I Corinthians 3: Making America Great Again!
Paul uses three illustrations in this portion of his letter to the church as he compares the church to:
- A family, where the goal is for children to grow up, maturity.
- A field, where the goal is quantity, a fruitful harvest.
- A building, where the goal is to build on the right foundation with quality materials.
Paul has told us there are only two types of people: lost, (natural man) and saved.
However, there are two types of saved: mature and immature- carnal, worldly. Our old nature lusts against our new nature, the spirit. This is part of the ongoing battle we are engaged in daily. It was a battle to get out of the slavery of sin for the nation of Israel. It was a battle to get into the Promised Land. And it is a battle to stay in the Promised Land, a picture of the spiritually mature life. This is a picture of what the Christian life is about. The church in America today, I believe is every bit as carnal as the church in Corinth was in Paul’s day.
The goal of the family is to see the new baby grow up. There is a legitimate stage of immaturity, where the baby can only be fed milk, and cannot feed itself, but must be fed. Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, so he was primarily feeding them milk, not solid food. However, he says now when they should be eating solid food, they are still on milk, babes in Christ. Paul says he could not speak to them as mature, spiritual people, but only as carnal or worldly.
A carnal person has an appetite for the things of this world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life whet their appetite. Carnal believers are a source of strife, envy, and jealousy creating quarrels over leadership which led to divisions. James says: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1) The NIV uses the term worldly to describe carnality. Again James tells us: “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?”
The Word of God, the Wisdom of the Word of God is our spiritual food whereby we will grow up. It begins with milk, but moves on to solid food, to meat, bread and even honey we read in Psalm119. Just as the outer man’s physical body needs a balanced diet to stay well- nourished and healthy, so the inner man needs a balanced diet of the Word of God.
We are to preach the Gospel to the lost, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. We are to interpret the Gospel to the saved. The New Testament is all about the application of the Gospel.
Paul wrote to saved Christians to explain what was involved in their salvation and the sanctification process which naturally followed true conversion. He is still teaching all of us how to apply these truths to everyday living. It is the work of the church led by the pastor to help the church family grow up to maturity and make disciples using their spiritual gifts.
Paul often used agricultural examples to illustrate spiritual truths. In this section, he addresses the activities which he and Apollos performed. Paul says I planted the seed, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase- God made it grow.
Do you see the common denominator in these illustrations? The Word of God is the milk, the solid food, the bread of life which helps the baby grow up and mature, the common goal of the family.
The Word of God is the seed which produces life. The emphasis is not on the laborers; Paul says I planted the seed. Apollos watered it. But God and only God can cause it to grow. God put life in the seed. We also see something very important here in these verses. There is a diversity of gifts and ministries and God gives us each a spiritual gift to do the work of the ministry. (Paul will discuss these gifts in greater detail later in this letter.) For now we see the diversity: one plows, one casts the seed, another waters it, cultivates, a laborer gathers the harvest. But the common goal is to glorify God, the Lord of the Harvest. Jesus said: “By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit.” (John 15) So there is diversity in gifts for equipping each of us for the ministry, but there is unity of purpose which is to increase in numbers, to bear much fruit. This also creates humility. For it is God who gives the increase, it is also God who give each of us the gifts which equip us for our particular tasks in the field. So there is nothing we can boast of as our own doing, for it is all as a result of using the gifts which God has given us. He is our source, our strength, our sufficiency.
God has shown us His wisdom in creation in that each fruit bears a seed to reproduce after its own kind. It is the duty of each believer to care for the field in which the Lord of the Harvest placed them. They must care for the field; weeding, cultivating, pruning, watering, etc. We must realize if we are not busy sowing the Word of God, the enemy is busy sowing lies, discords, jealousy, the false pleasures of sin.
God will reward each person according to their labor. One task is no more important than another and all are important to a fruitful harvest.
GOD’S BUILDING, HIS TEMPLE
Paul will later on write, because the Holy Spirit indwells each believer, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The local church, part of the universal church is the Building of God. Paul tells us one day the fire will test the quality of our work. Whereas the church as a family had maturity of the babes in Christ as its goal, and the church as God’s field had a fruitful harvest to glorify God, Paul’s concern for the building of God is the quality of materials used to build the building of God. Its quality will be tested by fire.
God used skilled builders and artisans to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Each of these laborers had gifts and skills God had given them for the express purpose of building a building for God. The church does not belong to the people or the pastor- it belongs to God.
In any building the foundation is the most important part of the building. The foundation which has already been laid in Jesus Christ. Paul says ‘no one can lay any other foundation, other than the one already laid- which is Jesus Christ.’ Peter says Jesus is the Cornerstone.
Jesus explains the difference between wise builders and foolish builders in Matthew 7, as He closes His Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does NOT put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down the stream rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Look at the materials used: gold, silver, costly stones or wood, hay and stubble, (straw).
Gold, silver and precious or costly stones are permanent, not temporary. They are valuable, not cheap, there are hard to obtain. You must dig for these.
Wood, hay and straw are temporary and not attractive. They are cheap and easily obtained; one can pick them up off the ground.
So Jesus said the rock was His Words, His teaching, the word his Father had given him. So the Word is food for the family, seed for the field, and materials for the building of God.
Proverbs presents the Word of God as the Wisdom of God which is like a hidden treasure which must be sought, stored, and cared for and invested in every- day life. He says the wisdom there is more precious than rubies.
But you have to dig for it!
Now we are in the closing days of a contentious campaign for President of the USA. You realize politics are always a lagging indicator of the state of our culture and nation. A nation’s moral life is the foundation of its culture. The depravity of our culture would be shocking to my parents and unbelievable to my grandparents. Look at the entertainment which comes into our homes; the filth which pours in our living rooms, not to mention the pornography which has infiltrated the minds of so many to the point of sickness. The bondage it has created is a real as chains which enslave a person, body, soul and spirit while defiling the very gifts God has given us.
We are troubled as Christians and as a diverse nation. A nation divided and filled with jealousy, envy and strife which is causing wars among us.
Let me remind you of the following truths:
Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble. But He has overcome the World. Peter said we should not consider it strange when we find ourselves in fiery trials. James and Paul both wrote we are to rejoice in tribulation for it is part of the maturing process. It is part of the refining process.
But back to your troubled heart- Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14)
And these are his last words to us recorded before His ascension to heaven:
THE GREAT COMMISSION.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
THE LORD OF THE HARVEST STANDS READY WITH A SHARP SICKLE IN HIS HAND. Our mission is to see more people come under His Lordship into His family. This means preaching the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. It means making disciples to produce even more fruit, more laborers for the field as they grow white for the harvest. It means seeing His building built with the finest of materials.
DO YOU WANT TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN? THEN WE MUST MAKE THE GREAT COMMISSION GREAT AGAIN!
Those of us who are called the ‘baby boomers’ impacted the last half of the 20th century. We wanted what we wanted and we wanted it without guilt. We wanted to throw off the yokes of our parent’s teaching and the moral laws of God. We wanted freedom only to find ourselves enslaved by the yoke of sin. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened by again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5: 1)
Much of what has happened in the last 50 years was on our watch. Now as we impacted the last half of the 20th century negatively; may we endeavor to impact the first half of the 21st century positively.
We have grown old too soon, and smart too late in many cases. But it is never too late to do the right thing!
Let these verses be your prayer and the desire of your heart:
“Revive me according to your word. Psalm 119:25
“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119: 37
Let us pray for another Great Awakening.
For it is certainly time for us to wake up!