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1 Corinthians 3:4-12 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:54 mins 2 secs

Responsibilities and Rewards; 1 Corinthians 3:4-12


1 Corinthians 3:4 NASB "For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not {mere} men?" He begins with the Greek particle GAR [gar], "For," which always indicates an explanation; "when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos." That takes us right back to chapter one where he pointed out that this is the core of the division. So starting here in verse 4 he begins to pull together what he has said in the last part of chapter one and all of chapter two, to drive it home in terms of application and solving these inter-personal problems developing from the mental attitude sins of jealousy and arrogance. Remember that they were identifying in cliques with certain leaders, almost like personality cults; but this was typical in the Greek culture in the various philosophical schools. But to divide up like this, Paul says, is really operating on the sin nature.

[5] "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave {opportunity} to each one." Here Paul goes to the issue in understanding these divisions and he is going to focus on the divine viewpoint role of the pastor, the teacher, and how they should be doing it; not in the way the Greeks viewed the role of teacher, these aren't celebrities, personalities to follow, all are servants of God. Each pastor-teacher serves a different function, has a different role to play in the maturation process of the believers in rhe body of Christ and the focus is not on the personality, not on the individual, but on God who is the one who produces growth. So Paul focus the question with two rhetorical questions at the beginning of the verse. Actually, it should be translated "who" rather than "what." What we have here is an interrogative relative pronoun that is related to a masculine personal noun, so it should be translated, "Who then is Apollos? And who is Paul?" What makes them so special? Then he answers the question: these are servants. The issue for the believer is to be a servant. To be a servant you have to understand humility. To understand humility you have to understand grace and be grace oriented. When you develop grace orientation and humility so that you begin to live a life from the viewpoint of the servant then you imitate Christ, according to Philippians 2:5-11. When we are manifesting humility and grace orientation what we are doing is giving testimony in our life to the superiority of a grace oriented, humble attitude of a servant as opposed to the arrogant self-promoting attitude of Lucifer and the fallen angels. That is how we become a witness or a testimony in the angelic conflict. As we mature we exhibit the character qualities that are just the opposite of those which Satan and the demons think are necessary in order to have real success and meaning in the universe.

"… through whom" is DIA [dia] plus the genitive, which indicates an intermediate agency. They just function in an intermediate role—any pastor, any evangelist. Ultimately it is God who is using them to produce His will in human history. 


"…even as the Lord gave {opportunity} to each one." That opportunity is going to vary. Some of us will have more opportunities than others. Some pastors and evangelists will gain national prestige and they may be given a wider range of ministry, whereas others are going to operate behind the scenes, unnoticed, unseen, and yet on a day-to-day basis they are going to sit down with co-workers and family members, and anyone they run into and give the gospel, and nobody will ever know what they are doing except the Lord, and as a result of that unseen, invisible ministry many dozens or even hundreds may come to know Jesus Christ as their savior. What matters is not who has the greater opportunity but what each of us does with the opportunities that God gives us.

[6] "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." Paul's role was to plant. Paul founded the church at Corinth, he was there for a while and taught them and then he left to move on. After he left Apollos came as the pastor, and Apollos taught more doctrine. God is the one who produces spiritual growth. The believer takes in the Word of God, studies the Word of God, and then applies the Word of God, but that is not growth. Growth is what happens behind the scenes. Growth is what God the Holy Spirit is doing when the believer follows the process of staying in fellowship, walking by the Holy Spirit, and making the decisions to apply doctrine. But that in itself doesn't produce growth because if it did you could say you were producing growth by your application of doctrine. The application of doctrine becomes a means to growth, just as Paul's teaching becomes a means of the growth of the congregation and Apollos' teaching became the means of growth of the congregation, but it is God who works to produce the spiritual growth and the spiritual advance. So Paul concludes [7] "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth." In other words, the pastor really isn't anything, he is just a conduit, a means. It is God who causes the growth. It is all about glorifying God, not about personalities, not a local church, not a pastor-teacher. It is about God who gives us the doctrine, who gives us the Holy Spirit, who provided salvation, and it is God who causes the growth.

[8] "Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor." There is no distinction here like these Corinthians are trying to make, who are trying to drive a wedge between this pastor and that pastor. They are all one and are being equally used by God in the process of producing growth in the congregation. "Each" here refers to each of these pastor-teachers or apostles. So there is accountability; each will receive a reward. They are not going to get the same reward, it will differ. It is "according to his own labor," KATA [kata] plus the accusative of KOPOS [kopoj] means according to a standard, and there is an absolute standard for the basis of reward, and that is how well they function in terms of the responsibilities that God gave them. There is accountability in the Christian life. Rewards at the judgment seat of Christ are going to be handed out, not just because you trusted Christ as savior (there are those who teach that—Lordship salvation) but rewards based on what we actually do with the time that God gives us and the assets that He fives us. On that basis God is going to have a perfect evaluation system. So we will be rewarded according to each one's own labor, not according to what it might have been, could have been, should have been, but what it actually is. 

[9] "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building." Notice the shift here from first personal plural "we," i.e. Apollos, Paul and Cephas, to "you." So he is still using that analogy but he is going to shift from the field metaphor to the building. This brings us to one of the key passages on the judgment seat of Christ. There are three judgments in Scripture and you have to distinguish them. This is the judgment for believers called the judgment seat of Christ. The concept of judgment is just the opposite of justification. The concept of judgment is condemnation. John 3:18 says, "He who believes in Him is not judged [condemned]; he who does not believe has been judged [condemned] already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." So there is condemnation to the one who has not believed. But to one who believes there is not condemnation, but there will be an evaluation. The key word in 1 Corinthians 3 is from the verb DOKIMAZO [dokimazw] which means to test for approval. The focus at the judgment seat of Christ isn't on trying to figure out what you have done wrong and to bring it up and rib your nose in it. The issue here is to get rid of all the stuff that you did that was wrong—the wood, hay and straw—and to leave that which is of eternal value. The focus is to demonstrate what we have done under the filling of the Holy Spirit and walking by the Spirit, and to be rewarded on the basis of that.

2 Corinthians 5:10 states: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." We have to understand the context here because this is not related to salvation, that if you are good you will go to heaven, if you are bad you are not. What it is talking about is something different. When we come to the issue of the judgment seat of Christ the Greek word is BEMA [bhma] which referred to the raised or elevated seat where the magistrate or tribunal would sit in the town square of one of the Greek cities, and it was in this judicial setting that decisions were made both criminal cases and civil cases. So it is an evaluation setting, a place where decisions are made by the person who is in authority. Notice that "each one will be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done." Literally, it is "the things he has practiced," the Greek word PRASSO [prassw] meaning to exert yourself in action. The standard expression for "to do" would be the Greek verb POIEO [poiew], but that is not the word that is used here and it is important to realize that Paul is using the word PRASSO, "practice," as opposed to what you have simply done. This is the same word as in Galatians 5:21, "…those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." It was not simply that you did them, it was a habitual lifestyle of living in carnality, and if you PRASSO these things then you will lose rewards at the judgment seat of Christ and will not inherit those rewards.

That brings us to 1 Corinthians 3:10 NASB "According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it." The point is that the foundation that was laid in our lives is the spiritual life, all the assets that were given by our position in Christ, the fact that we are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, we have access to the filling of the Holy Spirit, we can walk by the Spirit, we have the completed canon of Scripture, the revelation of God. God has told us everything that we need to know, He has revealed to us everything for life and godliness, there is nothing left unsaid, unstated, nothing we need to learn, no experience we need to gain, it is all ours at the instant of salvation. That is the foundation. The issue is,  what are you going to do with that? Paul says, "According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation"—he preached the gospel. We must be careful how we build on that foundation in your spiritual life.

[11] "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." He is reminding them of what he said back in 2:2, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." That is the foundation. Paul says we are going to have a scenario here, a hypothetical case. You are going to build your life from salvation on and you are going to build something that includes different materials. Some of those materials are going to be produced by God the Holy Spirit when you walk by the Spirit. Those things are going to have eternal value. That is what he means by gold, silver and precious stones—indestructible metals and indestructible jewels. But on the other hand we are going to live according to the sin nature at times and we are going to produce things that have no eternal value. That is described through the metaphor of wood, hay, and straw. These are not literal elements. He is just drawing a distinction between that which has eternal value and that which has temporal value; that which is produced by the Holy Spirit and that which is not. The gold, silver and precious stones is the only thing that has eternal value.

[13] "each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is {to be} revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work." The day refers to the day of the judgment seat of Christ, and it is to be revealed with fire. When we appear at the judgment seat of Christ the Lord is going to put a torch to that which doesn't have any value, and that will burn up all the wood, hay, and straw. So what is left is that gold, silver and precious stones. It may not be apparent. You may look at this edifice that you have constructed in your life and you don't know what is gold, silver and precious stones, and what is wood, hay, and straw. We can't evaluate that. All we can do is walk by the Spirit, keep close accounts with God in terms of rebound, think biblically about the issues in life, apply the problem-solving devices, the spiritual skills to the issues of life and decisions that we have to make.

[14] "If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward." There will be different levels of rewards in heaven and they will relate to our responsibilities and roles in the kingdom. On the other hand [15] "If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." Things will be taken away from him—not his salvation, he himself will be saved. But those rewards, the positions, the potentials that he had if he had lived the Christian life and matured are going to be taken away. He will be without anything. It will be obvious and this is a point that John talks about, that we need to be prepared for the return of the Lord "that we may not be ashamed at his coming." Some are going to have everything burned up because they didn't make doctrine a priority in their life, there was always something else that was important that they had to do rather than be at Bible class. What is going to happen is that they are going to be ashamed at the judgment seat of Christ. That shame won't last forever, but there will be a time of intense sorrow and shame at the judgment seat of Christ as you look at that lost opportunity and those lost privileges and those lost rewards that you could have had if you had only made the right decisions in life.