The Church belongs to God. Scripture describes Him as planning it (Matt 25:34, Acts 15:14-18, Eph 3:4-7, Rev 13:8), purchasing it (Acts 20:28, Eph 1:7, 14, 1 Pet 1:18), building it (Matt 16:18, Acts 2:39, 47), preserving it (Jn 10:14-15, Eph 5:26-27), and indeed, owning it (2 Cor 4:5, Eph 1:22, Titus 2:14, 1 Pet 2:9). The Church – in both its universality and locality – exists to glorify Him (1 Cor 6:20, 10:31, 1 Pet 2:9-12, 4:11, Rev 15:2-4). That’s why division in the Church is so serious (Rom 16:17, 1 Cor 1:10, Eph 4:1-6, 1 Pet 3:8-9). That’s why humility in the Church is so important (Phil 2:5-13, 1 Pet 5:5-7). God does not share His glory with any man (Isa 42:8), and the Church – along with all the people, possessions, and programs within it – exists for God’s glory.
In his letter to the world-weighted church in Corinth, Paul begins by dealing with division (1 Cor 1:10-4:21). He identifies their error (1:10-17), distinguishes the wisdom of God (1:18-31), and defends his own leadership of the Corinthians (2:1-3:4). And in his final argument on the topic of division, Paul aims to destroy the self-importance of men in ministry (3:5-23). I’ve divided this passage into three simple principles to guard against the sin of self-importance. We’ll look at one principle each week over the next three weeks. These posts certainly aren’t a full exposition of 1 Corinthians 3, but more of a “guided walk” through the text. I pray that reading this proves as profitable to you as writing it was to me.
Men Do Not Bring About Church Growth (3:5-9)
They are only servants.
“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.” (1 Corinthians 3:5)
Whenever men have an inflated view of their own role in ministry, they’re bound to find themselves caught up in sectarian conflict. But Paul knows his place in the kingdom of God, even if his Corinthian “followers” do not. He is essentially echoing Luke 17:10 here: “We are unworthy slaves; we have only done that which we ought to have done.” We are so quick to find idols! If we are laypeople, our pastors are easy targets. And if we are pastors ourselves – well – our selves are easy targets. Remember these words of Spurgeon: “Christ did not redeem His church with His blood [so] that a poor sinner, a mere man should be set upon high to be admired by all the nations and to call himself God’s representative on earth. Christ has always been the only head of the church.”
They are only cultivators.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
Some of the Corinthians favored Paul the church-planter, and disdained Apollos the church-strengthener. We are sometimes so similar. We look back with rose-tinted glasses upon our favorite teachers who’ve since moved on, and look with scorn upon the pastor struggling to shepherd us today. But Paul’s point is this: no man can bring about your spiritual growth – no matter who he is, how long he’s around, or what kind of preacher he is. It is always God who grows and matures His people (Jn 3:27, Phil 2:12-13, Jas 1:16-18). Once we accept this truth, we realize how ridiculous it is to depend on a mere man to grow our love for God, our love for Scripture, our love for truth, or our love for the Church (Ps 62:8-9, 86:11, 118:8-9, 119:33-40).
“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:8-9)
It’s not that shepherds are without responsibility. As Paul puts it at the end of this section, “it is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor 4:2). Men are simply the elect means by which God Himself is cultivating His own field – or to use another analogy, building His own house. And even so (this is our second principle): men do not lay the church’s one foundation. Part 2 will examine that truth, as we move on to verses 10-15 next week.