“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, God's building.”
(1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)
Ministry can be frustrating. And this is true of ministry whether it’s that of the individual, the local congregation, or mission work in a distant land. It can be frustrating because we aren’t seeing the results we’d like.
We’ve served for years and made every effort to reach out to the lost. Yet, despite our efforts, we see few, if any, coming to faith in the Lord. Despite our efforts, growth is either minimal or nonexistent.
Let’s face it, we all want to see growth. We want to see people receiving the grace of God. We want to feel like we’ve achieved something.
Seeing no results, we feel like failures. We feel like the church is dying. We feel that our efforts to reach out are futile.
Although Paul was addressing a conflict in the church, the above passage speaks to our frustration. We, too, deal with factions in the church. We, too, believe that one leader is better or more effective than another. But we’re reminded, in this passage, that growth is God’s work and not our own.
When speaking of himself and Apollos, Paul says that they are nothing. They did their jobs: One of them planted and one of them watered. But it was God who gave the growth.
The same, then, is true of us. In ourselves, we are nothing. We must do our job. We must carry out our calling. But we must bear in mind that it’s not we who cause the growth. It’s the Lord who does so.
This doesn’t give us permission to slack off. It doesn’t mean that we can excuse a lack of preparation for a sermon or a Bible study. It doesn’t excuse our lack of effort to improve and to grow in our preaching, teaching, and evangelism. And it doesn’t excuse our lack of effort to conduct ourselves as well as possible.
However, we must remember that we cannot change the hearts of men. Nor can we instill faith into the hearts of men. This is the work of God.
We must simply carry on in the calling God has entrusted to us. We must serve as faithfully as possible. And whether we are seeing results or not, we must remember that it’s God who gives the growth.