God’s Fellow Workers

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 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. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:1-9, ESV)

I have grown up enjoying watching both college and professional football games on television (American football, not soccer). Friends often ask me who my team is, and I have to confess that though I am fond of following a few teams, I am not loyal to any one team in particular. I like to see a good game, and I like to see teams doing their best. In contrast, I have a friend at my church who’s been a Miami Dolphins fan his whole life, and that is the team he follows and roots for. He would never dream of cheering on any other team against his team. I admire his loyalty. While I think it definitely can be fun to have a favorite team and cheer them on throughout the season, I’ve just never made that deep of a commitment or attachment to any one team. I enjoy being able to cheer for different teams on different occasions. “Team” loyalty in sports can be fun, but it can create problems in church ministry.

In this portion of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he rebukes his brothers and sisters in Christ for their spiritual immaturity, demonstrated by jealousy and strife over which teacher they say they follow. It seems that many of them had favorite teachers, (“name dropping”—I follow so and so…), and cheering on who they thought should “win” in the competition of “best teacher.” In their view, loyalty to a teacher was natural, but it ultimately created conflict and disunity in the church, as each person championed their favorite teacher, causing them to be critical of others’ teachers. Paul strongly challenges this partisan thinking, pointing out that the heralded teachers (Apollos, Paul) are simply members of the same team, fellow workers with God, and it is God who is the one who brings about growth, not those who teach. Ultimately, God is our teacher and we should be grateful for all who have taught us in ways that have opened us up to God’s continuing, transforming work.

At my seminary, our alumni magazine, Sundoulos, reminds me of the many people who as “fellow servants,” are serving God through the different ministries He has given them. It helps me remember that I am but a small part of God’s much larger ministry effort, and though our roles may vary, we all serve on the same team. Rather than comparing myself and my ministry to others, I simply need to cheer them on, celebrating how God is using them to strengthen and build up the church. There is no place for partisan loyalties that could cause us to unfairly criticize other ministry leaders or to forget that it is God who gives the growth in all of our varied ministries. I may plant a seed, or I may water a seed someone else planted, but it is God who gives the growth.

At times someone will say to me, “I really enjoyed today’s study,” or “I really liked your sermon today.” It always feels good to receive positive feedback on my teaching, and I am grateful for those words of encouragement. Occasionally, someone may compare my teaching or preaching to someone else’s, saying that they like something I do better than the other person. When this happens, I have to avoid the temptation to pride, and instead do my best to affirm the teaching or preaching of the person I’m being compared to, shifting attention to how wonderful God’s Word is and how He is the one who ultimately teaches us and helps us grow. I pray that God will help me do this well, and avoid contributing to any “party loyalties” that might grow within my ministry setting!

As I said at the start, I don’t have strong team loyalties in football, but I do love to see a good game where everyone does their best. I need God’s help to bring that same spirit into the church, and I need to celebrate the excellent teaching of others, rejoicing in how God uses them to help others grow in maturity. May God help me be a good “teammate.”

Father, I am so grateful for the teaching ministries of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have benefited from the teaching of so many people, and I am thankful that you allow me to be a fellow servant, a teammate with others in teaching your Word to others. Please help me contribute to the unity of your church, building others up and celebrating their excellent teaching ministries. Thank you that you are the one who brings about spiritual growth as you renovate our hearts. May all praise and glory go to you. Amen.

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