1 Corinthians 3:10 is usually cited to prove that Paul was The Chief Apostle that laid the foundation of the Church of Christ. Here is what the verse says:
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation and another buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Does this scripture teach that Paul was the masterbuilder of the foundation of the Church, and that the other apostles built on top of the foundation he had laid? Here is what one man who claims to be “the Lead Apostle” wrote:
“What we must realize, as bride saints, is that that Chief Builder Office of Jesus Christ, was expressed IN Apostle Paul’s ministry, for he occupied the office of THE APOSTLE! What is difficult to see in that?” (RELIGO, Pg.41)
Well, everything is difficult to see in that. We must first establish the meaning of this scripture in its proper context. Paul used the language of building-construction and it is important to understand that scriptures usually type the body of Christ or family of believers as a building or a tabernacle of God. This true church of Jesus Christ is shown as the Holy City New Jerusalem in Revelation chapter 21. God’s Word tells us that this City is built on twelve foundations of the apostles. Verse14 says that “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”. Paul was one of the twelve foundations’ builders. If you think that it was Matthias then you still have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, understand that Paul’s ministry was one among the other apostles which contributed to the other foundation stones.
Now, what is the difference between “Jesus Christ, the foundation of the Church” and “the apostles, the foundations of the church”. It is a simple fact to understand but which, if misunderstood, will have you constructing a confused picture of the building of God – having Paul as the foundation on which more foundations (of the other apostles) are laid upon it.
Listen, when the Lord Jesus Christ came and started healing the people, preaching and teaching the Word, he was that sower who went out to sow seed (Mark 4:1-20). The seed was the Word he proclaimed. During that time the disciples (who were yet to be sent forth as apostles) were not filled with the Holy Ghost but sat under the ministry of the Lord for more than three years. The Lord Jesus was the Chief Prophet and when the Church came into existence, He was called “the Apostle of our profession” and “the Chief Shepherd” (Heb.3:1, 1Pet.5:4). He alone then can be called the Chief Apostle! He was the Foundation for the Church that God laid. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor.3:11). After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Ghost was poured out and the apostles being anointed with the revelation of the Word for the Church became supports or footings to the foundation of Christ. Hence, the Church can be said to have been built on the foundations of the apostles. Whatever the apostles, including Paul (as one “born out of due season”) taught were fastened to the ONE FOUNDATION of Jesus Christ. Read Paul’s epistles and see if what he teaches is not rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ as penned in the four gospels. John’s epistle is so full of exact same words you will find in his gospel of Jesus Christ. All the apostles were simply building on the foundation of Christ.
Now, each of the apostles had his responsibility and calling from the Lord. Each of them was called to be a builder of the city of God. Inside this city of God, there was actually serious construction work going on. Here is an illustration: There are different construction companies handling the building of different areas of construction. There is company SP Ltd, company PM Ltd, JM Ltd, etc. Each of these companies has a building manager with workers under his supervision. Some companies are bigger than others, and hence have a greater capacity than others. But each company’s tasks are limited to the project assigned to it. All the companies report to the CEO of the City Building Project. He is the Master Building Manager who inspects and supervises all building (construction) work.
Now, this illustrates the Holy City, New Jerusalem, which is the Bride (Church) of Jesus Christ. Different ministries (“companies”) have been called for the construction of the different areas of the City (cf. John 14:1). All companies can only build on the foundation which was already laid, “for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor.3:11). God is the Master (Chief) Builder who laid the cornerstone which is Christ and which is the foundation. In the early church there was Simon Peter’s Ministry, Paul’s Ministry, John’s Ministry, and etc. Each of these ministries had allotted tasks, given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Some ministries were bigger in capacity than other ministries but each ministry was limited to its allotted tasks. It is for this reason that apostle Paul said, “I have strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” (Rom.15:20). This is simple enough to understand that Paul had a portion of a foundation to lay and he never wanted to intrude into other people’s “building” works!
Each of these ministries had other committed servants of God under their care. For example Paul planted a church at Corinth. (He also had other ministers whom he groomed. Timothy, for example, pastored the church at Ephesus). Although Paul planted the Corinthian church, other visiting ministers would pass through and minister at Corinth. Among the ministers who spent a lot of time teaching there, while Paul was not there, was a brother who was very good and eloquent at expounding scriptures, the man Apollos (cf. Acts 18:24-25). But with time, divisions started at the Corinthian church. Some believers began to see Apollos as a better teacher than Paul and others saw it otherwise. With time they started discriminating each other as a result of comparing the teachings of Paul with Apollos’. Instead of comparing the teachings with scriptures they were comparing teachings with teachings! Some brothers then began to send reports to Paul over what was happening. Paul decided to deal with the confusion and wrote a letter, in which he stated in 1 Corinthians 3: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (v3). Why did he say they were carnal? Here it is: “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (v.4). This is exactly what is happening today? Some believers say, “We follow Ewald Frank”, others say, “Raymond Jackson”, others, “Joseph Coleman”. This is carnality as it amounts to adoring a man of God and not the God of the man! Consider this; how many preachers can sincerely rebuke their followers in such a manner as Paul did. Many would not because they enjoy honor. Now watch the humbleness of Paul: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (vv.5-6). See, it is not about Paul or Apollos but God! “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder [‘building manager’ for his ‘company’!], I have laid the foundation, and another [i.e. Apollos] buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (vv.10-11).