“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7, AV)
Many years ago, I knew of a man who served as an associate pastor in a relatively large church. He took the role of interim pastor when the lead pastor resigned. After a year, the church called a new pastor to the church. For a while, things were fine. However, later the church began experiencing financial struggles and the board decided to reduce the associate’s salary.
A believer who was not attending that church heard of what happened and sought to supplement the associate’s salary. This he did, anonymously, by sending a check to the church, designating it as a gift for the associate. The person giving the money was to be unknown to the recipient, an unknown benefactor. The church was merely a vessel to convey the gift. This is a true record of a messenger and a benefactor.
One of the more popular stories of a benefactor is in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” In the story, a man named Pip was training to be a blacksmith, a respectable career for the working-class. Four years into his apprenticeship, a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers informs Pip that an unknown benefactor is giving him money so that he can move from this working-class position to become a gentleman, part of the upper class. The lawyer was merely the messenger of blessing. It was the benefactor that truly blessed the recipient.
Paul in these verses is combating the idea that the messenger of the word of God should be exalted. In the previous verse (v4), Paul indicated that some factions in the church were saying that they followed certain teachers. In other words, they were elevating these men. Paul’s point is that the men who preach the gospel and teach God’s word are merely messengers. They are not God who saves and produces spiritual growth in the believer.
In my time as a Christian, I have seen many things that are disturbing in the attitudes of parishioners, preachers, and teachers. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say something like, “I saved that person.” This is a false statement. It is God’s salvation, Jesus saves. The messenger is not the Savior. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I think they meant to say, “I presented the truth to that person and God saved them.”
Yet, I have also seen some preachers and teachers that fall into the trap of reveling in the glory. They boast about the number of decisions or baptisms experienced in their ministries, or numerical growth. This too is dangerous because this attitude of the heart steals the glory from the Almighty.
We in the church, pastors, teachers, leaders, and parishioners must guard our hearts against such spiritual pride. Parishioners should not exalt the preacher, teacher, leaders, or any other person. Only God is to be glorified and worshipped. Give glory to God our supreme benefactor and one that we know.