This morning we turn our attention to 1 Corinthians chapter 3. This is somewhat of a continuation of what Paul talked about last week, which was the problem of conflict caused by spiritual immaturity. In this passage, Paul addressed the Corinthian church as brothers—he cared for them, and wanted them to hear what he had to say.
In order for us to understand what Paul was saying in this passage, we have to know the history of the Corinthian church. We find the back-story of the Corinthian church in Acts chapter 18. Paul came to the city of Corinth and began to preach there, as he did in every other city he visited. He stayed for about a year and a half, planting a church in Corinth. After Paul left to continue his missionary work, a well-educated man named Apollos showed up, and after being instructed by some of the leaders of the church (Priscilla and Aquila), he began to preach boldly about Jesus.
When we understand that Paul went into the city of Corinth as a missionary, what he wrote in verses 1 and 2 makes more sense.
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
When Paul first came to Corinth, he bottle fed the gospel to them. He didn’t get very deep into theology; he just stuck to the basics, because that was all they could handle at that point. Paul wasn’t chastising them because they only got the basics at that time—Paul was chastising the Corinthians because they were still at that level, they hadn’t moved at all. And that was what was causing problems in the church.
Paul was telling the people what they were doing wrong, and why they were having problems in their church—but I think we can also look at this passage from a slightly different perspective. We can look at it and ask, “What do we need to do to avoid the problems the Corinthian church was having?” I think there are two primary principles that we can draw from this passage.
The first principle is that we should grow up. We talked about this a little last week. Spiritual maturity means more than just learning a whole bunch of facts. Spiritual maturity means that we have the mind of Christ—moving beyond our former way of thinking and acting to think and act the way that God wants us to.
I came across a neat quote from John MacArthur this week that sums up the difference between worldliness and spiritual maturity quite well.
The church has often thought of worldliness only in terms of dancing and alcoholic drinking, and the like. But worldliness is much deeper than bad habits; it is an orientation, a way of thinking and believing. Basically it is buying the worldly philosophies, buying human wisdom. It is looking to the world—to human leaders, to influential and popular people, to neighbors, associates, and fellow students—for our standards, attitudes, and meaning. Worldliness is accepting the world’s definitions, the world’s measuring sticks, the world’s goals.
What we need to learn is that as a church, we must grow up. As long as we buy into the world’s philosophies and the world’s way of thinking and believing, we will have the same kinds of problems that the world has!
So, we can see that it is important for us to grow up in our thinking and in our actions, but the question is, how do we go about that? I think there are three basic ways of working at growing spiritually. The first is to spend time learning about who God is and who we are.
Learning about God and Ourselves
We have questions about all sorts of different issues today—and we almost always know where to go to find the answer. We go to the internet to check facts, to a doctor to find out about a nagging pain, to a mechanic to find out what’s causing that noise, a plumber to know what’s causing the leak, a heating/cooling person to know why we’re freezing. We have no problem seeking out the answers to our questions—we go to the experts. But where do we turn to learn about God and about ourselves?
There are all sorts of “experts” we could go to for answers, such as the internet, Dr. Phil, psychology classes, or friends, but often times that would be like asking your plumber to tell you what’s wrong with your neck. It’s really outside of his expertise. We need to seek the expert to learn about God and ourselves. God is the expert, so we need to look to the Bible for these answers. The problem that we often face is that we know the Bible has the answers, we just don’t know how to get them. So let me make a suggestion to help you.
Ask yourself four questions whenever you read a passage of Scripture.
1. What does this passage mean? In other words, what is the author driving at? What is the main idea of the passage? What was the reason he was writing this?
2. What does this passage teach me about God? Does it teach me about his character? Does it demonstrate his power? Does it teach me about God’s track record?
3. What does this passage teach me about myself? Does this passage teach me about my purpose? Does it teach me about my position before God? Does it teach me about how I should behave?
4. What changes do I need to make as a result of this passage? In other words, in light of this new knowledge, what needs to be different? Do I need to change my theology—the way I think about God and the world? Do I need to start doing something? Stop doing something? What do I need to change?
We need to interact with the Bible. When we ask questions, we will interact, and we will grow. It’s ok if you come away with more questions than you started—be aware of those and seek out the expert for the answers. You will surely grow.
If you think about a twelve-step recovery group, you know that they all have one thing in common—they only work if you are honest. The first step is always to admit you have a problem. And, those who attend these groups will tell you that unless you are willing to be honest, you are going to fight the battle alone.
We often feel that we have to hide things from one another. We don’t grow because we don’t want anyone to know what we’re really like. So we pretend, and we face our battles alone. We don’t grow because we are too busy hiding. Before we can be honest with each other, we have to be honest with God. We have to come to him and tell him what we’re dealing with and what our struggles are. Many people think they can’t be honest with God either, but the fact is God already knows our struggles and what we’re thinking—we don’t need to hide those things from him.
Over the years, there has been a lot of teaching on how we should pray. Some of it is helpful, and some is not. Many of you may have heard that you are supposed to pray according to the ACTS acrostic. The ACTS acrostic is the idea that we should focus on Adoration of God, Confession of our sins, Thanksgiving for what God has given us, and Supplication, or presenting requests to God. This is a great model, but the problem is that if you are focusing on following the ACTS acrostic, or any other formula, you are focusing on getting all the right parts in rather than talking to God.
So let me encourage you to simply be honest with the Lord. Be honest about your struggles, about the areas where you are confused, about the sins that trip you up most often—don’t try to put a positive spin on them or rationalize them. Present your struggles honestly and God will give the strength and perspective you need to overcome them.
The third thing that we should do in order to grow is to do what we are told. The world gives us all sorts of rules to live by, and we understand most of those rules. We follow them because they make sense to us, or because we know there are consequences for disobeying. We stop when we see red lights, we pay taxes on everything. We know we can’t shoot some animals and can shoot others. We know we are supposed to recycle our cans and our plastic. We may not always understand the reasons behind the rules, but we still follow them. God has given us rules to live by as well. When we follow his rules (even when they don’t make sense to us) we will grow. When the rules of the world and the rules of God come into conflict, follow God’s rules—for we are seeking spiritual wisdom, not worldly wisdom.
When we are obedient to God’s commands, we will also see that he knows what he’s talking about. We don’t see the big picture like God does. Believe it or not, God actually sees the big picture even better than Congress. We need to trust and obey his rules. It is often not until we have followed the commands that we understand the reason for them.
So the first principle to learn from this passage is to grow up. The second principle that we should learn from this passage is to fulfill our purpose.
Fulfill Your Purpose
Paul addressed a specific problem in the Corinthian church in verses three through nine.
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
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. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
He was returning to the problem he first mentioned in chapter 1. The Corinthian church had started to divide over which teacher they liked best. They were fighting over who the best pastor was. Paul’s explained the root of the problem by using an analogy that would have been easy for them to understand. It’s an analogy that’s easy for us to understand as well. Paul used the illustration of a farmer.
Now, some people look at this passage only in terms of evangelism, they say some people plant seeds (they get to make the first contact with non-believers), and other people water the seeds (help guide them along to the point where they will become Christians.) This is a popular viewpoint, but I don’t think it is correct. Remember that Paul was talking about the church in Corinth. I think it is better for us to look at this passage and conclude that some people help others get started in their faith, and some help people grow up in their faith.
Let’s really look at this illustration. Paul said that he planted and Apollos watered, but God made the seed to grow. This is really a pretty simple illustration to understand. Paul was telling us that he and Apollos were like farmers—Paul’s job was to go and plant the seeds of faith. Apollos came along later and helped to water the seed. Farmers know that both things have to happen in order to have any sort of harvest.
Many of you are out in the fields at this time of year bringing in the crops. What would have happened if you didn’t plant any seeds this spring? Nothing! You’d be pretty bored (and probably poor) at this time of year. If all you did was put out fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides, you wouldn’t have any harvest. In the same way, what would have happened if you took the summer off? What if you just planted the seeds, but did nothing for them—if you planted the seeds but didn’t give them fertilizer or spray pesticides or herbicides? The chances are that some of your seeds would grow, but your crops wouldn’t be nearly as strong as they would be if you had tended to them.
This is the point that Paul is driving at. He is emphasizing that we have two primary jobs to do—we need to plant seeds, but also to help them grow. It’s tempting to look at this passage and say my job is to plant, or my job is to cultivate—but that’s not really what Paul is saying. Sometimes the farmer needs to plant a seed, and other times he needs to cultivate it—but he needs to do both jobs.
It is also important that we not get discouraged in our work. I am amazed at the way many of you approach farming. I’ve talked to some of you during droughts and asked how you were handling it. The response is usually, “This is how farming works—you do the work and pray the harvest is good.” You can’t worry about the weather, because you can’t control it. The same is true with spiritual farming. Our job is simply to plant the seeds and to cultivate them—our job is not to make the seeds grow. We can’t get discouraged if we don’t see the results we’d like to see, because God is in control of making the seeds grow. This should be an encouragement to us, because we just have to worry about doing our job the best we can and we can leave the results up to God.
You may find yourself agreeing with me up to this point, but I suspect you’re probably wondering how we do this. What does it mean to plant seeds and to water them? Planting seeds is when we share the message of the gospel with someone else. This doesn’t have to be standing on the street corners preaching—it can be much simpler than that.
- Offer kind words and caring to a friend who’s suffered a loss
- Tell your waitress how much you appreciate her service
- Talk to the person that is being ignored—ask them about their life
- Ask someone if there’s anything you can pray about for them—then pray
Watering seeds is simply helping other Christians to grow in their faith. This too, can take on a variety of roles. You don’t have to be a preacher to help people grow in their faith. You can:
- Find a place to serve in the church
- Bring your friend to Sunday School or Bible study
- Encourage the person who you’ve seen growing or serving
- Pray for the person you know is going through a tough time
- Bring up spiritual things in conversation with other Christians
This certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, so be creative. Look for ways that you can share the message of the gospel with someone else, but also look for ways that you can help believers grow. You aren’t responsible for the results, you’re just responsible for going.
The church in Corinth was facing all sorts of problems, and we should learn from their problems so that we don’t repeat them. It’s important for us to grow spiritually, through spending time learning about God, talking to Him, and following his commands. It’s also important for us to be farmers. We are to do the work that is necessary to prepare for the harvest.
I want to challenge you this week to put this into practice. I want to challenge you to either plant or water a seed this week. Fulfill your purpose in some way. Now, I’m not challenging you to do this “sometime”, I am challenging you to do this at least once this week.
Look for some way to either plant a seed or water a seed, whatever is needed at the time. Each of us has a job to do, so let’s do it. There are all sorts of people that you can plant seeds with. I would encourage you to think about the people you encounter each day. Do something to let them know you appreciate them, do something that shows Christ’s love to them. Talk to them about their life a little. Be attentive, God may have put you in contact with this person so that you can plant a seed.
- Is there a waitress you always have? Plant a seed.
- Does the same person always ring you up at the store? Plant a seed.
- Do you see a specific person each day? Plant a seed.
- Is there someone who comes to your house—a babysitter, repairman, the cable guy, the men laying cable in town? Plant a seed.
- Is there someone you talk to on the phone? Plant a seed.
- Is there a close friend you’re going to see? Plant a seed.
I’ll admit, this is scary—but it’s also important. We have to trust God enough to do what we’re told and plant seeds. We have to trust that if we plant seeds, He will make some of them grow. We simply have to do the work.
I’d also encourage you to look for ways to water the seeds that are already growing. Look for people that you can encourage, who you can help to grow in their faith, and water the seed.
Some of you will balk at this and say, I can’t do it! I don’t know what to say or what to do. Let me challenge you to trust God. You may not know exactly what to say, but that’s ok. God is the one who makes the seed grow—and he will use your efforts. A lot of people say that they are scared someone will ask them a question. If someone asks you a question, answer it honestly. Sometimes you won’t know the answer—that’s ok. In those situations, I’ve discovered a response that works really well—better than anything else you could say. Just say, “I don’t know…but I’ll find out.” Then find out and go back—and water the seed you planted.
I want to challenge you to put this into practice this week. Plant or water a seed and then fill out the card that’s in your bulletin. Write down what you did and see what you can learn. Then, bring the card with you to church next week. My challenge is that you work at these things. We have been given the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the Corinthian church—let’s put what we learn into practice, or else we’ll fall into the same trap.