The Bigger Picture

June 4, 2019  ●  19-29

1 Cor. 3:6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

1 Cor. 3:9: For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

How many muscles does it take to pick up a glass of water? Quite a lot. According to one biology teacher you have muscles in the hand that are gripping muscles, muscles in the arm that are pulling and lifting muscles, and muscles in the shoulder and chest that are pulling and lifting muscles as well. All those different kinds of muscles are all involved in the simple task of picking up a glass of water. That’s how God has designed the human body, many different parts performing many different individual tasks to complete one overall task, such as simply picking up a glass of water.

The church functions in the same way as the human body in many respects: the church is made up of many members as the human body is made up of many different parts.

The church can perform many different ministries because of the contributions of its many members just as the human body is able to perform many different tasks because of the functions of its many parts.

The church is part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda much as the human body is part of a much bigger picture called life. When it comes to the church, the part I play and the part you play are equally important because God has placed us here for His purposes.

The church in the Greek city of Corinth had what we would call, “issues”. The book of 1 Corinthians is a letter that Paul wrote the church to address some of those issues. We know of these issues by how Paul addressed them in this letter: divisions in the church, immorality, improper relations between men and women, sacrificing to idols, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, the gospel, and collecting money for missions. In the first nine verses of chapter 3, Paul gives us a great picture of what it means to be part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda. Every member of every Christian church is involved in the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda.

I. God expects us to grow as part
Go back for a minute and notice 1.10:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The church at Corinth was not a unified church, they had allowed divisions to separate them in the church. Notice what Paul wrote in v. 10: “that you all agree”. Now we don’t know how many people were in the church at Corinth but think about it. Let’s say there were 20 people in the church. How hard is it to get 20 people to all agree about something? On some issues probably not too hard, on other issues probably difficult. The problem at the church in Corinth is they were identifying with  certain people, possibly the teachings of certain people. Some were identifying with Peter, some with an apostle named Apollos, others with Paul, some were even trying to take the high road and identify with Christ as if they were the more spiritual ones. Look 1:14:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.

Paul was tired of their divisions, he wanted them to be unified. That’s why in 3.1-3 he is giving them a hard time because they had not progressed in their faith, they were not moving to spiritual maturity. Notice v. 3: there was jealousy and strife among them. Paul was trying to get them to understand that as they grew in their relationship with Jesus Christ, issues such as jealousy and strife should be dealt with and not become an issue, but apparently, they were. Paul called them infants in Christ because they had not progressed in their faith. The writer of Hebrews gives us this same picture of believers that had not progressed in their faith when they should have progressed further:

Hebrews 5:12: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Being part of God’s bigger picture means God has so designed us to grow, not to stay the way we are. So how do we grow? Through studying His Word, applying His Word, through prayer, worship, and service. God has given us everything we need to grow as mature believers in Jesus Christ because He has work for us to do. That work is part of His bigger picture.

II. God uses us as part of the bigger picture (vv. 4-6)

I want you to notice one very important word in v. 5: SERVANTS. Based on studies by scholars, this word is where we get our word DEACON from. Scholars write this word can also mean a person who renders helpful service, a minister in the church, or a waiter. You get the picture; a servant is someone who – serves. And notice how Paul described their service in v. 6:

I planted, Apollos watered.

All of us have a ministry to fulfill. The point is not what we are producing because we have not been called to produce results. Our call is to be obedient to what God has called us to do – and that is serve. God has called us to serve through prayer, through the gifts He has blessed us with, through sharing the gospel. We plant, we water, but it is God who blesses with results. What we do is not half as important as the fact that we are serving. And notice the very important statement of Paul at the end of v 6:

BUT GOD WAS CAUSING THE GROWTH.

That’s right – God causes growth. I can’t cause the growth and you can’t cause the growth. There are literally thousands of books on the market about how to, “grow your church”. But I want to remind you of a very important statement Jesus made in the Gospel of Matthew:

Matt. 16:18: I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Two important statements by Jesus in this one verse:
1, He said it was HIS church, not mine or yours;
2. He said HE would grow it, not Lifeway, not the Southern Baptist Convention, not the latest and greatest church growth fad.

So, if the church belongs to the Lord and if He is the one responsible for building it, then what are we supposed to do?

1 COR. 12:18: But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

You are here for God’s purposes, not yours. Think about a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces all on a table. As you work to put those pieces together, each piece forms a part of the finished puzzle. Each piece is shaped differently and has a part of the whole picture on it. This is the church. Regardless of whether you are a deacon, Sunday School teacher, VBS worker, or handing out bulletins or taking up the offering, you are part of God’s bigger picture. And it all counts.

Praying for someone for 30 days to trust Christ is part of God’s plan; teaching Sunday School is part of God’s plan; serving as a deacon is part of God’s plan; serving in VBS or TEAM KIDS is part of God’s plan. Don’t think that what you are doing for the Lord is not having any effect because it is. You don’t know how God is working and I don’t know how God is working. Just remember this:

PS. 121:3-4: He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

God is always at work, so while you may not always be able to trace His hand, you can always trust His heart.

III. God rewards us for our part in the bigger picture (vv. 7-8)
v. 7
Notice what Paul said about serving the Lord:
The part he played was no more important than the part Apollos played, and the part Apollos played was not less important than Paul’s part. Think about this for a minute: Paul was called to be a missionary and church planter. Paul planted churches throughout southwestern Turkey and in Greece. Paul discipled, Paul pastored, Paul proclaimed the gospel everywhere he went. But in Paul’s own words, what he did was no more important that what someone else was doing. Even towards the end of ministry as church planter and missionary, listen to how Paul viewed his life:

ACTS 20:24: But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul knew that what he did was no more important than what others were doing.
v. 8
HIS OWN REWARD: what is that reward? That’s God’s business, but I can tell you what some of those rewards are if you are serving the Lord:
1, Your faith has been increased;
2. You have been obedient to serve through the gift(s) God has blessed you with;
3. You may have had the opportunity to share the gospel;
4. You have been actively involved in the mission of your church;
5. You have proven the importance of a church united behind a common cause.

You and I are part of the bigger picture. That picture includes growing in our walk with the Lord, being servants of the Lord, and the privilege of God involving us in the bigger picture.

IV. God has designed us to be part of the bigger picture (v. 9)
Notice what scholars have written about the language Paul uses in this one verse to help us understand our part in the bigger picture:

FELLOW: someone who labors with another; a helper; or to work together. This word is where we get our English word ‘synergy’ from, which means to work together.

FIELD: literally it means cultivated land. What is the difference between pasture and cultivated land? Cultivated land is something you care for in terms of planting. A crop is planted in cultivated land, the farmer waters it and plants it and tends it so that it will produce a crop, so that it will produce something. The same is true of us. It is God who prepares us and cultivates us so that through the power of the Holy Spirit we will bear spiritual fruit for His glory.

The pasture is simply meant for grazing of livestock. The pasture serves a purpose just like the cultivated field serves a purpose. But here Paul likens us to the cultivated field that God is tending and watering and caring for so that fruit will be produced.

BUILDING: something made by God; something that is built up, with the emphasis on the building.

1 PET. 2:4-5: and coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stone, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

It is God who has put us together, filled us with His Spirit, works within us to produce spiritual fruit, and it is through us that God works for His glory. There are only two types of people who come to worship on Sundays:

1. Those who are part of what God is doing;
2. Those whom God wants to be part of what He is doing.

I am a part; you are a part; we are all part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

I want to encourage you to allow God’s Word to equip you in understanding your part in the importance of serving God for His glory; Romans 12:4-8 / 1 Cor. 12:1-30 and Eph. 4:11-16 are great places to start.