Our common life is founded on the reality of God.
Just before worship was to start, the pastor heard a loud argument going on outside the church. He stuck his head out the door to see four preteen boys and a dog.
It didn’t seem like they were going to resolve it or move on any time soon, so the preacher stepped out and approached the boys.
“Hey fellows,” he said, “We’re about to start worship here and can’t have this ruckus. What’s the problem?”
One of the boys spoke up. “It’s like this, preacher. We found this stray dog and caught him and made this leash. We all want to take him home and keep him. Just before you walked up here, we decided to hold a contest. Whoever could tell the biggest lie would get to keep the doggie.”
“Oh no, boys,” the pastor looked shocked. “That idea is straight from the pit of hell. When I was your age, I never told a lie.”
The boy’s faces suddenly took on a glum aspect and one of them put the leash in the preacher’s hand. “All right, pastor, you win.”
When a whopper is told, the reply is given, “Get real.” By that, we express our desire to know the truth and be governed by honesty. The most real thing in all creation is our Creator. As we’ve been learning, in order to get real, we need to get closer to Him.
Realistic Identity = Who are we?
We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).
We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).
Realistic Expectations = What can we do?
We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).
We must be faithful laborers (according to vs. 5-9, that means farmers and builders).
Paul and Apollos both served the church in Corinth, each in their assigned roles. Contrary to the controversy that co-opted them, both Paul and Apollos were SERVANTS (see Philippians 1:1 where Paul identified both himself and Timothy as SERVANTS).
The word for SERVANTS is diakonai, the word we translate as “deacons.” There are several things implications from Paul’s use of this term.
One, as SERVANTS, leaders are never to idolize themselves or be idolized by their followers. Leaders are not to cooperate with controversy by becoming the figurehead of one side. Paul wrote this chapter to defuse that very thing in the Corinthian church.
Two, SERVANTS know their master. In all his letters, Paul identified himself and his associates as serving God or the Gospel, but NEVER as serving churches. This means his authority to preach and teach did not stem from the church members, but came from God Himself.
It can be confusing because when we look at the relationship between church and pastor, it looks like an employer-employee relationship. However, that is not the whole truth. The pastor’s authority includes and surpasses the local congregation. For example, in Corinth, Paul did not draw a wage, but Apollos did. Their authority was the same in both cases, as Paul makes clear. The pastor-church relationship needs to be understood biblically first, then implemented in ways that exhibit good stewardship.
Three, SERVANT is not a demeaning term. Servants are not doormats, scapegoats, or gophers. All people, regardless of their roles are worthy of a basic level of respect. Leaders are to receive an extra dose of respect according to 1 Timothy 5:17; The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Jesus Himself took on the role of a servant (see John 17). Paul wrote the same thing about him in Philippians 2:7. No one is greater than Jesus.
Four, Jesus taught true leadership begins and ends with service: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
Biblical servanthood is always voluntary; never imposed. It is a choice we make out of the best possible motive; to serve Jesus by serving each other. Ephesians 5:21 says plainly; Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Servanthood is not for leaders alone: how can leaders lead when followers don’t follow? That’s why Hebrews 13:17 says, Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
In terms of roles, Paul identified three. Paul identified himself as the “planter,” the one who started the church. In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul asserted his authority to BUILD UP the Corinthian church. He identified Apollos as the “waterer,” someone who nurtured the church. Paul identified neither himself nor Apollos as the one who grew the church, but instead, rightly credited God as the “grower.” The planter and waterer have their roles, but they deserve neither the blame nor the credit for church growth – that is solely God’s work.
Leaders in the church are CO-WORKERS. We have differing roles but only one purpose; pointing people to Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, our job is two-fold. We plant, which is we prepare for growth by creating opportunities for ministry and training ministers. We water, which means we nurture followers that come into our church, helping them to mature in their faith. God requires faithfulness, which He recognizes with fruitfulness. Church growth is not supposed to be our achievement, but sometimes it is. Human will and worldly wisdom do account for numerical growth in some churches.
True church growth can’t be measured in numbers alone. It is measured in improved character, in greater spiritual maturity, more joy, deeper prayer, and improved service, among other things.
Logically, God exercises wisdom choosing churches to receive His gifts of growth. When we get frustrated at what we perceive as a lack of growth, we should ask ourselves, “What is my contribution to the life of the church? Am I building up or tearing down?”
Then we should ask of our church, “What is it about our planting and watering that is not of God? Are we prepared to receive growth or not? Are we nurturing what we have or not?” As we saw last Sunday in vs. 10-15, in v. 8, the laborers’ work will be REWARDED after it is judged by God.
Paul clarified the identity of the Church in two figures of speech.
One, YOU ARE GOD’S FIELD. The Greek word for FIELD is georgion, and it refers to a cultivated field; land that has been worked for the purpose of growing things. We are a FIELD in the sense that we try to make Jesus visible every moment we live.
Two, YOU ARE GOD’S BUILDING. In Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:5, the people of God being a BUILDING that is constructed of living stones like a physical building is constructed with individual bricks and stones. We are also God’s BUILDING in the sense of our being the result of His work building up His Church, causing it to grow, as in v. 6. Finally, we are God’s building in the sense of being His TEMPLE, as affirmed in vs. 16-17.
Our common life is founded on the reality of God.
According to the USDA, the harvest is pretty much over here in SD. The rich black soil of planted fields in the spring has given way to the green, growing fields of summer and the brown harvested fields of fall. Unless global warming becomes perfectly obvious, the ground will rest and be covered in white. The seasons in the life of a church are measured in years, sometimes generations, and follow similar cycles of growing and going fallow. Following this agricultural
symbolism, Paul taught that it is our job to prepare for growth and care for growth, but we cannot make church growth happen on our own; it is a gift from God. It is preparing our church as a farmer prepares the soil in the spring, then planting the seed.
How do we do that? If we desire God to grow our church, we have to prepare by becoming the kind of people He can trust with new lives. Specifically, this means:
– Getting rid of all sin, especially sins of the tongue. God will not build where the people will tear down.
– Encouraging right living by means of Scripture, prayer, and spiritual maturity. God will grow His best fruits where the soil is fertile with His Spirit and His words.
– Building community through worship, fellowship, and Christian education. God will not sow His seeds among weeds.
– Creating relationships outside our walls by pairing acts of service with words of witness. God will not grow fruit in a walled garden. He wants His fruits to bless all the people.
Let’s get real. Let’s prepare this field by praying for wisdom to see ourselves candidly and know the truth. Listen to no one else. Repent of the problem parts, explore and expand the solution parts.