Christian Maturity (1 Cor. 3:1-15)
Division within the church is the first issue Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians, and it’s an issue that dominates the letter’s first four chapters. Having mentioned the divisions in 1:10-17, Paul went on to argue that worldly wisdom lay at the root of them, and that such wisdom is at odds with godly wisdom (1:18-2:6). He then went on to show that only the Holy Spirit reveals godly wisdom to us (2:6-16), Now, Paul once again takes aim at the cliques within the church by urging the church to view its leaders (and the church as a whole) with godly wisdom.
God uses human instruments to preach the gospel, but he alone is responsible for its success.
“Celebrity pastor” is a phrase used these days to refer to pastors with a large influence. Their influence extends far beyond their own congregations through means like conferences, blogs, social media, and podcasts. Even though none of these things were available in Paul’s day, 1 Corinthians is a reminder that celebrity pastors were present in the early church.
Having a large platform is not in itself a bad thing, but preachers who have it should be cautious of the pride that can easily come with it. Equally, those on the receiving end of their preaching must protect themselves against thinking too highly of them. The church in Corinth was failing to do the latter, putting preachers like Paul and Apollos on a pedestal reserved for God alone. To do so, says Paul, is to behave in a “merely human” way (3:4) that is inconsistent with godly wisdom (2:6-16), and it is a recipe for divisions.
Paul’s response to their immaturity is similar to the response of John the Baptist when told that his popularity was being eclipsed by Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) He refers to himself and Apollos as “servants”, a term that “stresses the lowly character of the service rendered and ridicules the tendency to make much of preachers.” (Leon Morris) In addition to reminding the church of his and Apollos’ insignificance, he stresses that they are both working toward the same goal (3:8).
This passage reminds us that we are all but instruments in God’s hands. He delights to use us to further his kingdom, and he may use certain individuals like Paul to reach a great number of people. But God alone can be credited with the growth of his church, the foundation of which is Jesus.
- Have you ever been tempted to attach too much significance to a particular pastor or preacher?
- How do the agricultural (3:6-9) and architectural (3:10-17) metaphors that Paul uses support his argument in this section?
- What action steps can you take this week to promote unity within your community group and within the whole church?
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 - “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”