When my wife and I were rearing our sons, some of the most exciting times when they were very young was when we measured their height and then marked it on the back door jamb to see how much they had grown since the last time we measured. As they got older, we attended their school functions and sporting events as proud parents. Before we knew it, they had all too quickly grown up to become young men. Along the way, we also had the privilege of leading them to salvation in Jesus Christ. As parents, we have been proud over the years to watch our sons grow not only in physical stature, but especially as followers of Christ.
The apostle Paul thought of himself as a father to those in the Corinthian church, which he started (1 Corinthians 4:15). And as their spiritual father, he wanted to see them grow spiritually. He provided for them some ways to do so in 1 Corinthians 3:1-17. However, many problems existed among the Corinthian Christians that hindered their growth in Christ, and Paul chided them for it.
One of the problems in the church was that its members were divided into factions following different leaders—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ (1:11–12; 3:4–5). As a result, jealousy and dissension were present in their lives (3:3). Paul called the Corinthians spiritual “infants” and “fleshly” (3:1–3). He had given them “milk to drink,” rather than “solid food,” because they were immature (3:2).
Paul essentially told the church: You can grow spiritually when you stop acting like babies. The same is true for us. Nothing is wrong with being a baby Christian. We all are spiritual babies when we first place our faith in Jesus. Something is wrong, however, with remaining a spiritual infant and not growing in Christ; something is awry when we cannot progress beyond basic Christian teaching to more meaty doctrine due to immaturity. Just as the lives of infants are focused on themselves, so also many folks have “me-first” disease and are concerned about their own comforts, agendas, and needs, not the needs of others.
The Corinthians had a misconception about God’s messengers. Paul chided the church’s members and principally told them: You can grow spiritually when you worship the Lord and not His servants. Paul did not reject the need for leaders, but he did point out that centering our Christian lives upon various preachers or leaders was an immature thing to do. The remedy for the Corinthian misconception regarding God’s messengers (for example, Paul and Apollos) was to recognize that they were servants of God accountable to Him (3:5–4:5). They were servants He used in accomplishing His work (3:5–9).
Too many people today ardently follow various preachers and leaders, sometimes seemingly more so than they do the Lord. If not flat-out idolatry, it appears fairly close to it. Christian “celebrityism” of this sort does not please God. Paul focused instead on the Lord, the One who assigned to each messenger his ministry (3:5). God’s messengers have various roles; some water and some plant, but only God causes the growth (3:6–7). God’s servants are His fellow workers who work on His building and will receive a reward in accordance with their work (3:8–9). We need to realize these truths as we seek to advance the Gospel together. We all have our different and important roles in ministry as we serve God, and no one should be exalted above the Lord, for He provides the growth.
You can grow spiritually when you build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul compared his visit to Corinth with a wise master builder who laid a foundation while others built on it (3:10). We must be very careful about how we build upon the foundation that has been laid down, that of Jesus Christ and Him crucified (3:11; cf. 2:2). We should do so out of pure motives (3:12)—selfless service that is valuable and will stand (“gold, silver, precious stones”) rather than self-seeking efforts that are worthless (“wood, hay, straw”). Know for sure that at the judgment on the Last Day, our work done in God’s name will be revealed and tested for what it actually was (3:13–15).
You can grow spiritually when you build up and esteem God’s temple, the church. Paul spoke of the church as God’s temple; the Holy Spirit indwelt them (3:16). He permanently resides in believers. He also strongly warned that if anyone seeks to destroy the church, God will destroy that person (3:17). Paul further explained that God’s temple is holy (3:17); it is set apart by God for His purposes. The Lord loves His church, and this caution emphasizes the need for us to build up and esteem God’s church—not tear it down. Be careful and tremble if you seek to undermine the church. It does not do you or anyone else any good, and in fact, works to your eternal detriment.
Do you want to grow spiritually? Some ways we can grow spiritually are if we stop acting like babies, worship the Lord and not His servants, build selflessly on the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and build up and esteem the church.
Lord, we are grateful to you for all things. We are especially thankful for our salvation through Jesus. Help us to grow in Christ, we pray. May we be regarded “as servants of Christ” and “stewards” of the gospel. As stewards, we ask that you empower and help us by your Spirit to be found “trustworthy” (cf. 1 Cor 4:1–2).