When a church is having disputes over things that are of little importance, what is that a sign of? How does the immaturity of a congregation limit the content of the teaching and preaching? What is our Christian obligation as followers of Christ?
The apostle Paul deals with this in 1 Corinthians, chapter 3 verses 1-4: "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. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal"?
Here, (I). Paul blames the Corinthians for their weakness and immaturity. Those who are sanctified are so only in part: there is still room for growth and increase both in grace and knowledge (compare 2 Peter 3:18). They were still mere babes in Christ. They had received some of the first principles of Christianity, but had not grown up to maturity of understanding in them, or of faith and holiness; and yet it is plain, from several passages in this epistle, that the Corinthians were very proud of their wisdom and knowledge.
It is expected that their advances in knowledge should be in proportion to their means and opportunities, and their time of professing religion, that they may be able to bear discourses on the mysteries of our faith, and not always rest in plain things. It was a reproach to the Corinthians that they had so long sat under the ministry of Paul and were not becoming mature in the faith. True faith, proved by maturity makes men peaceable and not contentious. Divisive spirits act upon human principles, not upon principles of true faith they are guided by their own pride and passions, and not by the teachings of scripture.
Let's continue with verses 5 10: "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. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives 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. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which 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."
While we are to show respect for our ministers, what would be evidence that they are being given too much credit? Who is the one who deserves the credit for the work that ministers and a church are able to accomplish? Why might a minister be well suited for planting and stabilizing a new church yet need to move aside for another minister as time goes on?
Some of the factious people in Corinth seem to have made more of them, as if they were lords of their faith, authors of their religion. (Note, We should take care not to deify ministers, nor put them into the place of God.) Apostles were not the authors of our faith and religion, though they were authorized and qualified to reveal and propagate it. They acted in this office as God gave to every man.
Both were useful, one for one purpose, the other for another. God makes use of variety of instruments, and fits them to their several uses and intentions. Paul was fitted for planting work, and Apollos for watering work, but God gave the increase. The success of the ministry must be derived from the divine blessing
They have their different gifts from the Holy Spirit, for the very same purposes; and they heartily carry on the same design. Planters and cultivators are but fellow-laborers in the same work. All of the faithful ministers of Christ are one in the great business and intention of their ministry. They may have differences of sentiment in minor things; they may have their debates and contests; but they heartily concur in the great design of honoring God and saving souls, by promoting true Christianity in the world.
Let's continue and see how the apostle Paul builds upon his message in verses 11 - 15: "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, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; 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".
What is so important about a minister laying a solid foundation and how does this apply also to our own spirituality? What can happen to a church that has a unstable foundation and how does that apply to individual Christians? Where do we see the gospel in this series of verses and why is it the 'foundational doctrine' of our faith?
Those that work hardest shall fare best. Those that are most faithful shall have the greatest reward; and glorious work it is in which all faithful ministers are employed. They are laborers with God, (synergoi: Greek word) co-workers, fellow-laborers (v. 9), not indeed in the same order and degree, but in subordination to him, as instruments in his hand.
These ones are working together with God, in promoting the purposes of His glory, and the salvation of precious souls; and He who knows their work will take care they do not labor in vain. He never rewards but upon just reason, and He ever rewards in proportion to the diligence and faithfulness of his servants. Faithful ministers, when they are treated poorly by church members, should encourage themselves in God. And it is to God, the chief agent and director of the great work of the gospel, to whom those that labor with him should endeavor to approve themselves. He was a wise master-builder, but the grace of God made him such. It is no crime in a Christian, but much to his commendation, to take notice of the good that is in him, to the praise of divine grace.
No other foundation than that which Christ has laid will bear fruit in the salvation of souls. The doctrine of our Savior and his mediation is the principal doctrine of Christianity. It lies at the bottom, and is the foundation, of all the rest. Leave out this, and you lay waste all our comforts, and leave no foundation for our hopes as sinners. It is in Christ only that God is reconciling a sinful world to himself (2 Co. 5:19)!
("From the Pulpit" is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)