The Pastor's Duty
Tim Temple


Many times we have a misconception of the pastor and his duty. As we come to I Corinthians, chapter 3, we find the same kind of misconception in the church at Corinth. They had a misconception of the ministry. In the first part of the chapter, Paul has been talking about the participants in that misconception. There were two kinds who misunderstand the ministry: first, those who are unable to understand Biblical concepts about the pastorate or anything else because they are unsaved; second, those who are unstable. That is a term that we have coined. It is a matter of being a carnal Christian, one who is controlled by the desires of the body rather than the desires of the Holy Spirit, just doing whatever feels good or whatever is easiest on the body. Those are two categories of the source of misconception of the ministry.

The Minister as Servant

That brings us today to the principles in this misconception, what the misconception actually consists of. What kind of misconceptions of the ministry do people like this have? What kind of misconceptions do they get? Paul mentions two in this paragraph. The first misconception is in verses 5 and 6. That is the misconception that men are important in God's work. That may sound like a surprising statement to you, so let's notice very carefully what he said in these verses. In verse 5:

I Corinthians 3

5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

You remember that a big problem in the church at Corinth was that instead of the lordship of Jesus Christ, they were exalting men who ministered to them. They were, in fact, having divisions among themselves over who was the better of the ministers. Some were saying, “I am of Paul;” and some were saying, “I am of Apollos”. You remember all of the divisions that we have talked about in those earlier chapters. Paul, as he seeks to correct that misconception, comes to this point in chapter 3 where he says, “Who is Paul anyway? Who is Apollos anyway?” The most important word in verse 5 for our particular purposes is the word “ministers”. Notice in verse 5:

I Corinthians 3

5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed…

The word “ministers” there is a translation of the Greek word diakonos , which actually means “servant”. Incidentally, it is the root word from which we get our word “deacon”, but Paul is applying it here to the pastor/teachers, to the visible leaders of the local church; but more specifically than that, it means “waiter of tables”. In most of the wealthy homes of the Roman world, one of the standard servants who would be present in that home would be the one who served the table. This is information that the Corinthians would have been familiar with. When he wrote, “Paul and Apollos are ministers,” he was saying something that they, though they might not have thought of Paul and Apollos as ministers, knew what a minister was. He was one who waited on the table. He was a very humble person in the Roman society.

That was probably a very surprising thing for the Corinthians to read, because the point that this verse makes is that the pastor or preacher or minister or whatever else he might be called by title is not the high and mighty head of the Church. He is not the person around whom the Church should focus. He is, in fact, the servant of the Church.

Provision of Spiritual Food

An interesting thing to notice, too, is that the waiter of tables is such a fitting picture of the way God speaks of the presentation of His Word. He speaks of the Word of God in many places in the Word of God as meat and as food; so the preacher, or whatever title he may be called, is one who brings the food to the congregation. Paul is literally making a play on words here. The pastor is the waiter of tables. He is the one who brings the food to the congregation. In the last couple of years particularly, the Lord has impressed upon me personally of thinking of myself in that way. As I study and as I prepare to teach, I very often try to visualize myself as a chef who is preparing a meal. I am praying, as I do that, that it will be a meal that is nutritious and acceptable and will feed those who partake of it. That is the concept–that the preacher is the servant of the church; he is the table waiter; he is the one who brings the food.

Many Areas of Ministry

I want us to digress for just a moment and think about something else that this verse implies. Although it is a digression, it is something that fits in very importantly with what we are talking about. Remember the passage is addressing the place of the pastor, but there is a converse application also. The minister is the servant of God so, conversely, anyone who is serving the Lord is in a certain sense a minister. Whether he is a preacher or not, anyone who is serving the Lord, anyone who is a servant of God, in whatever capacity, is a minister in God's sight. There is a very real sense in which there is no difference between the clergy and the laity.

One of the things that has been propounded by the Catholic church for years, and it goes back for hundreds and hundreds of years and most of the Protestant churches have picked it up and embellished it and believe in it just as strongly as the Catholics do, is that the preacher is on another level. He is above the people; he is not on the same level. One friend of mine who is a pastor said that the preacher is kind of a third sex. He doesn't really understand the needs of women or men. He is just in a totally different category. The church, down through the years, has foisted that upon us. Most people believe that subconsciously. I think and I hope that that is less true in our church than it is in a lot of churches, but it certainly is true in a general sense even among Bible-believing, Christ-trusting people.

This passage tells us that anybody is a minister who is serving the Lord. Every Christian who is seeking to serve the Lord in whatever he does is in the ministry in a very real sense. As you probably know, there are many places where you as a layman can minister and people to whom you can speak where I, as a pastor, would not be listened to at all. I know of a Christian who is in jail at this particular time. I talked to this particular individual's father last week, and the father said, “You know, my son said that he sits through the services that the churches come and conduct in jail, and he appreciates them coming; but most of the time he finds that the other prisoners, even though they may attend the services, are not listening very carefully. But when he, as a fellow prisoner, sits down and tries to communicate with them, they will listen to him. They might not agree with him. They might not accept what he says, but at least they pay attention to him because he is among them.”

I am not advocating that you try to be arrested and go to jail in order to have a ministry. But at the same time, that principle applies where you are. If you are on a military base, you have access to people that I, as a pastor, or any other pastor, would not have access to. If you are on the college campus, if you are in the hospital corridor, or if you are in the business world, you have contacts every day which pastors cannot reach; and in many cases, they are people who would not listen to pastors in the first place. So we are all in the ministry.

As we come back to the text, as we think about the misconception about the professional ministry we might say, as we think about these misconceptions about the pastor, let's remember that these principles apply to all of us. Coming back to the text, what we are seeing as the first misconception of the ministry is that the pastor is the boss of the church or in a more general way that men are important in God's work. Many people think, “If we didn't have our pastor, this church would just fall apart.” Verse 6 underscores that point:

I Corinthians 3

6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

First of all, notice that not everybody has the same ministry. Some plant, and some water. Paul used that term to describe differing ministries that he and Apollos had.

I think that one of the reasons that we misunderstand the ministry is that some people think that unless you are an evangelist, you are really not important in God's work. Other people think that unless you are a teaching pastor, you are really not being used of God. But here were two men, and both of these men were men whom the Corinthians had exalted and, in fact, had made little groups around; and yet their ministry was so different from each other that it could be characterized as the difference between watering and planting. Those of us who appreciate evangelism have a tendency to exalt evangelists. Those of us who appreciate teaching have a tendency to exalt the teacher. Paul says, “You are misunderstanding the ministry.” God has gifted different men in different ways, and just because a particular minister operates in a way that you identify with, it does not mean that he is better than some other minister to whom God has given some other gift. Men are different in their abilities and in the jobs that God has given them to do.

God Gives the Increase

There is something else that is even more important to notice in verse 6. Notice the phrase, “…but God gave the increase.” Here is really the point that this passage makes–and these are my words, not Scripture–when we say that men are important in God's work: Paul's planting and Apollos' watering, whatever that may have amounted to, would have amounted to nothing if God hadn't given the increase. Do you see that? “I planted, but the plants would have never grown if God hadn't given the increase. Apollos watered, but it would have done no good at all if God had not given the increase.” So why do we say that men are not important in the ministry? Because they are entirely dependent upon God for the results. Clever programs and eloquence may build a following, but only God can build a flock. Never forget that.

I believe that there are many ministries in the world today of various groups and denominations that are built on clever programs and eloquent preaching and personality cults, and God is not giving the increase. Oh, there are great numbers involved, but it is not because of what God is doing. With eternity's values in view, those ministries will amount to very, very little. It is only the minister and only the ministry that is dependent upon the increase that God gives that is going to amount to anything in God's eternal program.

On the one hand there is a sense in which men are important in God's work because, for reasons known only to Himself, He has chosen men to speak. If you and I don't speak that which He gives us to speak, then the program is going to be hindered to that extent. There is that sense, perhaps, in which men are important in God's program because He has chosen to use men, but in the sense of accomplishments that account for eternity, you and I and every other servant of Christ are absolutely dependent on God to give the increase. If you as a minister, wherever you may be ministering–in the pulpit or in the office or in the classroom or wherever it is–are dependent upon the clever things that you can say or the amount of knowledge that you have or your scintillating personality to accomplish something for God, you are wasting your time. All those things God may use, but they are totally unimportant in terms of accomplishing what God wants to accomplish.

Co-laborers With God

In verses 7 and 8, there is a second misconception and that is that some men are more important than others in God's work. That is common, too, isn't it? Look at verse 7:

I Corinthians 3

7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

Verse 7 is just a summary of the previous point, but it does make that previous point in a very clear way. Neither he that plants is anything, nor he that waters is anything. Men are not important in God's work. It is God who gives the increase. But verse 8 makes a new point, and that is the point of the proper relationship between the servants of God. What is that relationship? Look at verse 8. Do you see that all ministers and ministries are interconnected? “He that planteth and he that watereth are one…” Those who are truly serving Christ are co-laborers with God. God's plan has never called for the jealousy, the rivalry that so often characterizes even good, sincere ministries. So many in the “professional ministry”, in the pastorate, some kind of formal ministry, are defensive and sensitive about whether someone else is getting more attention than they are. These are sometimes people who are really seeking to serve the Lord. God never intended that at all. “He that planteth and he that watereth are one…,” God says in verse 8. This is just the opposite of what is happening in many cases in the churches today. “ Every one who is preaching the truth is part of God's team,” Paul says. In fact, in Philippians, chapter 1, verse 8, Paul said, “I rejoice when Christ is preached, even in pretense.” Do you see what he was saying? He said, “I rejoice even when Christ is being preached by people with the wrong motive, even if people are preaching Christ because it provides them with a good job or because it draws attention to them.”

Of Equal Importance

Keep in mind Paul did not say, “I rejoice when the false teachers detract from the Word of God,” but he said, “If someone is preaching the Gospel, if someone is telling people how to be saved, even if he is doing it just to draw attention to himself, I am glad he is preaching the Gospel.” We human beings have a tendency to say, “Well, he is preaching, but he is just not very effective. Our pastor is so much better than that. He is not important because he is not teaching as clearly as this man here,” or “He is not as important because he is not reaching as many people.” Listen, that is a totally unbiblical thing to say; that is a completely unbiblical attitude to have. It is unbiblical to think that one man is more important than another man just because he pastors a church or baptizes more people or speaks more places or takes in more money. God is the one who arranges those places of service. Just because someone is pastor of a bigger church–thank God that he is pastor of a big church–that doesn't make him any more important than the pastor who is pastor of a little church of ten people somewhere. If they are both sincerely serving the Lord, if they are both teaching the Word of God, then they are equally important in God's sight; and they ought to be equally important in our sight.

The same thing applies to the different kinds of ministries. It is unbiblical to think that evangelism is more important than Bible teaching or that feeding the hungry is more important than building a Bible college or that this kind of ministry over here is more important than this kind of ministery over there. That is unbiblical. God says that we are all laborers together, and God gives the increase.

Basis of Rewards

There is something else to notice in verse 8. It also speaks of the perfect reward that comes for serving the Lord–not only the proper relationship, but the perfect reward. Notice that last phrase of verse 8 again:

I Corinthians 3

8Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

The subject of rewards in general is beyond the scope of our study today, but the Scripture does say that all of us who serve the Lord, whether in the pulpit or in the office or wherever, will receive rewards for that. That is not talking about salvation. Salvation is always spoken of as a gift from God. Those of us who have accepted God's gift of salvation will also, by God's grace, receive rewards based on what we have done with the time that we have had since the time we were saved until we get to Heaven. Incidentally, isn't that gracious of God? It is enough that He would just let us come to Heaven, but He is also going to give us rewards for what we have done, how we have used our time. The Scripture goes on to say that we will use those rewards to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

The thing that we want to notice at this point is the phrase, “his own reward”, and the phrase, “his own labour”. Listen very carefully to what I am about to say, because it is one of the most important principles of the Christian life, one of the most important principles of serving the Lord and trying to live for the Lord. God does not reward you on the basis of someone else. He rewards you on the basis of your relationship to Him. God does not reward you for how many hours you put in relation to how many hours someone else puts in. He rewards you on the basis of what you did with the time that He gave you. God is not going to reward you on the basis of how much of the Bible you know in relation to how much someone else knows. He is going to reward you on the basis of how much of the time that He gave you to study the Bible you spent in studying the Bible.

According to His Own Labor

Some of us who are in the professional ministry, for lack of a better term, have a great deal more time–I daresay that I have a lot more time–to study the Bible than any of you here today. In fact, I have often said that I think the reason God put me in the ministry was because He knew that I probably wouldn't study the Bible like I ought to unless I had to get up on Sunday and teach it. I probably have more time than anyone in this room to study the Bible, and that is the way it ought to be. A church ought to give their pastor time to study. That ought to be the priority of the pastor. But God is not going to reward you on the basis of how much Bible you know in relation to how much I know. He is going to reward you on the basis of how much time He gave you to study the Bible. The same thing would be true of any other area. I am just using Bible study as an example.

“Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” Paul, again, is talking about those who are in the ministry in the sense of being in the pastorate, etc. What he is saying is, “If God gives a man a big church and that man does a poor job with that big church, then he is not going to receive as much reward as the man to whom God gives a little church and that man does the absolute best that he can with that little church.” See, God's system of standard, God's system of judgment, God's system of reward is not on the basis of who is doing more that shows up in the eyes of men, but on the basis of what you are doing with what God calls you to do. How obedient to Christ are you being? How faithful to Christ are you being? Don't look at someone else and how faithful they are and how much more they may seem to be doing than you. What are you doing for Christ? How faithful are you being for Christ?

As I have already said today, you don't have to go into the pastorate or into the mission fields to serve the Lord unless God calls you to do that. Before it is over with, he may call some of you who are sitting here to do just that, but you don't have to do that to serve the Lord. You can serve the Lord as a Christian business man or a homemaker or a military man or a college student or someone in the medical field or any kind of work that God gives you to do. You can be a minister of Jesus Christ regardless of where you are just as much as the guy who spent his whole life in some jungle outpost on the mission field. The key is: Are you being faithful to what He gave you to do?


As we conclude, do you have a different concept of the ministry now than you did when we started this lesson? What this passage tells us is diametrically opposed to the practice of most churches today. Because of that, the actual work that God wants to do in the world today has really been hindered, I believe. Don't be dependent on the pastor for the work of the ministry. Work with me in the ministry. That is God's plan; that is God's program. I bring the food to you. You eat of the food and be strengthened to go out and do the work of the ministry on the basis of that. We are in this together. He that planteth and he that watereth are one.

Let me ask you one final question. Have you done, during the past week, all that the Holy Spirit has led you to do? Have you had some prompting from the Holy Spirit that maybe from the human standpoint would just seem like an idea that came into your head, but have you had some prompting from the Holy Spirit that you just have not followed through with for whatever reason? Or can you say that when the Lord has prompted you to do something, you may not have done it as well as you wanted to, but you did seek to do it?

Never mind what God has led me to do during the past week or what He has led someone else to do. What are you doing in your service for the Lord? That is the question that matters. That is the Biblical concept of the ministry.

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