May 22nd, 1955
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
5-22-55 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the third chapter of the first Corinthian letter, and it would be blessedly profitable for you to turn to it and look at it as we read it and as we seek to preach God’s message from it to our hearts this day. The first Corinthian letter, the third chapter, and the message this morning will be the first nine verses; and then tonight, we’ll pick up at the tenth verse and go on. The message tonight is The Fiery Test, the test by fire.
Now, this morning, the message is God’s Fellow Workers, and we read the first nine verses of 1 Corinthians 3:
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
I have fed you with milk, not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able;
For ye are yet carnal. For whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?
For while one saith, "I am of Paul," and another, "I swear by Apollos," are ye not carnal?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but diakonoi, servants by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.
Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one, and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.
For we are laborers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
[1 Corinthians 3:1-9]
Now, that’s the passage. So we start at the first verse: "I, brethren, could not speak unto you as spiritual but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ" [1 Corinthians 3:1]. I fed you with milk, not with meat. That’s no reproach against childhood, but a child that is forty years old is pitiable. These Corinthians were Christians [1 Corinthians 1:2]. They’d been regenerated. They were children of the kingdom, but they were infants! [1 Corinthians 3:1] And they still were infants after the passing of the years [1 Corinthians 3:2], and Paul says that’s because of your materiality, your worldliness. You are carnal. You’re given to the things of the flesh.
Look at the third verse: "Why there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions" [1 Corinthians 3:3]. That means you haven’t grown in grace. You’re not mature Christians. Mature Christians don’t envy anybody. Mature Christians are not at strife with one another [Galatians 5:19-26]. We may be at war with the devil [Ephesians 6:12], and we may be locked in battle against sin [Hebrews 12:4], but for Christians to be envious and divisive in their spirit toward one another is to be adolescent and immature and childish.
Now, the fourth verse: they had fallen into that Greek propensity of factions. If you’ve ever read anything about Greek history, you couldn’t have a little, a little group of them together but that they were all falling into separated antagonistic units: little Attica against Lacedaemonia, and both of them against Thrace, and all of them against Phoenicia, and the whole league against Macedonia. And that’s the story of the ancient Greek republics and democracies.
Well, that same carnality, that same weakness, is found there in the Corinthian church. Each one of those factions swore by its favorite teacher [1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4]. "I am a follower of the Apostle Paul," said one [1 Corinthians 3:4].
"No, I’m a follower of the eloquent Apollos," said another [1 Corinthians 3:4].
And, over there in the first chapter, you find some others that said, "Well, I’m following Simon Peter" [1 Corinthians 1:12].
And somebody else said, "A plague on all of your houses. I am following Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 1:12]. So they had a Christ party and a Cephas party and an Apollos party and a Pauline party all in that same church.
Well, Apollos and Paul, they were as different as daylight is different from the nighttime. Apollos was a rhetorician [Acts 18:24-28]. Apollos was an orator. Apollos was an eloquent man. Paul was a theologian [Acts 22:3]. He was a thinker. He was a logician, and there those people were as they’d gather together and talk and look and compare. And, you know, comparing preachers is one of the commonest things among us and one of the sorriest, and it has no good end and no good effect that I’ve ever heard of. Well, anyway, they were doing that in the church [1 Corinthians 1:11-12].
And some of them were saying, "You know, I tell you, Apollos"
And another one said, "You know, I tell you, Paul."
And they were comparing and saying and pitting against reasoning against eloquence and eloquence against reasoning [1 Corinthians 3:4]. And they were comparing rhetoric with logic and comparing logic and rhetoric. You know, it never occurred to them that they needed both of them. You need the logician, and you need the rhetorician. You need the eloquent preacher. You also need a fellow that comes along with some down to earth common theological sense.
I love to hear a glorious eloquent preacher. Some of them I get tired of it finally by and by – just pretty words and high-flown language and glorious perorations, but I like it. I like it, and I like the logician too. I like to hear the theologian. We need all of them, all of them! [1 Corinthians 12:1-31]
Every man has his own talent. One man can speak like Apollos. Breathing to Apollos was eloquence, and his breathing was fragrant as the Garden of Eden. He could just speak glorious sentences and beautiful, beautiful words. Well, that’s wonderful. May God bless any man that has the gift of oratory. But that doesn’t mean that the man who is just straight to the point, just thinking right down the line, and what he has to say has any great profundity of thought – that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a place also in the kingdom of God. We need all of them, every type of man. We need ’em all in this church, every type of people. We’re not all made alike, thank the Lord. Well what if they were all? We are all made different. That’s good. That’s good. That’s good.
What if all of you were to fall in love with the same woman? Wouldn’t that be awful? Wouldn’t that be terrible? What if the same woman, what if all women were to fall in love with the same man? We all different. You love that woman there. Well, sometimes I don’t see how or why, but God bless you for doing it. That’s all right. That’s all right. The Lord made us different ways. It’s all right though we’re not to be envious of anybody [1 Peter 2:1]. We’re not to be jealous of them [Romans 13:13].
I can’t sing. Well, that’s all right. I glory in the fellow that can sing. I may not have a whole lot of talent somebody else has. When I go to these preachers’ meetings and listen to some of those preachers, oh, I wish I had those talents, but I don’t have them. I’m not to be envious of those men and be carping and critical and censorious. No. Let us rejoice in the glories of God as those men express them and bow them like rainbows across those glorious convocations. That’s what Paul says here. Then he goes on.
Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but diakonoi, ministers, servants by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to each man his talents?
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
The fellow that planted, he’s not anything. The fellow that watered, he’s not anything. It’s God that’s everything.
[1 Corinthians 3:4-7]
Paul may have plowed the earth a little. He didn’t make the earth. Apollos may have watered the earth a little. He never made the earth. Paul and Apollos may have sown a great deal of seed. They didn’t make the seed. They got it from God’s garner. It’s God’s truth, God’s wisdom, God’s light, God’s world, God’s church, God’s way, God’s infinite goodness. It’s all of God. So Paul says when you’re comparing and talking about which is greater, Paul or Apollos, Paul’s not anything, Apollos is not anything, so why argue about which nothing is greater? Then, he says, "He that planteth and he that watereth are one" [1 Corinthians 3:8]. We’re partners. We’re not to be set against one another. We’re trying to do this thing for the Lord.
I heard Ian Patterson Wednesday night. I stayed in his house when I was over in Ibadan. That’s the largest native black city in the world – about the size of Dallas. He lives in Ibadan, and he heads our mission in Nigeria, West Africa. I heard him speak Wednesday night, and our Baptist Foreign Mission Board had asked him to go over there into East Africa. We have opened a work down in Southern Rhodesia as well as in Nigeria, but our Convention is also thinking of opening a foreign mission work in Kenya, in Tanganyika, and in Uganda – those great central African provinces made famous by David Livingstone.
So he went over there and stayed a long time, and he was royally entertained; he was royally entreated. Those are colonies, as you know, of the British Empire. And, naturally, from the beginning, the Church of England has been there. I say, this Southern Baptist missionary of ours was royally entreated by the Anglican Church; and when they had gone through the territory, looked at those terrible persecutions of the Mau Mau, and the terrible lifeblood-shedding of our Christians over there, why, they sat around the counsel table with the Christians of England and asked them, "What do you think?" Said our Southern Baptist representative, Dr. Patterson, "What do you think of our coming into Uganda and into Kenya and into Tanganyika?" And with a sweep of his hand, the representative of the Anglican Church said, "My brother, my brother, in all of this vast territory of eastern Africa, we have not won as much as ten percent of the people to Christ. Surely," said their representative, "of the other ninety percent, there is room for you. Come and welcome."
I like that. I like that. Out of all of the people in this world that are lost, the rest of them are fighting one another and hitting one another and finding fault with one another. Oh, it’s littleness. It’s littleness. I’m not saying we ought not to preach what we believe. God help us to do it. God help them to do it too. If a man will be honest and sincere, earnest and prayerful: "This is the Word of God as I see it," God bless him. I may not see it that way. I want him to preach it like he sees it, and then I want him to give me the privilege to preach it like I see it. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to hate anybody, we’re going to persecute anybody. No, no. The world’s too big, and it’s too lost. Most of this world has never yet heard the name of Jesus even; don’t even know who He is. No, he that planteth, he that watereth are partners. "And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor."
Now, this is my text. That was my introduction. This is my text, bless your hearts: "For we are laborers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building" [1 Corinthians 3:9]. Now, when that thing is read in the original language this is it, and it’s beautifully put together. I’m going to read it to you. Now, you watch the first word that I read. It’ll be the same word. Theou sunergoi, Theou geōrgion, Theou oikodomē. Do you get the Theou, Theou, Theou?
All right, now let me translate that literally. "We are God’s fellow workers. We are God’s," you have it translated "husbandry." The little word is "field, acre." "We are God’s fellow workers; we are God’s acre – God’s field, God’s husbandry; we are God’s building – God’s house, God’s temple, God’s structure." Now, that’s that thing exactly as Paul wrote it: "We are God’s fellow workers; we are God’s field, we are God’s building" [1 Corinthians 3:9].
That word "field" there translated, "Ye are God’s husbandry," here is g-e-o-r-g-i-o-n. And the ancient church loved that word "God’s acre; God’s field." And that’s the reason way back yonder, hundreds and hundreds of years ago in the early church, they named so many of their children George – G-e-o-r-g – and then you’ve got an English ending in our language: George. George means "God’s acre, God’s field, God’s husbandry," and they liked that word "George."
When Virgil [Publius Vergilius Maro] wrote those beautiful pastoral poems, he called them Georgics, that is, "field pieces." Now, we are God’s fellow workers. We are God’s field. We are God’s building. We belong to the Lord. Now, that’s my sermon.
First of all, God has need of us. God does. He could choose, I suppose, to do it by Himself. I do not enter into the wisdom of the counsels of the Almighty. All I know is He doesn’t choose to do it. God does His work by us; and without us, the work’s not done [Romans 10:13-15]. When the preacher in the old, old story, when the preacher stood by the side of the beautiful garden – that’s the way, one time, I heard it; by the beautiful field, that’s the way I heard it another time – and he said to the gardener, he said to the farmer, "How the Lord has blessed." And the farmer and the gardener replied, "Well, Preacher, you should have seen this tract of land when God had it by Himself." Now, that’s true. That’s right. God has need of us. Us. He can’t do His work, He doesn’t do His work, without us [Isaiah 6:8].
The point placed in the mouth of Stradivarius, that old, old Italian violin maker, these words: "Even God cannot make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius." God can’t make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius. That’s right. He needs you, and God can’t do His work without you. He needs us.
Jesus, on the cross, said, "It is finished. It is finished" [John 19:30]. That’s right. The redemptive work of Christ is a completed work. We cannot add; we cannot take away; but the mediation of that ministry – the giving of that message, the preaching of that gospel – is ours to do [2 Corinthians 5:20]. It’s like this Salk vaccine for polio. Somewhere in these laboratories, they are making that stuff by the gallons and the gallons, but it must be mediated to the people. It must be carried to the people, or it’s of no use and no value. There in that laboratory alone, it is nothing. Ministered to these children whom we’re praying to keep from crippling death, to them it is life itself. That’s the gospel message. It is finished. The work is completed. But the mediation of it to Uganda, to Tanganyika, to Indonesia, to Dallas, to our homes and families, is our responsibility. "We are God’s fellow workers; we are God’s husbandry, we are God’s building" [1 Corinthians 3:9].
All right, there’s another thing in that. Then, we need one another. We are God’s fellow workers. Then we need one another – can’t do it by myself. We must have help from one another, and that makes for the great strength of the church; or its adverse makes for the weakness and failure of the church.
When the church pulls apart – Church, I do not know how many times I run across preachers, and I’ve mentioned this many, many times – I could not tell you the number of times I run across preachers who look upon their deacons as their enemies. The deacons are out there and the preacher’s over here, and whatever he wants to do, he thinks he’s got an obstacle. He thinks he’s got a hindrance. He thinks he’s got enemies out there in the deacons. So the preacher’s on this side and the deacons on the other side; and he doesn’t realize that, all of the time, any God-called deacon has just one prayer in his heart: "Lord, help us to build up that church. Help us, Lord, to go forward in this ministry. Help us, Lord, to do Thy will and work in the earth."
And if he’s got one-half of a preacher, the deacon will always pray in his heart, "Lord, help us to uphold the hands of the pastor that he do good, that he preach in the fervency of the power of the Spirit and that people be saved when he makes calls for souls." They’re our fellow workers. I’ve never looked upon my deacons as my enemies. Why, if I didn’t have them, I’d be so lost in this ministry I wouldn’t know what to do. We talk over this work. We plan this program. We make this appeal.
People sometime come to me and say, "How in the earth, how in the earth do you have the financial program down there in that church that you have? You must preach on money all the time. You must take the whole year in order to raise those tremendous budgets." I tell them a lot of times I forget even to mention it. Sometimes the years will go by and I’ve hardly referred to it ’cause I’m preaching through the Bible. And if it says it in the Book, well, then I say it. If the Book is talking about the blood of Jesus or something else, then I don’t even think about it.
Well, why? I’ll tell you why. The great unanimity of heart and oneness and love and spirit in this church makes this thing like cords of steel. It has strength. It has power. And it goes – men make it go, praying women make it go. We make it go – not just one, we do: God’s fellow workers. And we have need of one another, and that’s the strength of the church.
When I was a little boy – and I’ve seen it a thousand times since – when I was a little boy in the little old town that I was fetched up in, everybody hated everybody else. The Baptists hated the Methodists, and the Methodists hated the Baptists. I was brought up to love God and hate the Methodists. That’s the way I was fetched up. And this grocery man hated that grocery man, and both of them hated the other one. That’s the way I grew up.
Well, a fellow came to town to see if he couldn’t get our little bunch together so they’d go along and build the community, and he brought with him that old, old cartoon, and he put it all over the town. I can remember that so well. You know, the old cartoon is this: there are two donkeys, two donkeys – four-legged ones. There were two donkeys, and they were bound together with a rope. They were tied together with a rope, and there was a pile of hay over here, and there’s a pile of hay over there. And this donkey was just doing his best to get this pile of hay, and the other donkey was doing his best to get that pile of hay; and they were just working and sweating and pullin’ and doing everything they could against one another and against that rope – one trying to eat the pile of hay over here and the other one trying to eat the pile of hay over there. Well, the next picture is both of those donkeys are over here together eating this pile of hay, and then both of those donkeys are together over here eating this pile of hay. That’s the way. That’s the way.
I saw a cartoon one time. On the inside in the door – halfway in the door, halfway in and halfway out – there were a couple of fellows with an enormous box, and the box just about filled the whole door. And they were a-tuggin’ and a-pullin’ and a-sweatin’ and a-tryin’ and a-workin,’ tryin’ to get that box going. And finally they sat it down, and one of them replied, "Say, fella, I don’t believe we’ll ever get this box inside this door." And the other replied, "Inside? Fella, I thought we’s tryin’ to take it out."
That’s the church and what happens to us when one of them’s pulling this-a-way and the other one pulling that way – somebody trying to go that way and somebody trying to go that way. That’s what Paul says when he says, "You’re babes in Christ when you do that. You’re acting like little children. You’re carnal" [1 Corinthians 3:1].
My land, is it twelve o’clock already? "You’re not doing good," says Paul. "You’re not doing good. You’re not going anywhere. You’re just standing still. You’re not growing." For the way to have a great church and a great ministry is for the folks to love one another and to work with one another and to help one another. I don’t care how weak the pastor may be, it doesn’t behoove anybody to be going around talking about his pastor. I don’t say that because I’m the pastor. I say that because it makes for a weak church.
Just like your mother, I know my mother well. She had a weakness. She showed partiality to her children, and it happened to be to me, which was fine for me, but it wasn’t very fine for the rest of the children. She’d spank me if she knew I said that this morning, but I wouldn’t appreciate anybody going around finding fault with my mother! I just wouldn’t. In fact, it’d bring out one of my weaknesses; it’d make me downright mad. I just wouldn’t like anybody going around finding fault with my mama, bless her heart, bless her heart. With all of her weaknesses, she’s my mama, and her virtues far, far outweigh her weaknesses.
That’s the way with our church. I don’t like to hear people going around layin’ them out, layin’ them out. I know they’re folks, just folks, just like I’m folks! We’re just all human beings. Some of us have this kind of a weakness; some of us have the other kind of a weakness; some of us have another kind. We’re just folks. What did the passage say that we read this morning? This is like God when you love one another: love me when I’m unlovely, praying for me when I stumble and fall, helping me out when I make mistakes.
Oh, what that does to the soul, what that does to your soul, what that does to the church. It binds us together; it binds us together with cords of steel. We, with God, can do anything. We can. One of us can’t, but we can with God: God’s fellow workers, God’s field, God’s acre, God’s husbandry, God’s temple, God’s house. We belong to Him, and in Him we belong to one another. Like old sainted John said, "Little children, love one another, for love is of God . . . for God is love" [1 John 4:7-8].
Well, let’s sing our song. Let’s sing our song, and while we sing it, in that topmost balcony, anywhere, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord. Come and stand by me. Somebody you, put your life in the church.
"Babes in Christ" – no reproach in childhood, if growing(1 Corinthians 3:1-2)
"Envying, strife, divisions" – proof of their immaturity, worldly state(1 Corinthians 3:3)
"Paul, Apollos" – characteristic Greek tendency to factions (1 Corinthians 3:4)
reasoning against eloquence, rhetoric with logic
a. We need both
"Neitherâ€¦nothing" – one plants, one waters, but only God gives the life(1 Corinthians 3:7)
– the planter and waterer are partners; each will receive reward according to
his own labor(1 Corinthians 3:8)
II. We all are fellow-workers, belonging
to God(1 Corinthians 3:9)
need of us
chooses to work by us
Work of redemption on the cross is finished – our work has just begun
Our need of one another
Pulling against one another we all fail
Unanimity of heart the strength of the church