When referring to the way he and Apollos were co-laborers for Christ, Paul resorts to an agricultural analogy. He may very well have been thinking of Jesus’ teaching regarding Himself being the vine and believers being the branches and that no branch can accomplish anything in and of itself. It must be nourished through its connection to the vine. In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Agreed, God doesn’t even need Paul or Apollos. He could do it all by Himself. I suspect He still acts in special ways in individual lives to open their hearts and minds to the gospel. One commentary says, “God is, of course, able to communicate, act, and react via extraordinary means, but far more often, he delights in ordinary, mundane means. In this, the commentators see a prime example of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, that he “planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). While human beings have real responsibility, the progress and outcome of events is ultimately dependent on the Lord.”[1] The tendency in Corinth, unfortunately, was to focus on the human contribution to the process and not the Lord’s.

I like what Ogilvie says in The Preacher’s Commentary, “They were not in competition with each other but were partners in a common venture, team members in a common task. And while their work was very important, it was subordinate to the role of God, who provided the increase.” Paul’s focus in this passage clearly infers that divisions in the church “had been caused by giving more devotion to the servants than to the Lord.” This is still a major problem in the church today. It might even be worse because of the mass media. We have TV preachers, radio preachers, and publishers promoting popular preachers. Ogilvie goes on to say, “The personality cult has been a part of our secular life in politics, business, education, and medicine. In each of these fields, strong personalities gather around themselves, disciples to their way of thinking and acting. This fact of life has affected the church and has had a divisive effect. It results in ministers, churches, and denominations competing with each other. The divided church is created by our forgetting that we are all servants and ministers of the one Lord and that both the field and the harvest are His.”

I cannot help but think also that we today are fellow workers with Apollos and Paul. Even though thousands of years have passed, the same “building” is being worked on today that they began in the first century. Christ is still the foundation, and we’re all building the superstructure. Actually, Christ is building His church; we are co-workers together with Him. This work will continue until the Lord returns. We’re not building something new or different. Paul warns the builders not to attempt to lay any other foundation than the one already laid: Christ Jesus.  We are all in this together all the way back to Paul and forward with all those who will come after us. Throughout all history, some will plant, some will fertilize, some will water, and some will harvest. But we must never forget that “it’s God who gives the increase.”

[1] Chung-Kim, Esther, Todd R. Hains, Timothy George, Scott M. Manetsch, and Brannon Ellis, eds. 2014. Acts: New Testament. Vol. VI. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.