1 Corinthians 3–4: Jealousy & Strife

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 10: Sunday

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
1 Corinthians 4:7 LSB

In Sunday’s Bible reading of 1 Corinthians 3–4, Paul continues to address a church that is impressed by all the wrong things. There is jealousy and strife as they compete from an arrogant desire to be superior to one another—hearing the Gospel from the “best” or being one of the “wise” of this world.

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. 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”; and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS OF THE WISE, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.”
1 Corinthians 3:18–20 LSB

How would you like to get a letter with these words in it from Paul? Well, we have! The Corinthians needed to pay attention as do we.

In his letter James also brings up bitter jealousy and selfish ambition and writes they bring disorder and every evil thing. Think of Eve’s desire to be like God and the consequences of the Fall. He also brings up wisdom, contrasting earthly, natural, demonic wisdom with the wisdom from above.

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good conduct his works in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not coming down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, without doubting, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:13–18 LSB

You shall not covet is the last of the Ten Commandments. In his comments on Romans 7:7–13, F. F. Bruce writes:

“…the particular form of sin that Paul specifies in this section is covetousness–”sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8), the “commandment” in question being the last commandment of the decalogue: “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). Although the prohibition of the forbidden fruit narrative is not part of the law of Moses, it could well be regarded as an anticipatory instance of the commandment against covetousness. And it could be argued that covetousness is the quintessential sin.”1

In True Spirituality Francis Schaeffer notes that the importance of the com­mand­ment against coveting:

“Coveting is the negative side of positive commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…[and] thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37.39).

“Love is internal, not external. There can be external manifestations, but love itself will always be an internal factor. Coveting is always internal; the external manifestation is a result. We must see that to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul is not to covet against God; and to love man, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is not to covet against man. When I do not love the Lord as I should, I am coveting against the Lord. And when I do not love my neighbor as I should, I am coveting against him.

““Thou shalt not covet” is the internal commandment that shows the man who thinks himself to be moral that he really needs a Savior.”2

Schaeffer comes to Romans 1:21, and writes:

“The beginning of man’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart.”3

Do you begin to understand how destructive the sin of jealousy-envy-coveting is?

In If You Bite & Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict, Galatians 5:15, Alexander Strauch writes,

“Take note that jealousy (or envy) is prominent in all the vice lists. Jealousy is a major cause of conflict between Christians and especially between churches and ministers of the gospel (Phil. 1:15; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:20, 21, 26; 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20; James 3:14, 16). Love, however, “does not envy.” (1 Cor. 13:4).”4

Look at the verses he lists. Notice also the proximity to strife, and in James, the proximity to disorder and every evil thing.

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will;
Philippians 1:15 LSB
Let us walk properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
Romans 13:13 LSB
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let us not become those with vain glory, challenging one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5:19–21, 26 LSB
for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
1 Corinthians 3:3 LSB
For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances.
2 Corinthians 12:20 LSB
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil practice.
James 3:14, 16 LSB

In contrast:

Love is patient, love is kind, is not jealous, does not brag, is not puffed up;
1 Corinthians 13:4 LSB

The English saying, “proud as a peacock,” has been used as far back as the 1200s to describe some­one who is arrogant. Jealousy and arrogance go hand in hand. Someone who is arrogant is jealous of his standing, and will react against challenges that might threaten his perceived superiority. In the above verses notice selfish ambition and vain glory in Galatians, selfish ambition and arrogance in 2 Corinthians, and selfish ambition and arrogant in James.

Paul told the Corinthians:

Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
1 Corinthians 4:18–20

The Legacy Standard Bible translates arrogant as puffed up. The Discovery Bible says it’s derived from the word,

“from physa, “air-bellows”…properly, inflate by blowing; (figuratively) swelled up, like an egotistical person spuing out their arrogant (“puffed-up”) thoughts…graphically describes someone filled with himself, exuding unhealthy levels of self-importance.”5

In sharp contrast Paul will tell the Corinthians, Love…is not puffed up! Another book by Alexander Strauch that I highly recommend is: Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-Up Call to the Church, Revelation 2:4.

The Corinthians were bringing their values from their old lives before Christ into the church with disastrous results. We need to make sure we don’t do the same. Paul brings the Corinthians back to reality with this piercing contrast between the apostles and the Corinthians:

For, I think that God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men con­demned to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are prudent in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are glorious, but we are without honor! To this present hour we hunger and thirst, and are poorly clothed, and roughly treated, and homeless; and we labor, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to plead; we have become as the scum of the world, the grime of all things, even until now.
1 Corinthians 4:9–13 LSB

As I read this I thought of the last three Saturdays’ readings in Matthew, and Jesus’ frequent contrasts of greatness in the eyes of the world with greatness in the eyes of God. Look back at Matthew 18, Matthew 20 and Matthew 23.

“But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Matthew 23:11–12 LSB

Paul, in his great love for this petulant group of squabblers, says:

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
1 Corinthians 4:14–16 LSB

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Peacock: Sri2161k. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
1F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1977) 195.
2,3Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1971) 8, 11.
4Alexander Strauch, If You Bite & Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict (Lewis and Roth Publishers, Littleton CO: 2011) 17.
5physióō, HELPS Lexicon, The Discovery Bible. Retrieved 05 March 2023.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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