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1 Corinthians 3 – How we ought to regard ourselves in ministry
This sermon is a 300-level instruction on Christianity. It’s not 100-level, which is repentance and salvation. It’s not 200-level, which is about how Christians ought to act. This is more introspective and especially directed at us who have already identified ourselves as Christian and are involved in the church. That said, I hope this sermon will be meaningful for everyone here. Today, I want to talk about 1 Corinthians 3. This chapter contains invaluable guidance for how we ought to regard ourselves as we serve God. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 1Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? The Corinthians are Christians, but immature and unspiritual. They are still thinking about how to do things in human terms; their minds have not been transformed. They are jealous of one another, Paul says. No one can be jealous when he is thinking about the other person’s interests. This self-interestedness among the Corinthians caused quarrels and conflict. In order to promote and protect their own interests, the Corinthians gathered around Paul, Apollos, or Peter—probably because each of these men said or did things that appealed to the different factions. It’s a natural human tendency to form cliques or alliances that promote and protect our own interests. It’s not just high-schoolers that do this—all of us do this, preferring people simply because they have the same ethnicity or nationality as we do. Political parties and coalitions are formed when people agree to support one another’s agendas. This is not for the church. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul explains why matures Christians cannot form parties. First off, Paul and Apollos are not leaders that determine for themselves what they say and do. They are not leaders, but servants of the same Master, each tasked with a specific duty. Paul planted the seed of faith in Corinth and Apollos came afterward to strengthen their faith. Paul says that any differences the Corinthians perceived between Paul and Apollos are superficial because they have one purpose and one source. And, in any case, neither of them is worthy of any merit because they each obey God and are fruitful through God. They will be rewarded if they are faithful in the task God has given them. How many here can apply these things to ourselves? 1. Appreciate the unique gifts and passion that God has given each person. If we try to marginalize, disregard, or undercut others, we may be opposing God. Instead, we ought to try to appreciate what God may be doing through others. 2. None of us should presume to dictate God’s agenda. The church has survived and flourished over the 2,000 years despite man’s manipulation and cunning! If it was left up to us, we’d mess things up for sure, so be just be happy to know that God doesn’t need our brilliant strategy or sacrifice. Instead, what He needs is for us to listen to Him and do what He says. 3. We will be rewarded according to our faithfulness to our assigned task. a. Matthew 16:27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” b. Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Paul says that God gave Him the grace to lay down the basic doctrine of salvation in the Corinthian church. That basic doctrine must be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. This task was so important that Paul dared not inject himself—his own abilities, learning, or interests—into his task. Paul wanted to be sure that he was laying the right
foundation. In the same way, we ought to learn to build with gold, silver, and costly stones as we build God’s church. These are humility, submission to God, a reliance on the Spirit’s power, and a true doctrine. If we build using human wisdom or personality, we are building with wood, hay, and straw. What we build not survive the test. To tell the truth, that is why I am a bit apprehensive about motivating people to serve God by relying too much on vision. I understand the power of a strong vision—but so does any multi-level marketing organization, messianic cult leader, or fascist government. I am afraid of relying on vision, relying on smooth production, relying on my own pitiful abilities. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 16Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. The people in the church are God’s temple. We must be mindful of that as we work with one another to build the church. It is God’s construction site, and He has the architectural plans already laid out. If we jump in and start directing or building things apart from God’s plan, He’s going to stop us and tear down whatever we’ve built. 1 Corinthians 3:18-23 18Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." 21So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. Paul comes back to the basic message: the Corinthians are spiritually immature. Their reliance on human ideas and wisdom prevent them from understanding how God operates and what God desires. If we understand the gospel—what God did for us through Jesus Christ—we will look out for the interests of others instead of protecting our own interests. We will appreciate the unique gifts and contributions of others. In Chapter 1, Paul asks the Corinthians: 26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."