1 Corinthians 3:5


Friday, 25 April 2014

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 1 Corinthians 3:5

There is the thought of individual subordination by Paul all over this verse. He begins with “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos…?” The word used for “who” is ti. It is an indefinite pronoun which means “who,” “what,” “which,” or “why” based on the context. Though translated “who” by the NKJV, it is more likely “what” as many others so translate. It is a personal subordination that is intended as a deprecation of the ones being named.

He is referring again back to the first chapter of the letter where there were divisions based on individuals who carried the message of Christ. Some wanted to follow Paul, some Apollos, and some Cephas. But Paul prompts the Corinthians to think their allegiances through to their logical end. To help them along, he says that they are “but ministers.”

In this, the word “ministers” is diakonoi. It is intended to convey the idea of “servants” rather than “lords” or “masters.” Jesus uses the term in Mark 9:35 –

“And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.'” Mark 9:35

If Paul and Apollos (and any other person) is a servant, then they are ultimately responsible to a higher authority. In the case of a Christian, they are servants of the Lord Jesus. So how can someone rationally throw an unfounded allegiance behind the servant of the Lord? Within a military or political structure, there are many levels of responsibility, but there is ultimately a leader over all.

In the case of the United States government, there are hundreds and even thousands of levels within the government, but their authority ultimately rests in the three branches of government which derive their power from the people. And each person is under a higher authority. The choice for selecting leaders comes down to choices about what direction the nation should go and therefore, whether we logically think it through or not, moral choices are made in each election. As God is the ultimate moral Being, our political choices are actually choices for or against over-arching moral principles that we feel should go in one direction or another.

Therefore, even our political choices involve a sense of “servant hood.” We don’t always think this way, but this is what Paul is relaying to the Corinthians. And in turn, his letter is asking us to think the same way when elevating those in the ministry to positions which are actually unreasonable. And how many of us do this as we watch figures on TV or talk about the pastor that we follow in our home town!

Next Paul, when speaking of such ministers, uses the term “through whom you believed.” If you have believed the message of Christ “through” someone, then they obviously aren’t the source of the message. Rather, in the case of Paul and Apollos, they are servants of the Source for the transmission of the message. If they aren’t the Source, then what sense does it make to elevate them to an exalted status? It is Christ who saves and it is the message of Christ that they convey.

Paul finishes this thought with the fact that they are ministers of the message “as the Lord gave to each one.” It is the Lord who gave the authority; it is the Lord who is the Source of the message; and it is the Lord that the message proclaims. Nothing about Paul or Apollos is worthy of boasting or misdirected allegiance. It is the Lord in whom we boast, and it is the message of the Lord that we should hold fast to. The minister is but a servant. He has a duty to perform, he is to be recompensed for his duty (Galatians 6:6), and he can even be accorded “double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17), but he is not to be elevated in an unhealthy way.

Life application: Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.

Lord Jesus, I ask for the wisdom to remember that all pastors, elders, and ministers are merely servants who carry a message. Help me to keep from getting so caught up in the messenger that I forget where my allegiance is actually due. You are the Source of the message and You are the one who grants the ability for the message to be proclaimed. It is You in whom I will boast, only You. Amen.


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