Paul explains how the Corinthians should view Apollos and himself – as fellow-servants of God. His explanation has far-reaching implications for the American church today.
Paul wrote this letter to Corinth in response to a letter they sent him asking questions and a verbal report from some messengers about the situation in Corinth. 1Corinthians 3 is part of a discussion that runs from 1Corinthians 1-4.
In 1Corinthians 1, Paul addresses the divisions in their church and encourages them to unify around the truth of the gospel. But the divisions are a symptom of a deeper issue which is the fact the Corinthians have rejected the gospel message because 1) they want a gospel that is more appealing to their sophisticated intellectual town; and 2) they have rejected Paul’s authority as an apostle because they want a more eloquent teacher like Apollos.
In 1Corinthians 2, Paul turns directly to issue of how he speaks. He argues that nonbelievers will always find the gospel foolish and changing the gospel to please them means it is no longer the gospel. He argues the gospel is in fact true wisdom because it is revelation from God, and that his job as an apostle is to teach the gospel to those who have been prepared by the Spirit of God to understand it.
In 1Corinthians 3, Paul addresses how his listeners should receive his message and think about himself and Apollos.
3:5What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-10 NASB
- Many in the Corinthian church are embarrassed by Paul’s lack of rhetorical flare especially when compared to Apollos. Paul steps into that situation and says here’s how you should be thinking about Apollos and myself.
- The perspective you should have is that both Apollos and Paul are servants of God. We are servants of God through whom you have believed.
- Paul uses the metaphor of the field to explain: The Corinthian church is like a field from which God wants a harvest. Paul first came to Corinth and he is like the one who sows the seed in a field. Apollos came later and he like the one who waters the seed already planted. But both are servant of God who causes the growth.
- Paul also uses the metaphor of a building: The Corinthian church is like a building. Paul first came to Corinth and he laid the foundation of the building. Apollos came later and he built the next story of the building. But the building is God’s project.
- Note the repetition of God causes the growth in 3:6-7. Faith and maturity are gifts from God.
- Paul & Apollos are both tools in God’s hands. Results and growth come from God, not from the rhetorical flare of the speakers.
- Paul is NOT saying if you are mature spiritual person you will no longer be sinful, jealous, or impatient.
- Paul is NOT saying, if you as a church are mature, there will be no more strife or quarrels.
- Rather the spiritual person is the one who judges truth and wisdom rightly over time.
- The Corinthian church is being tested in this situation. They face into the test and choose wisely.
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