Back at the turn of the 4th century, the Emperor of Rome Diocletian, began persecuting Christians in North Africa, he did this by resending their religious rights. The Christians were told that they had to worship the Roman gods and give up their Scriptures to be burned. This was the tenth great persecution of the Church under Roman rule, and is considered one of the greatest Christian persecutions of ancient times.
Some bishops of the Church are said to have rejected Christ and when the persecution was over, many Christians were said to have questioned their faith. The thought was, if I received salvation under a bishop who then renounced Jesus, is my faith true? The bishops that came in afterward assured the Christians, that their faith didn’t rest on a bishop’s faith, but rather their own trust in Jesus.
But it’s this very idea of going through a spiritual leader to gain God’s good gift of salvation or to receive God’s goodness in general, that brings us to back to our summer study in the book of 1st Corinthians, where we’ll be picking it back up in chapter 3, verse 1. And as we return to 1st Corinthians 3:1, let’s catch ourselves up to where we’re at in the book so far.
In our first week, we opened the letter of 1st Corinthians with Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian Church to be united. There were several issues that were happening in the Corinthian Church that were causing divisions, and Paul decided to write to them so that these divisions could be dealt with and that unity could be restored.
The first of these divisions was over leadership, with several groups holding up a certain teacher as the one who had greatest authority. Yet, as we walked away from this first week, we saw Paul calling the church in Corinth, and us, to realize that having human teachers is good to help us, but they should never take the place of Jesus himself. In fact, a good human teacher is one that points us continually back to Jesus.
This led us into our second week where Paul focused on having the wisdom of God over the wisdom of the world. He challenged the Corinthians to reject the world’s wisdom and to fully embrace God’s. Because we cannot hold onto the wisdom of the world and couple it with the wisdom of God. This is because they are incapable with each other, and in the end, one will overtake the other. Paul calls us to allow God’s wisdom to prevail in our lives, but that means we need to reject the world’s wisdom.
Now, as we look back on these first two weeks and we move forward this week and next, we must realize that in these first four chapters, Paul is still dealing with the issue of leadership. Holding onto godly wisdom will aid us in determining which human leaders we should listen to, and which ones we should reject.
With this now in the forefront of our minds, let’s dive into 1st Corinthians chapter 3, starting in verse 1.
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Paul points out two realities in these fifteen verse. The first is his audience’s situation. They think that they have embraced the wisdom of God and rejected the world’s wisdom that Paul has mentioned, but in reality they haven’t. Paul tells them that they are infants in Christ, and being infants, they require milk and not solid food. It’s a simple analogy. Just like a baby needs milk when they’re young because their digestive track cannot handle solid foods, so too a Christian who is young in the faith needs to have milk teaching until they can digest more hearty teaching.
So what’s that mean? It means that there are rudimentary teachings of the faith and there are advanced teachings of the faith. Before we can understand the advanced, we must understand the rudimentary. And Paul gives us one of those rudimentary teachings, and what is that? Jealously and quarreling about who to follow. But it’s deeper than that. It’s not just, I like this person’s teachings and not that one’s. It’s a miss understanding of the basic purpose of those who God brings up to lead his people.
This is that second reality. Paul gives us to analogies of what work a leader does in the lives of others, but let’s focus on the first. Starting in verse 5 Paul gives us a simple dichotomy of what those who are leasers are supposed to do. The dichotomy is simple, there are planters and there are waters. That’s it. Paul says that some plant, meaning some share the Gospel, we would call them evangelist, and some water, meaning they teach or disciple those who have heard the Gospel. Can someone both plant and water? Yes, but there are only these two aspects of godly leadership.
This simple dichotomy of the believer’s work in the Gospel process is spoken about by Jesus in places like Mark chapter 4. In Mark chapter 4, we are given three parables about seeds. The first and third of these parables fit within Paul’s dichotomy of what the believer’s work is. The first is the Four Grounds parable; where there are four types of ground that the seed, or Gospel, is spread on. Three of which are not conducive to the Gospel’s growth, whereas the fourth produces a crop that dwarfs all others. This parable was given to the disciples to let them know that as they share the Gospel, people will respond in different ways. The third of the parables is the Mustard Seed parable; Jesus explains that the mustard seed is small, but it’s growth into a large plant is drastic. This was to communicate the fact that even a small planting of the Gospel can produce enormous results. Paul picks up these ideas of the believer’s work. Paul both plants and waters the Gospel in people’s lives, as does Apollos. In fact, every believers is called to plant and water the Gospel in the lives of others in some way.
But then at the end of verse 6 Paul says, “…but God has been making it grow.”
This is Jesus’ parable of the Growing Seed. Jesus tells of farmer who plants his seed and then goes to sleep. While the farmer is asleep, the seed begins to grow. Slowly over time the seeds grows into a plant ready for harvest. The farmer didn’t make the seed grow, but rather simply planted and watered it. The implication from Jesus’ parable is that his followers simply plant and water the Gospel, but it is God working behind the scenes, that is growing the Gospel in people’s lives.
Paul picks this idea up and let’s the Corinthian church know that neither Paul nor Apollos have grown anything in the lives of the people, but rather it is God himself who has done this. Paul’s point is a rehash of the point he made earlier, we can have human teachers that plant and water the Gospel in our lives, but we must always make sure that God himself is our first teacher, never replacing him with someone else.
But Paul doesn’t end there. In fact, he gives us a greater insight into just what God has grown in our lives. Let’s drop down to verse 16 and read.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
It’s here that Paul lets us know of two things that God has and is growing in our lives. The first is God’s temple. Now, this isn’t a temple in the sense of a building. The church building that we meet in is not a temple, and in fact Jesus in John chapter 4, verses 23-24 moves beyond temples or even physical locations where God meets his people and instead brings it to the gathering of his people where true worship happens. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 that, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The presence of God is where his people are. And so Paul tells the Corinthian Church that they, gathered together in unity, are God’s temple. If they then chose to live in jealously and quarreling, they are destroying God’s temple in their midst. This leads to a harsh rebuke by Paul in verse 17, where he says, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person…”
But that’s not the only thing that Paul says God is growing in the people’s lives. And in verse 21, after Paul writes, “…no more boasting about human leaders…” he writes, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours…”
When I first read this, I began to wonder, what does Paul mean by all things are yours? What does it mean that Paul and Apollos and Cephas and the world and life and death and the present and the future are ours?
Then it hit me, Paul’s teachings are from God, so are Apollos and Cephas’. So then, I can accept them. They are good for my growth and the growth of others. The world is mine, in that God created it and I can enjoy it as he made me to. Life and death are mine. Death has no hold on me, and though this body dies, I live! I have life in Jesus that began when I accepted him as my Savior, and it’s mine into eternity. The present is given to me by God to glorify him, and whatever is given to me I can rejoice in it, because God is with me in it. The future is mine, because God has it in his control and so I need not worry about what will happen.
Paul tells us that all this is ours who are found in Christ Jesus. This is because all things are Jesus’, and we are inheritors of all that he has.
But here’s the problem, we tend to think that our having all things is someone how connected to a human person we follow, rather than in God himself.
When Paul says in verse 4, “I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos,” what he means in the Greek is that people are saying “we are of them”. That it’s in these teachers that we find salvation. That’s why Paul in verse 26 says, “…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”
Pointing us away from being of any teacher, but rather of Christ who is God.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Christian leaders, mostly on TV, say, if you send me “x” amount of dollars, God’s going to bless you. Now, is there a connection in giving where God calls us to give and blessings? Yes, but is our blessing connected to a human leader, or is it connected to God himself? If we are living as if our relationship with God, or blessings from him are predicated on what human leader we follow, then we are living as an infant in the faith. Just as the Corinthians were doing. Because our faith, our salvation rests in a person and not in God himself.
We need to reject that line of thinking. That line of thinking that says, a human stands as a gateway between me and God. Paul would later write in his first letter to Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus…(2:5)”
God is calling each of us away from human leaders as the source of our relationship with him and recognize that leaders are fellow workers, fellow planters and waters of the Gospel. We can learn from them, but it is God who is our source of growth and the one who has given us all things. And so, we must not break the bond of unity, but rather be built together by God into a temple where his Spirit can dwell and be seen by the world.
My challenge this week for you is to read through Mark chapter 4 verses 1-34 and pray that God would help you plant and water the Gospel in someone’s life, that you would thank him for those who plant and water in your life, and that you ask him to grow everything that has been given to you so that you would be built with your brothers and sisters in Christ into his temple.
So then, let us join in unity, as God’s temple, seeking God’s growth in our own lives, rejoicing in that he has given us all things for his glory. Amen.