Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services
Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
Not everything that glitters is gold
Text 1 Corinthians 3
Shakespeare is the best-known writer to have expressed the idea that shiny things aren’t necessarily the best things. In his play The Merchant of Venice, 1596, Portia’s suitors have to make a choice between three caskets one gold, one silver and the third lead. The first suitor Morroco chose the golden cask but on opening it and instead of seeing a portrait of the fair Portia and winning her hand he saw and I quote shakespeare
a carrion death within whose empty eye is written:
All that glitters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Fare you well; your suit is cold.
A more recent version of the proverb is the fall from grace of paedophile pop star Garry Glitter. Rock stars looks glamorous, be incredibly rich but their personal lives are often not at all praiseworthy or good examples to follow.
Not all that glitters in the visible church is gold either. Some televangelists rake in huge amounts of money a lot of it coming from gullible donors looking for a miracle cure. But do they get what is really needed from such emotionally driven pseudo healing meetings? Do they hear the gospel and become followers of Jesus? Do they know their sins are forgiven.
In Paul’s day he often had run- ins with those he called “eminent apostles” false teachers who criticised Paul in an attempt to undermine his ministry. These were popular and catered to the world’s tastes but they didn’t understand the message of the cross. They loved pomp and prestige, social approval, and the publically approved wisdom of the day. They worked gain a following for themselves. Not all that glitters in the church is gold either (metaphorically speaking. So Paul warns against that here in 1 Cor. 3.
In this passage Paul 1. warns against spiritual immaturity in the congregation due to factionalism. 2. He reminds them what church leaders are meant to be doing and then, 3. encourages them to have the future as well as the present in mind.
1. In the first place a warning against spiritual immaturity. Paul wrote “brethren I could not speak to you as spiritual men but as to men of flesh as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink not solid food for you were not yet able to receive it.” By addressing them as brethren and before that in chapter 1 as saints, Paul regards the folk in Corinth as Christians which means they have the Holy Spirit but they were unspiritual because they were men of sarkinos which is the Greek word for flesh which can also be translated as worldly or carnal. Nowadays the word carnal has come to be associated with sexual sin back then it had a broader meaning so worldly is a good interpretation. As well as that they were babes in the faith; immature Christians who couldn’t digest what Paul called solid food, like babies with reflux because their digestive systems haven’t yet developed properly.
Some babies feed really well and can down a bottle of formula in a few minutes but babies with reflux tend to have two speeds slow and stop, they have to be burped every so often and usually what goes down comes back up again. The Corinthian Christians Paul is addressing here were like that. They were infants in the faith, unable to digest solid teaching and had to stay on the basics of the gospel much longer than they should have. They were not growing in their understanding and application of the word of God because they were quarrelsome and had given in to factionalism. One group followed Paul another Apollos and another Peter. This siding with their favourite preacher belonged to mere men, Paul warned, not spiritual men. He expected more from the Corinthians because they were are people who made a profession of faith, called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (according to chapter 1:2), who wrestled with theological issues, worshipped regularly and were endowed with spiritual gifts (according to chapter 1:5).
So the point Paul makes is clear, those who are Christians and have the Holy Spirit, who understand the message of the cross of Christ, are expected to mature. And in context, spiritual maturity shows itself by not taking sides with certain leaders or following the popular personality , not in jealousy and quarrelling but in an attitude that is big hearted and that refuses to let party politics harm the church. The spiritually mature person sees the church as belonging to Jesus who saves us and is not ashamed to call us his brethren. For the spiritually mature the church becomes a place in which Christians can serve God each other and the community in which God has placed us.
2. That brings me to the next point godly church leaders aren’t celebrities vying for popularity but servants who help build God’s church. Paul makes that clear in verse 5 through to 17. What is Paul or Apollos? When you think of the apostle Paul we think of someone who was arguably the greatest evangelist who ever lived, outstanding among the apostles an author of no less that 13 books of the Bible and a great man! But Paul didn’t see himself as great and neither did he want others to. He saw himself as a servant of the One who had saved him. He admitted to his protégé Timothy that he was a former blasphemer, persecutor and violent oppressor; the foremost of sinners confronted and saved by Christ and entrusted with the gospel.
And this is how Paul sees all church leaders; servants whom God has given different gifts and tasks . To illustrate what he means Paul uses two analogies; a) the first being agricultural. On a large farm one person may sow the seed another takes care of watering and another does the harvesting. The life of the plant belongs to God, He causes the growth.
That’s how it is in the church. The field is the church, it belongs to God. The workers in the field are people like Paul and Apollos. God assigns these workers their tasks and He alone can bring about church growth..
So the main thought here is that Christian leaders are servants of Christ and therefore are not to be venerated or given the kind of allegiance that really only belongs to God.
Paul continues, in verse 9 where he says “for we are God’s fellow workers you are God’s field God’s building.
b) So we move from the farm to the construction site. The general idea of this analogy is similar to the agricultural one. These days church buildings don’t take very long to build they are generally functional and cost effective, a decent building can be put up in less than a year. During the middle ages the old cathedrals in Europe took far longer to build, some of them more than 100 years. One builder might lay the foundation. Years later another would complete part of masonry, then move on retire or die, and others would take their place.
That’s how it is according to Paul in the church more than one leader takes part. Pastors come and go but the building goes on. God owns the building. In fact in 1 Peter 2:4 he is described as the master builder and we are the living stones and here in the text Jesus Christ is the foundation of the building. In fact he is the only foundation on which the church can be built. If anyone tries to lay some other foundation such as the book of Mormon, or denial of the Trinity which is really a denials of Christ, that’s what the JW’s do, or the Magisterium plus the Bible or a particular issue which a church leader may be really hot on rather than Christ well then that foundation is for some other edifice but not the church!
And then even when the foundation is Jesus Christ, there is always the danger of shoddy building on that foundation. According to verse 12 builders may use gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw.
Whether the building lasts depends on one thing, how it fares in a fire! This fire Paul says will happen in ‘the day’ which looking at Pauls use of that term elsewhere, is the Day of the Lord i.e. Judgment Day. Gold silver and costly stone will survive a fire but wood hay and straw will not so this is a pretty sobering passage to all who are engaged in some form of church work. It is possible to build in such a way that in the end you have nothing to show for your efforts. People may feel helped, join in corporate worship, enjoy fellowship, raise money, be involved in the life of the church but still not really know the Lord. Leaders may have loads of charm, great speaking ability, be very smart, but if they don’t lead people to Christ they may win adherents and admirers rather than win converts and feed God’s sheep.
Speaking of feeding sheep there is a book with the title “Feed My Sheep” written by John Haverland. In his book he described what went on a church he once visited in Southland while on holiday with his family. There was a live band whose leader announced that they hadn’t prepared anything but would take it as it comes. After twenty minutes of singing they were told to put their Bibles away. No further reference was made to the scriptures for the whole service which consisted of songs, a speakers personal reflection, and a prayer. Such work may be done with the best of intentions but iyt has has little or no eternal value if it doesn’t lead people to faith and obedience towards Christ. On the other hand where where the Lord’s people hear the truth of God’s word and seek to apply it to their daily lives and find salvation through the cross of Christ then that has eternal value! In fact that is in itself is a great reward for those who want to see everyone in their communities in heaven with them. According to verse 14.
So both illustrations agricultural and building make similar points. Christians leaders are servants of Christ who are not to try and gain a following for themselves, not create factions or enrich themselves but who are servants of Christ and will be held accountable by God for their work because God loves his church.
And then, what Paul writes here must be taken to heart by us all, not just leaders. In verses 16 & 17 Paul reminded the Corinthians they are “the temple of God in whom the Spirit of God dwells and if any man destroys the temple God will destroy him.” Paul used the same metaphor in chapter 6 referring to the body as a temple but that isn’t the issue here. This isn’t about sexual sin, laziness or bad habits. Paul is talking here in verse 16 about the church. If any man destroys the temple. The ways of destroying the church are many and varied. Being divisive and creating factions will do it so will rank heresy such as; denying the atonement, the resurrection, the personhood of God, the Trinity or the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Allowing peripheral issues dominate the church can destroy it and so can, gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, immorality, materialism all of these things and more can destroy a church. We only need to read the Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2&3 to see how apathy, divisiveness, heresy and immorality if not repented of can result in the loss of the lampstand , in other word result in a congregation no longer being regarded by Jesus as a true and faithful congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are pointed words by Paul but ones which we must take to heart. It’s a great privilege to be included in the body of Christ but then also a responsibility which we may not take lightly. God love the church and so must we. Therefore…. and that brings me to the third point;
3.have the future as well as the present in mind. In verse 18-23 Paul reiterates what he’s been emphasising in the first three chapters; worldly wisdom will get you no where as far as God is concerned. It may look smart, be politically correct, put you onside with people in high places, make you popular, but the reality is worldly wisdom is passing away. And it is foolishness to God.
Look at all the hullabaloo by world leaders over the American governments decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. Of course Mr Trump has been trashed once again by the media and the politically correct brigade even though he is probably just the mouthpiece for the Republicans on that issue. But to be honest science has its limitations and this is Gods world and he has promised to preserve his world until Christ returns. Now according to 2 Peter 3:10 there will be plenty of global warming then! Only it’ll be quite sudden and after we’ve all left. Indeed the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God which is why Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote, “let no one boast in men for all things are yours whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas or the world, all things belong to you and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.
Now according to the creation mandate we are to have godly dominion over the earth which means we must look after this world reduce pollution and green-house gasses and all that but there is no need to be paranoid about it. This world or even this solar system and this universe is not all there is. There will be a new heaven and earth which will be free of sin and therefore free of pollution. We need to remember that we ought not to fear those who take away this life be they terrorists or anyone but that we ought to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
At the end of life is death. Our lives are threescore years and 10 or fourscore if we have strength but after that comes eternity and we belong to Christ who belongs to God who holds the present and the future in his hands and who loves us. He purchased our redemption by the death of his dear Son so that we can spend I eternity with him in a restored creation.
That means that this life is really a preparation for the life to come. And we who belong to Christ who have been blessed by God no longer belong to this fallen world which is in rebellion against God but we are heirs of God and coheirs with Christ . By grace God has placed us on the winning team and therefore our allegiance is with him rather than those who oppose God who claim to be wise but by God’s estimation are foolish.
We have to be on our guard against the lure of the world and against those who cater to the world’s wisdom and the world’s tastes.
Rather than glorying in particular people, a spiritually immature thing to do lets see our leaders and one another as Paul does; fellow servants, workers in God’s field and in God’s building and that everything we have including our faith has been given to us by God. So let us boast not in men but in the Lord.
And lets look to the future and the life to come. This life passes by quickly enough and is a preparation for the next. We are well prepared for eternity if we accept God’s forgiveness through the cross of Christ, and if we live our lives obediently and as fellow servants in God’s field and God’s temple.