SERVANTS OF JESUS
- Pastor Mark Driscoll
- 1 Corinthians 3:1-9a
- February 12, 2006
Father God, I thank you for your faithfulness to me, your faithfulness to us as a people, as a church. And God, as we study Scripture tonight it is our prayer that we would see Jesus – we would see his faithfulness to us. And that we would seek to be mature and faithful people in response out of gratitude. For that to occur, we invite you, Holy Spirit, to lead us, guide us, convict us, convert us, instruct us, shape us and lead us, so that we can follow Jesus, so that we can be like Jesus, so we can serve in Jesus’ name, and ultimately one day that we would see Jesus’ face. And so we ask you to come, Holy Spirit, and to make this time pleasing to you and profitable to us, and we ask it in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Well, as we get into 1 Corinthians, here’s what we’ve been learning. Churches are not programs or buildings, they’re people. And people are messy, and so churches are messy. That’s the way it goes. You all come here with baggage – some of you with carry-ons. When you’re dealing with people it just gets messy. You come in with all of your issues, and all of these people come into a church with all of their collective issues. That means that the church is a messy place because you’re dealing with people’s lives. We see this in 1 Corinthians. This is a messy place. It’s a messy church.
And so what Paul does as a good pastor, he’s trying to clarify things. He’s trying to lead people. He’s trying to get them on the same message and the same mission regarding Jesus, and so we looked at chapter 1, where he establishes his authority as a leader, saying, “You guys really do need to listen to me.” Chapter 2 he says that there are two kinds of people: Christians and non-Christians. Christians are people who know that Jesus is God, died on a cross for their sins as a substitute in their place. They love Jesus. They worship Jesus. They sing to Jesus. They serve Jesus. They’re just Bible-believing Jesus freaks filled with the Holy Ghost. That’s what a Christian is.
Non-Christians don’t confess their sins to Jesus, don’t have Jesus as the most important person in their life, don’t give their time and their money and their energy and their life to the cause of Jesus. And they’re not filled with the Holy Spirit. And he says there are these two kinds of people in the world. So the first thing I would like to review and ask you, not to judge you but to examine your own heart: are you a Christian? That’s the first thing. Do you love Jesus? Do you know that he died on the cross for your sins? Is he your sinless God who cleanses you of sin and gives you eternal life, beginning today?
Do you love Jesus? Are you into Jesus? Do you pray to Jesus, sing to Jesus, devoted to Jesus, reading the Bible to find out about Jesus – just a full-blown, come-out-of-the-closet, old-school Jesus freak – is that your team? Right? Yeah, so no love at all. Okay, anyways, where he’s going with that is this is not just being a religious or a moral person, okay? Some of you have been told that Christianity is for people who are at the bottom. They’ve just hit bottom and they’re in great need. So if you’re in rehab or your life’s fallen apart or your spouse has left you, then you need Jesus because you’re at the end of your rope.
Well, Jesus is there for those who have hit bottom and are metaphorically at the end of their rope. But Jesus is also for those of you who haven’t hit there yet, and by God’s grace he would save you and keep you from hitting that place. Paul was that kind of guy. Paul didn’t have any urgent seeming desire or need for Jesus. He was a very moral guy, and a very religious guy. But here was his problem: he didn’t love Jesus. He didn’t know Jesus. He didn’t belong to Jesus. Jesus came and saved him. He became a Christian. His eyes opened. His heart opened. His mind opened. His whole life changed, and he went from just being a spiritual religious person and a moral person to being a person who was absolutely devoted to Jesus.
Some of you are here and you don’t have any sense of urgent need. Well, it would be good for you to meet Jesus and for him to keep you from having an urgent need. Some of you say, “But I’m religious.” We’re not talking about religion. Some of you say, “But I’m a good person.” We’re not talking about morality. We’re talking about you and Jesus. Do you love Jesus? Are you into Jesus? Are you following Jesus? Two kinds of people: those who love Jesus by the empowering enablement of the Holy Spirit, those who don’t. We want you to be people who love Jesus.
So you’re saying, “What, are you trying to sell me?” Duh – yeah. Yeah. Heaven’s better than hell. We’d love to see you there. You know, shame on me. I’d like you to go to Heaven. I’d like you to know Jesus. I’d like to have your sins forgiven. I’d like him to change your life. Yeah, that’s what we want. We’re not gonna lie to you. We’re here with a very clear agenda: you, Jesus, forever. That’s our goal, okay? Now, where he goes from this, he says in addition to two kinds of people, non-Christians and Christians, he’s gonna talk about this week two kinds of Christians, okay?
And now this leads to all kinds of theological debates, massive confusion, books written, ink spilled. Last 10 or 15 years there’s a whole controversy around this called Lordship salvation. So what I’ll do, I’ll break it down for you theologically for a few minutes, and then we’ll move into the text. But this text that we’re dealing with tonight seems to teach that there are two kinds of Christians, and some seem to think of it as varsity and junior varsity Christians, and others really struggle with that. And the reason why this is so hotly debated is because this text is used to teach there are three kinds of people in the world.
The first is a circle, and in the circle is you sitting on a throne as God ruling over your life. Outside of the circle is Jesus, so you’re your own God and Lord, and Jesus is not in your life, and they would say that’s the non-Christian. The second circle is there is a circle, and you and Jesus are both in it, and there’s a throne, and Jesus is on the throne. And Jesus is the Lord and God and Ruler and boss of your life, and you do what he says. That’s a mature or spiritual Christian.
Then they would say there is a third category where there is a circle. You and Jesus are in it; you’re a Christian in relationship with Jesus, and there’s a throne. But you’re on the throne, not Jesus. You’re still acting like your own god doing whatever the heck you want. And they’ll say that that is an unspiritual, or a carnal Christian. And the question becomes well, is it really possible to be a Christian and still have Jesus not on the throne of your life, right? And it’s a silly kind of thing, I think, because you think about it, it’s not like Jesus is up in Heaven looking at Hank on the throne saying, “Hank, is it my turn? I would like to rule over the cosmos. Are you done yet?”
You know, it’s just sort of a weird idea that Jesus is up in Heaven going, “Would you vote for me? I would love to sit there.” It’s a very peculiar concept, because when you read Revelation, Jesus Christ is always on the throne, high and exalted. He’s God. He’s the King. He’s the boss. That’s the way that it is. Well, this leads to a number of theological questions, many of them surrounding what is this carnal-type Christian, which I will argue that I don’t believe there is such a thing as a carnal Christian, depending upon how we define that.
The first question that comes up theologically is are these people that Paul is writing to in 1 Corinthians 3 – are they Christians or are they non-Christians? That’s the first question. And the answer is well, they are Christians. The second question is – and I’ll explain to you why in a moment. The second question is well, are they Christians who lost their salvation? Some of you may have heard this. The issue is no, Christians can’t lose their salvation, because salvation doesn’t belong to Christians. Jonah says that it belongs to the Lord, okay. And it’s not that I own Jesus; it’s that Jesus possesses me. So it’s not like I can lose Jesus. The question is can Jesus lose me?
So the question is never can we lose our salvation. The question is can Jesus lose a Christian – that’s the issue. Jesus says salvation is being in his hand, and no one can take you from his hand. Romans 8 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Paul says elsewhere that even when we are faithless he is faithful. He says that he who began a good work in us – making a Christian – is faithful and will keep working on us till the very end. So Christians don’t lose their salvation, because Jesus doesn’t lose a Christian. Were these people ever Christians?
Well, yeah. He – in chapter 3:1, we’re gonna see in a moment – he calls them brothers, the concept being that the church is a family and that God is a father and that we’re like brothers and sisters. So they are brothers – that includes the gals – we’re talking about a family here. In addition, in chapter 1:26 he says that they have been called on by Jesus; that Jesus has called them to be Christians. It says in chapter 1:2 that they have responded by calling on Jesus; that they have sung to Jesus, and they pray to Jesus, and their life is about Jesus. And in chapter 1:5-14 it says that they have the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts that enable them to do ministry. So these are Christian brothers and sisters whom Jesus has called, and they sing and pray to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is in them enabling them to do ministry.
So yeah, we’re talking about Christians. And some people say, “Well, how do we know they’re Christians?” Well, it says they’re Christians. Some people say, “But maybe they’re non-Christians.” Why are they non-Christians? “Well, maybe they’re non-Christians because they’re sinning.” That’s the argument. Oh, yeah, because Christians don’t sin – right? We sin like crazy. I mean that’s the problem. That’s why God saved us – to change us. Christians do sin. It’s not like you say, “Oh, I used to sin back when I was a nonbeliever in the ‘70s, but not since. This one time I got tempted, but I said ‘no’. Other than that” – I mean we sin, right? We all sin.
1 John says that if anybody says that they’re not a sinner, then they’re a liar. I mean we all sin. Nobody’s Jesus. Nobody’s perfect. So these are Christians who have sin in their life. They haven’t lost their salvation, but they’re still Christians. But here’s what’s happening: they’re stubborn. They’re resisting God, and they’re moving too slow, right? It’s like the Holy Spirit shoves all Christians toward the Kingdom, and some Christians roll pretty good. Other Christians pull the emergency brake a lot, through unrepentance, stubbornness, quenching, grieving, resisting the Holy Spirit, and just fighting God.
Now, they’re still moving, but the gas mileage ain’t great and there’s a lot of friction, right? And that’s what these people are. They’re Christians making progress, but they are definitely slowing things down. Second question that comes up, “Then can Jesus be your Savior and not your Lord?” Meaning can Jesus die on a cross, forgive me of all my sins, and not be the boss who tells me what to do – because everybody wants that deal. A buddy of mine thought he had it. I’ll give you an example. If Jesus is Savior and not Lord, it means he’ll forgive all your sins but you don’t have to do anything he tells you to do. You get to be your own boss – be your own god.
Nah, it doesn’t work like that. Jesus is Savior and Lord – Savior and Lord. He saves us from our old way of life, and then he’s Lord over our new life, and they go together. You can’t have one without the other. A buddy of mine thought he could, many, many years ago, committed adultery on his wife repeatedly with multiple other women. Finally sat him down and met with him – he didn’t go to this church – but sat down and said, “Look, are you a Christian? You say you’re a Christian. Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I’m a Christian.” I said, “Well then, how in the world do you justify repeatedly, unrepentantly, unremorsefully, committing adultery on your wife with lots of different gals?”
He said, “Well, Jesus is my Savior” – he exactly said this – “but he’s not my Lord. He’ll forgive all my sins, but I still get to decide what I’m gonna do and he can’t tell me what to do.” I said, “You think Jesus is gonna take that deal? I’m telling you – you know, he’s not. Jesus isn’t gonna say, ‘You go ahead and do whatever you like, and I’m cool with that, and I’ll take you to Heaven.’” No. Jesus dies to forgive sin, change us, be our Lord, so that we stop being god and he is our God, and then we live a new life whereby we don’t do the same things we used to do because we’re new people.
That’s why when some people become Christians the transformation is so dramatic in the Bible that they get a new name – that old things have passed away. All things have become new. We’re becoming a new creation in Christ. All of this language of getting born again – it’s starting over. Will Jesus just let you do whatever the heck you want for the rest of your life, and say, “That’s totally cool with me. You don’t have to listen to me, read the Bible, obey me, or do anything I say. You’re a good god, and you be your own god, and run your own life, and you do whatever you want, and I’ll be fine with that. I’ll be your janitor, just walking around picking up all your messes.”
Nope; doesn’t work like that. Jesus is Savior from our old way of life, and Lord over our new way of life. That’s why the Bible repeatedly states that Jesus is Savior and Lord. I’ll give you a couple examples – don’t have time to do them all. Luke 2:11: “A Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Jesus Christ is to be born as Savior and Lord. 2 Peter 1:11: “You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” What’s Jesus Christ? Lord and Savior, both. You can’t bifurcate those two.
It’s like telling my kids, “I’m your father but not your daddy.” What? Nope – same guy. Same guy. You know, “I birthed you and raised you,” right? God gives us new birth and raises us. We’re never orphan kids on our own. He saves us, and he’s Lord over our new life. That’s the way it goes. It says in 2 Peter 3:18, it speaks of “the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Not to belabor the point – I could do it repeatedly. But Jesus Christ is your Savior and your Lord. He rescues you from Satan, sin, death, and your old way of life, and he’s Lord over your new life, your eternal life with him.
And what happens is if you’re really a Christian you’re glad that Jesus is in charge, because you know that you will make a mess of your life if you don’t follow him. That Jesus is smarter and better than any of us, and when we take control, that’s when problems come. And when he’s in charge, that’s when things get better. A Christian knows this, and deep down in their heart they may resist at points. But inevitably they succumb to that, they yield to that, they follow that, because they know the goodness of Jesus.
So are these Christians? Yes. Did they lose their salvation? No. Is Jesus their Savior but not their Lord? No, that’s not the case. Last question then: is it possible for a Christian to live a life without any change or transformation? That’s the other question that comes. Meaning can you live your whole life, and then pray a prayer to be a Christian, and then the rest of your life continues on in an indefinite progression, and there’s no change. Your way of thinking doesn’t change, your actions don’t change, your behaviors, your desires don’t change – nothing changes. The answer is “no”. You can’t meet Jesus and not change. I’m not saying you change all at once.
Life is, the Bible says, an ongoing process of sanctification where we’re always being changed, and God’s always working on us. But you can’t say, “Well, I was a non-Christian and then I became a Christian.” But what happened? “Nothing. I never changed. Nothing changed. I’m the same as I always was.” Then let me submit to you that you did not become a Christian. That just praying a prayer, making a decision, coming forward in an altar call, crying or filling out a card doesn’t make you a Christian. A relationship with Jesus that does begin in a moment and continues forever – that’s what a Christian is. It’s meeting Jesus and walking with him forever. That’s what it is.
That’s exactly what it is. So no, it is not possible to become a Christian and not change, and these people are Christians who are changing; chapters 1:7, 12:13 says that they are growing spiritually. Now, again, they’re growing slower than they should because they’re riding the e-brake, but the Holy Spirit’s moving them along. They are growing. It says as well in chapter 2:12-14 that they are filled – indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is the evidence of being a Christian: that God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you and transforms you from the inside out. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. They are Christians.
They are still actively involved in their church. We see in chapter 14 that they come together for worship. They’re going to church. They’re involved in their church. They’re active in their church. And throughout the book they’re arguing and debating through theological and moral issues. So again, yeah, these are Christians who are growing. They’re in their church. They’re wrestling through their thoughts and their behaviors. They are growing – albeit slowly – and they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So are they carnal Christians? Well, if you would define “carnal” as someone who is stubborn, okay.
If you would define “carnal” as someone for who Jesus is Savior and not Lord, or Jesus forgives them but they don’t change, then no. I don’t believe in that kind of Christian. Don’t believe in that at all. When Jesus gets you, you change. Some more quickly than others, but all change. So this leads to the issue, then, as we get into the text – all of that is theological set-up, because there’s so many issues in the text. We’ll move quickly, then, and see what Paul has to say to them. Okay, they are Christians, but what kind of Christians are they?
He says in chapter 3:1, “Brothers,” so they are Christians, “I could not address you as spiritual” – mature, submitted to God, yielded to God; people who have dropped the emergency brake and stopped stubbornness and resistance, and flow freely with God – “but as worldly” – people who do some things that only non-Christians should do, people who think some things that only non-Christians should think. Not acceptable; not the way that it is supposed to be. “Mere infants in Christ.” Here’s what he tells his church: “You’re all a bunch of babies.” Love that! All right, how many of you guys love that? You love being called a baby? This is why Paul gets beat up all the time in the Bible.
He’s the guy who shows up in the church – he’s a little Jewish guy – saying, “Aw, you dudes are a bunch of babies.” They’re like, “We can take the short Jewish guy,” and they do. So he gets beat all the time because he says stuff like this – you’re all a bunch of babies. “I gave you milk, not solid food.” Right? No denigration to the dairy industry – nothing about being lactose-intolerant. It’s all metaphor here. “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.” You are still baby-like. You’re still childlike. You’re still acting like a bunch of kids.
Later he’s gonna say to put childish ways behind us, and that’s what he’s talking about. So here these people are immature – that’s what he’s talking about. Okay, now is it a sin or a problem to act like a baby? No – if you’re a baby, right? I’ll give you an example: my son Gideon was born three, four weeks ago. He’s a good-looking kid. My other sons had huge, huge heads. Enormous heads and little necks, and their heads would always fall over, and it looked like a watermelon on a toothpick. But Gideon’s actually got like a human-size head. He looks normal; he’s a pretty good-looking kid. And he’s doing pretty good.
He’s sleeping. He’s eating. He’s pooping. He’s peeing. He’s puking. He’s doing all the stuff he’s supposed to be doing. But Gideon at this point is a baby, right, and he doesn’t do anything, like he doesn’t mow the lawn. He doesn’t change the oil. He doesn’t clean the gutters. He doesn’t pick up his toys. He doesn’t contribute anything financially to the bottom line of the family. He’s no help at all with anything. The kid’s just not any help at all. And his whole day is spent basically eating, sleeping, pooping, and then yelling because he’s hungry, and that’s what he does.
Now, Gideon’s, you know, he’s a month old, and so we tolerate this for a little while. If at 25 Gideon’s still living at my house, wearing diapers, and in the middle of the night screaming because he’s hungry, it’s not cute any more.
Some of you 25-year-olds need to write that down – it’s not cute any more, right? It’s a sin. You’re mature, right? So it’s cute when they’re a baby, you know, but when you get older, you’re like, “Dude, seriously, you need to feed yourself. Get a job. You need to become mature.” And immaturity is this: “Everybody looks after me. Everybody feeds me. Everybody cares for me. Everybody pays attention to me. I have no concept that other people live. I think everything that is urgent to me should be urgent to them, and I’m screaming and yelling, and I always need constant attention and affection and help.”
That’s an immature person. A mature person realizes, “You know what, there’s a lot of people. My emergencies are not everybody’s emergencies. I don’t need everybody to give to me. I can give to them. I can serve. I can give. I can contribute.” And as my kids get older, you know, as they mature, they acknowledge that they’re part of a larger world, and that they’re here to serve the larger world, and the world doesn’t exist solely for their well-being. That they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and that’s exactly what Paul’s telling his church.
“You’re all a bunch of babies. You’ve been Christians a couple years, but man, you’re still not giving financially. You’re not praying. You’re not serving. You’re not reading your Bible. You’re not doing anything.” You just sit there and scream and want everybody to shut down their life and run in and do or give – whatever it is you say. Because you have a need that’s really something you should take care of. So I’d ask you three questions. The first is how have you experienced God maturing you in your life if you are a Christian? If you are a Christian, how has God already matured you? What areas of your life?
Have you stopped sinning? Your thoughts have changed. Your actions have changed. Your desires have changed. You’re changed. You’re not perfect or Jesus, but you can see that you have charged a few hills, and you have slayed a few dragons by God’s grace. And what I want you to do is I want you to acknowledge that each of us has aspects of our life – if we are in fact a Christian – where there has been maturity; where things have changed; where we have grown. We should celebrate those victories. We should remember those victories. We should pray and worship with gladness to God that he is doing a good work in us.
And then in faith and hope, trusting that he will see it through to completion, and the rest of the things that he would bring to us, we would be able to overcome them as well and grow in maturity, just like his Word promises. Now, I want you to acknowledge those, because once you see that God has been faithful, and you have gotten through some trials and hardships, you’ll then be encouraged when more trials or hardships or difficulties come, knowing that you know what, I’ve already been through a few seasons. And God’s been good, and I made it, and I’ve grown. And this is just another opportunity for maturation and growth, and to celebrate those.
Second question: what areas of your life are immature spiritually? And with this many people I can’t get into all the specifics, but what is it for you? For some of you it’s obvious what your spiritual immaturity is, right? I mean you go out drinking with your buddies; you don’t have any idea what you did. You’re watching Cops a few weeks later, and you’re on it. You’re like, “Oh, I gotta work on that right there!” For some of you it’s less obvious, because your sin is in private, or it’s in secret, or you’ve learned to justify it, or you have an excuse like, “That’s my personality,” you know? And we then come up with our own defense mechanisms.
Where is your spiritual immaturity? And I think everybody’s strong at some things and weak at others, and they’re mature in some areas and immature in others. I don’t think anybody’s altogether mature, and I think if you’re a Christian you’re not altogether immature. There are some things that God has done in you and through you and for you. But where’s your immaturities? And what can happen is sometimes we lean into our maturities and give ourselves license to overlook our immaturities. Like maybe you’re really good with your money. Maybe you work hard, and you’re making good money, and you’re paying your bills, and you’re out of debt, and you’re saving and investing.
And you take 10 percent off the top, and you’re a regular tither, and you got your finances all buttoned up. But you’re immature with your prayer life; you don’t pray much. Or you’re immature with your Bible reading; you don’t really pick up the Book that much. There’s immaturity and maturity in your life. I don’t know what it is for some of you, your areas of immaturity. Sex, money, food, drugs, alcohol, you know – your mouth, your temper – I don’t know. Whatever it is – with this many people, there’s probably that many answers. So the Holy Spirit needs to bring those things into our conscience, saying, “This is my area of immaturity.”
But what can happen is you lean into your areas of maturity and ignore your areas of immaturity, saying things like, “Nobody’s perfect. I’m doing good here – good enough.” So this week I’m thinking about it; where am I immature? I got a pretty good list going, and it’s easy if you are mature in a few areas to overlook your immaturity in other areas. So you gotta be honest about those.
And the third question – you know, where are you mature, where are you immature – the third question is in those areas where you are immature, at what point do you expect to become mature? You have a date on the calendar? Is there any sense of urgency? Any sense of, “You know, this is important, and I gotta get on this pretty quick.” And I think what was happening in the church in Corinth, some of their immaturities has been festering for a couple of years. And Paul is saying okay, enough already, right? I mean it was cute when you were two weeks old, and when you’re still messing yourself in third grade, you know, it’s time to just get potty-trained spiritually.
It’s time to grow up. It’s time to feed yourself, read your own Bible, pray, tithe, serve, give. It’s time to grow up. It’s just time to grow up. At what point do you expect that your immaturities will change? Some of you have no plan, and you’re willing to wait indefinitely. Some of you have this plan that says, “If I keep breathing I’ll get better.” I tell you what – breathing is not enough to make you mature. It takes more than that. And we have done this thing in Christianity where we have laid out this silly notion – it’s widespread – that if you’re older, you’ll be mature.
And that’s the direction you’re going, because it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old; it depends on whether or not you’ve learned from your life. That’s how you get maturity. That is the essence of Biblical wisdom: you learn from your life experiences. You can be 80 years old and never have learned a thing. You failed at all your tests. You never repented of your sin. You avoided all your hardship, and when things went bad you blamed it on somebody else, and you’re immature – you’re 80.
Now, you could have been mature, because you had 80 years of opportunities for God to mature you, but you didn’t avail yourself to them. Likewise, you can be 20 years old and mature, not because you’ve had as many experiences, but you’ve used them. You’ve repented when you’ve sinned. You have changed when you needed to. You confessed your immaturities and you pursued a life of maturity. And so I would submit this to you: he’s writing to a young church who probably has some of these same attitudes as some of us. “I’m single. I’ll be mature when I’m married.” “I’m married. I’ll be mature when I’m a parent.” “I’m a parent. I’ll be mature when I’m a certain age.” “I am a certain age. I’ll be mature when I’m a grandparent.”
And the issue is will you be mature today, because you should be? And there should be a sense of urgency, and what often happens is that we allow our immaturities to continue until a crisis happens, and then all of a sudden we have this great motivation to become mature. But at that point, sometimes we made a wreck of our life. We have much to undo. We’ve damaged others. And wouldn’t it be more prudent to pursue maturity before it was a crisis in an effort to avert the life crisis? Some of you are here today, and you’re mouthy, difficult wives. You say, “Oh, it’s how I am.” Well, when do you expect that to change?
Some of you are here, and you’re just harsh, overbearing, mean husbands. You say, “Well, I’m a dude, and that’s how dudes are.” When do you expect that to change? Some of you are here, and you favor one child over another, and you’re not getting the time with that child to nurture them appropriately. At what point will that change? Some of you it’s your finances, or your sex, or your drugs, or your alcohol, or your friendships, or your work ethic. I don’t know what it is, but whatever your thing is, are you willing to accept today the hard truth that it’s urgent, it’s critical, it’s important?
If it is impeding your spiritual maturation, and it is causing your life not to move as quickly as possible toward the likeness of Jesus Christ, then it needs to be dealt with. Where are you mature? Where are you immature? And in your immaturities, when do you expect it will change? Do you labor today with any sense of urgency? One thing I constantly see among Christians – and I hate to over-generalize, but I will – is that there is a lack of a sense of urgency. Drive by churches, talk to Christians, and see if there is a profound sense of urgency that I need to mature in Christ so that I can be more effective in serving others; going from an immature person who just sucks resources going to a mature person who can help others. There should be that sense of urgency.
And so what Paul does, then, he transitions his discussion regarding urgency and maturity to talk to some of these people about the reasons and the ways in which they’re falling into this perennial trap of immaturity. Beginning in verse 3 he says, “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” Isn’t that how non-Christians work? Christians aren’t supposed to be like that. Jealousy and quarreling – okay, let me explain to you how this works. If you are immature in one part of your life and someone is mature in that same aspect of their life, you have an opportunity to become jealous, right? And people get jealous of all kinds – and this works both ways, right?
Some of you are here today and you’re single, and you’re jealous of married people. And some of you here are married, and you married some wing nut, and you’re jealous of all the single people who don’t have to go home to what you have to go home to, right? And some of you are here, and you’re jealous because you’re struggling and you can’t have children. And some of you have children, and they’re driving you nuts, and you’re jealous of all the people who can’t have children. And this is how it works. Old people are jealous of young people because they’re having fun. And young people are jealous of old people because they have money.
And smart people and simple people, and young and old and black and white, rich and poor and male and female – and everybody’s jealous of somebody else. That’s why we watch TV and say things about other people. “Oh, she thinks she’s all that.” It’s because she is – you’re jealous, right? You gotta accept that. Now, what happens is when you see somebody that’s mature where you’re immature, if you get jealous of them you’ll start quarrelling. You’ll start popping off and chipping and taking your shots. Or if you’re mature and you avail yourself to the opportunity to grow in maturity, if you see someone that is mature in an area you’re immature, rather than being jealous, you’ll be inquisitive.
You’ll walk up to them and say, “Look, I see you’re good at this. I’m not. Could you teach me? I need to learn.” That’s humility. Say, “You’ve got a good marriage. We’ve got a bad marriage. Could we have dinner at your house – forever? Like we need a lot of work, you know?” “You are very good with your Bible. I’m not very good with my Bible. Can I have lunch with you, and could you tell me like how you got to know your Bible? I’m not very good there.” “You pray really, really well. I don’t know how to pray. Could you teach me how to pray?”
See, when someone is spiritually mature in an area where you’re immature, you can respond immaturely and be jealous and quarrel, or you can respond maturely and be humble and inquisitive. And the truth is we’re all mature in some areas, we’re all immature in others, and this is the way the church is supposed to work. Not fighting, but I’m strong here; you’re weak here. Vice versa: I’m strong here; you’re weak here. I serve you in this way, you serve me in this way, and we all grow in maturity together. That’s the goal. That’s the goal.
“Are you not acting like mere men,” he says, “when you fight and quarrel and are jealous?” Aren’t you just acting like the non-Christians? “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” Aren’t you acting like non-Christians who don’t have the Holy Spirit? “What, after all, is Apollos, and what is Paul?” Paul says, “Who cares about us?” And here’s the deal: you may have your favorite theologian, your favorite church, your favorite denomination, your favorite tradition, your favorite worship style, your favorite book author, your favorite preacher, your favorite concert, your favorite conference speaker – whatever it is. You say, “That’s my favorite!”
Well, great – praise God! If they love Jesus and point you to Jesus, great – praise God! But just because it’s your thing doesn’t mean it’s the only thing. God’s working through all kinds of people. All kinds of denominations, all kinds of people, all kinds of gifts and styles, and Paul says it’s really foolish to fight over these kinds of things, because what they’re arguing over is style, not substance. Paul and Apollos don’t disagree on substance – just style. Paul says, “Man, we don’t need to fight over this.” We don’t need to fight over this. “We’re only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord assigned to each his task.
“I planted the seed,” – I pulled into town, preached the Gospel, some of you became Christians, I started the church. “Apollos,” the great skilled preacher came in, “watered it, but only God makes it grow.” Yeah, I did my part. Apollos did his part. But you know what, there wouldn’t be a church, there wouldn’t be Christians – nothing would be happening if it wasn’t for God. “The man who plants and the man who water have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” We’ll deal with that doctrine of rewards later in 1 Corinthians. It comes up again; we’ll revisit it. He says, “For we are God’s fellow workers.”
Here’s what he’s saying – you need to see this as a metaphor. He’s saying you know what, God’s a gardener, and the church is a garden in the middle of the city. And if you walked into a beautiful garden. I don’t know where you like to go. I don’t like to garden, but I like going to gardens, right. So the way it works, you go to a nice garden, you look around, and let’s say in the corner you see a rake and you see a shovel.
Wouldn’t it be weird if there were teams of people that were fighting over which was the better instrument and most effective for the garden and taking credit for what was done in the garden? And meanwhile nobody’s walking around the garden and nobody says “hi” to the gardener? That’s what happens in the church. People walk into the church, and they don’t see the beautiful garden that God is working on – pulling weeds, planting seed, changing lives, bearing fruit, new Christians, changed; transformation. And they don’t look at the gardener and say, “What an amazing gardener you are, Jesus!”
They walk into the church and say, “I like the shovel. I’m all about the shovel.” The other guys says, “I like the rake. I’m all about the rake.” So the guy with the shovel hits the guy with the rake, and all of a sudden you got a church split. Now there’s two kinds of whatever this denomination is, right? The shovelists and the rakists, you know? It’s like, “You guys missed the gardener in the garden. You really missed the whole point.” And that’s what Paul’s saying. Paul’s saying, “It’s not about me; it’s about Jesus, and the church, which is his garden.” And he says, “Here’s what I am – I’m just a tool in the hand of Jesus. And so’s Apollos – just a tool in the hand of Jesus.” And that’s what all Christians are – just tools in the hand of Jesus.
Say, “I’m a shovel. I’m a rake.” Just a tool in the hand of Jesus, and Jesus is just using us to turn over soil and pull weeds and plant seeds. And people become Christians and they grow, and then they bear fruit, and their life changes. And they serve others, and it’s beautiful what Jesus does. Paul says, “Don’t walk into the church and say, ‘I’m all about the shovel. I’m all about the style of music. I’m all about the time of service. I’m all about whatever I’m about – my department, my need, my style.’”
Paul says, “Great – have your preachers. Have your teachers. Have your leaders. Have your style. Have your favorite songs. Read your favorite authors.” Great! Who cares whether it was the rake or the shovel that got the job done? The question is how’s the garden doing – and is anybody saying “thanks” to the gardener? That’s what counts. That’s what counts. So it really is, for Paul, all about Jesus, and here’s what he says: “We’re just servants.” And the word he uses is “busboy.” When we think of Paul we think of rock star, right – wrote about half of the New Testament books. He says, “Here’s what I am – I’m a busboy for Jesus. That’s what I am.”
And he takes this from Jesus Christ himself, who, Philippians 2 says though being God, didn’t come demanding all his rights. Humbled himself, emptied himself, and served us. Right? He washed his disciples’ feet. He came to give his life as a ransom for many, as a servant. Jesus himself says, “I did not come to be served,” – like some immature baby – “I came to serve,” – as a mature man – “and to give my life as a ransom for many.” Jesus gave his life away. That’s why we love him. Our God is a giver, not a taker. Our God is one who is selfless, not selfish. Our God is one who is humble and not proud, and to be a Christian, Paul is saying, is to follow in his example of service and humility and selflessness; being willing to be a busboy if that’s what the Kingdom so needs.
And Paul’s saying, “I’m just a shovel, and I’ll tell you what, it is such a glorious thing to be a shovel in the hands of Jesus. It really is great, because you know what, somebody’s gonna be your master and something’s gonna be your work, and what better thing to be working on than the Kingdom of God, and what better person to be used by than Jesus Christ?” That’s what he’s telling his people. And I believe he’s telling them this because he has found a profound sense of joy in being a shovel, and just doing his job, doing his part. He knows that Jesus gave himself away so that Paul could be a Christian.
Now Jesus humbly called Paul to serve and to give himself away in the same way that Jesus did. And as Paul gives himself away, he loves the church, he has profound joy. He has an ongoing connection with Jesus Christ, and the result is that he has joy. Doesn’t mean his work’s not hard – it is hard. Doesn’t mean it’s without obstacle – it is with obstacle. But he has joy, and he wants his people to get over their immaturity and to follow in the succession. “Jesus gave himself to me. I give myself to you. Now you give yourself away to the city of Corinth,” he’s telling his people, “so that more people can become Christians, and more people can hear about Jesus, and we pull more weeds out of the garden, and we see more fruit get harvested.”
Paul’s saying, “You know what, we don’t have time to argue and fight. We gotta pull together. We got something important that Jesus needs us to do.” We need to pull weeds. We need to plant seeds, tell people about Jesus. Those of you who are evangelists will do that. Those of you who are Bible teachers will walk around watering them, answering questions, loving people. Those of you who are servants and practice hospitality, you’re gonna care for people, welcoming them into your home, love them. Water that seed of faith that’s planted in someone’s heart for a love of Jesus. Then other people will see them grow. They’ll see them become Christians and grow and mature.
Some of those people will use their gifts in magnificent ways planting churches. Some will be elders, deacons, preachers. Some are gonna be Bible study leaders, good husbands, wives, moms. They’re gonna be raising their kids, doing their thing with Jesus. I’ve seen it. You know what, about half the staff of this church became Christians in this church. I love that. I love the fact that man, we got a garden, and there’s a lot of good fruit coming out of the garden. I love that. And Paul is saying it’s so easy sometimes for us to be immature and baby-like, and just to say, “What about my feelings? What about my needs? What about what I want? What about what I like? What about what I don’t like? What about me?”
And Paul says, “Let it go. Just be a good shovel.” Just get dirty and bear some fruit, and that’ll make you happy, because that’s what you were built for. And for you and I, we have this wonderful opportunity, and I believe that this is a strategic time in the history of our church. That we’re big and rocking and rolling and going, but the question is: are we mature? Are we mature? Are you mature? Okay, so it starts in a very basic point, and I don’t want to overlook the obvious. First thing – you need to be a Christian. Not a religious person, not a moral person – a Christian. Confess your sins to Jesus, who’s God, who died and rose to take away your sin.
Are you about Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Do you care about Jesus? We need you. We want you. We beg of you to give your life to Jesus and be a Christian, today. Today, in prayer, exactly where you sit, “Jesus, forgive me of sin. Be my God.” Begin your new relationship with Jesus and follow his leadership as your Lord – absolutely. The second thing you will need, then, is you will need to pick a church, because growing and maturity is not a solo effort. Paul here is not writing to individual Christians. He’s writing to a church, because he assumes that all Christians are in the church.
Now, you may say, “This church is not the church for me,” for whatever reason, and you know what, that’s all right. That’s all right, because what we care about is the whole Kingdom of God, the whole garden, not just our corner of the garden. We would tell you find a church where the Bible is taught, sin is spoken of in terms of repentance, and that Jesus Christ is the hero of the Bible and the church and the life of the people there. We would tell you to go to that kind of place, where sin is the problem, Jesus is the answer, and the Bible is true – okay? That’s what we’d tell you.
There are other good, Godly men with churches where they do love Jesus and serve Jesus. And if God would call you there, we would bless you, and we would say, “Praise be to God!” Just plug in, get connected, and be a good shovel and do your part there too.
So to do that, to do that, we need you each individually to examine yourself. Am I a Christian? Where are my immaturities? Am I participating in the community that is the church? Am I availing myself to the resources that I need so that I can become mature? If I am mature, am I at a point where I am contributing and serving and being a good shovel and doing my piece? That’s all we ask, because it’s not one rock star who’s gonna make the difference. It’s 5,000 people each doing their part. It’s not one major heavy-hitter donor who drops the massive check that will make the budget. It’s 5,000 faithful people each doing their part.
It’s not the prayer of one super-spiritual person that has a red line to the Father. It’s 5,000 people praying every day for their church and their city. That’s all. It’s all of us, and I’m saying we’re all needed. And we’re all here by divine appointment to write history, and together weed, cultivate, seed, water a glorious garden that God will use to bring people unto himself. That’s what he’s talking about.
And the result is just tremendous joy to see some of you become Christians. Fruit! To see some of you who were not so mature, mature. To see you then using your gifts and being a good shovel and God using you and seeing you have the same joy that I get to have.
And we all get to have that joy together. And yeah, it’s hard, and it’s work, and there’s long days, and I’m even pretty tired as we speak. But where else are you gonna give your life? Who else is gonna hold you in their hand and use you for a task? What other mission would you rather be on? What would you rather be doing than belonging to Jesus, being a good shovel, and planting a garden and seeing a lot of fruit of changed lives? That’s the best thing in the world. And I don’t think Paul is saying this to guilt his people. I think he’s trying to motivate them that they have settled for lesser things when the service of Jesus is the greatest joy to be had. And I give that to you as well; I give that to you as well.
Are you mature or immature? If you have immaturities, how and when do you intend to be mature, because we need you? We’re growing so fast we don’t have enough leaders to keep up. We’re growing so fast we don’t have enough buildings to keep up. We’re growing so fast we don’t have enough dollars to keep up. You are needed. I hope you sense some urgency – not that you have to, but you get to. And what a wonderful thing it is to write history and to build a garden right here in a city that desperately needs one. I’ll pray for you – give you a chance to respond. You can become a Christian; give yourself to Jesus.
If you are reminded of maturity that God has done and victories he’s given you, thank him! Make note of them so you’re encouraged. Those areas where you’ve been immature – repent. Ask him to forgive you. When you’re ready, give your tithes and offerings in the basket – your money. Give your prayers. Give your songs. Celebrate Jesus. Rejoice that we get to be part of a great garden, and it’s not about me – I’m just a tool. It’s not about any of us. We’re all just instruments in the hands of a good gardener. But to rejoice in the garden, to rejoice in the gardener that is Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the fruit of the work in our lives. And when you’re ready, you can take communion, which is remembering Jesus’ body and blood, shed for our sin – our great God, who has made all this possible.
And so Jesus, I thank you for being a good God – the only God – the only real, true God – the only God who can handle sin and sinners and knows what to do. Jesus, I pray that we would follow in your example of humility, not pride; service, not selfishness; maturity, not immaturity; giving, not just taking. I pray we would do it not because we have to, but because we get to; that there would be a profound sense of joy that we get to be a shovel, and we get to be about the best work in the world – seeing people meet their Creator and have him change their life.
God, for those that are non-Christians I pray you would make them Christians tonight; that your Holy Spirit would put faith in their heart. God, for those that are here tonight and they have maturity, I thank you for them, and I ask that they would be encouraged and that they would use the experiences you’ve given them to minister to us all. For those who are immature, I pray for repentance and a sense of urgency for transformation. And Holy Spirit, I ask you to get all this work done. It’s far beyond us all, but how glad we are to be both fruit in the garden and to be tools in the hand of the gardener. And so we love you Lord Jesus; it is in your name we pray. Amen.
Thank you, guys – love you!
Although the Corinthians are Christians they are slow to repent of their sin and obey God. Paul likens them to an immature baby, stubbornly keeping some ways of thinking and acting that are from their former way of life, which are unfitting for their new life in Jesus Christ.