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Understanding Different Ministries

1 Corinthians 3:5-7
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. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIVUK)

Believers were quarrelling.  Some thought that Paul, who founded the church, was right; and others considered that Apollos, who gave further teaching, was right.  The church was divided, some supporting one man, and some the other.  That had developed into a sort of ugly tribal warfare (1 Corinthians 3:3-4).  So Paul rebuked them, and then showed them why they were wrong.

Interestingly, Paul does not say, "Who is Apollos, who is Paul?", he writes, "What is Apollos, what is Paul?"  He uses functional expressions saying that their personalities were irrelevant; it was the Lord who matters.  Their ministries were different because they were appointed to do different jobs.  The apostle/evangelist Paul sowed the seed of God's Word whereas Apollos was the pastor/teacher who watered the seed.  Life was in the seed of God's Word because God put it there (Romans 1:16).

The church in Corinth had not understood that ministry is not about personality.  The power is in the seed, not the people who sow or water.  The person who gives the power is not the messenger but the author of the message, God Himself.  That makes gospel ministers as important as under-gardeners (slaves in those times), and to glorify a slave is to humiliate his master.  That is just what the church was doing – treating God's servants as celebrities and dishonouring their Lord.

New life only comes from God, not from ministers.  How much that needs to be relearned by today's church.  Well known teachers attract big crowds, and publishers are eager to sell their books.  Of course, it is right that those who have been proved as humble servants of God should have a wider ministry.  But they are not God.  They are only His servants; the more we magnify them the less we glorify God.  And do not forget that praising leaders exposes them to temptation too (Judges 8:22-27).  Honour them and obey their godly teaching (Hebrews 13:17) but only give praise to God.  Each Christian has a different job to do; honour them all and do not compare them, except against their Lord (Luke 17:10).

Lord of Your Word. Thank You that You give eternal life to anybody who believes the gospel, and thank You for the messengers You sent to teach me the truth. Forgive me when I have given them the praise which is due to You, or wrongly compared Your messengers. Please help me to honour and obey my leaders, and not expose them or myself to the temptation of pride. May I learn to glorify You more and more as I let Your Word be at work in my life. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams