- Read 1 Corinthians 3:4-15 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon from 1 Cor. 3 (26 April), you can listen to it here.
Many people who are familiar with Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20 readily accept that Paul’s illustration in 1 Cor 3:6-9 concerns evangelism. “Paul planting and Apollos watering” refers to the teaching of the Gospel and the maturing of faith. While different people have different roles, God oversees the entire process.
Verse 9 contains an abrupt transition from the image of a field to that of a building. There is no indication that the topic changes, just the illustration.
If verses 10-15 are read without the preceding context it’s easy to seize on the word “work” in v13 and think Paul’s discussing Christian living; Have people honored God with their lives? Yet the way v9 transitions indicates that these verses are also discussing the evangelism/conversion/maturing process. The church is being built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, not by good deeds, but by people being converted to following Christ. This passage describes numerical growth.
Some of the building materials (wood, hay, straw) are combustible and will burn when tested by fire. The other materials (gold, silver, and gems) will survive that same fire.
Paul wants the Corinthian church to recognize that not all of their converts will last. Some will desert their faith when they experience difficulties. Others, however, will persevere despite trials, their faith intact. Neither of these can be predicted on the front end, only time will tell.
My sermon, if you care to listen to it, outlined this understanding of the passage, but also highlighted the point that all sorts of people are converted to Christ: Gold, silver, gems, wood, hay, straw, rich, poor, African, Asian, male, female, etc. Not Paul’s direct intention, but I believe a valid application of the text.
I often feel guilty discussing numerical church growth. It’s like it’s a dirty word. It seems I have built in disclaimer that numerical growth isn’t everything and that spiritual maturity, or discipleship, is what’s most important. While spriritual growth is crucial to healthy church or personal relationship with God, we have to embrace numerical growth as the starting point for spiritual growth. Some people will last, some will not. Paul apparently didn’t think that talking about building the church numerically should be taboo.
Probably what’s most important in discussing numerical growth is recognzing that we’re not talking about numbers on a spreadsheet or lines on a graph. We’re talking about real people with real needs whom the angels rejoice over when they commit to following Christ. Does talk of numerical church growth sometimes make you uncomfortable? Are there other, more people-oriented, ways of discussing evangelism?
Songs & Scripture
I’m trying to think of some songs that have to do with multicultural churches, and I’m not getting very far. Perhaps some of our “Missionary Songs” are as close as we can get. I’d really appreciate some suggestions, as we can probably use them at our HARMONY Sunday on 31 May.
- Whosever Heareth
- Jesus Loves the Little Children (Kids song, but I’m not sure it’s PC anymore?)
- People Need the Lord (SFP)
- Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom (SFP)
- Yours (Steven Curtis Chapman on the 2007 album This Moment)
- He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands