Sunday, August 19, 2012

Buildings and Fields (1 Corinthians 3)


 “
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service. 
“You are God’s field; God’s building. 
 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,  their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. 
 (1 Corinthians 3:5-12)
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After Paul greets the church in Corinth, he begins to address the issues that are robbing them of God's grace and peace.  He uses three analogies to describe the church: a field, a building, and a temple. 

Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus at a time when agriculture flourished.  I imagine him walking through the countryside as he ponders how to explain to the church in Corinth what their role was in the Kingdom of God.  Hmmm.... "The church at Corinth is a field on which God has labored so the church would yield a harvest."  The word Paul uses for field” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.  It refers specifically to a "tilled" or "cultivated" field.  It refers to the dirt.

Its a very down-to-earth analogy, but what does it actually tell us? What is the role of a field?
  •         Allow the farmer to get rid of weeds.
  •         Allow the farmer to add compost/mulsh/fertilizer.
  •         Let the farmer plant what he wants.
  •         Nourish what is planted.
What  can the field do to bring about a harvest? Nothing - other than nourish what it’s been given.  If someone else is not involved,  the field is just dirt and weeds. The church is God's field, God's cultivated dirt.  The dirt is important and necessary, but it’s the most humble part of the field.  People wax eloquently about "amber waves of grain"; nobody writes songs about “dirty waves of dirt.” 

“It’s not about you,” says Paul to a Corinthian church so desperate to be impressive.  “Relax.  Be soil. Be willing to nourish what’s been given to you.   Let God do his work.  You will be the field that produces a crop full of grace and peace.”    

Just to be sure the analogy sinks in, Paul looks for another analogy.  If he were walking from the countryside full of fields into the city of Ephesus, he would have approached and walked past an array of impressive structures. Perhaps the second comparison fell into place naturally - church as a building.

If you have ever lived in areas threatened by natural disasters, you know how important it is to have not only a good foundation, but quality materials all the way up.  Storms and earthquakes and natural disasters will happen, and then we will find out whose building will last. 

Think of the foundation as the core truths of Christianity:
  • There is a trinitarian God of all creation;
  • Jesus Christ was God incarnate;
  • Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins;
  • There will be a judgement and a life to come after this one.
The rest of church doctrine and life is built on core truths such as these. Paul said he laid the foundation, and now other teachers are finishing the construction.  If the church wants what they are building to last, it's important that they choose their builders well. The entire construction project matters.

A field is just dirt, but a building is going to be seen.

A field nourishes, but a building protects and shelters.

There's more to being part of the Kingdom of God than the field analogy could capture. But even in this more outwardly impressive picture, the building did not build itself any more than the field planted itself.  There was an architect and a builder.  The building doesn’t cut and paint itself, no matter how awesome it looks.

God uses the church as a field to bring about new life; God uses the church as a building to protect, shelter and showcase this life.

The Corinthians were used to earning favor from their gods, which meant bringing all their own personal awesomeness to the temple and the people. The gods gave them nothing that they did not earned. Paul turns this way of thinking on its head:
  • You don’t have to earn God’s grace
  • You don’t have to prove that you have worth.
  • You don’t have to build yourself up and trample on others to rise to the top.
  • You don’t have to name drop, and tell everybody how awesome you are because of who you know.
  • You just have to be surrendered to the one who plants and builds.
Then you will find fields full of grace and buildings full of peace.


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