Commentary on 1 Cor 3:1-9
Paul continues his thoughts on the nature of the truly spiritual person.
With regret he cannot call the Corinthian Christians spiritual people. They are still sensual, governed by their bodily desires and still “infants in Christ”. They are still “of the flesh”, like worldly people rather people of God. They are living by purely human standards. And so, up to this time, he has treated them like infants, giving them milk rather than solid food.
They are not ready yet to hear the Gospel in its fullness because they are still so un-spiritual.
On what does he base this evaluation? It is clear from “all the jealousy and wranglings” that divide them so badly and which make them in no way different from their non-Christian neighbours. They are divided into factions, one rooting for Paul and another for Apollos.
To Paul this makes no sense at all. Paul and Apollos were merely the agents by which the faith message was brought to them. And the different ways in which they did that was based, not on a preferred style of operating, but on the different roles that they had been given by the Lord. Their different roles could not be compared with each other.
As Paul puts it, his role was to do the planting while Apollos did the watering. In other words, it was Paul’s role to found, to set up from scratch the Christian community in Corinth, starting something which had never existed before. Apollos, on the other hand, was working in a church already begun and building on the foundation that had been laid by Paul. But the actual growth of the community is the work of God alone and of no one else. Without God, the sower and the waterer are nothing.
So it does not matter who plants or who waters. Each one will be rewarded according as he is doing the task assigned to him. Paul sums up by saying that he and Apollos are fellow-workers with God. They are partners, each one contributing something special, to the whole work.
The people, for their part, are God’s farm, the soil in which he works and all growth is attributable to him alone. And they are God’s building, the place where he takes up his abode; he lives in them. That is what makes them ‘holy’ (hagioi, ‘), a people set apart from those around them. Later in the letter Paul will speak of the Christian community as a ‘temple’, the place where the Lord is to be found in a real way.
And so they belong to God and not to Paul or Apollos. They are God’s people and not Paul’s or Apollos’. So, for people to say they belong to Paul or to Apollos makes no sense.
It is certainly not for us to point an accusing finger at the Christians of Corinth for we see the same kind of factionalism at many levels dividing Christians today, both inter-denominational and intra-denominational.
The divisions among the Christian churches, which are often expressed in the most regrettable and un-Christian forms, must be a matter of shame for all of us, especially when we read Jesus’ prayer for unity in John’s gospel (chap. 17), not to mention a source of scandal and confusion among non-Christians.
There are also divisions in our own Catholic Church at many levels from high up to low down. We should especially take cognisance of divisions in the communities to which we personally belong – our parishes, organisations and groups within parishes, our families…
Instead, we should be making sure that we do not say or do anything which contributes to such divisions and, where we can do so, let us try to be agents of healing and reconciliation. “By this will all know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another” (John 14:35).