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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 9
Verse 9. For we are labourers together with God. yeou gar esmen sunergoi. We are God's co-workers. A similar expression occurs in 2 Co 6:1, "We then, as workers together with him," etc. This passage is capable of two significations: first, as in our translation, that they were co-workers with God; engaged with him in his work; that he and they co-operated in the production of the effect; or that it was a joint-work; as we speak of a partnercy, or of joint-effort among men. So many interpreters have understood this. If this is the sense of the passage, then it means that as a farmer may be said to be a co-worker with God when he plants and tills his field, or does that without which God would not work in that case, or without which a harvest would not be produced, so the Christian minister co-operates with God in producing the same result. He is engaged in performing that which is indispensable to the end; and God also, by his Spirit, co-operates with the same design. If this be the idea, it gives a peculiar sacredness to the work of the ministry, and indeed to the work of the farmer and the vine-dresser. There is no higher honour than for a man to be engaged in doing the same things which God does, and participating with him in accomplishing his glorious plans. But doubts have been suggested in regard to this interpretation.
(1.) The Greek does not of necessity imply this. It is literally, not we are his co-partners, but we are his fellow-labourers, i.e., fellow-labourers in his employ, under his direction—as we say of servants of the same rank they are fellow-labourers of the same master, not meaning that the master was engaged in working with them, but that they were fellow-labourers one with another in his employment.
(2.) There is no expression that is parallel to this. There is none that speaks of God's operating jointly with his creatures in producing the same result. They may be engaged in regard to the same end; but the sphere of God's operations and of their operations is distinct. God does one thing, and they do another, though they may contribute to the same result. The sphere of God's operations in the growth of a tree is totally distinct from that of the man who plants it. The man who planted it has no agency in causing the juices to circulate; in expanding the bud or the leaf; that is, in the proper work of God. In 3 Jo 1:8, Christians are indeed said to be "fellow-helpers to the truth"—sunergoi th alhyeia; that is, they operate with the truth, and contribute by their labours and influence to that effect. In Mark also, Mr 16:20, it is said that the apostles "went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them"— tou kuriou sunergountov, —where the phrase means that the Lord co-operated with them by miracles, etc. The Lord, by his own proper energy, and in his own sphere, contributed to the success of the work in which they were engaged.
(3.) The main design and scope of this whole passage is to show that God is all—that the apostles are nothing; to represent the apostles not as joint-workers with God, but as working by themselves, and God as alone giving efficiency to all that was done. The idea is that of depressing or humbling the apostles, and of exalting God; and this idea would not be consistent with the interpretation that they were joint-labourers with him. While, therefore; the Greek would bear the interpretation conveyed in our translation, the sense may perhaps be, that the apostles were joint-labourers with each other in God's service; that they were united in their work, and that God was all in all; that they were like servants employed in the service of a master, without saying that the master participated with them in their work. This idea is conveyed in the translation of Doddridge, "We are the fellow-labourers of God." So Rosenmuller. Calvin, however, Grotius, Whitby, and Bloomfield, coincide with our version in the interpretation. The Syriac renders it, "We work with God." The Vulgate, "We are the aids of God."
Ye are God's husbandry. gewrgion. Marg., tillage. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly denotes a tilled or cultivated field; and the idea is, that the church at Corinth was the field on which God had bestowed the labour of tillage, or culture, to produce fruit. The word is used by the Seventy in Ge 26:14, as the translation of
HEBREW, "For he had possession of flocks," etc.; in Jer 51:23, as the translation of
HEBREW, a field; "I went by the field of the slothful," etc. The sense here is, that all their culture was of God; that as a church they were under his care; and that all that had been produced in them was to be traced to his cultivation.
God's building. This is another metaphor. The object of Paul was to show that all that had been done for them had been really accomplished by God. For this purpose he first says that they were God's cultivated field; then he changes the figure; draws his illustration from architecture, and says, that they had been built by him, as an architect rears a house. It does not rear itself; but it is reared by another. So he says of the Corinthians, "Ye are the building which God erects." The same figure is used in 2 Co 6:16; Eph 2:21. See also Heb 3:6; 1 Pe 2:5. The idea is, that God is the supreme Agent in the founding and establishing of the church, in all its gifts and graces.
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