God’s Field and God’s Building

You can begin to see the idea of the church as this garden that should be producing fruit that is a healing fruit. That whenever we go out, there is a healing gift coming out from us as we interact with people. The world of violence and anger given over to these rhythms of destructiveness, we are the gift. We go out as a gift. Just to offer gifts. Serve one another. To love. To pour out our lives. To share the fruit.

God’s Field and God’s Building
Rev. Doug Floyd

Our songs and the text we heard were Torah texts. Torah being the law: how the law instructs and orders our world. I’m going to talk about Torah, but not directly through some of those texts, except one passage from Corinthians. I’m actually going to talk about Torah through images.

Torah is instruction, order, and it is rooted in the formation of the world and the person. If you think of Torah in relation to the creation story, God creates an ordered world. He creates a world of diversity, of distinction. A world that has patterns. The trees grow certain places and certain ways. It has weather patterns. This is part of the ordered world of Genesis 1 and 2. That is Torah. Torah is the ordering of all creation.

When Jesus arrives, he says, “I come not to overthrow the law but to fulfill the law,” which was from the Gospel last week. The law is not complete until Christ comes, because the law is ultimately personal. Ultimately embodied in Christ. He is the perfectly ordered one. He brings us into order with the Father. The story we see unfolding in the Old and New Testaments is that we’re brought into a communion of love. That’s ultimately what the writers of the New Testament will talk about. Love fulfills Torah.

We’ve been thinking about how Corinthians is this community that comes from a transforming, emerging culture. There’s all sorts of different groups that disagree with one another about the way the culture works. There’s people from different economic places, different social status. There’s all sorts of striving going on within the community and Paul is trying to encourage a way of peace.

In the opening words of today’s passage, he talks about the difference between him and Apollos and that one waters, one plants, one waters, one harvests, that each minister has different gifts. Then at the end of the passage he says, “We are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field. God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). This little line, which is almost a throwaway line, is filled with images. Paul will write about these images quite often and he comes from a culture where these images are everywhere. I thought it might be helpful to meditate on these images that Paul has given us.

“We are God’s fellow workers.” That might be even better translated, that the church and this work here is not our job. We’re actually serving the Lord. It’s God’s church, God’s field. It’s God’s building. We are serving Him. The idea that any minister, Apollos, Paul, or anyone else would think it is his church is absurd. They’re only serving at the pleasure, the goodness of God.

Now Paul gives this vision of the community. The gathered community both in that particular moment and the gathered community across time, as a field. And as a building. He says, “It’s God’s field and God’s building.” I want to think about those two images. The field and the building because they’re everywhere in Scripture.

We see the Church Fathers, John Chrysostom, Reformed writers and Roman Catholic writers writing about how deeply these images of fields and buildings are all through Scripture.[1]

Let’s start out with the field. God is planting the garden. In fact, we find out in Scripture, God likes to plant gardens. “And the Lord planted a garden in Eden. There He put man whom He had formed (Genesis 2:8).” At the very beginning of the story, God’s planting a garden. He likes to plant gardens. The garden has all sorts of plants. If we read Genesis 1, the plants are reproducing themselves. They’re seed-producing plants.

Then in the middle of this garden, He puts humans. Puts Adam and Eve. We have this picture where Adam and Eve are serving the Lord. Almost like children. He gives Adam an assignment to name the animals. Bob Dylan has a wonderful song about naming all the animals through Adam. It is a strange story, how many animals are there? I don’t know. But Adam’s on this project. There’s almost this father-son or teacher-student image happening between the Father and Adam and Eve. That’s what Torah is. Torah means instruction. The law means instruction. He’s teaching the humans how to live in the garden that He’s created.

There is some sense, and we don’t have time to really dig into this deeply, that the Garden of Eden is the place where they’re learning the skills that they will now take out into the world to discover and develop the world that God has given them as a gift. They’re the servants. The stewards. Not to destroy it, but to serve it. They’re being prepared for that.

Then we have the story interrupted. We have this break in relationship. Adam and Eve turn away from God. They end up leaving the garden. But the image of the garden never leaves. It keeps reappearing through Scripture. We keep seeing God’s people connected with gardens. Or fields. Or plantings. This is not exhaustive, just a few images. Right before they enter into the Promised Land, Moses is preaching the sermon, and actually Moses will repeat this phrase several times, and here he is repeating it in Deuteronomy, “The Lord your God when He brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, to Jacob to give you, with great and good cities that you did not build, houses full of good things that you did not fill. Cisterns that you did not dig. Vineyard and olive trees that you did not plant. When you eat and you are full, then take care, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Out of the house of slavery (Dt 6:10–12).” There’s this image of being given a gift. Of houses and water and food. Provision.

The image of the garden, and of the house or the building, are both images of provision. They’re blessings from God. God has given them to the people and He’s saying, “Don’t forget where they came from. Who gave these gifts to you?” So the whole world, if I think of us, the whole world is gift. Everything is gift. Everything. The sunrise, the sunset, the trees. This is how the Celts would think, so they write poems to everything. To the moon. The moon shows up in many Celtic poems. When they talk about the moon suddenly, at one minute it’s a moon, the next minute it’s the bread lifted up and it’s in the middle of the Eucharistic service. That’s often happening in the Celtic poetry.

Gerard Manley Hopkins would sit and look at something. Look at a flower and begin to write about it. He would reflect on the beauty of the Lord revealed in it. He writes, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”[2]   Even John Calvin himself took a blade of grass and he said, “There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice.”[3] God creates this world that’s pure gift, and it’s constantly giving. In fact, there’s far more in the gifts than humans have yet to even grasp. One of the great Romanian writers suggested that, “Everything in creation is gift and the only we discover the gifts is through love. It’s a communion of love.”[4] So rather than thinking of a world of scarcity, a world of abundance that God’s given us as a gift that we share it and love of one another. Out of that loving communion, he suggests God opens up mysteries in the creation. You have this creation that is pure gift. Again and again, this image of God planting.

After they had been held captive, Ezekiel’s prophesying a return home. He says, “They will dwell securely in the land. They will build houses and plant vineyards (Ezekiel 28:25-26).” Here’s the image of building, finding a place where the family can live. Dwelling place. And planting vineyards. You see that image again and again of the planting. We have a God that likes to plant gardens and he creates people who plant gardens. People who cultivate the ground, the soil. That if you think of a garden, or think of even going outside today. Even as Ryan was praying during our music, by walking outside, I walk through a garden. I smell things. I feel things.

Kelly and I went to a botanical garden in San Diego, I don’t remember, in that big park. We went to this gigantic park. I can’t remember what it’s called but it went on forever it seemed. They had a botanical garden in the middle of it and it had all kinds of odd plants. Some of the plants smelled good. Some of them smelled strange. They wanted you to touch the plants. They had signs around each plant. Some of them are just odd, you’re like, “I can’t believe there is a plant that does this.” There’s a world of all kinds of unusual plants that are very tactical. They’re stimulating all our senses. This is the kind of world God created. This world where everything is giving off more of itself, and we’re interacting with it in ways we don’t always even know. It’s beautiful. Kind of overwhelms us.

When we went to the Redwood Forest, this is not just true for us, I think for many people who go, when we walked into the Redwood Forest we immediately began to cry. We were overwhelmed. We can’t even believe those trees exist. It’s almost unimaginable to see the majesty of those trees and think, “This is real?” It seems unbelievable and you’re looking at it. This is full of the mystery and the beauty and the wonder of planting and gardens and things like this. A world of trees and flowers and plants and grass, all sorts of amazing things that come up from the soil.

Now, just think about what God’s saying in Corinthians, the church is His field. His garden. He’s planting it. Paul’s working in the field. Apollos is working in the field. Different people are working in the field but it’s actually God’s field. He’s raising a garden. If you think of what He’s having to do in the garden, He’s working the soil. There’s an aspect of turning the soil, tilling the soil. Preparing the soil. To plant in it, the soil has to be ready. There’s the process of seeding the soil. Putting the seed out. As plants begin to appear and grow, also other alien plants, things we call weeds, and in that they choke off the things we planted have to be weeded out.

The plant has to be watered. The garden has to be watered, which helps the plants to grow. It needs sunlight. There’s certain things it needs that we don’t even have the capacity to create. Although, of course it’s pretty easy now to turn on a hose. But in the stories all throughout the Old Testament, this is a pretty big deal, to get water. If you have a season of a drought, you could starve to death. So water’s really, really serious as they go to get water. Then if you get too much water, it’d still destroy your gardens. Like what’s happening in California right now. The flooding. So water’s important. Yet too much water can destroy it.

Then the plants begin to grow. They don’t grow fast, they grow slowly. I can’t really sit out there and watch them. I could but it’s almost unperceivable. Those stop-motion cameras that people have made, you can see a plant growing, otherwise I cannot see the growth. It’s very slow. Eventually there’s a blossoming time, like we’re coming up in spring when the trees will blossom. They’re preparing for the fruit that they’re going to bare later in the year. The blossom gives off an aroma. Often a really good aroma. Sometimes a bad aroma. But the blossom is something that’s beautiful. Flowers beautiful, smells good often. Then finally there’s some kind of fruit. Like a gift that the plant the gives. That will reproduce itself, but it also is a gift of to us. You have this whole process of a field.

So when God says the church is His field, all those images are in that. In fact, Paul, Peter, different writers will open up those kind of images in Scripture. Again and again. When Jeremiah wants to tell the people that they’re hard-hearted, he says, “Break up your fellow ground (Jeremiah 4:3–4).” He says, “Go out there and til the soil of your heart.” In the middle of the agricultural image, he flips it right in mid-sentence and says, “Circumcise yourself to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts.” He’s telling them when he says, “Break up your fellow ground,” that it’s your heart that’s the problem, but he uses a metaphor on top of a metaphor which is a little confusing. He is trying to say your heart is hard to the Lord, it needs to be softened. So there’s this time of prepping the heart. The heart has to be opened. It has to be softened. There’s the seed planting.

Jesus tells stories about planting seeds. The seed-sower throwing out seeds. Thomas Merton has a wonderful book called, “Seeds of Contemplation.” Where he says, “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men.”[5] It’s like I said earlier with Calvin or Gerard Manley Hopkins encountering the wonder of the world. There’s all sorts of seeds.

Of course, there’s some sense that we are a seed. Each of us in this garden. Actually Paul will develop that image in 1 Corinthians 15. When he gets to the image of the resurrection. It’s one of the most beautiful images of death because he almost suggests that this whole life we are a seed. In death, the seed will open up and the plant that we are to become is nothing like the seed that we are now. He has this wonderful picture of death that, to me, is so hopeful in 1 Corinthians 15.

Then there’s this element of weeding that Jesus tells in the Parable of the Sower. It’s also in Solomon, in different places in scripture, that the weeds will choke out the plants. So the garden does have to be cultivated. Then the rain. We have the story of Elijah, it doesn’t rain for three years. God’s judging the lands. Often weather patterns in scripture are sometimes seen as judgment. Not always but sometimes they are seen as judgment. Humans can’t control the rain, so the rain in the scriptures always this notion of trust that God will provide for them. They have to wait sometimes. They have to cry out to God in times of drought. It may involve repentance. Even Peter playing at hints of this image in Acts when he says, “Repent. Time of refreshing will come from the Lord.” That refreshing is almost an image of rain watering our hearts. We need that water. Sometimes we feel as though we are in a drought. I may be dry, and I need the rain. The refreshment of God’s Spirit.

In my own life, Paul will say that there is a time of flowering. He actually uses this image in 2 Corinthians. He says, “We’re the aroma of Christ, to God, among those who are being saved (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).” There’s actually a sweet smell that comes off the people of God. That that’s what we are to be. We are to be an aroma of life. An aroma of joy. Then he says, “There’s also an aroma of death to those who are perishing.” Those who are turning away from the things of God will often hate that sweet smell. Sadly, sometimes when people walk into a church they may not always smell that sweet smell, but that’s sort of the idea. Is that the church is like a garden. I’m walking through it. I’m encountering a sweet smell. Then there are fruits on offer.

Paul will use that image in Galatians. Fruit of the spirit is; love, joy, peace, long-suffering, patience, kindness. So there’s this fruit that’s being produced in my life. And in all our lives. I think I’ve mentioned it before but conversion, (conversio), means this spinning of the earth. It means a full cycle. It is the image of the seed to the fruit. So conversion is not simply a prayer, it is the seed becoming what it was created to become. The beautiful potential of the seed.

All these images of the people of God, as a planting of the Lord, as something beautiful. Then we have this image, we have it in Ezekiel, we have it in Revelation, of these trees that are coming up from the temple and their fruit is the healing for the nations. You can begin to see the idea of the church as this garden that should be producing fruit that is a healing fruit. That whenever we go out, there is a healing gift coming out from us as we interact with people. The world of violence and anger given over to these rhythms of destructiveness, we are the gift. We go out as a gift. Just to offer gifts. Serve one another. To love. To pour out our lives. To share the fruit. Then as we interact, there’s almost that image of cross-pollination. All the different kinds of ways that we are, is making us even more fruitful.

Paul says, “We’re God’s building.” I’m not going to spend as much time with the building. Just lightly. He talks about God’s building. We’re God’s building. In the following verses he will clarify, temple. He’s building a temple. Paul says this again in Ephesians, “He’s raising up the temple.” Peter will repeat this image, that we are being built up here. As in 1 Peter he says, “You yourselves are like living stones. Being built up as a spiritual house. To be a holy priesthood. To offer spiritual sacrifices that is acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It’s this image of a temple being built. In this passage today, if we kept reading, Paul will talk about this fire that purifies these elements that build a temple, “Some of the things will pass through the fire. There’ll be gold, silver, precious stones, and some things will be burned up.”

In that sense, if you think of the image of Revelation, streets of gold and all these beautiful images of gemstones and pearl gates, it appears to me this really looks like the people of God, we are actually those things. Precious metals. The precious stones. Everything’s shaped in us. It’s something beautiful. So much so that Paul will says in Ephesians that He’s lifting us up for all the powers in the Heavens to see. This is His masterpiece. His great temple that’s He’s created that is a song of praise to the Lord.

In the Old Testament, the idea of building the house is rooted in wisdom. Proverbs, “Wisdom builds her house.” So Lady Wisdom builds houses. The idea of building a house has to do with wisdom. The wisest king in Israel’s history, according to the story, is Solomon. Solomon’s main job is to build the temple. The wise man builds the temple, and it reflects wisdom. Something beautiful.

If we think of Solomon building a temple, we find something interesting. It says in 1 Kings, this is talking about the temple, “All around the walls of the house he carved in great figures of cherubim and palm trees and flowers, in the inner, outer rooms. The floor of the house he overlaid with gold, inner and outer rooms. From the entrance to the sanctuary he made doors of olive wood. The lintel and door posts were five sided. He covered the floors with olive wood and carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold and set on them cherubim and palm trees (1 Kings 6:29–32).” So Solomon builds a building and inside the building, it looks like you’re in a garden. When Paul says, “You are God’s field, God’s building,” those two images are combined in the Tabernacle and the temple. The temple is in some sense, a garden.

You could actually think of the temple as the Garden of Eden. This is the way the churches understood these images, it’s coming back to the garden to eat from the tree of life. When we come to the communion table, we’re returning to the garden. The temple, the building, and the garden are one image, in one sense. It is a gift that God’s given to the world. That the people of God come together, worship Him. They eat of the tree of life. Then what do they do? They go back out like Adam and Eve were called to do, and humanity was called to do, and cultivate. They bring the gifts of this creation to the world. They serve as stewards, both other people and to creation. They have some responsibility to care for and serve creation. To serve the world, to serve one another, as His stewards.

They’re like, at the beginning of the passage we read in Corinthians, they’re fellow workers out in God’s field. Working on his building. Then we go out, not to destroy, but to care for the world. To care for creation and to care for the people around us. As we do, we are truly going out as the people of God. [inaudible 00:24:32] the ones called out. It’s a priestly function to go out into the culture and bring these good gifts to the world. Of joy and peace and patience and gentleness and kindness. They are the great fruit that will bring healing to the world. In the process, beauty of the Lord is being seen.

The world is beginning to behold the beauty of the Lord. There is some beautiful transformation of His gift. As we reflect on these images today, we may feel times like we’re in a drought. Times like our heart, we may feel hardened like the hollow ground because of the pains we’ve experienced. We may feel the pain of feeling like I’m being cut on, like a rock being chiseled to fit in the building. There’s all these metaphors, can explain our sense of spiritual condition. The frustration of waiting. Especially in a world that seems like it’s always going wrong. When will it go right? The waiting.

Hopefully the scripture is giving us hope that we continue to serve and love. We can’t control that time period, all we can do is go out and serve and trust that God is faithful. That He will reveal His gift. He will be transforming things. And He will be revealing His love.

Father, thank you for your mercy and grace and I pray that wherever we’re at today, if we’re thirsty and in a place of drought that you would fill us afresh with your spirit. If we’re tired, that you would encourage us and strengthen us. That you would shape each of us into the beautiful stones that reflect your light. That the fruit of Christ might come through us as healing for the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

[1] John Chrysostom, “If you are God’s field, it is right that you should be so called not because of those who cultivate you, but because of God, for the field is not the worker’s but the owner’s.… Again, the building is not the workman’s but the master’s. Now if you are a building, you must not be forced asunder. If you are a farm, you must not be divided but be walled in by a single fence, namely, unanimity.” From George T. Montague, First Corinthians, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 74. Also,  ”God’s field, God’s building”. The Second Vatican Council uses these images to describe the inner nature of the Church: “The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God (cf. 1 Cor 3:9). On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again (Rom 11:13–26). That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator (Mt 21:33–43; cf. Is 5:1f). Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfullness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:1–5).

“Often, too, the Church is called the building of God (1 Cor 3:9). The Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the cornerstone (Mt 21:42; cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7; Ps 117:2). On this foundation the Church is built by the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 3:11) and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it—the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:19–22); the dwelling-place of God among men (Rev 21:3); and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it (1 Pet 2:5). It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:1f)” (Lumen gentium, 6). Saint Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005), 44–45.

See also Gregory Beale. “Remember also that Solomon’s temple, like the new Corinthian temple of believers, was also described, not only as containing precious metals but also full of garden-like items: wood-carved ‘gourds and open flowers’ (1 Kgs. 6:18), ‘palm trees and open flowers’ (1 Kgs. 6:29, 32 [twice mentioned]), ‘pomegranates numbered two hundred in rows around both capitals’ on the two doorway pillars (1 Kgs. 7:18–20 [‘pomegranates’ occurs twice]), on the top of which was a ‘lily design’ (1 Kgs. 7:22).” G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 247–248.

[2] See “Inscape, Instress & Distress” for a short introduction to his vision (https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/inscape-instress-distress).

[3] Sermon Number 10 on I Corinthians, 698. As quoted in John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (1989) by William J. Bouwsma, pp. 134–135.

[4] Paraphrased from the book, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: The Experience of God, Vol. 1: Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God by Dumitru Staniloae, Holy Cross Orthodox Press; 1 edition (1998).

[5] Merton, Thomas (2007-11-27). New Seeds of Contemplation (p. 16). New Directions. Kindle Edition.

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