The folks who called the church in Corinth “home” were mesmerized by the culture in which they lived. As we’ve been working our way through Paul’s letter to the church, we’ve talked about how the pursuit of worldly wisdom was paramount to the people of the city, and it appears, to the church as well. Paul addressed it in the very first chapter of his letter and reminded the followers of Jesus,
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV)
In our day we idolize athletes and entertainers, but in Paul’s day, the people of Corinth idolized teachers and public speakers who possessed great oratorical skills and unpacked the supposed “deep truths” of the Universe. People like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle–teachers who are still being studied in universities today, these were the rock stars of ancient Greece long before Paul ever arrived in Corinth. Paul didn’t try to emulate or copy the style of the Greek philosophers. Neither did Paul alter his presentation of the message of the cross to try and cleverly capture the minds of his audience once he arrived in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, Paul wrote,
1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV)
Paul was unashamedly a follower of Jesus who proclaimed the Good News about Jesus to all people so that as many people as possible might come to know Jesus as well. Paul had started the church in Corinth, he spent 18 months discipling new believers in Corinth in the truths of the Christian faith, but in the time that Paul had been away the people’s passion had faded. When Paul received a report about how the church was doing he was disturbed. There were many problems in the church that should not have been present. One problem we learned about right from the beginning was that there were factions in the church. Members of the church were arguing over their leaders; “I follow Paul.” “I follow Apollos.” “I follow Peter.” “I follow Jesus.” Paul was disturbed. In our Scripture for today, Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ people were acting like the people of the world and not like Jesus’ people. Let’s read our Scripture found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still 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 humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, 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. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:1-9 NIV)
It is very important for us to notice that Paul calls the folks in the church in Corinth “brothers and sisters.” Paul loved the people of Corinth, he saw them as brothers and sisters in the faith, and nobody desired for them to grow in their walk with the Lord more than Paul. Paul loved them enough to confront them, not as a judge, but as a brother. We can learn much from Paul’s approach my friend. We are foolish, fooling nobody but ourselves, if we think we won’t get off track at times during our life. We’ve done it before haven’t we? And I’m certain we’ll do it again. When that happens we don’t need someone to judge or condemn us, we need a brother or sister to come alongside us, like Paul came alongside the brothers and sisters in Corinth, and urge us to get back on track.
The brothers and sisters in Corinth were not those Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 2:14, the unbeliever who counts the things of God as foolishness. Let’s look at that verse once again to refresh our memory. Paul writes,
14 But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. (1 Corinthians 2:14 CSB)
Those in Corinth knew Jesus, they had committed their lives to following Jesus, but they were living just like the people of the world. There’s a big difference between the “unbeliever” of 1 Corinthians 2:14 and the “brothers and sisters” in 1 Corinthians 3:1.
What does Paul have to say to the followers of Jesus that he hadn’t seen in five years? Paul let them know that when he was with them, he wasn’t able to address them as people of the Spirit because they were worldly–“mere infants in Christ.” Paul remembered the 18 months he spent in Corinth teaching God’s Word, discipling the new followers of Jesus, and he writes,
2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:2 NIV)
It is understandable that a newborn baby’s diet has to be limited to nothing more than milk. They aren’t ready for solid food. The time will come when the baby will grow, and mature, and move on from milk to the finer things of life like BBQ ribs, steak and baked potatoes, and chocolate! It was understandable that those who were babes in Christ needed Bible lessons that were appropriate for where they were at the time, but Paul throws in…“you are still not ready.” After five years, you still are not ready? Now that’s a problem.
I do need to point something out for us about “milk” and “solid food.” Paul has said, in each of the first two chapters, that he preached the cross. In 1 Corinthians 1:22-23, Paul wrote,
22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23 CSB)
And then, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, Paul once again states that his one ambition while he was in Corinth was to know and make known “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Read it with me.
1 When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. 2 For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 CSB)
I’ve taken the time to point this out for us because throughout history there have been those who subscribed to the idea that there are “deeper truths” made available to a select few. We don’t have to look outside of our faith to find this kind of teaching either. That’s not what Paul has in mind. The Cross is both “milk” and “solid food.” Gordon Fee does such a great job of explaining this truth in his commentary on 1 Corinthians. Listen to what he wrote,
…the gospel of the Crucified One is both ‘milk’ and ‘solid food.’ As milk it is the good news of salvation; as solid food it is understanding that the entire Christian life is predicated on the same reality–and those who have the Spirit should so understand the ‘mystery’; they must live ‘cruciform,’ as people whose lives and values are shaped by the crucifixion. (Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 134)
That is so good! The message of the cross is the gateway to salvation, but for those in Corinth and for so many of us today, we never progress beyond the gate. It is God’s desire that the message of the cross not only save us, but that it shapes us, every aspect of our lives.
I want us to think about this for a moment. It’s one thing to go up to the nursery here at the church and watch the little ones fighting over toys, throwing fits when they don’t get their way, and causing chaos. We correct them, but it’s no big deal. Kids will be kids, they’ll grow up and learn better ways to interact with one another as we correct them, teach them, and help them along the way. It’s an altogether different thing when you find adults who have been walking with the Lord for years doing the same things. Now, I’m sure none of us have ever acted childish as an adult, but I have heard about other churches where envy, jealousy, infighting, selfishness, and greed caused great heartache, division, and eventually destroyed the church. This should not be, should never ever take place in God’s church.
After Paul told the people of Corinth that after all of the time that had gone by, five years, he was still unable to feed them solid food. In verse 3, he wrote,
3 for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? (1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT)
The people of the church in Corinth were Paul’s brothers and sisters in Christ, but they were living, behaving, just like the people of the world. Paul gave them evidence: “You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other.” Just as a baby grows and matures physically, so we who have given our lives to Christ, who possess the Holy Spirit within us, and have the Word of God to teach us–we are to grow spiritually as well. Our spiritual growth is not a given, it doesn’t just happen with no involvement of our own. Let me explain.
When we are born we have a sin nature. I know this is totally contradictory to what modern-day people believe, but this is what the Bible teaches. In Romans 5:12, Paul wrote,
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned– (Romans 5:12 NIV)
Not only are we “sinners,” predisposed to sin from the womb, but we also sin, we are actively engaged in forging our own path, doing our own thing. We do not do what we should, we do not seek to do God’s will for our lives on our own, and neither do we seek to do what’s best for others on our own–what is best for ourselves is our highest aim. We are not only sinners, but we sin. Paul wrote,
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23 NIV)
“Sinners who sin,” that’s who we are and what we do apart from the transforming power of the new creation that takes place when we come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. When a person becomes a follower of Jesus he or she becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are given a new mind, a new heart, and a Holy Spirit stirred yearning for the ways and will of God. Now, let’s be clear, becoming a new creation in Christ does not mean that our old nature is dead and we’ll never have to do battle with sin any longer. What it does mean is that now we have been given new tools; the Holy Spirit who lives in each believer and the Word of God to help us fight the good fight, to put off the old man, and to live the life God has called us to live. Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus,
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24 NIV)
This battle that you and I are engaged in each and every day is common to all of the followers of Jesus throughout history. There’s a war going on my friends inside of each and every follower of Jesus. How do we win the war? One decision at a time. One day at a time. Paul encourages us to,
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16 NIVO)
There is so much more we could talk about concerning this battle going on in our hearts and minds, but we have to move on. The folks in Corinth were losing the battle and Paul pointed out the specifics for them. He said, “there is jealousy and quarreling among you…” In Galatians 5:18, Paul says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:” He then goes on to list many things that we see taking place in our own lives and in our society. Among the long list Paul lays out for the people are “jealousy” and “strife,” or “quarreling.” These are among the acts of the sinful nature, acts that come natural to us, but which should not be present in the life of the followers of Jesus. What was it that the members of the church were quarreling over? What was the cause of their jealousy? Paul writes,
4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, 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. (1 Corinthians 3:4-5 NIV)
They are arguing over their leaders. Their understanding of leadership is from a worldly perspective, not a biblical understanding of leadership. If we saw this same problem at Britton Christian Church then we would have factions within our church built around your loyalty to one of our pastors instead of your loyalty to Jesus. There’s no doubt this is still taking place today and when it does we are acting like mere humans, the people of the world. John MacArthur writes,
Fleshly, immature people cooperate only with those leaders and fellow believers with whom they happen to agree or who personally appeal to them or will flatter them… The cure for division is turning away from self and setting our eyes on the one God whom we all glorify. When our attention is focused on our Lord, as it always should be, there will be no time and no occasion for division. When our attention is on Him it cannot be on ourselves or on human leaders or human factions. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 73)
It is not unusual for people in the church to “like” certain pastors because of how they preach, how relatable they are, their personality, sense of humor…we could list a hundred other factors. Why is it not unusual for this to happen? Because we are people and that’s the way we are wired. But remember, we are not the people of the world and we no longer view leadership as the world views leaders. I love how Paul addressed what was going on in Corinth. He asks a question: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul?” He doesn’t ask, “Who is Apollos? Who is Paul?” He asks, “What are they?” And the answer he provides is, “nothing more than a servant.” The Greek word Paul uses was used for waiters, or for what we would know today as a busboy.
The way of the world is to idolize, immortalize people, but for those of us who are followers of Jesus, we know that those who serve God’s people in a mighty way are servants, God is the Source. Each of God’s servants, each of us here this morning, serves God’s purpose, we have different functions within the Body of Christ, but God is the One who provides for us, uses us, and He alone is to get the praise and honor. Paul points this out in verses 6-7. Read it with me.
6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV)
Now, my grandfather was a farmer. That doesn’t mean that I know anything about farming, but it does mean that I had the opportunity to watch him do everything from plowing fields, sowing seed, and bringing in the harvest. Farming is hard work. My grandfather worked long hours, but he never caused one seed to grow. He did his part, but God alone made the sun shine, God alone brought the rain at the right time, and God alone caused the seed to sprout and grow until harvest. Should my grandfather receive the praise for a great harvest? Not at all, he did his part, but God woke that seed up and caused it to grow.
Paul planted the seed when he founded the church in Corinth, Apollos came along after Paul left and began to water the seed, but Paul says, “God has been making it grow.” Don’t praise the one who plants or the one who waters, “but only God, who makes things grow.” The church in Corinth, Britton Christian Church, and every other church that has been, is, or ever will be is God’s church–all of us who serve in any way are simply servants.
As we are now just beginning a brand new year I want us to stop and think about this for a moment before we leave here today. We are all placed in the “field” of this world to do God’s work, to share the Good News of Jesus with others. Are you working? Are you sowing seed? Are you watering the seed that has been planted? What job has the Lord given you to do? You do have work to do, you do know that don’t you? God did not save you just so you could then enjoy your life and end up in heaven some day. He saved you, He’s sanctifying you, molding you into the image of His Son, so you can do the work He has given you to do in the here and now. What is that work He’s called you to? Listen to this…
4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. 6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. (Romans 12:4-8 NLT)
God has given “us” different gifts. What is it He has given you and how can you use that gift in this new year to serve Him as you serve His people? Now that’s something worth praying about my friend. I don’t think there is any question about it: If you want to grow up in your walk with the Lord then you must begin to use the gifts He has given you to serve Him as you serve His people. Some of the most immature believers I know are people who are full of Bible knowledge. They study, study, study, but do nothing. Knowledge doesn’t make you a mature follower of Jesus. If that were the case then the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would have been the most mature of all the people of Jerusalem. We must walk out the truth we learn from God’s Word. Will you use the gifts God has given you to bless the lives of others in this upcoming year? If you have never surrendered your heart to Jesus then I pray you will do that this morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 3, 2021
1 Corinthians 3:1-9