Don’t Follow Pied Pipers   Leave a comment

Christianity has had its share of “Pied Pipers,”  — charismatic individuals who seem to be able to lead a group of followers anywhere they wish. We wince at the thought of Jim Jones or David Koresh and what they did to their followers, not to mention the name of Christ. Then there are some whose sins have devastated others, and at times have wrought financial havoc for Christian ministries.

Image result for image of church following pied piperIt is not just the “way out” fringes of Christianity which are plagued with leaders who have nearly total control over the lives of their followers, but whose personal lives are out of control. I’ve seen it happen in respectable churches where people should know better. One common element in these disasters is that these men who fell were so powerful and so in control that they seemed almost “unstoppable.” They had been so elevated and revered in the minds of their followers that they were considered beyond the temptations and sins of ordinary mankind. Their followers refuse to believe the evidences of sin. Even if they are guilty of known sin, no one seems to feel sufficiently qualified to attempt to rebuke or correct them.

This is precisely the problem at Corinth. Those who identified themselves with a certain leader did so in pride, confident that his (or her) message and methods was highly esteemed by the culture of that day. Paul reminded them that this was not the way they began their Christian life. He came to them in weakness, fear, and much trembling. He did not come with a “powerful” message or method of presentation, but with the simple proclamation of Christ crucified. While that message and method may not have won the praise of the lost, it was the means of their salvation (2:1-5).

Now at verse 5, Paul commenced to show the folly of exalting one leader so highly that all others are rejected. He used three analogies to illustrate his point.

First, he compares the church to God’s farm.

What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. I planted,  Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work. We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building. (I Corinthians 3:5-9)

Notice that Paul wrote of himself and Apollos alone, omitting Peter for the moment (compare 1:12). Paul was the first to come to Corinth with the gospel, followed later by Apollos. These were the two apostles most intimately associated with this church. I like the NET Bible’s translation here because it puts the emphasis on the position, rather than the personality, of the Corinthian leaders. The King James renders the Greek as “Who?”, but the textual critics and translaters at the NET believe “What?” is the more precise translation that focuses on the place or position to which the Corinthians’ leaders have been elevated, rather than upon the personalities of each. “To what position or place have you assigned your leader?” Paul asked.

They apparently thought their leader was above all others. Paul brought the Corinthians down to earth by basically saying “We are not heroes, to be adored; we are not gods, to be worshipped; we are not masters, to be blindly followed. We are simply servants of God, appointed by Him to speak the gospel in Corinthi.” Whatever was accomplished by their coming, it is God who accomplishes it; it is God who is Master; they are but servants. How then can the Corinthians place them on a pedestal?

God did not choose either Paul or Apollos to be the single instrument to achieve His purposes in Corinth. Each had his own task, his own calling. The ministries of Paul and Apollos were dependent upon the other. They were not competitors or rivals, but teammates, fellow-workers.

Both unity and diversity can be seen in the complementary ministries of Paul and Apollos. Both served the same Master; both were engaged in accomplishing the same task. Both were brothers in Christ, but each had his own unique calling and contribution to make to the overall task.

Verse 9 plays a critical role in this passage by serving as a transition from the analogy of the “farm” to that of “construction.” When Paul wrote “For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building,” he told us two very important things:

  • All the saints belong to God, and none of them belongs to any apostle.
  • He distinguished himself and Apollos, as apostles, from all the rest of the saints in Corinth. He and Apollos are apostles; the rest are not.

The apostles played a unique role in the founding of the church, a role not to be duplicated by any other. In a unique way, the apostles did “labor together with God” in their intimate contact with Him, and in being witnesses of His resurrection, but especially in the “laying of the foundation of the church” by being the human authors of the New Testament Scriptures.  (See Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 1:1-3; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 for supporting passages).

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master-builder I laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it. And each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straweach builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

In this passage, the church is likened to a building which is under construction. Paul called himself a “wise master builder,” who had laid the foundation on which others built. When Paul referred to himself as a wise master builder, it was with a very deliberate goal in mind. The Corinthians thought themselves wise, and they considered Paul and the other apostles simple, foolish, and weak. Their thinking was wrong! Paul was wise whether or not the Corinthians (or we in modern times) believed it to be so.

Paul distinguished himself from Apollos in this passage. In the prior paragraph, Paul was the one who planted; Apollos was the one who later watered. Now, Paul alone is the foundation-layer in Corinth, and others like Apollos built upon that foundation. Apollos was a powerful and eloquent speaker, a man mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24), but also a man who built upon the foundation Paul laid in Corinth. Apollos was trained in the gospel by Priscilla and Aquila, who were students of Paul, therefore, Apollos learned the gospel second-hand from Paul. He built on Paul’s foundation. Paul’s work of “foundation laying” is represented as a finished work, as a work which is not to be repeated.

Paul looked upon his mission of laying the foundation for the Corinthian church as complete. What remains was for the saints at Corinth (and elsewhere) to completing the construction. The proper function of each worker is Paul’s primary focus.

Paul was not talking about salvation here. This is not a proof-text for the doctrine of purgatory. Paul was saying that a Christian’s works may be burned up by the fire of divine judgment, but not the believer. The believer will be saved, but only by the “skin of his teeth.”

Some argue that Paul’s words encourage the “carnal Christian” to live a careless, self-indulgent life, knowing he will get to heaven regardless. A very few Christians think that they can get the “best of both worlds”, free to sin and yet be forgiven and saved. How foolish and dangerous! Paul’s next words are aimed right at those who might try to pervert his teaching in practice, so that a life of sinful self-indulgence is based on the “comfort” of his words in verse 15.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are. (1 Corhinthians 3:16-17)

The Corinthians thought they were very smart and yet Paul demanded “Don’t you know …?” The building described by Paul as under construction in verses 10-15 was “God’s building”. Paul now explains that the church is God’s temple, His dwelling place. While elsewhere Paul spoke of each individual believer as God’s dwelling place (1 Corinthians 6:19), here he spoke of the whole church as God’s dwelling. We are not the temple, but we are a temple, a place where God dwells. Because God dwells there, the temple is holy, and it must remain holy.

We should understand the seriousness of defiling God’s temple. When we live godly lives, in obedience to His Word through the power of the Spirit, we display God’s glory (1 Peter 2:9). We are good workers, building up the church in accordance with our calling. But when a Christian fails to fulfill their mission, then they become a detriment to the church. In the symbolic terminology of Paul, we “destroy” (NASB) or “defile” (KJV) the temple of God when we are not building well.

The consequences for such defilement are severe, because we are defaming the reputation of God by defiling His temple. Those who would do damage to God’s dwelling place should expect severe consequences. Paul did not mince words when he warned, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (verse 17).

We know from the preceding verses (especially verses 13-15) that a Christian will not lose his salvation, but that he will lose his reward. Lest one feel too smug and secure in sin, however, let him ponder the meaning of the word “destroy” in verse 17. Paul did not seek to comfort any Christian who sins willfully. This passage cannot be construed to encourage a sinful, carnal, lifestyle, for Paul’s words of warning are clear.

We today live in a consumer age. A lot of the church growth movement caters to members, or seekers, as consumers. It’s like a marketing program that finds out the kind of church people want to attend, and then seeks to provide that kind of church. Consequently, some churches may have many of their pews filled, but with people who expect, even demand, to get what they want from the church in terms of services, at little or no cost to themselves. They want to get much and give little.

Paul knew nothing of this kind of church. Paul knew only of the kind of church where every member is a worker, and where there is no such thing as a shirker. Paul’s words have a very clear inference. He assumed we know that we have an obligation to build the temple, to play an active role in the building up of the church as the body of Christ. Why then in most churches do a few members give much, some members give a little, and many to most members do not give at all? Why does the church have so much trouble getting volunteers to teach in Sunday School, and to help with the many tasks in the church? It is simply because many consider themselves a part of the church (rightly or wrongly), but fail to grasp the fact that God requires every member of it to be a working member, contributing to the growth and ministry of the church.

Not only are we obliged to be an active contributor to the construction of God’s temple, we are to build upon the foundation of the apostles. While in those days, the churches had to remember Paul’s words or perhaps refer to a letter, we have the New Testament. To build well, we must know the foundation well, for all of our building must conform to “the code” the Bible sets down. Some people seem to think that “working hard” in the church is enough. Paul wouldn’t agree. We are to work hard, but only in compliance with, and in submission to, His Word, the Bible. For the builder who would work so as to please God and to obtain His approval and reward, he or she must build in accordance with sound doctrine as taught by the apostles.

Doctrine is therefore important to every Christian, and not just for the theologians, because it is foundational. Sound doctrine is not required just for those who teach; it is required as the basis for each and every ministry which takes place in the church. Those who show mercy should do so in accordance with sound doctrine. Those who give must give in accordance with sound doctrine. For example, they must not give to the support of those who are false teachers (2 John 7-11). Those who serve should serve in accordance with sound doctrine. Those who “love” must love within the confines of sound doctrine (Philippians 1:9-11).

Sound doctrine is the basis for all ministry. We dare not seek to serve God apart from sound doctrine.

Divisions, often the result of following a particular leader and rejecting all others, are a very serious offense. For saints to be divided and opposing one another is a tearing down of the church, not a building up of the temple of God. Let us see the evil of divisions, and also the serious consequences which it brings to us personally.

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