Prelude: Thinking about Division and Serving in the Body of Christ
Why do we tend to divide over the smallest matters and end up hurting our service to God, His people, and the world around us when we as spiritual people ought to know better?
- Our failures in this area are often related to pride (Proverbs 11:2; 13:10; 16:18; 29:23; 20:3). When we defend our sinful proclivities by pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye instead of humbling ourselves, repenting of our wrong, listening patiently, and opening up the word of God with one another, we quench the spirit and thus prevent our own spiritual growth (Matthew; 7:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:19).
- Often, we become spiritually prideful when we rally around certain people and knowingly or unknowingly view them as the be all and end all of our faith. When we do so, we have placed our faith in the wrong object and built our thinking upon the wrong foundation. Our object of faith is the Triune God, not men; and our foundation is Christ Jesus and Him alone (1 Corinthians 3:11).
The Cure for Divisions: Glorying in God’s Provision for Godly Teachers – 1 Corinthians 3:5
- Apollos and Paul were leaders who were simply God’s servants through whom the Corinthians had heard the gospel and then believed. Just as Jesus came to serve, so Paul and Apollos followed Christ’s example (Mark 10:41-45; Luke 22:25-27). Because these teachers were servants of God, they were gifts given to the entire church, and because they are gifts given to all Christians, then all Christians should be enjoying their different ministries instead of clustering themselves around these men and using them as a way to cause division.
- In verse 5, Paul says that he and Apollos were “servants through whom” they believed. The Corinthians did not come to believe in Paul or Apollos, but in Christ through their ministry. Paul says that he and Apollos ministered “as the Lord gave opportunity to each one”; meaning that they ministered according to the tasks that Christ had given them to accomplish. Paul wants them to see that (1) there are God-ordained differences between his ministry and Apollos’ ministry, and so instead of using these differences to create division they should recognize that different ministries are ordained by God for the common good of the church, and (2) their focus should be on the Lord Himself and not on His faithful servants.
The Cause of Belief: Our Sovereign God – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
- In verse 6, Paul uses a farming illustration to show how God sovereignly works in the world to plant His church. Paul “planted” the church at
, Apollos “watered” it by having a continuing teaching ministry there, and God was behind the whole thing, “causing the growth”. Corinth
- In verse 7, Paul wants them to focus on the fact that they owe their allegiance to God, whom both he and Apollos equally serve, and to whom they and the whole church belongs. In this verse, Paul says again that he and Apollos aren’t “anything” but mere servants, servants that are fulfilling God’s ordained will in their respective ministries. The ultimate cause of the Corinthians’ existence as believers was the sovereign activity of God, and it is in this way that Paul and Apollos are to be considered nothing but mere servants. Paul is saying that without God’s prior working, there is no church. This is why Paul’s point is clear and would go something like this: “Stop quarreling over leaders like lost people who don’t know God. We are nothing when compared to God.” The problem with those who put men on pedestals is one of perspective, they are way too earthly minded and not thinking about God’s purposes being sovereignly carried out in the ministries of different people through the working of the One to whom we all owe our sole allegiance.
The Proper Attitude of a Servant – 1 Corinthians 3:8-9
- In verse 8, Paul tells them that those who “plant” and those who water “are one”; meaning, that they are both on the same team and have the same goal and are unified in purpose: the spiritual growth and health of the church. Paul goes on to note that while they have unity in goal and purpose, they will receive a reward according to their individual labor, which is a statement designed to show that they are looking to God for their eternal rewards, and since they, as mere servants look to God, then the Corinthians should see them as servants, and not some super-spiritual heros that need to be pitted against each other and used as a reason to divide from each other.
- When you read verse 9, keep in mind that Paul and Apollos are workers together in the common cause of the ministry, that they belong to God, and since they are mere servants of Christ Jesus, the Corinthians therefore do not belong them, but to God alone. Paul goes on to say “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” He wants to emphasize that he and Apollos are God’s fellow workers, which does not mean that they were working with God in building and ministering to the church at
, but that they were united in fellow labor for Christ under His authority. And so, the entire paragraph can be summarized this way: Because everything is God’s – the church, its ministry, and its leaders – it is absolutely ridiculous then to say “I belong to Paul,” since every Christian belongs to God. Corinth
Conclusion: The Take Home Message
The cure for division is turning away from self and setting our eyes upon the one God whom we all glorify and then being thankful for all the faithful people who teach us about Jesus. When our attention is focused on our Lord, as it always should be, there will be no time and no occasion for prideful division. When our attention is on Him it cannot be on us or on our human leaders or human factions. The nature of church leadership is clear in Scripture – servanthood. Jesus modeled this and His apostles followed His example (Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). How much more should church leaders do this today?
The church belongs to Jesus alone, not to men. He alone is her Sovereign Head. There is no other head. Because the church belongs to Jesus alone, all structures, decisions, attitudes, ministries, and leadership should be first grounded in that truth. When you rightfully seek to emulate the faithful and godly human leaders that are over you, remember who the ultimate Leader of the Church is, Christ Jesus (Hebrews 13:7, 17; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). When leaders are properly viewed as “servant-leaders”, this does not mean that no leadership exists in the church nor does it mean that leaders are to be errand boys that are worn out by abusive Christians (Hebrews 13:17). It means that “servant-leadership” is all about attitude and perspective versus one’s status in an organization constructed by men. Servant leadership is absolutely necessary because it follows Christ, who is the greatest example of leadership and service; a divine example that all are to follow and emulate, whether elder or old lady (Matthew 23:1-12).
 Paul is not speaking of individual conversion per se [v. 9, “you [plural] are God’s field”], but of the planting of the Corinthian church.
 Literally in the Greek, “God’s we are, being fellow workers . . .” The genitives (possessive case) here are in the emphatic position in the Greek sentence, indicating strongly that Paul and Apollos were not working with God per se, but under God’s authority as His possessions while they labored as fellow workers for the cause of the gospel.