Trinity's Senior Pastor Clayton Fopp teaches from 1 Corinthians 3:1 - 15 in the final message in our "Each ... All ... Every" teaching series.

 

1 Corinthians 3:1 – 15

Growing Up

 

One of the great things about your kids growing up, is being able to pass onto them, an appreciation of real music!

It’s not just a privilege, in fact it’s a responsibility, that parents have, to teach the younger generation what real music is!

And what it isn’t!

That proud parenting moment, when your child buys their first Neil Diamond vinyl record, and you find yourself responding like Simeon in Luke’s gospel, when he sees baby Jesus in the temple, and he says “now Lord, let your servant depart in peace”,

I’ve done, what you put me on earth to accomplish.

But one of the songs I had on high rotation as a teenager, and so will form part of the Essential Music Curriculum in the Fopp family, is by a Christian artist named Steven Curtis Chapman.

It’s called “Only Natural”

I won’t sing the whole thing for you,

Actually, I won’t sing any of it for you,, but the message of the song is that it’s so easy for us who are Christians, which I guess most of us are, how easy it is to explain away our behaviour, with the refrain, “It’s only natural.”

“Yeah, I’m not living in a way that’s honouring to Jesus,

Yep, those particular choices might be inappropriate for me as a Christian,

Yes, often there are parts of my life might be indistinguishable from the lives of my non-Christian friends,,  but it’s only natural!”

 

The song reminds us, though, that a Christian person isn't only natural.

Listen to these lines.

 

I know that on my own I'm only human naturally

But I've got the Spirit of the living God alive in me

Giving me power, so I don't have to be,

Only natural,

 

Sure, on my own, I’m only human, a mere human, as Paul says here in 1 Corinthians 3 verse 3,

But a Christian person isn’t “only natural.”

The Christians in Corinth in the first Century AD, thought that they were “spiritual”, that seems to have been their favourite description for themselves.

And just like we know people whose assessment of themselves is entirely at odds with everyone else’s perception, the Apostle Paul, who had started the church in Corinth 3 or 4 years earlier, about 51 AD, now he’s writing to the Christians there, and he says  “you’re not spiritual, you’re not mature, you’re acting like babies”, mere infants in Christ verse 1.

No, we’ve got lots going for us at Trinity,

There’s lots of great stuff about our church and the people in it, and God’s been very kind to us, so this is a good thing for us to think about;,

Let’s make sure we understand what it is to think you’re mature, when God might have a different opinion, so we can spot it and takes steps if we need to.

 

So, I think you’ll need a Bible open in front of you, and together we can listen to what God says to us today in his Word, about our church, and about our great desire, to give each person in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus.

 

So look at Chapter 3 verse 1 with me, Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.

It’s not exactly how to win friends and influence people, is it?!

We saw in Romans 8 last year, if you’re a Christian, you live by the Spirit, those things are supposed to be synonymous.

So what’s Paul saying?  “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit, I can’t even talk to you like you’re Christian.

 

Of course, he makes it clear at the end of verse 1 that they are Christian, they are in Christ, but they’re baby Christians,

The proof of their spiritual immaturity is the fact that they’re acting like mere humans, verse 4,

Their behaviour is entirely natural, that is, natural humanity without the work of the Spirit of God.

Inside the church looks just like outside the church.

They’re arguing over their leaders, but that’s not the problem,

That’s the symptom.

The problem is their spiritual immaturity.  They’ve started to look at the cross, and to look at Christian ministry, in the way that the world, the “only natural”, perishing world, looks at those things.

How can we commend God’s pattern for life to people in our region, when our pattern of life is no different to theirs?
How can we show our friends and family whose names we’ve written on our 5 Friends 5 Ways cards, how much greater God’s wisdom is, than the wisdom of this age, if we just think and act according to worldly wisdom?, if God’s wisdom is never seen?

The Corinthians are Christians, yes, but you wouldn’t know to look at them.

They’re indistinguishable from the world!

They’re baby Christians, who are refusing to grow up.

Some of us, have seen this, I’m sure.

Christian people who refuse to grow up to maturity in Christ, and they resist the best efforts of other Christians who want to help them grow to maturity.

And it’s because they long for, and seek after human wisdom, instead of God’s wisdom in Christ.

Becoming more like Christ isn’t important to them,

They don’t value growing through suffering and service ,

But what they do value, is that “mates with God” kind of relationship that our world is quite happy with.

I certainly don’t recommend it, but it you give a baby, a 500 gram rump steak, what would it do?

Gag, choke, vomit, probably all at once.

 

The kind of Christian that we’re warned here not to be, refuses any serious reflection and study of the Scriptures,

They don’t want to be challenged,

They won’t let anyone ask the hard questions of discipleship, “What are the choices you’re making?”

“How are you working hard to let the gospel impact your whole life?”

 

Anything other than just a comfortable, simple gospel, that to their ears requires nothing particular of them, and they gag, choke, or vomit!

I’ve spoken recently about the Role Descriptions that we have for people who lead ministries in our church.  And they talk about the kind of character, and convictions, and behaviour, that the New Testament identifies as the requirement for those who would serve in leadership in God’s church.

And so these Role Descriptions are one small part of what we do, to try and make sure that we have spiritually mature leaders, who can help us all become more spiritually mature.

Don’t be such a baby.

It’s OK to start life as a baby, most of do.

But don’t stay that way.

mere infants, who refuse to grow in their knowledge of God,

And love for God,

And obedience to God.

 

So how do we make sure we look at our ministry?,

Not from a worldly point of view,

Not as mere humans, verse 4,

But as people who truly do live by the Spirit?

Well in verses 5 to 8, Paul paints a picture of Christian ministry;, What actually happens when we engage in the work of the gospel,

When we talk to friends and family, whose names we’ve written on our 5 Friends 5 Ways cards,

When we begin having those conversations with neighbours and colleagues our region, about the good news of Jesus.

And his first metaphor is agricultural.

Whenever we do ministry, talk about Jesus, we’re  working in God’s field.

See there in verse 9,  For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field.  That is, the Corinthians who Paul had evangelised, they’re a paddock that belongs to God.

And we’re committed to people in the Mount Barker region having every opportunity to respond to Jesus, because this is just as much God’s field, as Corinth was in 54 AD.

Whoever speaks the gospel message is a servant

And workers in God’s field need to remember that whoever speaks the gospel message, is a servant of God.

What, after all, is Apollos?,Apollos was a Christian leader who’d come to Corinth after Paul left, 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, but God has been making it grow.

Why would you make a big deal about which leader you like better, and whose ministry you think is better when they’re just servants?

Servants in a field in the first Century AD, were dirty manual labourers.

Young boys would drive the plough, and carry water.

 

When I was in the UK last year, I had 4 hours in London, and I spent most of my time in the British Library, where among other things, I pored over William Tyndale’s New Testament.

It was published in 1526, the first book printed in English, and Tyndale translated the Bible into English, so that

everyone could either read it, or have it read to them.

He famously once said to another clergyman, " I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do!

And those were inflammatory words, because the average 16th century plow boy was illiterate!

That’s Paul’s picture of those who engage in the work of the gospel;

Despised manual labourers,

Workers in a field were the very bottom of the social and spiritual ladder.

Next time you visit some big city, look at the statues that have been erected there.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across a statue immortalising a servant for doing their tasks really well!

But of course, Paul’s example of Christian ministry, comes from Jesus himself: I am among you as one who serves he says, Luke 22:27.

When you give opportunities for people in our region to respond to Jesus, you’re doing the work of a servant.

And it’s Jesus who assigns particular responsibility to individual labourers.  Paul say he and Apollos are only servants, through whom you came to believe—, as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

I wonder if that’s how you think about your ministry, whatever it is?

That you labour in God’s field,

In our church,

In your family,

In your workplace, class, wherever,

In our region,

In a task that God has assigned to you.

 

It’s easy to think, “Well, I serve this way at Trinity, because a Ministry Area Leader asked me to.”

No, if you’re involved in ministry, you’re a servant of Jesus, and he’s assigned you the work that you’re about.

This isn’t just limited to Paul, or to Apostles, or pastors.

Look at the number of times Paul uses the word anyone in these verses.

 

If anyone builds, verse 12,

In verse 14, it’s hidden from us in the NIV, but if you have an English Standard Version you can see it, If the work that anyone has built,

Verse 15, If anyone’s work is burned up

And it continues past where we read, verse 17, If anyone

Verse 18, If any of you

It’s anyone!

Your conversations, that flow out from God answering your prayers from your 5 Friends 5 Ways card, that is work in God’s field, assigned to you by Jesus.

Your explanations to your friends and family, of the significance of the cross of Christ, as feeble as you think your efforts may be, they are kingdom work,  assigned to you by Jesus.

In March we’re going to be running Simply Christianity, an introduction to Jesus and the Christian faith that runs over 5 sessions. Please come along. Please bring a friend!

We’ll work our way through Luke’s historical account of Jesus’ life, and then we see in Volume 2 of Luke’s writing, the book of Acts, that he refers back to his gospel account, and says, In my former book,, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, and the implication is very clearly, that if the gospel account is about what Jesus began to do and teach, then the book of Acts is all about what Jesus continued to do and teach, as people like Paul and plenty of others, told more and more people about Jesus.

All those conversations,

The planting of new churches,

Christians being discipled to maturity,

The mass conversions of crowds of thousands,

Those things were all Jesus’ work, and he assigns each of his servants to their task.

It’s God’s field, but Jesus, God’s king, is no absent landlord. He is intimately involved in his work.

Jesus might assign you to water,

Or to plant a seed,

And it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that in terms of giving each person in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus,

Planting a seed might be inviting a bloke along to Men and Meat in February,

Or offering to bring a friend’s kids to Amplify Kids Club, even if you don’t have kids in Kids Club.

Planting a seed might be asking a colleague what they think of Jesus,

Or whether they’d be interested in reading the Bible or one of the Why? booklets with you,

Maybe it’s asking someone who’s hurting, or facing difficulty, if you can pray for them.

 

And watering seems to be getting involved where there’s already some growth, some response.

If you’re a bloke and you’re coming to Men and Meat, be prepared to do some watering, as dozens of friends have been invited along, and you’ll have a chance to engage them in conversation.

Watering might be answering someone’s question about faith in Jesus, when they say, “I’ve never understood, ”

 

But whenever you “water” or “plant a seed”, that’s a task that the Lord has assigned to you!

Which means, those conversations,

Those often not very eloquent answers to our friends’ questions, and those invitations we keep putting off, and putting off,

They’re a huge privilege, aren’t they?

Jesus has assigned these tasks to us, as he draws people to God through faith in himself.

 

And also, if Jesus has assigned a task to us, don’t we want to do what we can?

If someone stopped me in the street and said, “Could you pick me up from the tyre shop today ‘cause my car needs new tyres?”
I might like to help, but I probably wouldn’t rearrange my diary to fit it in.

But if my wife Kathy says, “My car’s going in for new tyres, can you pick me up?”

I make sure I rearrange my diary, ‘cause she’s the one who’s asked.

 

When Jesus assigns a task, puts an opportunity in front of me,

Creates a divine intersection;, a moment to speak of the hope that I have in Christ because of his death for my sin and rebellion,

Well, because Jesus has called me to that task, I’ll want to treat it as important.

And of course, it’s God who brings growth.

I planted the seed, Paul says, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow

I’m not much of a gardener, but I do know that I can do things to help growth.  Watering plants, helps growth, I’ve discovered!

Mulching, pest control,

You know all this.

I can also do things to hinder growth.  Spraying Roundup on the plants, that hinders growth!

I can do things to help growth,

I can do things that hinder growth,

But I can’t actually make the plants grow.

 

When it comes to God’s field, the people among whom God has placed us,

We can do things to help growth;,

Pray,

Speak,

Answer,

Love,

Persevere,

Invite,

Be bold with the gospel,

Be compassionate to those around us,

Understand our identity as Christ’s ambassadors, assigned by Jesus to the task of sharing and commending the good news to those whose names we’ve written on our 5 Friends 5 Ways cards,

Giving each person in all the Mount Barker region every opportunity to respond to Jesus,

I think all of us can do all of that,

And all of that helps growth.

 

But we can do things that hinder growth;,

Keep our mouths shut when God gives an opportunity to speak,

Choose not to pray for those we know who are far from God,

To think, look, and act, just the same as the world around us,

Being content to be spiritual babies,

Choosing comfort over obedience,

Insisting on our preferences for church and what our life together looks like, instead of being willing to incur whatever cost so that others can be drawn in.

 

Make no mistake, we can get in the way of people, ourselves and others, growing to maturity.

But it’s God who brings the growth.

It’s God who moves people from death to life, as he reveals to them that we’ve lived in his world as rebels against him,

We’ve taken good gifts from his hand but wanted nothing to do with him,

But Jesus stands in our place, taking the punishment for our sin and rebellion.

And it’s only by God being at work, that people can see that message as anything other than utter foolishness.

 

Yes, we want to give each person in all the Mount Barker region every opportunity to respond to Jesus,

That’s what we’re on about,

But it’s God who works his grace in people,

And he will work, despite us, if necessary.

 

And that, I think, is both a healthy reminder, a little pin prick in the balloon of “I’m indispensable to God’s work, The people in my Bible study group, or my family, or my church, depend on me for their growth.”

No they don’t!

They depend on God for their growth!

But also I think it’s incredibly liberating! 

I don’t have to try and drag people to maturity in Christ, any more than I drag people to faith in Christ in the first place.

It’s God who makes things grow.

The workers in God’s field all share the same purpose (v 8 - 9)

Therefore,  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, verse 8.

Literally, Paul says, they “are one”.

People who labour in God’s field, are one in purpose.  They work for one end, and that is to see God do his work, and bring growth.

It’s entirely inappropriate, to relate to people differently, according to some perceived pecking order, based on someone’s role in gospel work.

 

We’re thankful to God for the leaders in our church, they shape our life together, help us grow to maturity, as we’ve been seeing,

But the leaders with role descriptions and titles are not more important than all the normal people,

Nor are they doing different work.

The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,

The person who preaches, is not more important, or engaged in a better kind of ministry, than the person making life-long disciples of children in kid’s church,

Or the person who follows up newcomers, and asks, “How did you find things?,

Do you have any questions?,

Is there anything we can do to help?”

One labourer in gospel ministry isn’t more important than some other labourer.

Can you imagine the workers in a field, only doing their particular task, if the coffee,

And the music,

And the length of the pre-shift briefing,

Were to their liking, and they didn’t really have to put in much effort at all?

 

Nothing would grow.

 

And the reward that God gives, verse 8, literally the wages, are not distributed according to “success”

They’re not allocated according to the relative importance of the people involved,

“You’re a mega church pastor, you get this kind of reward, but you over there, you’re just an average every-day Christian, so you only get this lesser kind of reward.”

 

No, they will each be rewarded according to their own labor, that is, not according to their job title.

Now Paul doesn’t really explain what he means by reward.

Maybe he means a heavenly reward. In other parts of the New Testament he talks about a crown.

He might be thinking more in terms of the reward of seeing people respond to the good news of Jesus;,

The reward of watching the children in your Kids’ Church group grow in their knowledge of God and love for God,

 

Maybe the reward that is watching people, as the as the penny drops, if you like, and they realise the wonder of the gospel,

As the Spirit of God shines into their heart the message of the cross,

That’s a terrific delight.

We were all thrilled and delighted last week at sharing in Amy’s baptism. That’s a reward.

Is the reward, seeing lives turned right side up!, as people come under the sound of Spirit-taught words, and they’re changed;,

Their priorities,

Their attitudes,

The way they think about their money,

The way they serve their family,

The way they look at their relationships, all these things are transformed.

That might be part of what Paul has in mind.

But regardless of how temporal or eternal Paul’s thinking, what we need to notice, is that it’s God who gives the reward.

 

Which makes sense because we’re labouring in God’s field.

 

And just to make that sure we do grasp his point, Paul drives it home, in verse 9,  For we are co-workers in God’s service;,

you are God’s field,,

God’sbuilding.

 

But Paul actually says it like this:,

God’s, we are co-workers;,

God’s cultivation,,

God’s construction.

Build God’s church with care!  (v 10 – 15)

Which means in those last verses, 10 to 15, the point is then pretty obvious.

If we’re God’s workers,

If we work in God’s field,

If the people among whom we serve are God’s building,

Then take note!  Build the church with care!

 

Pick it up with me, mid-way through verse 10, But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.

 

The metaphor shifts, from gardening to building.

If the church, those who are drawn together to form the community of God’s people, if that’s a building, then it can only have one foundation, Jesus Christ.

Years ago when we built our house, Kathy and I had to go through this process of choosing, what seemed like thousands of colours and finishes, for every minute detail of the house.

But do you know, out of all those choices, the one thing they didn’t ask us to choose, was the foundation.

Do you want concrete or mud?

A solid one, or a wobbly one?

Because a local church like this, is a concrete expression, a reflection, of the heavenly gathering around Christ that’s already taking place, as Paul says in Ephesians,

That is, because this church gathering represents the gathering of God’s people in Christ in the heavenly realms, the foundation is non-negotiable.

 

If a church is God’s people, then the foundation they’re built on is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

There might be people who gather in a building that looks like a church,

There might even be a sign out the front that calls it a church, but if the foundation, the starting point, and the bit that everything else is built on, isn’t Jesus Christ and him crucified, then it’s not a church, regardless of what the sign out the front says.

 

But even once the foundation is established, the work that goes on it, needs to be consistent with that foundation.

 

And so these verses, if you like, they’re the warning sign on the construction site!

They’re like the 25K speed limit sign at the road works.

 A friend of mine was unfortunately not paying attention when she was driving once, and was doing over 70 Ks, in a 60 zone, except there was construction work, so the limit was actually 25.

And because she was so far over the 25 K limit, she had to go to court, and the speed camera photo was submitted as evidence. 

In the photo you can see her car speeding through the construction site, and in the background, there are all these construction workers, angrily waving their shovels at her, as she rockets past!

 

She didn’t heed the sign!

 

Well this is another construction site warning sign!

A warning sign for the well-being of construction workers!

 

It’s possible to build on the foundation that is Christ, but to build with poor materials and shoddy workmanship.

The idea is not for us to try and work out parallels for gold, silver,, wood, hay straw,,

What’s important is the two categories.

Valuable, worthless

Permanent, temporary.

 

Is our ministry in this region, our efforts to build God’s church by giving each person in all the Mount Barker region every opportunity to respond to Jesus,

Is that work worthy of the foundation, the very wisdom of God, Jesus Christ and him crucified?

Is the work that I do, worthy of the foundation, laid by others before me?,

Or have I just put in, minimal effort, at minimal cost.

Really, has that been the flavour of my ministry?

Has that been the flavour of your ministry? Minimal? Not valuable, Not something that will last?

 

Because make no mistake, the work that we do in building God’s church, will be tested.

It will be shown for what it is.

 

And it’s not just a quick glance.

We had a rental inspection years ago. The agent left his car running stopped on the wrong side of the road, stuck his head inside the front door, and then drove off.

No, this is a thorough inspection,

It’s like those x-rays they do on welds on oil rigs, to show not just what’s on the surface, but what’s going on deep down.

And this test will show our motives,

And our attitude,

And our effort.

 

It’s not our salvation that’s called into question, even the shoddy, cheap, dodgy brothers builder, who just couldn’t be bothered putting any effort or investment into God’s building, even he will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames

By kind of, “by the skin of his teeth.”

 

The question’s not about salvation,

It’s about our ministry.

It’s about what we do.

 

Paul thinks it’s possible to go about Christian ministry, to lead, to serve, to get involved, in such a way that when we stand before God, the owner and purchaser of the building, we will have nothing to show for all our efforts.

Nothing to point to, and say “that’s the work that you set before me,

There’s the evidence, of my faithful, obedient, following of Jesus.”

 

Verse 14, It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss

 

If we try and build God’s church in this region with the wood, hay and straw, of personality,

The talent of our leaders,

Simply relying on things that we’ve always done,

The kinds of music, services, and commitments that worked in the past,

 

And if our efforts are minimal, whatever I can do without getting too committed,

Getting involved to the point where my preferences are still met,

 

Then make no mistake, our work to build God’s church will not survive the test.

It will be shown for what it is;,

Worthless.

Of course, if we strive to build God’s church in our region with the lasting, valuable, imperishable, proclamation and conversation of Jesus Christ and him crucified,

If we build with the grace of God in Christ, poured out into people’s lives,

If our ministry is characterised by the good news of the free gift of forgiveness through Jesus,

 

Then we can have great confidence that our ministry will last,

That the things we do, will have eternal significance,

That the only approval that matters;, God’s approval, and God’s reward, will be ours.

And God’s church will be built up.

 

And what greater result, could we possibly desire?