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1 Corinthians 3:1-9 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.

Background

In our verses, Paul makes some not so nice comments about the people in the Church of Corinth. Apparently, they had the wisdom that Christ died for them on the cross but he says that there was more wisdom from God than just the cross. Paul’s rather brash statement is that this wisdom is spoken only by “the mature.” His implication is that the Corinthians are not “mature” so he could not speak to them as spiritual people. Instead, Paul viewed them as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (3:1). The most dramatic part of these comments is that the people in the church viewed themselves much different, as wise, mature people.  Paul’s assessment goes contrary to their own self-assessment of how much they really understood about Christ and how they lived in Christ.

The people in the new church in Corinth took tremendous pride in their Spiritual gifts, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12-14. But those gifts themselves were not being used as the Gospel commanded them. Paul tells them later in his letter that to be a Spiritual person, they need to function as if they really are participating in the life of the resurrected Christ (15:44-49). To be “in Christ” is, by definition, is to be a (Holy) Spiritual person. Paul is telling them, bluntly, to grow up.

Paul is careful here not to blame himself for their lack of maturity. He lays the blame clearly at their own feet (3:2-4). Paul brings the Corinthians back to the simple measure of their lives together. “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh?” (3:3). Paul then argues that the heart of our Christian identity must be our oneness in Christ. They should be demanding an end to jealousy and quarreling among themselves. Paul then inserts a new person into his discussion, Apollos is first mentioned as a Christian preacher who had come to Ephesus (probably in AD 52 or 53), where he is described as “being fervent in spirit: he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John”. Priscilla and Aquila, a Jewish Christian couple who had come to Ephesus with the Apostle Paul, instructed Apollos. Apollos, with his natural gifts, had attracted a following among the church in Corinth, but  their simple admiration was growing into divisiveness. Against Apollos’ wishes, there was a faction in Corinth that claimed him as their spiritual mentor, to the exclusion of Paul and Peter.

Paul proceeds to put his and Apollos’ ministries in proper perspective. Different leaders in the church should not be seen as competing parties, but as co-workers performing complimentary tasks for the achievement of a common goal. In 1:21 Paul had contrasted God’s wisdom with the world’s by saying that God saves by means of the belief that comes when people hear the word of the cross. Now, he urges the Corinthians to see that both he and Apollos are servants through whom the Corinthians have come to such believe (3:5). Their message and goals are the same. Paul places both himself and his competitor Apollos on the same side of God’s wisdom and the gospel. Rather than villainize Apollos, Paul insists that the only way to rightly interpret the work of God in Corinth is to see that both of them have been working together, under God, to build the church.

Paul uses two metaphors to help the Corinthians imagine his and Apollos’ complimentary ministries. He goes on to show the essential folly of their actions with their glorification of human leaders. First, he depicts himself as the one who scattered the seeds and Apollos as the one who cared for them by watering them. However, Paul is quick to state that any growth is only from God. God is the only one in that is worthy of allegiance (3:6-7). If Paul and Apollos are one, united in their work for and with God (3:8-9), where does that leave the Corinthians? They are the field over which the leaders are working (3:9), or the building they are helping construct (3:9-12). The Corinthians need on both of them, and should not be aligning themselves with one against the other. The pressing question then becomes, are the members of the church of Corinth willing to see their own division and quarreling as the fruit of immature spirits rather than of righteous conflict? Do we Christians today fall into that same immaturity. Are we willing to use the the cross as our measure of the world rather than measuring the people of cross against the behavior of the world?

In these verses, Paul is speaking from his personal experience. He was, by necessity, a foundation layer and was always on the move. He stayed for eighteen months in Corinth (Acts 18:11) and for three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31); but in Thessalonica Paul only stayed less than a month, and that was far more typical of his travels. There was so much ground waiting to be covered; there were so many people who had never heard the name of Jesus Christ; and, if a fair start was to be made with the evangelization of the world, Paul could only lay the foundations and had to move on. It was only when he was in prison that he could stay in the one place. We can think now of Paul as a foundation builder. And what was that foundation based on?

  • Paul found forgiveness for past sins. He found himself in a new relationship to God and suddenly discovered that Apollos is his friend and not his enemy. Paul discovered that God is like Jesus; where once he saw hatred he now sees love, and where once he saw God as distant and aloof,  he now sees God’s tender mercies.
  • Paul found strength for the present. Through the presence and help of Jesus he found courage to cope with life, for Paul was now no longer an isolated unit fighting a lonely battle with an adverse universe. Paul lived a life in which nothing could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus his Lord. Paul walked life’s ways and fought its battles with Christ, not alone.
  • Paul found his hope for the future. He no longer lived in a world in which he was afraid to look forward but in one where God was in control and all things worked together for the good of Christ’s Church. Paul lived in a world where death was no longer the end, but only the prelude, the beginning of a journey to greater glory. Paul saw that without the foundation of Christ no one could have none of these things.

Paul saw his work as the foundation others would build upon. This should be our goal and work too. We can be seed planters, we can carry the water, and tend the garden so that when Christ comes again, the harvest will be large and fruit filled.

Items for Discussion

  • Where do you see today’s competition, both in and outside the church that causes division?
  • What would Paul say is the goal for fixing any problems associated with that division?
  • How should the modern day Christian Church organize itself to minimize conflicts like those in the Church of Corinth?
  • If one were Apollos, how could he have behaved differently to minimize the division?
  • What does it mean to use the the cross as our measure of the world rather than measuring the people of cross against the behavior of the world?
  • What are the seeds, be specific, that Paul is asking us to plant?
  • How would you describe “Watering” and “Tending” of those seeds with respect to Paul’s metaphor?
  • Where are the examples within our congregation that we see the planting, watering and tending? 
  • How can we help those areas be more effective in their roles?

Discussion Challenge

  • What can we learn by Paul’s style and method of conflict resolution?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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