Letters to the Corinthians: The Leaders are Followers, Too

Today it’s all of 1 Corinthians 3:

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. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

At least we get a reference to how bad the division is – it’s lead to jealousy and quarreling. I just wish I had a context to anchor it into experience. Almost every church I’ve ever attended, there has been one pastor. I don’t know if mega-churches and their half-dozen associate pastors tend to create the same sort of dynamic or not: “I prefer Pastor Smith’s teachings.” “Clearly Pastor Green’s insights are superior.” “Are you saying that Pastor Clay’s work is inferior?” The closest I come is when we had to decide whether to talk to the deacon whose theology was hostile to our own or wait for the deacon with friendly theology to return to resolve some questions we had. We were worried that the hostile deacon wouldn’t listen to us as he already believed that our theology wrong and his theology was right and we knew that the friendly deacon traveled too much to be able to fight our corner where our theologies agreed. The other thing about this passage, to use the vernacular – that’s quite a burn. “I can’t talk to you like adults when you’re like this. You’re spiritual infants and aren’t ready to be addressed like spiritual adults.”

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. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

It seems that these days we all have our favorite pastors, for many C.S. Lewis might make their list, for others it’s a virtual who’s-who among today’s most popular pastors and speakers that wander throughout the nation giving instructional and inspirational sermons from churches and conferences from Alabama to Wyoming and then overseas for good measure. Paul’s reminding us not to look to our celebrities as our leaders, but to the one our leaders serve and whose teachings even they follow.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

I’ve always heard this passage to be a test of an individual’s work, but it seems to be more of a test of a ministry. The former places an emphasis on (1.) what works I do and (2.) how I do my works, the latter is more of a test of the (1.) soundness of any given ministry and (2.) how ministries are built. Given the number of ministries that have imploded in recent years – from sexual sin, to arrogance and pride, and for embezzling or mismanagement, one would think that this passage would ring all the more true when the scandals break loose. Some people are ‘the ends justify the means’ sort – they need to read this passage most of all: if you’re building a ministry that the means involves wounding fellow believers, then know that the ‘ends’ will be that you will suffer loss and barely make it into heaven. It doesn’t matter if it results in a multi-campus mega-church with hundreds of thousands of followers that brings in millions of dollars worth of money for the cause of Christ – just because somebody achieves worldly success it doesn’t mean that they’re spiritually successful as well.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

Paul shifts the discussion from building to destruction, from a foundation to a temple. I find it interesting how highly he’s holding the Corinthians – from worldly infants to being the temple. That’s a tall order. But he doesn’t want them to get conceited about it just yet.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

This section quotes from Job 5:13 and then Psalm 94:11 –
He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.
The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.
So here he settles the matter and wraps up his thought: First, don’t rely on human wisdom – that’s foolishness. Instead, be foolish so that you’ll be spiritually wise. Second, Apollos, Peter, me, whoever we belong to Christ and Christ comes from God. You can’t go wrong with him on your side. Incidentally, this brings up the count to 25 mentions of or references to Jesus.


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