After correcting the Corinthians on the erroneous bent to make much of men and by default little of God (Vvs.1-8), Paul gives the reason for why they are to boast in God for gospel fruit and not their favorite ministers:
“9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Paul first accentuates that the players are the apostles (the builders) and the Corinthians (the building, the field, the tabernacle of God by the Spirit’s indwelling). Both are needy, both comprise the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and both have differing tasks according to the wisdom and knowledge of God.
If these believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then Paul could not affirm that they are the building of God. That is, the fact these believers are the temple of God points to the divinity of the Spirit who is God and who is also the author of the gospel message preached by Paul and the other ministers.
Paul continues to explain that this building’s foundation is Christ (the foundation which has been laid down by the apostle) and like a wise master builder was built through Paul because of the grace of God. Building upon the foundation which is Christ requires great care (a metaphor for edifying and growing people on and in the gospel message). Here’s where some obscurity arises.
When the work of ministry is performed in accordance to the gospel message, lasting fruit will be borne and its genuineness will be revealed by the All-wise God’s furnace of truth: determining what is acceptable to Him and what is not, purifying what is acceptable and destroying what is not (vv.10-15). Reward and the loss thereof are at stake here for the workers on God’s field/house, not salvation (as I understand it). Paul now turns his focus off the workers and onto God’s building, His temple and exclaims to the Corinthians:
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”
The apostle Paul pricks the Corinthians pride (their “altar of knowledge”) and finds it desperately wanting. Their boasting in men reveals the ineptness of their capacity to judge righteously (something Jesus commanded his followers to enact) that they are in fact “God’s temple” by the Spirit’s indwelling. Now Paul warns the perpetrator that “to destroy God’s temple”, will result in their own destruction. How is God’s temple destroyed in the context?
It’s not destroyed by food, drink, illicit sex or a host of other sins. Contextually, what destroys God’s temple (His people, His church) is pride revealed through their boasting in the creature (e.g., Paul, Cephas, Apollos, etc.) instead of the Creator (i.e., the source of all the good gifts they enjoy and derive tremendous benefit from). When we make much of the creature, we tend to make little of the Creator and when this occurs, deception is occurring, demonic activity is raging and we are the tools being used.
Remember that the comparison between this world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ is made so that those who fancy themselves to be clever will humble themselves to accept the foolishness of the cross. Paul’s warning the Corinthians who claim to know God, that if they are operating under the world’s wisdom (see chapter 1-2) then they can’t belong to Christ. And if they in fact do belong to Christ, then their boasting is not based on God’s wisdom and knowledge, a knowledge that is simple yet profound, easily understood yet incapable of being fully grasped.
So Paul concludes this thought by commanding the Corinthians never to boast in men because they belong to God who is their greatest treasure, supreme good and delight. To boast in the creature is an act in futility (this is not addressing the command elsewhere to give honor to whom honor is due) because we are finite, needy and utterly dependent on God who is infinite, self-existent and kind to us through the foolishness of the cross of Christ.
To boast in God alone then means to make much of God, and little of man. It means that our praise is properly placed according to the worth of our object. It means that we are rightly appraising what is true, beautiful and good. It means here that we recognize that any gospel fruit is sourced in God alone, never in the minister.