One of the ways the church in Corinth was unhealthy was the spotlight on individual leaders – there was too much comparison of the various merits of leaders like Peter, Paul and Apollos. To address this Paul uses 7 metaphors to show us how unhelpful comparing leaders in the way they were was.
Have you noticed that people who claim to be mature rarely are?
Babies and Adults 3v1-4
The Corinthians were very spiritual in their own eyes. But were they really following the Spirit’s direction, walking in the Spirit or demonstrating the unity of the Spirit? No! They were acting like babies – fleshly, ordinary and merely men. They were not able to take on the meat as well as the milk of teaching. They were behaving like toddlers with all their jealousy and strife. Kids fall out with each other constantly and are jealous. Grown ups hopefully grow out of that, cheering one another one rather than comparing and criticising – although time doesn’t make us mature!
Planting and watering 3v5-8
Leaders are actually servants with different skills and specialities. Paul planted, Apollos watered. Both activities were vital to plant the church in Corinth and required different skill sets. And at the end of the day it is God who gives the growth (v7)
Foundations and building 3v9-17
Changing the metaphor slightly to architectural from agricultural, some leaders lay foundations, others are skilled at building the superstructure. Different people again were involved at the different stages. Paul is keen to point out that we must be careful how we build – eternal reward is at stake for what we do with what the Lord gives us to do. If we build with straw and hay it will be burnt up. Quality service becomes a crown!
Worldly wisdom 3v18-23
God’s wisdom rejects worldly wisdom which is boastful and crafty. Paul urges us not to boast in such wisdom. Everything and everyone is a gift from God anyway.
Servants and stewards 4v1-7
The man centred Corinthians were giving allegiance to men. But Christian leaders are servants and stewards of God anyway. Faithfulness is what the Lord looks for from his servants and stewards. We don’t need to curry favour with people, but look to the Lord and the account we will have to give to Him.
Kings and Paupers 4v8-13
Paul now uses a hefty dose of irony “Already you are rich…, you are kings…” They were boasting that they were a successful, mature and effective church. For each of their boasts, Paul describes himself as the opposite – strong and weak, honoured and held in disrepute and so on.
The reality for Paul is that we are both kings and paupers – rich in Christ and despised by the world.
Fathers and children v14-19
Paul came as a father, not just a leader, but grow his spiritual children in Christ. There are many, many “leaders” around but not many who act like fathers to grow children to maturity.
Much of their comparison between leaders is just talk. The Kingdom of God doesn’t consist of that kind of talk, boasting in the abilities of men. The Kingdom of God consists of power – the power of the Spirit to bring righteousness, joy and peace with love. So Paul asks do you want me to come with a whip or love?