1 Corinthians 3 – Metaphorical Agricultural Building Babies

1st Corinthians 3 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs

Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs

Today’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 3

Sometimes I give Paul a hard time, but if there’s one thing I can appreciate about him, it’s his predilection for metaphors. And in this, the third chapter of 1st Corinthians, he’s got three of them for us: feeding a baby, doing agriculture, and building a house.

The baby metaphor comes hot on the heels of Paul’s discussion of spiritual wisdom. Remember in the last chapter, when Paul says, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature?” (2:6). In the metaphor he introduces, wisdom is solid food for the mature, but his previous message to the Corinthians was milk for spiritual infants. And they’re still stuck on milk! Paul says, ” I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it…for since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (3:2-3). The conflicts within their church indicate their immaturity as Christians. They’re still picking sides, they’re still fleshly rather than spiritual, and they’re still babies. They’re so babies, they’re Babies McIntyre (sorry, couldn’t resist).

From there he segues into the agricultural metaphor. He explains: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (3:6). Paul and Apollos are not two different sides or factions that the Corinthians have to choose between. Even if, hypothetically, Apollos might take issue with some of Paul’s tilling and planting methods, or if Paul might conceivably think Apollos was overwatering or underwatering the crops, they’re both working toward the same goal, and the same God is working through their efforts. Incidentally, Paul’s metaphor elaborates on a saying that Jesus himself quoted. While telling his disciples that he and they are completing labor that others began, Jesus says, “For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps’” (John 4:37). He appears to be paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:10-12, which refers to “vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied” (Deut. 6:11). Paul’s choice of metaphors has roots all the way back to the Torah.

His third metaphor is another labor-oriented image: but this time, instead of working the fields and growing plants, Paul is building a house. And just as God causes the growth in the crops, the only viable foundation for a spiritual building is Jesus Christ. Paul explains: “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw…fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (3:12-13). The goal is to build a building that’s fireproof. Furthermore, he introduces the idea that builders have something to gain for their work: “If any man’s work which he has built on [the foundation] remains, he will receive a reward” (3:14). But remember: the “building” in question is a metaphor for people! Paul is looking to fireproof the Corinthian church.

Further complicating the matter, they’re not just any building: they’re a temple, a building dedicated to God. And Paul tells them: “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” (3:17). Are we intended to understand that the inevitable fire that tests the building is brought about by men, human beings? Because if it’s God, and the temple is made out of wood or straw or some flammable material, then God would be destroying his own temple. The metaphor is getting complicated, and I may be coming back to this chapter on Monday to sort it out.

We’ll see what next week brings. In the meantime, have a good Friday, a good Sabbath, and a good weekend.

 

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