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What is Paul and What is Apollos?

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Parkdale Grace Fellowship

Sunday AM, April 13, 2008

1 Corinthians 3:5-9

What is Paul and what is Apollos?

Remember from chapter 1 the divisions that were taking place in the church in Corinth as the people were elevating the church leaders to inappropriate positions of prestige and status?


1 Cor.1:12

They were boasting about which leaders they aligned with or identified themselves with as though they belonged to that leader. The people saw themselves as followers of these men who they considered to be like masters to them.

The same problem is common among us today. In fact this is a huge problem in the North American church. Many Christians become devoted followers of a particular high profile ministry. They religiously read all their books, they buy all their CD’s, they believe everything they teach and repeat what they say. This becomes divisive in a church when we begin gravitating to other disciples of our favorite teacher and avoiding fellowship with those who don’t embrace our human hero. I’ve seen people leave the church because I would not promote their favorite ministry or because I disagreed with something their spiritual hero said.

Often this devout following of a religious leader is a symptom of spiritual laziness. Rather than search the scriptures for themselves many Christians simply find a high profile ministry that they trust and let the famous man of God interpret the Bible for them. Rather than wait upon the Lord for His direction and guidance the lazy believer will just follow whatever their spiritual hero says. Rather than evaluating all things in the light of scripture the lazy Christian will evaluate all things in the light of what their mentor says.

Beware of becoming a devout follower of any man or of any ministry no matter how solid it is. This is very dangerous. We are to follow no one but Christ.

Paul once again addresses this problem that he raised in chapter one.


Vs. 4-5

Literally the Greek language says “What (not who) then is Paul, what (not who) is Apollos.” “Who” refers to our identity, but the word, “what”, refers to our function.  In terms of their identity these men, like all believers, were righteous saints, and beloved children of God. But in terms of their function they were ministers, which literally means servants, not masters over those who followed them but servants of God and servants of those who followed Jesus.

Today we tend to elevate the status of minster and to put them up on a pedestal. But in the New Testament the word “minster” meant a table waiter and was used to describe any low ranking service performed by servants and slaves. All Christians in the early church were referred to as servants of God or ministers of God and the pastor and evangelist and missionaries were no different. All ministers of the gospel are to be servants.

This does not mean that the ministry of the gospel is a low calling. It is low in the eyes of the world but high in God’s sight. Ps. 84:10 NLT A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.”

This principle of servanthood among spiritual leadership was a principle that Jesus was very adamant about.

Matt.23:1-3, 5-12

The apostles of Jesus were not to take titles which would elevate them above the rest of the believers.

Mark 10:35-37, 41-45


The ultimate mark of true servant-hood (that is true ministry) is to lay your life down for others.


Luke 22:24-27

The self sacrificing cross of Jesus Christ on which we must recognize ourselves dead and regard this to no longer be my own life but His; this cross is the model or pattern of all ministry. The pattern for ministry is not the pedestal. The model for ministry is not the corporate office with the brass name plate on the door, the reserved parking spot and everyone calling you “Sir.” The symbol for ministry is the cross where I died with Christ and it is no longer about me, but all about Him!

Notice again verse 5, “What then is Paul, and what is Apollos, but servants through whom you believed as the Lord gave to each one?” The real work is done by God, - Paul and Apollos are no more than instruments “through whom” God does His work of bringing souls to believe. These ministers (like all true ministers of Christ) could work only as the Lord gave to each one of them.


Vs. 6


The Corinthian believers tended to gravitate to one apostle or the other depending on their preference of gifting or ministry style and then the people would argue over which was best. But in the last half of verse 5 Paul says “Through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one.” The Lord gave these different ministries for the common good of the people, to build their faith. Paul was the evangelist and church planter; Apollos was the teacher who followed and watered the seed Paul had planted. (Further down in verse 10 Paul says, “I have laid the foundation, and another builds it.”) One minister may have a strong evangelistic ministry like Paul, another may have a teaching ministry like Apollos, or a music ministry like David, or a counseling encouraging ministry like Barnabas. One ministry is not preferable over another.  One is not more important than another. There is only One who is to get the attention, there is only One who is to get the praise, there is only One who is to be followed, only One who is to be head of any group or church: That One is God who gives the increase.

Verse 6 uses the analogy of agriculture.  One person plants the seed.  As in the parable of the sower and the seed in Mark 4, the seed is the word of God which is proclaimed to people. The one who plants the seed is the one who proclaims the gospel like Paul, the evangelist. The one who waters the seed, like Apollos, is the teacher who continues to nurture the new believer with the word of God until their spiritual roots have gone deep into Christ and His word. But neither the planter of the seed nor the one watering can do anything to cause the seed to come to life and grow.  That is something only God can do. Even though God gave me the gift of teaching, the teaching alone is powerless to bring life or to cause growth unless God is also at work in the act of teaching. I’ve been given a gift, but I cannot make it work; only God can make this gift work and He does that as I trust Him.


Vs. 7

Neither the evangelist nor the teacher is anything. In the ministry of the gospel and in the work of the church, I am nothing and you are nothing.  It is all about God. The same is true of every man and woman in ministry, no matter how important they may seem, they are nothing – it is only god who brings about fruitfulness. No evangelist can take credit for a single soul being saved.  No pastor can take credit for a single member in the congregation. No parent can take a shred of credit for the success of their children. It is God alone who brings life; God alone brings growth; God alone brings fruit; God alone gives the increase . . . to God alone be all the glory!

As for us, apart from what God does we are nothing. Therefore how foolish of us to be followers of any human being – it is God alone who we are to identify ourselves with and follow.


Vs. 8

The Amplified Bibles says, “He who plants and he who waters are equal (one in aim, of the same importance and esteem).” Brothers and sisters, we are not to look with envy at the gifting or calling of another.  According to the inspired word of God we are equal, regardless of our different gifts and ministries. As we will see in chapter 12 none of us can say of another gift or ministry or member in the body, that it is not important or that we don’t need them.

 1 Corinthians 12:12, 18-22, 25


Back in chapter 3, verse 8 continues to say, “Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” In verses 10-15, which we will look at in our next study, we will see that each man’s work will be tested by fire to determine what reward each one receives. The only work that will survive the fire and receive reward is that which is made of gold, silver and precious stones (in other words that which is God’s work done through us by faith in Him.) That which is done in the energy of our own flesh will burn up like wood, hay and straw. Therefore we are rewarded, not for what we do out of our energy for God, but for what we let God do in His energy through us. God does the work – we get the reward. That is grace. That is the entire operating principle of the Christian life. This is because we are nothing and He is everything, therefore apart from Him I can do nothing that is worth anything – anything we do apart from Him will be burnt up. But I can do all things through Christ who is now my life.


Vs. 9

Here the emphasis is altogether on God. “Everything is God’s – the church, its ministry, Paul, Apollos – everything.” (Fee, p.134)  Therefore it is absolutely wrong to say “I belong to Paul” or to anything else but God. We all belong to God and to God alone.

As Christians involved in ministry, which all of us should be, either in the workplace, in the church or in our neighborhood and home, verse nine declares that we have the great honor of being “God’s fellow workers.” This brings some balance to the truth that we are humble servants.  Never think of your Christian ministry as a dishonorable calling – it is the highest honor. To be a fellow worker with God does not mean we share the ministry as if He does His part and I do mine.  But rather it means that He includes us and works through us in the ministry. God does the work but He has chosen to do the work through us.

The church is also compared in verse 9 to a field – this refers again to the agricultural analogy – the seed of God’s word is planted into the soil of the field, into the hearts of the church. The field is where the seed grows, matures and bears fruit. Believers are where God’s word likewise grows, matures and bears fruit.

We are also compared to God’s building – in other places we are called the temple of the Holy Spirit. This analogy of the building is leading into our next study so we will leave that till next week.

How often do we tend to think possessively of the church as our church? Especially if we have attended for many years we seen to think that gives us special privileges or ownership.  But it doesn’t. We are wrong to claim any ownership or any control over the church. Or if we have invested large amounts of money into the church over the years, we think that entitles us to special privileges as though we were buying shares in a company.  The money we put into it was never ours to begin with, it was all God’s. Being a pastor or a board member does not give any of us ownership of the church. The Bible teaches that the church does not belong to us it belongs to Christ. He alone is the sole head of the church. It is not ours to determine how the church should be run.  It must be run according to God’s plan.  Not patterned after business but after God’s word. Not patterned after the world’s pragmatic way of walking by sight, but patterned after God’s spiritual way of walking by faith.

Look at verse 5 again. “[What] then is Paul, and [what] is Apollos but [servants] through whom you believed as the Lord gave to each one?”

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