1 Corinthians 3:5-15
Stephen Caswell © 2001
Source Of Spiritual Growth
Some years ago, a study was done by an agricultural school in Iowa. It reported that the production of a hundred bushels of corn from one acre of land required the following; 4,000,000 pounds of water, 6,800 pounds of oxygen, 5,200 pounds of carbon, 160 pounds of nitrogen, 125 pounds of potassium, 75 pounds of yellow sulfur, and other elements to numerous to list. In addition to these ingredients, rain and sunshine are required at the right times. Although many hours of the farmer's labor are also needed, it was estimated that only 5% of the produce of the farm can be attributed to the efforts of man. This means that 95% is attributed to the providence of God. This dependence upon God applies even more in the spiritual realm. Truly, without God we can do nothing!!
Today we will continue the theme of sowing and reaping. Last week we saw that there is only one seed to plant in people's hearts, that's the Gospel. However we saw there are many kinds of soil which relates to the human heart. People make several different responses to the Gospel. This morning I want to look at farming from another perspective. We'll see that a great deal of time and labor is required to bring in the harvest. We will see three things, Many Servants Toil, While God Increases, Much Time Is Taken before Harvest, and All Service Is Tested, Before God Rewards.
Firstly, Many Servants Toil While God Increases
1 Corinthians 3:5-8 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
Here, Paul corrects the Corinthians view about Christian ministry. They were glorifying God's servants instead the Lord. Paul emphasized that the Lord's ministry is not a competition but a partnership with many people working together. In verses 6 and 7 Paul emphasizes the different aspects of ministry. Normally God uses many servants to lead someone to salvation!
a. Some Plant
Paul said that he was the one who planted the seed at Corinth. Paul was the first to minister at Corinth. Paul scattered the seed firstly in the synagogue and then amongst the Gentiles. He started the Church and continued preaching the Word at Corinth for a long time. You can read about this in Acts chapter 18. As a faithful servant of Christ, Paul planted the seed of the Gospel.
b. Some Water
Soon after Paul left Corinth Apollos came there from Ephesus. He watered the seed that Paul had planted. Apollos was an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well. He was fervent in the Lord's work. He exercised a teaching ministry in Corinth that helped to establish the Church in God's Word. Although we don't know when, it seems that Peter also visited Corinth at some time. These men built on Paul's work by watering the seed.
c. God Increases
Verses 6 and 7 tells us that God gives the increase. The Lord produced fruit from the ministry of Paul and Apollos. The verbs used indicate that Paul ministered there for a time and then completed his work. Apollos did the same thing. But God blessed the work so that it increased all the time. God's increase didn't come to an end like the ministry of Paul and Apollos. He continued to work long after His servants have moved on. Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians ought to be praising God because He's the one who produced the harvest. Paul and Apollos were simply channels through whom God's blessing flowed. We must not exalt the Lord's servants but the Lord of the harvest. Only He can bring new life. Only he can produce an abundant harvest. Consequently, without God we can do nothing!
Our Vegetable Garden
For the last two years we have planted a few vegetables in our back yard. Each time a number of tasks was required. Firstly, I removed the weeds. Secondly, I dug up the bed and added mulch. Thirdly, I planted the vegetables. We planted corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. Finally, we had to water the plants regularly. God graciously gave plenty of sunshine and rain. In due time He gave the increase to our efforts. We had a bountiful supply of tomatoes; so much so that we gave hundreds away!
Unity And Diversity In God's Ministry
One thing is very clear in all of this, many servants are required to bring in the harvest. Some are required to plant seed, whilst others water the seed and some have the job of reaping the harvest. But all the servants are laboring on the same team. It's not competition but cooperation. Paul, Apollos, and Peter were not competing with each other. Rather, each was doing his assigned task under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Even though there is diversity of ministry, there is unity of purpose; and there ought to be unity of spirit.
For many years I was a traveling salesman. One day I had a great opportunity to share Christ with a lady in a sports store. We talked for some time about spiritual things and I shared the Gospel with her. In fact I gave her a Bible to read because she was really searching. Before I left she said a very interesting thing to me; It seems that wherever I turn at the moment I run into a Christian. Of course, God was the one arranging this. He had allowed me to water the seed someone else planted. I didn't lead this lady to Christ, but maybe someone did since. In the same way I have had the privilege of reaping the harvest that others have planted.
Jesus said that the harvest is great but the laborers are few! There is much to do to reach all creation with the Gospel. Are you working in the Lord's harvest? Are you planting the good seed in the hearts of unbelievers? When did you last share Christ with the lost? Have you had the opportunity to water the seed, to build on someone else's work? Are you praying for the Lord to give the increase? Have you had the joy of reaping in God's harvest? Are you prepared to be a fellow worker in God's field?
Secondly, Much Time Is Needed Before Harvest
John 4:35-38: Do you not say, There are still four months and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.
Paul ministered in Corinth for more than eighteen months to plant the Church there. We cannot expect to reap a harvest overnight. Some Christians think that we plant at 11.00 am, and at 11.15 then expect the harvest to be ready at 11.30 before we go home for lunch. When lost folk come into our services some people get excited and think they will respond the same day. This rarely happens. It normally takes considerable time for people to come to Christ. It also takes time for us to produce fruit in our own lives. Galatians chapter 6 talks about sowing and reaping as well.
Galatians 6:7-8: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
At creation God commanded the plants and animals to produce after their kind. God has stated the law of sowing and reaping many times in the Scriptures. Mankind will reap what they sow. Many young people sow wild oats and then pray for a crop failure. But God will not be mocked by them. They will reap the results of their wild oats. The person who plants the seeds of immorality sows disease in his own flesh. Money sown on drugs, alcohol, or materialism will bring its own harvest of sorrow. The drunkard, drug addict and covetous person all live to regret their actions.
Christians need to be careful where they sow their time, money, abilities and spiritual gifts. Catherine Marshall said, It is certainly the Creator's will that the desires and talents he himself has planted in us will be realized. We must sow these to the Holy Spirit so that we can reap a harvest of good fruit leading to eternal reward. The Holy Spirit will lead us to invest our resources for God, not on ourselves. The flesh is selfish and will quickly sow our resources on fleshly pleasures. If we sow to the flesh we will certainly reap corruption. Don't think that God will remove the consequences of wrong sowing from believers.
David's Wild Oats
David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Although God forgave David for his sins He did not remove the consequences of them. Ammon raped David's daughter Tamar. Absolom then killed Ammon to avenge his sister. Absolom later conspired to take the kingdom from his father. Adonijah did the same thing just before David's death. Yes he reaped what he sowed in the lives of his family! But God warned David this would happen in 2 Samuel 12:10-12. Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny!
Galatians 6:9: And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
For many years I played soccer in the Church league. Every Thursday night we would train and practice our skills. At the beginning of the season it was particularly hard work. Over the summer we had lost our fitness and it was hard work getting it back. We felt like quitting during those first few weeks. The rigors of training only seemed to leave us weaker. But through perseverance we gained physical stamina and strength. The benefits of this were seen only to clearly on the soccer field.
It takes patience to bring in a good crop. The farmer has to work long and hard before he can enjoy the rewards of the harvest. The same is true in the Christian life. We must persevere in planting good seed and watering it if we want to see results from our Christian life. We prayed for Sandy's sister Sharon for seven years before she was saved. Then we both had the joy of leading her to Christ. We reaped the harvest. The Christian life requires discipline and stamina. Jesus said that following Him was costly. We have to give up all for Christ's sake. It's not an easy road. Often we become weary along the way. But we must not lose heart or give up. At the right time God will allow us to reap if we don't quit beforehand. Spiritual fruitfulness takes time and hard work. Developing godliness requires discipline and self denial. We will never become soul winners without witnessing to many people first. We will never become prayer warriors without agonizing with the Lord each day in prayer.
James 5:7-8:Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Galatians 6:10: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Paul closes this section by encouraging them to make the most of every opportunity. He wanted them to sow the good seed as often as they could. They were to minister to both the lost and the saved. We can reach people for Christ through acts of kindness, through giving and through witnessing. Believers need to make the most of every opportunity. Because we are only on earth for a short time we should make each day count. Only one life to live and it will soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last. God wants His children to be fruitful. In John 15: Jesus said that those who abide in Him would bear fruit, more fruit and much fruit. What sort of fruit can we harvest if we sow to the Spirit? The Bible lists five things.
Holiness - Romans 6:22: But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
Giving - Romans 15:26: For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.
Saved Souls - Romans 1:13: Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you, that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.
Praise & Thanksgiving - Hebrews 13:15: Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.
Good Works - Colossians 1:10: That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Sowing And Waiting
The person who looks for quick results in the seed planting of well doing will be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me little good to plant them in my garden tonight. There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and reaping. During the stretches of waiting, there is cultivating and weeding and nurturing and planting still other seeds.
Preparing a harvest takes time. Paul warns us to be careful what we sow. Are you sowing to the flesh or the Spirit? Where are you investing your time talents and money? Are you following the Spirit's lead or are you satisfying the flesh? Farming is hard work and requires stamina. Are you persevering in the Christian life? Or have you quit because it takes so long to reap? Are you serving the Lord? Are you making the most of the opportunities that God gives you? Are you serving both the lost and the saved? Those who persevere will reap!
Thirdly, All Service Is Tested, Before God Rewards
a. God Requires Our Service
1 Corinthians 3:9-10: For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.
God asks us to serve him. He wants us to work in His field and in His temple. -- Ulrich Zwingli: Father of the Swiss Reformation said: You are a tool in the hands of God. He demands your service, not your rest. Yet, how fortunate you are that he lets you take part in his work. Yet we can do this only after we have been saved through Jesus Christ. He alone gives the new life we need to be fruitful. He alone is the foundation that we can build our lives upon. We cannot work our way to heaven. Service can only follow salvation through Christ. This is just like the horse must go before the carriage.
b. God Reveals Our Service
1 Corinthians 3:11-13: For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
John Chrysostom said this about the Judgment Seat of Christ:
Let us then imagine Christ's judgment seat to be present now, and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account to the judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand , but also be laid bare. Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?
Paul makes it very clear that God will reveal the quality of our Christian service. This takes place at the judgment seat of Christ. The word test dokimazw means to examine, to prove by testing, to evaluate something to see if it's genuine. He will test our works to see what is worthy of reward. Fire was used to remove the dross from precious metals. When you apply fire to gold, silver and precious stones they become more precious. But when you apply fire to wood hay and straw they burn up in smoke. The Lord will evaluate our motives and abilities that produced our service. God knows when we give our best and when we give Him what's left. He knows when we do something for the praises of men. The judgment day will reveal the quality of our Christian service.
G. Campbell Morgan On Ministry
Young ministers often asked Dr. Campbell Morgan the secret of his pulpit success. Morgan replied, I always say to them the same thing — work; hard work; and again, work. Morgan was in his study at 6 o’clock each morning, digging treasures out of the Bible. You can find wood, hay, and stubble in your backyard, and it will not take too much effort to pick it up. But if you want gold, silver, and jewels, you have to dig for them.
c. God Rewards Our Service
1 Corinthians 3:14-15: If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:8 says that the laborer will be rewarded according to his works. Christian service that endures the fire of testing will bring honor and reward to that servant. Different crowns are given to fruitful servants in the Lord's work. God Himself will present the rewards to His servants. Tragically, the Scriptures reveal that some believers will lose the crowns that had been reserved for them. Many servants obtain a crown for faithful service in the Christian life, but they lose it later by retiring from God's work early. 2 John 8 and Revelation 3:11 both warn of this. Let us labor for the master till He calls us in.
Queen Keeps His Business
It is related that Elizabeth I of England once commissioned a rich merchant prince of her empire, to go on an important mission for the crown, promising him rich rewards for his services. The merchant sought to decline the appointment on the grounds that his business would suffer during his absence, but his sovereign assured him: You go and look after my business, and I will look after yours. On his return, he found that his queen had kept her promise: he was a richer man than he was before. If an earthly sovereign did this, imagine how much more God will reward His faithful servants.
Loss Of Reward
Christian service that is burned up at this judgment will cause loss of reward to the servant. They themselves will be saved, but by the skin of their teeth. They will feel shame and reproach for having wasted their lives. The realization that their life was worthless in God's sight will torment them. They will be ashamed that they have nothing of value to offer the Lord from their time on earth.
God requires His children to serve Him. Are you laboring in the Lord's harvest? Are you seeking to do His will in your life? Are you building on the foundation of Jesus Christ? Are you ready to give an account at the judgment seat of Christ? Will your works stand the test of fire? Are you building with gold, silver and precious stones? Will the Lord reward you for faithful service? Or will you suffer shame? It's too late to get your life in order when Christ returns! It's far better to put things in order now.
Today we have seen three things about toiling in God's field!
Firstly, Many Servants Toil While God Increases
The harvest is great and the laborers are few! Are you a fellow laborer in the Lord's harvest? Are you planting or watering the seed? Are you praying for God to give the increase?
Secondly, Much Time Is Needed Before Harvest
It takes time to bring in the harvest. Are you sowing the right seed? Do you have the stamina to see it through? Are you taking every opportunity to serve the Lord? Are you using your talents, time and money for the Kingdom of God?
Thirdly, All Service Is Tested, Before God Rewards
God requires us to serve Him and he will test our works. What will you have to show the Lord for your time on earth? Are you ready to be laid bare at the judgment seat of Christ? Will your service pass the trial of fire? Will you receive a reward or suffer shame?
1 Peter 5:10-11: But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.