Iliff and Saltillo UM Churches
September 26, 2003
I Corinthians 3:7-9
INTRODUCTION: How many of you like to work as a part of a team? How many of you like to work on a project by yourself? How many like to sometimes be on a team and sometimes work alone? How many don’t care one way or another? I thought so.
In today’s scripture Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to become a team that works effectively for building the kingdom of God. They were gifted people. In fact they didn’t fall short in any gift but they just hadn’t learned how to best use their gifts and abilities for the good of all. Some would say, “I follow Apollos’ teaching” and others would say, “I follow Paul.” This lead to a lot of bickering among them. They really weren’t channeling the gifts to the best use. Some were inclined to think they were more important than others and that their work was more important while they devalued the work of others. Paul said, “you are acting like worldly people, not as spiritual Christians.” Paul used some illustrations from agriculture to help them understand how teamwork operates. Let’s see if we can understand how important teamwork is in accomplishing God’s purposes today. Are we a part of the team as God would like us to be?
1. Willingness to be a Part of the Team: Many believers today prefer not to be a part of the team. They say, “I’m just not a team player.” There could be a lot of reasons for this. You just might enjoy working on a project from start to finish. You might be a creative person who gets satisfaction out of seeing one part unfold and then move on to another. That’s OK.
On the other hand many things in the work of God are just too big for a person to do alone. The resources are not there for an individual to make the necessary impact. However, many people stay away from joining a team effort because of negative experiences in the past. Paul’s examples of people in the Corinthian church could be similar to what we may have experienced. You may have been on a committee where personalities clashed and you said, “if I ever get off of this committee, I’ll never be on another one.”
Story: Calhoun was a favorite ballcarrier of the local fans but on this particular day the quarterback was not giving him the ball.
As the game wore on and the hometeam was getting behind the fans began to chant, “Give the ball to Calhoun. Give the ball to Calhoun.” They were ignored.
It was the third down and the fans began to get louder and louder, “Give the ball to Calhoun.” The frustrated quarterback walked out of the huddle and motioned for silence from the crowd. He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “CALHOUN DON’T WANT THE BALL!”
Too often we prefer to be lone rangers in order to avoid differing opinions and conflict, to avoid people who want to be self important and prideful, to not have to deal with people who seem to know it all and are insensitive toward others on the team. We may feel ignored or unappreciated. Sometimes we just don’t like the work we are assigned to do on the team, and we are not willing to do it.
Story: The editor of a newspaper had been informed that power lines were down after a recent hurricane. He assigned two reporters to the story.
He said, “No one knows whether the wires are live or not, so one of you is to touch it and the other is to write the story.”
2. Why Teamwork is Needed: We have already mentioned that individual resources are not enough but cooperative efforts over time generally result in achievements far greater than what any individual could do in isolation. Paul emphasized cooperation toward mutual goals. Later in this chapter he refers to teamwork in building a structure. He says, “I laid the foundation and someone else is building on it.” The cooperative effort continues for years to come and we all have to stick together in order to realize the finished product. We have to look for ways we can help one another to use their gifts and make room for the “new kid” on the block. Make room to help newcomers gain experience and expertise as they join the team. Stick together in building one another up rather than tearing them down or crowding them off of the team.
Story: A man who couldn’t swim went fishing with his friend and after awhile caught a really big fish. He was so excited about catching such a big fish that he leaned too far over and fell into the water.
“Help! Save Me! Help! Save Me!”
His friend reached out and was going to grab him by the hair and get him into the boat. But the man’s toupee came off and he slipped back into the water. He came up again and yelled, “Help! Save me!” This time his friend grabbed him by the arm. As he pulled on his arm, it came off because it was an artificial limb. The man continued to kick and thrash around. The friend reached out and managed to grab a leg and as he pulled on it, it came off. It was a wooden leg. As the man continued to splash, calling out for help his friend disgustedly said, “How can I help you if you won’t stick together?”
Sometimes God has a difficult time helping us with teamwork because we have a hard time “sticking together” as a team.
3. How We Become Useful Members of God’s Team: God’s work involves many different individuals with a variety of gifts and abilities. There are no superstars in this task only team members performing their own special roles. We can become useful members of God’s team by setting aside our desire to receive glory and praise for what we do. People say, “if I’m not recognized or appreciated, I just won’t do anything.” Paul was saying to the people at Corinth, when you are on God’s team don’t seek the praise that comes from people--it is comparatively worthless. Instead seek the approval of God. Paul told them that as long as they grabbed at what made them look important that was the sign of a baby Christian. He said, we are all servants of God. It is God who makes things grow--Paul was good at PLANTING new churches. Apollos was good at WATERING and nurturing the people in the scriptures. But if GOD didn’t make it grow it wouldn’t have amounted to anything. Verse 8 says, “The [person] who plants and waters have one purpose and each will be rewarded according to his own LABOR...” You will notice that it doesn’t say SUCCESS. You might not always see GREAT SUCCESS in your work. You read books sometimes where “thousands” come to the Lord. People “come to the altar in droves” but you say, “I work faithfully and I don’t see this great SUCCESS>” Paul is telling the Corinthians as well as us today--each of us will be rewarded according to his OWN LABOR. Do your work faithfully as a part of God’s team. He knows and sees what you are doing. Verse 8 says, “he who plants and he who waters are EQUAL--one in aim, of the same importance and esteem yet each shall receive his own reward--wages according to HIS OWN LABOR. Our work is a cooperative effort but individually each person will receive his own reward. When you have a tendency to become discouraged, keep your eyes on the overall plan--not the individual bits and pieces.
ILLUSTRATION: We were working on a team at K-Mart in Cambridge a few years ago where there were 10 or 12 of us setting the new pantry shelves. Walter and I worked with this team for several days, and there was one girl who was hardly doing anything at all. She would go up to the team leader and was always standing around talking. She would walk around from aisle to aisle and you would hardly ever see her stocking the shelves. That irritated me, but there was nothing I could do about it. You just had to look at the big picture. One Friday afternoon the project was completed and the store was ready to open. We got our paychecks.
In the work of God there are inequities too--some make a greater commitment than others. There are things that no doubt irritate us. But we’ve got to look to the big picture. When we do our work faithfully as a part of His team, we will one day hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
1. Remember we need to be willing to serve wherever God wants us.
2. Teamwork multiplies our individual efforts.
3. We can become a useful member on God’s team by realizing that it is God who brings about the results and who is to get the glory.
Let us pray: