But God Made It Grow

1 Corinthians 3:5-11

Intro:  A few years ago, Roger Clemens was the dominant pitcher in major league baseball.  Batters feared him. His fastball was nearly unhittable.  In 1986, he started his first All-Star Game.  In the second inning, he came to bat, something he didn’t often do during the regular season because of the American League’s designated hitter rule.  He took a few practice swings then looked out at Dwight Gooden, who had won the Cy Young award the previous year.  Gooden wound up and threw a sizzling fastball past Clemens.  With an embarrassed smile on his face, Clemens looked back at the catcher, Gary Carter, and asked, “Is that what my pitches look like?”  “You bet it is!” replied Carter.  Clemens quickly struck out, but went on to pitch three perfect innings and be named the game’s MVP.  From that day on, he later said, with a fresh reminder of how overpowering a good fastball is, he pitched with far greater boldness.

It ought to remind us to step back every now and then and look afresh at the power of the gospel.  When it becomes too familiar, too routine we take it for granted.  That familiarity, if it doesn’t breed contempt, at least creates a casual disregard for its power.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. (Rom. 1:16)

The power to save men and women from their sins is in the good news of Jesus Christ.  Paul states the essence and the substance of that good news in 1 Cor. 15:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

The heart of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And if we ever lose sight of who it is who saves people, and what it is that saves people, we need to return to the basics – the blood stained cross, the empty tomb and the word of God.

In 1 Cor. 3:5-11, Paul wrote this:  What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

My agricultural experience is limited – backyard gardens and 1st grade bean seeds planted in Dixie cups.  I have learned a few things over the years – I can till the soil, I can plant the seed, I can fertilize and water and spray for insects – but the one thing I can’t do is make the seed grow.  Not only can I not make it grow, but it is a miracle every time I stick a seed in the ground and it does grow.

Notice a few things about Paul’s description of the growth of God’s kingdom in the life of person.

Paul describes his own part in the process in very humble terms:  I planted and Apollos watered, but God made it grow.  Now we might be tempted to say, “Paul, don’t be so humble, you were a great preacher, you brought thousands to Christ through the power of your preaching.” 

But this isn’t a false-humility on Paul’s part.  He simply understands his part.  He’s not minimizing it by saying, “Aw shucks, I didn’t do anything,” but like the farmer, Paul realized that he could only do so much – prepare, plant, water, nurture – important, but only part of the process.  The most important part is Paul’s clear statement – “God made it grow.”

Let’s make sure we hear what Paul is saying – he’s not talking about tomatoes and cucumbers, but the salvation of souls.  It is a subject that is crucial to Paul (and should be to everyone of us who are followers of Jesus).  It is the only thing that that is ultimately, absolutely important.

In vs. 8, Paul wrote, “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose.”  Their purpose is preparation, planting and nurturing.  Is their purpose unimportant?  I don’t know of many farmers who just rip open a sack of seed and drive around in their unplowed fields and yell out the window, “I’ll be back in the fall for the harvest!”  What the farmer does is absolutely essential to the growth of the seed and the success of the harvest.

And the point I want us to see is that while Paul puts his part in perspective, it is absolutely essential to the salvation of souls.  We have one purpose:  to prepare hearts, plant the Word and nurture the growth.

Paul said something pretty significant in vs. 7:  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

Look at this from the other side for a moment.  Because our part is important, and because what we are talking about has eternal consequences, we get a little nervous about doing it wrong.

We drown ourselves in “what ifs”:

·         What if I don’t know enough?

·         What if they ask questions I can’t answer?

·         What if I say something wrong and turn them off?

·         What if …?

Back to vs. 7, So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  God is in control of the process – you do your part and leave the rest to God.

I think of what Paul wrote in his 2 Corinthian letter:  Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:1-2)

Paul didn’t depend on slick oratory or smooth presentation – technique was meaningless.  What mattered was a genuine, truthful, open presentation of the Word of God – he planted the seed, and he let God take care of the growth.

What always kept Paul tuned in to what his purpose was, and what his limitations were was the grace of God – back to vss. 10-11:  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Grace always reminds us what God has done for us – our own salvation.  But grace should be a constant reminder of the obligations that go with it – to bring others to the Lord so they can share in this wonderful salvation.

It is only God’s grace that can save – it is by God’s grace that we have been called to be “God’s fellow workers” and are sent into the field with one purpose.

If we are going to share our faith with confidence, we need to know what we are building upon.  We need to know who it is that we are leading people to.

Notice, Paul switches the image for a moment from farming to building, but the point is still the same – our confidence lies, not in what we are doing, but in what God has already done, and continues to do:  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

We’ve talked a lot about open doors – telling what God has done in our lives, about the hope that is ours.  Those are an essential part of sharing our faith.

The problem is that in our modern world, faith has become a subjective experience – what feels good, what lifts me up, what meets my needs.  Salvation is something that is better felt than told.  You’ve heard people say, “That’s fine for you, but my experience is different – I’m travelling a different path, but we’re all going to the same place.”  And if it only comes down to my experience and what I think, then we can only go so far.

People are facing real struggles in life for which they need real answers.  They don’t need more pop-psychology, they don’t need another self-help book - one more 12-step program isn’t the answer.  What they really need to hear is a genuine, authentic word from God.  Our personal experiences are open doors, but not the ultimate answers.  They connect us with people, but it is only the word of God that can ultimately bring life to people.

Listen to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church:  And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

Certified, guaranteed, 100% pure seed.  If you sell yourself, sell your opinions, even if you are selling your church, you have the wrong focus.  People are anxious to hear what God says to the issues in their lives.  I think we are afraid of imposing on people by sharing with them from the Bible, when it is not our place to be afraid or apologetic.  It is God’s Word, not ours, and when we share that with people, we are giving God the opportunity to begin to work in a person’s life.

I’m not much for getting into debates about whether one religion is better than another or whether this denomination or that denomination is right or wrong.  My one interest is to go to God’s Word and ask what it has to say to our lives.  And I find incredible enthusiasm from people who open the Bible for the first time and begin to read for themselves and think for themselves about what God is saying to them.

That was the response the early Christians found when they shared the good news – “So the word of God spread…”  In the book of Acts, the catalyst to the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel was the power of the Word of God.  And that will be the response when we begin sharing the Word of God – it is powerful, it is living, it is life giving.

Our one purpose is to plant the seed.  And Jesus said in Luke 8:11, “the seed is the Word of God.”

That doesn’t mean we need to be experts, not instant theologians, not ready answer men.  We don’t need to be ashamed to say, “I don’t know the answer to that – but we can study that together.”

It does mean we need to be in the Word ourselves – studying, learning, growing.  In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul wrote to his son in the faith, “Do you best [KJV- Study] to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

Peter wrote, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

We need to be people whose own lives are living demonstrations – living object lessons – of God’s amazing power to change and transform lives through the gospel.

God has entrusted to us the precious seed of the kingdom.

Illust. – The only one who can save 

Dr. Leo Winters was a Chicago surgeon, and one night he was awakened by the phone ringing. A young boy had been badly injured in a late-night accident. The injuries were so severe that Dr. Winters was probably the only surgeon in the city who was capable of saving the boy’s life. The fastest route to the hospital happened to pass through a rough area of Chicago, but with time being such a critical factor, the doctor took the risk. He’d almost made it through the neighborhood and then, at a red light, his door was jerked open by a big man in a grey hat and a dirty flannel shirt. “I've got to have your car!” the man shouted, and he pulled the doctor from his seat. Dr. Winters tried to explain the gravity of the situation, but the man wasn’t listening. He sped off in Dr. Winters’ car. The doctor wandered for about 45 minutes looking for a phone that worked. When he finally got a taxi and had made it to the hospital, over an hour had passed.  He rushed through the doors to the emergency department but the nurse on duty only shook her head. It was too late. The boy had passed away 30 minutes earlier. “I’m so sorry. I was carjacked on my way here,” he explained. The nurse told him that the boy’s Dad had got there before he died. “He is outside. He’s heart-broken. He doesn’t understand why you never came.” So Dr. Winters walked hurriedly down the hall and saw a man sitting there his head in his hands. He was wearing a grey hat and a dirty flannel shirt. It was the same man who had stolen the doctor’s car an hour earlier. When he did that, he had pushed from his life the only one who could help his son.

There will be those who ignore or reject or scoff at us for sharing Jesus.  But the power of God is not in us – it is in the blood that was shed on the cross, it is in the tomb that was empty on the third day, and it is in the life that God has promised to those who love him and surrender their lives to him.