1 Corinthians 3:1-9
- 17 February 2023
- Stuart Robinson
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Here’s a question: what does a successful ministry, or a ‘successful’ church, or even a ‘successful’ Christian look like?
I’m asking this because the church in first century Corinth (a very wealthy centre of commerce and trade at the time) appeared to be a flourishing and gifted community of faith.
We know this because St. Paul writes to them thus in1 Corinthians 1:4-7:
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
That’s got to be a successful church, right?
I’m sending my family there!
If they had a website back in 55 AD, the ‘strap line’ may well have read,
The ‘place of grace’; be enriched this Sunday at Corinth Community Church; Pastor and Mrs Apollos warmly welcome you [see the ‘donate’ button below]!
And it was also a congregation that attracted great preachers and orators: Peter, Paul, Timothy, and Apollos [whose name we read on their website 😊].
You’d want to subscribe to that church’s podcasts, to be sure!
Well, if you’ve read I Corinthians, you’ll know the bigger story.
Whilst these are a group of people who have been set apart by Jesus, called to be his holy people (1:2) they were, like us, flawed and easily swayed by the values and prevailing attitudes of their generation.
The spirit of the age – and possibly the ethics of their powerful and dominant city, influenced how they lived.
It was messy.
Apparently – within this seemingly successful flock, there is…
*Infighting over which leader to whom members will give their allegiance (1:10ff);
*Others are taking their fellow believers to court (chapter 6);
*There are very serious problems around morality and marriage (chapters 5 & 7);
*Worship and public gatherings are ill-disciplined, and are turning some people away (chapters 11 – 14);
*And there is heresy! Yes – some are advocating a Christianity that does not endorse or subscribe to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (chapter 15).
Now then, before we shake our heads, we do well to remember that churches – especially growing ones like Corinth, comprise people just like us.
That is, men, women, boys, and girls with a past, people with agendas, struggles, addictions, mental illnesses, deep emotional wounds, and irregular relationships.
And if the church that received pastoral oversight from the apostles Paul and Peter, the great evangelist Apollos, and later Timothy (4:17), is described as ‘worldly…. mere infants in Christ’ (3:1), it might give us a more generous view of our church, and the churches across our city, right?
For you see, even though this church in Corinth is plagued by jealousy and quarrelling (3:3) – Paul still reminds them that he and they are co-workers in God’s service; they are the ‘field’ (3:9) in which God is growing his Kingdom, they are the building (3:9) in which God’s praises redound, and his word will bear fruit (3:6,7).
Yes, even though the great apostle expresses his serious misgivings over their conduct and their unorthodox beliefs, and in so doing calls them to repent (3:21), nonetheless he loves them dearly (16:24), and he urges them to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous, to be strong, and to do everything in love (16:13).
And we must not think for a moment that Paul’s instructions are novel or innovative.
They are not.
Paul is simply urging the church in Corinth (and us) to follow after the ‘pattern of Christ’.
And we a get clear articulation of that – ministry after the pattern of Christ – in Matthew 8.
This is what ‘successful’ ministry, after the pattern of Christ, looks like (in part at least anyway) – I would contend:
First, – everything is done in love:
Jesus engaged with the dispossessed, the unlovely, the violent, and the malevolent (Matthew 8:16), and he met their individual needs.
Further, he took the initiative in reaching out to the infirm and the dying – as evidenced by that lovely interaction with Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15)
Ministry is a messy business – because it in inexorably draws us into the world of broken people.
[Speaking of which, I must say how pleased I have been to hear reports of your generosity this week in response to global appeals to assist victims of the earthquakes in Iran and Syria. Addressing brokenness and pain in this way is such a privilege, and I applaud your reflexive selflessness and grace].
Second, the exercise of courage – being strong in convictions – is essential.
For the sake of the lost – in order to deal with sin and its consequences, Jesus in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:4, ‘takes up our infirmities, and he bears our diseases’.
It is a reference to Jesus’ courageous death for our sin. For Jesus, nothing is more important than submitting to the will of his Father – that we might be saved. (Luke 19:10).
Ministry after the pattern of Christ will mean ‘dying to self’ – and a laying aside of every relationship, and every aspiration that rivals Jesus’ lordship: hence Jesus’ response to the man who wanted to follow him…but not just yet.
Yes, nothing is more important than submitting to the will of the Father such that others may be saved, and God’s purposes advanced.
A courageous, radical (quite possibly), re-ordering of priorities must be undertaken.
Third, we travel light.
In Matthew 8: 20 Jesus references the transient nature of his and our ministry.
This world is not our home.
We are not to clamour after that which fades and rots (and for our wider community, that is a major stumbling block, don’t you think?)
Jesus’ principal investment was in people.
He made disciples who made disciples, because a time is coming when this world and all we are apt to hold dear will be no more.
Do you believe that?
Mary Boddy did.
Mary, in my view, exercised a successful ministry – and it is more than likely that none of you have ever heard of her, right?
Mary was married to an Anglican minister, the Reverend Alexander Alfred Boddy – indeed she was the daughter of an Anglican minister, and in 1899 – because of her great love for the people in her community in Sunderland UK, Mary began a prayer-for-healing ministry; a novelty for the era – even more so as it was led by a woman.
The Lord prospered Mary’s work, and people were blessed through her ministry and devotion.
Mary was also a woman of great conviction.
Mary recognised the need for people to be born again; to know the Saviour personally, and to be transformed by the infilling, and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
One such person for whom Mary Boddy prayed was a young man – an unschooled preacher, his name was Smith Wigglesworth.
Following Mary’s powerful ministry in prayer, the transformed Wigglesworth went on to conduct remarkable preaching tours in the UK, the USA, and here in Australia (in Melbourne, February 1922).
Churches were revived and many thousands came to faith in Christ, through his teaching and leadership.
Last, Mary travelled light.
Her focus was on making disciples and even though she became a complete invalid in her 40’s (in 1910), her priority was ministry and service…and for the next 16 years – despite her frailty and her very great pain, she continue her powerful prayer and teaching ministry and equipped God’s people for service, until the Lord called her into the eternity, for which she longed, in 1926.
A successful ministry:
- Everything done in love.
- The courage to stand firm in gospel convictions.
- Travelling light – investing in people; longing for eternity.
Let me conclude with the words St. Paul uses towards the end of his correspondence to the church in Corinth.
This is I Corinthians 15:58.
Therefore, my dear sisters and brothers, stand firm.
Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the Lord.
Because you know your labour is not in vain.