God’s Ministers

I Corinthians 3

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2023

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. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (I Corinthians 3:5-9)

We are studying the Book of I Corinthians.  This is a book that is extremely relevant to our own day.  Corinth was the most American city in the New Testament.

The church of Corinth was the church with problems.  It was the dysfunctional church.  This church had some of the same problems churches deal with today.  Today, we are only going to look at five verses.

These verses deal with preachers.  They deal with Christian ministers.  Today, we are going to answer one question: What does He say about pastors?  What does He say about the leaders of the church?

The question is not, what did the Corinthians think of preachers?  The question is not, what do we think of preachers? The question is not, what do they think of themselves?

We will see that many of us have over-inflated views of our preachers and many of them have over-inflated views of themselves.  Some of the most arrogant people on the planet are preachers.  This passage tells us what God says about them.

You say, “What does this have to do with me?  I am not a preacher.  Most of us will never stand up in a pulpit and preach a sermon but there are some important truths in these five verses about ministry.

These principles apply to every ministry.  They do not just apply to pastors, and preachers.  They do not just apply to Sunday School teachers.  They do not just apply to missionaries.  Let’s do a little review.

Last week, we talked about the carnal Christian and what that Christian looks like.  The Corinthians were a whole church of carnal Christians.  We have many carnal Christians and carnal churches today.

Paul said that carnal Christians are like spiritual infants.  They are spiritual babies.  They can only take milk.

They have been saved for twenty years and they are still in the new believer’s class.  That describes many Christians today.

They have been in church for forty years.  They have heard thousands of sermons preached but still do not know what the Bible teaches.  They know the four spiritual laws but have never read most of the books of the OT.  They are afraid of the word “theology.”

There is another characteristic of carnal Christians.  They live like the world.  The first way that it manifested itself in the Corinthian church was through divisions.

It manifested itself in the way the Corinthians related to one another in the church.  That was the first problem Paul dealt with in this book.

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (I Corinthians 3:3-4 NIV)

The Problem of Divisions

The first problem that Paul addressed in this book was not prostitution or homosexuality but division in the church.

They did not even think it was a problem, but God did.  Paul not only mentioned it; he mentioned it first.

The first problem was the problem of division or sectarianism.  We would call it denominationalism today.

People do not say, “I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos.”   They say, “I am of Martin Luther.  I am Lutheran.”  They say, “I am of John Calvin.  I am Presbyterian or Reformed.” They say, “I am of Charles Wesley.  I am Wesleyan or Methodist.”

Did you know that there are 45,000 denominations in the world?  There are not 45,000 churches in the world.  There are 45,000 denominations.[1]

It is not wrong to be in a denomination.  It is wrong to say that your group, your denomination, or your church is the only true church.

It is also wrong to say that your preacher is the only true preacher.  That was what the Corinthians did.  Every member of the church had their favorite preacher.

Some liked Paul who founded the church.  They were faithful to him.  Soe liked Apollos.  He was dynamic and charismatic.

He was a great public speaker.  He was a better public speaker than Paul.  He was a better preacher.  The Jewish Christians liked Peter the best.

It is not wrong for you to like certain kinds of preachers.  We all might have a favorite preacher.  There might be one that we really like and is anointed.

There may be one that really speaks to us.  We get more out of some preachers than other preachers.  Some like preachers that shout and scream.  Some can’t stand preachers who shout and scream.

It is not a problem to think that one preacher is good.  It is not a problem to think that all the other ones are bad.  It would be like saying, “I don’t like Paul.  I only like Peter or James.”

It would be like only reading one Christian author and rejecting all of the other ones.  That is wrong.  It is unbiblical.  God has given more than one teacher to the church.  He has given many gifts.

Three Ministry Principles

Paul says three things about ministers in this passage and he gives us a proper view of ministry.  There are many wrong concepts of the ministry.

You say, “I am not a preacher.  I have not been to seminary.  I am not ordained.”  These principles apply to every ministry in the church, not just the pastor.

The three principles are the God gives us different gifts.  We serve Him and He rewards us.

Principle One – God Gives us Gifts

Each Christian is unique.  We all have different gifts.  God calls us to do different things.  What gifts has God given you?

6 We have DIFFERENT GIFTS, according to the grace given to each of us.  (Romans 13:6 NIV)

There are DIFFERENT KINDS OF GIFTS, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are DIFFERENT KINDS OF SERVICE, but the same Lord. There are DIFFERENT KINDS OF WORKING, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. TO ONE there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, TO ANOTHER a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, TO ANOTHER faith by the same Spirit, TO ANOTHER gifts of healing by that one Spirit,

 10 TO ANOTHER miraculous powers, TO ANOTHER prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, TO ANOTHER speaking in different kinds of tongues, and TO STILL ANOTHER the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (I Corinthians 12:4-11 NIV)

We all have different gifts and so do ministers.  They are unique.  We see that in this class.  There are three different leaders of the class and we are very different.  We have different styles.

God gives ministers different gifts.  He has given them different ministries.  They all have different roles.  One might be the pastor of a large church.  One might be the pastor of a small church.

Planting and Watering

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. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it (I Corinthians 3:5-6 NIV)

Did the Apostle Paul ever have a garden?  Was he ever a farmer?  We do not know but this section deals with planting and watering.  Paul PLANTED and Apollos WATERED.  It deals with the basics of gardening.

The church is described as a garden.  It is God’s Garden.  Paul and Apollos are described as gardeners.  They did not do the same thing.  They had different jobs to do.

Apollos did NOT plant, and Paul did NOT water.  Paul started the church, and someone came along after him.

We have something very similar in our own church happening now.  Pastor Brian started Lambs Chapel and now we have a different pastor.

The Corinthians argued over ministers.  They formed different factions.  Some liked Paul over Apollos.  Some liked Apollos over Paul but both were needed.

The Corinthians should never say that “Paul is great.  We don’t need Apollos.”  They should never say that “Apollos is great.  We don’t need Paul.”

Both planting and watering are needed.  You also cannot expect anything to grow if you just plant seeds in the ground but never water those plants. Plants need to be watered and sometimes more than once a day.

You also cannot expect anything to grow if you just water the ground and never plant anything in it.  You have to plants seeds in the right spot with good soil.  What is the lesson for today?

We have some people who are really big on evangelism and leading people to Christ.  They talk about it all of the time, but they are not too much into discipleship.

All they talk about is getting saved.  That’s great but it is not the whole counsel of God.  I have been in churches that preached the same message every single week.

When I was a young Christian, I attended a church where the pastor preached the salvation message every week, using a different text.

Other churches are big on discipleship but not too big on evangelism.  We need both.  We need to plant and to water.  We should not argue with one another over which one is better.

Stages of Ministry

The point here is that there are different types of ministries and there are different stages of ministry.  Some ministers and some people are better are different stages.  Let me list seven different stages of ministry.

1. There is the pre-salvation stage

This is the planting stage.  Some just plant seeds.  They say something to someone or witness to someone but do not see any results.  There may not be any results for several years.

It takes years for some spiritual seeds to produce fruit.  Eventually, someone may look back and think about those words.  Many are good at planting.

2. There is the salvation stage

Some are good at leading people to Christ.  They are good at delivering babies.  They are spiritual obstetricians.  They are spiritual OBs.

These are the evangelists, the Billy Grahams.  They get conversions and baptisms.  Some are really good at this stage.  They know exactly what to say to people.

3. There is the new believer stage

Some people are really good at discipling new believers. don’t love going deep.  They love to teach them the basics.  They love to teach baby Christians.  They love to teach the new believer’s class.

4. There is the child believer stage

Some love working with children.  They love working in the nursery.  Other people would hate doing that, but God calls different people to do different tasks and we need people who are gifted and called to work with children.

5. There is the young adult stage

Some love working with young adults.  They love discipling middle school or high school students.  It takes a special person to work with this group.

You have to be young.  You have to have a few pairs of ripped jeans.  You have to have a lot of energy.  You have to like playing games.

6. There is the old believer stage

Some do not like working with young believers.  They like working with old believers.  They like working with mature Christians who have been believers for fifty years.

It takes a special gift and calling to work with this group as well.  What can you possibly tell them that they have not already heard before?

7. There is the ministry trainer stage

Some are good at training other people to lead others.  They are good at training and mentoring.

Seminary professors are ministry trainers.  They train pastors for ministry.  They teach them how to study the Bible.  They teach them how to preach.

Principle Two – We Serve Him

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe (I Corinthians 3:5 NIV)

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (I Corinthians 3:7 NIV)

Paul says that God’s ministers are not special.  They are not anything.  The most gifted and talented Christians in history are not anything. They are only servants.

We think ministers are special.  They are not.  They are just ordinary people that God uses.

They have frustrations.  They have disappointments.  They have struggles.  They have sins.  They have trials.  They are normal people that God calls and uses.

Paul says that no minister can cause growth.  They can plant.  They can water but only God is the one who causes growth.  Only He can give the increase.

That does NOT mean that we do not do anything.  We just sit back and watch it happen.  We still have a job to do.  We have to plant and water.

Paul says, “For we are co-workers in God’s service.”  We are to make disciples.  Jesus builds the church.  He said, “I will build My church” but we are to make disciples.

The Corinthians were boasting in men.  They were boasting in ministers, rather than in God.  Ministers are not special.

That is something that we need to hear today.  One problem in some churches is preacher worship or minister worship.  They idolize their pastor.

They put the pastor on a pedestal.  He is God’s anointed.  No one can ever challenge or criticize him.  He is accountable to no one.

Many preachers have groupies.  They follow him wherever he goes.  They are not following the Lord.  They are following a man.

When the preacher dies, the church is over.  Everyone leaves, because they only wanted to hear that one man.

We see it especially in big churches.  We see it in mega-churches.  The pastor writes books.  He is on TV.  He is on the radio.  He is rich.  He is famous.  Some pastors have been invited to the White House.

We see some pastors as super-stars.  We see some of them as celebrities.  There is a cult of celebrity pastors in the land.

God sees them, not as celebrities, but as servants and so should we.  Pastors should not be seen as rock stars but as servants.  All of us are just servants.

There should not be any pride or ego among pastors.  How often do we see this?

Pastors should be humble.  There should not be any competition between pastors.  That is a sign of carnality.

Paul was not jealous of Apollos, even though Apollos had some gifts that he did not have.  Are you jealous of someone else’s ministry or gifts?

Principle Three – He Rewards Us

God is a rewarder.  He loves to reward people.  That is part of His nature.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NASB)

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42 NIV)

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. (Revelation 22:12 NKJV)

Paul said, “they will each be rewarded according to their own labor (I Corinthians 3:8 NIV).

He will reward us for our labor as well.  We are going to talk about this more as our next topic in I Corinthians 3 will be the Judgment Seat of Christ.

[1] https://www.ocregister.com/2023/04/07/you-might-be-surprised-at-how-many-christian-denominations-there-are-in-the-world/

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