“God’s Servants, Working Together”
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9,
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 12, 2017
“Hear now the words of the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Greece; as he counsels this struggling young church during the First Century.” The reading is from First Corinthians, Chapter Three, Verses One thru Nine:
3 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
“May God open our hearts and minds to a deeper understanding of this ancient writing.”
The Apostle Paul was quite the character. If you have not come to see his persona let me enlighten you. Oh, he was also a great Apostle of Christ! Without the work and actions of Paul, the movement of Christianity into the various regions of the Roman Empire would possibly have not happened. Surely, not in the fashion which it did. For this, we modern Christians do owe Paul our hearty thanks. Many of us, however, simply see him as the converted Pharisee that he was first trained as. This, in of itself, does not change the clear fact that Paul was a very salty and out spoken individual. He certainly comes to us with his biases and idiosyncrasies. Clearly, he had features, characteristics that made him quite unique. I am guessing that many of you here today know his background, but perhaps not all of us have studied about this man. Perhaps we might want to take a moment to review.
Paul was known as Saul prior to his baptism into the faith. As Saul, he was trained as a Pharisee, whom were a religious party or sect among the Jews. Highly educated, they prided themselves with strict observance of the law. /Adapted from Wikipedia/ In the Acts of the Apostles chapter nine we hear about his conversion. Prior to this “Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” /Acts 8:3/ When we find Saul on the road to Damascus he was on his way to continue his efforts to eliminate these followers of Jesus. “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” /Acts 9.a/ At that point Saul was an enemy of the followers of Jesus in every way. His conversion on the road to Damascus was startling, striking him blind as the voice of Jesus spoke to him calling out to him to become his servant. The account goes on to tell us of a man named Ananias, a disciple of Christ, who Jesus came to in a vision telling him to train Saul in the faith and baptism him. All of this occurred and Saul became known as Paul.
With this as a background, we find Paul, writing his letter to the church in Corinth. By this time, Paul has made his three missionary journeys, thereby planting the roots for new churches in the various regions of the Roman Empire, including Greece and Rome itself. One biblical educator goes on to tell us: “As we continue to study this divided church at Corinth, we read in today’s text that Paul is so frustrated with them that he calls them babies. He believes that their jealousy and fighting and factionalism is an indication of their immaturity. He wants them to be more grown up in their faith, but expresses doubt that they possess the ability to do that.” /Nikki Hardeman, Faith Element session 6/ I am not sure about you, but as an adult this type of criticism, this critique is not going to make the average person feel grateful for the feedback. However, the Church in Corinth owed their beginnings to the missionary efforts of Paul. They also were aware of the fact, that Paul was in prison, because of his work on behalf of the Christian movement in their region. Seems his colleagues prior to his conversion, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees and the High Priest were displeased with his efforts and caused the Romans to arrest him. This alone, may have caused the folks in Corinth to reflect deeply on his words and forgiven his harshness in this regard.
So, what was Paul putting across to them and how can this help us in the Modern world, and what can we learn from this? First, we need to recognize that Paul’s efforts with this small church in Corinth was that of a devoted follower of Jesus and, he was also the man who initiated the early members to come together in the name of Jesus. He taught them, he was the first to teach them about all that had occurred in Jerusalem surrounding Jesus’ ministry, his miracles and teachings, as-well-as his trial and persecution. Surely, Paul told him about the crucifixion and the accountings of his resurrection, the sightings by the Disciples and his own conversion experience. Paul taught them everything he knew about Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. He had high hopes for that church. And, as a worldly man, he had worked hard to get them started. He wanted them to be successful.
Apparently, the fellowship in Corinth had fallen on hard times, primarily caused by their own doing; they had become jealous of one another. Paul sharply condemns this childish attitude. “For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?” /I Corinthians 3:4/ They were quarreling over this. Paul was a teacher an evangelist for the good news of Jesus the Christ. Apollos was from Alexandria, one of the larger cities around the Mediterranean Sea. He was a Jewish Christian, a contemporary of Paul. He, like Paul played an important part in the development of these early Christian churches in the region. The primary differences between the two was that Apollos knew only of the baptism of water through John the Baptist; whereas Paul taught of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. And Paul said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. /Acts 9:2-6/
Paul does not, and he did not, condemn the work of Apollos; rather he contrasts Apollos work among them different then his own, and that both he and Apollos are but workers for the Master in heaven, meaning Jesus, meaning God. Therefore, in their childish behavior they had missed the greater point, which is the work of Jesus the Christ, and being followers in his footsteps, and practicing his teachings… was and is the goal. Paul clearly tells them: “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” /1 Corinthians 3:9/ A preacher named Charles H. Spurgeon, back in the 1800s sums this up saying, “…if the whole farm of the church belongs exclusively to the great Master Worker, and the laborers are worth nothing without him, let this promote unity among all whom he employs. If we are all under one Master, do not let us quarrel.”
For us this simply means, we are each assigned differing tasks within the church body, based on our skill sets and resources. We all work for the common good. We hold up only ‘One’ to whom we serve and seek to follow, that is Jesus the man from Nazareth, whom we believe to be the Christ, the Messiah, the very Son of God. In another one of Paul’s letters, which we believe he wrote after the one in our reading today, he speaks more clearly about this point. “Now concerning spiritual gifts brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were heathen, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you may have been moved. Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. /I Corinthians 12:1-13/
To us modern Christians, we may not identify with all of the spiritual gifts to which Paul spoke of. That is ok, and it is not the central point. What is important, as we strive to work together in unity, is that we not become jealous, with one another, over the roles we each play within the church setting. We all have our place, our role and our responsibilities. And most of us, if not all of us, are interacting with others that also have responsibilities which, overlap, or are dependent on another’s task, job or duty. This is a common practice in most organizations – especially in nonprofit, volunteer organizations. We try not to have things or people fall through the cracks. Therefore, we do our best to pay attention to and be attentive to – all the different elements of our community and the people we serve. This means occasionally, we step on one another’s toes. Or worse still, we miss something or someone all together. The key here is we all take our roles seriously and commit to the tasks we take on. And when we miss a step… we need to come together to resolve, repair or create that which is necessary to put us back on track and get it done. The key here is this: we need not fall into the age-old trap of jealousy or assigning blame. This only leads to quarreling and disunity. This is what the Apostle Paul was trying diligently to teach the members of these early struggling churches.
Let’s review. We all want to blameless before God. We all want to be happy as we come to seek God with a pure heart. We all are called to preserver in our efforts to serve God’s church and God’s people. And most of all we strive to be happy within our lives, within the church we serve and with each other. Paul’s message is clear: don’t put each other up on a pedestal for surely someone will push them off, or they shall fall off… of their own accord. Only Christ ought to be help up in a high place within our fellowship. Christ Jesus is the one we follow. It is the people of God whom we serve. Amen.