June 11, 2020
1 Corinthians 3:5-8 (NIV)
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e. “us”):
Aristotle is reported to have once said, “The soul never thinks without a picture.”
The writers of Scripture seemed to know this intuitively. Remember that place in the gospels where it said of Jesus, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.” (Matthew 13:34)
The Word of God and the Spirit of God are always conspiring to “open the eyes of our hearts.” The goal of any disciple-maker worth their salt is not to increase our store of information but to cause our souls to think. Paul is no exception. In fact, he is a master. Paul has laid aside any need to impress anyone with impressive speech and “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2. Everything he says and does, every metaphor he employs, ever picture he paints are all aimed to this singular purpose.
[As a sidebar to preachers and teachers (lay or clergy) let me remind you of what you already know to be true. One of the great temptations in preaching and teaching is to tell interesting or impactful stories that are not tethered to the gospel message. Sure, we can always make a tertiary connection but we must ask ourselves, “Why tell this story? Why use this particular metaphor? How does this serve the gospel, because if it does not, it distracts from it.” End of sidebar]
Paul chooses the most ancient metaphor of them all in today’s text: farming. If there’s one thing farmers know perhaps better than the rest of us it is that farmers must simultaneously work tirelessly and depend completely. In the end, a true farmer can take credit for hard work and wise decision making, but everyone knows they made nothing grow. The miracle of a seed’s germination, its gravity-defying growth, its maturation into a plant and miraculous multiplication into many seeds—this is the doing of God. It’s why farmers, of all people, don’t tend to be boastful.
While this metaphor is pregnant with all sorts of meaning and insight, Paul’s application is clear. The ministry of the gospel is not about the farmers; it’s about the God. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.The workers will be rewarded and one of the greatest rewards of all is the sheer joy of getting to be a part of it all. The message of “Christ crucified,” keeps everything in perspective.
What we most need in the season ahead are gospel movements led by people without being built around personalities. It’s easy to blame Apollos, but Paul will not do it. He puts the fault at the feet of the Corinthians for elevating leaders to a kind of celebrity status and then wrapping themselves in the prestige of the one they follow. This is the worldliness Paul eschews because of the way it creates divisive cults of personality and caricatures of the church rather than authentic movements of the gospel that level the playing field and glorify God alone.
Paul quickly moves to another “picture” for the soul’s cogitation. He employs the metaphor of architecture and building. We will get to that tomorrow.
Our Father in heaven, thank you for your Word; for the way you sow your Word in my heart and then by your Spirit cause it to grow. Thank you that you have the patience of a farmer, who will sow and wait and even reseed the ground of my soul. Cultivate my life into a fruitful harvest. Come Holy Spirit and break up my fallow ground, make my life a demonstration plot of the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ. In his name I pray. Amen.
1. How does Paul’s farming metaphor cause your soul to think? What does it mean to play your role and yet depend completely on God?
2. How do we honor our leaders without putting them on a pedestal?
3. What would it mean for you to be a “servant through whom someone else came to believe?”
BREAKING NEWS: This week begins Watch #2 of the Watch for Awakening 24-7 Prayer Movement. Please join the effort here. Longer update on Watch #1 later.
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For the Awakening,