The Terrible Twos in Grown Up Shoes (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

The terrible twos. It is the season every new parent fears—the season in a toddler’s life when he or she begins to manifest a very defined moral code. You know the code. You have lived the code.

  1. If I want it, it’s mine.
  2. If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
  3. If it is within my sight, it’s mine.
  4. If you have it but I put my hand on it, it’s mine.
  5. If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine.
  6. If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
  7. If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine.
  8. If it is broken and utterly useless, it’s yours.

Are toddlers a blessing? Absolutely. One of my favorite photos is dancing with my eldest at a wedding when she was two.Ann ferris and daddy dancing.jpg

Then she grew up.

Are toddlers a blessing? Yes. Can they be a challenge? Of course.

But we all retain some the terrible twos in us, don’t we?

This was true of the Christians in the Corinthian church.

Paul had started this church around 48 A.D. By the time he writes the letter of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus around 53 or so A.D., his initial joy in seeing people respond to the message of the gospel had turned into frustration and disappointment.

The Corinthians were being spiritually childish – they were acting like terrible twos in grow up shoes.

What happened to them can happen to us. There is so much potential here. But at the same time, there is always the threat for the work of grace that has begun to be undone – unless we can avoid regressing to the terrible twos.

This is what Paul helps us avoid in chapter 3:1-9, where he begins by sharing…

 

A PASTORAL DESIRE

We see this desire in verses 1-3a.

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as children in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not able to process it. And even now you are not yet ready,for you are still of the flesh.

Paul desire for his beloved Corinthian believers is for them to really know God and to have their lives influenced and shaped by that relationship. But their spiritual childishness revealed that they were not growing as he’d hoped or expected. In their spiritual immaturity, they were incapable of experiencing the full joy of knowing God like we know the fuller joy of relationships the older we get.

Before we decided to take our kids to Disney World, we required them to reach a certain height, because certain rides have height restrictions. This was not a punishment, but something that we anticipated with great excitement because we wanted them to get the full Disney experience. We didn’t want one of them to have to “miss out” by having to “sit out.” We wanted our kids to fully experience and thoroughly enjoy the parks.

In the same way that a parent wants a child to grow physically in order to maximize their joy at a theme park, a pastor’s desire is for believers to fully experience and enjoy knowing God.

The way a child grows is by consuming solid food. Meat. Fruit. Vegetables. The way a believer grows is by consuming the solid food of substantive, sound doctrine through the study of biblical theology.

  • Our English word “theology” comes from two Greek words, theos (meaning, God) and logos (meaning, word). The implication is that just like a husband would get to know his wife by listening to her words through conversation, we get to know God by listening to his words in Scripture, where he has revealed himself—his nature, his will, his loves, and his desires.
  • This is why the study of theology is not an abstract, academic, intellectual endeavor. It is profoundly devotional and practical, because the study of theology is how we get to know God. It is the only way we will grow out of the spiritual terrible twos.
  • After all, everyone is a theologian. Everyone has ideas about God. The question is, are they the right ideas? And how is what I believe about God affecting how I live?

You see, how I live reveals my theology, theology that needed to be corrected in Corinth, because what see in the next verses is…

 

A CONGREGATIONAL RIFT

We see this rift take place in in verses 3b-4.

For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving merely in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

Here, Paul puts his finger on the childishness by identifying their “jealousy and strife.” The Greek word Paul uses for strife[1] insinuates that that the problem was how people were talking about each other behind their backs sowing seeds of disunity.[2]

One of the most damaging scenarios in marriage is when each spouse begins to think the worst of their partner’s motives. Rather than experience mutual trust and support, they become like betas in the same fishbowl.

The Corinthians were acting more like Betas in the same fish bowl than believers in the same church. They were taking sides and talking badly about other believers in the church behind their backs—words that had become seeds of division that threated to undo the work of grace that had begun through Paul’s missionary ministry several years earlier.

  • It’s not hard to see how careless but harmful words can become seeds of division in a church, a marriage, in a work environment, or among roommates.[3]
  • I wonder what difference it would make if I began thinking the best rather than the worst? Giving the benefit of the doubt versus casting suspicion of motives over people. What if we began to humbly ask questions rather than arrogantly declaring assessments?[4]

Could that prevent a rift? Could it begin to heal the divide where rifts exist? Maybe so.

What will certainly help prevent a rift is embracing…

 

A THEOLOGICAL REALITY

We see this theological reality in verses 5-7.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Bondservants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

The theological reality is that movement from spiritual toddlerhood to maturity, is dependent upon God’s work within an individual. As Paul says, it is “God who gives the growth.”

Some folks love to garden, which as you know requires the planting of seeds in the ground. But gardening involves more than planting. It also requires watering. Eventually, an amazing thing takes place. The seed that was buried goes through the process of germination whereby a veritable miracle takes place. Out of sight and apart from human hands doing anything to it, the seed is internally transformed into a living, flowering, fruitful plant.

What I want us to see is that there is an environment, a garden, in which God works to bring seed to germination and growth.

  • That environment is the church, the redeemed community, where some of us set up coffee, keep the nursery, lead music, some host K-Groups, and others teach, whether adults or children.
  • All of this creates the environment whereby seed germinates and begins to produce fruit.[5] We all play a part in tending the environment. But it is God who gives the spiritual growth.[6]

But cultivating this environment for growth will depend upon how we respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit in this passage, which is why this passage calls for…

 

A PRACTICAL RESPONSE

We see this response, at least in part, in verses 8-9.

He who plants and he who waters are one [meaning, they share the same vision and goal], and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s vineyard[7], God’s building.

The first practical response is for those who serve as “fellow workers” with God in the vineyard of God—those who, like Paul and Apollos, have been called, to lead, preach, and teach. The response for folks like us is to press on with enduring faithfulness.

  • I think this is why Paul mentions the reward, what he calls wages, that those who labor in pastoral ministry will receive. What is that reward? I don’t know. But it is held out as encouragement for times of discouragement that are sure to come when believers display the terrible twos in grow up shoes.
  • This faithfulness requires continuing to work in the vineyard, planting and watering, preaching and teaching, trusting that God will do the supernatural work of spiritual germination and growth unto fruitful maturity.

The second practical response is from the congregation. Now, there is nothing here that is explicit, yet. The specifics will come later in the chapter. But we can able to pick up hints of an implicit response to what has been said so far.

What do you think that might be?  

I’ve been in your shoes before. I know what it is like to get a critical attitude about leadership. I know what it is like to think the worst of someone rather than giving the benefit of the doubt.  I know what it is like to complain as a first reaction to change. Essentially, I understand what it is to manifest the terrible twos in grown up shoes.

If I were experiencing those symptoms of living in the flesh rather than living by the Spirit, I would think a practical response would be two-fold.

  • The first half of the response would be repentance. To own the tantrum. To face the immaturity within without excuse—and despise it as a tumor that will lead to spiritual death unless it is removed.
  • The second half of the response is to look to Jesus for fresh grace. Look to the one who died, suffering the penalty for our fleshly, sinful, rebellious terrible twos. Trusting that his blood covers you completely—right now—this is the superfood of the Christian life that propels unto toward greater maturity and fruitfulness in humility, love, and unity.

Do you know how baby eagles learn to fly? At just two months old, a baby eagle discovers that there is cool air and warm air and that its parents tend to leave the next when the warm air blows. We call this warm breeze a thermal, which is created from warm air near the ground that rises, displacing the cooler air and creating uplift. All the young eagle has to do when warm air begins to rise is spread its wings and step off the edge of the nest.

Gravity is still at work. But there is a higher principle that overcomes the pull of gravity. That principle is not the power resident in their wings to flap. The higher principle that overcomes gravity is the power produced by the thermal energy in the air.[8]

In the same way, the gravity of our sin nature is still at work, provoking us to bicker with our spiritual siblings, living as terrible twos in Christ. But the Holy Spirit, who is the thermal current of God, is calling us to spread wings of faith, step out of the nest, and experience the joy of supernatural living, where we finally are able to soar with love for God and each other—not because of how hard we flap our wings, but because of the wind beneath our wings—the Spirit who upholds us and empowers us to grow up.

 


[1] ἔρις – ‘always saying bad things about one another’ or ‘never having a good word to say to one another.

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 494.

[3] Maybe we should begin with a personal evaluation. Do I tend to think the best of other’s motives and actions, or do I think the worst? Am I initially encouraging or primarily critical? Do I look for what I can commend, or do I talk them down among other people?

[4] This semester in the wake of a lot of transition, we are doing some things differently than we have in the recent past. We are offering TFL and even requiring it for those in leadership roles. We are doing K-Groups a little differently, too. Our primary men’s discipleship ministry is being affected this fall in a big way. These kinds of changes and transitions require a great deal of trust. A lot of thinking the best vs thinking the worst.  There could have been an outward revolt to this fall’s ministry plan. Or there could have been people just talking in the corners, spreading seeds of discontent. Both options eventually lead to the same conclusion. Division and dissolution. A rift like the kind that took place in Corinth. I am grateful that grace has won the day and we are unified as we move through the transition. What a gift. What a blessing!  This unity has nothing to do with anything I have done or our elder team. If unity exists and we are experiencing spiritual growth and maturity, it is because of God’s work among us.

[5] This is what Paul is saying about Apollos and himself. Paul planted the church. Apollos came afterward to teach the church—to water.

[6] Paul reminds the Corinthians that the human element is a means. He says that preachers are those through whom, not in whom they had believed. Leaders should not compete but compliment. See Eph. 4:11ff. This is why we need a bigger view of God and a smaller view of the bondservants of God, regardless of how gifted they are.

[7] γεώργιον, ου n: cultivated land, normally restricted to tilled fields or orchards, in contrast with pasture land (in the NT γεώργιον is used only figuratively of people whom God cares for and nurtures.  Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 17.

[8] Concept from Kenneth Boa, Life in the Presence of God (InterVarsity Press 2017), 129-130.

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