to be spiritual. What does that mean? It means we need to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.

If Paul were to write to you do you think he would consider you fleshly and in need of milk or mature and able to handle solid food (let them think about that themselves)?

The Corinthians seemed to have a problem with perpetual/continuous immaturity. They just weren’t growing. They were staying at the same level spiritually or maybe even going backwards!

Do you think the Corinthian problem of seeming “perpetual immaturity” is repeated often in the worldwide church? Why?

This is a huge problem in the church. People come week after week and hear the sermons and sit there, but never really change their lifestyle or grow. They are complacent. They are satisfied with their spiritual lives because they feel secure in their relationship to God. They are saved or think they are so that is enough for them. They have a form of religion but deny its power. They love the world. They are happy to go to church once a week, but they are very satisfied with their worldly lives, jobs, careers, vacations, entertainments, etc. The world has influenced them and dulled their sensitivity to spiritual things. I’ve met numerous Christians like that. They just seem to float along, always around, but never doing anything, always learning, but never mature.

But you know it’s easy to look at other people and say they are like that, but how about us? How about me? I think I am often like that too. I am often satisfied with my own level of maturity and understanding. I am too complacent and love the world too much. We must continue to push forward. No matter how much we have learned and studied we need to dig deeper into God’s Word. We need to forget what is behind and push on toward what is ahead. Do you think you are growing and becoming more and more mature? Or do you think you are still kind of worldly and taking milk like the Corinthians? Really think about it. Make a decision to pursue God with your whole heart and grow. Don’t just come here and to church and listen. Truly grow. Become more and more Christlike all the time.

4-9

How was this problem exhibited in their life and actions?

What part did Paul have in sharing with the Corinthians? How about Apollos? How about God?

Divisions/Unity/Working Together/God causing the growth

Isaiah 61:11 – As soil makes the sprout come up so God makes righteousness and praise to come up around the world.

Isaiah 55:10-11 – God’s Word will accomplish exactly what He intends it to.

One of the ways this “fleshliness” was exhibited was their divisions. Mature people should look over the little things and learn how to work together in unity for serving the Lord. Instead they were bogged down in worldly quarrels. This was a prime example of their immaturity. Unfortunately the church today also has many divisions, showing that it is immature as well.

Paul and Apollos were prime examples of Christian workers with different gifts who complemented each other as they worked together for the common goal of building God’s kingdom. Paul’s chief ministry focus was on starting up new churches. He established numerous churches during his missionary journeys. Many times after he started it he let someone else lead it. You could almost say that Paul was the Evangelist. He was the one who shared the gospel and formed the church. If Paul was the Evangelist, Apollos was the Pastor/Teacher. Each one was gifted by God for what they did. However, they both realized that they themselves were nothing. It wasn’t their work.. They were servants. Servants aren’t concerned with building up a following. Servants aren’t concerned about recognition or credit. They are focused on doing a necessary and vital task. They are fulfilled in doing what needs to be done.

Why is it ridiculous for us to lift up people in this process?

People are the instruments. If we praise Paul and Apollos or MacArthur or other famous preachers it is praising the tool rather than the craftsmen. Can you imagine after Divinci finishes a master painting and all the people start oohing and aahhing over the paintbrush or the canvass that he used? Can you imagine Mozaart finishing a brilliant performance, the people rush the stage and lift… the PIANO onto their shoulders and shouting to it? Can you imagine an amazing Olympic athlete who has the longest shot put (ball) throw in history and then the gold medal is given to the ball? Of course not!! All these ideas are ridiculous. It is just as ridiculous to lift up people for their part in the process of salvation/teaching. We are only a tool, an instrument. God is the master workman, the master smith. It is His work and He must get all the glory.

So what does this teach us? It shows us the kind of attitude we should have.

How should this affect our attitude towards ourselves? (We are only an instrument and are not responsible for the positive changes in other’s lives. We should be humble and not seek credit for ourselves.)

How should this affect our attitude towards other Christian workers? (We are “one”. We should work together towards the same goal. We shouldn’t be jealous of how much attention others get or how much more success they seem to have. Work together and complement each other.)

How should this affect our attitude towards the people we teach? (We shouldn’t view them as “ours”. We shouldn’t think that we can change them through sheer will-power or force. Only God can change them. They are subjects of God and we are only stewards/shepherds.)

How should this affect our attitude towards God? (We should give all the glory to Him. He is the one causing the growth and truly changing people. Therefore we need to rely on Him as well as pray to Him more.)

First this affects our attitude and understanding of the situation. Next we need to apply it by becoming faithful servants for the Master. Becoming a willing and committed tool in His hands to accomplish His purposes, and then when the work is done to give the credit to the Master.

10-15

What does Paul mean he laid a foundation? What was Paul’s normal spiritual ministry?

Who was building on it?

Who can build on the foundation? Who is this passage talking about?

What will happen to us if all our work is burned up? How about if it survives the test?

How about you? Are you building on the foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones?

Will your work last? Or is it just hay and straw? How can you start to build on it with things of eternal value?

Judgment/Revealing/Doing things of eternal value

Ecclesiastes 12:14 – Every thing we do will be revealed one day, whether good or bad.

2 Corinthians 5:10 – Every one of us will appear before the judgment sight of Christ that we may receive the what is due to us for the good and bad things we did.

Matthew 6:19-21 – Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.

Revelation 22:12-13 –The Alpha and Omega will give to each person according to what he has done.

Colossians 3:23-24 – Work heartily to receive an inheritance from the Lord, it is Him we serve.

Galatians 6:7-10 – You reap what you sow. Do not grow weary in doing good.

Paul’s ministry focus was establishing churches. He laid the foundations for these churches. But even in doing so, the foundation was only Christ and what He done. And it was only by the grace of God that He could do this. The idea was that Paul laid the foundation, while Apollos built on top of it. Neither is really more important than the other. They are different stages of the same work. Then Paul moves on to an aside topic that is applicable to all of us, what should be built on the foundation.

From 1 Corinthians 12 we know that all of us are to help in this work, in this building process. We are all to do our part to help the church be built up and become mature. Although the pastors/teachers started this work, it is the responsibility of every believer to contribute.

What does the gold, silver and precious stones represent?

What does the stones, wood, hay, and straw represent? Are these evil things that we do?

The gold, silver, and precious stones represent the works that we do in this life that have eternal, lasting value. The wood, hay, and straw doesn’t represent evil things that we do. Rather they simply represent things we do that don’t have lasting value. They aren’t necessarily bad, but neither are they productive or useful in God’s kingdom. What kind of things might be included in this? (TV, internet, many degrees, our bank account size, entertainment, etc.) What kinds of things might be included in the gold, silver, and precious stones? (Learning about God, time spent in prayer, sharing the gospel, discipling others, giving out Bibles, sharing with other believers, serving, etc.)

When will our work become evident?

Read and discuss the cross-references.

What does the fire represent? Is it literal?

Fire is a kind of testing. Fire was used to purify and refine some objects. Gold and silver would put through the fire. The fire would burn off the dirt or junk and leave the gold, silver left. In this passage the gold, silver, hay etc. is figurative and so is the fire. It simply speaks of the fact that God will test our works. They will all be evaluated by Him. The useless, unproductive ones won’t be counted and we will receive no rewards for them. But the productive ones of lasting value will stand and receive the rewards.

Notice that this judgment/testing isn’t deciding on who is a believer and who isn’t. That was decided long before. Unbelievers will be going to the great white throne and believers to the judgment seat. Rather, it is a judgment of rewards. It is a judgment for believers not to doll out punishments, but to give out rewards for faithful service. Do we want to just be an also-ran? Do we want to join the race and not receive any prizes? Are we satisfied with just being saved? We shouldn’t be. We need to do our absolute best for God and seek to do as many valuable works in this life as we can, not so that we can be saved by them, but to glorify God, enjoy Him, and receive the fitting rewards for them.

16-17

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

How are we a temple of God?

What does it mean “if any man destroys the temple of God”?

Here the temple of God is not referring to one individual, but the collective body of Christ. It is a recognition of the important position every believer has as a part of God’s temple. It is a motivation to live worthily of such a position. And it is a warning not to do anything that would hurt it or we will face the consequences from God.

18-23

What is the point of these verses?

What does it mean that “all things belong to you”?

1 Corinthians 1-2

This is pretty much a review of what we have already discussed on the wisdom of God/world. We must become foolish in the eyes of the world if we are to be wise in the eyes of God. God’s desire is to crush worldly wisdom in whatever form. This worldly wisdom is useless. One of the ways it was showed in the Corinthian church was the divisions over Paul and Apollos. But as part of the temple of God, each believer shares corporately in the blessings of God. Leaders don’t belong to one local church, but rather to the worldwide body. Eternal life doesn’t belong to one group, but to everyone. There is no reason to boast because as believers we share equally in the spiritually blessings of God. At the same time all of us belong to God. The blessings come from Him and glory goes back to Him.

Study 1 Corinthians 4

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