1 Cor. 1:10-13, 3:4
In the first few chapters of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (first), Paul is dealing with a problem in the Church which was the cause of some of the divisions among them. The particular division he addresses in the early chapters dealt with the Corinthians’ preference when it came to their favorite preachers. The Corinthian Church had the blessing of having several teachers besides Paul (who initially established the Church) to instruct them. Apollos, who was mighty in the Scriptures had spent time there teaching the Word as apparently Peter had as well.
As a result, the church members were divided up around who they preferred to hear. Some said, “I am of Paul.” Maybe those who preferred Paul were defensive of him as the father of the Church and felt that they should only listen to him. Others said, “I am of Apollos.” Perhaps they preferred Apollos’ ‘meaty’ handling of the Scriptures. Still others preferred Peter (“I am of Cephas”) because he was a fisherman and they like the rugged way he “put it out there.” But Paul rebukes them for their divisions and reminds them that “all things are yours” (3:21-23). His point was that God had provided all of these leaders for their growth in the faith. So instead of preferring one above another, they should receive all that Christ has provided.
The real problem Paul addresses that led to such judgments to prefer one above another was that of human wisdom. They were being “merely human” (3:4) when they made such judgments and were not thinking with the mind of Christ. Since all these ministries were for them, why would they choose one above another and not receive all that God had provided? The background behind their divisions is the fact that the Greek world in which the Corinthians lived exalted orators and oration as the ultimate display of strength. It is obvious therefore, that the church members were doing the same thing when it came to Christian speakers; judging one against another and choosing the one that they preferred to hear.
Such human thinking continues to plague the church today. People have their favorite speakers and favorite conferences they attend and tune out anyone else that doesn’t agree with them. I am not, of course, suggesting that people should ever listen to heresy and teaching that is clearly not biblical. But we are constantly gravitating towards those we prefer and treating others with contempt. And in so doing, we are cutting ourselves off from the means that God has give to supply us with life. It is quite natural and human to do so. But that is exactly Paul’s point—such thinking is natural and not at all the mind of the Spirit.
A local church like TCC with a rich and deep bench (to use a baseball analogy) must always guard against this same thing. A couple of things are obvious from this passage. First of all, God intends that a church be fed by more than one teacher or preacher. Paul could have dealt with the entire matter by telling all the other teachers and preachers to shut up and instructing only the pastor to preach. On one level that would have dealt with the problem but it would have instantly creating a greater problem—cutting off a supply of the life of Christ through other gifted ministries. Apparently, it is God’s plan for a panoply of ministries to feed a local church.
Secondly, the church members were instructed to look beyond the particular leader and see the Lord at work. Paul deals with this in a paragraph in the third chapter where he instructs the Corinthians how they should look at leaders (3:5-9). They are merely “servants through whom you believed” not masters or lords. And all ministers can do is plant and water—God is the One who alone can make things grow! Paul is even more emphatic when he reminds them that “neither he who plants or he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” These ministers are one, each having their own function. But it is clear that Paul wants the Corinthians to look past the workers and see the One who is energizing and causing the growth in the first place. Just as a farmer is responsible to plant the seed and keep it well-watered while depending totally on God to cause it to grow, so the apostle reminds them that everything in the kingdom is dependent on One who alone gives real growth. This should have an effect in two ways; first, in helping them to realize the limited nature of workers, and secondly, in helping the Corinthians to rely solely on the Lord who caused them to sprout up and grow.
I hope that we will apply these things to Trinity Community Church in this season. With our present configuration (two sites), we are now hearing more than one leader bring the word each week. I’m sure that some of us have the person or persons that we might prefer to hear. Yet this is an opportunity to exhibit real maturity by embracing all that the Lord has given us. We have a platform to demonstrate that we are unified around the Lord who has given us several ministers to preach the Gospel to us. We can and should appreciate each one and the grace in their lives, while not allowing our hearts to gravitate towards only one that we can receive from. ‘For all things are yours, whether Neil or Mark or Tyler or Kelly or Paul—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s’ (my translation).