God Makes the Seeds Grow – May 17, 2020
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
It’s Spring! Praise the Lord! Warmer weather and beautiful skies.
That also means it’s time to plant…time to plant crops and time to plant flowers, trees, and shrubbery.
As we know, it takes a bit of faith to plant things…especially to plant seeds. If you plant plants…tomato plants, collard plants, or any other type…you can physically see how the plant looks. Is it wilting? Give it some water. Are there bugs on it? Time for some 7-Dust.
But when we plant seeds, they are out of sight. Are they taking root? We don’t know until they start to break the surface of the soil. It’s not until the seed begins to germinate that we are able to visibly see the seed growing.
Planting seeds is a term that is used by Christians as well as farmers and gardeners. But when we talk about planting seeds, we aren’t talking about beans or flowers. We are talking about planting the seeds in people that will hopefully, eventually, grow into faith in Christ Jesus. This analogy has been used for thousands of years by those who believe in Jesus.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he used the seed analogy to explain that what the church leaders taught was used by God.
He and Apollos had both been teachers in the Corinthian church.
As we know, Paul was a converted Jew who gave his life to Christ when Christ appeared to him on one of his persecuting journeys.
Apollos was also a converted Jew who was a native of Alexandria (Acts 18:24). Acts 18:24 tells us that he was “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures.” “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately” (v. 25). “This zeal and rhetorical proficiency impressed the Ephesians, who commended him to Corinth, where he exercised a similar influence over that community.”1
Paul and Apollos both had great impact on the Corinthian church which had led to some disagreements among the believers. 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 – just a few verses before our passage this morning – Paul writes “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?”
The quarreling and jealousy taking place in the church was centered around the idea of who was the best church leader – Paul or Apollos? Some of the church members had accepted Christ under the leadership of Paul causing them to think that Paul was the better of the two. Still others had accepted Christ under the leadership of Apollos causing them to think that he was better.
Paul was quick to point out to the Corinthians that neither of them was better than the other.
He says, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it.” (v. 5-6).
Paul tells the Corinthians that he and Apollos were simply servants…servants of the Lord and servants of the believers in Corinth.
Paul had been on the scene first and he had planted seeds within the church…planted seeds within the believers of Corinth. After he had moved on from Corinth, Apollos had come along and watered what Paul had planted. While they had served different roles, they were each completing the roles that God had given to them. “Paul describes himself and Apollos as…fellow workers who contributed their own labors ‘as the Lord assigned to each.’”2
He explained “the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (v. 8). They each had their own gifts that had been given to them by God. And when they used those gifts, God would reward them accordingly. Paul makes it clear in his letter that God had not only given the gifts, but he also had given the guidance to use those gifts.
Paul also tells the Corinthians that not only had the guidance come from God, but God was the one ultimately responsible for “making [the seeds] grow” (v. 6).
“Paul differentiates his and Apollos’s roles in such a way as to recognize and honor their differences, but what Paul and Apollos did is not so important as (a) that it was God working through their various efforts, and (b) that there was growth.”3
Paul had planted and Apollos had watered, but God was the Master Gardener making the seeds to grow.
Verse 7 reads, “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” Or in words that we have used in other messages, Paul was telling the Corinthians that he and Apollos were “nobodies.” They were a couple of nobodies trying to tell everybody in Corinth about the Somebody who had saved their souls. It wasn’t about them…it was about Christ.
Paul finished this portion of the letter by saying that the believers in Corinth were “God’s field, God’s building” (v. 9). The field in which Paul and Apollos were working belonged to the Lord. God was just letting them tend the crops for a little while.
The field was Corinth and the crops were the believers there. Paul and Apollos’s jobs had been to plant the seeds within the people of Corinth. God had led them both there at different times to complete their particular calls. Paul needed the Corinthians to understand that it was Christ who they were to give the credit and praise to.
If we apply this passage and lesson to our lives today, we are the Corinthians. Each of us have been led to Christ through interactions with others. Maybe it was our parents who brought us to church and helped introduce us to Christ. Maybe we had friends who demonstrated Christ to us in our daily lives which led us to wanting to know more about the Lord. These people were our Pauls and Apolloses.
At some point in your life, you had a Paul cross your path. There was a person who planted a seed in you. Sure, when you first thought of Christ or realized that God was real, it may have been in a private moment or in the midst of adversity. But before that moment, someone had told you about Christ or lived a Christlike life before you. That was your Paul.
Then after that, before you accepted Christ as your Savior, you encountered an Apollos or multiple Aplloses. These are the people who watered the seed that had been previously planted. That watering could have taken place in church or in your everyday life. Regardless of when or how, after the initial person planted the seed within you, someone else did the watering.
It was during the seed planting and watering that God made the seed grow within you. The Holy Spirit cultivated your heart and eventually the love of Christ was so overwhelming that it consumed you.
Your Paul planted. Your Apollos watered. And God made the seed grow.
What we need to remember from this letter to the Corinthians is that it doesn’t matter who does the planting or the watering, none of us are better than another. It’s not WHO brought us to Christ – it’s the one who does the growing that matters. It’s God that matters.
In addition to that, we are all called to be Pauls and Apolloses. In some people’s lives you will be their Paul. You will be the one who plants the seed about Christ within them. In some people’s lives you will be their Apollos. You will be the one that waters the seed that someone else planted.
Planting and watering both require the same things…paying attention to others, providing nurture to others, and encouraging one another. “Every believer should be both the recipient and donor of” these things.4 It’s part of our call to love Christ and love others.
But don’t get caught up in pride when you see the planting or watering that you had a hand in start to grow in someone else’s life.
It would have been easy for Paul or Apollos to take pride in the work they had done. Can you imagine how many people came to know Christ because of the sermons Paul gave or the churches he planted? We have no way of knowing that answer…some of us in this room could be the result of someone’s life he touched thousands of years ago and then from generation to generation that seed was passed on.
If anyone had the cause to be prideful over their work for the Lord, it would have been Paul. But Paul remained humble. That humility was demonstrated in verse 5: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe.” I am Paul – a servant of Christ. That’s how he viewed himself.
We have to remain humble as well. We are merely servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. We may plant and water seeds, but in every case, we will not be the one that makes the seeds grow. God makes the seeds grow.
While you shouldn’t become prideful, you also can’t beat yourself up if you don’t see the results of a seed you thought you planted or watered.
Just as we cannot tell if a bean or flower seed is taking root, we often cannot physically see the seed of Christ growing either.
Paul and Apollos couldn’t physically see the seeds growing in the lives of those in Corinth. Yet, they did not stop planting or watering. They didn’t look around at those they spoke to and say, “Well, this is going nowhere so I’m done telling these people about Christ.”
Paul and Apollos did their job to plant and water seeds, and then placed their trust in God to do the rest.
We may never know the impact we have had on people whose paths we cross. We may never see the seed we planted take root. We may never see the effects our watering the seed planted by someone else. But that doesn’t mean we stop planting and watering on Christ’s behalf.
We do our part…we plant, and we water…and then we are to place our trust in God to do the rest.
Paul planted the seeds. Apollos did the watering. We plant the seeds, or we do the watering.
God makes the seeds grow.
- The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, A-C, Volume 1. “Apollos.” 203.
- The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians. “I Corinthians.” 827.
- The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians. “1 Corinthians: Reflections.” 827.