(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

Paul returns to the issue of divisions in the church and the spirit of rivalry that existed. In all probability the problem was made worse by the difficulty of the whole church meeting together. No church building was available and the Corinthians Christians met in people's homes. This led to the formation of house groups which in turn facilitated the growth of factions.

However the situation developed, Paul found it appalling, and this passage is particularly hard hitting although it contains words of encouragement too.

(B) A wise policy.

(1) All believers start out as mere infants in Christ. v1. There is no disgrace in this. The greatest and most accomplished of men were once babes in arms. It may be necessary to remind new converts that they commence as spiritual infants. It is not easy for someone with a very responsible job and a high standing in society to accept that they begin the Christian life as a spiritual toddler.

(2) Mature Christians of long standing must expect teething problems from new converts. Paul writes: I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly ... . v1. Fresh entrants to the church bring all sorts of worldly baggage with them. They have grown up in a culture where personal happiness is the chief priority, consumerism is encouraged, self-indulgence and instant gratification are the norm and anything goes. It is not easy to inculcate Christian principles like serving others, self-denial, discipline and obedience to Jesus.

(3) New Christians need special attention and careful nurturing. They should be fed on the more easily digested aspects of Christianity. Many students of an academic disposition have found C.S. Lewis's 'Mere Christianity' very helpful. It is important to give babes in Christ a thorough grounding in the life, teaching and work of Jesus. They do not need to study the complexities of doctrines like unconditional election and particular redemption. Sadly, not all converts to Christ are properly fed and this may explain cases of stunted growth.

(C) Arrested development.

(1) It must have been a shock to the Christians at Corinth, particular the intellectuals who were men of standing in both the world and the church, to be told that they were still not ready for solid food. It was an unwelcome surprise for them to learn they remained infants in Christ, the most immature of Christians. The members of the Apollos faction certainly did not consider themselves retarded. Instead they reckoned to be the very elite in the church - the intelligentsia - qualified by their secular education to understand the deep things of God.

(2) Immature Christians have at least five characteristics:

    (a) Persistence of worldly values. Paul writes of them: You are still worldly. He did not consider the application of worldly principles, attitudes or standards a sign of advanced spiritual development.

    There are many on the liberal wing of the church who think they are very enlightened because they bless gay "marriages", support the ordination of women bishops, engage in multi-faith worship and spice up their services with pop music. I read today in the Daily Telegraph that Truro Cathedral is dispensing with evensong to have an Elvis Presley night. Paul would describe every endeavour to impress the world by being like the world as childish.

    (b) Rivalry. I occasionally help out with a little cricket coaching. Two brothers are among the little boys in my care. They are a nightmare to supervise because of their intense rivalry. Adam and Isaac argue and quarrel all the time. If one appears to be getting preferential treatment the other is jealous. They squabble and scrap like a couple of lion cubs.

    That is just how the Corinthian Christians were. Paul was disgusted by the spirit of rivalry that spoiled the fellowship. He wrote: You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? v3and4. Each faction thought it was the best. People were taking sides and arguing with each other. There was even rivalry over who possessed the best spiritual gifts and, like children, lots of showing off.

    There are plenty of churches riven by petty rivalries. Disagreements exist over who is the best preacher, organist, soloist .... . Arguments occur over what is the best form of service and even over what colour to paint the chapel walls. Whenever we think in terms of, 'who is on our side,' we are being infantile. If we are habitual show offs we should be more than a little ashamed of ourselves. We need to watch that we don't get jealous of those who are made more fuss of than we are.

    (c) Undue dependence on the leadership. Little children run to mother when things go wrong. I watched a tiny blond haired two-year-old trying to get the wrapper off a candy bar in Tescos last week. After a short period of intense effort including taking her small, sharp teeth to the wrapper the little girl ran to mum. This is understandable and it would be a sad thing if young children did not ask their parents for help. However, it would be highly disturbing if a middle-aged woman remained dependent upon her mother to sort out candy bar problems.

    It is a good thing for new Christians to ask those mature in the faith for guidance and advice. But it is not good if they remain highly dependent upon their leaders. Some Christians make tracks to see their pastor as soon as any difficulty crops up. My brother, a pastor in Clapham, has had to deal with several Christians like that. Very often it is the same old, self-inflicted problem that reoccurs time after time. It is very wearing! Immature Christians demand lots of attention and consume a disproportionate amount of a pastor's time.

    (d) Instability of purpose. Little children often start a task but get bored or distracted and don't finish. One evening during my camping holiday to Dorset I washed my dishes along side an attractive young woman with a pretty three-year-old black daughter. The engaging small girl was supposedly helping her mother with the dishes but it was not long before she was playing with the soapsuds and getting them all over her face. Very young people get wildly enthusiastic about a game or toy but then quickly tire of it.

    Infants in Christ are just like that. They are good at starting a project but not at finishing it. They are tremendously enthusiastic about a new initiative but then tire of it. Such Christians have no staying power. Their practical usefulness to the church is limited because they cannot be relied upon. Very often immature Christians are unwilling to take responsibility for service that ties them down on a regular basis. They will make a big effort for a one off but are useless for the long haul. When these believers are full of enthusiasm for an exciting new venture they are inclined to be critical of more cautious brethren with the maturity to sustain a commitment.

    (e) Fond of novelty. Little children like new things. They crave entertainment. This, too, is a symptom of the world - a world of instant makeovers, ever more exotic holiday destinations, the latest video, mobile phone, IT software and motorcar.

    Baby Christians are always looking for something new and stimulating. They thrive on religious excitement. It does not take long for them to become bored, discontented and miserable. A feature of their immaturity is that they frequently change churches. Everything is wonderful for a time but soon the novelty wears off and they are on the move again. There are believers who are 'all over' a new pastor when he arrives. He is marvellous and can do no wrong. These people sing the pastor's praises from the roof tops. He is a fantastic preacher, a good visitor and a lovely man. I give them 18 months! It takes about this length of time for disillusion to set in and the grumbles to start. Christians like this disgusted Paul - he called them childish.

(3) The tragedy of not growing up. It is a tragedy when a 40-year-old has the mentality of a 4-year-old. Think of what they miss. Paul could not give the Corinthians solid food. It would be a sad thing to live on a diet of milk and never to sit down to a plate of steak and chips, curried chicken and rice or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Christians miss a lot who are restricted to a milk diet or depend upon others to prepare their food for them. There is nothing like studying the word of God in detail for yourself. Better even than this is to study it and then apply it. Paul's Christianity was not primarily of the mind but of the heart. He did not believe in study for studies sake. Paul was essentially a man of love in action.

(D) A division of labour.

In order to dispel the spirit of rivalry Paul stressed:

(1) The unity of Christian workers who are:

    (a) Only servants. What after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe ..... .

    All Christians are servants of Jesus Christ. That is our status in the work he calls us to do. No-one is more important than anyone else. We are fellow labourers in his field.

    (b) One in purpose. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose.. .

    The purpose of Apollos and Paul, notwithstanding their different personalities, gifts and ministries, was to initiate and settle men and women into the kingdom of God. Paul planted; he was the pioneer evangelist. Apollos watered; he came along later and helped the new Christians to grow. Both were united in working for men and women to become, remain and develop as Christians.

    I have heard bright young pastors speak disparagingly of those of us who maintain a church. They consider we should be out there making converts. Not everyone is gifted in this respect. I often get dispirited because my small church does not grow. This year we lost three of our old, dear members. Now I know that the fellowship to which they belonged was precious to them and helped them to stand firm in the faith and to grow spiritually. I may not have sowed successfully but at least I have done a little watering - and watering is highly necessary! I got back to my garden last week after 9 days on holiday during a heat wave and my plants were wilting and close to death. My church was pleased to see me back as well!

    (c) One in dependence upon God. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. v6.

    No Christian worker can take credit for spiritual blessing. If conversions are to occur and new Christians are to be established in the faith God must act through his Spirit. Both Paul who planted and Apollos who watered were dependent upon the Holy Spirit using their efforts to produce fruit in the lives of the Corinthians. None of us can achieve anything without God who makes things grow.

(2) The diversity of Christian work. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you come to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task. v6.

The Lord assigns to each of us the work he wants us to do.

            There's a work for Jesus
            Ready at your hand,
            'Tis a task the Master
            Just for you has planned.
            Haste to do his bidding,
            Yield him service true;
            There's a work for Jesus
            None but you can do.

(1) The Lord knows what we are capable of. Unlike so many employers God is certain about the tasks we are best equipped to perform. We should not question God's judgment - like Moses, Gideon and Jeremiah.

(2) We are not all suited to do the same thing. God uses specialists - Paul planted, Apollos watered and someone else did some weeding and scared the crows.

Last week Tommy Bamber and I took Shiho, a Japanese friend, on a sightseeing trip to East Suffolk. We ended up at Framlingham Castle. The young woman collecting the entrance fee was one of my old pupils. We greeted each other warmly. My friend Tommy began to say, "You poor girl fancy having Mr Reed as your teacher. How did you put up with him?" But Madeleine was having none of this. She just said, "Mr Reed was brilliant!" Tommy Bamber, for once in his life, was completely lost for words! And Madeline made him pay and let me into the castle free! It bucked me up for days!!

Now I know full well that many pupils would not agree with Madeleine. There is no such thing as a 'best' teacher in a school. You certainly cannot measure the 'best' teacher in terms of the results he or she gets. It was a salutary lesson for me to read the comments of pupils on the website, friendsreunited. Individuals who I would have condemned as rank bad teachers were praised for their kindness, thoughtfulness and understanding. One former colleague who was a terrible communicator was recalled with gratitude for helping a girl at a time her mother and father separated.

So it is in Christian service. There is no 'best' worker in a church; there is not even a 'best' preacher. Sometimes the 'poorest' of speakers will be greatly used of God to bring a soul to glory - as in the case of C.H. Spurgeon's conversion. See description of Spurgeon's conversion.

(3) God's servants receive an individual reward - and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.

We are not rewarded according to what we do but how we do it - according to our labour. There is as much reward for carefully preparing and preaching a message to 7 in a prayer meeting as delivering a rousing sermon to 7000. The value to me of this website is not the number of hits I get but the motivation behind it and the effort put into it.

(E) Co-workers with God. For we are God's fellow workers. v9.

This wonderful phrase highlights three truths:

(a) Man's limitations.
This little phrase should be a check on the worst aspects of Arminianism. Evangelists like Charles Finney and William Booth believed that if certain conditions were fulfilled before revival meetings conversions were inevitable - they had to occur. This is not true. Only God can make the seed grow. He is responsible for preparing the ground into which the seed falls and also for its germination and growth - regeneration. Conversions are not all down to us and a matter of satisfying certain conditions. As Jesus indicated in his parable some seed falls on the wayside.

(b) God's self-imposed constraint.
God does not operate alone to save men and women. Christians are responsible for sowing, watering, weeding, feeding and pest control. Jesus said to his disciples: "You will be my witnesses." Acts1v8. See exposition on Acts1v8. Paul indicates in Romans10v13to15 that salvation depends upon men and women being told about Jesus.

God's decision to work with and through the disciples of Jesus inevitably makes the process of salvation complex. It is not all of God as some Calvinists claim. The seed has to be sown and Christians are the sowers. This statement of Paul is a check on the worst aspects of Calvinism; the belief that if someone has been chosen for salvation before the foundation of the earth they will be saved regardless of whether we witness or not. It is also worth noting that in spite of the best efforts of God not all the soil in Jesus' parable received the seed and bore fruit. The interlocking events and influences that bring a person to saving faith in Jesus are so complicated as to defy explanation by any system of theology whether Calvinism or Arminianism.

(c) An enormous privilege.
In is a great privilege to work with anyone who is immensely gifted at what they are doing. It is a special honour to be invited to work alongside a great man. Many felt like this about serving with Winston Churchill during the Second World War. Christians are called to be fellow workers with God to bring spiritual blessing to others. Could there be a higher calling than this?

(F) Conclusion

In this passage Paul strikes a wonderful balance between the work that only God can do and the Christian's responsibility to make Jesus known. We are reminded to serve God humbly, aware of the limitations of our best efforts. But we should be motivated and encouraged by the fact that we are co-workers with God. We have an essential part to play in the grand plan of redemption.

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