Raising Apostles

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Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

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Parenthood: A Sacred Calling

If I had to name one thing that has defined my life more than any other, it would be parenthood. God has taught me many things in the years of my life so far. Truth be told, though, what brought all of those things together into a tight focus was becoming a parent. In the day-to-day life of raising children, I’ve come to understanding more about the grace of God than I ever would have otherwise. Before I was a parent, I never really grasped what Jesus meant when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV) Before I was a parent, it never occurred to me that someone could push every hot button you’ve got (plus a couple) – and because you love them, you instinctively respond with an act of peace instead of revenge. Truly, parenthood is a sacred calling through which God brings us closer to Him and draws the best out of us.

Anyone who has experienced parenthood should have no difficulty understanding the Apostle Paul’s frustration with his Corinthian congregation. “When are you going to grow up? When is this going to get easier? When will I be able to trust you on your own?”

Being responsible for a young, often needy life isn’t for sissies! For every heartwarming, rewarding moment that glows with endearingly cute potential, there’s an equally frustrating, messy, sleep-interrupting, squalling encounter that seems brain-numbing and endless. It doesn’t proceed according to a neat, orderly, predictable plan.

There are probably many mothers across the ages who, hearing Paul’s complaining about how long it was taking for his church to grow up, said, “Welcome to my world!” It’s the truth: sometimes children need extra time and extra help to grow up!

Life in Corinth Church

The apostles that Paul is raising in Corinth are giving him some childish challenges. There are competing alliances within the church – some claiming Paul as their leader, others, Apollos. Reading Paul’s words, it’s not hard to see how frustrated he is. You also see that his response to them is very parental – because spiritually, they are still infants, he refrains from using the kinds of harsh words he spoke to the Galatian Christians (Galatians 3:23-26). This is where we see Paul exhibiting the mark of a true Apostle: he serves them in the way they need the most. The Corinthians need someone who will nurture them because they aren’t yet ready to care for themselves. Instead of a strong, disciplinarian response, Paul serves them in the manner of a mother or nurse.

Paul wants the best for his spiritual children: maturity and independence; less rivalry and more unity; less argument about status and more willingness to serve together; less whining about troubles and more appreciation of their blessings. And, particularly, he wants to see less self-absorption and more outward awareness – the fruit of which is compassion.

Raising Apostles

This is one of those scripture passages which truly contain something for everyone. For preachers, it’s a reminder that we may have preached about God’s grace, prodigal sons, and good Samaritans so many times we can recite the story in our sleep (sometimes in more than one language!) Yet, there will always be someone who needs to hear those simple, faith reviving stories again… and so they must be told because the nourishment is needed.

You folks in the pews might be hearing something you’ve heard a hundred times before today… but the lights didn’t turn on until now. It’s like when Helen Keller made the connection between the word ‘water’ and the object – water. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, had taught her the word many times, patiently finger-spelling it over and over again. Persistence and patience opened up a whole new world for Helen.

You might be a Sunday School teacher who would really like to move along from Father Abraham, Moses, and Brother Noah and teach something more challenging – Rahab the Prostitute’s courage, or Elijah the Prophet being fed by ravens. Yet, the hungry souls under your care still need spiritual milk, and so you continue because they’re not ready for meat.

There’s plenty of spiritual need in our building, and that’s as it should be – an important part of what we do, every one of us, is raising apostles. Some are further along than others. Some need more than others. Some are more challenging than others. But they all need the spiritual milk of the Gospel.

One Step at a Time

One of the biggest challenges facing us as a church is remembering not to leave the spiritually needy behind. It’s easy to think that, because we are a “Christian nation,” everyone is up to speed on the basics of the faith and that it’s ok to strive for enormous spiritual leaps and deeper understanding of the mysteries of God. But, look around – this isn’t at all the case!

There are many who need to either learn the essential beliefs of Christian faith – or revisit them and regain their direction. Even as we grow further and deeper into God’s grace, it’s important that we ourselves don’t lose sight of those simple, certain truths that we learned long ago.

The job of a parent is to work him- or herself out of a job: to give our children the strength and tools they need to meet and conquer challenges, and fight temptation. Sometimes, our children think they don’t need our help – which makes our job harder! But in the end, the greatest gift of love we can give them is to be faithfully patient and persistent. As the Good Book says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).

God calls for us to become mature in Christ – but we never outgrow our need for God’s love, grace, and support. That’s a lesson that we should never forget as we prepare our children – and our apostles – for a noisy and distracting world.

Sources Consulted:

“The SAHD Apostle,” Homiletics, February 2011

The NIV KeyWord Hebrew-Greek Study Bible (AMG, 1996)