1 Corinthians 3:16-23 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. How does the apostle Paul define the church’s identity in 1 Corinthians 3:16 (printed below?)

Do you not realize that you are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God is living in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

In verse 16 the apostle Paul informs us that the church is “God’s temple” (literally, “God’s sanctuary”) and that the Spirit of God is living in us. During the Old Testament era the Lord’s presence dwelt in the Holy of holies of the tabernacle (and later in the Holy of holies of the temple). In this New Testament era the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, dwells in the midst of each congregation as well as personally in the heart of each individual believer (note Revelation 1:13,20).

2. What warning does the apostle give in verse 17 (printed below?)

If anyone desecrates the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and this is what you are. (1 Corinthians 3:17)

Verse 17 confronts us with a solemn warning: “If any one desecrates the temple (or, sanctuary) of God, God will destroy him”—this solemn warning had very practical significance and application for the Corinthian congregation. They were plagued with factions and divisiveness that was threatening to tear apart the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:3). They were tolerating the practice of immorality that was polluting the sanctuary of God (1 Corinthians 6:13b,18-20). They were grossly abusing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and thereby insulting and even blaspheming the presence and the person of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:20-21).

3. What counsel does Paul give to those Christians who thought they were wise “by the standards of this age?” See 1 Corinthians 3:18b (printed below) Why does he give this counsel? See 1 Corinthians 3:19a (printed below)

If anyone among you thinks that he is wise by the standards of this age, let him become a fool, so that he may become wise; (19) for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. (1 Corinthians 3:18b-19a)

The apostle’s counsel is that we exchange the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God: “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise by the standards of this age, let him become a fool, so that he may become wise.” (verse 18b) We are to set aside the wisdom of this world with its pattern of man-centered thinking and start all over again, this time with the God-centered thinking that is the characteristic of true spiritual wisdom (note Proverbs 9:10). The reason the apostle gives this counsel is the fact that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (verse 19). The wisdom that seeks to make man the center and supreme purpose of life, thereby assigning to finite man the position and honor that rightfully belongs to the infinite God, is culpable foolishness—that is to say, a foolishness that shall finally be judged by God for what it is, the sinful effort of man to usurp for himself that which rightfully belongs to God.

4. What exhortation does the apostle give the church in verse 21a (printed below?) What do you think he means?

So then, let no one boast in men… (1 Corinthians 3:21a)

In verse 21 the apostle exhorts us, “Let no one boast in men;” that is to say, we are not to place our confidence in men. We are not to find our identity in our allegiance to any man or human organization; we are not to find our source of significance in man-centered enterprises. The great temptation of these Corinthian Christians was to identify themselves with a particular individual, placing their confidence in him and giving their devotion to him; rather than focusing upon Christ: giving Him the pre-eminence and making Him the supreme object of their devotion.

5. Of what does the apostle inform the church in verses 21b-23 (printed below?)

…all things are yours. (22) Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all things are yours; (23) and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:21b-23)

The reason we as Christians are not to boast (or, glory) in men is the fact that “all things are yours.” That is to say, all Christian leaders, including all of their teaching and ministry, is in service to the church of Christ: their ministry is to present Christ to us and bring us into an ever deeper relationship with Christ. The focus of their ministry is to be Christ and His church, rather than causing the focus to be upon themselves because of their ability to minister. Having stated that “all things are yours,” the apostle Paul now expands that statement to the broadest possible dimension: the world, life and death, things present and things to come. In what sense are “all things yours?” All things have been put in subjection to Christ (note Ephesians 1:22), and the church of Christ collectively, including each believer in Christ individually, has been joined to Christ to share in His inheritance (note Romans 8:17a). By way of illustration, when a woman marries a man she shares in all of his possessions and holdings. Although all things belong to us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we do not belong to ourselves: “you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” We belong to our faithful Savior who loved us and gave Himself up for us; and together with Him, we belong to God as His most beloved and treasured possession.