Life-Study of 1 Corinthiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In 3:10 and 11 Paul says, “According to the grace of God given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid a foundation, but another builds upon it. But let each one take heed how he builds upon it. For other foundation no one is able to lay besides that which is being laid, which is Jesus Christ.” If we would have the proper and deep understanding of these verses, we need to know the background against which they were written. What was the situation among the Corinthians that caused Paul to say that, apart from Christ, there is no other foundation? The background was that the philosophical believers in Corinth were turning to their Greek culture, philosophy, and wisdom instead of Christ. In practice they were laying other foundations. Furthermore, according to their philosophical mentality, they appreciated various spiritual giants. To appreciate a certain person and prefer him is to make that person a foundation in place of Christ.
Many Christian leaders and teachers quote Paul’s word in 3:11 about not laying a foundation other than Christ. However, those who refer to this verse may not understand the background of Paul’s word. Neither do they realize that they themselves may actually be laying another foundation. For some, the foundation is healing or speaking in tongues; for others, it is evangelism or missionary work. As we consider the situation among Christians today, we see that there is almost every kind of foundation imaginable. Almost anything can become a foundation in place of Christ as the unique foundation.
If we touch the depths of the truth in 3:11 and understand this verse according to its context and background, we shall see a vision of Christ as the unique foundation. This truth, this vision, will then govern and control us. Where there is no vision, people run wild (Prov. 29:18, lit.). Among the vast majority of Christians today, there is no governing vision of Christ as the unique foundation. Rather, many ministers and workers “run wild” to lay another foundation. On the one hand, many refer to Paul’s word in 3:11 concerning Christ as the foundation; on the other hand, even while speaking of this verse, they are laying another foundation. This should warn us not to understand 3:11 merely in a doctrinal way.
In these messages I have urged the saints again and again not to approach 1 Corinthians merely in a doctrinal way. Nevertheless, many are still able to take only the milk of doctrine, not the solid food of the deeper, experiential, and practical truths revealed in this book. If we read this Epistle and understand it only according to the black and white letters and do not care for the background, our understanding of it will not be very practical. On the contrary, it will be merely doctrine.
It is significant that Paul speaks of the unique foundation in 1 Corinthians, but not in his other Epistles. For example, because this was not part of the background of the Epistle to the Colossians, there is no word concerning it in that book. But the believers at Corinth were laying different foundations. Those philosophical believers were making different persons and practices foundations. This is related to Paul’s word in 1:12: “Now I mean this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ.” This indicates that one laid Apollos as a foundation, whereas others made Cephas or Paul their foundations. Some of the Corinthians laid a foundation of opinion or wisdom. Thus, among the believers at Corinth, there were many foundations. This background caused Paul to say, “Do not lay any foundation other than Christ. As a wise master builder, I have already laid Christ as the unique foundation. When I came to you, I came with nothing except Christ. I warn you not to lay another foundation, but to build upon the foundation already laid. Furthermore, you must take heed how you build. Do not build with Greek culture, with your opinions or philosophy or with your appreciation or preference for any persons. To build with these materials is to build with wood, grass, and stubble.” To understand 1 Corinthians in this way is to touch the depths of this book.
The problem in Corinth was that the Greek believers were exalting philosophy and spiritual giants. By doing this they were laying foundations other than Christ. To understand 3:11 in this way is to go beyond mere doctrine and grasp the practical significance of Paul’s word. It is also to illustrate the doctrine by the actual situation among the believers. Knowing their situation, Paul seemed to be telling them, “Don’t lay Greek culture or philosophy as a foundation. Neither should you exalt any person and make a person a foundation other than Christ.” If we say that we are for immersion or for speaking in tongues, we are laying a foundation other than Christ. But according to 1:2 and 9, Christ is theirs and ours, and we have been called into the fellowship of Christ. This Christ, God’s unique center and our unique portion, is the unique foundation.
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