Why does following mere men lead to jealousy and quarreling?
When you look to man, everything becomes relative and comparative. Relative in the sense that there is no universal standard by which we can judge one another. Comparative in the sense that we are constantly comparing with one another to see how we measure up. When man becomes our focus, it’s inevitable that everything becomes relative and comparative.
It’s because no two people are identical. We all differ in terms of our family backgrounds, our talents, our intelligence, our appearance. Some are just smarter from birth. Some of us grew up in privileged homes. Some possess natural leadership abilities. So when you look at a person, you immediately size them up and don’t we subconsciously put people into 1 of 2 categories? Either they are superior to you or they are inferior to you. You may not even realize that you do this. It’s a quick mental calculation. If they are superior to you, you adore them, you respect them, you are friendly toward them, you listen to them. If they are inferior, you despise them, or normally, you simply ignore them altogether.
The world programs us to think this way. It’s because the world’s system rewards those who excel. People with more potential are rewarded with better salaries. Those with contacts in high places are offered better positions. And those who can network better than others go further in their careers. The world rewards its high achievers with money, fame, power.
And for those of us who are not in those positions of privilege and power, we end up either choosing sides, or in some cases, choosing a person to follow. You are either Republican or Democrat. You have either an Android phone or an iPhone. I follow Larry Page of Google, I love Google+ or I follow Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook. And we end up gathering together with people of similar interests around some cause, like the cause of ME, and my reputation and my stature in the virtual world of social media. Or we gather around some powerful individual that we respect and admire.
We like to identify with those in the inner circle. And that inner circle can mean, those in the know, those with power and influence.
In the kingdom of the world, the guy with the most power rules. The dictator with the largest army rules with an iron fist. The executive with the most innovative ideas, the leader with the most charisma, these are the rulers. And everyone else is a follower. This is how the world operates.
What happens when you bring this kind of mentality into the church? Looking at people instead of Jesus, we compare, we have our jealousies. In the Corinthian context, human leadership and human personality took precedence over Jesus Christ. It happens all the time. Not just Corinth, but everywhere. The human leader takes center stage and Jesus gets pushed to the sidelines. And inevitably, this shift away from God and toward human leaders results in jealousy and quarreling because our focus is on one another instead of Christ, who is the Chief Shepherd and the head of the church.
How did the Corinthians get this way?
v2 – I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
I think I have heard some misinterpretations regarding this verse. This verse sounds like Paul wanted to give them advanced teachings, but he couldn’t because they weren’t ready for it. It’s like a Tae Kwon Do master saying, I wanted to teach you the triple spinning back kick but all I could teach you was stretching because you are only a white belt and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Is that what Paul is saying? I don’t think so.
If you don’t read this verse in the context of the entire letter, then you miss the irony that Paul is employing here. You can’t miss the irony. Remember, Paul is speaking to people who thought they were so wise and so his use of rhetoric was supposed to be received as a kind of verbal slap in the face.
When Paul says, I gave you milk, what is he referring to? What did he give them while he was with them?
Let’s recall what he said in 1 Cor 2:2.
1 Cor 2:2 — For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
So what is the milk that Paul is referring to? It’s Jesus and him crucified. It’s the cross. The gospel. Paul resolved to know nothing else while he was with them. That’s the only thing that Paul taught while he was with them. Why? Did he run out of time? Was he planning on going back there a year later so that he could lead a seminar for the leaders on advanced ministry topics? No, if that were the case, Paul would not have said, I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified.
So why does he say, v2 – I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
Paul had given the Corinthians — Jesus and him crucified — but the Corinthians thought that the gospel was mere milk, baby stuff. After Paul left, leaders like Apollos took the helm and started teaching new things. They were all learning on their own, and so in their minds, the Corinthians thought that they had graduated from Paul’s kindergarten Christianity and they had moved beyond the GOSPEL into the real, solid food of Christian faith.
What they failed to recognize was that the cross is not only milk, it’s not simply for baby Christians, but it is the main entree. Do you see Paul’s sarcasm in v2 – I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
The last part of the verse must have really stung. Here are the Corinthians. They have eloquent speakers, they have all the spiritual gifts at their disposal. In their minds, they are mature, they are ready for some solid food, some advanced teachings. And what does Paul say? The fact that you failed to recognize Jesus as being the main course, that He is all you need, this fact alone exposes your lack of understanding regarding Christian life. He is saying, you guys missed it. You blew it. It’s back to square one. You guys have no idea what Christian life is all about. You think you do, but you are still not ready.
So, starting in v5, Paul goes right after them and explains why he believes they are spiritually immature as evidenced by their jealousy and their quarreling.
He points to the root cause of all of this. Listen to these verses very carefully.
5 What, after all, is Apollos? [And Paul doesn’t stop at the Corinthian leaders, he even throws himself in the mix.] And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.
Basically, Paul is saying, you guys are foolish for placing human leaders on a pedestal. After all, what is Apollos, what is Paul even? Only servants.
Let that sink in a bit. Only servants. Paul is not saying that we can dismiss human leaders altogether. They are important because it was through these very servants that the Corinthians came to believe. But Paul puts a cap, a limit on our human tendency to place ourselves or other more capable and talented leaders on center stage.
Paul doesn’t discount the importance of these servants, but he does put their service in proper perspective.
I have a few observations here. First, we read in the latter half of v5 that the Lord has assigned to each his task. So our service is something that the Lord himself assigns to us. Paul is going to pick up this theme later on in the context of spiritual gifts, but suffice it to say that our role at every stage of our Christian lives, especially as it pertains to the church, is something that the Lord assigns to each person. If you don’t have a sense of what that role might be for you right now, pray to God. Ask Him to show you what role he has assigned to you. Don’t waste your life just living from day to day. Or for you students, don’t live in a perpetual state of transition. Commit wholeheartedly to the people he brings into your life even if it’s only for a few short years. And for all of us, I invite you to ask God to reveal his plan for your life so that you can live with a sense of purpose and intentionality.
Paul was assigned the task BY God to plant the gospel seed at Corinth and Apollos was assigned BY God to water the seed at Corinth, but who did what is not the point of this passage. Who got the more glorious role between Paul and Apollos is not the point. The point is God. God is the one who assigns our roles. God is the one who makes the seed grow. He is the one who saves people. Some may be assigned the task of planting seeds, the evangelists, and others may be assigned the task of watering the seeds, the teachers and disciplers, but unless God works, life will not spring forth from that seed no matter how hard we try. That’s the point.
Paul underscores this point in v7 —
7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
Neither the planter nor the one who waters is anything. Compared to God, we are nothing. God is everything. You have to let this point sink in, especially for those involved in leadership at any level.
The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God are completely incompatible. Yet there is always a great danger that we take the principles that we learned while being part of the kingdom of this world and we apply it to spiritual life and the kingdom of God.
This is exactly what happens in Matthew 20. In Matt 20, the context is a mother making a request to Jesus on behalf of her sons of Zebedee. She asks Jesus to give her sons a place of power and position in Jesus’ coming kingdom. And to that request, Jesus answers in v25-28 —
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20)
The mother of the sons of Zebedee is speaking from the worldly kingdom where it’s about your position, about who you know so that you can secure for yourself or for a loved one a privileged spot under a powerful king. Her request is totally understandable. It’s all she knows. What parent wouldn’t want their kid to be in a very comfortable and secure position under a person as powerful as Jesus? And Jesus’ response to this mother is very telling, for it reveals what Jesus thinks about our worldly systems.
Jesus describes the kingdom of the world as a system where the rulers lord it over their subjects, it’s where high officials exercise an oppressive authority and leaders dominate their followers. It’s where a privileged few enjoy a life of luxury while the vast majority suffer, it’s a system where decisions are made top-down in the best interests of those making the decisions, not necessarily the good of the group. This is the kingdom of the world.
Then starting in Matt 20:26, Jesus begins to describe an entirely new kind of kingdom. Compared with the kingdoms that we are used to, Jesus describes the kingdom of God in a totally new way. And we quickly realize that Jesus describes His kingdom as a completely upside-down kingdom from the one we’ve been brought up in.
In this upside-down kingdom, greatness is defined by the one who serves. Jesus is not issuing to us a double standard. It’s not like Jesus exercised a dominant, oppressive, authoritative style of ministry and then he turned around and told us to be humble and serve. Jesus didn’t say, since I am king, I am not here to serve, but I want everyone else to bow down and serve me. No, Jesus can tell us to serve because he himself did not come to be served, but to serve. Then, he takes it a step further. More than just serving us, Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.
A ransom is paid when someone is being held hostage and upon receiving monetary compensation, the hostage is released by his captives. And Jesus uses the word “ransom” as a metaphor to explain our release from the slavery of sin. We were prisoners of sin. We could not save ourselves, but Jesus paid for our lives, he redeemed our lives. The cost was Jesus’ life. He gave his life as a ransom, meaning his life was the payment so that we can be freed from our sins.