“We Belong to Christ”
1 Corinthians 3:1-9, February 16th, 2020
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words written by the Apostle Paul, in the first book of Corinthians, chapter 3, verses one thru nine.”
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
1 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.
“Having head the words attributed to the writings of the Apostle Paul let us now consider their meaning in the modern world in which we live.”
“We Belong to Christ”
Do you ever find yourself asking: “Who is in charge?” Take for example: You get home from the grocery store and you realize the fruit that you purchased is bad, spoiled, thus you get upset. Then you get back in your car and drive down to the store where you purchased the fruit. You ask the first store employee you see to help you with this problem. They point to customer service and say they will help you. Dis-satisfied you go there and wait behind five other folks dealing with their own issues. By the time it is your turn you want someone to give you satisfaction and quickly. You explain your situation to the clerk, he asks for your receipt which you left on the kitchen table. By now you ask the clerk for his supervisor. Eventually, you leave with a fresh bag of fruit, but as you leave you realize you have no idea who was truly in charge. The woman that resolved the issue, didn’t have one of those supervisor’s name badges, but clearly, she was part of the team and seemed to have the skills to deal with your ill humor and resolved the issue at hand without much effort.
What about the other areas of your life? Who takes the lead or who is it that seems to be the responsible person? Is it the one who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work until the job or situation is resolved? I asked someone the other day: “Who is in charge?” Their response was a clear: “Not Me!” I fully understand why the individual responded this way. It can be exasperating, annoying and yes even frustrating to be considered the go to person, especially when you did not agree to be the person in-charge. Years ago, I was working for a large firm and I was placed in the customer service department. I worked with clients primarily by phone to help resolve shipping issues and most importantly availability concerns for computer equipment which was on high demand. It was often stressful to say the least, but, my supervisor and the manager above her did not want to deal with these clients directly, every day. Thus, a service representative like myself needed to be the voice that handled the day to day issues. Many times, the client wanted to speak to the “One in Charge.” That was not something I was easily able to accommodate.
Let’s move this discussion to our own personal lives. Our work environments each have their own unique realities and issues to go through to get resolved. In our homes where do we turn for the authority to do something? When we are children it is usually our parents or our care givers, whom have the authority over our daily lives. Infants and toddlers push the limits of that authority every chance they get. It isn’t until we get a bit older before we start to respect the authority of those who look after our needs and help make the best decisions for us. Once we get into our mid-teens this begins to change. Often there are struggles between the teen and the adult who has authority over them. By the time we reach eighteen years of age, and graduate from high school, this struggle for independence that we all seek after – really begins. This continues for a few years especially if the young adult is dependent on the parent or care giver for financial support while they perhaps finish their college education. Then the scenario changes. Adulthood has begun, ready or not it happens!
We can take a parallel glance at our relationship with God. Prayerfully we have one. As infants, in a Christian upbringing we are baptized, in our custom, as infants. In this scenario the parent, the adult takes responsibility for the child being brought up… while learning about God and being taught about Jesus and all his teachings through the scriptures. This usually takes attendance at a Christian church that has some adequate level of Sunday school where the child can be properly taught. As the years pass the child may have many different teachers and may favor one to the other. This is common and one may overhear a young Sunday school student saying “Janet” was the one they follow because when she teaches, I feel closer to God. While another student gravitates toward “Fred,” because he made all of creation come “alive!’ So, she or he becomes in charge or the go to person as the child grows nearer and nearer the time of Confirmation, usually the eight-grade or around the age thirteen. It is very common for young teens and young adults to become more attached to one teacher verses another in church, and/or in spiritual guidance, as well as in the larger academic world. This happens to adults as well.
In our scripture lesson this morning, we hear the Apostle Paul speaking through his pastoral letter in Corinth, to one of the early churches way back in the beginning of the spread of the Christian way, into the world of non-Jews, and gentiles like most of us. Paul is given credit for starting many of these early churches through his journeys, his evangelical efforts to make disciples of people in the name of Jesus, the Christ. We find Paul reminding those whom he has sent his letter to that they began as infants. “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. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. /1 Corinthians 3:1-2/ One could conclude that Paul was being rather patronizing in his letter. Perhaps, either way he was communicating that when he first taught them, he treated them as infants, and they had not yet matured and accept the blessing of the “Spirit of Christ” into their hearts. He appears to start off this way ‘in an effort to’ exert his authority over them in the context of the lesson he is striving to bestow upon them.
So, what is it that Paul is concerned about here? Well, for one thing he is chiding them, expressing disapproval and urging them to act more like adults in their affairs. Apparently, there was some squabbling going on. Certainly, we can be glad this never happens in modern churches! Yet, there it is! They seem to have become confused as to whom they owe their allegiance, their loyalty to. In their case it was between Paul and Apollos; whom did they belong to or whom did they follow. A modern rendition of this could be saying you follow the teachings of Pastor Joe and others saying they follow the teachings of Pastor Mary. Or this could take on the connotation of: “Back then we were a mission focused church, not this new thing called a social justice church!” Some churches even squabble over whether their ministries are meant for only one group of people – verses ministry to all people. Look to the ancient biases of patriarchal men such as Apollos and like Paul himself, verse more modern and open thinking Disciples. Scholars and followers like Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis. Let us not forget John Dominic Crossan, nor Matthew Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr and Marcus Borg. Each of these have challenged us in our inclusivity and our scopes of ministry to others.
Paul’s concerns, as he wrote his letter, was that the church was choosing to put not only himself (Paul) and Apollos on a superficial pedestal or footing in regards to their faith verses turning to Christ, turning to God for their guidance and thus their ultimate authority – in not only their personal lives – but also in their church! In his discussion he draws on his other dissertations and critiques regarding the individuality of our gifts and talents. “I (Paul) planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” /1 Corinthians 3:6/ Paul is making this point as he seeks to redirect the focus of those to whom he speaks, just as he now speaks to us the hearers of these ancient words! He nails down his words with this sentence. “So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters (are) is anything, but only God who gives the growth. /1 Corinthians 3:7/ This, which Paul writes in the chapters of First Corinthians is further clarified in a later chapter numbered as thirteen. When brought together they crystallize his point for our reflection. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. /I Corinthians 13:4-7/
It is important that we clarify the meaning of today’s message ‘in light of’ our personal realities as a church and as individuals seeking to follow the way of Christianity in the setting of life, which we now find ourselves living in. With this as a starting point let’s review our setting. We have formal structure(s) within our ministries, which is good. These are meant to help clarify who is responsible for what. Again, this is necessary, and it is a well-recognized methodology for a church’s organizational structure. It is important that we all honor this structure as it simplifies how we are to function as an organizational, a structural unit. But we need to keep Paul’s message, his concern in the forefront of our minds. The ultimate authority for us needs always be God, and as Christians we best recognize God through the teachings of his Son Jesus. Likewise, we are empowered by the strength of the Living Holy Spirit, which is here within us as we move forward with the will of God for this community of faith!
As we bring our discussion to a close, let us be like the team member who helped the man with his spoiled fruit at the supermarket. We need to keep our minds, our actions, our attention to the goal at hand: to serve the needs of God’s people as we welcome everyone to join with us, and likewise, as we seek justice for those who have been marginalized and left behind. Being ever mindful that it is God, not we ourselves who is in charge; for we belong to Christ. Paul leaves us with his concluding sentence which brings clarity to who it is which we belong to. “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” /1 Corinthians 3:9/ We are the hands and the feet of Christ to whom we are called to follow.