1 Corinthians 3a
1 Corinthians 3:1-3a… And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly.
Verse one literally says, “But as for me, brothers, I have been unable to speak to you as spiritual men…” Paul has changed from saying “we” in the previous context of chapter two (where he lumped himself in with the Corinthians) to saying, “but as for me” or “but I” in verse one so as to separate himself from them and their immature behavior. Paul was growing in his spiritual maturity, but the Corinthians weren’t. In fact, their growth was stunted because they were behaving like babies who have not grown at all. In essence Paul saw himself, as it were, as a calculus teacher attempting to teach advanced math to kindergartners. As such Paul was literally “unable to speak” to them as spiritual men. Since their minds were set on the flesh (i.e., worldly wisdom and philosophies) Paul was not even able to teach them the deeper spiritual truths they so badly needed to hear. He calls them “men of the flesh – babes in Christ.” This designation doesn’t imply that there are degrees within Christianity, but it does teach that Christians either grow or remain children. These saints had the Holy Spirit, for Paul makes that very clear in 1:1-9. But, just like children do, their spiritual immaturity was leading them into divisions within their church. Their minds were set on the flesh (i.e., worldly matters).
In verse two Paul stays with the baby analogy. He gave them “milk to drink, not solid food.” The “milk” is the diet of a baby, for they cannot eat solid food. Spiritually speaking, the “milk” represents the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Corinthians understood that, but the “solid food” they were unable to comprehend. Solid food represents the continual growing in what the cross of Christ actually means. It’s far more than a historical event to be recognized, it is the wisdom of God, it is the “mystery” once hidden now revealed. Solid food increases a child’s growth, but the solid food of growing in the knowledge and wisdom of God is essential for spiritual growth. The Corinthians apparently didn’t have the teeth to chew such food, as it were. Paul berates them in saying that they are “fleshly.” Their conversion to Jesus Christ made them spiritual, but they continue to act fleshly by following after the ways of the world.
Food for Thought
Some folks will go to their death beds believing in their own freewill to choose. The only freewill man has without Christ, however, is the will to choose evil – to choose that which is unspiritual. Indeed man without Christ cannot choose Christ and the salvation he alone provides. However, when one comes to know Jesus Christ he/she gains the ability to make spiritual decisions. Indeed only then do they truly gain the ability to choose and have freewill. What a shame it is that most Christians don’t choose to grow up beyond spiritual childhood. And as a result spiritually mature teachers and preachers are left with the same problem Paul had with the Corinthians, namely, that they are “unable” to speak to audiences as spiritual men and women.
Many Christians today have attended church all their lives yet have little to no knowledge of scripture. They came to Christ but have remained spiritual babies for years. They don’t know the deeper issues in scripture, and when confronted they turn away like it’s a foul odor.
Make it a goal in your life starting today to grow up spiritually so that you can begin to understand the scriptures as they relate to life. Don’t be content to be a spiritual child but strive for maturity. Open the Bible, and let it teach you instead of you foisting your views upon it. Your life change will influence others to do the same. It all starts with you.
1 Corinthians 3:3b-5… For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
After scolding the Corinthians about being babies in Christ and not growing onto mature adult Christians in 3:1-2, the Apostle Paul gives them an example of what he means in verse three. He claims that since there is jealousy and strife among the Corinthians then this proves that they are “fleshly” as opposed to spiritual. As a result they were acting “like mere men.” This shows that believers in Christ are supposed to be a step above the way worldly people behave – those that don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord/Savior – by getting along with each other and casting out “jealousy and strife.” Jealousy translates a Greek word that sometimes refers to “zeal.” Here, however, it deals with “resentment and envy.” Of course resentment and envy almost always leads to “strife” – a word that means “to quarrel or fight.” Basically, the Corinthians were doing what many people in the modern-day church do – they were talking behind other people’s backs, spreading gossip, creating dissention, and fighting with one another. All of these behaviors are behaviors exhibited by worldly people who don’t know God and have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. But since these Corinthians did know Jesus Christ there was no place for their back-biting behavior. As such Paul was “unable” to speak to them as spiritual people, for they were acting like worldly, Godless people. Their behavior was “fleshly” instead of “spiritual,” and they were “walking” like mere men. In the NT “walking” refers to “living” or “conducting oneself.” These folks were living like mere men instead of the spiritual men and women they had been made in Jesus Christ. Hence, Paul’s sharp criticism of their behavior.
In verse four Paul picks up again the problem he spoke of in 1:12-17 where these folks were choosing between their favorite preachers and creating a split in the church. Some were following after their first pastor, Paul, and some were partial to the second pastor, Apollos. When people do this, then and now, they simply show themselves to be “mere men” as opposed to spiritual people with spiritual maturity. That first century issue hasn’t changed much today.
In verse five Paul minimizes his own importance and that of Apollos. A paraphrase translation of his question might sound something like, “Apollos and I are nothing, and we’re not worth following because we’re not the point of the underlying message.” He elaborates on their role in the lives of the Corinthians by reminding them that they were simply “servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.” In other words, God only used Paul and Apollos to get His message to the Corinthians. The messengers are nothing more and nothing less than those who deliver. They were only given an opportunity to spread God’s good Word to these lost people. Dividing over them was to miss the point entirely.
Food for Thought
Divisions are common in all churches because even though Christians worship there, it’s still made up of fallen human beings. However, we must not use our humanity to excuse our sins. The message of the cross must never be overshadowed by our petty little problems and issues. People get jealous of one another, gossip about people, and there is always a fight somewhere in the local church. Splits are common, but splits must remind us of our immaturity. Trivial disagreements ought to bring us to our knees for forgiveness and spur us on to more mature behavior. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about God. Our divisions are detrimental to all.
1 Corinthians 3:5-7… What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
In 3:5 Paul downplays his role and the role of Apollos as the former pastors of the church in Corinth. He says that they were just “servants.” While the church there was arguing over who was the better pastor, Paul says that they were both nothing but servants. “Servant” translates the Greek term diakonos which is sometimes translated as “deacon.” This word describes both a person and an office within the church. In verse five it has to do with carrying out the commands of another. In this case it’s about Paul and Apollos carrying out the commands of God to both preach Christ and to help those who place their trust in him to also grow in him.
Verse six speaks of two functions of God’s servants. First, Paul says that he “planted.” This word is used most often in the Bible to refer to planting a vineyard. Paul uses the word to illustrate his role in bringing the Corinthians to Christ. He was the one who started the church, and he planted the seeds, as it were. In other words, Paul told these people about the Christ, about the cross, and about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is the basic message, and it is just like planting seeds in soil except it’s about introducing others to the cross of Christ.
Apollos, on the other hand, watered the seed that Paul planted. Apollos was the second pastor of the church at Corinth after Paul had served there for 18 months. Apollos came in and helped the seed that Paul planted to grow by continuing the teach and preach about Jesus Christ. It is apparent that some simply liked Paul and his ministry, while some preferred Apollos and his ministry. These preferences led to the divisions that Paul is addressing in this letter.
Verse six is interesting. Even though as servants of God Paul planted, and Apollos watered, it was God that was causing the growth. In other words, seeds can be planted by some, and those seeds can be watered by others, but without the One who brings growth, planting and watering mean nothing. This is an analogy, and it obviously refers to one man/woman who tells someone about Jesus Christ (plants a seed). It refers also to the one who works with the person who hears about Christ by interpreting to them all of what God has said (the one who waters). But God is the main character. It is God who causes the growth. He doesn’t help people to grow, He causes them to grow. Verse seven sums up the whole matter. The one who brings the good news of Jesus Christ is nothing. And the one who encourages the growth of a new believer is nothing. It’s all about God who causes the growth. The rest are just servants.
Food for Thought
God is an amazing God in every way. He calls miserable sinners into His grace because He chooses to. That in itself goes beyond what man can comprehend about mercy. But God goes further in that He allows His people to be called His “servants.” As servants of God we have a task: tell others about Jesus Christ and help them understand his teachings. Christians actually get to play a part in the salvation of others through “planting and watering.” How ridiculous it is when the planters and the ones watering begin to squabble over who’s greater. Since God is doing all the work, the servants ought not get any recognition.
Remind yourself today that as a child of God you are privileged to be such but that you are simply a servant. God does all the work, and He gracefully allows us to partake in His overall plan. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s not about you, it’s about God who does all things.
1 Corinthians 3:8-9… Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
In the previous passages the Apostle Paul criticized the church in Corinth for their childlike behavior. They were divided over issues that proved their own immaturity. As a result Paul was unable to move beyond the basics of life into the real treasures that awaited them. They were hung up on worldly wisdom and worldly gain. They were babies that needed to move on to maturity. One of their squabbles was over preachers – over which one was better. Paul, a Jew, had been the first pastor, and Apollos, a Greek Gentile was the second. Some in the Corinthian congregation had come to know Jesus Christ under Peter, and it appears that a few had heard Jesus speak personally. All of this, however, had developed into a full blown church split.
Verses 8-9 speak of the two functions of Christians. First, there is “the one who plants.” Using the analogy of a seed which is buried in the ground, Paul says that the one who plants is the one who shares the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the one who tells others about the message of the cross that Jesus Christ died on. He/she instructs others about the atonement – the Bible word that describes how the blood of Jesus Christ “covers” over the sins of sinners. Second, there is “the one who waters.” In keeping with the analogy of the seed in the ground, one planted it, and the other waters it. Everyone knows that seeds without water (nourishment) dry up and amount to nothing. They need soil and water to grow properly. So, “the one who waters” is the one who teaches, who disciples, who “equips” the saints of God. Whereas the first person shares the good news and teaches about the atonement of Jesus Christ, the second person, “the one who waters,” is the one who elaborates on the atonement. He/she teaches that the one who places their faith in Christ for eternal salvation not only has his/her sins atoned for but has been regenerated, justified, and sanctified. They teach about the wrath of God, Jesus Christ’s substitutionary act of dying on the cross, and the propitiation – the satisfaction of God for Christ’s perfect sacrifice on behalf of sinners.
It doesn’t matter which job the Christian undertakes in God’s kingdom, both are one because their efforts go hand-in-hand. The Corinthians were split, but God’s family of children are one in the sense that they have the same overall task: plant and water. When they do so faithfully, “each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” God clearly rewards the faithful who labor to tell others about Jesus Christ and then help them to grow spiritually.
Verse nine elaborates and further convicts that divisions must not exist in Christ’s church. All of God’s children are “fellow workers.” They belong to Him and Him alone. In calling believers “God’s field” the analogy of the seed and water continues. God causes the growth in His field where the seeds are planted, and believers are that field. The whole thing is God’s building, and as more and more seeds sprout God’s house grows just like the seeds.
Food for Thought
Notice a few things: First, no task in the church outranks another. Those who preach are no more than those who cook meals for the sick. Second, we are rewarded for being faithful with our tasks. God rewards the labor of the workers, not the results. Your ministry may fail to bring anyone to Christ, but it’s your efforts that will be rewarded. Finally, it’s not about us. It’s God’s building and God’s doing. Let us put aside our petty little differences and come together as one for the good of the Kingdom. Got a beef with someone today? Solve it, and get over it.
The Importance of Spiritual Growth and Maturity
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
· Two kinds of people: saved & unsaved (spiritual & natural)
· Two kinds of Christians: mature & immature (positionally vs. practically)
- Maturity is determined by the diet
- Milk speaks of Bible stories; meat speaks of doctrinal truths.
- Preach the gospel to the lost; interpret it to the saved.
- Romans, for instance, was written to explain what was involved in their salvation.
· Nothing is more wonderful than a baby, but a 20 year old with an infant mind is distressing.
· 1 Corinthians 3:1-9… Division in the Ranks of the Church
- Cause: The Flesh (3:1-3a)
- Symptoms: Jealousy and Strife (3:3b-4)
- The Cure: Glorifying God (3:5-9)
Some things worth dividing over:
- The issue of the Reformation
- Doctrinal truth clearly spelled out in the Bible (not the gray areas like eschatology)
- How to interpret the Bible
- Issues surrounding church elders and leadership
· HBC is a mature church
- The giving is high
- Regular attendance is high on Sundays and during the week
- Service is high
· Issues to watch out for:
- Issues of personality between each other
- Issues surrounding the music (hymn or praise songs)
- Issues pertaining to the building (carpet color, etc.)
But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing more than drinking from a bottle. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a baby drinking his mother’s milk, content only when everything’s going your way? When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” are you not acting like babies? Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.