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1 Corinthians 3:16-23 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 52 secs

Hindrances to Spiritual Growth; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23


We need to think about spirituality because that is the basic issue in Corinthians. He carnal Corinthians did not understand who and what they were in Christ. If we don't understand what we have been given at the point of salvation and that is the potential for everything in the spiritual life, then we will not grow spiritually because we lack the basic information that is necessary. Furthermore, they were caught up with all of the ideas that they had picked up as unbelievers, all of the various ideas and approaches to life that were dominant in Corinth, and too often what they were trying to do was interpret the Christian life on the basis of these concept rather than learning doctrine and then challenging their cultural values on the basis of doctrine. That is the same problem we have today. People are saved out all kinds of contexts and human viewpoint and we bring that to the Scriptures. Our job as believers is to exchange the human viewpoint in our souls to the divine viewpoint in Scripture. The problem we face in our world today is not unlike that of the Corinthians. That is, the people want to judge the Bible on the basis of their experience and their frame of reference rather than judging their own experience and frame of reference by the Bible.

The doctrine of spirituality

1)  Salvation is based on a right relationship with Jesus Christ but spirituality is based on a right relationship with the Holy Spirit.

2)  Salvation supplies the positional realities that form the potential for spiritual growth.

3)  At salvation we are the recipients of six salvation ministries of God the Holy Spirit: a) Efficacious grace where God the Holy Spirit takes our faith and makes it effective for salvation; b) We are regenerated; c) We are baptized by God the Holy Spirit; d) We are sealed by God the Holy Spirit; e) We receive spiritual gifts; f) We are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit; g) We are filled with the Holy Spirit, but that is the one thing we can lose, and we lose that as soon as we sin. It is only by confessing our sins (1 John 1:9) that we are restored to fellowship.

4)  We have to recognize that spirituality is an absolute, it is not a concept of growth, it has to do with our relationship with God the Holy Spirit.

5)  Failure in the spiritual life leads to carnality and produces human good or dead works. The issue is not what the activity is, the issue is whether or not we are in right relationship with God the Holy Spirit.

6)  When we are in fellowship, walking by means of the Spirit and abiding in Christ, we are advancing spiritually, producing divine good—which Paul calls, gold, silver and precious stones—and we will be rewarded on the basis of that divine good.

7)  The results of spirituality are many. We have to understand that these are the results of spirituality. It is the Holy Spirit who produces growth in us and these are the consequence of that: a) There is witnessing in Acts 1:8; b) Giving; c) Worship, Ephesians 5:19, 20; d) Service, Ephesians 4:11, 12; e) Prayer, Ephesians 6:18; f) Divine guidance, Romans 8:14.

Paul has made it clear at the end of chapter two and beginning of chapter three that the problem in the Corinthian church and the divisions that are there is a consequence of their walking according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit. He warns then, starting in 3:9, that there are eternal consequences to their carnality: not that they will lose their salvation and end up in the lake of fire, but that if there is no gold, silver and precious stones then there will be no rewards, and they will suffer loss. There will be shame at the judgment seat of Christ—1 John 2:28. There will be loss of rewards and loss of inheritance, Paul tells us in Galatians 5:17-19, and all this is to inform us that the spiritual life is crucial. It is not just something nice, something optional, but it will have significant consequences during the Millennium and during eternity. On the basis of that he reminds them, after going through the judgment seat of Christ in vv. 9-15, about positional reality: NASB "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and {that} the Spirit of God dwells in you?"

The point that he is making is that because of that positional reality we are given a potential to live the spiritual live. God has given us everything we need to live the spiritual life. God in His omniscience knew every problem and difficulty that we would ever face, and He gave us everything we need to deal with them. So in 3:16 Paul is informing them again of the foundation for the Corinthians' spiritual life. And from there he is going to go into three hindrances to spiritual growth at the end of the chapter.

1)  They had wrong teaching and doctrinal ignorance. There was doctrinal ignorance in the congregation. That is why he asked the question: "Do you not know this?" The implication is, no, they don't know it because they are ignorant doctrinally even though they have good teachers. Peter has been there, Apollos has been there, and Paul has been there. They have had excellent pastors, excellent doctrinal teaching, and yet they apparently were negative and they didn't understand it, and they didn't apply it, and they didn't exchange the human viewpoint in their souls for divine viewpoint.

2)  Wrong thinking or human viewpoint. We live in a culture that couches every problem in psychological verbiage. There is so much psycho-babel that we have picked up over the years that we don't realize that that terminology itself just brings to the problem all of the baggage of human viewpoint. So we, too, deal with the problem of human viewpoint thinking.

3)  Wrong perspective. That is, a failure to understand grace and to have grace orientation.

1 Corinthians 3:17 NASB "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." So now Paul is going to make application. "If" is a first class condition, the idea of if and it is true. Some translations use the word "corrupt" here. The Greek word is PHTHEIRO [fqeirw], and it means to corrupt, to destroy, to harm, and it can even mean to judge or condemn. It is used twice in this passage and with different meanings. The first sense is "If any man corrupts the temple of God." What we will see in subsequent verses is some of the ways the Corinthians were corrupting their own temple. "…God will destroy him." This is the same word again but it has a slightly different meaning. God is not going to destroy him in terms of eternal condemnation but we have to understand it in context, and that is that is the context of verse 13ff, that at the judgment seat of Christ "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. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." This is a reference back to suffering loss. If you as a believer are not advancing to spiritual maturity then the consequences are that everything is burned up and nothing is left, and you will go through a judgment that will bring about shame—1 John 2:28. "…for the temple of God is holy." Once again we have the Greek word used here, NAOS [naoj]. This is important to understand. There are two words in Greek for temple: NAOS and HIEROS [e(iroj]. NAOS refers to the inner holy of holies, the inner sanctum, whereas HIEROS refers to the entire temple precinct. So what we are focusing on here is that inner temple, that inner holy place which is where the indwelling of God is. Paul explains that because the temple of God is holy, because it is set apart and every believer at the instant of salvation is positionally holy and set apart to the service of God, because you are set apart to God for a purpose—"and that is what you are," i.e. if you are corrupting the temple that means you are destroying God's purpose and plan for your life, you are in conflict with God and the result of that is going to be both temporal divine discipline as well as loss at the judgment seat of Christ.

This runs counter to a lot of antinomian thinking and unfortunately in grace oriented churches there are people who pick up a sort of antinomian idea that once I'm saved, I'm saved, and it doesn't matter what sin I commit, as long as I confess it everything is just going be okay.

[18] "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise." The problem of arrogance and wrong thinking, of human viewpoint and self-deception. The command in this verse is a present active imperative, and that is going to be contrasted a little later on with an aorist active imperative. The thrust of a present active imperative is that this is something that should characterize the believer's life day in and day out—standard operating procedure: don't get involved in self deception, it is a part of arrogance. There are four arrogance skills that form a cycle and feed off of each other. The first is self-absorption. As soon as you begin thinking about yourself, focusing on yourself and your ideas and not God's ideas, your needs and not God's needs, your truth and not God's truth; as soon as you begin to focus on your emotion, on how you feel, on your own situation and problems, then what happens usually is you go right into the second stage which is self-indulgence. Self-indulgence leads to self-justification. They begin to justify their behaviour: It's not really my fault. Then they get into self-deception. What happens in self-deception is you become divorced from reality, you are not longer thinking according to doctrine and according to truth, you are thinking according to the lie. Because you have a lie in your thinking, a distortion of the way things are, then it just feeds back to self-absorption again and you get caught up in a never-ending, self-destructive cycle of arrogance. This was a key problem in Corinth.

False systems of spirituality

1)  The most common false system of spirituality that we are familiar with is just legalism. This is technically the idea of using the law, the idea that we are under the Mosaic law, as a means of gaining approval with God.    

2)  Spirituality based on ritual.

3)  Spirituality is based on morality. But spirituality cannot be based on anything that an unbeliever can do, and an unbeliever can be moral. Spirituality goes far beyond human morality. It is the life of spiritual virtue based on the production of God the Holy Spirit.

4)  Spirituality based on Christian service. This is common among many evangelical churches.

5)  Then there is the Pentecostal crowd. They get involved in ecstatics, emotion, and mysticism, and somehow if you have certain experiences or feel a certain way then that is evidence of your spirituality. Yet the Bible never describes spirituality in terms that are defined by emotion or ecstatics.

6)  Then there are those who get into doctrinal churches, people who distort grace and think that all you have to do to be spiritual is know doctrine. They learn a lot of doctrine and they memorize all the verbiage and the technical terms, but they don't have a clue. There is no grace orientation there.

"…If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age." It is an interesting word for "thinking" here. It is not the word we will find later on in this section, LOGIZOMAI [logizomai], which means to think objectively, it is the word DOKEO [dokew] which has the idea of thinking without foundation, thought without evidence, thought without fact. This is typical of arrogant believers to think without evidence, to think apart from the facts—"in this age." That is what Paul is talking about. Scripture has much to say about wisdom but wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, putting the Word of God first, it does not begin with man and human experience. So Paul is once again returning to the contrast between human wisdom and divine wisdom. On the basis of human wisdom, divine wisdom appears to be foolishness because in divine wisdom the emphasis is on God and God doing everything and man doing nothing, it is based upon understanding who and what we are, and that is that we are nothing in the sight of God, that we can do nothing of value. It doesn't mean that we are not important because every individual is created in the image of God.  

"…he must become foolish, so that he may become wise." This emphasizes humility. "He must become foolish" doesn't mean acting like an idiot or embarrassing yourself in public, it means in the eyes of human viewpoint standards. When human viewpoint emphasizes humility it is a pseudo-humility of simple self-effacement that is grounded in arrogance: 'I'm going to be humble so that everybody will be impressed.' It is just a reversal of the priorities of Scripture. The emphasis from Paul here is that there must be genuine humility. You have to have genuine humility to understand grace, you have to have genuine humility to be teachable, you have to have genuine humility and teachability to be able to grow by means of the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul is emphasizing the fact that if you don't dump the human viewpoint in your soul you will never get past self-absorption and arrogance and self-deception, and you will never make it anywhere in the spiritual life.

[19] "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, "{He is} THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS". All of the human erudition that you are so impressed with, Corinthians, is nothing as far as God is concerned; it is all foolishness because it doesn't start of end with God. He understands human wisdom and he is going to destroy it through the wisdom of the Scriptures.

[20] "and again, "THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS." The word translated "useless" is MATAIOS [mataioj] which means vanity. All that human viewpoint thinking, no matter how impressive it may be in terms of intellectual erudition is meaningless as far as the spiritual life goes and as far as spiritual growth goes.

[21] Wrong perspective or lack of grace orientation. "So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you" – that is emphasis once again on human ability, human strength, and a failure to appreciate grace orientation. This is the problem of every human viewpoint system of spirituality.

[22] Then Paul comes back in his conclusion to remind them of everything they have been given in positional truth: "whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you" – he goes back to then fact that they have been given all spiritual blessings, a vast array of spiritual assets to enable them to face and handle any situation or difficulty in life. He gives them two categories of examples. He mentions, first of all, their teachers, God's spiritual provision for them in terms of those who can actually teach the Word. Then he talks about "the world or life or death," another group of three, and these are examples in the physical world and related to God's provision of sustenance or physical life-support grace. He provides for them in life and He provides for them in death. God has supplied everything they need both for spiritual life as well as for physical life—" all things belong to you." 

[23] "and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." Well, if you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God, then you belong to God. That is the logic. His point is that if you as a believer belong to God then that should change the way you think, should change what you do, and that should have an impact because you realize that eventually God is going to evaluate you at the judgment seat of Christ. So every decision you make today is going to impact on what you will be and where you will be in eternity.