Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The global Covid-19 pandemic had a lot of effects that I am not sure anyone could have predicted.   One of these unusual effects is the resurgence in popularity of house plants.  While potted, indoor plants have been a things that exists for hundreds of years, there was an absolute boom in their sales in 2020 and 2021.  In 2020, a year that a lot of business sectors suffered, 71% of greenhouses saw an increase in sales over 2019.  Perhaps the biggest surprise from the growth of house plants is who is generating the growth, because it is young adults.   Young people, ages 18-34, have been the driving factor in the boom of houseplants.  Anecdotally this can be seen in the fact that the hashtag #plantsoftiktok has been viewed more than 3 billion times.   More reliable data can be found from the National Gardening Association which found that households headed by 18-34 year olds make up almost a 1/3 of all gardening households.   Young people today it seems really like plants.

There have been sociologists, journalists, and other observers who have noticed this trend and have offered up all kinds of insights, but a lot of these articles boil down to a similar point.  There is something about human nature where we like helping things grow.   Plants are good for this because with just a little nurture and care they naturally grow.  This is something we learned a few years ago.   That year we decided we would try the gardening thing with something simple like tomatoes.   Now to be clear, this is something we had never done.  Neither of us had any experience at all with growing anything, so it was not going all that well.  I tried looking up information about how to do this better, but most of the articles I found seemed to assume a baseline level of knowledge that we just did not have.  These poor plants seemed doomed.  The parsonage we lived in at the time was older and had a small unfinished basement that trapped a lot of moisture during warmer months.  It had a dehumidifier that had to be emptied daily.   Since I had to empty it anyway, I started pouring the water out on the tomato plants every single day.   And that is what worked.  I am sure if we knew what we were doing there are all kinds of techniques we could have used to get a higher yield, but the simple act of daily water was enough to make the plant grow.

This morning’s scripture is one of many examples we can find in the bible where agricultural analogies are used to spiritual matters.  Plants grow because that is what they have been created by God to do.  This morning’s scripture is based off of that premise.  If a plant is healthy then it will grow, and our faith is the same way.

Right at the beginning of this morning’s scripture Paul points out the church of Corinthian is not all that healthy.  He does so with some pretty pointed words.  I think if we were to paraphrase one of the main ideas found in verses 1 and 2 of this morning’s scripture it would be fair to render it as “Stop being a bunch of babies.”  Paul’s issue with the people of Corinth is that they are involved in bickering and fighting with one another over silly things.  In this morning’s scripture Paul calls back to a theme that he mentioned right at the beginning of 1 Corinthians.   In a passage from chapter 1, that we read here a couple of weeks ago, Paul points out one of the problems the church in Corinth has is feuding over following various Christian leaders.   The real major point of contention seems to be between two factions.  One who claims they follow Paul and the other who claims they follow Apollos.  If we approach the bible a bit like a detective we can begin to get a picture of what might be going on here.

In the 18th chapter of Acts we can read about Paul founding the church in Corinth.  Upon coming into town he befriended a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla.  From there over a period of eighteen months the church grew.  The head of the Jewish synagogue along with his entire family became believers.  Paul also shared the gospel with the gentiles of Corinth.  As Acts 18:8 records “many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.”  After what the bible describes as “some time” Paul left Corinth and journeyed for Ephesus.  Priscilla and Aquila joined him on this journey.  The couple must have stayed in Ephesus, because while in Ephesus they met Apollos.  Acts 18:26 records, “[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue.  When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home.”  From there Apollos then traveled to Corinth where he was effective, especially at showing how the Jewish scriptures point to Jesus.

Paul was the trailblazer.  He took the good news of Jesus Christ to where it had never been heard before.  That is why he write in this morning’s scripture that he planted.   Apollos had a different calling.  He did not establish new churches, but just like he did in Ephesus, Apollos went to Corinth to help build up the newly established church and help it flourish, which is why Paul wrote that Apollos watered.  For some people of the church in Corinth it was Paul who revealed to them the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and for others it was the teaching that Apollos did that revealed to them how much they needed forgiveness.  Because different people came to know the gospel best through a different teacher they picked sides, and treated the two missionaries as rivals.

This is a false dichotomy though, because Paul and Apollos never saw themselves as rivals.  In fact in the third chapter of Titus, Paul writes about sending Apollos to help Titus with the church on Crete.  The two clearly saw themselves on the same team.  This false rivalry is not the part that really bothers Paul though.   What bothers Paul the most is the fact the Corinthians are focusing on Paul and Apollos in the first place.  Paul points this out in verse 5 of this morning’s scripture: “What after all is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each is task.”  Both Paul and Apollos were pointing to Jesus, which is who the focus should be on.   The emphasis should be on the message and not the messenger.  Paul even goes a step further and points out while both he and Apollos carried out their assigned task, they really did not do anything.  Paul planted the seed of the gospel, Apollos watered it, but it is God who makes faith grow.  As Paul wrote in verse 7, “so neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.”

Healthy plants grow, and so does a healthy faith.  In both instances it is God who does the work of making things grow.  The people in the church of Corinth were not growing in their faith and trust of God because their faith was not healthy.  They had gotten too caught up on emphasizing the wrong person to focus on.   As we consider this scripture this morning, and how it might apply to us or challenge us I think this morning’s scripture provides us with two questions to wrestle with.  First, how do we focus on the wrong thing like the Corinthians and second do you have a healthy growing faith?

For the first question, it might be our initial reaction to think that we no longer have that kind of problem today.  For the most part churches today do not tear themselves apart because they are fighting over which pastor to follow.   However, as time has progressed the source of conflict in the Corinthian church that was addressed in this morning’s scripture has not gone away.  Rather it has just grown in scale.  Followers of Jesus no longer pick the side of an individual but we do draw deep divides over denominational lines.  Now do not get me wrong, there are some strongly held convictions I have that make the United Methodist Church the faith community where I fit the best.  There are very real reasons why I am a United Methodist as opposed to a Catholic or a Lutheran, but that does not mean I vilify or somehow view other expressions of following Jesus as less Christian.

Our primary allegiance should be to Jesus not to a denomination or a local church.   There are certainly places where we can feel most at home, places where we feel we best along, and places that we best align with but that does not mean we should quarrel with those who find their path someplace else.  We should not belittle, discount, or worse of all declare someone’s faith invalid just because they have found a place that fits in a different branch of the Christian tree.   This is the kind of infantile behavior that Paul calls out in this morning’s scripture.  After all, what is Methodist?  And what is Baptist? Or Presbyterian?  Or any of the other denominations we could name?  Only servants of the Lord who want to share what they believe.  We should celebrate the wins of any church, because if new disciples are being made and people are coming to know Jesus then we should rejoice regardless of the church that did the evangelizing.

The second question, do you have a healthy growing faith, is a question that likely only you can answer.   I also realize that it is not always the easiest question to answer, because honestly growth can sneak up on us.  For instance, I have about 1,000 pictures on my phone dating back to 2017.  When I look at a picture from three or four years ago I am amazed at how much my kids have grown in that short time.  It takes the contrast of seeing where they were and where they are now to truly realize how much growth has taken place.  It might require a little bit more creativity, but I think we can do something similar in our own lives.  We can pick a point in our lives from a few years ago and reflect on how we might have changed and grown.  We can ask ourselves simple questions like Am I more aware of God’s goodness and provision now than I was then?   Do I strive to treat people with more kindness, grace, or forgiveness now than I did then?   Do I love Jesus more now?

If you reflect on your own life, and have a hard time naming or articulating growth, then something is not working because faith like plants are designed to grow.  If a plant is not growing then, like the poor tomatoes I just about killed, it is because the plant is likely not getting the water or sun it needs.  People are much the same way.   Every year 500,000 people are hospitalized for dehydration.   They get sick because they do not drink enough water.  In the overwhelming majority of those cases, every single one of those people know how to drink water.   They do not need someone to show them how to do it.  They just need to do what they know how to do and drink more water.   In the same way, to grow our faith needs watered.   Chances are just like drinking water, we do not need to be taught how to grow our faith.   We know how to pray, we know how to read the bible, we know how to worship God, and we know how to serve other people.  We know what to do to help have a healthy faith.   Yes, it is God who makes faith grow, but we can help our faith along by making sure we give it the living water it needs.

In this morning’s scripture Paul tackles an issue that is holding back the believers of Corinth from growing in their faith.   It did not matter who taught them about the love of Jesus, what mattered is that they love Jesus.   They needed to stop bickering and get out of God’s way because God is the one who makes things grow.   Today we still get in God’s way of making things grow.  Sometimes this is caused by our attitude towards other believers, like the Corinthians we can forget we are all on the same team.  Other times it is because we do not provide the water that our souls need, and the water that hearts need so that God can make Christian love flourish.   So may we all be willing to grow.  May we all do what we already know we need to do to water our souls so that our faith by the grace of God can grow, and grow, and grow.

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