I Planted, Apollos Watered, But God Gave the Growth
My aim in this message is to bring God’s word to bear on this amazing and wonderful and historic moment in the life of our church. The moment I have in mind is the overlapping transition phase in the process between my ministry as Pastor for Preaching and Vision for the last 44 years. That is the amazing, unprecedented moment we find ourselves in. <!–split–>
A Preemptive Application
This message is an exposition and application to our situation of 1 Corinthians 3:5–9. I choose this text because it is designed by God to teach a church how to think and feel about a situation in the church where two leaders have become a flashpoint of pride and division. That was the case at Corinth, and therefore my message is preemptive. I am not aiming to remove a problem; I am aiming to prevent one. If the truths of this text take hold of us as a church, what a wonderful, peaceful, humble, God-exalting season this will be. That’s my aim. The two leaders who have become the flashpoint of pride and division are Paul and Apollos. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:11–12. The church is lining up behind favorite teachers and boasting in them in such a way that quarrels and divisions are happening. The entire first four chapters of this letter deal with this problem.
An Occasion for Pride and Division
So there’s the issue and the goal: Paul and Apollos have become the flashpoint for the people being “puffed up in favor of one against another” – two leaders becoming the occasion for pride and division. That’s what Paul addresses in our text in 1 Corinthians 1 Corinthians 3:5–9. What can we learn about God and about human leadership, that will result in humility and boasting in the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:31) and not in man (1:29)? “Leaders are more honorable as they decrease and God increases.” Again verse 5: they are “servants through whom you believed.” Through whom. That means, the power that brought you to faith did not and does not reside in them. It flows Paul and Apollos are not saviors. They are not the gospel. They are not the Holy Spirit. They are not the source of power. The are not God. They are table-waiters. And the faith that happens when the food of God’s word is served, happens through them, like a canal, not from them like a spring. So don’t think of them as originators. They don’t originate. They deliver. They serve.
God Assigns the Response
Verse 5 again: Paul and Apollos are “servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned or gave to each.” In other words, even if you detect a difference in who responds in faith when Paul or Apollos speaks, remember: The Lord assigns those differences. The Lord gives faith to whom he will when Paul or Apollos speaks. If you think that the differences in responsiveness to the one or the other is ultimately owing to them, you do not yet understand how faith arises. Yes, you came to faith through Paul or through Apollos. But God gave that faith. God assigned that response. Don’t think Paul or Apollos was the decisive cause of your faith. They weren’t. The diversity of responses are decisively God’s doing. Verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” This makes the same point with different words. God is decisive, not man. He is going to say this again even more emphatically. But here notice that he does acknowledge the reality and the significance of planting and watering. And keep in mind verse 5: What comes through planting and watering is faith. “Servants through whom you believed.” The effect of planting is faith. The effect of watering is faith. But the decisive cause of faith — the life and growth of the plants — is not planting and watering.
The Emphasis Falls On God Not Man
It’s texts like these and hundreds of others that make us want to be a God-centered church. We want to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. Things like planting and watering. Things like how you think about pastoral leaders. How you think about the fruit of their lives. God is supreme in the ministry of the church. God is supreme in the planting and watering. God is supreme in causing faith and giving the growth. God knows it. The Day — the Day of Judgment — will disclose it. Till they pray for them, because they will give an account for your souls and for their labor and their motives that you cannot see. God will give them their wages — their rewards — not you. Be careful how you boast and how you criticize. ONLY WHAT YOU DO FOR CHRIST WILL LAST.
Finally, verse 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” “We are God’s fellow workers.” What does that mean? The original wording and the context suggest it means Apollos and I are fellow workers with each other who belong to God. Not that we are fellow workers with God as a third worker. This is another statement of God’s supremacy — his authority, his rule. These fellow workers belong to God. WE ARE PARTNERS IN MINISTRY WITH GOD