June 9, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
1 Corinthians 3
ILL: Bobby and I are going enjoy a little game of catch here. How many of you used to play catch? When I was a kid, we’d play catch for hours. We played burn out, and 500. We’d throw grounders and fly balls.
Now one thing you should know about Bobby—he was a professional baseball player. A pitcher. How fast was your fastball, Bobby? I’ll bet you were a killer at burn out! Don’t throw one of those right now. So Bobby can handle pretty much anything I throw at him.
I still play catch—I played it Friday with my grandsons. It’s different. I have to use a soft ball and throw it underhand really easy. I kind of dumb it down—like Bobby is for me right now.
But when my grandkids grow up, look out! It’s game on! Burn out, baby, with grandpa! But first they have to grow up.
That’s what I’m talking about today. This will all make sense later!
What was your favorite game to play as a kid?
Welcome to A Glorious Mess, a study of the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes this letter to correct some problems in this messy church. He spends the first four chapters on a big one: they were quarreling and divided, becoming groupies of various teachers. They were infected with a party spirit and an intellectual pride that valued human wisdom over the gospel of Jesus, and it was threatening the very existence of the church.
Today, we’re in chapter 3, and Paul begins by identifying the root cause of the trouble: their spiritual immaturity. They thought they were wise and mature, but they are acting like babies. They need to grow up! Then Paul explains the role of these leaders, whom they were fighting over—they are servants, not rock stars! Finally, he says, “Enough of this foolishness. You don’t belong to these leaders; they belong to you.” In fact, he says everything belongs to you—it’s one of the most amazing statements in Scripture. But you have to wait for it…we’ll get there.
The Big Idea: Spiritual maturity is measured by how you love, not by how much you know.
Like any good communicator, Paul uses metaphors or illustrations to make his point. He starts with a family metaphor.
1. A family metaphor: grow up! V. 1-4
1 Corinthians 3
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
Paul is calling them out. “You’re acting like babies. Grow up.” There is real irony here. They prized wisdom, and thought themselves wise, and argued over which teacher had the deepest teaching and the most wisdom. And Paul said, “You think you’re wise. You’re not. You think you’re mature. You’re not. I couldn’t talk to you like I would spiritually mature people. I had to give you milk, not solid food, for you weren’t ready for it. In fact, you still aren’t ready for it! I had to talk to you like you were babies—and you still are! How do I know that? By all your fighting and quarreling.”
Remember the first time you tried to give solid food to your baby? It starts like this (picture of crying baby). (pause) And it ends like this (happy baby covered in food). If you can’t eat it, rub it on! The baby has to be ready for solid food. The Corinthians weren’t.
Notice that their spiritual immaturity was revealed by their behavior: their jealousy and quarreling. Spiritual maturity isn’t measured by how much you know, but by how you love—how you treat other people. When you become proud and argumentative, you are a spiritual baby, no matter how much you know.
ILL: When I was in high school, college and my early years as a pastor, I was very argumentative. I believed I was right—about everything. It was hard on my friends, but imagine what it was like for poor Laina! This is why she says that my love language is being right and bought me this t-shirt! Of course when you’re always right, you don’t learn much from others—you really don’t even listen much. Why should you? You’re right! But I wasn’t right, I was just a baby! I was spiritually immature.
Have you ever tried to talk to someone like that? It’s hard. You have to handle them with kid gloves…like a baby. That’s what Paul is saying to this church. “I wasn’t able to speak to you like spiritual people, but mere infants in Christ.”
They were complaining about Paul’s teaching, and Paul said, “I’m not the problem; you are!” What you are able to teach depends on the maturity of your audience—their ability to receive it.
ILL: This was my point playing catch with Bobby. It’s very different than playing catch with my 3 year-old grandson.
Every teacher understands this. You teach a class of kindergartners differently than 5th graders or high school juniors or grad students. You adjust your presentation to your audience.
Paul said, “I had to give you milk, not solid food.”
They cried, “Give us solid food. Give us deeper teaching.” And Paul’s response: “Grow up!”
How can you tell people are mature enough to handle deeper teaching? By the way they treat others—by their love. Spiritual maturity isn’t measured by how much you know, but by how you love—how you treat other people.
The mature love; the immature fight. This doesn’t just apply to churches; it also describes marriages, friendships, and working relationships! If you’re proud, argumentative, divisive, quarreling and jealous—it’s time to grow up. Here is a good place to start. Repeat after me. “I am wrong.” Say it again: “I am wrong.” I know some of you don’t believe that yet, which only means that you are even more wrong than you know. We each get some things right and some things wrong—and unless we’re willing to admit that we can be wrong, we’ll never learn, we’ll never grow.
We are to grow up into what God says is true of us. We are saints. We are holy. We are new creatures in Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living in us.
Have you ever blown it and then said, “Well, I’m only human.” In one sense it’s true. We are human, and prone to fail. The Bible calls this the sinful human nature, or the flesh—the Greek word is sarx. It refers not just to this—our physical bodies—but to our human nature that is in rebellion against God.
But here is the shocking thing. In this passage, Paul says, “But you’re not only human. You are more than human; you have the Holy Spirit living in you!”
He says, “I could not address you as spiritual (pneumatikos), but as worldly (sarkikos).” To be spiritual is to be led by the Holy Spirit; to be worldly is to be led by the flesh—the sinful human nature. Twice more he calls them worldly and says, “You are acting like mere men.”
In other words, he says, you are acting like you’re only human, but you are more than that. You have the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying that he expects better of them because they have the Holy Spirit living in them.
As a Christian, you really can’t say, “I’m only human,” because you’re not! You now have the Holy Spirit living in you, empowering you. You are not sarkikos, you are pneumatikos! You are not only human, you are a spiritual person, filled with God.
So grow up and live like spiritual people. A family metaphor, then…
2. An agricultural metaphor: only God makes you grow. V. 5-9
5 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 made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Remember, they were fighting over their leaders: “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos.” Paul uses an agricultural metaphor (you are God’s field) to correct their thinking. “What are these men whom you are fighting over? Only servants.” You don’t fuss over the servants! These guys are only servants, each doing the job the master assigned them, but you’re acting like their celebrities!
ILL: If you go to a major league baseball game, you’ll see this: people trying to get a player’s autograph. But you’ll never see anyone asking these guys for their autograph! No one asks the groundskeepers. They’re only servants—not celebrities.
Paul says, “We’re the groundskeepers; we’re only servants. The real star is God.” This of course, is exactly how Jesus taught us to think about leadership.
Mark 10:43–45 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Leaders are servants, not celebrities or stars to be fawned over.
So Paul and Apollos were only servants, and each had an assigned role. Paul planted. Apollos watered. Paul planted the Corinthian church—he won the first converts and started the church. Apollos came later and taught the church—he watered the seeds Paul had planted. Who was more important? Neither. “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” Once again, Paul points them back to God. “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Only God can make things grow. So don’t get stuck on Paul who planted, or Apollos who watered; boast in God who gives the growth!
This is why if you call our office and ask who is going to speak on Sunday, our receptionist will say, “Jesus. And He will be using one of our pastors as his servant.”
We still use Paul’s agricultural metaphor: we plant churches. We’ve planted 7 in Spokane (not counting our granddaughter churches), and are getting ready to plant more, including a new church in Coeur D’Alene. I want to introduce Sean and Tan McCartin. I’ve known Sean and Tan for many years. They planted Eastside Faith Center in Eugene and pastored it for 15 years, and for the last three years Sean has worked at New Hope Christian College in Eugene. They just moved to Coeur D’Alene and will work here at Life Center until we’re ready to plant.
Tell us about your family.
How did God call you to Coeur D’Alene?
What’s the plan?
Sean will be bringing the Word here in a few weeks.
Someone asked him, “Why plant another church in Coeur D’Alene?” The answer: because there are still lots of people who don’t know Jesus. Paul said, 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose. What’s the one purpose of planting and watering? To reap a harvest. Jesus used this same metaphor when he said:
John 4:35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
Matthew 9:37–38 “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Why plant churches? Because the harvest is plentiful—the fields are ripe. Thousands of people all around us in CDA and Spokane don’t know Jesus.
We are servants; each of us has an assigned task—you have a role in God’s work, in bringing in the harvest, in helping everyone find and follow Jesus. But in the end, it’s God who gives the growth.
3. An architectural metaphor: be careful how you build. V. 10-17
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
Paul switches to an architectural metaphor (from “you are God’s field” to “you are God’s building”). Paul laid the foundation; he was the apostle who first brought the gospel to Corinth and started the church. The foundation was Jesus. Other people, like Apollos and other teachers, are building on that foundation. Here comes the point: But each one should be careful how he builds.
Be careful how you build. This is Paul’s warning to the leaders and teachers at Corinth, and to the members of the church as well. Be careful how you build. Here’s why.
First, be careful how you build because you are building the church, God’s temple. Remember, he’s not talking about a physical building. The church isn’t a building, it’s people. You are God’s temple. God’s Spirit lives in you. This is why you never hear us say, “Isn’t it good to be in the house of the Lord?” This isn’t the house of the Lord. You are the house of the Lord.
ILL: In the 1970’s when the Jesus people movement hit the traditional church like a tidal wave, a young long-haired hippy sat barefoot in the front row of church, chewing his gum through the whole service. An offended older woman complained to the pastor on her way out. “So disrespectful! Chewing gum in the house of God.” And the pastor wisely said, “Ma’am, the house of God was chewing the gum!”
You are God’s temple. And you are building God’s temple. Each of us has a role in building God’s church. Each of us helps others find and follow Jesus.
We do find, tell, bring. We find someone we love, tell them what we know, and bring them to church.
We pass it on. We share what we learn with others, whether it is from our PBJ time, or what we learn in church. If you learn something today, be sure to share it with at least one person—pass it on.
We serve in our church and in our community to make both better. We love each other and love our neighbor.
In all these ways, you are building the church, God’s temple. Be careful how you build!
Second, be careful how you build because your work will be tested. On the day of judgment, our work will either burn up and disappear, or like gold and silver, will go through the fire and come out standing strong.
ILL: You’ve all seen pictures like these of folks watching their home burn down. It’s always the same: they are crying, grieving, distraught. They are watching everything they’ve worked for and built go up in flames.
This is the picture Paul is painting for us. Are you building what will last for eternity? Are you helping other people find and follow Jesus? Or are you living for yourself—just stacking up wood, hay and straw for the fire? Paul is not talking about the fires of hell here. He’s talking about Christians who waste their lives and have nothing to show for it—they still go to heaven, but smelling like smoke! What are you doing with your one and only life? Be careful how you build.
Third, be careful how you build because if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. Paul is warning these folks that their quarreling and jealousy may destroy the church, and if that happens, God will destroy them! The church is the bride of Christ and he loves her. You mess with my wife and you answer to me. The same is true for Jesus and his bride. Paul says you better not mess with her.
ILL: I’ve watched churches get blown up not just because of doctrinal fights, but power struggles, or stupid arguments over the color of the carpet, or who gets to sing the special this Sunday. I watched churches destroyed because of gossip, slander, dishonesty, and moral failure. I’ve watched people divide a church—and I read this passage and think, “I wouldn’t want to be that person right now. I think they just picked a fight with Jesus.”
Paul’s pretty clear here: if you destroy God’s temple—the church—God will destroy you. I take that seriously. I hope you will too. Be careful how you build.
4. Don’t be foolish: all things are yours! V. 18-22
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Paul concludes with another warning about “wisdom”: beware of pursuing worldly wisdom, which is foolishness in God’s sight! And then this clear word: “no more boasting about men.” When they say, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,” they are aiming too low. Either is far less than “All things are yours and you belong to Christ.”
I want to finish by reading part of my blog from Monday, March 18. In my PBJ time, I journaled on these verses. By the way, I usually post my journal entry on Pastor Joe’s Blog on our website. You can read it there, or subscribe and have it sent to your email or RSS feeder. Here’s what I wrote:
Everything belongs to you!
The ancient Corinthians, like many Christians today, were divided by their allegiances to various leaders. “I follow Paul.” “I follow Apollos.” “I follow Peter.” Today, we divide by denominations, or doctrines, or movements, or leaders–some things never change. Sigh…
Paul used several arguments to correct them, including this one: “You are thinking too small.” His argument goes like this: Don’t you know that everything is yours? Everything: Paul, Apollos, Peter, the world, life, death, the present and the future–it’s all belongs to you. So why would you pick one person or thing to side with and miss all the rest?
Imagine this: Several children grow up in a wealthy family; everything the family owns belongs to them. They can enjoy all of it. But the children each identify one toy that belongs to them, and abandon all others. They do the same with family members: each chooses a brother or sister, mom or dad, and has nothing to do with the rest of the family. Weird. Dysfunctional.
That’s what the church is often like: a dysfunctional family full of children who have taken sides and spurned the rest of the family.
But everything is yours.
Pope Francis is mine. There is much I can learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters. Pope Francis is yours too–your brother in Christ–whether you are Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox.
John Calvin is mine. So is Jacobus Arminius. Each has truths to teach me.
Mark Driscoll is mine; so is Rob Bell. And John Piper, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley and Tim Keller.
They are all mine–and so much more–because I belong to Jesus. I am God’s heir and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16). All that is His is mine. So why would I settle for just one small part of my inheritance?
I am Foursquare. But if I stop there, I’m impoverishing myself. I am Foursquare…and so much more. I am Christian–and that links me to all the followers of Jesus before and around me.
Church history is the story of Great Tradition that has been passed on through the centuries to us. All of it is mine. I can learn from all who went before me. In the words of my friend, Jerry Sittser, it is “water from a deep well.”
The church today is a glorious, riotous mess! And it’s all mine too, and I can learn from everyone around me.
I am not suggesting that everyone is equally right, or that I agree with everyone and everything. We all get some things right, and some things wrong—including me—which is why we desperately need each other, and why our tribalism impoverishes us. I’ve often said that denominations are groups of people who have all agreed to be wrong about the same things. Tribalism reinforces one truth at the expense of others—we end up living in a ghetto when in reality everything is ours!
So instead of locking yourself inside your tribe and rejecting anyone who thinks differently, welcome that brother or sister from another tribe and enjoy them and learn from them.
After all, they are your family.