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Growing Up in the Faith

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 3:1–9

The Lord has given us all we need to grow and prosper in our relationship with Him. If we are not constantly and consistently growing in our understanding of God and in our commitment to Christ, we will remain spiritual infants; and that is neither natural nor desirable.


When a fourth-grade teacher stands before her class, she is looking at a roomful of students who are all about the same age. But she knows that not all of them are at the same educational level. Several of them will be struggling with reading. Others will have some learning disabilities. Still others are not as mature as they should be. Frankly, she deserves a medal of honor for taking on this challenge of bringing them up to the fourth-grade level.

About a year before my mother passed away, she gave her sons boxes of mementos and memorabilia from our childhood. Inside my box I found my fourth-grade report card. The teacher had written a note to my mother that said, “Stephen is going to need extra help in math.” Well, she could not have been more correct. I struggled with it all the way through school and into college. Even back then, my teacher knew the challenge I would have.

Now as we set sail back into Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he is not dealing with a few struggling students. He is writing to an entire church that is not up to the grade level they should be in their spiritual understanding and attitude.

For the most part, the issue here is their lack of spiritual maturity. They have grown complacent and apathetic. They might be growing older in their faith, but they are not growing up in their faith. And that is possible for all of us today.

Paul begins chapter 3 by writing, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” He addresses them as “brothers,” which means they are fellow believers. But he cannot speak to them as spiritually mature people because they are acting, as he says, “like people of the flesh.” They are believers, but they are not acting like it.

Paul describes them here in verse 1 as “infants in Christ”—baby Christians. Then he says in verse 2, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” He is reminding them of his teaching ministry in the early days when he planted this church. Acts 18 informs us that Paul spent a year and a half teaching them what he calls here, “milk” rather than “solid food.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeding infants milk. That is what they need. Figuratively, as used here, milk is likely a reference to the elementary truths, the basic facts, related to the gospel. The “solid food” refers to deeper doctrines of the faith. Evidently, they still have not grown up enough to chew on solid food.

Paul summarizes why in verse 3: “You are still of the flesh . . . and behaving only in a human way.” Essentially, he is saying, “You are backsliding in your thinking and acting—you are acting more like the Corinthians than Christians.”

And here is what was happening in their church as a result. Paul writes, “There is jealousy and strife among you.” Just like little children arguing and fussing over toys, these believers are arguing and fussing in the church.

Have you noticed, how little children like to choose their favorite superhero or their favorite superstar athlete? And then they argue with each other over which one is the strongest or the fastest, or the best. You can hear them out on the playground arguing, “Mine is better than yours”![1]

Well, that is pretty much what is happening here in Corinth as well. Paul writes in verse 4, “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” They had chosen their favorite apostle or their favorite leader or preacher, and they were arguing over which one was the best.

Paul, then, begins to correct their immature thinking and bring them up to a level of maturity in their perspective. He writes, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (verse 5).

Paul and Apollos were nothing more than God’s servants. Paul uses the word that refers to household servants who were given daily tasks. So, Paul says here that he and Apollos are members of the household of God, and they are simply performing their tasks, as the Lord has assigned them.

Beloved, no task for the Lord is more important than another. No preacher is going to be rewarded above the nursery volunteer or the Sunday school teacher or the deacon. Let us not argue over where we get to play out there on the playground of ministry life. Let us just perform what God has assigned us to do, without jealousy and strife. We are not competing; we are cooperating in establishing and equipping the church for God’s glory.

If there is jealousy and strife in your church today, if there are divisions in your church, I can tell you, after pastoring for some forty years in the same church, the strife and division you are facing probably has nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with opinion. A competition of opinions takes the place of cooperation.

So, let us remember this principle. We are all servants in the household of God. Some plant, some water; some paint the classrooms, some teach the lesson, some lead the singing, and some keep the nursery. Let us just perform our assignments with faithfulness and joy so that God is honored and the church remains unified.

Now to illustrate this principle, Paul takes us all out to the farm in these next verses:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. (verses 6-8)

Paul says here that he planted the seed—he was the one who planted the church in Corinth. Then Apollos came along and watered it. Apollos remained in Corinth for a season after Paul, teaching and pastoring this church.

Both men played a unique role, but listen, Paul makes it clear that only God could make anything grow. We can plant the seed of the gospel, and we can water it and add nutrients to it, but we do not have the power to give anybody spiritual life. The miracle of regeneration—the miracle of life and growth—belongs to our Creator, our sovereign Lord.

A number of years ago, a university study undertaken by an agricultural school in Iowa came up with some interesting conclusions. They were able to estimate that for a farmer to produce one hundred bushels of corn from one acre of land, he would need the following: 6,800 pounds of oxygen, 5,200 pounds of carbon, 160 pounds of nitrogen, 125 pounds of potassium, 75 pounds of yellow sulfur, and a number of other elements too numerous to list. 

In addition, it is critical that the cornfield receive the right amounts of rain and sunshine, at just the right times. The university study came to the conclusion that only 5 percent of the produce could be attributed to the contributions and efforts of the farmer.

Obviously, that 5 percent includes planting the seed to begin the entire process; weeding and fertilizing and adding nutrients to the soil are critical. But in the end, 95 percent of what is needed must be provided by God alone.

That’s what Paul is reminding the church in Corinth. Yes, someone sowed the seeds, and others tended the field. But in the end, it is God alone who has the power to bring about spiritual life—a bumper crop of new believers.

Let us just do our part and then trust God for everything else.

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Wise (Victor Books, 1983), 41-42.

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