Babes in Christ

When a person commits his first sin, corruption enters into his heart. Moving from the state and innocence of childhood, the individual has now become what the scripture calls "a natural man," one who is "in the flesh" and whose interests are earthy. During this period of time — and to some degree "prepped" by earlier childhood experiences or poor training — weaknesses of the flesh become entrenched in this "slave of sin." And when he hears the gospel and, as a repentant believer, willing to obey it, he becomes a new creature in Christ. The problem is that these same weaknesses remain entrenched in the habits of the newly immersed saint, and it is going to take some "renewing of the mind" to root those out and replace them with new habits. Thus when Paul writes to the church at Corinth, trying to defend his apostleship and help the brethren straighten out some internal situations, he has to help them understand that they still have a ways to go to be able to put the proper appraisal on spiritual matters, and to be able to recognize fleshly behavior when they see it.

The scripture encourages all brethren to move past the "babes in Christ" stage, and to grow up in aspects into Christ. Deeds of the flesh are to be laid aside, and the new nature of Christ is to be put on, so that the saints really are a new race that walks according to Christ rather than according to man!

What Are Apollos and Paul?

The natural man is schismatic or factious because of the corruption in his heart. For this polarization to occur on a congregational scale, someone has to be regarded as the leader of each faction or group. The propagandists for polarization will often use the name of someone not directly associated with their splinter in order to give their factiousness the color of legitimacy. This it was in Corinth; Paul had earlier noted that "each one is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ " None of the above — Paul, Apollos, Peter, or Christ — were trying to cause divisions within the body of Christ in the province of Achaia. But their names were being used by those driven by strife and jealousy as a vehicle to cover their real agenda.

The battles for the souls of men sooner or later become wars of words. Those who have covert agendas use carefully chosen words to sell their ideas, cloak their plans with acceptability, and persuade others to join their factions. It takes "combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" to expose this darkness, and turn the disciples back to following Christ.

God Causes the Growth

God is worthy, and will receive the glory and honor due Him through Jesus Christ. And while man must work, for example, to provide sustenance for himself and his family, he must realize that God has established the huge foundation on which man can do his small part in raising and harvesting crops. "The kingdom of God," said Jesus, "is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows — how, he himself does not know" (Mark 4:26,27). While man may increasingly understand the chemistry of such growth, he will never have the capacity to know how life itself was injected onto the chemistry. Only God knows, and only God can do that. "The soil," Jesus added, "produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4;28,29). The farmer can plant, water, protect, and harvest, but he cannot cause the growth. No matter how you slice it, man must still thank God for his daily bread. God is worthy, and will receive the glory and honor due Him through Jesus Christ!

When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he also gave them a good perspective, pointing out that "grace was given me from God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles … that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sancitified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:15,16). The great God is the One who gave someone like Paul his ability to do what he did, who sanctified his work, and who granted the increase. "We are," he says, referring to himself and Apollos, "God’s fellow workers."

Laying the Foundation

The apostle Paul was trying to maintain a difficult balance in his working with the congregation at Corinth. He has to defend his apostleship and thus his doctrine, he has to defend his authority but make certain that God is honored, and he has to accomplish his purpose but be sure that Jesus Christ glorified remains the focus. "I determined to know nothing among you," he had stated earlier, "except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." What is Apollos in comparison to Christ? What is Paul, when likened to the Lord Jesus? If the members of the Corinthians congregation could focus on Christ, then the other issues would basically disappear. "We are God’s fellow workers," is the apostle’s affirmation. "You," says he to the church, "are God’s field," referring to the planting and watering. But now, he is ready to change the metaphor. You are, he adds, "God’s building" (I Corinthians 3:9).

Paul was a wise master builder, and painstakingly laid the foundation for the church in Corinth. "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ," was part of his foundational perspective. "My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power," he further stated, "that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." He knew what kind of foundation he needed to set in place so that the future congregation would be able to withstand the storms of false teachers, highly visible immorality, betrayal from within, and people with a power-position agenda. He wanted that foundation, as one capable of laying it by the grace of the Almighty God, to be one which would serve as a base for reaching the many people in Corinth and the surrounding area who would turn to the Lord. And he put it down, solid and square! Now, what will those who follow do …?

Builder - Take Care!

The work of the master craftsman is often slow and challenging. The master has, like an architect, to see the whole building in his mind before he lays the first block. He has to construct his foundation with extreme care, so that it will carry the weight of the whole building, so that the base be "true" or "square" in order that all the future angles will be also be exactly right, and so that the building will not shift or come apart. Such a craftsman was the apostle Paul, when it came to laying the foundation of local congregations. "As a wise master builder I laid a foundation," he calmly noted, stating the fact without arrogance or bragging. The honest concern of Paul, then, is for the future building of the congregation based on the foundation which he laid.

If a man wants to build his house cheaply, and it burns in the first blaze that gets slightly out of control, there is no eternal loss. But in the case of these laborers in Corinth, the building blocks are the precious, eternal souls of the sons of men. If the teaching was shallow, and full conviction about the apostles’ doctrine was not established in the brethren, these people spiritually would not survive the fiery trials that would test their faith. They would end up burning in hell forever, and Paul was conscious of the horribleness of that loss. But if the teaching were solid and intensive, the disciples would be able to stand the tests to their faith, would be saved for all eternity, and thus the work of the builder who followed Paul and Apollos would stand. "Let each man be careful" how he builds upon the foundation of Jesus Christ!

Rewards for the Builders

The joy of Jesus Christ is centered around those with whom He will spend eternity. He had glory before He came to earth, but He did not have a bride. It was the thought of the prospective bride that powered Him through the agony of His humiliation, beatings, and crucifixion, as the writer of Hebrews noted, "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). "You," stated the apostle Paul concerning the church in Thessalonica, "are our glory and joy" (I Thessalonians 2:20). The true laborers in the gospel, who follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Paul, have as their reward and joy the eternal fellowship of those whom they have taught and influenced regarding the word of God.

Those who carefully taught their disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded would be rewarded by God for those disciples who stood the test of the probing and exposing "fire." Those who watched their disciples crumple under the flames would suffer loss, but they themselves would be saved. But those who destroyed would themselves be destroyed. All who preach and teach must remember that ultimately they are answerable to God, and they will answer! "We are God’s workers," was Paul’s earlier comment, in regard directly to Apollos and himself. "Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor." God is the One who judges, and God is the One who rewards. "Let each man be careful how he builds!"

The Temple of the Holy Spirit

God is Spirit, and as such He does not inhabit temples made with human hands. "Heaven is My throne," was the martyr Stephen’s quote from Isaiah, "and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?" is the challenge. Man cannot build a temple for the Lord that is adequate, so He is building one for Himself, using the most precious materials He ever created as His building blocks. The sound of the hammer or of the axe will not be heard during the construction of His temple; much finer means are used for the shaping and tooling of His stones.

A major point is that the temple of God — be it the church as a whole, or the local congregation, or the individual saint — is holy!!! How could the Holy Spirit live in an unholy temple? The words from the Old Testament law, and quoted by Peter, still have the ringing power of the ages: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (I Peter 1:16). "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are!"

Let no Man Deceive Himself

All things are carried out in the sight of God. "Night," said the sweet Psalmist of Israel, "is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You" (Psalm 139:12). "And there is no creature hidden from His sight," comments Hebrews’ author, "but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). Every conversation has His listening ears, and every plan has His full attention. Within the auspices of the church of the living God, then, each saint must be continually cognizant of the presence of the All Knowing, and conduct himself accordingly.

In the church of the living God, earthly wisdom has to be laid aside. Those who refuse to do so are still trying to please men, and starting to destroy the temple of God. "So then let no one boast in men" (I Corinthians 3:21). "Learn Christ," is the exhortation!

The Exalted Saint

There is no need for the saint to be overly impressed by the credentials offered by the world. "The whole world," is the scripture’s analysis, "lies in the power of the evil one" (I John 5:19). And one of the evil one’s most powerful tools is deception, pretending to be something other than what he is. "Even Satan," intones the apostle Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthian brethren, "disguises himself as an angel of light" (II Corinthians 11:14). The world, then, presents itself as enlightened, when in fact it is in darkness. The philosophers and professors of the world post their credentials on their walls, and position themselves in places of prominence in order to pretend that their "knowledge" is of value. "They are from the world," is the perspective of the apostle John. "Therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them" (I John 4:5). The disciple of Christ must therefore recognize that much of the spiritual warfare around him is a war over ideas and ideals. The devil and the forces of darkness have the worldly resources necessary to paint themselves as liberators when they are in fact oppressors; they picture themselves as having the solutions when they have fomented the problems. "Woe," says Lord, "to those who call evil ‘good,’ and good ‘evil’; who substitute darkness for light, and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20). There is absolutely no need for the saint to be overly impressed by the credentials offered by the world! "So then let no one boast in man."

If the saints in Corinth could be strengthened and made more confident in who they were, and see the superiority of the teaching they had received, they would be able to stand united against the forces of deception working inside the congregation. Paul’s purpose, then, in writing this letter, would be accomplished!