1 Corinthians 3 (New International Version)
The Church and Its Leaders
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
The difference between milk and solid food is one of degrees, not kind. Every doctrine that can be taught in seminary can be taught to children, though not in the same words. There are not two gospels, one for the learned and one for the unlearned.
3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.
Christian workers have different jobs, and see different results. But God is the one who gets the work done; God gives the increase.
When a farmer plants a seed, and waters it, he really does not make it grow. The miracle of life does that. All the farmer can do is provide the right environment for growth, and trust in the miracle of life. We do the same thing in ministering Jesus to other people.
Some people are frustrated because they want to water when God has called them to plant, or they want to plant when God has called them to water. Others are frustrated because they want to make the increase happen, when only God can do that. Real fruitfulness in ministry happens when we are peacefully content with what God has called us to do.
9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
When our work is tested by God, it will be revealed what kind of work it was. Just as fire will destroy wood, hay, and straw, but not gold, silver, and precious stones, so the work of some will be revealed as nothing on that Day.
Notice that the amount of the work isn’t going to be evaluated (though it does have some relevance). Paul says the work will be tested to see what sort it is. If one did a lot of the wrong sort of work, it will be as if he did nothing. His work will be burned and will vanish in eternity. D.L. Moody wisely said that converts ought to be weighed as well as counted.
Paul also referred to this great testing in 2 Corinthians 5:10: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. When our work is tested before the Lord, we will be rewarded according to what remains.
It is a sobering thought: many, many people who believe they are serving God, but are doing it in an unworthy manner or with unworthy “materials” will come to find in eternity that they have, in reality, done nothing for the Lord. Some will be saved, but with a life that was wasted, and receive no crown to give to Jesus, for His glory (as in Revelation 4:10-11). He himself will be saved, yet so as through the fire: Saved, but barely saved, and saved with everything gone.
Warren Wiersbe (former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago and speaker on the Back to the Bible radio broadcast) made an interesting observation about this passage. “What’s the difference between these materials, besides the obvious—that one group is fireproof while the other isn’t? I think it’s significant that wood, hay and straw are abundant . . . right outside your door, or only a few miles away at most. Any forest, any farmer’s field has an abundance of these. But if you want gold, silver and costly stones, you have to dig for them. You have to pursue them with great effort. They are not just lying around everywhere. You have to go deep into the earth.”
To me, these words are profound. Spiritual “construction” that uses wood, hay, and straw comes easy—little work, little seeking, no travail, no birthing. You just slap it up and it will look adequate—for a while. But if you want to build something that will endure on Judgment Day, the work is much more costly.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
“Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” These verses were given to me on my Confirmation Day by Pastor Hugo Schwartz. I have never forgotten the “blessed assurance” that this passage gives! With thanks to Fanny Crosby for writing this hymn, and Third Day for singing it.