1 Corinthians 3:6-7
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
Six years ago, I received a plant as a housewarming present. It was a little leafy plant in a pot that fit on the kitchen window sill. For a couple of years, I watered and kept the plant in the sunshine, and it seemed to do just fine. When I moved into an apartment, however, I stopped paying attention to it. I would forget to water it for weeks, and then I would remember it and tend it for a while. It grew a little bit, but after a while it just wasn’t as green as it was before. It was a persistent plant, tenaciously clinging to life despite my lack of attention. I took to calling it “The Plant That Won’t Die.” That silly plant was determined not to let me have a reputation for having a “brown thumb.”
When I got married, I took the plant along, and my lovely wife took over caring for it. She noted that the fading color was probably due to a lack of soil, so we re-potted the plant into a slightly bigger pot with lots of rich soil. Oh my goodness! That plant shot right up and out, and within a week it had turned a deep and vibrant green. We gave the plant pride of place near our front door, next to the best southern window, and it continued to flourish. About six months later, we noticed the color fading and the leaves drooping. Yes, it was time to re-pot again.
With our second re-potting into a 14-inch pot, it became clear that this was one marvelous plant. My wife then looked it up in her gardening book, and there it was: a mini umbrella tree. Yes, a TREE. In its newer pot, it has continued to grow and now it actually has bark on the main shoots. It’s two feet tall and growing, and the plant that once sat on a window sill now takes up the whole top of a file cabinet. And you know what? I think it’s ready again for another, bigger pot.
I can’t sit in my living room looking at that leafy thing and not think about my own faith. I see the wide leaves reaching for the sunshine, and I remember the history of my neglect for that plant, and I remember my own growth as a Christian. I started off small, too, and I have had several teachers along the way, but I have continued to grow. Yes, I forget to water the little tree now and then, but not nearly as much as I used to. And I am also much better about remembering to water my faith, too.
In writing to the church he had planted in Corinth, Paul was concerned that they were arguing over who it was most important to follow. Some bragged about following Paul’s teaching, and others made much of being baptized by Apollos, and there was envy and strife among the believers. In his letter, Paul attempted to get the Corinthians back on track, trying to get them to give up vain struggling over earthly teachers and remain focused on God Himself. And in today’s verses, Paul makes the point that so many miss today: God gives the increase.
We still suffer today from the same problem. Some follow the teachings of a popular pastor/writer, and others are enamored of a particular preacher on television, and even in smaller congregations there is preference for one pastor or another. We’ve all seen the sectarianism within our churches, the cliques and “inner circles” that seem to focus on one teacher or another. And when someone raises a particular question about the Bible, the answer is often “Well, So-and-so says…” As if So-and-so were a greater authority on doctrine than the Bible itself! What does it say in God’s Word? What doctrine has been handed down from Jesus Himself?
I water The Plant That Won’t Die, but I cannot take credit for its amazing and tenacious growth. I just provide the water and the pot. I don’t make the soil. I don’t stay home all day to keep the bugs away from it. I don’t talk to it–except, of course, to apologize for not watering it. God makes the soil, and God provides the sunshine. God provided the energy that comes from that incredible mechanism of water, CO2, and clorophyll, that made that plant increase in size from a window sill to a file cabinet. God provides the increase!
In our faith, it is easy to think we are doing well, that our occasional “waterings” of Sunday services and Bible studies are keeping our faith alive. And we may like to think that without a particular preacher or teacher we would be nowhere. I once saw a church lose half its members when the senior pastor went home to the Lord, because people didn’t want someone else teaching them, tending them, watering them. It’s sad to see such a thing, and with the proliferation of mega-churches (and the writings of those churches’ pastors), I am fearful that we now have a whole generation of Christians who will fall away once those men have passed on–or, worse yet, once some of those men have seemingly fallen from grace. So many depend on being watered by so few, and yet they have lost sight of the real source, the real Author and Perfecter of their faith, the true Water of Life. They have forgotten that it was not the preacher who saved them but the gospel that the preacher taught them. It was not the counseling of a pastor that brought them through tough times but the grace of God working through that servant of God.
While teachers and their preaching may come and go, God will still provide the increase. While people may switch churches because of new jobs or new homes or new circumstances, God will provide the increase. While we may think we’re growing in our faith because of what we do, it is God providing the increase. And although we may limit our growth to small things like Sunday worship, never really indulging our faith and giving it greater room and more fertile soil in which to grow, God will yet provide the increase.
So, let’s not get caught up in too much reading of this book or listening to that preacher. Let’s not fall into the trap of being married to our denominations (or lack thereof). Let’s not limit our faith and our worship to one small place and time. Let us instead turn our leaves to the Son, lifting up holy hands to God, who alone provides the increase. Let us set our roots deep and drink of the Water of Life that is Christ Jesus. For it is neither Paul nor Peter nor James nor Moses nor Daniel nor John who nourishes our spirits and brings us closer to Christ. It is God Himself and His Holy Spirit drawing us closer to His Son. It is the faithfulness of God giving increase to the faithfulness of men. And no matter what may happen in our lives, no matter how constricted we may feel, no matter how unloved and despised we may be, no matter how dark times may seem, in all these things we have hope, for we can know that God provides the increase: life eternal through Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
Holy Father God, all power and glory are Yours alone. Whatever success I may have in my faith, whatever increase or strength, it all comes from You. Let me never lose sight of You, the Creator. You not only give life to the living things of earth but You also promise eternal life through Your Son. Therefore, let me always turn to You, always seek Your Son, always allow Your Spirit room to help me grow, help me increase in faith and obedience. Amen.