Planting, Watering, and Growth - 1 Cor. 3:6-9

Extending the agricultural metaphor of 1 Cor. 3:6-9, after a season of rapid growth a few years ago, we can describe the last couple years for our congregation as a season of pruning, in which we’ve been trimmed back significantly. But our hope and desire for the future is that this congregation will grow and flourish, both in spiritual maturity and in numbers, so that Jesus will receive more glory through our worship, and so that more people in our community will hear the good news and be saved. That’s where this passage from 1 Corinthians 3 comes in, as Paul gives us a paradigm for understanding how the Church grows.

Our text today presents us with a two-fold division of labor when it comes to the growth of the Church. Verse 6 lays it out very simply, as Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” The basic division is between God’s work and man’s work. On the human side, man plants and waters; on the divine side, God gives the growth.

And the reason why God must be the one to grow the Church is because God alone is able to transform the sinful heart of a human being. That’s not something we’re able to do, not for ourselves, and not for others. This isn’t a matter of job description, it’s a matter of ability: we can’t raise the dead. God alone can do that, and so if the Church is going to grow, God must act.

This is why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of growing the Church. Before anything can grow, death must be defeated, and new life must be given. And since in Adam all die, the human race is utterly unable to save itself. Not one of us could defeat death, for all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. Without a sinless Savior, an atoning death, and a glorious resurrection to new life, there would be no church, no growth, no life.

But as Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 15:20, “Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” This means that the principle or engine of growth is alive and well in any and every Christian church that confesses the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, because God grows the Church by bringing dead people to life as they put their faith in Jesus.

But we must not make the mistake at this point of thinking that since God is the one who grows the Church, church members don’t have a role to play. It’s true that we don’t play the life-giving, resurrecting role, but God has work for us to do: He calls us to plant and water, following the example of Paul the Evangelist by sowing gospel seeds by preaching to those who have never heard the gospel, and of Apollos the Apologist by watering those seeds of truth by making a strong case from the Scriptures that the message about Jesus is true.

In other words, God’s fellow-workers are seeking to prepare the way and lay the groundwork for faith. What we cannot do is produce that faith; that’s God’s part. But because crops grow best in a cultivated field, God calls us to plant and water with the expectation that He will give the growth. What we can do is help people meet Jesus and know Jesus better, so that when God works in their hearts, they will trust and love Jesus.

So God’s role is to raise the dead to life for His own glory, and our role is to plant and water by evangelizing, teaching, and bearing witness through godly lives so that we might glorify God and receive His generously high wages for our efforts. This is how God grows His Church.

In light of that, let’s ask this question together: How can we plant and water? Ask it personally: What can I do, what can my family do to plant and water? And especially, let’s ask it together: how can we as a church plant and water? Planting and watering will not bear much fruit if it is seen as the occasional effort of a few gifted people. We need to see it as our calling as a congregation, with each of us having some role to play as families and individuals. He who plants and he who waters are one, says verse 8, so let’s do this together, as one body.

The message is simple: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” And so the charge is simple as well: Plant. Water. And may God give growth to His Church.

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2019 by CJ Bowen