Summary: Paul, Pt. 5
WHEN ELEPHANTS RUMBLE (1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-15)
An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, grass gets trampled.” When elephants rumble, not only grass suffers the damage, animals run for cover, too. Elephants do not throw their weight around for nothing. According to Wikipedia, the grizzly bear weighs 1,720 lbs., the white rhinoceros 7,937 lbs., the hippopotamus 9,920 lbs., but the African elephant weighs 16,534 lbs.
The largest elephant on record weighed about 24,000 pounds (10,886 kilograms) and was 13 feet (3.96 meters) tall! Wild elephants eat all types of vegetation, from grass and fruit to leaves and bark— about 220 to 440 pounds (100 to 200 kilograms) each day. They also drink about 30 gallons (113.5 liters) of water each day.
Building a church is hard enough without bigger than life characters causing a stampede in church. Often, there are conflicts, disagreements and misunderstandings. In the church at Corinth there were two 600-pound gorillas and 2,000-pound elephants by the name of Paul and Apollos. Their followers were displeased with each other, disrespectful to each other and distant from each other, adding to the two men’s stress, straining the fellowship in the church, neglecting the work of the gospel, hurting the name of the church and rejecting the suggestion of possible reconciliation.
How should leaders, coworkers and groups within the church work together? What causes divisions and factions? What can we do to build up and not tear down one another?
Prize Good Motivation
3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Cor 3:1-4)
During a service at an old synagogue in Eastern Europe, when the Shema prayer was said, half the congregants stood up and half remained sitting. The half that was seated started yelling at those standing to sit down, and the ones standing yelled at the ones sitting to stand up. The rabbi, learned as he was in the Law and commentaries, didn’t know what to do. His congregation suggested that he consult a housebound 98-year-old man, who was one of the original founders of their temple.
The rabbi hoped the elderly man would be able to tell him what the actual temple tradition was, so he went to the nursing home with a representative of each faction of the congregation. The one whose followers stood during Shema said to the old man, “Is the tradition to stand during this prayer?” The old man answered, “No, that is not our tradition.”
The one whose followers sat asked, “Is the tradition to sit during Shema?” The old man answered, “No, that is not our tradition.”
Then the rabbi said to the old man, “Please help us! The congregants fight all the time, yelling at each other about whether they should sit or stand.” The old man interrupted, exclaiming, “THAT is our tradition!”
The church is a hotbed of conflicts, as witnessed by the church in Corinth. Paul chides them as worldly and infants (v 1). The word “worldly”– “fleshly” in Greek, not “cosmos” – occurs merely 11 times in the Bible, four times in this passage alone (vv 1, 3, 3, 4 – “men”). Mostly, the world is contrasted with what is spiritual, godly and holy (Rom 7:14, 15:27, 1 Cor 3:1, 9:11, 2 Cor 1:12). A fleshly or worldly person is a slave to sin (Rom 7:14). He is selfish, superficial and self-righteous. He does not seek the things of God, to grow in Christ or the good of others.
Paul addresses the Corinthians as infants, crybabies and adolescents. An infant is ne-pios in Greek; ne- is negation and epos is “word,” so a baby does not speak a word. He babbles and cries; he does not speak. An infant talks gibberish and makes noise. Babies do not walk, they crawl. They need to wheeled in their strollers, strapped to their baby seats and helped to their high chairs. Worse, some need to be constantly carried in the arms or rocked in the arms.
A baby loves his baby formula, toys and pacifier. Solid food will make the infant choke, vomit and sick. Babies sleep, eat and poop. They crave attention; they won’t leave you alone and allow you to sleep or rest. Other negative portrayals of the “infant” in Greek include the inability to talk, think and reason like a man, in 1 Corinthians 13:11. In Ephesians 4:14, he is tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. In Hebrews 5:13-14, unlike the mature man, the babe cannot distinguish good from evil.