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 labour. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (verses 5-9)
I remember being at a denominational conference a few years back and the speaker inviting us, hundreds in attendance, to extend our hands in front of us, open, palms up. He pointed out that all our hands, each successive pair, were completely empty. It was obvious. This is how we come to ministry, he said, every single time. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It’s a crucial realization.
Paul recognized it. He knew it well. As remarkably gifted as he was (writing a major portion of the New Testament, planting churches, seeing person after person come to faith in Jesus, working miracles), he knew his hands needed the Lord’s constant filling. “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (verse 7).
I think this is why he could weather so well the factionalism in the church at Corinth without getting jealous and bent-out-of-shape. He knew that it wasn’t about him anyway. Nor was it about Apollos. Indeed, although the Corinthians were lining up on different teams, putting Paul and Apollos on opposing sides, it was always true that they all stood side by side with empty hands together, waiting for the Lord to fill and use them.
Paul will go on later in this same letter to explore the wonder of being engaged in the Body of Christ together, with varieties of gifts and service and workings, yet all part of one whole. So, here, working side by side in God’s field, Paul plants and Apollos waters, but both have one purpose. To expand the picture, there would have been others, too, who did the weeding and hoeing and tilling and fertilizing. And then the harvesting and sorting and processing and milling and baking. All part of one whole.
In it all, the key understanding is that “the Lord has assigned to each his task” (verse 5). If we have open hands, ready for his assignment, we will gratefully receive whatever commission he gives, and will joyfully engage in the work, not envying another’s task, nor looking down on that of another, but pulling together in the great joy of kingdom work.
To God be the glory.
Father, thank you that you not only rescue us into your kingdom, but you engage us in your ongoing work. Let me know my assignment. Fill my hands this day. Give me joy in seeing co-workers excel for the kingdom. Let me be an agent of unity, cheering your purposes across the great expanse of your church. To you be the glory.
Reflect: What assignment has the Lord given you? How do you need to engage in it today? If you need clarity, ask him. Hands out, ready to go.