An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 6)

M.A. Rudge

(Note: This article was the next in the series and should have appeared in last month’s issue. We apologize for this inconvenience)

God’s Fellow-Laborers, God’s Husbandry, God’s Building -the Assembly and its Unity (3:5-4:21).

Paul has built up a sound basis for our appreciation of the importance of spiritual character and spirituality as a fundamentally essential requirement for service in the local assembly. This is the subject which is now developed in chapters 3 and 4, with special emphasis upon its relevance to the Assembly and its Unity (3:8,9).

The section can be divided into three pairs (i) Paul and Apollos as God’s fellow-laborers, in their relationship to the Lord, to the assembly, and to one another, setting a pattern for true spiritual service and its reward (3:5-17); (ii) The assembly in its relationship to Paul, Apollos and Cephas as God’s fellow-laborers, in its relationship to every possible circumstance of life, whether present or future, and to Christ, in His unique relationship with God (3:18-23); (iii) As in 2:1-5 and 3:1-4, there is an application of Paul’s teaching to the situation at Corinth (4:1-5), with a final application to the divisions at Corinth and the example set by the apostles, with a closing appeal to "become followers of me" in verse 16 (4:6-21).

The word "then" (v. 5), shows that verse 5 is a development from verse 4 and in a broader sense, from 1:10. Paul is saying, in view of what has been taught concerning the character of the gospel and Divine revelation, the natural man has no status in the churches of God and men are not what you make them out to be. What are they then? The answer is that they are "ministers", "servants." They do not stand in relation to you as "founders and heads of an organization" but as those who stand in relation to the Lord as servants, "even as [and that] as the Lord gave to every man (each-one)." Each one is given the capacity to serve in their own appointed sphere of service (12:4-6) and it follows that neither the servant, or any party gathered around him, has anything to glory in.

"What then is Paul, what then is Apollos? Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him" (B VI, shows the true relation of servants. They are simply the Lord’s servants, those who He is pleased to equip and use in His service. We should not, of course, overlook the fact that there are those whose service entitles them to special recognition. Paul himself was a principal workman at Corinth and Apollos is also included here. This entitled them, especially Paul, to be recognized as such, by the believers (v. 10; 4: 14-21; 9:1,2. See also 16:15,16; 1 Thes. 5: 12,13; 1 Tim 5:17). This type of recognition of spiritual labor is essential for the progress of the work of God. Too often it is carnal men, whose ways please the majority who have been given this recognition and the result has been a total disaster.

Paul looks at the servant relationship, in a twofold way, using himself and Apolios and the relationship between them, to illustrate the relationship of servants to God, as God’s fellow workers and between one another as fellow-laborers. Later, in a further application (3:18-23), he includes "Cephas." After further consideration of the subject (4:1-5), he returns to its application "in a figure" to himself and Apollos, "And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye may learn in us..." (4:6,7).

The subject of the status of servants and their relationship to the Lord is placed in its proper perspective. Paul now deals with the subject of the servants in their sphere of service, their relationship to the local assembly, to one another and later, their accountability and reward. They are servants of the Lord and God’s fellow-laborers. Their sphere of service is the local assembly and the figures used to describe it are God’s husbandry (vv. 5-9), where God gives the increase, God’s building, where God has laid the foundation (vv. 10-15) and temple of God, where the Spirit of God dwells among them (vv. 16-17). It should be noted that the main emphasis in each of these terms is upon God - "God’s," "of God." Cp vv. 6,7. Everything which is associated with the local assembly must be recognized as belonging to God and everything which takes place in it must be carried out in dependence upon Him and in His way. The spiritual character and value of all service will be assessed and rewarded by Him and not according to human estimation. His servants are accountable to Him.

The word "For" (v.9), "For we are laborers together with God," ‘God’s fellow-workmen’ (AND), shows, once again, the connection with the previous verse. This is a point of great importance. God’s servants are united in the service, as a result of the working in fellowship with Him. It is only in the measure that this order is followed, that we can speak of true unity. Paul now uses the two figures of "God’s husbandry" and "God’s building", to describe the local assembly at Corinth, as the sphere in which God’s fellow-laborers serve Him. The first figure is developed in vv. 5-9 and the second figure is developed in vv. 9-17. In some respects the two figures represent the same truths viewed from a different standpoint, e.g. the work of planting, taking root and growth are horticultural terms which find their counterpart in the work of laying the foundation, being established and built up, which are architectural terns. (Cp. Eph. 3:17; Col. 2:6).

Each of these figures illustrate important features of the work of God and contribute to our appreciation of the work involved. The work of husbandry involves a number of ideas, including the unity of aim among the laborers, the labor which must be expended in the work of ploughing and preparation, sowing and planting; the vital necessity of light and atmosphere, water and food supplies, cultivation and providing suitable conditions for growth, guarding against foreign influences, patient labor and waiting upon God to give the increase. The distinctive feature in the use of this figure is what is produced in fragrance and fruitfulness for God. In the work of building, the foundation is of fundamental importance, together with the quality of the materials used and the standard of workmanship. The symmetry of the building, with its harmony, proportion and correspondence between each part, yet again places emphasis upon its unity. The structure is intended to be functional, so that building in accordance with the specifications laid down is important. The work will be checked against the specifications and standards required. The end in view is stability, strength, durability, unity, symmetry.

"According to the grace of God" (v. 10), recognizes that the establishment of the work at Corinth, was a matter of Divine grace and Paul was privileged to be the instrument that God used. As "a wise masterbuilder" refers to the fact that Paul followed the Divine pattern which had been revealed to him and human wisdom was entirely set aside. His description of himself as a wise " masterbuilder", is the idea of a principal workman. The Greek word is arshitek ton, Eng, architect. It is made up of arehe, first or principal and tekton, an artificer or constructor, i.e. a principal workman. This is a case where the transliteration, ‘architect’, could be misleading in English. Whilst Paul was the principal workman, who was used of God in the laying of the foundation at Corinth and he supervised the initial construction of the assembly to ensure that it was built according to the pattern, he had no part in the original design. That was wholly Divine. Anything else or anything less, he would have regarded as being the product of human wisdom and intellectualism, the dangers which he had warned against so strenuously in the opening chapters. Cp. Bezaleel and Aholiab (Ex. 31: 1 -6) and "a man cunning to work..." (2 Chron. 2:7-9, 13, 14).

The verb form of architekton, architektoneo is used of Bezaleel and Aholiab in the construction of the tabernacle in Ex. 3 1:4; 35:32 (Septuagint Version). The words "I have filled him (Bezaleel) with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding, to devise eunning works ..." (Ex. 3 1:4,5) is closely paralleled in Paul’s description of himself as a "wise masterbuilder." "And the house which I build is great... Send me now therefore a man cunning to work..." (2 Chron. 2:5-9,13,14). The admonition given to Moses to ensure that everything in the tabernacle was built "after their pattern which was showed thee in the mount" (Ex. 25:9,40) and similar instructions given later to Solomon (1 Chron 28:10-13,18-20) and Ezekiel (40:2-4; 43:10-12) in connection with the temple, finds its counterpart for us today, in Paul’s warning, "But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (v. 10). In each era the same principles are firmly maintained. As then, so now, obedience will be blessed and even more significantly, it will be a matter for examination at the judgment seat of Christ (vv. 12-15; 2 Tim 2;5), even as Moses examined "all the work" of the completed tabernacle (Ex. 39:42,43).

(to be continued)