by Lynn Buzzard
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? I Cor. 1:20
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Cor. 3:5-7; 9-11
The story is told of the city slicker who visited the old farmer, admiring his productive fields, the rolling hills, verdant meadows, and refreshing ponds. A man of religious inclination, he said to the farmer: “Isn’t it wonderful what you and God have made here?” To which the farmer, after a long thoughtful pause, replied, “You should’ve seen it when God had it by Himself.”
The story illustrates a reality and presses a question.
The reality is that there is an aspect of God’s order that calls upon us as His creation to be responsible stewards, to be creative, to excel, to, as some have put it, be vice-regents under God for creation. Indeed, there are many Scriptures that call on us to be faithful workers, laborers and stewards. In Jesus’ parable of the stewards, He praises those managers who expanded the owner’s resources and is quite distressed at those who merely protected the corpus.
And yet at the same time there are clear biblical principles, as illustrated in the noted text, that warn us of the folly of human effort and wisdom. We are reminded of the dangers of pride, wealth, and even success. To think “I have done it,” is the kind of arrogance, even idolatry, that is at the core of sin. Even we ourselves are often not fooled by our pretensions and sense the futility and triviality of so much of our earnest endeavors.
How are we to put those twin themes together – of recognizing the call to faithful and productive service, using the gifts and callings we have, and yet avoiding the illusions and corruption of supposed power and accomplishment.
The text in Corinthians give us at least one reference point. A key is a recognition that God indeed uses our efforts – in the words of I Cor. 4:5ff, we are “waterers, planters.” We have a calling, a duty – and, in one sense, we are indispensable. Our storied farmer was right in noting the contribution he had made to the beauty of the farm.
And yet the Corinthian letter reminds us that our efforts, seen with spiritual eyes, are only facilitative. “It is God who gives the increase,” or in the words of verse 9: “We are laborers together with God.” (KJV)
The same point is made clear in verse 10 where Paul can refer to himself as, in the grace of God, a “wise master builder.” But in verse 10, we also understand that if this master builder builds on the wrong foundation — “take heed.”
Thus, the biblical word is not that we can do nothing. Indeed, perhaps part of the imago Dei in us is the ability to achieve, create – but unless what we do is first built on a proper foundation, it is nothing; and second, that it must be “with God” – not in some “I am the master of my own fate” deadly illusion.
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This article comes from CLS' sister-international ministry's, Advocate's International, devotional for lawyers titled, “What Does the Lord Require of You?” Lynn Buzzard is a former professor at Campbell Law School and the former executive director of Christian Legal Society.