“For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field….” (1 Corinthians 3:4–9a, NASB95)
Paul was in the position of having to deal with these believers in Corinth from a distance. And, as we can see from 1 Corinthians 16:12, he was not able to enlist Apollos to go and help. “But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.” In the ESV we read that Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to come. He sensed that one of them really needed to go, and since he couldn’t, he really pursued Apollos going. But for some reason Apollos wasn’t inclined to go at that time. So, sending a letter in the hands of someone else would have to do for now.
“…are you not mere men?” As an evidence of their worldly or fleshly focused lives these believers had set their sights on the man who led them in their faith, and not the God who gave them life. These believers were divided over who they were following. It was as if the church had two influential pastors in their past, and rather than moving into the present they were hung up on who was there before, and totally lost sight of the fact that each one of them and their church as a whole belonged to God.
Apollos and Paul were used greatly by God, but the fact is that neither Apollos or Paul were God. They may have had a significant role in their churches existing and them as individuals coming to Christ, but each one of these men did so as servants of God and not as their masters. I felt this tension personally this past week when as an elder in my home church I attended a ministry lunch attended by the leaders of many of the ministries that I once oversaw as a former associate pastor in the church. It was an exciting time as I head from the various ministry leaders how they were doing and what more they might need to be successful in the ministry given to them. It was also a very emotional time as I realized how much of my heart I had given to those same things for so many years. While the ministry leaders were not the same as they were then (for the most part), they represented the same heart for service. For me, though, I saw how clearly my time in that role had passed as others were now carrying that torch. While I was touched by their affirmation, I also know that it is totally right for them to look to work with the leadership that God has for them right now. Evidently, this was not the case in Corinth.
God graciously gives his church gifted men to serve as their pastors, but not one of these pastors are God. In Ephesians 4 we read, “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;” (Ephesians 4:11–12, NASB95) The role of those who God gives to His church is to build up the body of Christ. The church belongs to Christ. He is the head. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him [Christ] as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22–23, NASB95) … “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB95)
Apollos and Paul were men through whom God worked to bring people to Christ according to the opportunity that God gave to each of them. Using a gardening analogy, Paul may have done the planting and Apollos may have done the watering, but it was God who caused the growth. And the same is really true in our lives today. There may have been different people that God used at different times to impact our lives for Him, but it was and remains God that is using them in us for His glory, both personally and in His church. We may not agree as we have been shaped by the planting and cultivating effort that certain people have put into us and the love that we have for them. But in the large scheme, Paul wrote of both he and Apollos, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
Of course, these men were not nothing, but surely apart from God and His work in them they would have been. This value is affirmed in the next verse where we read, “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” All of God’s workers are equal workers in the work in which He has placed them. All of the have a role in God bringing His crop to maturity. And, one day, God will personally and appropriately reward them for their faithful service.
Paul and Apollos were God’s faithful workers, and the Corinthian believers were God’s field. It was out of his role as a worker in God’s field that Paul wrote to those in the field to aid them in their growth. And, because God used Paul to write to them, we have as our benefit these same words recorded for us from which we can also be taught by today’s faithful workers who are serving as one in God’s field—His church. Every single one of us has a role on both sides of this as His workers in His field while also being corporately His field.
“You therefore, my (Paul) son (Timothy), be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1–2, NASB95)