Apostles and Wisdom: Part 1 of 13 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

September 13, 2012
Lessons on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 2.7: Apostles and Wisdom
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3.5-3.17

1 Cor 3:5-17 (KJV)

5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry tillage, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.


In verses 1-4, our Lesson 2.6, the Corinthians were criticized for their strife and divisions. This lesson deals with Harvesting and Building.
• Harvesting (5–9). Every child of God has a place in the Lord’s harvest, and all are doing His work (John 4:34–38). There must be no competing or comparing, because the Lord alone acknowledges the work and gives the reward. It makes no difference who the servant is so long as Jesus Christ is Lord of the harvest.
• Building (10–17). Paul writes about the local church and the materials we put into it as we minister (Prov. 2:1–5; 3:13–15). Substituting man’s wisdom for God’s Word means building with perishable materials that will burn up at the judgment seat of Christ.


5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos,
The apostle used his own name, since there was a faction in the Corinthian Church that adopted his name and claimed he was the superior minister. It is wrong to suppose that either Paul or Apollos encouraged or approved of the factions, and there is not the slightest hint that any rivalry existed between them. Paul always spoke of Apollos with respect and affection.

It was probably due to his large following that Paul felt free to ask the question, “What do you think about me, and other preachers (Apollos)?; are we more than men.” He could have added—“what authority and power do you think we have; do you think we are the founders of a new religion, or of a new sect that will bear our names?” Certainly, such persons even as Paul and Apollos are not worthy of receiving any honor or praise for their work or the success of it. It is important to say here that Paul and Apollos were instruments only, and not, in any sense, the source of divine grace. The Corinthians were not saved because they believed in them, but they were saved because they believed in Christ through what they learned from Paul, Apollos and the other ministers.

but ministers by whom ye believed,
Although Paul was the greatest apostle of the New Testament, he nevertheless refers to himself here with a title which has received various translations; the meaning being, "servant," "minister," or "deacon." Paul would not tolerate factions, not even one that proposed to honor him as a man. He believed they were servants to Christ and to his churches, and not lords; they did not assume any authority over men, or pretend to lord it over God's people; there is but one Lord and master, and that is Christ, whom they served, and taught others to obey. They were only instrumental in the hand of God, by whom souls were directed, encouraged, and brought to believe in Christ; as for faith itself, that is the gift of God, conveyed and put into effect by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith; knowing that, they laid no claim to His power or His work, or imagined they had any control over it; that they could either implant it, or increase it by themselves. It was honor enough that it happened through their ministry.

They are only ministers, mere instruments used by the God of all grace. Some of the combative people in Corinth, who had formed factions, seem to have made more of them than was appropriate, placing them on a pedestal as if they were lords of their faith, and authors of their religion. Note, We should take care not to deify ministers, or put them into the place of God. Apostles were not the authors of our faith and religion, though they were authorized and qualified to reveal and preach it. They acted in this office like they were common men. Note, All the gifts and powers that even apostles received and exerted in the work of the ministry were from God. They were intended to help them in their mission. It was entirely wrong to transfer that respect to the apostles which was only to be paid to the Holy Spirit, by which they acted, and to God, from whom they had their authority.

Paul says, “Both of us are workmen for God.” Paul was the one who was the missionary—he had opened up new territory. Apollos came along and held meetings and preached and built up the saints. They were both servants of God.

The Vulgate Latin version reads, "his ministers whom ye believed"; that is, the ministers of Christ, whom they believed in; not in the ministers, but Christ; the Arabic version renders it, "but two ministers, by whom ye believed"; referring to Paul and Apollos.

as the Lord gave to every man?
Humility is a quality that should be present in all servants of God. Time and time again, Paul gave evidence that he had that quality; and he does it again with an analogy in which he and Apollos were represented merely as laborers working on a farm belonging to another. Paul and Apollos were in highest office and they have the highest gifts; but they are only servants, waiters, and attendants in the service of Almighty God; so called, not just due to their relationship to God, but also because of their relationship to the church, whose they are, to whom they belong, and whom they serve. It was entirely wrong for the Corinthian believers to transfer that respect and affection to the apostles which was only to be paid to the Almighty God; by whose power they acted, and from whom they received their authority. Any benefit that had come to the Christians at Corinth did not originate with the instruments through whom it was conveyed, but with the Lord of glory.

6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

I have planted
Paul liked agricultural images and often used them in his letters. Jesus also used them; in the Parable of the Sower, He compared the human heart to soil, and the Word of God to seed (See Matt 13.1-9, 18-23). The apostle is using this illustration collectively; the local church is a field, and it ought to bear fruit. The job of the minister is sowing the seed, cultivating the soil, watering the plants, and harvesting the fruit. Paul planted ministerally; he was the first one to preach the Gospel to them; and he was an instrument of God for the conversion of many souls, and forming a Gospel church in their city. Paul had done what God called him to do, and he did it well; but God alone planted their souls in Christ, and implanted grace into them; these things are purely divine, and peculiar to God, and the power of his grace. He is the only one who can produce growth; the laborer can only wait.

How did this image of the church as a field apply to the special problems of the Corinthians? To begin with, the emphasis must be on God and not on the laborers. Paul and Apollos were only servants who did the tasks assigned to them. It was God who gave life to their efforts. Even the faith of the believers was a gift from God: Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?(1Co 3.5). It is wrong then to center attention on the servants. Look instead to the Lord of the Harvest, the source of all blessing.

Notice that the verbs here are in the past tense, indicating that Paul came to Corinth first and did the initial work, and the subsequent work was done by Apollos, who came along later.

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