The Church: Field of God

Paul calls the church a field (or crop) in 1 Corinthians 3 to emphasize the church’s roles. The Corinthians were squabbling over leaders, but Paul wanted them to understand that no leader is “better”—they just have different roles. Thus, he writes:

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants 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. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field.” (1 Cor. 3:5-9).

There are at least three things to learn from his metaphor.

Firstly, we each have a role to play. Paul affirms that the Lord has “assigned” different parts. The church collective is the field of crops, but we all work in it. Recall Paul’s words in Romans 12:4, “The members do not all have the same function.” The idea in Romans 12 along with the other spiritual gifts and body metaphor passages is that just because you play a certain role does not make you better than someone else with a different role. That same idea is present in 1 Corinthians 3. We are all in this together.

Secondly, God grows the church. Churches can put on amazing events, do great things in the community, baptize tons of people—but God gives the increase. Us humans of course have a part to play, but to move people toward Christ, God is required. Only the Spirit can change a person’s heart. We can facilitate this, but God does all the real work. This reminder challenges us to go beyond worshiping leaders or being too committed to certain church programs. Good leaders and good programs are important, but God is the most important factor in all that the church does. The harvest can be bountiful only when we team up with God.

 Thirdly, the church requires cultivation. God gives the increase, but we still need to step up. A crop lives and dies depending on how much it is cared for. It requires planting, water, tending, weed-pulling—the whole works. These require laborers. Jesus similarly says in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We must be those laborers. According to the parables in Matthew 13, the harvest is the final coming of Jesus—Judgement Day. Our duty is thus to increase the harvest and make sure the plants in the field are healthy. While leaders (like Paul and Apollos) have very important roles in tending to the field, all of us have a responsibility.

Discussion Questions

  • What roles in church today do people tend to think are “better?”
  • Are you more of a planter (evangelist to the lost) or a waterer (caretaker of the found)?
  • Why can it be hard to give God credit for “giving the increase?”
  • What are ways you can “cultivate” the church?
  • How do our lives change if we truly embrace being the field of God?

Prayer Prompt

Thank God that you are a part of God’s crop. Ask that God may strengthen your resolve as one who is also a laborer in this field. Name ways, in prayer, you will commit to in order to cultivate God’s field.
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