There are times Christians fail to see the world as God would have them to see it. We are creatures of the world, after all, and its ways have crept into us. It is natural for us to act as the world acts and to see things as the world sees things.
And when good or bad things happen, we tend to look – as the world does – for the reason those good or bad things happen. First, we look for natural causes. Maybe the environment was just right for that good thing or that bad thing to happen. Or maybe some person was standing by to effect something positive or negative in that situation.
There is wonderment at the moment about the Grizzly Creek fire and how it started. It began next to the highway. Was it a cigarette butt cast out the window? Was it some piece of metal creating sparks on the pavement? The fire, we are certain, did not spontaneously generate itself.
And so this is how the Christian thinks as well. We look for natural causes, and we appreciate it when we find them.
But the gospel is different, Paul would remind us.
I once was at a Christian youth conference and overheard two youth workers talking about the growth of a church nearby. The church apparently had a new pastor. One youth worker asked the other, “Are people coming because of his preaching?”
I never heard the answer, but I remember the question. It has stuck with me for years. We should be happy whenever we find good preaching. In churches, good preaching can draw crowds – and that is a good thing. Good preaching can set the gospel free in a person’s life.
But when there is good preaching, the preacher tends to develop fans. And fandom, within the kingdom of God, is not a good thing. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”
This is how the world thinks about things. The church is founded and grows. Something must have caused it, and that cause must be a natural one. Some person made this happen. And it is natural for us to recognize that person.
Paul asked the believers in Corinth who were saying these “merely human” things – “What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” Notice he didn’t ask “who” these fellows were. He wasn’t interested in their biographies or their talents or their personalities. Personhood wasn’t overly important in his question. No, Paul wanted to know “what” these men were.
Well, they were servants of God – servants who had jobs to do. Paul and Apollos were men who simply did the work God assigned to them – planting and watering – and then they stood back because it was God who produced the good thing that was happening. It is “only God who gives the growth.”
God creates the servants. And he creates them out of any old lump of clay he desires. God gifts them. God assigns them tasks. And God brings their work to fruition. God gives the growth.
Paul went on to write about what it is God was in the process of creating through the work of his servants. This was nothing less than the temple of God – the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
It is a sweet reminder about what we are as a collection of believers in Jesus Christ. We are, first and foremost, a group of people who are holy. The church is the new dwelling place of God’s presence on earth. It no longer is a tabernacle carried along by the Jewish nation as it wandered in the desert, and it’s no longer a temple on a hill in Jerusalem.
No, the temple of God is a people – the church – and it is a holy and precious thing to God.
All of this is too much for a man or woman to create on his or her own. It was too much for Paul or Apollos or Peter or whoever. There is no purely natural cause for such a thing. And try as we might to find that natural cause – a chain dragging along behind a car on the highway or a gifted speaker drawing in the crowds – we will not find it as it relates to the church.
And so Paul was trying to get those church members in Corinth to stop looking at the church in the way the world would look at the church – and to start looking at it the way God would have them look at it. We should no longer be acting in the way the world acts or looking at things the way the world looks at them.
“For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours …”
If any good thing has come to us in the faith from a gifted preacher, or from a Christian friend, or from a faithful parent or grandparent – we must recognize this good thing is a gift from God to an undeserving sinner. God had given the Corinthian church – a really strange and rebellious church – a great gift in the form of servants willing to share the gospel. God gave the church Paul and Apollos and Cephas.
These men, these servants – “what” they are – are gifts. They belonged to the Corinthians. They belong to us. We don’t boast about them. We simply receive them as gifts – and thank God. “All are yours.”
And if they are ours, if we have received and accepted these gifts, we recognize the gifts bind us to the Giver. We belong to Another. We belong to Christ. “All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
There are no so-called natural causes here. This life we live as Christians operates in the realm of divine gift. We receive daily the nourishment of God, which he sends to us in all sorts of ways, and we recognize what we’ve come to be – “in Christ.”