5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Many critics of the Bible have, over the years, argued that Paul is actually the founder of Christianity. They claim that Paul founded a religion that was quite different from what Jesus taught, and that he created a movement of which Jesus would not have approved. There is a sense in which Paul did found churches, in fact in his words he says, I laid a foundation as an expert builder. What is vital information in understanding Paul, however, is that he built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid. Paul certainly didn’t invent Christianity, and he wasn’t the only one teaching the same message. When any of them built churches, including Paul, they were doing so on the only foundation that any true church could ever be built, the Messiah. Truly, in Paul’s mind, the Church was built on the foundation of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.
There simply is no other foundation that can be laid in genuine Christianity other than the life of Christ. There is a lot of talk in our modern world in Christian circles about having faith in Christ but very few stop and consider what that faith actually means or what it is in. The faith we have is that God has reconciled sinners to himself through the life of Christ (2 Cor. 5:16) and has hidden us in the life of Christ (Col. 3:1-4). When we say that we have faith we are talking about having faith in the life of Christ as the means to God rather than having any faith in the merit of our own life. Christianity can never be built on anything other than dying to our self and entering into the life of Christ. Paul knows that the ultimate relationship of faith is that between Jesus and those who would enter into his resurrection life.
Paul’s primary point here, though, isn’t the relationship between himself and Jesus. He is mostly concerned between the relationship between he and the other teachers, including Apollos. He uses the image of a garden here to make his point. He may have planted the seed, Apollos came in and watered the seed, but all of the true work of growing, and all of the glory belongs to God alone. The work of any of the teachers and apostles is inconsequential when compared with God’s role in it all. Paul says that he and Apollos are but servants, a word which literally means ‘the one who waits at a table’. At a restaurant there is a cook who selects and cooks the food you have ordered, then there are different waiters and servers who bring it to you. Which waiter brings your food is really of no importance. This is Paul’s point. God has selected and cooked the meal, he, Apollos, and the other teachers are little more than waiters. There should be no special pride or significance attached to the one who brought the meal.
In exalting the gifts or style of one teacher over another the Corinthians have completely misunderstood the reality of the resurrection life available in Christ. All believers die themselves when they enter into Christ and should come to the realization that Paul did in Philippians 3:1-7. Everything that we might have thought was of value in our lives outside of Christ are actually quite the opposite. Paul says the things about him that used to cause him pride, he now sees as being a loss because they caused him to think that there was some sort of merit to his life. When the Corinthians began to exalt one teacher or another, they were buying into the worldly ideas of value and merit rather than realizing that the only thing that mattered was that they were all one in Christ and part of the same body.
This should stand out as a word of caution for us today. There is always a temptation to give special praise, honor, or significance to ministers, teachers, or those who have played a certain role in someone being baptized or a church growing. All of the real work and growth comes from God, not the servant. We should avoid any temptation to take any pride in the work that God has chosen to do through us. The glory is always due to God. The Corinthians, argues Paul, have become so worldly that they cannot see beyond the human ministers. They don’t realize that if there are any differences between them, they are differences that God has assigned each one, but there is no reason to esteem one of God’s servants more than another. They are after all fellow workers that belong to God. They are his field, his building.
In verses 8 and 10, Paul hints at the subject of whether or not the servants have done a good job in building on the foundation of Christ, but that is something that he will address directly in the next passage. Each one, he says, will be rewarded according to his own labor, and that each one should be careful how he builds.
Paul here has no no personal quarrel with Apollos. In fact, he has no problem singling out false teachers, so he is in no way implying that Apollos falls into that category. The assumption here is not that Apollos or Cephas are laying another foundation or building a shoddy building. Paul’s issue is with people who are attempting to play him and Apollos against one another as if there is a contest between them that is based on human standards of wisdom and rhetoric. We can assume that Apollos might come out on top based on those standards, but that isn’t Paul’s problem. He would have just as much of an issue with someone exalting him according to human standards. In fact, it is safe to assume that no one would agree with Paul here more than Apollos and Cephas. The only one that should hold any place of honor in the kingdom of God is Jesus Christ.
If Paul were to come to your church would he have to make the same point? Are you tempted to put certain people on a pedestal? It is one thing to recognize people for their hard work but quite another to begin to think of them as more important or better than others because of that work. Are you willing to be God’s servant, giving him all the glory, or do you seek out honor and attention when you have done some work for God?