… you are God’s field God’s building (1 Cor 3:9)
As Paul continues to explain the underlying reasons for the factions and dissentions in the Corinthian church, he moves from explaining the first reason – a misunderstanding of the source of power and wisdom in the Gospel message – to the second reason – a false concept of the Christian ministry. We will cover this argument which extends from chapter 3 verse 5 to chapter 4 verse 5, in the next three sermons.
After thoroughly exposing and instructing the church as to the source of their worldly ideas regarding the wisdom and power of the Gospel message, and then plainly rebuking them for their worldly, pro-Paul, pro-Apollos party spirit, in the first four verses of chapter 3, Paul then transitions to discuss the proper role of Christian ministry and its place within the church. The Corinthians were ignoring two important truths about Christian leaders.
First, that Christian leaders are servants – a word used of table waiters – not a high and lofty word they would associate with the great orators in the Corinthian world. The servant status of Christian leaders is consistent with the idea that they are not to be given any allegiance that is reserved for God alone.
And second, God cares about His church and holds his leaders accountable for how they build it. One can sense the tension here as church leaders are servants, but yet accountable for how they lead the church.
Paul makes these two points with two analogies – an agricultural one (“parks” 3:5-9a) and an architectural one (“buildings” 3:9b-15). Finally he warns them (3:16-17) with a strong rhetorical question, that they must not allow their petty partisanship destroy God’s temple.
Let’s first visit the “Parks Department.” Read verses 5-9 and see how Paul describes God and his workers. How is this description humbling? How is this description unbelievably exalting? Have you ever followed a man, either intentionally or unintentionally? Christian leaders are supposed to be examples to the flock, but they may be exalted beyond what they are. Servants do not gain their position by ambition or “natural gifting,” but they are given a specific assignment by the Lord. How do these verses safeguard us from making too much of the men we follow.
Now let’s visit the “Building Department.” Read verses 10-15. In his planting the church in Corinth, Paul laid the foundation, and since then, others have built upon it, but it is the building project as a whole that is important. So it is foolish to focus the praise on one or another of the builders who contributed to the project. Yet at the same time, the text places a heavy emphasis on the accountability of the builder. He must lay a foundation that is Jesus Christ and the Gospel alone, and then must build rightly upon foundation, or else suffer loss in the judgment.
Can you see the blunt application to the Christian minister today who uses things, other than the Gospel to build the church? What are some of the “wood, hay and stubble” materials, other than the Gospel, that churches have been built with in our day?
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