“He who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow–workers.”
1 Corinthians 3:8–9
Humble teamwork in ministry gives God all the glory and promotes humility.
Paul’s agricultural illustration of planting and watering makes it clear that the ministry works best in a team concept and that all credit for results must go to God. Paul (the one planting) and Apollos (the one watering) had done their God–appointed work faithfully and well, but they had to wait on the Lord for whatever was accomplished.
Paul mentions just two kinds of ministry in today’s passage: planting the seed of the gospel by evangelism and watering it by further teaching. However, the apostle’s point applies to every kind of ministry you might engage in. You might be tempted to think that your ministry is glamorous or significant and that everything revolves around your efforts. Or you could be envious of another believer who has a more public ministry than you. But all God’s work is important, and Paul is reminding us that whatever work He has called us to is the most important ministry we can have.
First Corinthians 3 also reminds us that all believers who minister are one in the Body of Christ. If you recognize and accept this fact, it is a sure guarantee that humility will be present as you serve God. Humility simply leaves no place for fleshly competitiveness or selfish jealousy toward other Christians.
God will be certain to recognize your individual, faithful work—“according to [your] own labor”—in His day of rewards. But Jesus also taught His disciples and us the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16) to keep our perspectives balanced regarding the corporate nature of ministry in God’s kingdom. None of us should look with pride at our own service and see ourselves as deserving more reward than someone who worked less time or in a less prominent position. It is not our ministry, any more than it was Paul’s or Apollos’s. It is God’s, and all the glory goes to Him, not us.
Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that God would give you a greater sense of humble gratitude for whatever type of ministry opportunity you have.
For Further Study: Compare Matthew 19:27–30 with 20:1–16. Why could the disciples have been tempted to feel superior? ✧ What does the landowner’s behavior in the parable suggest about the character of God?
He who plants and he who waters are one. All of God’s workers are one in Him, and to Him all glory should go. Recognition of our oneness in the Lord is the sure and only remedy for divisiveness. It leaves no place for the flesh and its jealousy strife, and division.
God does not fail to recognize the faithful work of His servants. Each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. God will “give their reward to [His] bond–servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear [His] name, the small and the great” (Rev. 11:18). That is the uniqueness of future glory.
God rewards on the basis of labor, not success or results. A missionary may work faithfully for 40 years and see only a handful of converts. Another may work far fewer years and see far more converts. Jeremiah was one of God’s most faithful and dedicated prophets, yet he saw little result of his ministry. He was ridiculed, persecuted, and generally rejected along with the message he preached. Jonah, on the other hand, was petty and unwilling, yet through him God won the entire city of Nineveh in one brief campaign. Our usefulness and effectiveness are purely by God’s grace (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10).
It is appropriate that God’s faithful servants be appreciated and encouraged while they are on earth. But they are not to be glorified, set apart, or made the center of special groups or movements.
Paul and Apollos were but God’s fellow workers. It was not their own ministry that they worked in, but His. What divine companionship! It was God’s church in Corinth, not Paul’s or Apollos’s or Peter’s. The believers there were God’s field, God’s building, and His alone. And the glory for any good work done there, or anywhere, is also His alone.
8 Paul develops the agricultural imagery further by emphasizing that both the planter and the waterer have one purpose, namely, to see to it that there is a harvest from what has been sown. And if there is a decent harvest, there will obviously be a “reward” (misthos, GK 3635) awaiting each one for the hard work put into the project. The word misthos is used in the Gospels and elsewhere in the NT for the spiritual reward one receives. In some passages (e.g., Mt 5:12; Mk 9:41; Lk 6:23; 2 Jn 8; Rev 22:12) it denotes a “reward” given in heaven; in other passages (e.g., Mt 20:8; Ro 4:4) it means “wages,” which metaphorically points to one’s eternal reward. Paul’s meaning for this word falls in line with this usage, and here he is setting up the discussion he will explore in 1 Corinthians 3:12–15.
9 Paul first reaffirms that he and Apollos are both “fellow workers” of God. Then he switches his imagery from that of agriculture to that of architecture when he calls the Corinthians “God’s field” and then “God’s building.” Such dual images have their root in the OT’s description of the task to which God called his servant and prophet Jeremiah: “to uproot” and to “tear down,” and later “to build” and “to plant” (Jer 1:10; cf. 24:6; Sir 49:7).
With this perspective, Paul undercuts once and for all the statements that were making the rounds in Corinth, cited both in 1:12 and 3:4: “I follow Paul,” and, “I follow Apollos.” Literally these slogans translate, “I am of Paul,” and, “I am of Apollos,” meaning something like, “I belong to Paul,” or, “I belong to Apollos.” As far as the apostle is concerned, believers do not belong to any particular individual, no matter how influential that person may be in someone’s life. We belong to God! We are his field; we are his building. This is a strong warning to any of us who are pastors to make sure that the people under our care do not develop such an attachment to us that we feel as though they belong to us. (Attachment to a human leader, in fact, is one of the chief characteristics of a cult.) If anything, the reverse is true: Paul and Apollos and any other human leaders belong to the people as servants (see 3:21–23 and comments).
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 74–75). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 284). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.