by Zac Poonen
In 1 Corinthians 3, we read about evangelism and building the church. “Some of you say, ‘I am of Paul and I am of Apollos’ ” (1 Cor. 3:4). Paul says, ” What is the difference? We are both servants. I planted and Apollos watered” (1 Cor. 3:6). Paul did the work of evangelism – he dug the ground and planted the seed. Apollos came along later and watered. He didn’t dig the ground or plant any seed. What was the need for that, when someone else had already done it? He would have destroyed the seed if he dug up the ground again! What the seed now needed was watering – and so that was what Apollos wisely did. Some evangelists get upset if someone else comes along and waters what they have planted. They will say, “Why don’t you go and plant somewhere else? Why do you come into my field?” But is it your field or the Lord’s field? If you are doing God’s work, then it is God’s field and He can send another servant to water what you have planted. Paul recognised that. So he was happy for what Apollos was doing. If however you are building your own field, then it will be burnt up as “wood, hay and straw” one day (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
The tragedy with much of today’s evangelism is that people say, “This is MY convert.” And so there is a lot of duplication of work in God’s vineyard today – many Christians are doing the same thing over and over again, instead of each person doing what God called him to do. If Paul plants, isn’t it good that Apollos comes along and does not plant again, but waters? That will make the weak plant to grow into a solid tree. That was the type of cooperation they had in the first century. But today, what we see in Christendom, unfortunately, is not cooperation, but competition. So let us learn not to duplicate another person’s work, but to work in cooperation, not counting any work as “OURS”!!
The great commission the Lord gave us was “to evangelize” (Mark 16:15) and then “to make them into disciples and teach them to do everything He commanded” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Consider an illustration: If you saw 100 people carrying a log of wood, with 99 of them holding up one end of the log and only one at the other end – at which end would you go to help? Today, in many lands, 99% of Christian workers are engaged in evangelism and 1% in making converts into disciples and building them into a local church. That was why I decided to help at the 1% – end of the log. I am not against those at the other end of the log. They are needed too. But there are already many people there.
Paul and Apollos worked together, and their converts were for the Lord and their churches were also for the Lord. Paul planted and Apollos watered, but God was the one who gave the growth. So all the glory should go to God. Paul says about himself and Apollos,”We are nobodies. We are nothing” (1 Cor. 3:7). That’s why they could work together harmoniously. Two nobodies can work together easily. It is when one of them thinks that he is a somebody, that problems arise.
If you ever build a local church anywhere, let me give you a suggestion from seeing the Lord plant churches in India and elsewhere for 40 years: Be a nobody yourself first and make all your converts into “nobody”s. Then you will build a wonderful church – where there is cooperation and no competition. A church where everyone, from leader down to the newest convert, is just a zero, will be the best church in the world. They may all be zeros, but when you put Jesus in front of them all – He being a “1” will make even a church with 9 people worth a billion – 1,000,000,000!! So determine that you will never become a somebody, but always a nobody, like Paul and Apollos were.