And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Any public speaker knows that there is nothing like a good metaphor to change the way we see the world, and even, some would say, to change the world itself. We all like to hear facts, opinions and stories, but most of us, if we are really to develop our thinking and our being, are truly shaped by metaphors.
I wonder if we can even begin to estimate how much of our faith world is shaped by the metaphors Paul uses. There are countless ones in his writings even just to describe the church; living stones, a family, betrothed to Christ… These are so familiar to us. And even within these few verses in this letter he has us as infants, milk fed not ready yet for solid food, as seedlings in need of watering, as God’s field, and as God’s building.
These particular metaphors show how Paul sees our belonging to Christ as something that will always involve growth and development. Just as babies grow into adults, as seedlings grow and flower, as fields move from seedtime to harvest, and as buildings emerge from their foundations, so following Christ is like an organic process of growth and change. It’s much more like that, you might say, than signing once for all on a dotted line, or being converted from one state to another.
So, on this day, perhaps we might reflect on what growth the Holy Spirit is nurturing in us right now (the word ‘growth’, in this context is of course already a metaphor, if a deeply buried one). If prayer is like sunbathing, then how can we turn our faces towards the energy that will help us to grow in Christ, to grow as human beings?
O God, nurturer of my humanity and tender carer of my flesh and spirit, give me courage this day to let myself be grown in you, that I may become more fully your creation and more completely myself, in the name of Jesus, on whose path I long to walk. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is Minister of Taunton United Reformed Church