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.
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.1 Corinthians 3:1-23
Our But GOD series is about to come to a close next week. It has been good for us to look at how God interjects Himself into our lives, our timelines, to change our futures as only He can.
If we are saved, it is only because He brought us from death to life. We can look back on our lives and see how we were once following after the course of this world and spiritually dead but God made us alive and gave us eternal life (Ephesians 2:4, Romans 6:23). Had God not interrupted our life with His grace, mercy, and love, we would still be dead and without hope.
If we are followers of God, there have been (and will be more and more in the future) situations that are difficult. There have been and will be battles, sorrows, tribulations, trials, and even suffering. But God stays true to Himself and His promises to care for those who are His (Nahum 1:7).
Yet with all the but God moments in our lives, we seem to suffer from spiritual amnesia. We allow good times and seeming successes to fool ourselves into thinking that we got here because of our own efforts – our own steam. In our amnesia, we re-write our history to make ourselves the hero. Sometimes, our re-writing the narrative makes others the heroes of our spiritual journey, but, while God definitely does use His people to meet the needs of others and point people to Him, there is no hope in human effort unless God interjects Himself and His power into the situation.
Paul, Apollos, or Jesus?
As I write this, it is Columbus Day – or Indigenous Peoples Day – or maybe it is the day we are supposed to remember that the Vikings landed centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two (and that the Native Americans were, well, already native). There seems to be a discrepancy in who we attribute this holiday to or what we are supposed to be remembering. But where are those protesting the wrong attribution by going to work?!?!
Today’s passage shows that there were people whose testimonies (church word meant to describe one’s personal testimony regarding how they once were lost sinners but God saved them) had attribution problems, too. Rather than sharing what God had done in their lives, they argued over the celebrity preachers of their day – Apollos or Paul.
Thankfully, Paul sets a good precedent for us in that he seeks only to glorify Jesus and the work done by His Spirit to bring people to the Father! Paul genuinely believed what he wrote to the church at Galatia: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). He reminds the Corinthian church of their spiritual immaturity (vv. 1-2) and highlights that their problems are not spiritual but merely human (vv. 3-4).
I love the way that Paul explains it and the way his questions show how ridiculous it is to even consider himself or Apollos in regard to salvation (v. 5): “What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” He then answers his rhetorical questions: they are just servants (v. 5) and nothing compared to Christ (v. 7).
When the church at Corinth had testimony issues, Paul chose to remind them more about what Jesus had done than his meager efforts in serving Christ and spreading His gospel. He does not defend his efforts. He also does not diminish Apollos’ work, either. He simply seeks to magnify Jesus. One of them planted the gospel through preaching, sure. The other watered the seed through additional preaching and discipleship, absolutely. But the only sure thing in the entire equation – the Son’s Light to the sowing and watering – is that “God gave the growth” (v. 6).
He continues on to discuss the work of Christ in making believers His temple and how that temple is built up through the effort of God’s servants, yet the attribution remains consistent – followers of Christ carry out the mission He has given (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8) but God alone saves, God alone brings people from death to life, God alone blesses the work and grows believers into the image of His Son (Romans 12:2).
What About Us?
It would be easy to turn this around and make it all about us – our problems, our difficulties, our spiritual mistakes and foolishness, but I want to zero in on what Paul shared with the Corinthians: “but God gave the growth”.
As you look at your life and think through your testimony, to whom can you attribute the spiritual growth in your life?
Maybe you look back at your life and you find a string of your own efforts and failures instead of seeing the hand of God working things out. You may even find that you do not have a testimony because you might not be saved (born again, regenerated). In that case, rejoice because the seed of the gospel has been planted. Someone preached and you heard. Hopefully, you feel God’s Spirit convicting your heart of sin and drawing you to His grace, mercy, and love through what God has done for you in Jesus. If that is the case, all you must do is “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” and “you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Once a lost sinner cries out to God, praying for Him to save them, their testimony begins with that but God moment.
Maybe you are saved, but you have found yourself caught up in what you have done or what others have done. We must remember that, just as our works cannot save ourselves, our works and efforts cannot save others. We cannot follow after celebrity and find the same solace as following Christ. We cannot celebrate plans and methods over trusting in God to complete His saving work as only He can because even the best of human wisdom – as much as we might try to redeem it – is “folly with God” (v. 19). Rather than boast in men, let us boast in Christ and what He has done, and, when we see God’s people doing God’s work, let us rejoice in Him all the more that He is working through His people – that those who once were dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) are now living and working through the new life that God gave them through Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10)!
So, this week as you go through life, be thankful for the work of the Apolloses, Pauls, and Cephases in your life. Be thankful for those who pointed you to Christ. There are more in my life than I could hope to mention. But they do not want their names listed here. Many of them have gone on from this world and are worshiping the Savior they pointed me toward in their lives.
Hopefully, you will get to plant the seed of the gospel in some lives this week or get to water some that have been planted by others. Most importantly, I hope we get the opportunity to point some people to Jesus who is so wonderful that those who find Him forget about us entirely.
As for me, I hope to be like this quote from Count Nikolaus Zinzendorf – who I know nothing of save this quote: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten”. Forgotten because I pale in comparison to the One I seek to point to. Yet remembered by Him when I come into His Kingdom because He “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20)!
Hallelujah, and Amen!