I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. I Corinthians 3.6
The humbling truth of the verse above must not be missed. God gives the increase. The agricultural metaphor Paul uses communicates this perfectly. Human agency is necessary – God has made it so. Someone must plant, cultivate, and tend the seed. Without the agency of God, the seed will not grow. One may as well plant, cultivate, and tend a rock without the agency of God.
Paul is speaking about evangelism and spiritual formation. We would do well to humbly accept this truth. We can neither save not sanctify anyone. Only God can.
We think we can. We think we must. We often think that our responsibility is to change those we love for the better - that if we see flaws we must act to correct them. God never tells me to make you the best “you” you can be. I have the responsibility to love you (John 13.34-35), to serve you (Matthew 7.12), to pray for you (II Corinthians 1.11). But I cannot change you, nor can you change me. Only God can do that – and then only if we yield to Him.
The New Testament word we are circling is “sanctification.” Sanctification is the process of making something pure and holy. It is the process of spiritual maturity and refinement. The New Testament identifies the agents of sanctification as Jesus (Acts 26.18, I Corinthians 1.30), God (I Thessalonians 4.3), The Word (John 17.17), and most frequently the Spirit (Romans 15.16, II Thessalonians 2.13, Hebrews 12.14, I Peter 1.1). Neither you, nor I are ever mentioned as agents of sanctification for each other.
You and I must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts (I Peter 3.15). That will occupy a great deal of our time and attention. It is the removal of the log from our own eye so we may help another with the speck in his (Matthew 7.1-5). We must also love, serve and pray for each other. We must “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10.24). But we are never asked to engage in a test of wills, to win a conflict, or to even wage one. We are not God. One person cannot change another person – only God can, and only when we yield to Him.
Belief that we can (that we must) change another person is a form of faithlessness. It demonstrates a lack of trust in God and His word – as if He is not sufficient without our contribution. Belief that we can (that we must) change another person is a form of Hubris – for we assume the mantle of God.
This assumption – that I have to change you, and you have to change me – may come from the best intentions, but it will not be productive. It will lead to disappointment, discouragement, and bad feelings between us.
Let us love each other, serve each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, and when necessary confront each other. But let us remember - only God can give the increase.