As Chapter 3 begins, we need to pause and check our contexts. Paul is writing to the Corinthians to address several serious problems in the church in Corinth as they existed c. 55 AD. In this, the first section of the letter, Paul is still addressing the issue of division and fragmentation in the congregation. In the previous subsection he has been pointing out that there is a divide along social lines, and we have just been looking at a comparison and contrast between human wisdom and Divine wisdom, and we saw that a person can only understand God’s wisdom through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for with merely human understanding, God’s wisdom is most likely to appear silly or foolish, while with the guidance of the Spirit, we discover that it is actually human wisdom that is lacking.
In this chapter, Paul moves on to his next point, this time dealing with the notion that various leaders, and he mentions himself and Apollos by name, have become the focal points by which the congregation has split into opposing camps. Both he and Apollos are merely servants of the Lord Jesus Christ; neither is great in his own right.
To make his point, he uses a couple of metaphors, beginning with an agricultural one in which he, Paul, plants seed, and Apollos comes after to water it so that both Paul and Apollos have done their part in the process of growing a crop. God comes along and causes the seeds to germinate and grow. Both Paul and Apollos are God’s co-workers, and for doing their jobs they will receive their rewards, but God is the key. The congregation in Corinth is the field of new growing plants. Yet they are still very young plants.
Paul cites some evidence of their immaturity in the faith: Since they are merely at a point where they will split into two camps and say things like, “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos”, they are, in a sense, declaring their own lack of maturity, because both Paul and Apollos are followers of Jesus Christ, and so should they all be. Doesn’t that remind you of little kids arguing over who has the best Dad or Mom?
If you look back at what Paul wrote in 2:1-5 when he admitted that he hadn’t come to them with any great eloquence of speech or any great sophistication in his content, then you can easily understand what he means here in saying that they are spiritual infants, and that he hasn’t yet brought them anything other than a baby’s milk, for they are not yet ready for “solid food”. My guess is that the Corinthians didn’t find that observation terribly endearing, but clearly it was a message that they needed to hear.
As Paul continues, he will shift to another metaphor to illustrate his point.
Beginning at verse 10, Paul switches to a building metaphor: He laid the foundation for the church at Corinth, and Apollos build upon that foundation− the foundation that Paul laid was Jesus Christ. Apollos, or any other builder who comes along must be wise enough to build with the proper materials, or the building will not stand up to the test of time. Since the church is the Body of Christ, it is not only built upon Him, it is built up by and through Him. A church that is built upon a human personality, will not pass the test of time, and since Paul’s day we have seen that fact borne out too many times to even consider listing.
You might recall that earlier I mentioned that Paul was setting out a persuasive case, and we will shortly see his persuasive conclusion.