Toward the end of his three-year sojourn in Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:5-9), answering a number of questions they had sent to him and settling many problems that had arisen in the church. Shortly thereafter, he wrote them another letter after he had heard from them again (2 Corinthians).
Tabletalks theme last month was “The Ravaged Bride of Christ,” and our theme this month is “The Spotless Bride of Christ.” Surely the Corinthian church had been ravaged by sinfulness and disobedience. Yet, when Paul begins his first letter he writes to them as if they were pure and holy (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). In union with their Lord, Jesus Christ, they were indeed spotless, but they were failing to behave in accordance with their position.
Paul says in chapter 3 that they were “carnal,” by which he means backslidden and weak. They were acting like babies, quarreling and complaining. This passage has been given a serious misinterpretation in recent years, giving rise to the “carnal Christian doctrine.” This notion says that some Christians never do any good works, and arrive at heaven without having done anything for the kingdom. They have Christ as Savior, but never own Him as Lord.
This is a very bad doctrine. We cannot have Christ as Savior without also having Him as Lord. Is Christ divided? No, of course not. If we have received Him at all, we have received Him in His totality, as Savior and as Lord.
Paul writes concerning church-builders that some labor with wood, hay, and stubble, and some with gold, silver, and jewels. On the Day of Judgment, some men will see their wooden works burned up, but they themselves will be saved. Paul is not speaking here of believers in general, as if our own works can consist wholly of straw. Rather, in context he is speaking of pastors. Some pastors labor their whole lives in dead, strawy churches, and their labors are lost in the sense that the church dies. Such pastors are not, however, “carnal Christians,” because their works are good in themselves. It is a serious misinterpretation to view 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 as applying to individual believers and their works.