THE MINISTRY AT CORINTH
1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9
I was a lot younger when I read Mark Twainís novel The Prince and the Pauper. It told the story of two boys who were the exact same age and who, though unrelated, bore an uncanny resemblance to one another. One boy was of the lowest strata of society. He was a beggar and the son of a beggar. The other boy was the crown prince of England, the son of the king and the heir to the throne.
By chance, the boys met one day and decided that it might be fun to change roles for the afternoon. The beggar boy donned the royal robes while the young prince put on the beggarís rags. Their resemblance was so close that they could not be told apart.
The story goes on to tell how the two boys were separated. The little beggar found himself in the palace while the young prince was cast back into the dirty streets. They each proclaimed their true identity, but in each case their protests were met with disbelief. After all, the young beggar who was wearing the clothes of the prince looked every bit like the prince whose place he had taken. Neither did the young prince who was dressed in rags have the look of royalty about him. The rest of the book tells of their adventures as the young prince attempts to regain his proper position.
The Corinthians were a lot like that crown prince. They were sons of the king and co-heirs with Jesus Christ and possessor of every spiritual blessing. But they had changed their royal robes for the rags of beggars. They had traded their lifestyle of the believer for one that suited the unbeliever. The resemblance was uncanny. To look out their outward manner of life, you would not have been able to tell the difference between them and the pagans of Corinth.
It is to this end that Paul addresses the church at Corinth. He points out to them that they have the look and the actions of those who are of the flesh.
THE FORMER CONDITION OF UNBELIEF
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
Before Paul can point out where the Corinthians are now in there spiritual life, he first wants to go back to the point of their conversion. He pictures their original condition to that of babyhood.
When Paul first came to Corinth, he did not fine a full grown church awaiting him. He did not find a church of any kind. What he did find were those whose hearts had been prepared to hear the message of the gospel. He simply preached and they believed. It is for this reason that he begins this chapter by calling them "brethren."
Paul says that he was not able to address the Corinthians as spiritual men, but only as men of flesh and babies in Christ. This brings us to an obvious question. What does it mean to be a "spiritual man" and what is a "man of flesh" and a "baby in Christ"?
I want to suggest that these terms can only be understood in the light of the context of the previous two chapters. Throughout those two chapters, Paul has been contrasting Godís wisdom with the wisdom of the world. He has been contrasting the outlook of the Christian with the outlook of the unbeliever.
Sees the message of the cross as foolishness.
Sees the message of the cross as the power of God.
Those who are perishing (1:18).
Those who are being saved (1:18).
Tried to come to know God through his wisdom (1:21).
Came to know God by the preaching of the cross (1:21).
The Jews ask for a sign and the Greeks search for wisdom (1:22).
But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness (1:23
The wisdom of men (2:5).
The wisdom of God (2:5).
We have not received the spirit of the world (2:12).
We have received the spirit of God (2:12).
The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God (2:14).
But he who is spiritual appraises all things (2:15).
Now as Paul begins this next section, the contrast will continue. It will between those who are of this age versus those who are of God. It will be between the natural man and the spiritual man. It will be between the one who has partaken of the complete and mature wisdom of God versus the person who has merely dabbled in the wisdom of men.
When Paul first came to Corinth, he did not find spiritual men there. There were no believers in Corinth. There were none in Corinth who had heard and believed the gospel and who had the Holy Spirit.
The people of Corinth had originally all been men of the flesh. When it came to the message of the gospel, they were babies. When Paul came to Corinth, he gave them baby food. He gave them the gospel.
The milk that Paul gave to them was the gospel. This brings us to a question. If milk represents the gospel, then what does solid food represent? What is the difference between milk and solid food?
I believe that they BOTH refer to the gospel. Milk represents the preaching of the gospel that is directed to the natural man. Solid food is that preaching of the gospel that is directed to the man who has Godís Spirit.
What is the difference between the two types of teaching? I think that it is primarily one of degree and depth. To the natural man we preach the gospel so that he will believe and come to Christ in faith. To the spiritual man, we preach all of the intricacies of the gospel so that he can grow in his faith.
When Paul preached the gospel to the Corinthians, he did not try to explain all of the depths of that message. He made it simple so that they could understand its simple message.
What is the simple message of the gospel? It is the message of the cross. It is the message that God became man and came to earth to die on a cross for our sins. It is that He died and rose again from the dead. It is that we can receive His free gift of eternal life through faith in Him.
THE PRESENT CONDITION OF INCONSISTENCY
...for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3-4).
Now Paul turns from the past condition of the Corinthians to their present condition. He says that the two conditions are not notably different. Although they are now Christians, they are still acting as though they were unbelievers.
The Corinthians claimed to be spiritual men but they were acting like fleshly men. They claimed the name of Christ but they were acting like pagans. They claimed to be citizens of Godís kingdom, but they were acting like Corinthians.
A Christian is one who has been born again into the family of God. If he is a member of Godís family and if God is his father, then there ought to be a family resemblance. There ought to be certain family traits that are evident in his life.
He ought to be righteous as God is righteous.
He ought to be holy as God is holy.
He ought to be loving as God is loving.
He ought to be forgiving as God is forgiving.
The Corinthians were none of these things. They were manifesting none of the family traits of their spiritual Father. Instead of being spiritual, they were fleshly. Instead of walking like Jesus Christ, they were walking like mere men. This was evidenced by the fact that there was jealousy and strife among them.
The divisions that existed within the church of Corinth were evidence of the fact that they were fleshly.
Do you want to know whether you are fleshly? It is very easy to find out. How do you get along with other Christians? This is a spiritual barometer. If you often find yourself at odds with your Christian brothers and sisters, then it is probably because you are of an incompatible nature. Flesh never gets along with spirit. They are always at odds.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17).
The flesh has different desires than the Spirit. The flesh has a different outlook than the Spirit. The flesh has different goals than the Spirit.
The Corinthians could not get along with one another. Instead of unity and love, there was jealousy and strife.
Notice that jealousy and strife are mentioned together. There is a reason for this. Jealousy is an inward attitude of the heart. It is an attitude that says, "I want to have better for me than for my neighbor." You cannot see jealousy. You cannot see an attitude. You can only see the visible effects of that attitude. The visible effects of jealousy is strife. The reason that there is strife in the church is because there is jealousy in the church.
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. (1 Corinthians 3:5).
Paul sees the cure for a divided church in taking our eyes off people and putting them back on the Lord. We are often inclined to take Christian leaders and place them up on a pedestal. We give them titles like "reverend" or "pastor." But this is not the Biblical picture that we see of the leaders that God raises up in the church. They are ultimately servants.
Although Paul held the office of apostleship, he refers to himself here as a servant. The Greek word for servant is
Paul viewed himself as a servant of God. A servant is nothing special. He is merely one who carries out the will of his master. No one starts a movement around a servant. You do not build statues to honor a servant.
If you were to be invited to the house of a rich man for a lavish banquet, you would not send a thank you note to the servant who served the meal, but to the master who invited you.
It is a fitting analogy. A servant of God is one who serves the gospel. He did not make the gospel. It was not his creation. He simply serves what God has provided.
Paul and Apollos were merely servants who were given an opportunity to serve. Notice who it was who gave the opportunity. It was given by God. There is a wonderful truth here. It is that God is the one who makes it possible for a man to believe. If you have come to trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then it is because God gave you opportunity to believe. He brought the gospel to you and He also brought you to the gospel.
"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
Jesus says that the reason men come to God is because He has drawn them. Why is this? Because men will not come on their own initiative. The natural man does not seek the things of God. The flesh does not desire the things of the Spirit.
If a man comes to Christ, it is because God has done a special work in that manís heart. And by the same token, if a man grows in Christ, it is because God has given the increase.
GOD CAUSES GROWTH
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
The reason you ought to view Paul and Apollos and any other Christian leader as a mere minister is because they were never able to cause growth. Only God can do that.
Paul uses the illustration of a farmer. He can plant the seeds in the ground. He can pull out the weeds. He can water the plants. He can harvest the fruit. But he cannot cause growth. Only God can do that.
The modern scientist, in all of his magnificent wisdom, still cannot make a seed that will grow into a tree. Mister evolutionist, eat your heart out. It takes God to produce growth.
MINISTRY IS A TEAM EFFORT
Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:8-9).
Now we come to another aspect of being a servant. It is the principle of the unity of Godís servants. We are ONE and ministry is a team effort.
The cause of Christ would be completely revolutionized if Christian leaders believed this principle and lived accordingly.
The work of ministry is designed to be a team effort. Do you know what a team is? It is a group of people who work together to achieve a common goal.
Take the example of a football team. If each member is not working together, they cannot hope to win. Can you imagine what would happen if the linebacker said, "Iím tired of trying to stop that defensive tackle from getting to the quarterback. I think that this time I am going out for a pass." Would it make a difference to the entire team? You bet it would!
We are involved in a team effort and the actions of each member on the team affects every other member. Is there a part of the team that is not supporting the rest of the team? If this is the case, then the whole team will suffer. There will only be strength within the church when the members of the church are working together in unity.
At the same time, we should also remember that there is also a certain amount of diversity within a team. Just as a football team is not composed exclusively of quarterbacks, so also there is a diversity within Godís team.
Paul alludes to this truth when he says that he planted while Apollos watered. They did not both plant. Each had his own task. They were not in conflict with one another. Hey were complimentary to each other.
Even though we are involved in a team effort, each of Godís laborers will be paid in accordance with his own labor. Notice that it does not say that each laborer will be rewarded according to what he accomplished. There are a lot of Godly men who labor with great diligence and yet who seem to accomplish very little. Jeremiah was such a man. He preached for 40 years and no one listened. But his reward is not according to his accomplishments. His reward is according to His labor.
This is important for you to know. You may not be able to accomplish a lot. You may not be filled with natural talent. I know that I am not. If I focus only on the visible results of my labors, I will be inclined to become discouraged. But God promises to reward me on the basis of my labors. If I do not see the results that I expected, He says, "Thatís okay, John. I can see the bigger picture and I am going to reward you accordingly."
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