Paul begins by comparing himself and Apollos (3:1-8) to “laborers” like farmers and builders (v. 9). “Husbandry” is the Bible word for farming (cf. James 5:7), and Paul has already compared the ministry farming earlier in this chapter. He told the Corinthians that he planted the seed of the gospel in them and Apollos watered it (3:6).
He had to assure them he and Apollos were “labourers together” because some of them liked one over the other, so they thought Paul and Apollos were working against one another, vying for their love and money. He gave them more assurance they were working together when he explained how he invited Apollos to go to Corinth (I Cor. 16:12), and he showed he wasn’t competing with Paul when he refused!
After identifying who the farmers were, Paul identified the farm when he told them, “ye are God’s husbandry” (3:9). But the ministry is more than seeing people get saved and become babes in Christ. God wants them to grow up in Christ, and to expand on that thought Paul switches from the metaphor of farmers and farming to builders and building, telling them that they are God’s building.
God uses both analogies for “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). He called Israel a farm (Ps. 80:8,9) and a building (Amos 9:11). They were the temple God lived in (II Cor. 6:1). Of course, they sometimes got so sinful God had to relocate to heaven! But in the New Testament, the Lord said He planned to build a church that would never get so sinful God would be force to leave it (Mt. 16:16-18). We call it the kingdom church (v. 19). But once Israel rejected her kingdom, God stopped building that church and began building the church which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22,23).
The first thing you need to build a building is an architect, and the Greek word for “masterbuilder” (v. 10) is archi-tekton. “Arch” means chief, as in archangel (Jude 1:9). “Tekton” is translated carpenter (Mt. 13:55). So put them together and you get chief carpenter, or masterbuilder. Paul is the architect of the church, the Body (Eph. 3:2-6). But he didn’t just draw up the plans in his epistles and hand Apollos the blueprint. He was a “hands-on” architect, helping in the ministry, and so “masterbuilder” describes him perfectly!
We know Moses was the architect of the kingdom church because the Lord kept quoting him (Mt. 8:4; Mark 10:3; 12:26). The Pharisees were supposed to be the masterbuilders (Mt. 23:1-3), but the Lord knew they’d kill Him instead of building the church on Him as the church’s foundation like they should have. So He told a parable in which he combined farming and building to say He’d take the church from them (Mt. 21:33-43) and give it to His “little flock” of followers (Luke 12:32), making them the new builders.
Of course, the Lord knew the 12 would have to be wise masterbuilders, so He gave them a supernatural gift of wisdom (Acts 2:4; 6:3). We see that pictured when God gave Solomon a supernatural gift of wisdom to build the temple and the kingdom (II Chro. 2:12). That’s why the 12 asked the Lord to “restore” the kingdom like they had under Solomon (Acts 1:6). When Israel rejected the kingdom, God began to build the Body of Christ, making Paul the wise masterbuilder of it by giving him a supernatural gift of wisdom as an apostle (cf. Rom.12:6; 15:15,16; Eph. 3:7,8).
This helps us understand how Paul could say he laid the foundation of Christ (3:11) even though he wasn’t saved when the Lord came to be the foundation of Israel’s church. He meant He laid Christ as the foundation of a new church!
When building on this foundation, Paul has the “house” of your own personal spiritual life in mind (cf. Luke 6:46-48), and the house of the local church as well, as we’ll see next week!
Video of this sermon is available on YouTube: Laboring Together on Paul’s Foundation – 1 Corinthians 3:9-11