From Paul’s point of view, the church was headed in a disastrous, worldly direction when divisions over joining oneself to “charismatic” personalities were materializing. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 3:4a).

He tells the Corinthians that both he and Apollos were simply “workers together,” and they were really one: “He who plants and he who waters are one” (1 Corinthians 3:8a). They were both trying to nurture a plant, which God was causing to grow—and by that growth, Paul didn’t mean numerical increase, but rather upward, healthy, fruit-producing development. In all of his writings, Paul did not mention any numbers whatsoever concerning his ministry. That was not his concern. His concern, like that of Jesus, was to make disciples who would follow the Lord to the ends of the earth, willing to sacrifice their own lives.

Neither Paul nor Apollos, Paul says, could take credit for that fruitful growth, Paul wrote. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Paul assumes this analogy from nature to be obvious.

This language is not new to us. We talk like this. We in the Church do, with honesty and sincerity, profess that God should get all the glory for whatever good things God does in our churches. But somehow, there is a broad disconnect between what we say and how we behave—because even though we confess that God gets the glory; even though we may say that we are simply workers together, as Paul and Apollos were, our actions to gather people to ourselves indicate otherwise. We want people to be drawn and joined to our churches because of the “charisma” of our pastors and speakers.

Paul tries to convince the Corinthians that regardless of how good the speaker’s skills are or how dazzling his ability to plant or water the seed of God’s word is, growth by Paul’s definition is really not about those aptitudes at all. Paul tells the Corinthians that he planted. Apollos watered. They were one. They were fellow workers in growing God’s plants. However, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything…” The man who planted, Paul, was not anything. The man who watered, Apollos, was not anything. That’s another way of saying that planter and waterer were nothing.

That’s another way of saying that Paul and Apollos were…nothing.

They were nothing because the apostle Paul did not want the message of the cross to be robbed of power (1 Corinthians 1:17).

They were nothing because he did not want any boasting done except about God (1 Corinthians 1:31).

They were nothing because he did not want the Corinthians to put their trust in him or any other man (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

They were nothing, Paul wrote, because God gave the growth, not men (1 Corinthians 3:6).

They were nothing because Paul wanted the trust of the Corinthian believers to be, not in his wisdom and proficiency in speaking or in his ability to plant—or anyone else’s—but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5, 3:7).