God Gives the Growth

Sunday February 16th 2020

Pastor Galen Zook

1 Cor. 3:1-9

Family

When I was growing up, many of my family members lived far away — some in other states — so we didn’t get to see them very often. But across the street from our house lived Aunt Ruth Johnson. Aunt Ruth Johnson was a lovely lady with beautiful curly white hair, who always sat out on her green glider on her painted green front porch, who greeted everyone who walked past with a big smile and a hearty “hello.”

Aunt Ruth was not in any way related to us, but she insisted that we call her “aunt,” and we were happy to oblige. In many ways, Aunt Ruth spoiled my brother and me. When our family took her grocery shopping, she would always give my brother and me a couple coins or a dollar bill which we could spend on whatever we wanted. Our family didn’t own a TV, so our family would often go across the street and visit Aunt Ruth so we could watch Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy, or whatever other game show happened to be on. Aunt Ruth always had some special treat or snack to share with us.

In many ways, although she was not related to us by blood, Aunt Ruth Johnson truly was an aunt to us.

It Takes a Village

There’s an old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In other words, an entire community of people must interact with children in order for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. Aunt Ruth Johnson was part of the “village” that raised me.

The “Family” at Corinth.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul is writing to members of his “family.” Although he is not related to them by blood, he addresses them as “brothers and sisters,” since they are all members of the family of God. Indeed throughout Paul’s writings he often refers to the churches he is writing to as brothers and sisters, and encouraged others believers to think of each other in familial terms as well. 

In his letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts his mentee, “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). As members of Christ’s Church we are to think of one another as family.

Now, like every family, the Corinthians had been experiencing some quarreling and bickering. 

It seems that the church was divided into factions, with some saying that they follow Paul, who had planted their church, others said they follow Apollos, who had pastored their church at one point. Some say they follow Cephas (or the Apostle Peter), and still others say that they follow Christ. Paul, of course, wants all of them to follow Christ, but he wants them to be united as one body as they do so. 

While it may be normal for families to have their squabbles, the fighting had gotten so extreme that Paul felt that he had to intervene, and so he wrote this letter. 

Paul tells them that the quarreling and bickering and jealousy that is happening among them is stunting their spiritual growth! Paul refers to them as “infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1) who are not even ready for solid food. When Paul had originally introduced them to Jesus, he says that he had fed them spiritual milk, since they were spiritually like newborns. In other words, he made the Gospel message simple and understandable for them. He didn’t speak in abstract philosophical concepts or use bombastic theological terminology. He wanted them to grasp the beauty and the simplicity of the Christian message, and so he had proclaimed to them the pure and simple essence of the faith.

But by now they should be spiritually mature, healthy adults, or at the very least toddlers, ready to eat solid food! They should be doing the work of the Kingdom, they should be proclaiming the Word of God and making disciples. They should be bearing fruit and leading others to Christ. They should be actively working in the world to bring about God’s righteousness, justice and peace. 

But because of the “jealousy and quarreling” (1 Cor. 3:3) that is taking place among them, they haven’t really grown up or spiritually matured. They aren’t living out their faith. Instead, Paul says, they are acting like babies. 

Stunted Growth

Now this is a rather harsh criticism coming from the Apostle Paul! But let’s think for a minute about how this may have happened.

As members of the Body of Christ, each one of us has a unique role to play. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior and when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God gives each of us a particular spiritual gift that can be used for the good of the Church. Some are given the gift of teaching, or preaching, others evangelism or discipleship, and still others hospitality or service. 

But in the fractured and fragmented Corinthian church, those gifts were not being used for the upbuilding of the congregation, but rather their wonderful spiritual gifts were being used to further entrench the divides. 

I imagine that all of the teachers, for example, were probably in the “I follow Apollos” faction, since Apollos was known for his wonderful oratorical skills. The evangelists were probably in the “I follow Paul” camp, since Paul was known for planting new churches and proclaiming the Gospel to those who had never heard the Good News. Those who were gifted in hospitality and service probably proclaimed that they were the ones who truly followed Christ, since one of Jesus’s last acts was to model servant leadership by washing his disciples feet. 

Instead of using their various gifts to help each other grow, they were tearing each other down — arguing and fighting about which of their gifts were the most important and significant.

Planting, Watering, and Building

And so Paul reminds them that each one of their gifts are important, each one of their gifts are necessary and essential in the Body of Christ. The gifts of preaching and teaching are not more important than the gifts of hospitality or service, and the gift of evangelism is not more significant than the gift of discipleship. All are essential for the health and growth of the Body of Christ.

Paul then switches analogies, just to make sure everyone can understand and relate. He moves away from this depiction of the Corinthians as infants and he switches to the image of planting and gardening. 

Paul tells the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Paul wants them to know that it wasn’t about him or Apollos. Each of them were just playing their part, fulfilling their roles. He had merely planted the seeds. Apollos had merely “watered” the church and helped tend to the young church when it was establishing its roots. But it was ultimately God who helped them grow.

Then Paul switches images again — one more image for good measure — and gives them the picture of a building. Paul tells them, “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). Or, as it says in the Message paraphrase of the Bible, “To put it another way, you are God’s house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:9-11).

Jesus is our foundation, our cornerstone, the one that the Church is built on, and it is God who helps us grow.

Baptism, Confirmation, and Church Membership

In a few moments we are going to be taking in new members of our church by baptism, confirmation, and reaffirmation of membership vows. Becoming a member of a local church is sort of like gaining a whole bunch of aunts (like my Aunt Ruth Johnson), and uncles, and cousins, and brothers and sisters (like the Corinthian church). 

For those of you who are being baptized or confirmed or taken in as members today, your family is about to get a whole lot bigger!

Although we may not be related to each other by blood, we are meant to function together as a family, as a small part of the global family of God. And as a member of Christ’s family, each of us has a vital and significant role to play. Each of us are given spiritual gifts that are necessary and essential for the building up of the church. 

That’s why, when we are baptized or confirmed or become a member of a local church, we don’t just commit to following Christ individually — we commit to faithfully participate in the ministry of the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. We commit our loyalty to Christ, and to do everything in our power to strengthen the ministries of the Church.

But the Baptismal Covenant is not just a covenant made by the persons being baptized or confirmed. When you are baptized or confirmed and become a member of the church, we as a congregation make a commitment to you as well! That’s why we do baptism and confirmation here, on a Sunday morning, with the whole congregation present, rather than in a private ceremony. This is not just a ceremony that involves the people who are being baptized or confirmed. The rest of us don’t just get to sit here and watch. We are all included — we all participate, because we are family. 

As a congregation, we promise that we will surround you with a community of love and forgiveness, so that you may grow in your trust of God, and be found faithful in your service to others. We commit to pray for you, so that you may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.

Like every family, we’re going to have our share of squabbles and disagreements. And we’re going to make mistakes. We’re not always going to be loving, and there are going to be sometimes that we’re not going to want to forgive. But as a family, it’s important for us to stay centered and focused on Christ. Jesus Christ is the foundation that the Church is built on. And God is the one who ultimately helps us to grow.

So let’s be quick to forgive, so that we can help each other to grow spiritually. Let’s utilize the gifts that God has given us to build up one another, rather than tear each other down. And as we enter into our Baptismal Covenant Service this morning, let’s remember our own baptisms — and the grace of God that has been poured out on each one of us — and let us welcome these new members into our family!