Paul is scandalized by the behavior of the Corinthians. He also shows his understanding of where they are at spiritually and their inability to grow. They are still living in the flesh. His complaint is not far from what we do. Paul states, “Brothers, the trouble was that I could not talk to you as spiritual men but only as men of flesh, as infants in Christ” (v1). He is referring to when they first became Christians. This is somewhat of an expectation. When a person first comes into the faith, they are still learning the language and habits of faith, practically speaking. Paul is expecting the faithful to grow in faith and in knowledge of spiritual things, but they cannot make that step. Paul continues, “I fed you with milk, and did not give you solid food because you were not ready for it. You still are not ready for it even now” (v2). He points to the quarrels as proof of this spiritual immaturity. Not much has changed today.
As humans, we look at what physically happens, and many times only that. This is what Paul is referring to when he says they are “still very much in a natural condition” (v3). We think about the natural and spend no time thinking about the supernatural. We obsess about what is visible, but pay no attention to what is invisible. As we say in the creed, God made both, but one is more eternal. This is where he challenges us, too: “is not [this] behavior that of ordinary men?” (v3). We fuss over such trivial things. Things that do not bring any good fruit. Paul wants to guide us to think as God does. It is a supernatural way of thinking, not of the lower natural ways. We were cut above that.
Paul is stressing all of His works are just that: His works. It does not matter who is doing the labor, it is God in all things. Don’t look at the minister. It is God working through the minister. It is His name that should be praised and not Paul, or Apollos or anybody else. Each minister is doing their part as God ordains it. “He who plants and he who waters work to the same end” – our salvation (v8). That is why we need to ask God to continue to send out laborers for the harvest.
We do not have to judge the works of God’s workers; it will be tested in due time. God tests with fire each and every one of us. On the day of the testing, all will be made apparent. “If different ones build on this foundation with gold or silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw, the work of each will be made clear” (v12-13). God will test our works as with the foundation. If the foundation is good, it will stand, but if out of hay, the reality of our lives will be made apparent and therefore judged accordingly. Yet this analogy is meant for those who are intent on good works. They are not necessarily bad people. They built; how well they built is the question.
So it is tested. If we come short of God’s expectations, we “will suffer loss. [We ourselves] will be saved, but only as one fleeing through fire” (v15). This is purgatory. When we remain thinking at the natural level, this does not mean damnation, it means we come short of God’s desire for us. God destined us for greatness, not mediocrity or to be “ok.” He wants you to be a light to the world, something special. But if we remain at the natural level, we limit God’s plan for us. It holds us down.
To inspire the Corinthians, Paul makes them aware of this great calling God has given them. “Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (v16). You are so precious to God that He wants to live in you. When we see these realities and live by them, we discover the true wisdom of God. Paul turns around his previous argument, “If anyone of you thinks he is wise in a worldly sense, he had better become a fool. In that way he will really be wise” (v18). What seems to the world to be wise is in fact foolishness to God. Because God is seeing things at a supernatural level. With a God that sees all things, it is good to know that He is our helper. The question is, are you open to what He has to say?