Calvary Road Baptist Church


First Corinthians 3.3-9 

Our congregation is only two weeks away from our PayCheck Sunday, an annual offering we have been giving for I have no idea how long. But it is a regular and annual thing at our Church, the original design was to keep the 10% tithe instead of giving it to God and give God 90% instead of keeping it.

It was originally recommended to us by the late Dr. Jack Bier, our Church’s business manager in Audubon, New Jersey, and we’ve been doing it now for a long time. Of course, it is a free-will offering.

The first institution God brought into existence with the creation of Adam and Eve was marriage and the family unit, as a physical and in this lifetime reflection of the family of God. The difference is that family is family as long as the family members are alive. But the family of God is forever, as in eternal and never-ending.

God’s plan since Adam’s catastrophic betrayal in the Garden of Eden has been for sinners like you and me to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, make a public proclamation of our newfound life of faith in Christ via believer baptism, and live out our lives as members of a Gospel preaching and God-honoring congregation. The Gospel, of course, is the good news that God sent His Son to die for our sins, rise from the dead on the third day, ascend back to heaven 2,000 years ago, and come again to this wicked world someday soon to set things right once and for all. Until Jesus comes again, we live for Him, serve Him, and declare Him to the world as Church members, which is God’s plan for every believer in Christ.

Our serious issue is that after a sinner becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, I must still deal with my sin nature as a Christian. And so must every believer. This is best accomplished as a Church member, where there is access to the various means of grace unavailable to those not members, the ministers of the Gospel, Great Commission authority, Biblical discipleship, and so forth. That said, it occurred with the Corinthian congregation that members slacked off, focused their attention on themselves rather than serving God and exalting Christ, and were labeled by the Apostle Paul as carnal Christians. That pattern is characteristic of every congregation, so we must all be on guard.

We previously addressed the consequence of carnality associated with other believers in Christ, especially other Church members. This morning, we will address the consequence of carnality associated with our relationship with God, which is the second half of the message begun last week.

I invite you to stand as we read our text, First Corinthians 3.3-9: 

3  For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

4  For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

5  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

6  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

7  So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

8  Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

9  For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. 

Would the Apostle Paul describe you as carnal? Are you not spiritual? Your spiritual condition affects your other horizontal relationships, dealt with last week, as well as your vertical relationship, our concern today: 


God created us to commune with Him. But sin disrupts the communion and the communication we can enjoy with God. Again, with salvation, God gave grace to restore the communion and the communication made possible by our communion with God. But now, carnality, while it does nothing to interfere with an honest Christian’s communion with God, communion being our sharing of God’s divine nature with Him, it greatly affects our communication with God because the indwelling Spirit of God is grieved and quenched.[1]

The lines of communication between God and the carnal Christian are so disrupted from grieving and quenching the Spirit of God that the carnal believer usually misunderstands God’s spiritual leaders and the role they are to play in a unified Church body. Rather than seeing a pastor as a minister who is used by God to instruct, to train, and to help Christians grow, Ephesians 4.11-12, carnal believers often (might I say usually) imagine Gospel ministers to be little more than placeholders, to be a nosy character who tries to butt into people’s lives and act like petty dictators.

The reality, however, is that the under shepherd’s efforts to represent the Chief Shepherd faithfully are seen as interferences and intrusions into private little domains that ought not to exist and do not exist in the lives of spiritual Church members. Six things to notice in this regard:

Notice, first, in verse 4, an appraisal: 

“For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” 

Over time, the Corinthians developed factions in their Church, with each faction being loyal to a different guy, in their case a different outside preacher, though the outside preachers mentioned would never have advocated such factions. But it is not always an outside preacher. Where Pam and I were first Church members, the Sunday School administrator competed with the pastor to determine the direction and emphasis of the Church’s ministry, with her group set apart from the rest of the congregation. In another well-known Church, it was the long-serving music director whose choir was very much segregated from the rest of the Church.[2]

By Paul’s appraisal, such conduct proved them to be carnal, those influenced to form groups by leaders who should never knowingly desire such conduct. Say whatever you want to say, put on whatever face you want to put on, what you do shows whether you are spiritual or carnal. You must be carnal to form a clique, a subgroup, or an exclusive us-only gaggle in any Church.

Spiritual Christians, you see, believers who are not oblivious to the Spirit of God’s work through the preaching of God’s Word, would have realized the profoundest kind of unity underlying the ministries of such men as Paul, Peter, and Apollos. But the Corinthians did not recognize that bedrock unity at all. Why not? They were carnal, fleshly, unspiritual. This is typical of a member who sees himself as anything other than a Church member, a part of the body. No subdivisions within the body, only interactive members. Carnal Christians are more concerned about loyalty to pastors, loyalty to Churches, loyalty to ministries within Churches, or loyalty to traditions of men than loyalty to the person and the cause of Jesus Christ, or loyalty to the truths and principles of God’s Word.

How do I know? It’s the only thing that can explain the actions of some people. Look for any evidence of a distinct subgroup in the Church in Jerusalem besides the widows needing food. Yet that congregation numbered in the multiplied thousands. Were there distinctly functioning members? Of course. But they were a unified and interactive body, without identifiable cliques. The leadership undoubtedly organized those believers to accomplish the necessary things. Still, they did so without forming the subgroups Paul criticized in the Corinthian congregation. Such subgroup loyalties are misplaced, even when such loyalties are found in sound Churches.

Next, in verse 5, an acknowledgment: 

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” 

Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? Who am I, for that matter? Just ministers, just servants, if you will, by whom you believed. I am just the man under whose ministry God saw fit to save many of you. So, Paul is showing the Corinthians that the man of God, even himself, is essentially not much in and of himself. But he is a gift from the Lord Jesus Christ, according to Ephesians 4.11-12.

Who do you reject when you reject a gift? Be careful. When the children of Israel rejected the prophet Samuel’s leadership in their lives, in favor of a king, God told Samuel that they had not rejected Samuel, but had instead rejected God, First Samuel 8.7. You need to remember that the practical way in which a typical carnal believer rejects God’s rule over his life is to diminish or reject the ministry of the pastor in his or her life. There are many examples of this type of thing in the Bible. But this is often seen when the important decisions of life are made without any consideration of the spiritual implications involved, and without any corresponding consultation with the pastor to see what the spiritual implications of one’s decision might be.

I don’t force myself on people. It is entirely inappropriate for pastors to insist that Church members obtain a pastor’s permission before making important decisions. After all, we Baptists believe in soul liberty, the absolute right to be wrong. But one is naive to imagine that anyone’s significant decisions will have no long-term spiritual impact on them. After all, Proverbs 19.2 tells us, 

“Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; And he that hasteth with his feet sinneth.” 

It is irresponsible to make abrupt and uninformed decisions. Yet carnal Christians frequently make such ill-advised decisions, while lost people typically make such ill-advised decisions. These and other decisions most certainly do have long-term spiritual implications.

Most spiritual Church members use their pastor as one source of wisdom as they contemplate major life decisions. Not to tell them what to do, but to seek suggestions for consideration of Bible truths and principles in their acquisition of wisdom for making good decisions. Let me illustrate. I have only been using the Bible to provide decision-making counseling for people considering marriage for forty-five years. So, why would anyone, especially people from broken home environments with a distorted notion of marriage, consider seeking my marriage counsel? There are things about married life such people do not know from their parents, will not see practiced in our culture, and are pretty unlikely to discover on their own before it’s too late due to their lack of familiarity with the Bible. But, hey, it’s a free country.

In verse 6, the activity: 

“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” 

Here, using an agricultural metaphor and showing the parallel that exists between the Gospel ministry and farming, Paul observes that God uses ministry men. Denial of the fact that God uses ministry men to minister to the spiritual needs of His people stems from ignorance. Do you know someone who says or behaves as though, “I don’t need nobody telling me what God says. I got the Bible.”?

Such individuals are not wise. They act like what is at stake is unimportant. Am I wrong for thinking your life is important? I read from Second Timothy 3.16-17: 

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 

Paul told young Timothy that the Bible was given by the inspiration of God. But who is it given to? Or, should I say, who is it given for? Who does the phrase “man of God” refer to in this letter written to Timothy? To Timothy, and men like Timothy! And he was a pastor.

Look at what Timothy was supposed to do with the Old Testament God gave him (the New Testament not then being completed), and what other preachers are supposed to do with the Bible God gave so they might be perfect, throughly furnished for their work. Second Timothy 4.1-2: 

1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 

We are supposed to preach it. Preaching is the planting and watering activity to which Paul refers in First Corinthians 3.6.

Look. Wheat, rye and oats can grow in the wild. Grapes can grow in the wild. Sometimes sinners come to Christ without Gospel minister involvement. Such was my experience. But such crops typically thrive when properly tended to. Ministers, servants of God, and pastors, are needed to fulfill God’s plan for bringing you to maturity, even if you came to Christ without a Gospel minister’s ministry.

You identify yourself as a carnal believer, Christian if you fail to act upon this revealed truth properly. But notice, if you will, that even though the activity mentioned here is the preacher’s, the increase is God’s responsibility. God gives the increase. But what will we think if you do not grow spiritually and mature as you ought to? God cannot be blamed. And all things being equal, God’s man cannot be blamed. Something else is interfering with what is supposed to happen.

What might interfere with the normal growth cycle of this supernatural crop? Failure to grow correctly is a consequence of each Christian’s carnality. To put the matter bluntly, if you do not grow spiritually, it’s your own fault. If you are carnal, assuming a God-called and God-equipped man pastors you, the fault can only be your own. The burden is your own to bear, Galatians 6.5.

In verse 7, the admission: 

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” 

Paul was nothing. He knew that. So much for those who think you can’t serve God unless you think you are somebody. So much for those who think having high self-esteem is important to being a useful and productive Christian. If Paul was nothing, Job was nothing, and Isaiah was nothing,[3] then the same must be true of me and every other preacher who has ever lived. The same must be true of every Christian who has ever lived. I’m no big deal. Not really. And neither are you.

Is that bad? No. That’s good. You see, when something great happens in life or a ministry, the carnal Christian often forgets that God is the One Who is responsible. But the spiritual Christian who, by his dependence upon the Lord and his testimony that he is nothing, is constantly admitting by his walk and by his words that everything good that happens is God’s blessing. So, when you realize that God’s man is nothing, and when you realize that you are nothing, you are giving all the glory to God by the spiritual life that you live and the contribution to unity you are bringing to your Church.

In verse 8, the approval: 

“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” 

Here, Paul teaches that he and Apollos, the man who planted and the man who watered, were genuinely united, and that God, though not directly referred to, gives the increase and will reward each of His servants according to our prescribed labor. To paraphrase this verse: “Apollos and I are in complete agreement, and every one of you will get your own reward according to your own efforts and deeds within the boundaries of God’s plan.”

Paul directed his readers’ attention toward God as the One Whose approval must be sought. Paul and Apollos were in complete agreement on that point. Notice that he did so without actually mentioning God in this verse. But how could anyone dispute that it is not the approval of men that the spiritual Christian seeks, but the approval of God? Thus, we are to focus on our own planting and watering, our own laboring. Notice that such activity in Paul’s letter is within the context of Church membership. These are the activities of Church members Paul refers to. Even so, Christian Church members are sometimes distracted by the activities of others, and sometimes we respond improperly.

What ought you to do when someone is pursuing ministry differently or without your permission? Generally speaking, get out of the way, Numbers 11.26-29 and Mark 9.38-40: 

26 But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.

27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.

28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.

29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! 

38 And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

40 For he that is not against us is on our part. 

It is interesting that both Joshua in Moses’ day and the Apostle John took issue with others serving God differently than they did. But they were both wrong. Some who serve God learn what to do and then properly do. Others who serve God begin to do so and then learn to do.

Notice, finally, in verse 9, the admonition: 

“For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” 

Carnal Christians would find life so much simpler if they remembered something spiritual Christians much more readily remember: that our Church is God’s. Whether compared to a crop or a building, the important issue is that we belong to God. And to this group, this husbandry, this building, this congregation, this Church belongs to God, God has sent His men in to work, to labor. That’s what Paul points out when he writes, “For we are laborers together with God.”

He was referring to himself and Peter and Apollos. He was not referring to the Church members as laborers at that point but was contrasting God-called men, who are the laborers, with Church members, upon whom their under-shepherd labor was exerted. Gospel ministry oversight isn’t the type of activity that any man should ever take upon himself. God deliver us from preachers who have not been called and equipped by God. And God protect us from carnal Christians who minimize the importance of the call of God on a man’s life and suppose there is not a real and profound difference between a God-called preacher and a not-God-called member.

When you consider it all, spiritually immature or unspiritual believers understand very little of these distinctions and differences between a Church member and a God-called preacher, an under shepherd. And their spiritual dullness and insensitivity are the cause of it all.

This huge problem, this breakdown of effective communication with God, this misunderstanding of the means that God uses to work in preachers, quite obviously affects their ability to communicate with and live with, others effectively. Thus, unity is disrupted. 

We’ve looked at only two consequences of carnality these last two Sunday mornings. But they are consequences that directly relate to Paul’s concern for Church unity.

First, there are the consequences carnality causes with the creature. Then there are consequences carnality causes with the Creator. Horizontal consequences with people and vertical consequences with God.

Isn’t it bad enough that carnal behavior disrupts one’s ability to get along with other Church members? Envying, strife, and divisions make getting along well with those around you impossible. But, of course, in the mind of the carnal personal, it’s always the other person’s fault, not oneself.

But the worst of it has to do with God when you are carnal when you are fleshly instead of spiritual. For one thing, your relationship with God directly affects your relationship with God’s man. Your relationship with God affects your relationship with your pastor, which, for most of you, is me.

If you are carnal, one of two things will happen: Either you will set me up as an idol, making more of me than you ought to, being blind to the fact that even the best pastor has feet of clay, or you will effectively reject me as Christ’s gift to this Church, failing to recognize that I have a God-ordained role in your Christian life that no one else has. And whichever way your spiritual insensitivity takes you, you lose.

God will not allow a carnal Christian to set a pastor up as an idol since He is a jealous God Who will not share His glory with another. You endanger me if you idolize me. On the other hand, if you don’t correctly receive me as a gift given by Christ, then you are rejecting what Christ has given your congregation.

These errors, brought on by carnality and poor communication with God, not receiving from Him through your pastor’s ministry, either by not attending Church faithfully, or by not being an attentive and obedient hearer of God’s Word preached, harms Church unity.

Let’s see some implications. Because a carnal Christian has problems with the other Church members, there will be some you won’t get along with properly. And the brutal fact that you have a problem with God will cause you to resist my ministry in your life, or to inflate my importance that you are more concerned about your relationship with me than your relationship with God.

If you are either way, you are no good to those around you, and you won’t let me function in your life as I ought to. In this way, you cut off a significant means of grace God has established to minister to your spiritual needs. If only the carnal Christian would humble himself before God and both be a blessing to others and allow others to be a blessing to him.

Friend, are you carnal? Are these consequences, first with other people, and then with God as seen by your relationship with God’s man, found in your life? If they are, why don’t you deal with the problem now? Let’s be careful to watch these things. When things start going sour with others, envying, strife, divisions, or when things begin to go sour with me, possibly indicating a problem with God, humble yourself before the Lord. Ask God what the problem is ... really.

Or if you tend to concern yourself with pleasing me instead of God, being more concerned about my reaction to your sin than God’s reaction, more fearful of my rebuke than God’s, then there is a problem. You and God need to have a meet.

Address the problem so our Church can continue to have unity. Why not address the problem now? Deal with this problem that Paul calls carnality.

I’ll bet that some of you, carnal though you believe yourself to be, aren’t carnal at all. You’re not a backslidden Christian in any sense. You’re just lost.


[1] Ephesians 4.30; 1 Thessalonians 5.19

[2] The late Earl Smith was the music director who gave successive pastors well-known headaches at High Street Baptist Church, in Springfield, Missouri.

[3] Isaiah 6.5

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