Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Counsel for Church Workers

Written by Gary Postma
The following message was delivered by Garry Postma (Secretary Foreign Missions, FRC) at a mission conference in Brazil, sponsored by the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC). It was addressed to mission workers, but has useful advice for all who are involved in Christian ministry. The message is based 1 Corinthians 1:1-13 and 3:3-10.
The letter of Paul to the Corinthians was written in response to a letter from the Corinthian church requesting counsel and advice on several matters. The apostle is asked to respond to various moral and ethical disorders in the church. Accordingly he gives instruction on marriage, public worship, the freedom of the believer and on the LordÕs Supper. In the first four chapters however, the apostle deals with certain divisions in the church. In chapter 1:11 we are told that Paul was informed by members of ChloeÕs household that there are quarrels among them. In chapter 3:3 this is described as envying and jealousy--carnal, worldly. Apparently the Corinthian church had divided itself into several factions. One says, I belong to or follow Paul; another Apollos; another Cephas; and still another Christ--we are told in chapter 1:12. Altogether this has become a matter of pride and a point of serious contention. In 1:13 the apostle Paul admonishes the Corinthians by way of three rhetorical questions. One almost senses a touch of sarcasm in the tone. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? The Corinthians know the answer. In fact, says the apostle in 3:5, who after all are Paul and Apollos--are they not but ministers of the Lord, who the Lord used as His instruments to bring the Corinthians to salvation? And although each may have a special task assigned by the Lord, ÒI have planted, Apollos wateredÉÓ (3:6), yet they are both but ministers or servants. He says it even stronger in 3:7--both he and Apollos, the planter and the waterer, are nothing and God is everything for His is the one who gives the increase. ÒTherefore let no man glory in menÓ (3:21a). Not in the one who plants nor in the one who waters. ÒHe that glorieth, let him glory in the LordÓ (1:31).

What are some of the lessons we can learn from this?

1. The first lesson is that there is no place in the church of God for jealousies, pride and divisions. Indeed, we must guard against this. Ò Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing [agree with one another], and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together [united] in the same mind and in the same judgmentÓ (1:10). Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, he tells the Ephesian church(4:3). And to the Philippian church he writes in chapter 2:3: ÒLet nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem [the] other better than themselves.Ó ÒPrideÓ, someone said, Òleads to divisions; humility to unity.Ó Let us remember this also as fellow-workers in a mission field.

2. The second lesson is that we are not to glory in any man, planter or waterer. Rather, ÒHe that glorieth, let him glory in the LordÓ (1:31). It is the Lord who gives the increase. Let us ascribe all glory to Him alone. It is by grace that Paul could lay the foundation. It is by grace that another builds thereon (3:10). It is by grace that he and all other ministers/servants are labourers or fellow workers together with God (3:9). And it is by grace that there may be fruit on their labours, for God gives the increase. So where is the glory then? It is GodÕs.

3. The third lesson is more of an observation. The apostle Paul makes a distinction between planter and waterer. He considers himself a planter and Apollos a waterer. This does not necessarily mean that the one is not a planter and the other is not a waterer. It is probably more related to the focus the Lord has bound upon them when He called them and accordingly equipped them. Timothy is also a waterer (1 Cor.4:17). He is being sent by Paul to remind the Corinthians of PaulÕs ways which are in Christ. And to the Philippians, the apostle speaks of sending Timothy because he has no one like him who takes a genuine interest in their state or welfare; for everyone looks after their own interests and not those of Jesus ChristÕs (Phil 2:19-21). We do well to think of the implications of this distinction in our church work and for the mission field.

4. The fourth lesson is also an observation. The apostle is not saying that planting and watering are unimportant. No, he is saying that we are not to ascribe any glory to the one who is planting or who is watering. Planting and watering are most important. They are essential. It is an awesome and holy work. And what a marvel it is that the Lord wants to use sinful manÑÒearthen vesselsÓ--Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, for this most glorious work. It is a humbling thought that He has chosen you to plant and water in the special fields He has placed you. He could have chosen others, but He especially chose you. He is saying: ÒI have a people in Brazil, in Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, etc. and you, who are sitting here in this room, have been selected as my instrument--my planter, my watererÑto bring these people from darkness into my marvelous ligh.Ó--to plant the seed; to feed and water the plant. But donÕt glory in self, for who in this room is able or is adequate for the work? We are nothing and God is everything. It is God who gives the increase.

5. This leads to the final lesson. What a comfort it is that it is LordÕs work and that He gives the increase. How often has it not happened that our most well-laid plans and methods went nowhere. How often have we not gone one step forward and two steps backward. How often have we not been surprised at what God has done or is doing while we are walking on a different path. Something that catches us off guard and we can hardly keep up. How often have we not been too dependent on self or others and not on Him to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth. Let us look to God who alone gives the increase. It is His work. He owns it, not us. He will take care of it. Let us therefore not be anxious or despairing. Rather, let us be faithful always, in planting and watering, trusting Him for the increase. It is only in this way that He is glorified and that the planting and watering is blessed.

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