We noted above that the main problem in the Corinthian church was that of factionalism. Cliques were forming under the banner of Paul’s name versus the name of Apollos, another missionary to the Corinthian church. Paul will have none of this. He and Apollos are simply servants. Although they have different roles, neither of them is more valuable than the other. The planter (Paul) and the irrigator (Apollos)—to use an agricultural metaphor—are equally vital to the success of the harvest, and neither is responsible for the growth of the crop. That is entirely God’s doing. The various workers have a common goal in mind (a bounteous harvest), but they have different tasks in line with their abilities and calling. All are necessary and no one can do every necessary task.
Paul, in other words, is aware of the importance of diversification and specialization. In his famous 1958 essay, “I, Pencil,” economist Leonard Read followed the course of the manufacture of a common pencil, making the point that no single person knows how to make one. It is actually the product of several sophisticated processes, only one of which a given individual can master. By the grace of God, different people are able to play different roles in the world’s workplaces. But specialization at times leads to interpersonal or interdepartmental factionalism, poor lines of communication, and even personal vilification. If Christians believe what Paul says about the God-given nature of different roles, perhaps we can take the lead in bridging dysfunctional divides in our organizations. If we are able simply to treat others with respect and value the work of people different from ourselves, we may be making significant contributions to our workplaces.
An important application of this is the value of investing in worker development, whether our own or that of people around us. In Paul’s letters, including 1 Corinthians, it sometimes seems that Paul never does anything himself (see, for example, 14-15) but instructs others how to do it. This is not arrogance or laziness, but mentoring. He would far rather invest in training effective workers and leaders than in calling all the shots himself. As we mature in serving Christ in our places of work, perhaps we will find ourselves doing more to equip others and less to make ourselves look good.