God Gives the Growth

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on February 16, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.


1 Corinthians 3:1-9

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.


This passage at first glance, seems to be a statement on how younger people are immature, right? It uses the term ‘infants in Christ’, to talk about how ‘not ready’ for solid food the people Paul is talking to are. Well, Paul doesn’t use the term infants to refer to age at all, rather spiritual maturity. The term ‘infant in Christ’ simply means a young believer, someone who is new to this whole God thing. Paul is talking about the ways these young believers are in need of nurturing in order to grow and change, not so that they belong any more to the body of Christ, but so they grow to understand the truth that God is the one who grows us. 

You see, Paul is here, writing to the people in Corinth, because he had heard some things. He heard that they were fighting, arguing about things that don’t matter, and refusing to have conversation with one another about things that did matter. Paul calls out the people in Corinth, letting them know that this difference that they find so bizarre, so life-ruining, it’s not really that much of a problem. 

To put this in terms we all might better understand, imagine the Corinthians were two kids. One of the kids is playing with a toy that the other wants, even though there’s a perfectly good basket full of toys right there. Or maybe you’re offering to buy the kids a carton of ice cream at the store, but they can’t agree on a flavor both of them want, ending in a tantrum and no ice cream whatsoever. The Corinthians are making a big deal out of the fact that they’re not the same. They all have different opinions, different preferences, different ways of seeing the world.

Paul goes on to remind us of Jesus’ parables, the stories Jesus used to let us know how we are to live. He recognizes the ways the Corinthians still had work to do, to be spiritually mature, and he also let them know that God is the one who is in charge of growing us, of helping nudge us along in our faith journeys. And God takes that job seriously, a nurturer to each and every one of us.

God shows us, through this week’s scripture, that God is in the business of nurturing us all. We might think this is something God only does to children, because they are young, but the truth is, each and every one of us needs to be held sometimes, told it will be okay, and reminded that we are loved. It is through this, that we together get to grow alongside one another in the body of Christ. 

  • How have you been held, nurtured, or encouraged this week by a young leader or an older leader? 
  • Where have you been inspired, as you look at the actions of faith being carried out by someone unlikely in your community?

God is in the business of nurturing, like a loving parent, someone who wants the best for their children, wants them to be strong and healthy, wants them to inspire others and dream big dreams for their future. 

God nurtures us like loving parents nurture kids, because of our great strength. It’s like we have this potential that God sees, even when we don’t. We get to thank God for the ways God uses our potential to empower us, to feed us, to help us to grow. 

Speaking personally, I have felt so empowered every week, both on Thursday and Sunday, as I spend time with your young leaders. For our jobs, myself and the other leaders get to plan activities and lessons that we hope teach our kids something about leadership, about being a good person, about caring for creation. And week after week, I leave being the one who learns new things. I leave being the one who feels empowered and inspired.

What a beautiful thing, that we can be poured into, just as much as we try to pour into others. 

The body of Christ is a metaphor we in the church use a lot to talk about community. You may have heard of the passage that talks about the hand needing the foot, and so on. Basically, this metaphor teaches us that we all need each other. We need to be nurtured through our relationship with God, all of us; young, old, in between. In the same way that the brain tells the different parts of the body how to act, and the same way that our organs need other systems of our body to help them function well, we need each other.

We need those who have been here for a while to remind us why we are here in the first place. We need an understanding of our history, of the passions that inspired something a long time ago. We need the wisdom that comes from years of rich experience.

And, we also need the newness of our younger generations. We need the energy and sense of urgency they bring to projects, and the insight of what the future could look like. We need their stories, the experiences that have enriched their lives. The good news, is that all of us have this in common: We need each other. 

And all of us need to be nurtured by God. 1 Corinthians tells us that God is the one who gives the growth, and we are the ones who can plant and water. We, as the body of Christ, get to build and create and vision what this garden of sorts, God’s building, will look like now, and in the next year, and in the next twenty years. And then we get to watch that growth happen, growth that comes out of our watering and planting, but more than that, it comes from God’s nurturing spirit. 

  • How are we listening to one another, being inspired by those who are also being nurtured by God?
  • How are we allowing ourselves and each other to speak to what God is doing in our lives, to how God is nurturing you?
  • How are we being honest, about where we need community, whether it be where we need help, where we seek support, where we need encouragement?

Friends, I want to encourage you, that God knows you are strong. And still, God is the one who gives the growth, through nurturing us, all of us, to be the body of Christ for the world. As you leave this place, may you believe in the collective body of Christ, this beloved community of people dedicated to doing good, to being kind, and to loving all people. And may you be empowered, like we are in the presence of our young leaders, to follow in their footsteps, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our nurturing creator. 

Let us pray: 

Loving God, we give you thanks for the ways you call us to be your children. We thank you for the love you provide to us, love that we in turn pour out onto those around us. Help us God, to remember that you nurture us always, feeding and teaching and empowering us to be the body of Christ in the world. In your gracious name we pray, Amen.

 

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