March 14, 2023

Speaker: Michael Dennis

Audio Download

Bible Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:1-15

This morning we are going to study through 1 Corinthians 3 but before we do I need to tell you a story about 2012 our family was downtown at the Austin Television Festival where the cast from Friday Night Lights was holding a party that was open to the public.

This is a picture of my wife Holly with Michael B. Jordan.  At the bottom of the picture you can see Tucker’s red hair and I am the one taking the picture.  At the time Michael B Jordan was just launching his career, so he was just walking around talking to people and taking pictures.  Isn’t that fun?

I wanted to show that picture because I am guessing Michael B Jordan isn’t walking around parking lots today taking pictures with random families.  Michael B Jordan has starred in movies like Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station and as a result I am guessing a crowd of people would swarm him today because Michael B Jordan is a big deal.

But what really changed about Michael B Jordan between 2012 and 2023?  He’s still the same height, same face, same personality and I am sure the same talent in Michael B Jordan today was there in 2012.  But today people “know” Michael B Jordan and as a result we elevate Michael B Jordan.  Isn’t that interesting?

In our passage this morning God’s Word is going to expose a similar type of attitude toward those who are in the church and address why this attitude is so destructive to our faith as a local church in Austin, TX.  Let’s look at verses 1-2:

1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “1 And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak to you as spiritual people, but only as fleshly, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to consume it. But even now you are not yet able,”

1 Corinthians is written by the Apostle Paul.  The Apostle Paul’s life has been radically transformed through faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and as a result the Apostle Paul has proclaimed the name of Jesus throughout the Corinthian city so that other men, women and children have come to faith in Jesus and a new church is started.  You with me?

In verse 1 the Apostle Paul is using metaphorical language to describe the Corinthian people as “fleshly and infants.”  I will give you a hint, it’s not a compliment.  The word “fleshly” is to be contrasted with “heavenly” and the word “infants” is to be contrasted with “mature.”

For those who have been studying with us through chapters 1 and 2 we know the men and women of the Corinthian church are struggling with maturity.  They are in a pattern of quarrels and conflicts with one another.  They are stealing from one another.  They are getting drunk with one another.  They are verbally abusing one another, sexually using one another but by God’s grace Jesus has come to take their sin at the cross, conquer their sin in the resurrection, so that these Corinthian people have become new men and women in Christ.  Praise God!

They started off as infants in Christ, just as we all start off as infants in Christ but God’s Word is casting a vision for the Corinthian people to be a people who are maturing in Christ, because the goal in all aspects of life is maturity.

We have some new babies in our church family in Austin and we love the idea of infants but everyone is longing for the day they won’t have to change a diaper.  We want maturity!

We long for the day that toddler won’t walk around licking everything.  We long for the day we won’t have to take our teenagers to soccer practice and piano practice.  Right?  We love those memories now but the ultimate goal is maturity, so that verses 1-2 are casting a vision for spiritual maturity.  Look at verses 3 and 4:

1 Corinthians 3:3-4, “3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like ordinary people? 4 For when one person says, “I am with Paul,” and another, “I am with Apollos,” are you not ordinary people?”

The phrase “ordinary people” sounds condescending but the Corinthian people were getting distracted by titles and positions in their culture, so that some people in the local church were siding with Paul and some people were siding with Apollos.

Apollos was known for being a brilliant as a communicator.  In the book of Acts we see that Apollos is a native of Alexandria and Alexandria was the Harvard of the 1st Century, so that Apollos is known for being elegant, sophisticated, and impressive and the Corinthian people loved sophistication, so there were some who were saying, “I am team Apollos.”

Paul was the one who started the church.  Paul was the one who did the hard work of gathering the people together but Paul wasn’t physically impressive.  It’s thought that Paul was short in stature, perhaps Paul mumbled when he spoke in front of people but Paul was there from the beginning, so here were some who were loyal to Paul and saying, “I am team Paul.”

In verses 3 and 4 the Apostle Paul is simply asking, “What are you doing?”  We’re all just ordinary people.  It’s an earthly perspective, fleshly perspective, immature perspective to elevate Michael B Jordan, Elon Musk, or Michael Dennis.  We’re just ordinary people as a church in Austin, TX.  Does that make sense?

It’s common in the media today to poke fun at the immaturity in the local church today.  But be encouraged, the local church was immature in the first century also.  The local church is never presented as a people who have it all together and live perfect lives.

The local church in the New Testament is always presented as people who are infants in Christ but also growing and maturing in Christ, therefore, we would do well to ask ourselves as followers of Jesus, “Am I spiritually growing in my faith?”

It doesn’t mean perfection but it does mean when we look back on the year or 5 years we see a trajectory of spiritual majority.  We see a greater love for God and His Word.  We see a greater love for other people.  We see a layer of growth in our character.  We see a layer of growth in our relationships with one another.

If not, then we would do well to ask, “Why not?” It’s possible we don’t see a spiritual maturity in our life because we’ve never begun a relationship with God through faith in Jesus.  If so, do that this morning.  Trust in Jesus.  Become new babes in Jesus, so that you can begin to grow and mature in Jesus.  Look at verses 5-7:

1 Corinthians 3:5-7, “5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

The word “servants” in verse 5 is the connotation of laborer.  The Corinthian culture was shaped by Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, so that the influencers of their day were elevated, prestigious, movers and shakers in the community but in verse 5 the Apostle Paul clarifies, “We who are in Christ are servants.”

We are a people who plant “seeds” with our words and with our lives.  Do you see that illustration in verse 6?  It could be a spiritual conversation with a co-worker or neighbor.  It could be when we take time work against sex trafficking and homelessness in our city.  It could be taking time to teach children how to read.  We are planting seeds of God’s grace into the lives of other people with our words and with our lives.

But it also might be preaching and teaching God’s Word like I am doing this morning.  It could be leading people through a bible study like we do in small groups throughout the week.  It could be sitting down with our children in a family devotion.  It could be sharing a meal with others in the church family.  We are watering those seeds of God’s grace in the lives of other people.  Do you see that in verse 6?

But who causes the growth in verse 7?  C’mon!  Don’t misunderstand.  There are no spiritual celebrities in the body of Christ.  If anyone had reason to lift himself up as an important person it would have been the Apostle Paul but over and over Paul says, “We’re ordinary servants.  We’re every laborer for Christ!”  We’re blue-collar for Jesus!

Sometimes we are going to see great activity of the Lord.  Sometimes those acts of service are going to take place and nobody will notice but at the end of the day there is only One who gets the credit.  There is only One who causes the growth.

In our church family in north central Austin we stack chairs, we take out trash, sometimes we speak on a stage, sometimes we lead a group, sometimes we have titles for organizational clarity but there is only One who gets the glory and His name is Jesus.  Look at verses 8-9:

1 Corinthians 3:8-9, “8 Now the one who plants and the one who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

In verse 8 we see the concept of a “reward” introduced into the passage and that probably sounds really weird to many of us this morning but just put a pin in that word, because we will come back to that word in verse 14.

Until then I want us to focus out this idea of a “fellow worker” because up to this point we have seen words like ordinary, servants, labor and now fellow worker, so that some of us might be thinking, “If God’s Word makes it so clear that followers of Jesus are just ordinary servants then how come we don’t always see that in the local church?”

How come we see spiritual leaders being elevated?  How come we see spiritual leaders with titles and robes?  How come we see corruption?  How come we see spiritual and sexual abuse?

It’s because there are still layers of infancy and spiritual immaturity where we need to grow and mature.  Just as the Corinthian culture was influencing the values of the Corinthian church we today see the American culture influencing the American church.

Just as our nation divides and fractures over political ideology we see the local church dividing and fracturing over political ideology.  We see the nation canceling each other and as a result we see the local church justified in canceling each other.  We see our nation fracturing over color of skin and the local church is fracturing over color of skin.

We see are nation neglecting justice as a result the local church feels justified to neglect justice.  We see our nation arguing and the local church models a culture of arguing.  We see our nation pursuing wealth and comfort and the local church elevates wealth and comfort but as the body of Christ we are not united as Americans but we are united in Christ!

Do we see layers of immaturity in the local church?  But we don’t want to stay there.  We don’t want our American culture to shape we who are in Christ but we want Jesus to shape we who are in Christ.

Let’s be honest with ourselves this morning and lets just do a gut check of how much our American culture has leaked into our faith.  Is it possible we would all be a little more excited this morning about what the glory of God might do in our life if there were 1,000 more people in this room?  Why is that?

Would we sing in worship unto the Lord a little more passionately if our favorite, big named musicians were leading us this morning?  Would we open our hearts a little more if our favorite authors were speaking to us this morning?  Would our prayers be more heart felt or more God sized if our worship service was being broadcast around the globe?

It’s the Lord who causes the growth.  It’s the Lord who determines the growth He wants to see, when He wants to see, where He wants to see it, so that we are all ordinary servants.  Look at verses 10-11:

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, “10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each person must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

In verses 10-11 the Apostle Paul shifts his illustration from agricultural (seeds and water) to architectural (master builder.)  Do you see that in verse 10?  This next section is going to really press in on the questions, “If we who are in Christ are servants then what are we building and what type of materials do we use when we build?”

This is important for us today in 2023.  We have more access to information than any other point in history, therefore, we need to think to ourselves, “What am I building with my life?  What is my legacy?  What mark am I leaving on this world?  What am I pouring into my children?  What am I speaking into my friendships?  What seeds am I planting?   What seeds am I watering?

This year our church family is rallying around this language of “Build and Belong” because we want to build something together.  We aren’t like those city crews on the side of the road where one person is working and 4 people are watching them work.  We are all building into one another.

Every time we show up on a Sunday.  Every time we show up to group.  Every time we sends a text.  Every time we pray for one another.  Every time we extends grace.  Every time we reconcile through conflict and seek peace with one another.  We are all contributing to the building, therefore, we would do well to ask ourselves, “What is my contribution to help us all mature in Christ? Look at verses 12-13:

1 Corinthians 3:12-13, “12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one’s work.” 

Let’s focus on this phrase “test the quality of each one’s work.”  The illustration is that of a building and a day when we will stand before Jesus and what we have built with our lives will either stand strong (gold, silver, or precious stones) or what we have built with our lives and with our words will be like chaff that disappears with a gust of wind.  Are you with me?

What happens when you light wood on fire?  Turns to ash!  What happens when you light straw and hay on fire?  Turns to ash.  What happens when you light gold, silver and precious stone on fire?  It remains.  Even if gold and silver melt there is still liquid gold and silver.  The purpose of the illustration is to ask ourselves, “What am I building with my words and my life and how do I ensure that it will remain?”

Lean on this with me and think about these categories of your life, “Where are you spending your time, where you are spending your money, where are you investing your talents, and what is shaping your thoughts?  Four areas; Time, talent, thoughts, and treasures.

I am not picking on social media but if social media is going to get the best of our time, talent, thoughts and treasures then I can tell you we are building into something that won’t last.  We are building with wood, hay and straw, right?

I like social media as much as the next person but the primary messages on social media are around subjects like physical appearances.  Top 10 steps to rock hard abs.  New tips on eye liner.  How to get rich?  Exotic vacations.  Imagine if a person’s life was only pouring social media into the lives of others?

Surely some of us are pushing back and saying to ourselves, “Nobody actually builds their life on social media.”  So, think about it, what we are giving our time, talent, thoughts and treasures?

Are we going to parrot the “self-determinism” of the 20th century that’s hanging in every classroom around our country?  You can do it!  Work hard!  Make it happen!  Chase your dreams!  Try harder!

Are we going to keep pushing “individualism?”  Do what makes you happy.  Work for what you can get.  Vote for what you want.  You make your own truth.  Those are all sources of wood, hay and straw that burn up and you know it!

It’s why the Apostle Peter writes these words, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls off but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”  That’s the gold, silver and precious stones that can endure the hardship of life.  Those are the materials that will last forever.  It’s God’s Word that is going to help us spiritually mature.

There are only two things in life that are eternal.  It’s God’s people and God’s Word, therefore, we build our time, talent, thoughts and treasures into those two things.  Look into verses 14-15 as we close:

1 Corinthians 3:14-15, “14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire.”

I am guessing this concept of “reward” is new for us, so I want to be clear this isn’t the reward of salvation or heaven.  The Apostle Paul is writing to brothers and sisters in Christ.  Our hope of salvation is already secured by grace through faith in Jesus.

Therefore, the reward in verses 14 and 15 isn’t given so as to evoke jealousy or pride because the reward is taking place when we are in heaven with Jesus but the reward is to convey an urgency of what we build with our life and with our words matters.

The Lord has given us gifts.  The Lord has given us abilities.  The Lord has given us resources.  The Lord has placed us at this point in history with these opportunities, therefore, with urgency we must ask ourselves, “What am I building with my life?”

It includes our finances.  It includes our relationships, our parenting, our free-time, our attitude toward those who are elevated in our culture and our attitude toward those who are overlooked in our culture.

It includes our posture toward how we approach Sunday morning in Austin, TX.  It includes the priority we give to building healthy relationships with one another.  It includes the work we do throughout the week.  It includes the conversation we have with the person at Walgreens.

In those moments, are we building with wood, hay, and straw, things that will, poof, disappear with a gust of wind or are we building with the eternal word of God that will last forever?

Listen to me, the invitation today isn’t to try harder or be better.  That’s American ideology shaping how we think.  The invitation is to turn to Jesus.  Jesus knows where we are immature.  Jesus knows where we are building with wood, hay and straw.

And the good news of Jesus is that He has come to draw near to you.  He knows where we are thinking fleshly, where we are living earthly, where we are more influenced by American culture than His Word He says, “He loves you.”

The answer isn’t to work harder.  The answer isn’t to try harder.  The answer isn’t to be better.  The answer is to turn to Jesus.  It is to receive His forgiveness.  It is to receive His love.  The answer is to put Him first.  The answer is to receive His grace to grow in maturity and build lives with gold, silver and precious stone.

If you have yet to begin a relationship with God through faith in Jesus.  Do that this morning.  Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.  Believe Jesus resurrected from the dead and give your life to Him.  We will have people to pray with you and for you at the back.  Take advantage of those opportunities.