GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 3:4-5
4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 After all, what is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are ministers. You came to believe through them, each of them doing what the Lord gave him to do.
Paul brings back his argument from chapter 1: your divisions and your slogans (“I am of Apollos, I am of Paul”) show that they are still not truly spiritual, but merely human. We don’t need to wonder about Paul bringing only two of the groups forward here. To have mentioned all four (Apollos, Paul, Cephas, and Christ) would have been awkward and needless for making his point. A good speaker knows that there are times when being complete will only distract and confuse the listener. He uses himself because it’s easier to dismiss himself that way, and he uses Apollos because Apollos was the man on the spot in Corinth, and all factions needed to come to an end. The Corinthians were acting in a worldly way, and this can’t continue for the Christian.
So Paul asks, “What is Apollos? What is Paul?” He is not being ironic or excessively humble. He is being perfectly honest. Are we not men? He calls himself a diakonos (διάκονος), a servant or minister. In the New Testament, this word is used of any servant. It is used of servants as different as Christ himself (“a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth,” Romans 15:8) and a servant of sin (Galatians 2:17). It was sometimes used of certain ministers of the church (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8) but this was more common in the writings of the Church Fathers.
In general we could say that ‘deacons’ were people of a higher status than slaves, but of no special importance when compared with other ordinary people of any social class. But in the church, a minister or pastor has a special public role on account of his call. This is the point that should end all factions and divisions. It is God the Holy Spirit who calls pastors and ministers, through the church. The early church issued calls to men to investigate disputes (Acts 15:2, 25-27), to represent churches in gathering offerings and then in transporting and delivering them (2 Corinthians 8:18-19), and also issued calls into the full-time ministry of the Word. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them” (Acts 8:14). Paul himself had been commissioned in Antioch, “where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work” (Acts 14:26). God is always the one at work, and the work is carried out with the gospel. No human words can convert the cold heart of unbelief to a living faith in Christ, but the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Now, as our confession rightly explains, “wherever there is a true church (gathered around the gospel in word and sacrament), the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists. Just as in the case of necessity even a layman absolves and becomes the minister and pastor of another, as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after baptism then absolved the baptizer. Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the church, and not merely to certain persons, Matthew 18:20, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, etc.’ Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Peter 2:9, ‘You are a royal priesthood.’ These words pertain to the true church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood” (Smalcald Articles, 1537).
The men who serve as the ministers of the church have a divine call from God through the church. Therefore it makes no sense to say that in a congregation with two pastors someone would follow one but not the other. Both are called, both serve, both are there to teach, rebuke, correct, train, and to guide us as we worship. In the verses that follow, we will learn something about the differences in different forms of ministry, but Paul wants us to understand that it is God who gives each of us our task to do. Just as the husband and wife have their duty to carry out for one another (1 Corinthians 7:5), so also those who serve in the church have their assigned tasks from the Lord (Numbers 4:19). And what has God given us all to do? Whatever is in lock step with the will of God. For on the one hand, “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). But what we desire should be “to complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). When we learn and understand God’s will, we learn above all to love each other (1 Thessalonians 4:9) and to proclaim the gospel to those who are living in the world (Revelation 14:6) with our words and even with our routines and habits. Let the world see that your very thoughts are from Christ by what you say, what you do, and the way you think and react. For the man that does good deeds has good thoughts.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Corinthians 3:4-5 What is Paul?