In chapter 3 Paul returns to the subject of divisions and problems in the church, which was the occasion for this epistle.
(Vs. 1.) Quite frankly, Paul is saying to the Corinthian brethren (he softens the harshness of his rebuke by calling them "brethren"), "I have not been able to talk to you as I would talk to mature, spiritual men and women because you are indicating by your attitude and behaviour that you are mere infants in the faith. More than that, you are acting like natural, worldly people. You behave as non-spiritual men of flesh in whom the carnal nature predominates." Sometimes the term "babes in Christ" is taken in a good sense (1 Peter 2:2; Luke 18:17). Here it is not good, for it refers to the understanding and the attitude (1 Cor. 14:20).
(Vs. 2.) Paul refers more to the manner and form of his teaching than to the substance of the doctrine, for Christ is both milk to babes and strong meat to those of full age. But there is a growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ which was hindered by their attitude and carnality. The wise teacher begins with the first principles of Christ and moves higher in the mysteries and wisdom of Christ as the hearer is able to follow (Mark 4:33; John 16:12). The gospel of Christ contains everything necessary to be known. Spiritual growth enables a person to drink deeper, comprehend more of the riches of Christ and mature in faith and conduct. We don't have one message for young believers and another for elders. The elders are able to see and understand more of the riches in Christ because of their maturity. This was the Corinthian problem growth impeded by carnality and childishness.
(Vs. 3.) To prove that the carnal nature prevailed in them and that they were not spiritually mature believers, Paul calls attention to their "envy, strife and divisions". These are fruits of the flesh and, where they prevail, it is evident that the partakers are not spiritual but carnal! (Gal. 5:22.) "You are behaving like unregenerate men." From envy comes strife, and strife leads to open divisions and factions.
(Vs. 4.) Paul specifies the particular form of division. One group was a fan club for Paul and set him up as their master above all others. Others said, "We prefer Apollos; we don't care for Paul." Some preferred Peter (1 Cor, 1:12), while others rejected all ministers and claimed only to be followers of Christ. "Is not this a demonstration of carnality and flesh?"
(Vs. 5.) "Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? What are they? They are only ministering servants of the Lord Jesus through whom you heard the gospel." They are not masters, nor party heads, nor lords? They are only instruments in the hands of the Master to feed his flock (Matt. 23:8-12). The pastors are to he respected, heeded and followed as they follow Christ, but they are not to be sources of contention, nor are they to lord it over God's heritage (Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
(Vs. 6.) If the earth is to bring forth fruit, there is need of ploughing, planting and watering. But after all this is done, our labour would he in vain unless the Lord from heaven gives the increase by giving life through the sun and by his secret influence. In like manner, the Word of God is the seed. His faithful servants plough, plant and water, but life is the miracle of divine grace! He who has received the seed has need of watering until full maturity is reached. Apollos, then, who succeeded Paul in the ministry of Corinth, is said to have watered what Paul had sown.
(Vs. 7.) "So neither is he who plants anything special, nor he who waters, but only God, who makes it live, grow and become greater; Ministers of the Word are labourers together with God, ministers of Christ and stewards of the grace of God, and are to be loved, respected and heard. But they are nothing in themselves! They have nothing except what they have received. All their gifts are from God. Nothing is to be ascribed to them directly, but all glory is to our Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).
(Vs. 8.) The planter and the waterer are one. They preach one gospel. Their views, aims and end (which are the glory of God and the good of the church) are one! They have the same love and affections for one another, so there is no reason for the church to be divided over them. "Every man will receive his own reward according to his labour." While the servants' labours are different, their goal is the same not to catch the applause and approval of the world, but to please and glorify the Lord. This is not a reward of debt (for our labours are by no means meritorious) but to hear him say, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
(Vs. 9.) This sums up what has gone before and is the best argument of all, "We are all fellow-labourers, fellow-workmen and joint-promoters with and for God. It is the Lord's work in which we are employed, and it is to him we devote ourselves and our service. You are God's garden, field and vineyard under cultivation; you are God's building. We ministers are but his labourers" (Isa. 60:21).