Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Date: Epiphany VI + 2/12/17
Thy Kingdom Come. When we pray these words we not only pray asking that the kingdom come to us from God, from outside of ourselves, but we also pray that God would make us part of His kingdom. St. Paul refers to you as “God’s Field and God’s Building.”
My visit to my second congregation two weeks ago, St. Paul in Wood River, Illinois, was a great experience. There I got to see members to whom I had preached God’s Word for eight years, to teach young and old, to council through difficult times, to preside at funerals and weddings and baptisms. I told you about the baptism at the second service. The infant’s father I had baptized as an infant some nearly thirty years ago. In my time I had introduced the maturely Lutheran practice of the sacrament of the altar to be celebrated at both services every Sunday, which I am pleased to say they still do. In many ways it was so satisfying to see the growth, the fruit and the results of that which I was so privileged to be God’s co-worker.
Today we continue to hear about the church in Corinth from St. Paul’s first letter to them. Of course he was thankful for them. But part of his reason for writing to them was out of his concern that they were dividing into groups and even allowing false teaching to influence them. So the apostle begins by reminding them of their beginning. Christian catechesis or education of course must begin with the basics. Paul reminds them that they were all infants in Christ. “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” That “milk” is first of all the Bible. The Old Testament was to be understood as always predicting and proclaiming the Savior and Messiah, Christ Jesus. Then one needs to hear and learn of Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament, His Person, His teaching and works which we have recorded for us in the New Testament.
But something was wrong. “And even now you are not yet ready,” he writes, “for you are still of the flesh.” The Word of God was not having its blessed effect as Paul points out the evidence that “there is jealousy and strife among you” which is “of the flesh,” we might say of the Old Adam, our sinful nature, “behaving only in a human way.” Then he describes their jealousy and strife, “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” Ah! A pastor problem?
There were pastors before me in Wood River and Pastor Schultz has carried on following me. You have had pastors in your own life before I ever came along. Paul tells them, “’What then is Apollos? What is Paul?’ Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I was the ninth pastor of St. Paul, Wood River. “Pastor Knippel planted, I watered, now God is giving the growth through Pastor Schultz.” It’s not wrong to appreciate each pastor differently, maybe even having favorites. But the issue is God’s work as the apostle says elsewhere, “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created [by God by faith] in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:10).
Now I would have you notice the last verse of our reading, verse 9, where Paul says “For WE are God’s fellow workers. YOU are God’s field, God’s building.” When Paul writes “WE” he is not speaking of everyone in the congregation, he does not believe as one book was titled some time back, “Everyone a Minister,” but he is referring to himself, Apollos and those in the ministry of the Word. But when he writes “YOU” there he is speaking of the individual members of the congregation.
In this kingdom God is in charge. But here Paul makes the distinction between Christians in general and the apostolic ministry. That’s because the Corinthians (as do many today) were acting as if the ministers belong to them. Many treat their pastors as mere employees accountable only to the church. In certain respects, they are, of course. Yet in our day way too many pastors are “fired,” forced out or reluctantly resign their calls. But they are also accountable directly to God as He is behind the pastor’s divine call through the congregation. For how can a mere employee deliver a word of correction or judgment to his “boss,” his employer, his congregation, as is required of us?
In today’s section of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to show how He has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them, that is to open them up to find fulfillment first in Himself but then secondly also in you, in your holy living as His disciples. He interprets the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” as including the heart of the matter, namely, anger. That’s part of the problem at Corinth and in the church today.
A double motive is to save the Corinthians from their party cries and contentions. First, they are misusing God’s ministers who because of their very office belong to God. Secondly, they are thereby untrue to themselves who as the very product of this ministry also belong to God. The apostle and apostolic ministers are called God’s fellow workers for they handle and deliver God’s own gifts of Word and Sacrament. The individual members then are called God’s field, God’s building, the recipients and results of God’s work.
As God’s field and planting, you are the fruit of God’s labor, “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). You are the fruitful branches of Christ the vine. Paul also uses the image of a building built by God. Next Sunday we will continue to hear Paul describe this building making the same distinction between the co-workers and the building itself, saying, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10-11).
The foundation and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ. Without His obedience, His suffering, His death and resurrection we would just be playing some sort of religious game. But no. The saving faith is a matter of life and death, the life and death (and resurrection) of Jesus, and a matter of blood and water and Spirit, the blood and water and Spirit of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The foundation is the truth that Jesus died for you, thus taking away your sin and the sin of the world and opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. You are built on that foundation by God by your baptism into Christ, by your hearing and learning the truth of God, by your living by the Spirit according to God’s commandments in love, and by your being strengthened and preserved in Christ’s body and blood all along the way.
You are God’s field, you are God’s building. God gave you the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit through the hands of other ministers before me. But where the ministers may differ, it is all God’s work. And God’s work works!