Sermon: Don’t Destroy The Church With Divisions

1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Levi Durfey





We have covered three chapters in 1 Corinthians and, primarily, the theme that we have seen is that of divisions in the local church at Corinth. The apostle Paul pleaded with them “that there be no divisions among” them (1:10). 


We learned that some of the divisions in the church came about because some of them decided to follow Paul and some Apollos and some Peter. 


They thought themselves to be wise for figuring out the best person to follow, but they were rebuked for following such worldly wisdom. The only wisdom worth anything was and is today, the cross of Jesus Christ. 


The cross is foolishness to the unbeliever, but for believers, it’s the thing that draws us together—it’s what we must focus on more than anything other thing. 


More than all the moral and political issues of the day, it’s the cross that caused Paul to say, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2:2) That’s to be the core of our doctrine, the core of our very lives. 


When Christians don’t live for the crucified Lord, we live, Paul said, carnally, that is, just like the unsaved person. 


That causes more divisions in the church because, instead of solving our differences like Christians should, with love, and looking out for those with weaker consciences, we rely on worldly tactics—for example, we push policies through with majority votes and tell others, if they don’t like it, they can leave. 


We need to realize that God grows his church and we are to be humble servants in his field.


Another result of not living for the crucified Jesus Christ is that believers can lose rewards that God promises to them that build on his foundation with good materials. Oh, those Christians will still be saved, Paul said, just that he or she will suffer loss, “as by fire” (3:15).


Paul’s frustration with the Corinthian church reaches a fevered pitch in the next couple verses before he shows them how to quench the divisive attitudes among them. 


16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. 


18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 


21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For 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 are yours; 23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:16–23)


First, in verses 16 and 17, we find…




1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 


The tone in verses 16 and 17 is severe. He says, “Know ye not,” (for the first of ten times to the Corinthians) which is to say, “Isn’t obvious what will happen if you continue on this course?”


He reminds them that they (the local church in Corinth) are “the temple of God and the Spirit of God” dwells in them.

This temple here refers to the church; later Paul will refer to each individual Christian’s body as “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19), but that isn’t the case here. 


He says “ye” (plural) “are the temple” (singular) “of God.” If he had been talking about individual’s bodies, he would have said, “ye are the temples of God” or “ye are each the temple of God.”


In other words, they are where God resides in this world. They are a visible representation of God! Every church is, which, when you think about it, is a huge responsibility. 


Many unbelievers have a negative view of God, at least in part, because of the bad example that Christians have given them. Do you have a division with another Christian? What is that saying to the unbelievers in your life?


Jesus said, 


35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)


Paul then gives a very stern warning…


1 Corinthians 3:17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.


The word for “defile” and “destroy” is actually the same word (φθείρω). It’s only used eight times in the New Testament, and every other time in the KJV, it’s translated as “corrupt.”


Those in the Corinthian church who had been pushing divisions over leaders, living carnal lives, building with “wood, hay, stubble” were, in fact, defiling, corrupting, destroying the local church at Corinth and if they did not stop it, they would be “destroyed.” It’s the “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” effect.


Will God destroy a Christian, even a Christian who worked to “defile” a church? This is a difficult passage Christian scholars have struggled over. 


I think that you have to understand that those who defile (and ultimately destroy) a church are not likely to be true Christians—and this is proved when they themselves are ultimately destroyed.


Paul never says that any of them are not Christians, but his warning to them is one way that God uses to keep Christians from wandering into sin. 


Paul is saying, “Be warned, if you continue on this course, the church at Corinth will be destroyed and it will prove that you are really an unbeliever!”


That’s a good warning for all of us. When we’re in a conflict with another Christian that just goes on and on, what does it say about our faith in Christ?  Evidently, we don’t think that much about his body when we continue to allow divisions. 


A local church cannot survive with divisions within for very long. The divisions must be healed for the church continue. 


With such a warning, we would hope for some instruction on what to do to avoid the consequences, and that is what we find in the next verses:




Keep in mind that these are all things you need to apply to yourself. Don’t look across the room and think, “So and so really needs to listen up!” You need to listen up!


1) Be Not Deceived By Your Own Wisdom


1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 

1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 

1 Corinthians 3:20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 


The Corinthians were to stop deceiving themselves (the Greek for “deceive” is a present tense, indicating a continuous action). They thought that they were being so smart by choosing certain leaders which to fall behind and follow. 


Human wisdom seems so good to us, but it’s really just “foolishness with God.” Earlier in 1 Corinthians we found that God’s wisdom is foolishness with humans—


23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; (1 Corinthians 1:23)


But that’s okay…


25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:25)


So, in terms of the world’s wisdom, the Christian must “become a fool, that he may be wise” in Gods’s sight.


To do this will require faith that God is truly wiser than man. It will require faith that God can “taketh the wise in their own craftiness” and that the “Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” 


In short, don’t be so full of yourself.


How does God’s wisdom—being a fool for God—help in divisions? Many of the divisions in a church happen because someone decides to follow their own human wisdom above God’s. 


For example, imagine a conflict between two Christians. Someone said something that offended the other, and that person shot back with an insult. They huff off and refuse to talk to one another; days turn into weeks, weeks into months and still they refuse to talk and resolve their conflict. Why?


The immediate answer is pride, and it’s certainly true. But there’s more. They’re following worldly, human wisdom on how to deal with the situation. That wisdom says that the other person is more at fault, so that person needs to make the first move—or something like that. 


They’ve even talked to other people and those people, in their own wisdom, confirmed them—“Oh, yeah, you are totally right. They need to come groveling to you first!”


Anyone care to guess what God’s wisdom says? One of the many passages on conflict in God’s Word says this:


18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 


In other words, do everything possible that you can to make peace. Is it possible to make peace when it’s their fault? Yes, it is. 


But what about them making it right? What about justice? Well, hopefully things can be worked out between you, but even if things are not made right, God’s wisdom says:


19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18–21)


That’s what the Christian who is following God’s wisdom will do. Now, your worldly friends will look at this wisdom and call it foolish. They’ll say, “You can’t just wait for some god to take vengeance. You have to take matters into your own hands.”


But by following God’s wisdom, you prove your faith in him. You prove to yourself and to your enemy that you can forgive and let God deal with the consequences in his own way, in his own time. So it’s by faith in God’s wisdom that divisions in the church can be healed.


Another way to prevent divisions in a church is to…


2) Avoid Boasting In Human Teachers


1 Corinthians 3:21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 

1 Corinthians 3:22a Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas…


Back in chapter one, we found that the different Corinthian church members were going around saying, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas” (1:12). They were boasting in their favorite pastor and preacher. They are directly commanded here: “let no man glory in men.” 


Hey, it’s okay to have your favorite preacher, but he must not become your lord and savior (of course, you would never use those words—but are you acting that way?).


Some Christians get attached to a particular preacher and everything they have to say is prefaced by, “Dr. So and So says…”


Paul says here, “Don’t limit yourself to a single teacher—all things are yours.” The teachers are your servants. They are ministers of the word for you.


When we enslave ourselves to a teacher, he (whether he knows it or not) becomes the standard that your fellow Christians are judged by. In one church, a particular Sunday School teacher named Dwayne had a particular teacher that he compared the pastor, Tyler, to.


Dwayne handed Tyler a four-page handwritten critique of his morning sermon.


“Here,” he said. “You mentioned the other night maybe we could help you minister better. These are some suggestions on how you could have preached this morning’s text.”


“Thanks, I’ll look them over,” said Tyler.


Dwayne had carefully reconstructed Tyler’s sermon outline and written comments under each point. [One was] “That’s not how this passage was handled by Dr. McMillan” (Dwayne’s favorite West Coast Bible teacher)…


One critique quoted Tyler’s sermon: “We cannot prove the existence of God—even the Resurrection we accept on faith—but we can look at certain evidences and base our faith on those. Faith is deciding to believe even without scientific proof.” 


Dwayne’s comment: “Perhaps you cannot prove God’s existence or the Resurrection, but Dr. McMillan can! Listen to tapes #1635 and #1874.”[1]


Don’t boast in your favorite teachers and use them to club other church members over the head. Besides, the chances are, your favorite teacher wouldn’t like being used like that anyway!


Third, to eliminate divisions…


3) Understand All You Have In Christ


1 Corinthians 3:21b …For all things are yours; 

1 Corinthians 3:22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 

1 Corinthians 3:23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.


Paul says, “the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;” These all belong to the Christian because we “are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” God owns everything, Christ is his beloved Son, and Christians are in Christ, so we can also participate in what God has.


The “world” is ours because we’ll reign with Christ in the kingdom to come and throughout all eternity.


6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)


And then “life” is ours because when we trust in Christ as our Savior, we’re given eternal life. Jesus said:


40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40)


The Christian has eternal life, and we have a purpose and a reason to live this life here on earth.


Then there’s “death.” Death belongs to the Christian because when we die, it will not be a defeat for us—it will be victory! Paul says later, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).


What does it mean that “things present” belong to the Christian? By the way, he doesn’t say that the past belongs to us because it doesn’t. We can’t change the past, we can’t do a thing about it. 


But the “present” belongs to us as Christians because everything that happens to us is used by God for our spiritual enrichment—pain, sorrow, blessings and fortune—all can be used by God to make us more like Christ (See Romans 8:28-29).


Of course, the future—“things to come”—also belongs to the Christian because that is what God promises to us. Jesus said:


2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2–3)


All this belongs to the Christian, and yet many Christians waste their time narrowly focused on the here and now. 


  • We get upset if someone at church seems to snub us. 
  • We place our pride, feelings, position as the most important thing. 
  • We clamor to make sure everyone follows our interpretation of the Bible, or preference in worship, or our personal convictions.


Folks, all that stuff is going to be nothing! Ask yourself, will it matter to me to have the upper hand in this conflict with my fellow Christian five minutes after I’m in Heaven? Then why should it matter now?


Instead of being focused on earthly treasure and earthly glory, we should be focused on all that we have and are in Christ Jesus. That’s the greatest treasure we can possibly have.




I was watching one of those nature videos about wolves hunting caribou, in this case, in Northern Canada. There was just one wolf and literally dozens of caribou, but those caribou didn’t do anything but run. They ran and ran, and then split into separate groups, and then finally, a calf got separated from it’s mother and the wolf ran it down and killed it.


All it takes is for one person or a small group of people in a church to start a conflict and it will destroy that church. Parents will start a fight between each other, but soon their kids join in against one another. 


Weaker or younger Christians are isolated, not knowing who to trust any longer, and they flee, perhaps to be taken in by those who would lead them astray. In short, a church can be destroyed by conflict and division between it’s members. 


This is why it’s vastly important for us not to allow divisions in the church. When we have differences or conflicts, we need to strive to resolve those. You need to…


1) Be Not Deceived By Your Own Wisdom,

2) Avoid Boasting In Human Teachers,

3) Understand All You Have In Christ.


[1] Marshall Shelley, Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church, vol. 1, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Books, 1985), 24.

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