But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 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? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.(ESV)
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God's, God's, God's
Wednesday of Epiphany 3
28 January 2015
The church is God's creation and possession. None of us creates her. None of us sustains her. Paul the Apostle puts it so clearly: "only God gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building" (1Co 3:7-9). The primacy and indispensability of the work of God is set forth in what Paul wrote to the cantankerous Corinthians. How easily they fell into favoritism with regard to their leaders. They were inured with a party spirit. They loved to boast of their favorite preachers: 'Paul is greatest.' 'No, I follow Apollos.' Paul destroyed their party spirit by pointing out that they are God's. All is God's. Verse 9 is quite pointed in its structure, placing the word "God's" as a cantus firmus upon which the church and her faith are founded (it sounds a bit like the Star Wars character, Yoda): "God's fellow workers we are, God's field, God's building you are." God has the primacy; in every case He comes first.
This is true whether we are talking about the workers, leaders, and pastors or the people who are gathered around the word and sacraments by their preaching. The people, the message, and the messengers are God's. We are not our own possession, but God's. The message is not our own, but God's. The messengers are not ours to tout and champion, but God's to use as He sees fit. The "human way" is to attribute to the humans the growth of the church. If we judged by our sight and sense, we might come to that conclusion; that we cause the growth. But we Christians are not to judge on the basis of what we see or perceive, for we walk by faith, and not by sight. If we judged by reason and sight, the cross of Christ would become of no effect to us. Who Christ is as a Crucified God is intimately tied with what we believe about the church and her existence. The church is a creation of the cross. The nails and wood of Calvary have been refitted to create God's building (1Co 3:9) . The ground splattered by water and blood make God's field and push up the heads of faith all round. We believe what God has said about His church, how she is built, and how she grows and is sustained.
You can see how adamant Paul is about this, because he refers both to Apollos and himself with the offhanded and mildly insulting "What?": 'What then is Apollos? What is Paul' (1Co 3:5)? Notice it is not the milder and more kindly: "Who?" No, Apollos and Paul are both servants, instruments in God's hands to serve God's purposes, God's mission. Recently, I heard of a pastor who promised his congregation that he would never be gone from the parish for more than one Sunday per year. Of course, the pastor thought this was a good thing, and so did his church members, at least at first. But the people of the church became aware that this commitment was more about the pastor's desire to control the entire life of the congregation. Finally, it left people wondering who was in control of their church. The pastor thought he was. The members, of course, thought they were. But they were both dead wrong. Everything is God's. Both pastor and people. We are God's servants. You are God's building, God's field. How beautiful it is when both pastor and people know the One upon whom they depend, and whose they are.
"Not even this small thing itself was from themselves (1Co 3:5), but from God, who put it into their hands. So that they would not say, 'What then? Are we not to love those that minister unto us?' Paul says, 'Yes, but you should know to what extent. For this thing is not from their teachers, but from God, who gave it.'
"Paul is saying 'I first cast the word into the ground; but, in order that the seeds might not wither away through temptations, Apollos added his own part. But the whole was God's.' Observe the manner in which Paul calms them, so that they should not be too irritated, on hearing, 'What is this person,' and 'What is that person?' 'Both are invidious, namely, both the saying, 'What is this person? What the other?' and the phrase, that 'neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything' (1Co 3:7). How then does he soften these expressions? First, by attaching the contempt to his own person, 'What is Paul, and what Apollos?' and next, by referring the whole to God who gave all things. For after he said, 'Such a person planted,' and, 'He that plants is nothing,' he added, 'God gives the growth.' Nor does he stop here, but applies again another healing clause, in the words: 'He who plants and he who waters are one' (1Co 3:8).
"For by means of this he establishes another point also, namely, that they should not be puffed up against one another. His assertion, that they are one, refers to their inability to do anything without 'God who gives the growth' (1Co 3:7). Therefore, he permitted neither those who labored much to lift themselves up against those who had contributed less; nor those who contributed less to envy the former. Since this had a tendency to make men indolent, I mean, all being esteemed as one, whether they have labored much or little. Observe how he sets this right, saying, 'But each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.' It was as though he were saying, 'Fear not, because I said, You are one. For, compared with the work of God, they are one. However, in regard to labors, they are not so, but 'each will receive his wages according to his labor' (1Co 3:8)."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 8
O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For the Board of the Luther Academy, that its members would use the Lord's wisdom in directing the Academy's work in 2015 and beyond
For Jim Keller, that he would be strengthened in his body as he recovers from back surgery.
For Philip Swanson, who is recuperating from a back injury, that the Lord Jesus would send him healing and a full recovery
For Pastor Sagar Pilli of the Telugu language mission of Memorial Lutheran Church, that the he would be blessed with the support necessary to fund his work
Art: CARAVAGGIO The Conversion of St. Paul c. 1600
© Scott R. Murray, 2015