How would you fill in the blank in this statement: “The assembly is like a _________”? Some have filled in the blank saying that the assembly is like a restaurant where you can find spiritual food, like a hospital where you can find spiritual healing, or even like a gym where you can find spiritual fitness. It has been humorously pointed out that the assembly is like a swimming pool because most of the noise comes from the shallow end. Thankfully, we don’t have to fill in the blank because God does. There are about eight or nine metaphors used in the New Testament to describe an assembly. In examining these metaphors over the next several months, we will hopefully get an accurate picture of what God intends a New Testament assembly to look like and how it should function.
We begin in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, where we learn that the assembly is like a field. The Corinthian assembly was not Paul’s field, nor was it Apollos’ field. Paul tells them, “You are God’s field” (v9, ESV).
The Greek word for “field” is georgion, and suggests a field under cultivation (F. Godet). The soil has been worked and is ready to receive what is planted or sown. God was at work in the lives of the Corinthians before Paul and Apollos did anything. This reality helps explain why there is an enthusiastic reception to the gospel in some fields of labor. Thankfully, there are places where God has worked long before laborers arrived with the gospel message.
Faithful Farm Hands
Although the assembly was “God’s field,” both Paul and Apollos were described as “God’s fellow workers” (v9) in that field. Paul said that he “planted” and Apollos “watered” (v6). It is not so important to try to distinguish these two activities, but rather to stress that both are necessary, and that planting precedes watering. Paul was there before Apollos. Thus, Apollos is described as the one watering, but they both faithfully did the same thing in Corinth. Acts 18:4-5 shows that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. Paul was occupied with the Word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (ESV). Acts 18:28 notes that Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” It is clear that both Paul and Apollos preached Christ from the Word of God. Their actions in Corinth remind us of the necessity of preaching the Word of God as we go into new fields of labor. There may be activities we adopt to reach people, but we must be faithful to sow the Word of God to see anything done in His field.
Additionally, Paul wants to show that there was never a sense of rivalry between him and Apollos. The Corinthians were filled with strife and jealousy, saying to one another, “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos” (v4). Paul attempts to correct this attitude by writing, “He who plants and he who waters are one” (v8). There must be cooperation among the laboring farm hands or there will be no crop produced.
Paul summarizes the entirety of their gospel efforts in verse 6 as follows: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (ESV). Only God can generate growth and produce fruit. What was that fruit? The Corinthians themselves were the crop. In Acts 18:8 we read that “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” God blessed the preaching of His Word alone. Neither Paul nor Apollos used any new strategies to “aid” God’s work. They simply preached the gospel and God gave the increase.
For quite a few generations now, men and women have invented methods that allegedly aid God’s work in reaching souls. People listening to the gospel in large audiences are invited to raise their hands to acknowledge their need, come to the front to make a public confession of Christ, repeat specific prayers, confirm their commitments by signing and dating on the dotted line, etc. I fear much of this activity is designed to demonstrate God’s “blessing” on certain ministries. While it is certainly possible for people to receive salvation when engaged in these activities, I often wonder how many people leave services empty, confused, and possibly even deceived into thinking they are now on their way to heaven. Every person who does receive salvation does so by trusting the work of Christ as revealed in God’s Word. Salvation is not found in confessions, commitments, or confirmations. Salvation is found alone in our Lord Jesus Christ Who died for our sins (1Cor 15:3) and was raised again for our justification (Rom 4:25). Every saved soul is a work of God. Gospel farm hands can only preach to, pray for, and point sinners lovingly to the Savior. God alone can “give the increase” and save their souls.
God blessed the efforts of Paul and Apollos in Corinth at the very beginning. But what about as Paul was writing to them quite a few years later? Interestingly, he does not say, “You WERE God’s field,” but, “You ARE God’s field.” The assembly, then, should not only be a place where labor, growth, and fruit were witnessed initially, but a place where these same things are still happening. Perhaps the fruit will not be as abundant; but if God’s Word is being preached and labor for souls is being expended, we can be confident that the God who blessed gospel efforts from the beginning will be faithful to “give the increase” still today.
God fills in the first blank for us in this study. The assembly, figuratively speaking, is “God’s field.” Let us determine to work together in His field, for “each will receive his wages according to his labor” (v8).