God hates man-centered churches. When preachers’ names are on Christians’ minds and mouths more than God’s, it contradicts everything that He’s about.
Corinth was one such church; a church where believers spent most of their time talking about Paul, Apollos, and Cephas rather than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, in 1 Corinthians 3 (especially verses 5-6), God sent the Apostle Paul with seven sharp needles of truth to puncture the dangerous balloon of man-centeredness that was squeezing God out of the church.
1. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos?”
It’s like someone walks into a conversation where people are excitedly talking about the latest celebrity news and asks, “Eh, who are Kardashians? And who’s Kanye?” Talk about air leaving the room. The Apostle asks these deflating questions to remind the Corinthians that compared to God, their favorite preachers are hardly worth talking about.
2. “But ministers”
The Corinthians were putting Paul, Apollos and others on high pedestals, looking up to them and bowing down to them as their idols. “No” says Paul, “They’re not masters, but ministers.” They are servants, which means inferiority and instrumentality. They are inferior to their master (God), and mere insturments of their master (God). So talk about the master not the servants, the master not his messengers.
3. “Through whom you believed”
Not in whom you believed, but by whom you believed. They were not the object of your faith, but the means of your faith. Sure, they played a role in your believing, but they were not the objects of your believing.
4. “As the Lord gave to each one”
So Apollos was used in your conversion. Was that because of his talents and gifts? His innate abilities? Nope. It was because God sovereignly decided to pick him up and use him. And anyway, even Apollos’s gifts are not his, but God’s gifts to him.
5. “So then neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters”
The planter is nothing. The waterer is nothing. Why idolize nothings?
6. “God gave the increase”
Is your church increasing? Is your spiritual life increasing? Where did that come from? God gave the increase. Wherever there is spiritual growth, it must never be claimed by or attributed to the mere sower or waterer. That’s stealing from God. God gave the increase. Whenever any minister associates their name with growth in numbers or multiplication of churches, they deny this truth, steal from God’s glory, and builds a man-centered church.
7. “Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor”
This is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible for faithful ministers laboring in obscurity and anonymity. God does not reward based upon comparisons with other ministers. He does not reward according to talents, gifts, or results. He rewards each pastor “according to his own labor.” God is looking at the hours, the diligence, and the faithfulness of daily unseen and often unappreciated labor, and is piling up heavenly rewards for His laboring servants. Charles Hodge sharpens the point of this needle with his commentary on this verse:
This brings the humblest on a level with the most exalted; the least successful with the most highly favored. The faithful, laborious minister or missionary who labors in obscurity and without apparent fruit, will meet a reward far beyond that of those who, with less self-denial and effort, are made the instruments of great results.
May these seven truths perforate, burst, and deflate pastoral egos everywhere, and deliver churches from man-centeredness to God-centeredness.