“For we are God’s fellow-workers; ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.” (I Cor. 3:9).
The first truth that we learn from this verse is that God is working. Secondly, we see that God has arranged His work in such a manner that we may work with Him. He has lovingly taken His children into partnership with Himself; He has made us full-fledged workers with Him. It appears that God’s work on earth cannot be fully done without our co-operation. These two truths should fill every Christian with gratitude and joy.
From the very beginning of time — and even earlier — God has been working for us. He created the universe for us and our use; through it He serves us today. In Christ He came down to earth and walked among men, not to be served, but to be of service. His whole life was a continuous chain of loving service. As the victor over the kingdom of Satan Jesus now appears before the Father in our behalf; He intercedes for us and will serve us there until the end of time. The Holy Spirit goes from soul to soul of those who have heard the Word; night and day, year after year and generation after generation, He never once becomes weary of winning men for Christ. When a soul has been won for Christ, the Spirit continues His loving care; He protects him from danger and wards off all evil until we have safely reached our true fatherland.
The Father is solicitous for our welfare throughout our life. He has asked us to cast all our cares upon Him, and He will care for us.
The angels stand before the face of God, ready to do His bidding; at His command they go forth to serve the saints or to pour vials of His wrath upon the stubborn race. They brought Lot out of sinful Sodom into the safety of Zoar. They took coals from the altar and touched the lips of Isaiah; then his iniquity vanished, and he volunteered his service to the Lord. They came to Daniel to comfort him and to reveal to him God’s plan of work until the end of time. They opened the gates of the prison in which Peter sat, loosed the chains from his hands and brought him out. An angel appeared to Paul during the storm and revealed to him that there would be no loss of life in the storm.
John stands on the island of Patmos while God through Christ and His angels draws aside the curtain which hides the future. There he is permitted to see in broad outline the battle which the race must fight before all seals on the Book of Life can be broken by Him who has taken the Book in His hand. He sees that the prince of darkness is bound, and the Prince of Life stands as the eternal light in that celestial city; God is all in all.
These same ministering spirits walk among us today to do God’s’ bidding. Many a seaman has been guided through storm and treacherous breakers in a pitch-black night to a haven of safety. Angels hold our children by the hand as they play by the edge of the cliff. It is wonderful to know that God thus cares for us. If our eyes could be fully opened to the greatness of these things, our hearts would overflow with gratitude.
At times I am overwhelmed by the greatness of the thought that God would stoop to be our servant as Father and Savior. We marvel and rejoice when we see God’s work in creation; but when we one day shall see His work of salvation completed, and realize that we ourselves are a part of that perfect work, then we shall not only wish to thank Him, for all that is in us shall praise His name.
Paul had a vision of this when he was caught up into the third heaven. He was so moved by the greatness of the idea of being God’s co-worker that he broke forth with these words: “But I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24). This was Paul’s evaluation of the privilege of being God’s co-worker.
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The verse of our text seems to indicate that only a part of God’s people are His fellow-servants; the rest seem to be the field to be cultivated and the building to be built. This would be our conclusion if we had only one statement from the Word of God about it. We know from other verses in the Scriptures that every Christian is a co-worker with God. We shall quote only the well-known statement by Peter: “But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
We are His people, a royal priesthood, that we may declare His wonderful works. All God’s children are called to be His co-workers. All of us have gifts of grace and gifts of nature with which we are to serve God in this world. He who buries his talent with the thought that he is thus free from responsibility shall one day discover that he was mistaken.
But how are we to understand the verse of our text which declares that the Christians in Corinth are God’s husbandry or tilled ground and God’s building?
We may perhaps most appropriately apply this statement to Christians who have just been blasted from the solid rock of heathendom. They are as the wilderness which has just begun to be plowed. To blast human beings from the rock of the world and build of them a house of God, to change the wilderness of the soul into suitable soil for the gospel seed is a part of our task as fellow-workers with God.
The Corinthians were such solid rock and wilderness soil when Paul and Apollos came to them. But they were transformed into living children of God and were built into a spiritual temple. They also became co-workers with God.
Furthermore, we know that as we work together with God, He continues to work in us. We grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. The branch that bears fruit He cleanses that it might bear more fruit.
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The practical aspect of this truth is the question of how we may best be co-workers with God. We know that not all Christians progress equally far in the service of God. Some can with fewer gifts and lesser natural talents accomplish more than others who have greater gifts.
To answer this question satisfactorily, I shall have to refer to two well-known characters in Scriptures, Martha and Mary.
Martha was a faithful servant of Christ; it may appear to us that it was only she who served Him in that home. However, in all her toil and serving she had lost her joy and liberty, and had become a legalistic slave. She is ruffled and dissatisfied in her spirit. As the hostess she turns to her worthy guest with these words, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” We can only conclude that hers was not a joyous service.
There is quite another note in the words of Paul, “For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more” (I Cor. 9:19).
Mary places herself at the feet of Jesus and listens to what He has to say. She desires to receive as much as possible during the short period He is in the house. In this quiet peacefulness she is moved to the point of taking the cruse of costly ointment and offering its precious contents on the Savior. Jesus approved of her act.
She is not busy. She does not complain of too much work or of the laziness of others. It is not with her as with Martha that Jesus seems to care but little about her; quite the contrary is true. In her quiet moments of rest Jesus becomes so precious to her that she holds nothing too dear for Him.
Martha served Jesus without joy and satisfaction, and Mary gladly offered the costly ointment to Jesus. Martha is gently reproved for her ceaseless toil. Mary is commended for having chosen the better part; her deed will live through coming generations and move Christians to follow her example.
I should like to illustrate this truth with a picture from modern life. I know a home in which both father and mother are Christians. From the beginning of their life together they realized that obedient and Godfearing children are the most precious possession that parents can have. They exerted themselves to rear their children in the fear of God; they were ably assisted by Christian teachers. But as the children grew up they left God.
The parents were at the point of despair. They had tried so hard, but they failed. In this extremity they resolved to bring their troubles to God. In doing so they themselves learned to know God better. The joy of salvation again filled their hearts. Then this wonderful thing happened that all their children, one after the other, gave their hearts to the Lord.
What the parents were unable to do for God made them to live in a closer fellowship with God. They found the way to the Savior, and the Savior found the way to the children. Thus they became coworkers with God. To begin with they followed Martha’s example, but later they learned to do as Mary.
No one must understand me to say that we are to remain indolently at the feet of Jesus and shirk duties and responsibilities. Mary did not do that. But we need to be on our guard, not least in these days of so much Christian activity, lest we lose ourselves in the work without losing ourselves in God. If this should happen, the words of Jesus will apply to us, “Thou art anxious and troubled about many things.”
We shall also find that if the Lord is to prosper our work He must first make us fit servants. If this part is omitted our work will also be fruitless even if it appears successful. That which makes us useful servants of God is that God is first permitted to prepare us. He makes us His co-workers.
A missionary was filled with sorrow and discouragement as he looked back over his work. He saw no fruit, and was ready to give up. As he pondered upon this one sleepless night he seemed to hear, “Take care that the union between thee and Me is in order; I shall take care of the fruits.” From that moment the missionary became a joyful coworker with God. He learned that one who would bear fruit for God must first and always live with God.
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Among the many tasks that God has given to us there is one that I should like to mention in closing; this is to help one another to be steadfast in faith and constant in battle until the victory is won.
To be successful in this we must learn to serve and edify one another in love. A Christian is not only to win others for Christ; he is also to help those who have been won. God strongly admonishes us to help one another. When Paul bade farewell to the elders at Ephesus he said, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20: 28). Peter has the same thing in mind when he writes, “Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not with constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).
Many Christians seem to feel very little responsibility for their fellow-Christians. They seem to have little desire to sit down with others to feast on the Word. Only when a renowned preacher comes to preach will they ever come to listen. At other times they are bitter and critical, and find fault with this one and that one who seeks as best he can to tend the flock.
Such Christians are but a liability to the Christian fellowship. Instead of bearing burdens with the others they lie as blocks of ice to hinder the free flow of Christian love. They prevent the grace of God from reaching the frozen hearts of unbelievers.
If you are such a one, listen to the words of Paul, “Remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears.” Do not such words make you wish you were different? Do you not yearn for a place of joyful service among God’s people? Do you not care to be crowned by God?
May I say to all of you who feel your responsibility to serve, and who seek to nourish the life of God in the heart of your neighbor: Do not become weary of well-doing. Continue the good work until the Chief Shepherd releases you. Then we shall really understand what a great honor it was to be a co-worker with God.
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