To whom was this letter – this epistle – written? There is no doubt but that it was written to the church in Corinth. I hope that you and I have no problem understanding that a church is not a physical building. This letter was not written and mailed to post office box 3433, or to 100 west 12 Avenue, Corinth, Greece. A church is not a building or a denomination, and it is certainly not an invisible, make-believe, ghostly cloud in the sky. A church is a group of God’s people, called out from general society by the Lord assembled together in order to serve and worship Him. This letter was written to one such church, as we are told in its first two verses. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth…” And again, a church is a called out assembly of God’s people. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ … unto the church of God which is at Corinth – to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints….” Paul’s letter was primarily written to the church in Corinth, but he knew that the Holy Spirit intended for it to be shared with other churches and other Christians – like us. “Paul… unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord..”
The fact that this letter is addressed to a single church, then secondly to the saints who made up that church, and finally to saints in other churches, places a small challenge on the man reading this letter. In our reading, as we come to this statement or that paragraph, we must ask ourselves, “Does this apply only to the church – the body of Christ – in Corinth?” “Does it apply to the individual Christians who make up that specific church?” “Or does it apply to all saints?”
Those questions have to be applied to the scripture from chapter 3 which we have just read. And then we look for the answer. So we notice in verse 1 that Paul speaks to “the brethren” of the church in Corinth. The church was weak because many of the members of the church were carnal and childish. “I, brethren, could not speak unto as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” The context following our scripture speaks about the lives and work of individual saints. These two things make me conclude that when he said, “Ye are God’s husbandry,” Paul was not speaking so much of the church as he was the members who made up that church.
So here we have another of the terms, titles or designations of the people of God – “husbandry.” And when did you last use that word? When was the last time that you thought about the meaning of that word? If the Holy Spirit through Paul says that you are God’s husbandry, we should spend at least thirty minutes trying to figure out what it means.
What does it mean that the saint is God’s husbandry?
First, I’ll digress just a bit. One of the fifty regional governments within the United States is called “Georgia.” It if found between Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee. It has some water-front property on the Atlantic Ocean. Do you know how it got its name? Well let me tell you. James Oglethorpe, a member of the British parliament, wanted to found a colony in the Americas. In 1732 he received a charter from the king, and a colony was established in Savanna. He intended to populate his colony with people taken from England’s debtors prisons. One of his goals was to rid England of useless baggage, and these people ended up in Georgia. The king who granted the charter was George II, and being a politician at heart, Oglethorpe gave the colony the name of his royal benefactor.
Why bring this up? Because as is true of many old names, “George” has a meaning, and in this case it is far from regal. It has been transliterated and anglicized from the Greek language. And the only place in the Bible where this Greek word is used, is right here in I Corinthians 3:9. “Husbandry” is the word “georgion” (gheh-ore’-ghee-on). It is related to the more common Bible word translated “husbandman” – someone who tills the soil. In other words, King George, at least by name, was nothing more than a farmer. “Husbandry” is a noun which speaks of “a cultivated field.”
Note the context of Paul’s statement before we move on. He was asking, “What is wrong with you people there in Corinth? Why are you so filled with cliques, factions and divisions?” “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 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.” The man who sows the seed is nothing more than a servant of God, the owner of the field. And the man who waters that seed, again, is just another servant. “For we are labourers together with God,” and you are the cultivated field, into which has been planted God’s good seed.
What does it mean that the saint is God’s husbandry?
First, it means that he is the property of God. It is not highly recommended that someone go to the trouble of clearing a field of trees and shrubs, then to turn the soil, perhaps run a fence around it, plant some seed and expect a crop, when the property belongs to another man. What is to stop the true owner of claiming his property and whatever happens to be growing on it? When Paul said, “Ye are God’s husbandry” he was saying these people were the property of the Lord.
Twice in this same epistle Paul declares to the saints, “Ye are bought with a price.” And that price was not paid with gold or silver… “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” If you are a child of God, ye are not your own, you are doubly the property of Jehovah, by way of creation and regeneration. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The word “peculiar” doesn’t mean “quaint,” “queer,” “weird” or “strange.” The Greek word speaks of “a purchased possession.” You are Christ’s “purchased possession;” you are God’s “husbandry” – His cultivated field.
Once again, that word “georgion” (gheh-ore’-ghee-on) speaks of a garden, not a prairie. While I admit that there is value in a meadow or pasture, that is beyond our intention this afternoon. The Lord is looking for fruit not grass; He wants to find wheat, or corn, beans or peas. And this means that, despite His ownership of the field, it is useless until tilled.
Here is a little seven year old girl, who by God’s grace has been converted to Christ – redeemed. She may fall in love with her pastor, and desire to be just like him – preaching the gospel to thousands. But it ain’t gonna happen. First, it is not the will of God that ladies and girls pastor churches or evangelize grown men. And second, this little girl is only seven. She may be the property of the Lord, but she is an uncultivated field, with a lot of spiritual improvements yet to come. And similarly, here is a twenty-five year old man, who has recently been saved by God’s grace. At that point in time, he too is not much more than a raw piece of prime agricultural land. He may yet be cleared of useless brush, plowed, fertilized, seeded and used to grow a bumper crop for God, but it may be years down the road. That isn’t to say the Lord might not start preparing that field tomorrow, but that is up to the Lord. But whether we are male or female, very young or very old, full of strength and vigor, or all worn out – “Ye are God’s husbandry.”
What does it mean that the saint is God’s husbandry?
This takes us back to another common Biblical theme – fruitfulness. In another regard we looked at John 15 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” Paul told the Corinthians “Ye are God’s husbandry” – Ye are the Lord’s garden. And what is the purpose of the garden, the cultivated field, the vineyard, the grove of olives? God has purchased us, groomed us, tilled us, cultivated us to produce produce.
“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” What is said of the fig tree can be said of any field which the Lord has purchased. “Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit in this field, and find none: plow it up. Why cumbereth it the ground?” Obviously, that is a good question because Jehovah raised it. “Why cumbereth it the ground?”
What is the purpose of the farmer’s field – what is the purpose of God’s husbandry? Despite what the farmer himself might say, the purpose of the field ought to be to make the farmer rich. I am to produce the crop which the Lord has chosen – in order to glorify His name. Was it last year, or the year before – maybe it was three years ago…? I remember most of the ladies of the church, wanting to walk down or asking their husbands to drive down a few blocks to admire a house surrounded by gardens of flowers. Not only was there beauty and a bit of glory brought to the owners of that property, but if I understand properly, the owners were in the business of selling their flowers. Their garden was created to glorify and enrich their owners. “Ye are God’s husbandry” with the same purpose.
But there are potential problems for this husbandry.
I know that I am misapplying it just a little bit, but consider the Lord’s parable of the wheat and the tares. We find it in Matthew 13 where the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a man sowing good seed in his field. But then his enemy comes along and sows the seeds of a weed over the wheat. Both grow together and worry the master’s farmhands, but he tells them not to fret about it. Let them both grow to maturity, when the wheat will be clearly distinguishable from the tares. The wheat will then be harvested, but the tares will be piled up and burned. I know that the Lord was not talking about the individual in this parable, but the initial illustration still applies. Even GOD’S husbandry is at risk, there is a constant danger. The enemy of our Saviour, would like nothing more than to render you impotent or financially disastrous to the Owner of the garden. There is a sense in which we have some responsibility in maintaining the purity of our produce.
But once again misapplying another of the Lord’s lessons – “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” While we bear some responsibility in maintaining the purity of our produce, if we produce anything to the glory of our master, it is due entirely to His grace. It is the Lord who sends Apollos and the spring showers to water God’s seed in us. It is the Lord’s husbandman who periodically prunes us and feeds us just the right fertilizer. If there is any beauty in that lily of the field, it is the Lord who must be thanked and praised.
It is the Lord, through the Apostle, who has called us His “husbandry” – His cultivated field. And in doing that, He has placed on us some responsibility to bring forth fruit. Jesus said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” We have been saved by God’s grace to bring glory to our Saviour.