Summary: Now comes that chapter that many congregations would not want to hear. Let’s listen to what God’s minister has to preach to the Corinthians. Could it apply to us too?
Now comes that chapter that many congregations would not want to hear. Let’s not be like rebellious people, “Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isaiah 30:10 KJV). Let’s listen to what God’s minister has to preach to the Corinthians. Could it apply to us too?
1 Cor 3:1-4 Carnal Babes
1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
An excellent modern translation is the following: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.” (NASB) Now those are meaty words for any church to swallow. Are we ready for meat, or can we only handle milk, spiritual baby food?
1 Corinthians 3:2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
Pastors often have to hold back from delivering meatier sermons because the congregation is not yet spiritually mature enough to receive it. That is a judgment call that must be approached with prayer and wisdom, knowing that to preach only “smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10) is also not right. Paul certainly cannot be accused of that here. What did he have to say?
1 Corinthians 3:3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
This church is still “fleshly” (NASB), that is, “not yet spiritual” (CEV). Why? It is because of envying, strife and divisions. Is there this kind of “jealousy and quarreling” (NIV) in our church? What were some of its causes in Corinth?
1 Corinthians 3:4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
Partisanship is frequent in worldly politics, but ought not be found in churches except in separating ourselves from heresy. God’s people ought to be unified in the truth. The word translated as carnal here was culturally a hint of human weakness, meaning “aren't you acting just like people of the world?” (NLT), and more literally, “aren't you fleshly?” (WEB). What can we learn from different leadership personalities?
1 Cor 3:5-17 The Increase
1 Corinthians 3:5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
Each of our human leaders can teach us different lessons, but orthodox church leaders are unified in one most important function: “Servants [ministers] through whom you believed” (ESV, NASB). What are some of the different gifts of our leaders?
1 Corinthians 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
Church planters and waterers of churches often fall into the trap of thinking that growth is by human effort, even writing many books detailing human efforts that they claim will make a church grow.
The truth is that some churches have become very large preaching “smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10), using fleshly techniques and personality cults. Some churches may be the proverbial mile wide and only an inch deep, with large attendance and an impoverished spiritual diet. Some of the largest churches sadly teach a weak, watered-down gospel.
True spiritual increase in size and maturity comes from heaven. How might Paul summarize many bookshelves filled with worldly-minded church growth techniques?
1 Corinthians 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
We need to get back to simple Christian humility, that we are not the great gurus of church growth that we pretend to be. Rather, it is God who gives the increase. What does the Bible say about humility?
Does this mean that churches should have ignored Paul and Apollos? “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 KJV) Humility involves working with those over us in the Lord. Are Church leaders with different gifts to be united?
1 Corinthians 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
In the vegetable garden the planter and waterer are working for the same purpose. Likewise in the church. We need not be disappointed believing that God has no reward for us. If we welcome those who work for God, we receive the same reward as them.