“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–11, NASB95)
Sometimes construction takes longer than others. Its been a while since I’ve returned to 1 Corinthians. This doesn’t mean that work hasn’t been going on, but that maybe God was tweaking some other part of His project in me and my extended family.
During the last post Paul spoke of him and Apollos as workers in God’s field, which is represented by the believers in His church. Here he switches from an agricultural analogy to one of a building to describe the Corinthian believers and the relation they had to those who had key roles in their development as a church and as individuals in that church.
There was some contention in the Corinthian church concerning to whom they might owe allegiance or listen to more intently. There were those who were closely tied to Apollos and there were those closely tied to Paul. Neither man was there at the time, nor was either of them able to come personally to help resolve the tensions. So, in this letter Paul continues to drive the point that both He and Apollos as well as others who may have had a role in their coming to the Lord and walking with Him subsequently were any more important than another. Each of them were co-workers or fellow workers who belonged to God and were there to do His will and work. What they had done was not for their own benefit, recognition, or glory but was done for the glory of God. And, just as these me were His fellow workers, so were each of his readers part of God’s crop and the building that He was constructing.
As a personally chosen apostle of Christ, Paul was set aside for this ministry particularly to the Gentiles. It included him being regularly on the move to bring people to faith, establish them as a church, and leave them in capable hands of fellow workers. He compared himself to a wise or skilled master builder (sophos architektōn). The equipping had begun even before Him coming to Christ, and it flourished supernaturally afterward so that Paul might be wisely enabled to put Christ’s work into action. He was made fully ready to do the work that God gave Him in laying the foundation of His church. He was called and made ready to be the boots on the ground architect of the work that Christ was doing in drawing people to Himself and knitting His people together in local bodies of believers. We might look at the work and highly esteem Paul for what he accomplished, and in Christ we can indeed be thankful for what was accomplished in and through Paul, but Paul saw his work as something not for his own glory, but a sober charge given Him by Christ over which he was to be both careful and diligent. He did not devise the gospel message, but He was called to be its faithful messenger.
The Corinthian churches belonged to Christ and so does the church today. Whether fellow workers directly followed the work of Paul or two thousand years later, the same truth applies—we are building on the foundation laid by the apostles over which Christ is both the head and the cornerstone. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,” (Ephesians 2:19–21, NASB95)
And, as the apostles and early disciples worked hand in hand there in the beginning, God has a continued plan for His construction project to continue today. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, NASB95)
Sure, this time the analogy has shifted from agriculture and construction to that of a body, but the principles all work together to demonstrate that God has intended His work in His church (collectively and as local fellowships) to grow to maturity both through the work of those He has given in roles of leadership, shepherding and teaching and those given to building into one another in countless other ways. It all comes together in Christ, and it works rightly when we are properly submitted to Him as our head and working according to the ways that He intends.
To build on anything else or to trust in anyone else is inappropriate. This was true for the Corinthian believers and it is true today when churches take upon themselves to do things their own way, and not according to the word of God and the wisdom given us by Him.