Paul returns to his confrontation of the Corinthians for their pattern of breaking into various factions around certain teachers and leaders. The passage in chapter one includes Peter/Cephas, who is not mentioned here, as well as a group who identified themselves only as “of Christ.” We are merely guessing, but perhaps some of the following characteristics might give some idea as to how these various factions thought.
The first group that favored Paul probably liked his aggressive, type-A personality and style of getting straight to the point and doing things boldly. These were probably those who were the early-adapters to technology and iPhone applications. The git-r-done types.
The group that preferred Apollos was likely the highly-educated and sophisticated crowd. Apollos was the university dude. Surely his teaching was very deep and the crease in his trousers perfectly slick. Every word was well-spoken. He oozed classiness and gravitas.
Peter likely appealed to the blue-collar crowd – the Teamsters Union types in the transportation industries of trans-peninsular shipping. He was raw and rough, rugged and personable. Likely he also appealed to those who had a long-standing connection to the Old Testament Law – Peter coming from that tradition and having been a close associate with Jesus.
I’ll let you all sort out which of the three of these relate to the three primary teachers we’ve had here at TSF over the past decade. Maybe you’ll see Chris Wiles as the blue-collar Peter, Tim as the university dude, and me as the aggressive Apostle Paul!?! (insert smiley face and other appropriate emojis)
And then there was a fourth group – the Christ Crowd. Probably this group was turned off by the antics of the other three factions, but due to their critical and condescending posture they inadvertently ended up having their own high-minded, erudite clique.
Whatever, it was a mess. And Paul essentially says to them: “you’ve got issues; repeat after me, ‘I’m a mess, you’re a mess.’” Actually, here is what he specifically wrote …
1 Cor. 3:1 – 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?
What Paul is doing here is bringing to the front of their understanding that this issue of divisions among them is a spiritual one that does not speak well of their maturity. They should have been bigger and more advanced than to become bogged down by something so terribly silly as preferring one leader over another and becoming groupies.
They were still “worldly,” acting like the people around them rather than being different and living by the power of the Spirit … acting like mere infants in Christ. They thought they were so mature and that Paul had given them deep truth, when in fact, Paul had been actually rather basic. Just like a baby in our infant nursery is not ready yet for Texas Beef Brisket and would choke on it, they weren’t ready for deep doctrine (like what we’re going to have this summer with our series “The Dog Days of Deep Doctrine)! What I’m saying is that they were not really ready to live life like Ezekiel Elliott plays football for the Cowboys! (insert here his “feed me” video with a first down sign!)
Such quarreling was simply not the way they should be behaving. He calls it merely human, and they should be thinking and acting on a higher, spiritual plane.
To illustrate this, Paul brings these “iconic teachers” down to the appropriate earthly level so that the eternal gospel of life in Christ can be emphasized correctly…
1 Cor. 3:5 — 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.
After some years away from growing a garden, I grew a few things this past summer. I’m always amazed when that little packet of seeds that could fit in your shirt pocket grows an entire row of plants filled with fruit. And it really grew this past year! Should I feel really proud of myself for planting those seeds? For watering them? (not that anyone needed to do that in 2018!) No, the miracle is that a little seed grows into a big plant.
And so it is with the seed of the gospel message. One person may plant it with a communication about the gospel and another water it by giving some further explanation about that truth, but the real miracle is when it takes root in the life of a person and they are united into the kingdom of light and life … even producing more fruit.
A couple of times in the last year I’ve had instances of people communicating with me about how they came to Christ during my time at the previous church in New Jersey … or that they grew in some way and are now serving in ministry. One of them who contacted me is a person I can barely even remember. Diana’s uncle passed away a couple of weeks ago at age 88, and I asked her about what she knew of when he and his wife came to faith. Diana reminded me that they did it in our house in Texas 40 years ago! I had forgotten that.
See, it’s not about the messenger, it’s all about the message. Messengers come and go; the message is the eternal and timeless Word of God embodied in the gospel message of Christ’s work. All of us – not only the career types like Tim/Trent/me – have a job to know and communicate the gospel. Sometimes we have seeds in our hands, so we plant them. Sometimes we find ourselves with the bucket or hose, and we water the plants around us. We’ll be rewarded someday for that faithfulness.
Paul says explicitly here who we all are … we are co-workers … and he finishes the metaphor about agriculture before transitioning to a building metaphor that we’ll look at tomorrow …
1 Cor. 3:9 – For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Yes, we are in it together … in the big things and the small things, planting and watering. Just be faithful today with the next opportunity at hand to serve God.