Nate Van Denend Box 265
What, After All, Is Apollos?
6:00pm Ada CRC 3/29/09
I was talking to a teacher the other day. She was talking about some students of hers. She teaches in Chicago. One morning toward the beginning of the school year she asked one of her 4th grade students about her homework.
“Your homework is not complete, you need to take some time to finish it.”
The girl replied, “What are you? I don’t need to do what you tell me to do.”
“Well” the teacher replied, “I am your teacher…”
Let’s set aside the insubordination of the student for a minute. Right now we have a credibility problem. “Who are you to tell me what to do?” “What are you to me?”
To use Paul’s language, this student needs milk, not spiritual food. This student needs to know who she is and who the teacher is and what their relationship is. The teacher needs to gain credibility with the student and the student needs to learn to accept the authority of the teacher. And all this needs to take place first, before the teacher can teach science or math or English or anything else. This student needs milk.
The Corinthians need milk. First, in chapter 1 and again in chapter three Paul writes about the quarrels in the church in Corinth. I follow Paul, says one, I follow Cephas, says another, I follow Apollos, says a third. Oh yeah says a fourth, I follow Christ. When Paul steps into this quarrel, those who follow Apollos or Cephas or Christ will look at Paul and say “What are you to me?” “I listen to what Apollos taught me.” I listen to what Peter taught me. “I listen to Christ alone and no one else.”
You need milk and not spiritual food, Paul tells them. You need to know how the church, the leadership and the authority of God all fit together. You need to know who I am and who Apollos is, who Cephas is and who Christ is. Once we figure all this out, then we can move onto the spiritual food.
You see, Paul’s credibility is in question. Some people say I follow Paul. With those people Paul has too much credibility, maybe even more credibility than he should. Some say I follow Apollos. With those people Paul does not have enough credibility.
The credibility problem goes hand in hand with other problems. Since Paul does not have credibility with everyone, Apollos and even Christ, do not have credibility with everyone either. It is a free for all, no wonder there is quarreling.
In chapter 1:12 Paul lists all the names together, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ as if they were all thought of as equal teachers, Paul pitted against Apollos and both of them are put on equal footing with Christ. The hierarchy has been turned upside down and everyone does what is fit in their own minds.
For this reason Paul says: “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly, as mere babies in Christ,” he says. I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly…
Worldliness, Carnality, Fleshliness, all these words capture the Greek word sarxs meaning body or flesh. It means that the Corinthians have not shown themselves to be distinct from their surrounding community. The quarrelling and the jealousy is what one would expect in a typical civic gathering. Paul does not expect this type of behavior in a church meeting. This is fleshly behavior.
Fleshly is what everyone is as long as they are left in their sins. Fleshly is what a person is who has not been justified and sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ. Fleshly is what a person is who has not experienced the new life available in the Holy Spirit. And Fleshly behavior is what Christians so commonly fall back into when the Christian way becomes difficult.
I could not address you as spiritual, but as fleshly Paul says, “There is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not acting merely out of the flesh?
The spiritual development of the Corinthian Church has been stifled. Not only has Paul’s credibility been challenged and the distinction between Paul and Christ has been blurred. There is Jealousy and quarreling preventing the church from taking on the solid food. One cannot live on milk forever. Eventually, to become mature one needs to take on the solid food. Jealousy, Quarrelling, I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, this has stunted the growth of the whole Christian community.
Jealousy, Quarrelling, Fleshliness, always stunt the growth of the whole Christian community. In a time of economic crisis, when fears and anxieties increase, it is easy to fall into the ways of fleshliness. It is easy to harbor bitterness and jealousy toward those who have when your economic world falls apart and you become a have-not. It is easy to let righteous anger at the real economic injustices being perpetrated as we speak digress into a quarreling attitude. One must guard one’s heart in these trying times.
If speaking out against injustice is needed, it must be done with a pure heart, not a heart tainted by jealousies and prone to quarrel. But this is so difficult to do! Our motives are always a mess!
Indeed, speaking out at all can be difficult to do with a pure heart. For almost 30 years, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church has debated the issue of Women in Ecclesiastical office. Sometimes there have been disagreements. Sometimes the disagreements have turned into down right quarrels. I urge you brothers and Sisters in Christ, to be on your guard against jealousy and quarrelling regarding this issue especially as Ada wrestles the decisions made by our Synod. There are ways to disagree, to oppose one another, to argue and to speak out passionately, that do not involve a jealous heart or a quarreling spirit. Seek out those ways. Seek out those ways.
One of the churches I attended while growing up would routinely have two council meetings. One of the meetings happened at church at the appointed time. The other meeting would happen between select members in private at an undisclosed location. This second meeting was divisive, the elders would talk about the other elders who were not present. These elders would scheme and plot in secret. Quarrels would break out, but silent quarrels. Quarrels where you never knew who you could trust. The very existence and survival of the church was put in jeopardy. And the credibility of all the leaders in the church was brought into question. This quarreling stunted the growth of and eventually destroyed that Christian community. The leadership was undercut and no one could speak openly.
In the midst of quarreling and jealousy, the leaders are faced with a credibility problem. How can a person speak up and lead when no one is listening? On the one hand there is a tendency forget Christ and become inwardly focused on one leader or a group of leaders. On the other hand there is a tendency to ignore the leadership in the church all together and not give to them the credibility that they deserve. When Paul writes to the Corinthians he must navigate between these two poles. Paul must give them milk and the milk he gives is very specific to the problem as it appears in Corinth.
There is a group in Corinth which says I follow Paul. This group puts too much emphasis on Paul. There is another group which says I follow Apollos. For this group, Paul has no credibility. In addition, it is not about Paul or Apollos really, it is about Jesus Christ. Paul must describe the three fold relationship between the congregation, which he refers to in the text as “you” 2. Paul and Apollos and “any man” these are the leaders in the church and third the role of God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Paul starts with himself and the group of leaders in the Church. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? What not Who. These people already know who Paul and Apollos are. They need to know what they do. What is the role of people like Paul and Apollos?
Only servants, through whom you came to believe- as the Lord assigned to each his task. Paul’s task was to plant the seed of the Gospel. The Gospel of Christ Crucified, stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. But lest they think Paul is some wise philosopher to be venerated, Paul writes in the second chapter, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Don’t believe based on men’s wisdom or even my wisdom says Paul, rest your faith on God’s Power.
What is Paul? What after all is Apollos? They are not teachers of men’s wisdom. They are not philosophers who set up schools and have pupils, they do not come with wise and persuasive words. They come with the Spirit’s power because the faith they plant, the seed of the Gospel, must not rest on the wisdom of men, but it must rest on the power of God. Paul and Apollos are servants, slaves of the master Gardener.
I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it, God makes it grow.
Paul then shifts the metaphor. You are the field of God, the building of God. What is Paul, What is Apollos? Paul is the master builder who lays down the foundation which is Jesus Christ. There is no other foundation. Apollos and others come along and lead the church by building on this foundation. Leaders in the church do not build new foundations. They build on the foundation of Christ that has already been put in place. Other builders might come along. Those leader builders might build with gold and silver and precious stones. Such leaders edify the congregation and receive their reward from God.
Other leader builders might build on the foundation with wood or hay or straw. Such leaders may be less effective at leading the congregation. They do not build with materials that last. When the fire of the Day of the Lord comes their leadership is burned away, but they escape, but only as one escaping though the flames. The foundation doesn’t change and the work of the other leaders doesn’t change, the gold and silver work remains. Grace abounds here, The church while hindered by a less effective leader is not destroyed by that leader. The work done by leaders who are stronger lasts and the foundation of Jesus Christ remains firm. Even the weak leader survives although with a few scars.
Paul shifts the metaphor again. You are the Temple of God. Actually he says Ya’ll are the temple of God. You corporately are the temple of God. Elsewhere we read that the individual is the temple of God, but here Paul speaks about the congregation, the people of God. Ya’ll are the temple of God. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.
When talking about the builders, Paul talks about strong builders or wise builders and contrasts them with weak or foolish builders. Both builders though are Christians. Both seek to build up and not tear down. Now Paul shifts his attention to those destroyers who seek to destroy what God through his builders has built. These are destructive leaders. These are the leaders of the Quarrels and the Jealous ones. The destroyers of God’s temple will be destroyed.
Paul does not name these destroyers here. Maybe that is because it is often times difficult to tell who the strong leaders, the weak leaders and the destroyers are. Paul waits for the Day which will reveal each leader’s work for what it is. There is wisdom in waiting. The destroyer may be turned into a strong builder by the Spirit of God.
Paul knows this to be true in his own life. He once was a destroyer and now he is a builder. Paul challenges everyone in Corinth to look into their own hearts. What kind of leader are you in the congregation? What kind of member of the congregation are you? Are you a strong leader, a weak leader, a destroyer? Look honestly and strive to be the strong builder. Strive to be the one who builds what does survive, so that the reward will be yours.
But when you strive to be a strong builder, you do not strive alone. And when you come together as the temple of God that temple is not empty. And when you work in the fields planting the seed and watering it you do not work alone.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God makes it grow. God is the one responsible for the life and vitality of your faith. God is the one who ensures that the seed of faith gets implanted in your heart. God is the one who ensures that that seed of faith is carefully watered. And God is the one who causes your faith to deepen to take root in your heart and to grow.
God in Jesus Christ is the foundation of the building. God in Christ is holding up this whole project. Christ is underneath the church supporting it and sustaining it. Builders find a sturdy foundation to build on because Jesus Christ is that foundation. Leaders and congregations weather storms, quarrelings, jealousies and even fleshliness, because and only because those congregations are built on Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ holds them firmly to the ground in the midst of the storms of disagreement and dissention. And Jesus Christ remains protecting the people even if all that has been built is burned away.
For you are in Christ, Paul says earlier in the letter, Christ, who has become for us wisdom from God, our righteousness, our holiness and our redemption.
And God is the maintainer of faith, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the building and the Spirit of God lives in the congregation. Do you not know that ya’ll are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in ya’ll? The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit lives and breathes in the life of the congregation . The Holy Spirit makes the congregation holy and set apart. The Holy Spirit rescues a worldly, fleshly congregation from itself and brings life to the bodies of the dead.
So what about this quarreling, jealous, fleshly, mere infant in Christ congregation that bickers about following Paul and Apollos? You, Paul says, are the Field of God, filled with the plant of faith which God is making grow. You, Paul says, are the building of God, firmly grounded on the foundation which is Jesus Christ. You, Paul says, are the Temple of God, a holy and set apart place filled with the very Spirit of God.
So when we look around at our own denomination scarred as it is from the quarrels of the past…When we look at our own congregation as we discuss and debate...Let us first see us for who we truly are.
May we see that we truly are the Field of God here. This morning there was a Profession of Faith. Someone planted the seed of that faith in the heart of Brek. Someone else watered that seed in his life. The community that surrounds him, people from inside this congregation and people from outside it. They all took turns watering that seed and Today we saw the results of those efforts when Brek confessed before us and all people that He believes in Jesus Christ the Son of God sent to redeem the world. Today we saw in this congregation the action of the God who makes that seed grow. God who provided opportunities, God who brought in significant people, God who made Brek’s faith grow. God who makes all our faith grow.
May we see that we are truly the Building of God. In spite of issues that we may disagree about, in spite of our quarreling spirits from time to time, Jesus Christ is our foundation. Jesus Christ holds us together and Jesus Christ keeps us firmly grounded on him.
May we see that we are the temple of God. God’s Spirit dwells in this congregation, God’s Spirit brings life to this congregation, God’s Spirit works with the builders and in spite of the destroyers. And God’s Spirit sets us apart from the world to do the Spirit’s work within the World.
Therefore, don’t boast about men, we needn’t quarrel, we needn’t be Jealous. All things are yours: and you are of Christ and Christ is of God.