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Patrons or Partners?

1 Corinthians 3:5-10

5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

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

7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

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

9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

10 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.


A lady once wrote to Horace Greeley, the founder of the New York Tribune, to describe the distressing financial straits of her church. She said to him, “We have tried everything that we know to keep our church alive. We have had oyster suppers and grab bags and cakewalks and everything in between. Can you suggest some new idea that can keep our struggling church from disbanding?” He wrote back and suggested, “Why don’t you try religion?”

You know, churches try almost everything but Christianity sometimes to keep their churches alive. John Anderson, who wrote a religious column for the Dallas Morning News, said that there are several basic ways that churches are supported in America today. Some of them use the give-and-take technique. That is, they use a dollar swapping idea where the idea is that I will give you a dollar and you give me something in return. They have cake bakes and rummage sales, and that give-and-take technique is used to raise pennies for God’s work.

There are other churches that use the pay-as-you-go plan. They sell their services and sacraments for whatever the market will bear. Whatever services you draw from the church, you pay for as you go along.

There are some churches that work on the assessment basis. In Europe, many of the churches are supported by the state. Some of those churches that draw most of their influence from European roots have come to this country and have practiced selling assessments to the members of their congregation.

I heard this past week that somebody suggested that we even do that. A Baptist man—and this is a true story by the way—had a date with a Lutheran lady and was explaining at dinner how he longed for friendship because he was so lonely. So she said, “Well, what you need to do is to get involved in the church. Why don’t you go with me to my church?” And he said, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I am a Baptist and you are a Lutheran.” She said, “Well, why don’t you go to Green Acres Baptist Church? I hear that that is an alive and going place.” And he said, “I couldn’t do that. I was talking with a man at work the other day and he said before you can join Green Acres you’ve got to present your financial statement.” If he only knew. It takes little to get into Green Acres and nothing to stay in. Some of you could give a testimony to that effect. It takes more to ride the city bus than it does to get into this church.

We believe that the right way to support God’s work is freewill offerings. Sometimes, even as we make an appeal for the freewill offering, we do not use the best of motives in doing that. We sometimes emphasize the duty aspect of it—that you ought to or that you are expected to give. We do it with such fervor that when you leave here, there is a sense of guilt if you do not give as we say you ought to give. But that is not the best of motives for giving.

Sometimes we play heavily on the tax angle. We explain that your gift is tax deductible and if you need a tax break, this is one way to get it. While that is true, it is not the best of motives for giving. Hopefully, whatever we give will be given joyfully, gladly, and liberally out of a sense of dedication and commitment to God. Not because we feel we have to. Not because we feel that we are going to get a tax break if we do. Not because we think we are going to get something back from God in return. That’s sort of the swapping idea. Rather, we give because we love God and we are committed to him. We do this out of the sense of joy and dedication and commitment to him. I really believe that if we ever capture the idea that we are partners with God in his work, and that our participation in this church is a partnership with God in doing his work in Tyler and around the world, it will change our whole attitude concerning stewardship (and every other part of our church life).

I read some time ago that one of the directors of the Rockefeller Foundation said that the members of that organization are either patrons or they are partners. A patron is a person who lends his name and his support to an organization. He occasionally will attend one of the annual meetings. There is some kind of slight attachment to that organization. A patron intends to help it by their name and by a contribution, but there is no real vital involvement if you are a patron.

But if you are a partner in something, that means that you are vitally associated with another person in a common interest. People who are married are called partners—married partners. They are vitally associated in a common interest. Two people who dance are called partners; they are vitally involved in a common interest. Two tennis players are called partners, and they are vitally involved in an area of common interest. People who are involved in business are called partners; they are vitally involved and associated in an area of common interest. It is interesting to know that the Bible speaks of us as partners with God in his work.

The apostle Paul declares that in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter six. He is writing to a church that has failed to mature and to grow spiritually, and as a result, there is division in the church. Some of the people were following the apostle Paul and saying that they liked his preaching and his leadership. They claimed to be Paul’s disciples. Others were following Apollos, who was an eloquent speaker. These people were impressed with his leadership and his ability, and the church was about to divide over the leaders.

The apostle Paul wrote to say, “Who is Paul and who is Apollos? We are nothing more than ministers of Christ. We are just the servants of Christ carrying out our responsibility as God has assigned them. God has given us each a particular job. He has given me the job of planting seeds. I am an evangelist. I am a pioneer in the work of God. But Apollos has another assignment. It is his job to water the seed. But in the midst of it all, while I plant and Apollos waters, it is God who gives the increase.”

The man who plants is not much, and the man who waters doesn’t matter too much. The one who really matters is God. But the planter and the one who waters are one. Paul is saying that we need to be members of the same team. We have the same aim. We are working together in the same great cause, but it is God who gives the increase.

Then he says, “For we are laborers together with God. We are partners with him.” We are involved in the same tasks, the same mission, and the same work with others and with God. What a marvelous concept to think that God, in his great program of world redemption, would take us in on a partnership basis—that he would allow us to be participants who are vitally involved in his great work. God could do it by himself, but he has chosen to allow us to be partners. In light of that, we must always struggle with the question, “Am I a partner or am I a patron? Am I the kind of person who just lends my name, gives a token of support to the church, or attends a meeting every once in a while? Or am I vitally involved with brothers and sisters in Christ and with God himself in an area of common interest? Am I a real partner in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” It is in that sense of partnership that we are privileged to work with God that ought to cause us to want to give joyfully and generously to the work of God. There are four things about this partnership with God that I want you to understand.

1. It is a working partnership.

Look at that word laborers. We are laborers together with God. It suggests that there is work for us to do. We are to be involved in a vital, dynamic way in the kingdom of God.

Years ago, Andrew Fuller suggested that there are four names given in the Bible for Christians. They are called saints for their holiness. They are called believers for their faith. They are called brothers for their love. They are called disciples for their knowledge. But he added another vital name: Christians are also called servants for their labor. Repeatedly in the scriptures, the people of God are called his servants because he expects us to be vitally involved in working in the kingdom of God.

I had the privilege this week of meeting Stanley Tam, the president of US Plastics in Lima, Ohio. He is a Christian businessman. I would have said a few years ago, and he would have said too, that he was the owner of US Plastics. But now he is only the president of US Plastics, because he has given his business to God. In fact he has written a book about his life entitled God Owns My Business. One hundred percent of the stock has been given to God in a nonprofit corporation, and he is only the president of that corporation drawing a salary. All of the profits go to mission work. He tells in his book how he became a partner with God in his business.

When he was young door-to-door salesman, he had a hunger for God. One day he called on a farmer’s wife. She listened to his sales pitch and bought what he had to sell. And then she said, “I want you to sit and listen to me.” For two hours, she talked to him about his relationship to God. She opened the Bible, explained to him how he could be saved, and he became a Christian.

A few years later as his commitment to Christ developed, he was in a silver refining business that went bankrupt. In that time of distress in his life, God came to him and said, “Stanley, it doesn’t need to be this way. You could take me as your partner, and I will make your business a success.” From that day forward, he counted God as a partner in his business. As his business grew and his dedication to God grew, there came a time in 1940 when God said, “I want 51 percent of your business.” Stanley went to a lawyer and had a legal contract drawn up that named God as 51 percent owner of the stock in the company. The company continued to grow until today it is a multimillion-dollar company that is still growing by leaps and bounds as God continues to bless.

He had another deepening experience with God in 1955 when God said, “Now I want 100 percent of your business.” Stanley signed over every bit of the stock to God in this nonprofit corporation. God is his partner and God prospers the business.

He has three goals in his life. Number one is to speak to a billion people in his lifetime about Christ. Number two is to give a million dollars a year to missions. He is now giving two million dollars a year. His third goal is to be an influence in leading five people a day to faith in Jesus Christ. He is 65 years old and he said, “I am running out of strength, and I’m not sure I can meet and talk to enough people to win five people every day to Christ, but at the present time I’m able to lead an average of four people a day to Christ.”

The fact that God is his partner and he has turned his business over to God means he is but managing it for him. It does not cause him to be lazy, indifferent, or unconcerned about the business. He says in his biography that while God does honor us when we make our business his, we have a clear injunction in scripture not to be slothful or lazy in business. Stanley continues to think as hard as he can think and to work as hard as he can work and to sacrifice as much as he can sacrifice to make the business a success. He does this because God expects even those who are in a partnership with him to put forth their best effort.

One of the tragedies of all of life is laziness. Laziness starts out like cobwebs and winds up being chains that shackle us. That can be true in business, but it can also be true in our partnership with God. We can fail to work like we ought to. God is our partner and we are to be vitally involved in his kingdom. Simply put, God expects us to work. You know God gave Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden, but he also said, “You’ve got to till it.” God saved Noah in the Ark, but he said, “Noah, you’ve got to build it.”

God gave Israel the Promised Land, but they had to fight for every inch of it. And God has given us salvation freely as a gift of his grace. We cannot work for it, and we cannot earn it. Salvation is the free gift of God and we receive it by faith, without paying any money, and without doing any work. Today you can receive the free gift of God, but once you have received the free gift of God, he expects you to invest your time and your money and your energy in spreading that good news to the end of the earth.

God still expects us to pay missionaries. He still expects us to build buildings. He still expects us to pay a staff and to carry on his program. We are partners with God and his great work, and that involves a working relationship.

2. It is a cooperative partnership.

We are partners together with God. That word together involves Christian people. We are all together. Paul and Apollos were together serving God. It is a triple partnership, and we must never forget that togetherness.

The church in Corinth was divided. Some were following Paul, and some were following Apollos. Paul said, “Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? Why they are nothing but servants.” They were part of the same team. They had the same aim and the same purpose together. They were not divided.

One of the greatest curses of Christianity is the division that has come through the years. In all of our various denominations, there are some who think they are the only ones who are going to heaven and they are kind of glad about it. They are glad that the rest of us are going to hell. What a tragedy it is that people have developed that idea. We are more like competitors at times than we are cooperative.

Jesus had to deal with that in the hearts and minds of his apostles. Mark 9:38 says, “And John answered him saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbade him because he followeth not us.” In other words, he wasn’t a part of our church. He wasn’t a part of our group. He wasn’t a member of our denomination. He was casting out devils in your name and we told him to stop it. And Jesus said, “Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:39-41).

Listen, friends, there are lots of people working for God who aren’t a part of us. They don’t walk with us. They don’t have the name Baptist nailed above the door. But they are still our partners if they believe in Christ, if they are committed to Christ, and if they are serving Christ. We are laborers together. We are partners together in the great work of God. We need one another in God’s work. We don’t need division. Whether it be denominational division or division over leaders. We need one another as individuals.

Stanley Tam said that one day a man visited him and asked him a question that changed his life. “Do you have a friend?” he asked. Stanley said, “Well, sure I have some friends.” He said, “No, I mean the kind of true friend who will stick with you. Suppose you fell into some great sin. Would he still love you and would he still help you? Suppose you went broke. Would he still be your friend? Suppose you became crippled or paralyzed. Would he still come to see you? Would he still care about you? That’s the kind of friend I’m asking about.” Stanley thought for a minute and said that he did indeed have one who was that kind of friend. The man said, “Then you need to make him a partner in your Christian life. A prayer partner.”

Everyone has their weak side. Everybody has an area of life where they are vulnerable to temptation. When you have somebody who is in this with you, you are together. His strength will support your weakness, and your strength will help him in his weakness. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read, “One shall put a thousand to flight, but two shall put ten thousand to flight.” When you’ve got a partner, you multiply your strength ten times. Moses had Aaron. David had Jonathan. Paul had Silas. I tell you, we need one another. We are laborers together with God. It is not only a working partnership, it is a cooperative partnership.

3. It is a dependent partnership.

But there is another thing you need to remember. Paul planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase. He is the one who makes the seed grow. Now, you need a Paul to plant the seed. You need an Apollos to water the seed. But when they have done that, they can do nothing but wait. They are needed, but they can’t do anything to make the seed grow.

It is God and God alone who makes the seed grow. And it is God alone who gives power and value to our human effort. Without God in it, nothing shall come of what we do. The psalmist said, “Except the Lord build a house, they labor in vain that build it.” Read that verse carefully. Somebody is out building a house right now. They are sweating and getting calluses on their hands in order to build that house. They are laboring. But they better have God as their partner. Remember, except the Lord build a house, they labor in vain who are out there nailing and sawing. It is a partnership in which we do much of the work, but God must be taken in as our partner or disaster will come.

The secret of Paul’s life was his dependency upon God. Did you know that the name Paul means “little”? It means dependent upon God, and the power of Paul came from his almighty weakness and from his overwhelming humility. When I am weak, then I become strong. When I realize my weakness and how inadequate I am, then I depend upon God. That’s where strength is.

4. It is a rewarding partnership.

Paul said, “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” The controlling factor in the reward is according to his own labor. We are saved by grace. God’s gift. God’s mercy. But our reward in eternity will be according to our labor. Your reward is not going to be according to your title: pastor, deacon, trustee, or Sunday school teacher. That doesn’t matter to God. Your reward will not be according to your seniority or the fact that you are a charter member of your church. That doesn’t mean anything. Who cares? It will be according to your labor. Sounds like free enterprise, doesn’t it? Pay a man what he earns. That’s what God says. Your reward is given according to your labor.

The more of yourself and the more of your means you put into this partnership, the more you draw out. We need to look upon our lives—including our gifts, as well as our time and our talents—as an investment. I’m investing my life, my money, and my time in a partnership with God, and he is the one who gives the increase.

That changes the whole concept altogether. For the more I invest, the more return I will receive. I hear people say, “I can’t afford to tithe.” I’m not sure you can afford not to tithe. Let me illustrate. If I’ve got a barn full of grain, and I take out ten percent of it and I plant it in the ground, which grain will produce the most? The part I kept for myself stored in the barn? Or the ten percent I planted in the ground? You know the answer.

I want you to know that whatever you invest in your partnership with God will produce eternal, everlasting rewards. We are partners together. It is a working partnership, a cooperative partnership, and a dependent partnership. It is a rewarding partnership, and the more we invest, the greater the dividends we see.

There is a time for commitment. There is time for you to say, “Lord, I want you as a partner in my life, in my business, in my marriage. I want us working together. You are the senior partner, guiding, directing, and controlling, and I will make investments as you bless me.” Are you willing to enter into that kind of partnership with God today? Not out of a sense of duty, because you don’t have to do it. Not because the ship is going to sink if you don’t, because friends, it will not. You do it because God has given you the privilege of being a laborer together with him. Why don’t you? You have been thinking about it a long time. Just say, “Lord, as best I can right now, I want to give all of myself to you: my business, my marriage, my talents—everything. I want to begin to work with you in the great program of winning the world to Jesus Christ.”

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