I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
10a The privilege of working with a congregation is indeed a divine grace!
10b We continually build atop what others have built. Even when an inferior work is cleared away, a trace remains. A weak stone left behind will damage what is built atop it. A structure aligned to solid stone can draw strength from that stone.
11 We do not lay a new foundation, but lay a foundation atop a foundation previously laid by Christ. Even a builder who scrapes the ground and drives poles through the soil seeks to build atop a bedrock foundation previously laid by the one through whom all things were and are made.
12-13 Sometimes we choose to build with wood or even straw, for this is the material God has made readily available for us. Although these materials will not last a conflagration, they may provide a framework for others to build alongside and shelter for the builders. How might we integrate this with Paul’s metaphor of the Church being the body of Christ with many members with different purposes essential for the health of the whole (c.f. 1 Cor. 12)?
14-15 First century masons must have erected scaffolding from which stone walls would have been build. Those who erected scaffolding were critical to the process and thus essential to the final product. While their work no longer shows, they benefit from it.
16-17 Can we be God’s temple individually, or only collectively?
18-20 c.f. Clowns for Christ!
21-23 While good preaching might draw people to a congregation, people stay with a congregation for the presence of Christ Jesus and the connections of the Holy Spirit, in spite of the weaknesses of their pastor.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- The chapter begins with Paul belittling their spiritual maturity, noting their quarreling. Using an illustration of planting and watering crops, Paul offers a path to end the divisions between those who would follow him or Apollos.
- The lectionary suggests skipping vv 11-16, omitting Paul’s architectural illustration and focusing on his cerebral illustration.
- The next chapter rebukes against judging between or against Apollos and Paul.
II. Literary Study.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- Verses 16-17 the pronouns ‘you’ are plural. The pronouns in the next several verses are 3rd person singular, but translated as 2nd person plural for inclusivity.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- This is rhetorical preaching! Paul alternates creatively between excoriating the Corinthians for their miss behavior and encouraging them to build for God.
III. Question the text.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
What is the difference between ‘hay’ and ‘straw’ as building materials? Why not list cloth between wood and straw?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: We build God’s temple together atop what other’s have built.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- There is an implied conflict occurring at the Corinthian church regarding the teachings of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas.
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
- I would have liked to seen more about making progress with materials that might not withstand the Day, so that more lasting materials can be incorporated into the structure. This concept is better handled in chapter 12.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Need to provide examples of how congregation members are building a temple for God that exists beyond the walls of this physical church.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Craig Blomberg (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Zondervan, 1995) citing David Prior (1985): “No doubt every Christian’s work is mixed in quality; no doubt we all shall have the awesome sadness of seeing much of our work burned up.” He cautions against allegorizing the six building materials in v. 13, but rather they intend to contrast three fire resistant materials with three combustible materials. He writes extensively about separating carnal Christians from other Christians, affirming both the impracticality of doing so and Paul’s admonition against carnal Christians. His debate on carnal Christians yields a recognition that Christians should be building graceful fellowships rather than physical (carnal) institutions.
William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians | 2 Corinthians, John Knox Press, 1980) perceives this passages as directed towards assessing the work of ministers, leaders of God’s church, warning them that ministry demands responsible work.
J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “First Letter to the Corinthians”, Abingdon, 2002) comments that “all believers must build (or grow), and all will face a judgment day.” But that “the work of each person, what one builds, not one’s chosen material, is what will be tested by judgment’s fire.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
The Spirit dwells within us and together we are building God’s Temple atop the works of other people and ultimately atop Christ.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Build carefully so the spiritual temple we build is lasting.