How many of you have felt the frustration at your work, where you are asked to something that is not within your responsibility? Or has your success and failure depended upon the results or inputs of others, but you don’t have the authority to direct these people? Or have you experienced the anger of others, when the cause has nothing to do with you?
How about as a Follower of Yeshua? Have you felt that you are a failure when someone that you have been witnessing to turns away? Have you poured into that one person for so long, and yet have not seen them move closer to Adonai? Do you feel that your success as a Believer is based upon how many people you have led to Yeshua? Then this passage is for you ?[Read 1 Cor. 3][i]
(Vs. 1-4) These verses are really a continuation of the previous chapter. Paul is again explaining why his message was simple, or as he puts it, “milk, not solid food.” Paul is showing that the message of the Good News must be catered to the audience. There are certain topics that cannot be received by unbelievers. Yeshua said in (Matt 13:13) that He deliberately spoke to the crowds in parables, so that “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” The previous chapter shows that the amount that we can share with unbelievers is limited because many things are spiritually discerned. What is interesting, is that Paul says that the Congregation in Corinth was still not ready to hear the deeper wisdom of God, because there was still jealousy and strife within the community. But in spite of the immaturity of the congregation and the sins that he is going to address, Paul still refers to them as brothers and sisters.
(Vs. 5-9) Paul now asks “What then is Apollos? And What is Paul?” He does not asks, “Who” but “What.”[ii] Here he begins to address the function of Apollos and himself. This takes me back to the questions I asked earlier. For a long time, and every once in a while, I believed that I was a total failure since I had led so few people to Yeshua. My definition of success, was based upon people like Billy Graham and Reinhard Bonnke. But God does not measure success in the same way. Here in these verses, Paul shows that each of us has different roles and giftings. We each contribute in a different way. Paul was able to sow seed, I find that I am much better at watering. While we can all be “ready to give and answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15), we are not all gifted as evangelists.
Our success in the Kingdom of God, is doing what the King has called us to do. If we attempt to do what others are called to do, or what we want to do, or what we think will bring us the most success, we may find that we are not building with “gold, silver, or precious stones.” We are responsible to work with the giftings that the King has already given us. Let’s read the parable of the talents.[Read Matt. 25:14-30]
Each servant was responsible to use what he had been given and produce an increase. Some are given many talents, and Yeshua says in Luke’s account, that “from everyone given much, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) But regardless, everyone is given something. The servant who only had one talent, was not let off the hook. Even though he had fewer resources, he could still have gained the masters favour by leaving the money in the bank, and collecting the interest. “In contrast to the fear of the one-talent servant, the good servants trust in the goodness of their master and as a result of their faith are willing to take risks in order to achieve a maximum return for their master’s money.”[iii] Instead the one-talent servant chose to bury what he had. This burying of the money was an attempt at relinquishing the responsibility, a way of pretending that he had no responsibility.
(Vs. 10-15) Paul shows that both he and Apollos were servants of God, and were helping build and to plant the Kingdom of God. They were both working to cause the congregation to grow in quantity and in quality, in new people coming to Yeshua, and in the maturity of the Believers. But at the end of the day, Yeshua is the foundation, and Adonai brings the increase and “makes things grow.” We all work together, but in the end God will get the credit for all who come to Him. Now it is important for anyone who is leading and teaching others, to have a good foundation on Yeshua our Messiah. This goes along with what Paul tells Timothy (1 Tim. 3:6), that a leader of a congregation must not be a new believer or a novice. The metaphor of the building being tested by fire, refers to the temptation that cause people to fall away from Yeshua. Does the teaching that we give to others help draw them closer to Yeshua or does it push people away?
An example of a teaching that does not survive the fire of persecution is the teaching about a pre-tribulation rapture. As much as proponents say that it is not escapism, here is a story of what happened in China. When Corrie Ten Boom met with leaders of the Believers in China, they told her about what had happened in 1949. “At the time that Mao Tse Tung was brining China into communism. American missionaries had left. Chinese Christians entered a time of intense persecution. Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine had been accepted teaching. There was a problem, very serious. This … doctrine had not prepared the Chinese Church for witness under trial. Christian believers were interrogated and brutalized under the Red Guard. Many fell away from the faith in those times.”[iv] [v]
I consistently ask Adonai if what I am teaching is preparing you for the persecution and difficulties that you will experience in the world. Will the words I share and the way I share it draw you closer to Yeshua when you are pressured? For this reason, I prefer to teach exegetically instead of topically. I want you to remember the Scriptures, not just my opinions of what they mean. If I can get you all to feed yourselves from the Word of God, if I can get you all to rely more on the Bread of Life, Yeshua, then I will have done my part at helping you in your journey.
All of us have things that we find easy or enjoyable. We all have giftings, and they are all different. I love speaking in public, and I know that for most people this is a struggle. But this may simply mean that Adonai has gifted you in another way. Maybe you are gifted at cooking, and there may be a family in your neighbourhood who could use a meal, or maybe you love crafting your own cards, and you could make a card for some people in the hospital who haven’t had many visitors. These are just a couple of ideas, but do you see that Yeshua can take the gifts in our lives, and use them to share the love and life of Messiah in powerful and amazing ways. Someone mentioned to me recently that we could visit people in different nursing homes. I think this is a wonderful idea that we should simply plan a time and do. When Yeshua gave the commission to his talmidim to “Go therefore and make disciples” it could also mean “as you Go, make disciples.”
(Vs. 16-17) Never forget that you are God’s temple, and when persecution comes against you, it is not you, but God who takes that hit. Adonai says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will Repay.” (Deut. 32:35) You carry the presence of God, everywhere you go, and therefore you can demonstrate God to this city of Canberra.
(Vs. 18-23) It is not required that you be wise according to man’s standards (1 Cor. 1:26) or powerful or well born. Rather we must rely on the wisdom that comes from God. Paul closes out this chapter with a reminder that we should not boast about what teacher we are under, or which denomination we are following, but rather we should boast in Messiah and in Him Crucified. May all our lives reflect Yeshua, may we all look a little more like Him each day. Amen?
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11 pg. 283.
[iii] The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation, Brad Young, pg. 82.