PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 3:5-9; The Nature of Christian Ministry

05/19 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 The Nature of Christian Ministry;Audio available at:

  1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

1 Κἀγώ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἠδυνήθην λαλῆσαι ὑμῖν ὡς πνευματικοῖς ἀλλ’ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ. 2 γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα, οὔπω γὰρ ἐδύνασθε. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἔτι νῦν δύνασθε, 3 ἔτι γὰρ σαρκικοί ἐστε. ὅπου γὰρ ἐν ὑμῖν ζῆλος καὶ ἔρις, οὐχὶ σαρκικοί ἐστε καὶ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον περιπατεῖτε; 4 ὅταν γὰρ λέγῃ τις· Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, ἕτερος δέ· Ἐγὼ Ἀπολλῶ, οὐκ ἄνθρωποί ἐστε;

5 Τί οὖν ἐστιν Ἀπολλῶς; τί δέ ἐστιν Παῦλος; διάκονοι δι’ ὧν ἐπιστεύσατε, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ κύριος ἔδωκεν. 6 ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν· 7 ὥστε οὔτε ὁ φυτεύων ἐστίν τι οὔτε ὁ ποτίζων, ἀλλ’ ὁ αὐξάνων θεός. 8 ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν, ἕκαστος δὲ τὸν ἴδιον μισθὸν λήμψεται κατὰ τὸν ἴδιον κόπον, 9 θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί· θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε.

 1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul is addressing the unhealthy immaturity of the believers in Corinth. They think they are advanced, spiritual, ready for meat doctrines. Paul points to their division, their quarreling, their party spirit, their jealousy and strife, and says that although you have God’s Holy Spirit living inside you, you are acting as if you were merely unregenerate humans, people controlled by fleshly instincts.

In mentioning the party divisions between the followers of Paul and the followers of Apollos, he is coming back to the issue he identified as the root of their problems in 1:12. The intervening chapter and a half laid the groundwork for them to understand what true wisdom is. God’s wisdom is different from man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is the cross, Jesus Christ and him crucified. To follow a leader who is not popular but instead got himself executed as a common criminal seems foolish. But this message is not only wisdom but power. God in Christ is turning the wisdom of the world on its head and bringing it to nothing. Through this foolish message he is saving people; not the wise and well-to do cultural icons, but the low, the losers, the nothings. The method of the preacher fit the message; not polished oratory, but plain proclamation of the truth, the simple facts of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was crucified in the place of sinners. This message is not able to be understood by those whose minds are twisted and darkened by sin. It is a spiritual message that can only be received by those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit of God. So we who have seen the beauty of the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, we who have received the Spirit of God so that we can understand the things freely given us by God have received a great treasure. We have been given the mind of Christ.

But although the Corinthian believers had been given this greatest of all treasures, although they had received the Holy Spirit of God, they refused to grow up. They had not passed out of the self-centered phase of infancy where all they can say is ‘mine’. Although they possessed the mind of Christ, they were not living lives of humility, love, and self-sacrifice, putting the interests of others before their own, which is characteristic of the mind of Christ. Instead they were operating out of divisiveness, jealousy and strife.

The Nature of Spirituality (2:10-16)

First, Paul had to set them straight on the nature of spirituality. A spiritual person is not a person who has achieved a more advanced level of spirituality than another Christian. Instead, a spiritual person is a person who has received the Spirit of God, which is characteristic of all believers in Jesus. The unspiritual person is the person who does not have God’s Spirit, and is perishing. The believers in the church in Corinth were simply all fellow believers at the foot of the cross. Their competitive division, jealousy and strife were evidence of immaturity.

The Nature of Christian Ministry (3:5)

Now he goes on to clarify for them the nature of Christian ministry. In Corinth, there was a tendency either to overvalue or to undervalue those who had been placed in leadership roles in the church. Some elevated their favorite minister to celebrity status and acted like groupies in their fan club; others, those who considered themselves more spiritual, asserted that they didn’t need any leader. They had a direct connection with Christ and were above the need for any Christian leadership.

Paul asks ‘what is Apollos, what is Paul? Not who but what. Not the dynamic and powerful speaker and teacher, not the plain speaking persecuted apostle and evangelist and church planter. You are rallying behind the names and persona’s of these figureheads, but what are they?

Paul shifts his metaphor from a mother nursing her newborn infant with milk to servants who wait tables to a field with farmhands, to temple construction with hired laborers.

He says that we (Apollos and Paul) are servants. Diakonoi [διάκονοι], where we get our word deacon, meant a lowly household servant. Cook the meal, serve the tables, clean up after the meal, take out the trash, prepare the next meal. You are placing us on pedestals as heroes to be worshiped, but we are servants. Servants through whom you believed, not in whom you believed. Remember, in 1:13 he asked the absurd rhetorical question ‘was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?’ Of course not! Paul did not die for your sins. Jesus did. You believed in Jesus and were baptized into the name of Jesus. You didn’t believe in Paul or Apollos. You believed through, or because of, or on account of. They were the instruments God used to bring you to faith in him. So don’t undervalue them. Thank God for them. Without them you would not have believed, as Romans 10 says:

Romans 10:14 …And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

God used them to bring you to faith in him, so treasure them, honor them, thank God for them, but don’t put your faith in them. Don’t put them on a pedestal as an object of your devotion and allegiance. Paul tells the Galatians (1:8) that if we (the apostles) flake out and start preaching a different gospel then let us be accursed! The central issue is not the messenger but the message. Many Christians talk about their favorite pastor or bible teacher or denomination as if they were almost divine and worthy of worship. Paul asks the question ‘what are we?’ and answers ‘we are servants, a means to an end, and the end is not us!’ The goal is you believing in Jesus, loving Jesus, following Jesus. We are servants pointing you to him.

This view of ministry as servants comes straight from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were eager to outdo one another. They were continually jockeying for position, and eager to secure the title of ‘great’ for themselves.

Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus holds himself up as the ultimate example for greatness in Christian ministry. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So if you want to be great, you must learn to serve others. The one who is truly great is not the one who wins the popularity contest or the one who gains the most followers. True greatness is a life of humble self-sacrificial service born out of love for others.

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.

The Lord assigned to each his role. Literally ‘and to each as the Lord gave’. We are given our assignments by the Lord. We don’t even get to pick what we want to do. Paul will say in chapter 12 about spiritual enablements for service that the ‘Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills.’ We are servants following orders. We might look around the church and say ‘I don’t like my role. I’d rather be doing what he or she is doing’, or ‘I think my role is less important or less valuable than their role, so I’m just going to stay home’ or ‘I think it would be much more effective if I did it this way instead.’ That is jealousy and strife, evidence of immaturity. At the bottom, that is rebellion against an all wise King, assuming that we know better and would arrange things better if we were in charge.

Agricultural Illustration

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul uses an agricultural illustration. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. There are a lot of factors that go into good farming, there is technique and skill and good old fashioned know-how that goes into successful farming. But even the best farmers can lose a crop. Unless the weather cooperates, all is lost. Without the proper amount of sunshine and rain, seeds do not germinate. A late frost can destroy; wind or hail can strip a field. Too much sun or too much rain can drown or scorch a crop. Success in farming is dependent ultimately on God who sends the weather.

So it is with Christian ministry. We each fulfill our God-given roles. We work hard. Hopefully we work with ever increasing skill and diligence. But only God can give growth. That is his gift to give.

Interdependence in Christian Ministry (3:6, 8)

Paul’s illustration shows the interdependence of Christian ministry. I planted, Apollos watered. Without the seed sown in the soil, there will be no crop. Apollos could water the barren earth all day every day, and the only thing it would produce is weeds. The seed has to be sown. If Paul planted good seed into dry ground and there was no water, the seed would lay dormant in the soil. There would be no growth. He who plants and he who waters are one. The Corinthians are dividing between following Paul and following Apollos. Paul says we are not in competition with one another. We are on the same team, working toward the same goal. We find out in chapter 16 that Apollos is actually with Paul in Ephesus when he pens this letter. Paul says:

1 Corinthians 16:12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

We are together, we are united, we are on the same team! Imagine Apollos saying ‘I’m so good, I can irrigate twice as fast as you can plant.’ And half the Corinthian church is cheering him on. Stop it! You’re just going to make a muddy mess. No, the field workers work together toward a common goal. The goal is a fruitful harvest for the owner of the field. Get the seed in the ground, give it sufficient water, and trust that God will produce growth.

Reward for Faithful Christian Ministry (3:8)

Paul says that ‘each will receive his wages according to his labor’. Notice that the wages are not according to fruitfulness but according to faithfulness. Because fruitfulness is ultimately up to God. Some in Christian ministry faithfully till the hard soil with little or no results. When God called Jeremiah (7:27), he told him up front that he is to speak, but the people will not listen. What a discouraging mission – knowing up front that there will be no fruit! But wages are not based on fruit but on faithfulness. Others may be sent to a field that is ripe for harvest and put in half-hearted effort and see amazing results, but they too will be rewarded not for their fruitfulness, but for their labor.

And notice who evaluates the labor of Christian ministers. The Corinthians were all about giving their opinions on how Paul and Apollos were doing. They had their critique of what they did well and what they should have done differently. Some liked one minister better than another, issues of style and personality and technique and delivery. It seems that Christians can easily become connoisseurs of teaching. Tasting, sampling, comparing, evaluating, critiquing, criticizing, condemning. We tend to think that the one who is able to evaluate and critique is the expert in the field with advanced knowledge, a sign of maturity. Paul is saying that this is not a sign of maturity but of immaturity. You are missing the main point of the gospel. When you become a critic, you cease to be a disciple.

I am human. I have a desperate desire to be liked. I want to be accepted by you. But there are times when I need to fill the role of nurse who administers medicine under the Doctor’s orders. I have to come into the exam room with a big needle and you’re not going to like me very much at all. You might cry and throw a fit and tell me what a horrible person I am for causing you such pain, but I am under orders. I could try to be your friend and get you to like me and empty the medicine down the sink. You might think I’m great for the moment, until the disease spreads and begins to kill you. In the end, that would be a great disservice to you and gross negligence in my duties. Of course I want to be liked, but it’s more important that I be found faithful, that I follow the good Doctor’s orders.

In Paul’s analogy, the church is the field, God’s field. The ministers, the servants are God’s fellow-workers. The evaluation and the wages will come from the Master of the field. The evaluation of ministry, the only evaluation that really matters, is God’s evaluation. And that evaluation is coming. Paul will speak more to this issue of reward for faithful ministry in the next section.

Absolute Dependence on God in Christian Ministry (3:6-7)

Even when the planter and the waterer are in perfect harmony, even when they labor faithfully, unless God causes the sun to shine, there will be no fruit. In chapter 2, we were told that:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul is sowing good gospel seed among natural people. Apollos is coming behind and watering that seed with the water of sound biblical teaching. They are in full harmony and cooperation. But unless God shines the light of his Holy Spirit into the minds of unbelievers, there will be no germination of the gospel seed, there will be no life, there will be no growth, and there will be no fruit. So ultimately, growth is dependent on God. If I refuse to sow the gospel seed, God can hire someone else. If I refuse to water with biblical truth, God can hire someone else. But unless God’s reveals these things to us by his Spirit, there can be no life. ‘So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ Paul says ‘some of you are putting me and Apollos on rival pedestals. We are nothing. Nothing! God is everything! We are servants, hired field hands. God gives the growth. Keep God at the center of your worship. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John said:

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. … 29…Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Am I faithfully serving in the ministry I have been given? Am I humbly serving out of love for others? Am I looking to God alone for his approval? Am I serving in absolute dependence on God to give the growth? Is my joy complete when Jesus gets all the attention and I fade into the background?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~


May 19, 2013 - Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , ,

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