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"Workers Together In God's Field"
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Wednesday AM Bible Study
April 18, 2007
Our passage this morning begins with the words, "And I . . ."; which indicates a continuation of his previous subject. Paul had just spoken to the Corinthians in his letter of the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in being enabled to discern spiritual truth (2:9-16). He affirmed that he didn't seek to speak according to patterns of worldly wisdom; but that he did speak wisdom "among those who are mature" (2:6). Now, he speaks of his frustration that the Corinthians were not yet in that category; "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual people . . ."
In this new chapter, he corrects the Corinthians's misunderstanding concerning the human teachers under whom they were forming divisions. He shows them that this habit "stunted" their spiritual growth, and made it impossible for him to speak to them as mature believers they ought to be.
I. UNDUE ATTENTION ON HUMAN LEADERS IN THE CHURCH STUNTED THE GROWTH OF THE BELIEVERS (vv. 1-4).
A. Paul felt frustrated, because he could not speak to the Corinthian believers as spiritually mature (vv. 1-2).
1. He had to speak to them as those who were "carnal" or "fleshly". They were focused, not on matters of the Spirit, but on matters of the flesh. As a result, they remained in the condition of being "babes in Christ."
2. Note that they were "in Christ". But they were not yet in the place of maturity that they should have been (see also Hebrews 5:12-14). Thus, they had to be fed "milk" and not strong, nourishing, solid meat. Milk is good (1 Peter 2:2), so long as it helps us to grow up to be eaters of solid food.
3. Even now, they were not yet where they should be. It was acceptable when they were brand new Christians to be in such a state of immaturity; but for them to continue in that state was the indication that something was seriously wrong.
B. They were, in fact, still "carnal" or "fleshly" in their behavior because of their conduct with regard to human leaders in the church (vv. 3-4).
1. Paul speaks boldly. "You are still carnal." The proof he offers is their conduct; that they are characterized by "envy, strife, and divisions" (see James 3:13-18). They are behaving like "mere men" as opposed to men and women made new by Christ and brought under the rule of the Holy Spirit.
2. Paul asks them if this is not proven by the fact that they say, "I am of Paul", or "I am of Apollos". This is evidence that they are, in fact, still "fleshly" in their conduct— which is inappropriate to those who should have gone on to maturity.
II. THE NATURE OF HUMAN LEADERS IN THE CHURCH MADE THIS UNDUE ATTENTION INAPPROPRIATE (vv. 5-9).
A. Paul stresses the subordinate position he and other leaders hold under Christ (v. 5). Paul asks who he is and who Apollos is. His question implies that they are not anything in and of themselves. Rather they are simply "ministers" (diakonos; which originally meant "table waiters"—see Acts 6:1-6). They were nothing but servants of another. The service they rendered was to deliver the gospel that the Corinthians believed. But even the fact that they believed that gospel was credited to God's grace; for they believed "as the Lord gave to each one".
B. Because it is God who does the work, the "ministers" who serve under Him should not receive the credit (vv. 6-7). Paul was as one who planted the seed. Apollos was as one who watered the soil. Their roles were important; but it wasn't their work that actually brought about the growth. It was God who gave the increase. So then, neither Paul nor Apollos deserved credit. They are simply servants of the One who gave the increase— God Himself.
C. Because they are under the One who does all the work, the human leaders should not be pitted against each other, but should be considered "one" under Christ (vv. 8-9). Because they both serve together under Christ, neither should they be separated and made the heads of distinct sects. Together, they are one under Christ; and each will receive the reward for his labor from Christ Himself. They view themselves only as God's "fellow workers"; and the Corinthians as God's "field". (Paul switches metaphors and calls them God's "building"; which serves as the content of his words in verses 10-23).
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The body of Christ may be composed of individuals from lots of different traditions and heritages in the faith that were organized by men: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc. And yet, if Christ is kept as Lord, and if God's word is faithfully followed as the sole rule, then the best of those different heritages can be brought into the mix as a part of what helps us all to exalt Christ and keep His word more faithfully.
But when those heritages take precedence over Christ and His sure word, divisions are sure to follow. May God keep us from such division by keeping Christ first.
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