The congregation in Corinth had many problems, placed as it was in a city notorious for idolatry and immorality. The situation was made worse by internal problems. Converts brought much baggage into the church after conversion. One of the greatest problems was party spirit, leading to divisions. Paul refers to this issue in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. In reply Paul states the equality of the workers doing the Lord’s work. We consider his description of Christian workers in 1 Corinthians 3:9 God’s fellow workers.
1. The call
Paul stresses that gospel work is ultimately God’s work, done by his power and at his direction, but in his infinite wisdom he uses chosen workers like Paul, Apollos and us. The key term is grace – ‘By the grace given me’ (v10). This is evident in two ways:
(i). Salvation. God’s people are ‘called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28), predestined, called and justified (Romans 8:30). This is the ‘effectual call’ (Shorter Catechism Q31), the work of the Holy Spirit which enables a response of repentance and faith. Apart from this call, no-one can be a worker for the Lord.
(ii). Service. The call to salvation includes a call to service. All of the Lord’s people are included – ‘servants…as the Lord has assigned to each his task’ (v5). We see here the sovereignty of God. The leaders of the church are ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service’ (Ephesians 4:12) – for every aspect of the task the Lord assigns his church.
2. The privilege
We must never forget we are servants (v5), but consider whose servants we are. We are ‘God’s fellow workers’ (v9). In the context of disunity in Corinth, Paul stresses that all those called to salvation and service form ‘one body’ (12:12). It is a great privilege to be united in the Lord’s service. But there may well be a greater aspect to the privilege – Paul may be intending to say that ‘God’s fellow workers’ are not only working for God, but also with God. In grace and condescension God brings his people into partnership in building his church. Of course it is not an equal partnership – God ‘makes things grow’ (v7) – but he confers an amazing privilege on us. This truth should delight and humble us.
3. The ministry
The ministry of God’s fellow workers is described using two pictures:
(i). Agriculture. They plant and water (v7). They are ‘God’s field’ The Word is sown and nurtured, so that the church is established and a crop is produced.
(ii). Building. By God’s enabling a beautiful and harmonious whole is produced.
Work will be tested at the last day (v13) and faithful work will receive a reward (v14).