Merely Human Or?

Paul uses this great phrase in 1 Corinthians 3, saying at the end of verse 4, “are you not being merely human?” We’ve been shown a variety of comparisons in this letter as Paul is always urging us to be more as we follow the ways of God. Do we settle for milk or move on to solid food? Do we settle for being merely human, or do we look for even more? The choice should be obvious, but it is not always easy. But we do not act alone, for we have God with us, helping us to choose the greater–to choose himself.

Here is how he frames the choices in this life:

  • Merely human with the wisdom of the world?
    or recipients of the wisdom of God in the cross, by his Spirit?

  • Merely human trying to do things in our own strength?
    or empowered by the Spirit, serving God in the work to which he has called us?

  • Merely human built upon what will burn up and be lost?
    or God’s building, the temple of his Spirit, built to late upon Christ?

  • Merely human tied to the fleeting things of this life?
    or Christ’s cherished possession, recipient of all things, for all things are his?

If we are being built by God, what’s God’s building plan?

Paul writes how God is the one who truly gives the growth and we just take a part in being used by God, whether to “plant” or “water.” But what are we growing into? What is the building plan? It’s a humbling beginning to this chapter as we recognize our place before God. We can claim no credit for God’s work. We take a part, but God is the true actor. But as humbling as that is, we are then shown an extraordinarily privileged and high calling that God has for each of us. God is growing us and building upon us because, as it says in verse 16, we are God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. Paul writes, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

plant and water

This is an amazing truth for God’s people. The temple had been the dwelling place for God. It had been a place among the people, but distinct from them. Only a select few could enter and even fewer still could enter the Holy of Holies. In all of creation this was the place of his presence. Now Paul writes that we are his temple. We are that holy place of his presence. The Spirit of the Most Holy God resides in us, in we who are in the foundation of Christ.

This past Sunday I preached on this text as well as a text from Daniel 7. Along with the strange visions of that chapter, we get a parallel picture of God’s craftsmanship, compared to what will ultimately be burned up, fade away, and be destroyed. We learn in both texts that what God builds, and builds upon Jesus Christ, is the only thing that will last. I wrote for the sermon:

“In Daniel, these great beasts look so powerful, but they will come to an end.
Only the kingdom of God will last.
The Son of Man will have all dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will last forever.

Likewise, the powers in our time will fall. They will not last. A life built upon them will not last.
But a life built by God, upon Jesus Christ will last.
Therefore your life will last, your life will be eternal.

Only that which is of God is forever, and your life can be in God’s hands. Your life can be forever, if it is built upon the one foundation: Jesus Christ. We are God’s building, his temple, and his craftsmanship is flawless. We live forever when we live a life in Christ.”

Paul, Apollos, and a long line of servants of Christ have served his Church. There have surely been many who have blessed you by similar service. But we know that through it all, by the Spirit, God has been working upon you and in to give you the growth. We are being built into his temple, a place of God’s very presence, and if that were not already amazing enough, we have a sure hope that God’s building, his people, are built to last forever.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? – The role we play in ministering to others on God’s behalf

Memory Verse 1 Cor 3.6

Yesterday we focused on what was hindering the Corinthians’ understanding (their jealousy and strife) and what it led to was not only the divisions in their church, but a misunderstanding of who people like Paul and Apollos were. Paul describes their problem and then turns attention to himself, and Apollos, briefly.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9

What do we learn about these two in this passage? Who are they? What is their job? How should the church view them?

First, we see that they are servants. Being a servant, obviously, means that they are not masters. The Corinthians had elevated them and thought Paul and Apollos were to be played off each other as though they were rivals, but they are both servants who in fact are co-laborers, working together.

Are you a gardener? I’m sure you then know that there aren’t good ways to compete over one plant. If one plants and one waters, you can’t do so with different aims. You have the same goal. Paul is not at odds with Apollos. They both want to see growth. They are both called by God to their task. They both serve for God’s glory.

We also learn that as much as Paul or anyone labors, they do not claim credit for the work that God accomplishes. He may have planted, but just as importantly, Apollos watered, but neither compare to the growth that God achieves.

If not for God, what would happen to the seed? If not for God, would the water do any good? It is as it says in Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.

Paul is not anything but a servant of God. He is a tool God has used. All glory should pass right through him and be directed at the only one worthy. He has had the privilege of being called to this people to minister to them, as has Apollos. But Paul is telling them that God was at work then, God is at work now, and God is the one who will continuously give the growth.

Memory Verse for 1 Corinthians 3:6 for iPhone


What Hinders Our Understanding God’s Truth?

Earlier in chapter one Paul mentions that the church had been having issues that caused divisions. Some were claiming to be of Paul, some followed Apollos, and still other Cephas or Christ. Having dealt with it briefly in the first chapter, Paul returns to it now in chapter three of 1 Corinthians.

With two homilies on the wisdom of God (in the cross and through the Spirit) firmly in place as a foundation, Paul is ready to take a second look at how his readers should see Paul, Apollos and Cephas.[1]

Ken Bailey summarizes what we’ve been through so concisely. Paul sees their issue and it isn’t just division. These divisions reveal a spiritual immaturity. Paul has to lay a groundwork for them to understand the wisdom of God and their actions impede such understanding. Paul says that he cannot address them as spiritual people, rather they are infants needing milk. Again Bailey is insightful here. It isn’t because the Corinthians are not smart enough that they can’t understand, it is because of their petty infightings and jealousies. Bailey writes that we tend to think that all it takes to acquire truth is “a good mind and a willingness to work hard… Paul disagrees.”[2]

When there is strife the people are acting merely human. Paul wants something more. He doesn’t want more praise or more followers for himself. He wants them to see Paul, Apollos, and Cephas for what they truly are. Once again from Bailey:

The Corinthians thought that when they declared themselves to be “of Apollos” or “of Paul” that they were making complimentary statements about their champions. No, replies Paul, be creating these divisions you are saying nothing about us–you are talking about yourselves, and what you are is not flattering! Do not imagine that we are pleased![3]

Beginning in verse five he begins to try to set them straight with two short parables.

  1. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 120. ↩
  2. Bailey, 122. ↩
  3. Bailey, 123. ↩

A Fill in the Blank Review of 1 Corinthians

A good way to look back and review our readings is with our memory verses. I’d encourage you to reread the previous sections as much as you can as we work our way through 1 Corinthians, but these short verses can be a fine short cut.

If you haven’t memorized it, but have glanced as the visualizations and read through a few times, you may know more than you realize.

I’m going to put the verses below, but missing about half of the words. See how you do and if you’re able to fill in the blanks. I’ll leave it up to you to find your Bible and check your answers!

Week 1: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

1 ________, called by the ________ ________ ________ to be an ________ of Christ Jesus, and our brother ________,
2 To the ________ of ________ that is in ________, to those ________ in Christ ________, called to be ________ together with ________ ________ who in every ________ ________ upon the name of ________ ________ ________ ________, both ________ ________ and ours:
3 ________ to you and ________ from ________ ________ ________ and the ________ ________ ________.

Week 2: 1 Corinthians 1:22-23

22 _______ demand ________ and ________ seek ________,
23 But we ________ ________ ________,
A ________ ________ to the ________ and ________ to the ________.

Week 3: 1 Corinthians 2:12

Now we have ________ not the ________ of the ________,
but ________ ________ who is from ________,
that we might ________ the ________ freely ________ us by ________.

Week 4: 1 Corinthians 3:6
I ________, Apollos ________, but God ________ ________ ________.

How’d you do?

We Only Teach What the Spirit Has Taught

Our reading this week had a great reminder for us all, and for me in particular given what I’ve busied myself with this last several days.

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
1 Cor 2:13

The whole chapter emphasizes what we receive by the Spirit. What we know is not something we can boast in, nor is what we teach and pass on something that is of ourselves. It all is of the Spirit. I mentioned it is a nice reminder for me since I’m currently preparing both a sermon for tomorrow morning and a talk on prayer for tomorrow night.

It is easy to try rely on yourself and to worry if what we have to say is enough. We focus on our education, our smarts, our delivery, etc. But that is missing the point. I can rely on the Spirit, and I ought to make sure what I speak is of God. It’d be foolish to try to do what God calls us to in our own strength. All I have the privilege of doing is to take what the Spirit has shown us and pass it on. From start to finish, we are a work of God. Which is why it’s not about us and why we should say, soli deo gloria–glory to God alone.

Relying Upon the Spirit and Not on Our Apologetics

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:3-5

There are some great books that defend the Christian faith that I’ve personally enjoyed in the past. They could be grouped broadly into the category of “apologetics.” This name isn’t based on our saying “sorry” for our faith, but the word relates to giving a defense. While I certainly believe that there are reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and that our Bible is a trustworthy book, it is important to remember that we cannot argue someone into faith. We shouldn’t present some sort of bullet point list to someone, then demand that she believe.

While Paul does use argumentation and is thoughtful with his words and his audience, he is primarily a witness pointing to Jesus. Paul can’t make someone believe. In fact, he doesn’t want to. His desire is that a person’s faith “might not rest in the wisdom of men.”


This chapter goes on about how what we now know–the wisdom of God that we see in the cross of Jesus Christ–is not based in our own intellectual achievements. It is not because I’m smart enough that I’m a Christian. Likewise it is not because someone is dumb that they may not believe. The eternal purposes of God are known to us because they have been revealed to us by the Spirit of God.

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:9–10

We can’t even boast in our knowing because it is a gift of God’s grace. Our coming to believe and understand is a work of God’s through and through.

We ought to love God with our minds, seek to know him better, to discern the mind of Christ, and speak ably about Jesus to those around us, always giving a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). But we do not do this as though everything hinges on my skillful argumentation. Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith, but it is not a faith dependent on advanced understanding and academic achievement. Our faith is dependent on the working of the power of God.

If You Look at Your Phone 150 Times a Day, You Might as Well Make Good Use of It

Make this your "lock screen" on your phone and you'll be memorizing in no time!
Make this your “lock screen” on your phone and you’ll be memorizing in no time!

I heard on the radio yesterday that the average person looks at their phone 150 times a day. I heard it on the radio, and then I also was able to find it on the internet–so it must be true! Even if your own results may vary, I’m sure you are checking it many times every day. You check it for the time, for emails, for news, and of course, to make phone calls.

In hearing this little statistic I was given more reason to do something useful with my screen. I have already made Bible visualizations for your smartphone, but now I’m really thinking this can be a great way to memorize. Even if it is just a glance, 150 times a day is a lot. Do it for seven days a week, for each of our verses. That’ll add up quick.

These visualizations have more than words, so maybe when you quickly glance at this week’s image when you want to see if you’re running late, you may not read all the words. But you will see, again and again and again, a picture of the earth, a dove, and a gift. That alone helps us to remember the three points in this verse: that we don’t receive the spirit of the world, we receive the Holy Spirit, who helps us receive what is given by God. Imagine seeing that picture 150 times a day, over a thousand times a week. You’ll remember something of it for a long time.