Saturday

7 March 2020

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 6:1-9

Background

Who was Apollos? We know just a little about this Christian evangelist, who was also active in Corinth. Acts 18:24 describes a meeting between him and the missionary couple Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:3), when Priscilla takes the lead in teaching him that baptism in the Spirit is essential to the Christian gospel, alongside John’s water baptism. Some scholars think he may have been the anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews.

Paul has also referred to him already, at 1 Corinthians 1:12. Here, the ministry of the two men has caused conflict among the community in Corinth. Some claim to belong to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Cephas (Peter), some to Christ. Paul reminded the Corinthians that it was Christ who died for them and Christ alone who deserves their allegiance.

This disagreement highlights themes that shape the whole of the first part of this letter. It has already led Paul into a long reflection on Christian maturity and the role of the Spirit. He now sums up this section of his letter by putting the emphasis where it should be – on God. He uses this image of gardening or farming to help his hearers understand his point. He can assume that everyone knew that seeds needed to be planted and watered, but that germination was beyond human control.

The image of a growing seed may help his hearers understand more clearly what the work of the Spirit is like, building on Paul’s teaching about this in the previous chapter. A plant’s growth, apparently from nowhere, leaping upwards towards the light, is a good picture of the unexpected new life that the Spirit brings. Paul will return to this image much later in his letter, when he is talking about the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:37). God transforms us, as a plant is transformed from its seed.

The foolish allegiances of the Christians in Corinth are signs of their immature understanding of the faith, but Paul longs to see them learn to focus on God as the real source of their freedom in Christ through the Spirit.

 

To Ponder:

  • Planting and watering are metaphors for two different roles. In a 21st-century faith community, what resources could be used to enable each to work well?
  • Paul uses the image of a growing seed to describe the changes God brings about in a life. Do you find this image helpful, or are there other images which express this better for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Manchester Circuit.

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