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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
Preached At:Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church
 Yarrow, BC
Title:Paul forbids boasting about people.
Text:1 Corinthians 3:21a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 123:1,2
Ps 94:5,11
Ps 39:3,5,6
Ps 90:2,3,8
Ps 119:21,22

1 Corinthians 3
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
1 Corinthians 3:21a
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

The conversations one heard in the congregation of Corinth were interesting - and disturbing. For the one member talked up this preacher and the other talked up that one…. The one preferred Paul, the next Apollos, the next Cephas and someone even said, forget the preacher, it is Christ we are interested in, and all of it could get so heated that you could notice the jealousy, the quarrelling, the rivalry. That was Corinth.

Canadians can do it too, not only about preachers, also about sports teams. Did you talk about the Eskimos this past week or the Allouettes? Politicians, models, sports heroes: talking about people is easily done. What Paul says? Cut it out, no more boasting about men! He doesn’t say, no more boasting about preachers, Paul verses Cephas verses Apollos. No, Paul makes it far more general than that. “No more boasting about men!” for after all, “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, preachers, or the world, or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours and you are of Christ and Christ is of God”. Since Christ is of God, let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.

I summarise the sermon this morning with this theme:


    1. The Corinthian history on boasting about people.
    2. The apostolic prohibition on boasting about people.
    3. The better perspective replacing boasting about people.

1. The Corinthian history on boasting about people

The city of Corinth, brothers and sisters, was a pagan town like there is twelve in a dozen. Not one of the people of the town was worthy of the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ. There came the day, though, that the apostle Paul travelled into town, and preached the gospel of the crucified Messiah. It was a message that was foolish to men, to the people of Corinth too; after all how can you talk about salvation through one crucified? Even so, by the grace of the Lord, some of the people of Corinth came to faith. Those who came to faith, those who believed the gospel of Christ crucified, received the Holy Spirit. He made His home in them. As a result, these people of Corinth were spiritual.

Yet the fact that they were spiritual does not mean that they were instantly mature in the faith. So the apostle Paul laboured for a year and a half in Corinth, and then left. Yet there was more work to be done among these Christians of Corinth to encourage further growth in the Lord. So in the course of time a man called Apollos came to Corinth and preached the gospel, taught the people more of the Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning Apollos, we read in Acts 18 and 19 that he was a man of gifts, a man who was able to show from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

We don’t know how long Apollos laboured in Corinth. Perhaps there came another after him, a man named Cephas, is that the apostle Peter? Certainly in the course of years office bearers were appointed in Corinth, brothers mandated to see to it that the congregation grew in the Lord, became mature in the Lord’s service, delighted in the gospel of Christ crucified.

In the course of years, when the people had been sitting in the pew for some time, listening to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ crucified, there came the time that the Christians of Corinth took their eyes off the gospel, took their eye off of Christ, and they put their eye on the people who talked of Christ. The focus shifted from the message to the messenger. That is the point of what the apostle writes in chapter 1:12, “One of you says, “I follow Paul”, another says no, “I follow Apollos”, a third, “I follow Cephas”. Why did they do that? Did Paul have a better personality, Cephas a better presentation of the gospel, did Apollos put more emphasis on a pet doctrine? However that may have been, the result, congregation, was that the church of Corinth ended up in disagreement, with here a group favouring Paul and there a group favouring Apollos.

And you know how it goes when you put a bit of heat under a disagreement. You get quarrelling. And when you put a bit of heat under the quarrelling you get jealousy, and you put a bit more heat under all of that and you end up with division. I can’t talk to you, I don’t want to invite you over to my place, we can’t attend the same bible study! Division! Was the division in Corinth as heated, as pronounced as it might be in Canada on sports topics, on political topics? We don’t know how heated the matter was, but here were people, brothers and sisters, who were united in love, they said, for one Saviour. But despite the love for one Saviour, they were divided as to who could present the message the better, like people united in love for foot ball, but, I stand for this team and you for the other. The eye was off the ball and on the man; the eye was off the Christ and on the messenger.

When the apostle hears about this through reports from Chloe’s household, the apostle recognises that this kind of talk in Corinth is of the devil. Perhaps that sounds a bit strong, but the apostle Paul, in chapter 1:11, uses there the word quarrelling, and he mentions it again in chapter 3:3, “there is jealousy and quarrelling”. Those terms, congregation, the apostle also lists in Galatians 5, when he talks about the works of the flesh. This kind of one-upmanship –my man is better than yours- that results in quarrelling and rivalry, is not of the Spirit of God, but is of the spirit of the flesh, of the devil, and it produces disunity, division. Whereas the Lord seeks unity among His people, here was a people of God divided.

And so, congregation, the behaviour of the Christians of Corinth became no different than the behaviour of the people of Corinth. The only difference lay in the topic of the dispute. There was division even in the church. And that is why the apostle says in chapter 3:1, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual”, you have the spirit, after all you believe, you are brothers, but I can’t address you as spiritual, I have to address you as “worldly”, says the apostle. The word that is translated there as “worldly” is the word fleshly; you are doing the works of the flesh. The apostle repeats it again in verse 3, “you are still worldly”, and exactly because that is what they are, worldly, while they have the spirit, they are immature, unable to handle the solid food of God’s word.

That is the history in Corinth of this boasting about people. That brings us to our second point, what does the apostle think about this, what does he do about it?

2. The apostolic prohibition on boasting about people.

What does he say? It is our text, “So then, no more boasting about men!” Cut it out, he says, there is no place for boasting about people. Actually, as one reads through the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, one somehow would have expected the apostle to say this right away in chapter 1, when he first talked about the divisions in that congregation. He didn’t do it; he waited until chapter 3 to tell them to cut it out. The reason for that, congregation, is that the Christians of Corinth were too immature. In order to address that immaturity, the apostle saw need to first to spell out that the way God does things is different from the way people do things. That was his point in chapter 1, verse 18 and following. The whole idea of the gospel is foolishness to men. What people consider wise and right -my team is better than your team, my man is better than your man- all of that kind of thing God turns on its head. Who is the Saviour of the world? None less than the crucified man, the one people reject, the one who is on the bottom of the ladder, in human estimation. That is the Saviour, and the apostle says, see there God’s wisdom. God goes and saves people in the manner of His choosing.

That was his argument in chapter 1 and part of chapter 2, and Paul comes back to that argument in chapter 3:18. “Do not deceive yourselves,” he says, “If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise”, because God inverts the order of things. So if you think it is Ok to talk up the one man, and somebody else to talk up a different man and generate divisions, says Paul, cut it out, for the people of God should be different simply because God turns on its head the accepted human practices.

So that is why they should boast no more of men, should cut out this nonsense of one-upmanship, of insisting that my man is better than yours. But the apostle has more arguments for the conclusion of this text. It is what he writes in the first part of chapter 3, and then specifically he asks the congregation to consider what people really are. To drive that point home, what people really are in the broad scheme of God’s work, to drive that point home, the apostle uses two examples. The first example is the verses 5-9, where the apostle refers to agriculture and the second example, the verses 10-15, where the apostle turns to the building trade – construction.

First that example about agriculture. What does the apostle say? In reply to the people of Corinth, who say, I follow Paul and somebody else says I follow Apollos, Paul says in verse 5, “what, after all, is Apollos and what is Paul?” And he gives the answer: “they are only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.” The apostle goes into some detail. Verse 6 he says, “I planted the seed”, I was the man who came to Corinth some years ago and I first preached the gospel. I planted the seed, and I stayed there one and a half years and I left. Then along came Apollos, and what did he do? The seed was planted and now Apollos came along and he put water on it. Does that make me better than Apollos? Does that make Apollos better than me? No, says the apostle, it is God who made the plant grow. I didn’t do that, Apollos didn’t do that, but God was at work, “So”, verse 7, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything.” Important isn’t who planted the seed in Corinth, important isn’t who came along with the watering can, but important is “God, who makes things grow.”

It’s an example, brothers and sisters, that we can all relate to. We see plenty of agriculture around us, we see plenty of growth in our own gardens in summer, and we all realise that we can’t make the plants grow. We can put the seeds in, we can add water, but can you make a seed germinate? Can you make the crop ripe, are you able? What is man? Only servants that God uses to bring a crop about. And so, says the apostle, so it is also in the church. What are people? The one is a preacher, the other is an office bearer. But all, says the apostle, are only servants, they don’t count for anything themselves. They are just tools that God uses. It is He who causes faith, it is He who causes faith to grow, and He who causes faith to mature. So why exalt people? We catch the apostles’ point.

The second example repeats that instruction, but adds a new element. The second example, the verses 10-15, comes from the building trade. Says the apostle in verse 10, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder”, and again we realise that’s a reference to the apostle Paul coming to Corinth so many years ago and preaching the gospel. He laid a foundation of Christ crucified. He did so as an expert builder, one who has received from the Lord a message that forms a solid foundation under this building called the church of Corinth. So Paul laid the foundation and after a year and a half he left, and somebody else came along and built on this foundation. That is the work of Apollos. Here is where the second example receives a new twist, for the apostle adds at the end of verse 10 an instruction, a command to those who build on the foundation of Christ crucified. And what is the instruction? “Each one should be careful how he builds.” In our translation it comes through rather timidly. But Paul intends it to be a command: Be careful how you build. There is only one foundation that can be laid, and that is Christ crucified (vs 11). But now that the foundation is laid, you can build on this foundation using all kinds of materials, “gold and silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” (vs 12). But the one kind of material is going to last longer than the other. You try and build a house of straw, even the little pig knew that wasn’t going to last. You have to build with solid stuff, because, verse 13, “his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire,” on the last day when Christ returns, “and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”

So here was instruction to the elders of Corinth and whoever else may be busy preaching the gospel there, to see to it that they would preach the gospel well, that they teach the congregation properly. It should not be that the office bearers of Corinth would allow this rivalry, this quarrelling in the congregation, with one person exalting this preacher and the other that preacher. The office bearers may not allow it, because you get division, it makes for a poor building. Yet the building under construction there in Corinth must be well built because –vs 16- “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple”! That is what is being built there in Corinth: a temple! Paul laid the foundation, other preachers come along and build further on this foundation, but the building that is being built is a temple, just as Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem, and he built it out of solid material, gold and silver, costly stones, wood. Did he use hay and straw? Neither then should the office bearers of Corinth who were building this temple of God in Corinth, the church in Corinth, neither should they use cheap material. The church must be a fitting dwelling place for the Spirit. Therefore no division, no rivalry, no jealousy, instead there must be in the congregation an attitude of serving each other, building each other up.

So, congregation, the apostle Paul gave a pointed warning to the office bearers of Corinth. If they, verse 17, through their workmanship were in fact destroying God’s temple, God would destroy them! That temple, the church of Corinth was sacred. It was not allowed to be built of cheap material; if it was, verse15, that temple will be burned up, it will suffer loss, and those who build on it, will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

It is an instruction that we, brothers office bearers in Yarrow, need to bear in mind in relation to ourselves. We are involved in building up the temple of God in Yarrow, and how we build is critical and how we build must do justice to what that temple is. There cannot be left any room for division, rivalry, jealousy; the focus of the congregation must always be Christ, not man.

The apostle gave two examples. We understand the point of the examples: God is using men to build up the church. At the same time these men have responsibility and the result is, that the congregation is to grow, that the congregation does not embrace fleshly behaviour, worldly behaviour, but only spiritual behaviour. The fruits of the Spirit are to abound. And now the question is, are office bearers able to make that kind of growth occur? Can a congregation encourage that kind of growth in itself? And we say, how can we do that?

That brings us to our last point.

3. The better perspective replacing boasting about people.

The apostle is pointed in our text, “So then, no more boasting about men!” None of that! But: what then? “All things are yours”, the apostle continues, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world, etc., all are yours. What is his point? His point, congregation, is that none less than God Himself has sent a man like Paul to Corinth, and has sent a man like Apollos to Corinth and Cephas to Corinth and the elders and so on. Why did God send them all? Why not only Paul, why not only Apollos? Because God want to give more than one man can give. It is not for the Corinthians to limit themselves and boast about only Paul, only Apollos, this one is my man, no, this one is better. No, says the apostle, God sent them all to you, all of them are for you. It is through the work of Paul and Apollos and Cephas and whoever else that you grow in the Lord. So cut out the picking and choosing, but appreciate what God has given to you in all of them.

Paul repeats the thought in his next words: “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world”! Pick and choose, I like this little bit but I don’t like that little bit: no, says the apostle, the Lord has given it all to you. Appreciate what the Lord gives in the whole world. It is all there for your growth, so don’t just pick a bit here or pick a bit there; realise what it all is for. That is the same for life or death, the present or the future, from cradle to grave it is all yours! Nothing belongs to the other, to the devil; it is all yours, whatever God puts on your path. It is all yours and you are of Christ, He who died to pay for sin, He who ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the King of Kings. And Christ is of God, and God’s possession, and God in Christ has made you His. God in Christ gives you everything you need to live for Him. So then, what are you going to do, boast of one man? Why limit yourself, why be so poor! Rejoice in all the Lord has sent, Paul and Apollos and Cephas; they’re all His gifts to you so that you may grow in Him.

So where does the focus have to be? Should the focus be on people, should the focus be on things? Cut it out, says the apostle, let him who boasts boast in the Lord. He the centre of attention, He the centre of conversation, He the centre of your thinking.

What do you think, my brothers, my sisters? After the congregation of Corinth heard the word of the apostle in chapter 3 and left church, what did they talk about?


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Rev. C. Bouwman

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