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  Fools and Factions 1 Cor 3


  The Corinthians self-image was of a spiritually mature congregation, endowed with all the spiritual gifts they needed, well taught and self-sufficient. In fact they were quite similar to many churches today, particularly those of an evangelical persuasion, let me say. They thought their learning and their experience of the gifts of God made them better than others. But as Paul looks at them he says "Mature? I think not! Spiritual? No! Not spiritual, fleshly."
  1-3 Adults or infants
  You could say they're suffering from what you might call an adolescence syndrome. They think they're mature, and in some respects they are, but in other respects they're still acting like children. What they don't realise is that mere lapse of time doesn't bring maturity whether in the secular or the Christian world. Maturity has more to it than just age or experience or education. It has to do with an attitude to life, with an ability to deal with the real world, to accept the limitations of life, the variety of gifts that people have. And that's how he knows that they're not yet mature as Christians.
  Look at v3: there's quarreling & jealousy among them. How can they say they're spiritually mature if they show that sort of worldly immaturity? Rather than being directed by love for one another they're driven by competitiveness. They're constantly comparing one with another to see who's the best, who's the smartest, who's got the right answers, or the best pedigree.
  And of course the major issue in this divisiveness is the issue of leadership. They each have their favourite guru that they place on a pedestal. It's amazing how little we've changed isn't it? They may not have had TV or the mass media that we have today, but they still had their favourite stars. So what's wrong with them having their favourite guru? Why is this a sign of immaturity?
  4-9 Leaders or servants?
  The problem is that this view of leadership comes from the world, not from God.
  The world's view of leadership is that the leader is the one who gives directions, who sets the agenda, who determines what's important and what's not. He or she is the most important person in the organisation. They're the ones to be emulated. That's why big companies pay their CEOs million dollar pay packages. Because without them their company will flounder. And of course that's why eyebrows are raised when those CEOs still get paid even if their company does flounder. But that's another discussion.
  But this isn't big business. This is the church we're talking about, and the criteria are different. Mind you, we need to be careful here. We'll see later that he isn't saying we don't need leaders, or that the apostles or the preachers of the gospel don't have a place in setting the direction of the church. But the problem he's addressing here is the status that these leaders are being given that seems to set them above even Jesus Christ.
  So he asks what is Paul, what is Apollos? Not who, notice, but what? You see, this isn't about personalities, it's about function, gifting. What are they there for? Well, in the Christian economy they're there as servants. In fact he uses 2 metaphors from everyday life to illustrate what he's saying: one from agriculture and one from architecture.
  First, he says, one plants another waters. So which is the one that matters most? Well, neither. What matters is that God gives the growth.
  Will the plant grow if it isn't planted? No. Will it grow if no-one waters it? No. What if the waterer waters a different piece of soil and ignores the bit where the seeds are? The seed won't grow then either. Both are vital tasks. Neither is more important than the other. They are in fact fellow servants of the one God. Equal in importance and value.
  Look around you today. What do you see? I hope you can see not just an odd bunch of people but a team of workers called by God to work together to grow his church.
  You see, we're all important members of God's workforce. There are no part-time Christians in the Church; at least there shouldn't be. Some of us are the ones who plant the seed of the gospel, through our words or our actions. Some are those who make the last connection for someone when they finally take the step of faith in Jesus Christ. Others water the seed until it comes to fruition or nurture the plant after it's sprung into life through our encouragement or our discipling in small groups or one to one. But without all of those tasks being accomplished by you and me the plant won't thrive. In fact it could whither and die.
  By the way, what we find here comes straight from the mouth of Jesus himself. Where did Jesus say true authority and importance lie in the kingdom of God? Listen to what he says in Luke 22:24-27: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." (NRSV) And listen to what he told his disciples at the last supper as he was washing their feet: "You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them (John 13:13-16 NRSV). Where does true authority lie in the Christian Church? In the one who serves, because our Lord is Jesus Christ who himself came to serve.
  But notice that the one who serves is not dismissed. This isn't saying they don't matter. v5: God uses this servant leadership to do his work, to build his church. Leaders matter, but only ever as servants of God, never as gurus or figureheads.
  So there's a line we need to walk between raising up our leaders to a place above the community and merging them into it to the point of insignificance. All the time remembering that we're each fellow workers for God, serving together on God's project, the Church.
  10-12 The only foundation
  But now we move on from an agricultural to an architectural metaphor. We are God's building, we're told. This of course is a metaphor that's used in lots of places for the people of God.
  So what does a building need if it's to be well built? Now let me tell you I know a little bit about this. We're in the middle of arranging for our new house to be modified before we move into it. So what do we need? Well, first we need a good architect to design the structure, to make sure that the structure will be sound and especially to make sure that the foundations are sound and the design is solid. Then we need an expert builder and tradespeople who'll follow the design correctly, who'll apply the appropriate skills to their task, who'll use the right tools and the right material to build a solid structure that won't fall down in the first strong wind or that won't leak if we get heavy rain.
  Well, again, this is an analogy of the way the church is built up. Paul says he laid a foundation like an expert builder and now someone else is building on it. But the test of each successive builder will be whether they follow the original design or try to change it, whether they build on the foundation that's been established or try to modify it.
  In fact where the church is concerned there've been many builders involved, over 2000 years, and it's still being built. I'm reminded of the cathedral in Barcelona, designed by Antonio Gaudi, called the Temple de la Sagrada Familia. It was begun in 1883 but was never finished due to his sudden death in 1926. However after his death the task of completing this incredible building was restarted and still continues today. It's actually been suggested that it'll never be finished.
  Now that's not far off the picture of the church we have here, is it? It's a building that continues to be constructed with every new generation. And looking back you can see how sometimes the walls have begun to sag or the roof has begun to leak. Why? Because someone has tried to build on a different foundation and the structure has become a bit wonky. Or someone has said or done something, introduced some new principal that's undermined the foundation.
  So what is the foundation we should be building on?
  Some thought it was Paul and his preaching. Others thought it was the Jewish law. Still others thought it was the eloquence of Apollo. But no, there's only one foundation on which the church can be built with any confidence: Jesus Christ the Lord. Look back to 2:5. What was the basis on which the church was established? - "your faith rests not on human wisdom but on God's power." Whenever we hear someone promoting an idea, a theology, that's based on human wisdom and philosophy, we should apply this test: is it, at it's foundation, centred on Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection? Is it coming to us with God's power or with the power of public opinion. Let's face it, public opinion is a fickle thing at best, and notably unreliable as far as getting to the truth or coming up with good decisions is concerned. Just listen to 3AW talk back radio some time. But the power of God shown through Jesus Christ is rock solid.
  But let's think about the sorts of alternative foundations that people try to use today?
  • Often they try to reinterpret the scriptures to make them more palatable. There are things in this Book that they don't like, that they think sound foolish or unfair or unpalatable to our modern minds. So they reinterpret them, they water them down so they don't have to worry about them.
  • Others try syncretism. That is, they try to blend Christianity with some other religious system. The classic one of late is Buddhism. They like some of the ideas of Buddhism, particularly the care for the environment and it's teachings on peace and tolerance so they try to combine those ideas with a Christian morality. But in the end they actually empty the Christian message of it's reliance on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. In fact they probably even argue that the idea that God would send his son to die on our behalf is out of order because it goes against the very principles of peacemaking and tolerance that they want to promote.
  • Or it could be humanism. The idea that human thinking, human endeavour can achieve anything, so we don't actually need God to send his Son for us. We just have to work harder at bringing peace to our world, follow the golden rule. Of course that particular path has been a bit of a failure of late so it's not as popular as it used to be.
  • Some try to adapt their faith to the cultural relativism of the world in which we live but again all that does is to dilute or undermine our faith to the point where it's likely to merge into every other faith that you can find.
  So the warning is there for us. Make sure you stick to the true foundation that God has given us. If we're to build God's Church together we need to build it on the one foundation of Jesus Christ, seeking a unity that comes from having that and only that foundation.
  13-17 Playing with fire
  By the way, notice God understands the way humans operate. So he offers us incentives for faithful service. We're told we'll each receive a reward for our effort. But our heavenly reward will be determined by the quality of our building here on earth.
  You see, there's a stern warning here for us. Be careful how you build because it'll be tested by fire. And be careful too, because the fire he's talking about may be sooner than the last day. 1 Pet 1:5 talks about how our faith is being tested as through fire. The building we're working on needs to be built of solid material. It's no good building something out of light timber or cardboard then plastering over it so it looks solid. That sort of building crumples at the first bit of pressure. And the church is under constant pressure, now as much as ever. So the question is, will it survive, or will it crumble? Will what we build stand up to those pressures. Well what will determine that? Isn't it whether it's been built on the right foundation and with solid materials?
  And notice that if any should not just build badly but destroy part of God's church they face the judgement of God. Why? Because we, that is the church, are God's temple. So those who by their false teaching lead people away from Christ are actually damaging not just a few individuals' faith, but the temple of God.
  18-23 Be fools for Christ
  Finally, we come back to the theme of foolishness and wisdom. It may seem foolish to some to build solely on the foundation of Jesus Christ and his gospel, but such foolishness will be found to be the wisest path because it brings with it the power of God and the redemption bought by Jesus Christ.
  So who do you belong to? Not Paul or Peter or Apollos, not the Anglican Church. In fact they all belong to you, because you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Here is true wisdom. If you're on God's side it doesn't matter who else is on your side or not. You're with the winning team. So first get the foundations right and the rest will follow naturally.
  So lets work together as servants, building on the one foundation, Jesus Christ, so as to build up the church in unity according to God's wisdom, not human wisdom.
  Whether I build with hammer or saw,
or word and deed of love,
though I labour long and hard
to change and shape and move,
may all I do in this earthly race
be the work of God who gives me life
and may I only build upon
the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.

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