Lesson 104

1 Corinthians 3–4

“Lesson 104: 1 Corinthians 3–4,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)


Paul explained to the Corinthian Saints the roles of missionaries in building up God’s kingdom. He taught that their congregations were places where the Spirit could dwell and exhorted them not to think that some people are better than others. (Note: The doctrine that our physical bodies are like temples will be covered in the lesson on 1 Corinthians 6.)

Suggestions for Teaching

1 Corinthians 3

Paul explains the roles of missionaries and Church members in building up God’s kingdom

Invite students to imagine that a friend signs up to take an advanced math class, like calculus, but has not taken the prerequisite courses, like basic algebra.

  • How successful do you think your friend will be in the advanced math class? Why?

  • Why is it necessary to understand the basic ideas of a subject before you can master the more advanced concepts?

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 3:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the analogy Paul used to show the Saints in Corinth that they were not yet ready for more advanced gospel truths. Explain that the phrase “but as unto carnal” in verse 1 refers to the natural man, or “a person who chooses to be influenced by the passions, desires, appetites, and senses of the flesh rather than by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Such a person can comprehend physical things but not spiritual things” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Natural Man,” scriptures.lds.org).

Write the words milk and meat on the board.

  • Which of these foods would you feed to a baby? Why?

  • What does the phrase “babes in Christ” in verse 1 suggest about the spiritual maturity of the Corinthian Saints?

To help students understand that the Saints were not yet ready to receive greater truths, remind them that the Saints in Corinth were not unified and that some of them included pagan (ungodly) beliefs and practices in their observance of the gospel. Explain that Paul used several metaphors to teach these Saints the importance of being unified, to correct false beliefs and practices, and to strengthen their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

handout iconDivide students into groups of three. Assign each person in the group one of the following teaching outlines. Provide each student with a handout of his or her assigned teaching outline, and allow students a few minutes to read it. After sufficient time, invite each student to use the outline to teach the other two members of the group. (If it is not possible to have groups of three, you could divide students into pairs and assign two teaching outlines to one of the students in each pair.)


Student 1

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual—Lesson 104

Invite your group to imagine that they attended a sacrament meeting in which a returned missionary talked about his mission. During his talk, he related that he had baptized several people. A week later, another returned missionary talked in sacrament meeting about her mission and related that she had taught many people who were eventually baptized after she had been transferred to other areas.

  • How would you respond if someone said the missionary who baptized several people on his mission was more successful than the missionary whose investigators were not baptized until after she had left the area?

Write the words planted and watered on a piece of paper, and show it to your group. Explain that Paul compared missionaries to people who plant seeds and water crops. Remind your group that the Saints in Corinth had begun dividing into groups based on who had baptized them. They believed their status in the Church was based on the importance of the person who baptized them. (See 1 Corinthians 1:10–16.)

Take turns with the members of your group reading aloud from 1 Corinthians 3:4–9. Ask the group to follow along, looking for what Paul said about the missionaries who had taught and baptized the people in Corinth.

  • According to verse 5, what did Paul say he and Apollos were? (Point out verse 5, footnote a, and explain that ministers means servants.)

  • According to verses 6–7, what did Paul say about missionaries who plant the seeds of the gospel and missionaries who help those seeds grow?

If necessary, point out the phrases “neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth” in verse 7, and explain that Paul used these phrases to teach that neither of these roles is more important than God’s role.

  • What does the phrase “God that giveth the increase” (verse 7) mean? (It is God, through the Holy Ghost, who causes the changes in people’s hearts that lead to conversion, not those who teach and baptize.)

  • What truth can we learn from 1 Corinthians 3:6–7 about our role and God’s role in helping others become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? (After your group responds, invite them to write the following truth in their scriptures next to 1 Corinthians 3:6–7: While we can help others learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is through the power of the Holy Ghost that people are converted.)

Clarify that in order for people to receive the Holy Ghost and be converted, they must do their part by exercising faith and following God’s commandments.

  • How do you think knowing this truth might have helped the Corinthian Saints become more united?

Ask your group how this truth could help them respond in the scenario about the two returned missionaries.

  • Why is it important for us to understand that it is the Holy Ghost, not our own power, that converts?


Student 2

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual—Lesson 104

Write the word foundation on a piece of paper, and show it to your group.

  • Why is the foundation an important part of a building?

  • What might happen if there is a problem with the foundation?

Invite a member of your group to read 1 Corinthians 3:10 aloud, and ask the rest of your group to look for what Paul said about his missionary labors among the Corinthians.

  • What did Paul say he did while laboring as a missionary in Corinth?

  • What do you think Paul meant when he said “another buildeth thereon”?

Invite another member of your group to read 1 Corinthians 3:11 aloud, and ask the rest of your group to look for what foundation Paul laid for the Saints in Corinth.

  • What foundation did Paul lay while he taught in Corinth?

  • According to verse 11, who needs to be the foundation of our lives? (Make sure your group identifies the following truth: Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which we must build. Consider inviting your group to mark this truth in verse 11.)

  • How can building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ help us endure temptations and trials? (See also Helaman 5:12.)

  • How can we ensure our lives are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ?

Invite a member of your group to share about someone he or she knows whose life reflects being built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Ask this student to explain how building upon Christ has blessed this person.

Invite each group member to set a goal that will help him or her build on the foundation of Jesus Christ.


Student 3

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual—Lesson 104

Write the word temple on a piece of paper, and show it to your group. Explain that Paul often referred to the temple figuratively. As recorded in 1 Corinthians 3:16–17, he used the word temple to refer to the congregations of the Church.

Invite a member of your group to read 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 aloud. Ask the group to follow along, looking for what Paul said the Church members in Corinth needed to understand. Explain that ye (verse 16) refers to the congregations of the Church and that the phrase “if any man defile the temple of God” (verse 17) refers to anyone who tries to destroy God’s people.

  • According to verse 16, what did Paul want the members of the Church to understand about their congregations?

Although 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 likely refers to the body of the Church as a congregation, these verses can also be applied to our physical bodies.

  • How might 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 also apply to our physical bodies? What are the consequences of defiling our bodies?

Summarize 1 Corinthians 3:18–23 by explaining to your group that Paul taught the Saints that true wisdom is found in Jesus Christ and worldly wisdom is “foolishness with God” (verse 19).

After sufficient time, invite a few students to report what they learned in their groups and what they will do as a result of what they learned.

1 Corinthians 4

Paul tells the Saints in Corinth not to think that some people are better than others

Explain that based on Paul’s counsel recorded in 1 Corinthians 4:1–3, it appears that some members of the Church in Corinth had judged Paul’s performance as a missionary and Church leader. They may have questioned his judgment or thought someone else might have done a better job.

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 4:3–5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Paul responded to their judgments.

  • How did Paul respond to their judgments?

  • Why was Paul not concerned about the judgment of others?

  • What truth can we learn from verse 5 about how the Lord will judge us? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify a truth similar to the following: The Lord will judge us fairly because He knows all things, including the thoughts and intents of our hearts.)

  • How can believing this truth help someone who is judged unfairly?

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 4:6–7 aloud, and ask the class to look for what Paul taught the Saints about their relationship with other Church members, including Church leaders.

  • According to verse 6, what did Paul tell the Saints not to do when they observed differences in missionaries and Church leaders? (They should not “be puffed up” in pride and think that some people are better than others.)

  • Based on Paul’s questions recorded in verse 7, who gave people different talents and abilities?

  • How can Paul’s counsel help us as we think about our Church leaders and teachers?

Summarize 1 Corinthians 4:8–21 by explaining that Paul told the Saints in Corinth that the Apostles of Jesus Christ are called to suffer because of the wickedness of the world. The world judges the Apostles and other Church leaders to be “fools” (verse 10) for seeking to follow Christ.

Conclude by testifying of the truths taught in this lesson.

Commentary and Background Information

1 Corinthians 3:16–17. “Ye are the temple of God”

“Paul taught, ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?’ (1 Corinthians 3:16). In this verse, Paul used ye, a plural pronoun, to refer to the Corinthian Saints collectively as God’s temple. Paul’s point was that the congregations of the Church functioned as temples where the Spirit of God could dwell (see 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). This analogy is subtly different from the one that Paul used later in 1 Corinthians 6:19, in which he compared a person’s physical body to a temple” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 365).

1 Corinthians 4:9–10. Death of the Apostles

“When Paul taught that the Apostles ‘were appointed to death’ (1 Corinthians 4:9), he hinted that his calling as an Apostle would lead to his death. He also related that many in Corinth viewed themselves as being wise and strong while considering Paul and other Apostles to be foolish, weak, and despised (see 1 Corinthians 4:10). These two factors—the Apostles’ death and Church members’ rejection of apostolic authority—would ultimately contribute to the Great Apostasy” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 365).