…Because Mount Barker is God’s Field
1 Corinthians 3:1 – 15
…Because Mount Barker is God’s Field
I’m only human!
Some of you will be familiar with the music of Christian singer-songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman. Way back in the 90s, when I was in high school, I was a big of his music.
And so when I discovered that our friends Nathan and Cassie Tasker, who are based in Nashville, know Steven Curtis Chapman and his family, and hang out with them, well, my inner groupie could barely contain itself!
I haven’t yet asked Nathan to get me personally signed CD or anything, but you know, I can only keep that inner groupie repressed for so long!
But one of Steven Curtis Chapman’s songs, one of these ones I had on high rotation as a teenager, it’s called “Only Natural”
I won’t sing the whole thing for you,
I won’t sing any of it for you, actually!, But the theme of the song is that it’s so easy for us who are Christians, to explain away our behaviour, with the refrain, “It’s only natural”
Yeah, that might be inappropriate for me as a Christian, but it’s only natural!
The song reminds us, though . a Christian person isn't only natural.
Listen to the last few 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 .
Sure, on my own, I’m only human, a mere human, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:3, But Christian people aren’t “only natural”
Don’t be such a baby! (v 1 – 4)
That is, Christian people shouldn’t think and act, only naturally.
The Corinthian Christians thought that they were “spiritual”, that seems to have been their favourite description for themselves, and yet Paul says, “you’re not spiritual, you’re not mature, you’re acting like babies”, mere infants in Christ.
I have a book about 1 Corinthians, written by Don Carson. Some of you have read his books.
I picked it up recently, to see what he had to say about chapter 3, and found this warning, “Few passages of the New Testament have been abused by preachers, more than this one”!
That’s an encouraging way to begin your preparation, isn’t it?!
So I want you to know, I’ve been very careful, to make sure that I don’t abuse it!
But if you read through carefully with me, I’m sure we can make sure that we can use the passage, without abusing it!
Chapter 3 verse 1, 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. 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.
It’s not exactly how to win friends and influence people, is it?!
Literally Paul says, verse 1, “I can’t address you as spiritual people”.
It’s almost as if they don’t even have the Spirit of God!
It’s like you’re not even Christian!
Of course, he makes it clear at the end of verse 1 that they are Christian, but they’re baby Christians,
And the evidence of their spiritual immaturity, is the fact that they act like mere humans.
The fact that they’re arguing over leaders, I follow Julia, I follow Kevin, I mean, I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, that’s not the problem,
That’s the symptom.
The problem is their spiritual immaturity.
Their problem is that they’ve swallowed the wisdom of the world, and 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.
The problem is that the Corinthians are thinking and acting, only naturally, when they should be thinking and acting spiritually, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
They’re Christians, who are 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 seek to help them grow to maturity.
They don’t make any progress in the Christian life, because their focus is all wrong. They long for, and seek after human wisdom, instead of God’s wisdom in Christ.
Give a baby, a hamburger, and it will what? Gag, choke, or vomit, or all 3, these Christians refuse 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, or all 3!
And I hate to say it, but sadly, there are even whole churches that have allowed themselves to live as babies!
So in our search for an Associate Pastor, I met with people,
We conducted interviews,
The Leadership Team, and a wider group of leaders and members here, met with people we were looking at,
I poked and prodded, fairly vigorously, shall we say, to try and figure out how someone would lead, and teach, and disciple among us.
It’s not a foolproof process, but we want and need someone, who will help lead us to maturity in Christ., And so I’m thankful for that process.
But I know a church, who’s pastoral selection process involved little more than giving a potential pastor a piece of paper, with a list of topics on it, and saying, “you can come and lead our church, on the condition that you never preach on these topics”!
Among those topics were “how we use our money”,
And “Christian disciplines”
Don’t be such a baby, mere infants, who refuse to grow in their knowledge of God,
Love for God,
Obedience to God.
So how do we make sure we look at our ministry?,
How do we make sure we look at our church,
Not from a worldly point of view,
Not as mere humans, verse 4,
Not as babies,
But as people who truly do live by the Spirit?
Gospel ministry is work done in God’s field (v 5 – 8)
Well in verses 5 to 8, Paul paints a picture of Christian ministry;, of what actually happens when we engage in the work of the gospel,
When we talk to friends and family, and neighbours and colleagues in this Mount Barker region, about the good news of Jesus,
And his first metaphor is agricultural.
When a Christian person finds themselves, “doing ministry”,
They need to remember that they’re working in God’s field.
Why does our region here, in Mount Barker and surrounds, need to hear the gospel?
Because this is just as much God’s field, as Corinth was in 50 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 who came to Corinth after Paul had 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. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
The Christians in Corinth have been dividing over leaders, but Paul says these leaders are just servants,
These people are servants! Why would you make a big deal about these Christian leaders and the ministry that they’re doing, when they’re just servants!
And not even just servants, but as dirty manual labourers,
As the usually young boys, who would drive the plough or carry the water.
Many of us live on a suburban block, with a garden that, gets, well, varying degrees of care, I imagine!
But we might put on our gardening clothes, and go and potter in the garden for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon,
Put a few seeds here,
Sprinkle some water over them,
And then go inside and clean up, and enjoy our garden from inside the lounge room looking out the window!
It’s all very civilised!
That’s not the picture that Paul has of Christian ministry!
Earlier this year the BBC released a fascinating documentary called “The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England”, and it was about William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English in the 16th century, so that everyone could either read it, or have it read to them, at a time when the Roman Catholic church decreed that the Bible was to exist only in Latin, and Bibles were literally kept chained up in churches.
Tyndale famously said to another clergyman, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws;, and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do!
Those were inflammatory words, if for no other reason, than the average 16th century English country plow boy, was illiterate!
That’s more like Paul’s picture of those who engage in the work of the gospel.
Manual labour was despised in the Greek world,
And those who served in that way were despised.
Who sets servants on pedestals?
Look at the statues in any city you visit, the leaders of a city don’t immortalise their servants with monuments!
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.
Anyone, leaders or otherwise, who bring the gospel to bear on the lives of others are servants of the church, but primarily, they’re servants of Jesus Christ.
What did Paul say, he and Apollos are only servants, through whom you came to believe—, as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
Jesus assigns each person their task
If you’re involved in gospel ministry, you’re serving Jesus.
And notice that Jesus assigns particular responsibility, to individual labourers.
I wonder if that’s how you think about your ministry?
That you labour in God’s field,
In this community,
In this region,
, in a task that God has assigned to you.
It’s easy to think, “Well, I teach in Kids’ Church, because someone asked me to!”
Or “I do this at TMB, because a Ministry Area Leader assigned me this task.”
Do we see ourselves as servants, as the Lord has assigned to each his or her task?
See this isn’t just limited to Paul, to Apostles, to church planters, or church staff, or people who have official positions in the church.
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
And even Paul’s word “servant”, out of all the words he could have used to describe these leaders, he uses the word that throughout the New Testament describes the service that all Christian people are called upon to offer to God.
We’re running Simply Christianity at the moment, and we’ve just seen that Luke begins volume 2 of his work, the book of Acts referring back to volume 1, his gospel account, and he says In my former book, Theophilus, 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, the book of Acts is all about what Jesus continued to do and teach, as men like Paul, took the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earths.
The spread of the gospel,
The planting of churches,
The discipling of believers,
The conversations in ones and twos here,
And 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.
When you “water” or “plant a seed”, that’s a task that the Lord has assigned to you!
That’s a privilege, isn’t it?
And also, if Jesus has assigned a task to us, doesn’t that raise the stakes somewhat?
If someone I don’t know asks me to do something, I might not feel much of a sense of obligation or necessity.
My wife asks me to do something, I want to make sure I do it! To serve her, to care for her.
When Jesus assigns a task, puts an opportunity in front of me,
Creates a divine intersection, and a moment to speak into, with the hope that I have in Christ because of his death in my place,
Well that ought to shape the way I view that task.
God brings the growth
And of course, it’s God who brings growth.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow
Some of you have seen my garden, and I’ll acknowledge that “garden” is a slightly generous term!
But when it comes to plants, what I’ve discovered is that, I can do things to help growth. Watering plants, helps growth, I’ve discovered! Who would have thought?!
Mulching, pest control,
You know all this.
I can do things to help growth.
I can also do things to hinder growth. Spraying gly-phospate weed killer on the plants instead of the weeds, for example!
I can do things to help growth,
I can do things to 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,
We can do things that hinder growth,
But it’s God who brings the growth.
It’s God who works his grace in people,
Really, that was last week, wasn’t it?
The Spirit of God brings his own words, the message of the cross to bear on people’s lives, taking people from immaturity, to maturity,
From death to life.
And God brings both numerical growth, as people come to faith in Christ, and growth in maturity, as the Spirit of God and the Word of God, teach, train and correct us.
And that, I think, is both a healthy reminder, a little pin prick in the balloon of “I’m indispensable to God’s work here, these people depend on me for their growth.”
No they don’t!
God brings the growth!
But also I think it’s incredibly liberating! I don’t have to try and drag people to maturity in Christ!
Occasionally I’ve wanted to grab people by the scruff of the neck and drag them to maturity in Christ! And I know some of you have felt like that at times!
But we don’t have to do that any more than we have to drag people to faith in Christ in the first place.
It’s God who makes things grow.
The workers in God’s field are one
Therefore, The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,
Those engaged in gospel ministry, have one purpose, that is literally, they “are one”.
The farm labourer who plants the seed, what do they hope will be the end result of their work?
Growth! They want to see the plant grow.
What about the labourer who waters the seed? What do they hope will be the end result of their work?
Growth! They want to see the plant grow, too!
People who labour in God’s field, have one purpose, to see God do his work, and bring growth.
Some of the Christians in Corinth were saying things like, “Paul’s a church planter. Church planters are the essential ones!”
And others were saying, “Well, Apollos, he’s a pastor, he’s the one who kind of kept us going, he’s the important one.”
But anyone involved in authentic gospel ministry is doing just that! Gospel ministry!
It’s entirely inappropriate, to relate to people differently, according to some perceived pecking order, based on someone’s role in gospel work.
I heard once of the principal of a large theological college, who, was cleaning the toilets at the college. A few things had gone wrong, so he’d found some overalls in the cleaning cupboard and set about cleaning the toilets.
Into the bathroom came a man who was visiting the college in preparation to start studying there later on. He was quite well-known in church circles, very popular. The principal said “Hi”, he got kind of a grunt in return. He tried again to start a conversation, couldn’t get anything civil from this young man.
Later in the afternoon, the young man comes in for his set appointment with the principle. He’s charming, talkative, engages with the principal . not recognising the man sitting across from him as the one he’d been so rude to, and ignored earlier in the day.
One labourer in gospel ministry isn’t more important than some other labourer.
If Jesus himself has assigned the roles, and if there’s one purpose behind it all, preferring one leader over another is foolishness,
as is rivalry or jealousy between gospel workers.`
We know Paul’s language of co-athleticisng, striving side-by-side for the cause of Christ, we saw that in his letters to the Philippians. What happens when members of a sporting team, are vying for supremacy, not against their opponents, but against each other?
Or if members of a military unit, start attacking each other, and trying to gain advantage over each other, instead of against their common enemy?
Well, the enemy wins don’t they.
If the workers in the field, battle for supremacy, the work suffers, the crop suffers.
God’s field is not the place, or envy, and jealousy, and one-upmanship, it’s the place for work!
It’s the place for labour!
And the reward that God gives, the wages, literally, 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, not according to their job title.
Now Paul doesn’t really explain what he means by reward.
Is he talking about the heavenly reward, that which in other parts of the New Testament he describes as a crown, the prize given to the winner of an ancient sporting contest?
Is he 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,
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,
Is it the reward, of watching lives turned upside down, or 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 think about the family,
The way they look at their relationships, all these things are transformed.
That might be part of what Paul has in mind, but those rewards, we don’t always see them, do we?
Sometimes we don’t ever really know, what impact our gospel efforts have on someone.
And verse 13, reflects the reality of that. It may only be that we see the outcome of our gospel efforts when God brings all things to an end.
But regardless of how temporal or eternal Paul’s thinking when he speaks of reward, what we have to make sure we notice, is that it’s God who gives the reward.
Do we get the picture?
To serve in Gospel ministry is to labour 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,
Literally, Paul says,
God’s, we are co-workers;,
Build the church with care! (v 10 – 15)
Which means those last verses, 10 to 15, the point of these verses is pretty obvious then.
If we are God’s workers,
If we are working 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.
And in this case, the gospel ministry carried out by Christian leaders is in the foreground, although the ministry of ordinary Christian people, all of us, is still very much in the picture.
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 foundation, Jesus Christ.
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 the various parts of the house.
What colour bathroom tiles?
What colour kitchen tiles,
What colour laundry tiles?
What colour tiles around the top of the bath?
What colour tiles around the top of the shower?
And so on and so on, and that’s just the tiles!
I haven’t even got to paint colours yet?!
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 one that’s a bit wobbly!
The foundation is a given, and is non-negotiable.
Well that’s the same with the church. If it is the church, God’s church,
If these people, if we, are on about God’s work, the foundation is non-negotiable. It is Jesus Christ and him crucified.
But even where 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.
The mother of a friend of mine was, unfortunately not paying attention when she was driving once. She was doing over 70 ks in a 60 zone, except the 60 zone was a 25 zone on this particular day because of road works, and she had her photo taken by a speed camera.
And because she was so far over the 25 K limit, she had to go to court, and the photo was submitted as evidence. And 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!
This is another construction site warning sign!
This is 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 some parallel, between gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay straw, and types of ministry, or approaches to ministry.
What’s important is the two categories.
Is our ministry in this region, the work that we do under God in Mount Barker and the surrounds, as we seek to build his church,
Is the work that I do, worthy of the foundation:, the very wisdom of God, Jesus Christ and him crucified?
Or have I just put into it, minimal effort, and minimal cost.
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.
It’s not just a cursory inspection, but 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, behind what anyone can see.
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.
It is, kind of “by the skin of his teeth.”
But the question’s not salvation,
It’s about our ministry.
See, Paul thinks it’s possible to build the church,
To build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ and him crucified,
But to do that 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.
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,
And the wisdom of this world,
Our work to build God’s church will not survive the test.
It will be shown for what it is.
Of course, if we strive to build God’s church in this 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 free gift of forgiveness through Jesus,
We can have great confidence that our ministry will last,
That the only approval that matters;, God’s approval, and God’s reward, will be ours.
That God’s church will be built up.
And what greater result, could we possibly desire.