Apostles and Wisdom: Part 2 of 13 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor)
by John Lowe
He came after Paul, and his ministry was blessed for its teaching; he was a means of building up souls in faith and holiness, and of making them fruitful in every good work: each minister of the Gospel has his appropriate gifts, work, and usefulness; some are planters, others water; some are employed in cutting down the sturdy oaks, and others in squaring the ends and removing the limbs; some like Peter are sons of thunder, and are generally useful in convicting and converting; and others like Barnabas are sons of consolation, who are mainly useful in comforting and edifying the saints. But God gave the increase: the gardener may put his plants into the earth, and water them as he does so, but he cannot cause them to grow, because growth is a divine blessing. The farmer cultivates his ground, casts the seed on it, covers up the seed with soil, and waits for the former and latter rain, but he cannot cause it to spring up, or grow until it is ready for the harvest, because this is done by a superior influence. So ministers of the Gospel plant and water, cast in the seed of the Word and preach the Gospel, but all the success is due to the Lord; only God causes it to spring up and grow.
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). They are ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
but God gave the increase.
Christian workers have different jobs, and see different results. But God is the one who gets the work done; God . . . gives the increase.
i. When a farmer plants a seed, and waters it, he really does not make it grow. The miracle of life does that. All the farmer can do is provide the right environment for growth, and trust in the miracle of life. We do the same thing in ministering Jesus to other people.
ii. Some people are frustrated because they want to water when God has called them to plant, or they want to plant when God has called them to water. Others are frustrated because they want to make the increase happen, when only God can do that. Real fruitfulness in ministry happens when we are peacefully content with what God has called us to do.
The literal translation is “God was giving the increase,” signifying “something going on all the time.” God was giving the increase moment by moment, day by day, as the preached Gospel was watered and new seed was being sown all the time. Note, that in the following verses, God … opened the door of faith. Again we observe that Christ, the Lord of the church, is sovereignly directing her affairs from heaven.
• “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14.27; KJV).
• “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16.14; KJV).
God’s word will never return unto Him void; on the contrary, it continues increasingly. Paul planted the incorruptible seed of the Word, Apollos watered the seed planted by Paul; but it was God who gave thee increase and saved them for Christ’s sake. It was God who was continually saving any and all who would yield to the Spirit. It was God who was continuing to keep them, strengthen them, and permit them to grow. If you will study Acts 18.1-18 and Acts 18.24 through the entire 19th chapter, you will find the work of Paul and Apollos recorded.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
So then, neither is he that planteth anything,
The term “Anything” is to be taken comparatively, since there is nothing or no one comparable to God. There are presidents and kings, but their office, authority and power is of no importance compared with his—“And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Co 1.28; KJV). This does not mean that their position is not needed; that it is not important, and indispensable; but that the honor is due to God. Their position is indispensable. God could make seed or a tree grow if they were not planted in the earth. But he does not do it. The work of the gardener is indispensable in the ordinary operations of his providence. If he does not plant, God will not make the grain or the tree grow. God blesses his labors; he does not work a miracle. God rewards his effort with success; he does not interfere in a miraculous manner to accommodate the lethargy of men. So the same thing can be said about the salvation of the soul. The efforts of ministers would never succeed without God. Ministers can plant and water, but for the miracle of salvation to take place in the heart of the sinner it is absolutely necessary that God give the increase. But the labors of men are as indispensable and as necessary, as are those of the farmer in the production of a harvest. And just as every farmer could say, "my labors are nothing without God, who alone can give the increase," so it is with every minister of the gospel.
neither he that watereth;
One minister may plant the seed, but who then is the one that provides the means of carrying on the work of salvation: it is not that they are simply and absolutely nothing; they are men, they are Christians, they are ministers, and useful ones at that. Sinners come to believe through their ministries; they are laborers together with God, and so their position should be respected; but they are nothing in themselves, or with respect to God. They are nothing by themselves as ministers and they have nothing except what they have received; all their gifts are from God, but they cannot exercise them without the grace of God. Friends, I have to say they are just like me in that it is impossible for them to have a good thought emerge from their old nature; and they can’t do anything that would make their planting and watering effective; and so they are not due any glory; nothing is to be attributed to them, they have no part in these things. I am sure there are some preachers today who are angry because of what I have just said.
but God that giveth the increase;
What the apostle is saying is simply, “God is everything!” The emphasis is upon God. The minister of God has to realize his own insignificance, and inability, his own insufficiency, and recognize his total dependence upon God if he hopes to produce fruit to God’s glory. We who are God’s ministers need to give God all the glory for the results in our ministry. And I want to also emphasize that if you are doing a service for your church such as a Sunday school teacher, usher, treasurer etc., you have a ministry that God blesses and gives the increase. The Lord gives ministers their abilities and He gives you your abilities, He assists them in the exercise of their gifts and He assists you in the exercise of your gifts, He makes their ministries useful and He makes your ministry useful too, and he has, as he ought to have, all the glory.
Why compare preachers or statistics. God is the source of the growth; no man can take the credit. Furthermore, no one person can do all the necessary work alone. Paul planted the seed, and Apollos watered it, but only God could make it grow. The important thing is not who the preacher is; the important thing is whether God is using him. If God is using him, then God should have the credit for the results. Give God all the praise and the glory because the seed is his, the ground is his, the laborers are his, and the produce all comes from him. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2 Pe 3.18).