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TEXT: I Corinthians 3:1-23
SUBJECT: Grow Up!
This is the message of I Corinthians 3. The message was needed in that church then; it is needed in this church now; it will be needed in every church in every time and place until Jesus comes again.
Immaturity was the problem in Corinth, but all immaturies are not created equal.
Some immaturity is innocent. Had Paul written this chapter six weeks after starting the church in Corinth, his attitude would have been unrealistic and his words harsh and discouraging. Even in the Age of Wonders, how could he expect the Pagans of May 15 to be mature Christians by June 30? But Paul was not being impatient with the church. He had founded it a good while before, and they had enjoyed the best teaching and leadership in the world. Outstanding men had ministered there; first Paul, then Apollos, and even Peter, it seems, dropped in on them. These men, and others, had taught them what the truth is and showed them what it looks like in real life.
The Corinthians were not living up to their privileges. After all this time, they should have been spiritually grown up, but they weren't: when it came to the things of God, they were still in diapers.
And not because they were all hicks from a podunk town way out in the country. To the contrary: Corinth was known all over the world as a place of learning, sophistication, and good taste. While the church was open to all who professed faith in Christ, a good many of the members came from the higher rungs of society.
It should have been the most adult church in Paul's circle; it was, in fact, the most juvenile. The Apostle was not 'okay' with this.
For them, immaturity was sinful, because God had commanded them to be mature and given them all they needed to obey the command. But they had not obeyed it. Their disobedience offended God, broke Paul's heart, hurt the church, and spoiled its witness to the world. When the Pagans and Jews of Corinth looked at the church, they should have seen something different-not what they had in their temples and synagogues! But what they found in the church was 'the same old, same old'. Thus, by living as they were, the Corinthians were compromising the Gospel. And that's the one thing Paul couldn't stomach. In them. Or us.
What stunted the growth of this church? Why didn't it mature at the rate Paul expected it to? And what can be done to get it going again? These are the things Paul takes up in I Corinthians 3.
He starts off by telling them what he wanted to do and why he couldn't do it, vv.1-3a-
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.
Paul had important things to tell the church, but he couldn't do it because the people were carnal. In some places, the word refers to unsaved people: but not here. Paul assumes they're true Christians, but in one part of their life together, they're thinking and acting as if they're not. In particular, when it comes to keeping harmony, their thinking was the same as the pagans all around them.
They are 'carnal Christians'-not in the sense meant today, that is, believers who never serve God a day in their lives and still go to heaven when they die-but real saints who think and act like mere men on some points.
The point on which they've gone awry is unity: where it comes from and how to keep it.
WHAT THEY THOUGHT
The Corinthians wanted harmony in the church, but they thought they could get it in the way other people do: first, by fighting for it, v.3b-
For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
They identified the enemies, quarreled with them, and when the others wouldn't kowtow to their wishes, they pulled away from them.
This is how the pagans and Jews in Corinth handled disagreement-and the Christians were no better! Much to Paul's consternation.
If fussing at each other is a bad way of keeping unity in the church, the other thing they were doing is even worse: they were choosing up sides, v.4-
For when one says, 'I am of Paul', and another 'I am of Apollos', are you not carnal?
This is not the first time the names 'Paul and Apollos' have occurred in the Letter. Back in Chapter 1, Paul speaks of the same divisions in the church, but with four names attached-
Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ.
Here, he cuts the list in half, and you have to wonder why. It could be nothing more than the shorthand way of saying the same thing with fewer words (and I'm always for that!). Or, it could be something more significant. Let's remember who Paul and Apollos were, and what the Corinthians were.
Paul was a first-rate scholar. He didn't show off his deep and wide learning, but he had it, and other educated men knew it. The Roman judge Festus blamed his insanity on too many hours hitting the books--
Paul, you are beside yourself! Too much learnnig has made you mad!
Apollos was also a university man who majored in rhetoric. Luke says he was-
An orator, an eloquent man, fervent in spirit and mighty in Scripture.
What did the Corinthians love most? Wisdom and excellency of speech.
The people who preferred 'deep thoughts' backed Paul and despised Apollos; the ones who loved 'beautiful words' chose Apollos and would have nothing to do with Paul. Each side thought that if the other would only 'see reason' and side with its own favorite preacher, they would have unity in the church.
By following men!
WHY IT WON'T WORK
Paul wants no part of this, and you notice he doesn't come down hard on the followers of Apollos and go easy on his own disciples. The problem is not what man they're idolizing, but idolizing any man.
Why shouldn't we follow men, even the best of men? Paul tells us in vv.5-8-
Who then is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. Now, he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Paul and Apollos are both servants of God-farmhands, you might say-one to plant the fields, the other to water them. Which is more important? They're equally important. No seed will grow unless it is planted, and the best planting will produce nothing without watering. As important as planting and watering are, however, the best farmers cannot guarantee the harvest. The crop depends on God.
What's true of fruits and vegetables and grains goes double for the harvest of souls. Paul did his part, Apollos did his, but the Corinthian Church is the product of God's grace. Only He is worthy of worship, not mere men-not even Paul and Apollos!
The Corinthians, of course, wouldn't say they were worshiping their favorite preachers; honoring them is the word they would choose. Paul takes that up too. Between him and Apollos, who deserves more credit? In v.8, he says he doesn't know and he's content with leaving it to God-
Each one will receive his own reward, according to his own labor.
The followers of Paul don't have to worry about their master; he won't be shortchanged in the end. Apollos won't sneak off with any of his wages. God will give every church leader just what he deserves.
This solemn thought takes Paul off on a tangent. Vv.10-15 form a kind of soliloquy, Paul talking to himself more than to the church-
According to the grace of God that was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now, if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver and precious stones, wood, hay, and straw, each one's work will become manifest; for the day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
The Church is not only God's field, it is also His Temple. He has appointed men to build and furnish the Temple with Word, Sacrament, oversight, and godly living. Some of these men do slipshod work; others do quality work. At the moment, it is impossible to tell which is which, but on the Day of Judgment, all pastoral works will be seen for what they really were.
Some pastors will die proud of their life's work; they'll rise in the judgment to regret it. Others will die wondering why they failed so badly, only to be given the victor's crown.
For the time being, leading God's people is serious business.and not only for the time being. We pastors ought to take this heart, and you ought to be much in prayer for us-
Who is sufficient for these things?
Our sufficiency is of God.
BACK TO THE TOPIC
After a moment's pause to consider his own work and how faithfully he's doing it, Paul gets back to the topic at hand: church unity. Do nothing to disrupt it-he warns us-because of what the church is. It is-
The Temple of God.
In Chapter 6, Paul is going to apply the same imagery to the Christian's body. It shouldn't be engaged in fornication, he says there, because God's Spirit dwells in it. That is an important teaching, but not what he says here. Here, he means the church is God's Temple, and that means.We've got to respect it and love it and take care of it. We do none of the above when we put our own wishes above the good of the church.
The Lord so loves His church that He threatens to destroy anyone who defiles it. He did that in the past, when foolish and proud men polluted the Temple in Jerusalem, and He'll be even harder on people who defile the Temple of which the former was only a type.
WISDOM AND FOLLY
To some people, everything Paul has said rings stupid. What does mean that educated men are children? How does he expect a church to stay intact unless it rallies around men? Why does he say what I do in the church will have eternal consequences? If you know you're right, what's wrong with insisting on your own way?
This takes us back to the beginning of today's sermon and all the others in this series. What's wrong with this kind of thinking is it is merely human thinking, and not the mind of Christ. But what's wrong with human thinking? Paul tells us it's foolishness to God and that even the craftiest thinker are futile.
That's why we reject it all, because accepting human wisdom and eloquence is glorying in men, and that's something we don't need to do, because no man has more than we do! In union with Christ-
All things are ours.
And we belong to Christ. Thus, we put His way of thinking and acting above our own. Just as He chose the Father's way over the ways of the world.
How do we grow up as a church? Pastors will typically tell us to study the Bible more, pray more, give more, come to church more, and so on. These are all good things, but 'growing up' doesn't start with any of these or all of them put together.
It starts with the Cross, and that means humbling ourselves, putting others first, and being a fool for Christ's sake.
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