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1 Corinthians 3:5-9

5. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

5. Quis ergo est Paulus, aut quis Apollos, nisi ministri, per quos credidistis, et sicut unicuique Dominus every dedit?

6. I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

6. Ego plantavi, Apollos rigavit; at Deus incrementum dedit.

7. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

7. Ergo neque qui plantat aliquid est, neque qui rigat; sed Deus qui dat incrementurn.

8. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.

8. Qui autem plantat, et qui rigat, unum 154154     “Sont un, ou une chose;” — “Are one, or one thing.” sunt. Porro quisque propriam mercedem secundum laborem suum recipiet.

9. For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

9. Dei enim cooperarii sumus, 155155     “Car nous sommes ouuriers avec Dieu, ou, nous ensemble sommes ouuriers de Dieu;” — “For we are workers with God, or we are together God’s workmen.” Dei agricultura, Dei aedificatio estis.

 

5. Who then is Paul? Here he begins to treat of the estimation in which ministers ought to be held, and the purpose for which they have been set apart by the Lord. He names himself and Apollos rather than others, that he may avoid any appearance of envy. 156156     “Afin que le propos soit moins odieux, et qu’on ne dise qu’il porte enuie aux autres;” — “That the discourse may be less offensive, and that none may say that he bears envy towards others.” “What else,” says he, “are all ministers appointed for, but to bring you to faith through means of their preaching?” From this Paul infers, that no man ought to be gloried in, for faith allows of no glorying except in Christ alone. Hence those that extol men above measure, strip them of their true dignity. For the grand distinction of them all is, that they are ministers of faith, or, in other words, that they gain disciples to Christ, not to themselves. Now, though he appears in this way to depreciate the dignity of ministers, yet he does not assign it a lower place than it ought to hold. For he says much when he says, that we receive faith through their ministry. Nay farther, the efficacy of external doctrine receives here extraordinary commendation, when it is spoken of as the instrument of the Holy Spirit; and pastors are honored with no common title of distinction, when God is said to make use of them as his ministers, for dispensing the inestimable treasure of faith.

As the Lord hath given to every man. In the Greek words used by Paul the particle of comparison ὡς, as, is placed after ἑκαστῳ — to every man; but the order is inverted. 157157     An instance of the same kind occurs in Romans 12:3 ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ Θεὸς ευερισε μέτρον πίστεως — as God hath distributed to every one the measure of faith.” Calvin, when commenting on the passage, observes, that it is an instance of “anastrophe, seu vocum inversio, pro Quemadmodum unicuique;” — “anastrophe, or inversion of words for As to every one.” — Ed Hence to make the meaning more apparent, I have rendered it “Sicut unicuique,” — “as to every man,” rather than “Unicuique sicut,” — “to every man as.” In some manuscripts, however, the particle και, and, is wanting, and it is all in one connection, thus: Ministers by whom ye believed as the Lord gave to every man If we read it in this way, the latter clause will be added to explain the former, — so that Paul explains what he meant by the term minister: “Those are ministers whose services God makes use of, not as though they could do anything by their own efforts, but in so far as they are guided by his hand, as instruments.” The rendering that I have given, however, is, in my opinion, the more correct one. If we adopt it, the statement will be more complete, for it will consist of two clauses, in this way. In the first place, those are ministers who have devoted their services to Christ, that you might believe in him: farther, they have nothing of their own to pride themselves upon, inasmuch as they do nothing of themselves, and have no power to do anything otherwise than by the gift of God, and every man according to his own measure — which shows, that whatever each individual has, is derived from another. In fine, he unites them all together as by a mutual bond, inasmuch as they require each other’s assistance.

6. I have planted, Apollos watered He unfolds more clearly the nature of that ministry by a similitude, in which the nature of the word and the use of preaching are most appropriately depicted. That the earth may bring forth fruit, there is need of ploughing and sowing, and other means of culture; but after all this has been carefully done, the husbandman’s labor would be of no avail, did not the Lord from heaven give the increase, by the breaking forth of the sun, and still more by his wonderful and secret influence. Hence, although the diligence of the husbandman is not in vain, nor the seed that he throws in useless, yet it is only by the blessing of God that they are made to prosper, for what is more wonderful than that the seed, after it has rotted, springs up again! In like manner, the word of the Lord is seed that is in its own nature fruitful: ministers are as it were husbandmen, that plough and sow. Then follow other helps, as for example, irrigation. Ministers, too, act a corresponding part when, after casting the seed into the ground, they give help to the earth as much as is in their power, until it bring forth what it has conceived: but as for making their labor actually productive, that is a miracle of divine grace — not a work of human industry.

Observe, however, in this passage, how necessary the preaching of the word is, and how necessary the continuance of it. 158158     “Combien aussi il est necessaire qu’elle continue et soit tousiours entretenue;” — “How necessary it is also, that it continue and be always kept up.” It were, undoubtedly, as easy a thing for God to bless the earth without diligence on the part of men, so as to make it bring forth fruit of its own accord, as to draw out, or rather press out 159159     “Tous les ans;” — “Every year.” its increase, at the expense of much assiduity on the part of men, and much sweat and sorrow; but as the Lord hath so ordained (1 Corinthians 9:14) that man should labor, and that the earth, on its part, yield a return to his culture, let us take care to act accordingly. In like manner, it were perfectly in the power of God, without the aid of men, if it so pleased him, to produce faith in persons while asleep; but he has appointed it otherwise, so that faith is produced by hearing. (Romans 10:17.) That man, then, who, in the neglect of this means, expects to attain faith, acts just as if the husbandman, throwing aside the plough, taking no care to sow; and leaving off all the labor of husbandry, were to open his mouth, expecting food to drop into it from heaven.

As to continuance 160160     Our author refers to what he had, a little before, adverted to, as to the necessity for the word of God continuing to be dispensed. — Ed. we see what Paul says here — that it is not enough that the seed be sown, if it is not brought forward from time to time by new helps. He, then, who has already received the seed, has still need of watering, nor must endeavors be left off, until full maturity has been attained, or in other words, till life is ended. Apollos, then, who succeeded Paul in the ministry of the word at Corinth, is said to have watered what he had sown.

7. Neither is he that planteth anything It appears, nevertheless, from what has been already said, that their labor is of some importance. We must observe, therefore, why it is that Paul thus depreciates it; and first of all, it is proper to notice that he is accustomed to speak in two different ways of ministers, 161161     Calvin will be found adverting to the same subject at considerable length, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 9:1. — Ed. as well as of sacraments. For in some cases he views a minister as one that has been set apart by the Lord for, in the first instance, regenerating souls, and, afterwards, nourishing them up unto eternal life, for remitting sins, (John 20:23,) for renewing the minds of men, for raising up the kingdom of Christ, and destroying that of Satan. Viewed in that aspect he does not merely assign to him the duty of planting and watering, but furnishes him, besides, with the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that his labor may not be in vain. Thus 162162     “Suyuant ceste consideration;” — “In accordance with this view.” in another passage he calls himself a minister of the Spirit, and not of the letter, inasmuch as he writes the word of the Lord on men’s hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:6.)

In other cases he views a minister as one that is a servant, not a master — an instrument, not the hand; and in short as man, not God. Viewed in that aspect, he leaves him nothing but his labor, and that, too, dead and powerless, if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit. The reason is, that when it is simply the ministry that is treated of, we must have an eye not merely to man, but also to God, working in him by the grace of the Spirit — not as though the grace of the Spirit were invariably tied to the word of man, but because Christ puts forth his power in the ministry which he has instituted, in such a manner that it is made evident, that it was not instituted in vain. In this manner he does not take away or diminish anything that belongs to Him, with the view of transferring it to man. For He is not separated from the minister, 163163     “Car en ces facons de parler Christ n’est point separe du ministre;” — “In these modes of expression Christ is not separated (or viewed apart) from the minister.” but on the contrary His power is declared to be efficacious in the minister. But as we sometimes, in so far as our judgment is depraved, take occasion improperly from this to extol men too highly, we require to distinguish for the purpose of correcting this fault, and we must set the Lord on the one side, and the minister on the other, and then it becomes manifest, how indigent man is in himself, and how utterly devoid of efficacy.

Let it be known by us, therefore, that in this passage ministers are brought into comparison with the Lord, and the reason of this comparison is — that mankind, while estimating grudgingly the grace of God, are too lavish in their commendations of ministers, and in this manner they snatch away what is God’s, with the view of transferring it to themselves. At the same time he always observes a most becoming medium, for when he says, that God giveth the increase, he intimates by this, that the efforts of men themselves are not without success. The case is the same as to the sacraments, as we shall see elsewhere. 164164     Calvin most probably refers here to the statements afterwards made by him, when commenting on Galatians 3:27, to the following effect: “Respondeo, Paulum de Sacramentis bifariam solere loqui. Dum negotium est cum hypocritis, qui nudis signis superbiunt, tum concionatur, quam inanis ac nihili res sit externum signum: et in praeposteram fiduciam fortiter invehitur. Quare? non respicit Dei institutionem, sed impiorum corruptelam. Quum autem fideles alloquitur, qui rite utuntur signis, illa tunc conjungit cum sua veritate, quam figurant. Quare? neque enim fallacem pompam ostentat in Sacramentis, sed quae externa ceremonia figurat, exhibet simul re ipsa. Hinc fit, ut veritas, secundum Dei institutum, conjuncta sit cum signis;” — “I answer, it is customary with Paul to speak of the Sacraments in two different ways. When he has to do with hypocrites, who glory in mere symbols, he in that case proclaims aloud the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces in strong terms their absurd confidence. Why so? It is because he has in view, not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of it by wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he in that case views them in connection with the reality which they represent. Why so? It is because he does not make a show of any false splendor as belonging to the Sacraments, but presents before our view in reality what the outward ceremony represents. Hence it comes that, agreeably to the divine appointment, the reality is associated with the symbols.” The same subject is touched upon in the Institutes, volume 3. — Ed. Hence, although our heavenly Father does not reject our labor in cultivating his field, and does not allow it to be unproductive, yet he will have its success depend exclusively upon his blessing, that he may have the entire praise. Accordingly, if we are desirous to make any progress in laboring, in striving, in pressing forward, let it be known by us, that we will make no progress, unless he prospers our labors, our strivings, and our assiduity, in order that we may commend ourselves, and everything we do to his grace.

8. He that planteth, and he that watereth are one He shows farther, from another consideration, that the Corinthians are greatly to blame in abusing, with a view to maintain their own sects and parties, the names of their teachers, who in the meantime are, with united efforts, aiming at one and the same thing, and can by no means be separated, or torn asunder, without at the same time leaving off the duties of their office. They are one, says he; in other words, they are so linked together, that their connection does not allow of any separation, because all ought to have one end in view, and they serve one Lord, and are engaged in the same work. Hence, if they employ themselves faithfully in cultivating the Lord’s field, they will maintain unity; and, by mutual communication, will help each other — so far from their names serving as standards to stir up contendings. Here we have a beautiful passage for exhorting ministers to concord. Meanwhile, however, he indirectly reproves those ambitious teachers, who, by giving occasion for contentions, discovered thereby that they were not the servants of Christ, but the slaves of vain-glory — that they did not employ themselves in planting and watering, but in rooting up and burning.

Every man will receive his own reward Here he shows what is the end that all ministers should have in view — not to catch the applause of the multitude, but to please the Lord. This, too, he does with the view of calling to the judgment-seat of God those ambitious teachers, who were intoxicated with the glory of the world, and thought of nothing else; and at the same time admonishing the Corinthians, as to the worthlessness of that empty applause which is drawn forth by elegance of expression and vain ostentation. He at the same time discovers in these words the fearlessness of his conscience, inasmuch as he ventures to look forward to the judgment of God without dismay. For the reason why ambitious men recommend themselves to the esteem of the world is, that they have not learned to devote themselves to God, and that they do not set before their eyes Christ’s heavenly kingdom. Accordingly, as soon as God comes to be seen, that foolish desire of gaining man’s favor disappears.

9. For we are fellow-laborers with God. Here is the best argument. It is the Lord’s work that we are employed in, and it is to him that we have devoted our labors: hence, as he is faithful and just, he will not disappoint us of our reward. That man, accordingly, is mistaken who looks to men, or depends merely on their remuneration. Here we have an admirable commendation of the ministry — that while God could accomplish the work entirely himself, he calls us, puny mortals, 165165     “Poures vers de terre;” — “Mere worms of the dust.” to be as it were his coadjutors, and makes use of us as instruments. As to the perversion of this statement by the Papists, for supporting their system of free-will, it is beyond measure silly, for Paul shows here, not what men can effect by their natural powers, but what the Lord accomplishes through means of them by his grace. As to the exposition given by some — that Paul, being God’s workman, was a fellow-workman with his colleagues, that is, with the other teachers — it appears to me harsh and forced, and there is nothing whatever in the case that shuts us up to have recourse to that refinement. For it corresponds admirably with the Apostle’s design to understand him to mean, that, while it is peculiarly the work of God to build his temple, or cultivate his vineyard, he calls forth ministers to be fellow-laborers, by means of whom He alone works; but, at the same time, in such a way, that they in their turn labor in common with him. As to the reward of works, consult my Institutes 166166     The subject of Rewards is largely treated of in the Institutes, volume 2. The reader will find the expression “laborers together with God” commented upon in the Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.

God’s husbandry, God’s building. These expressions may be explained in two ways. They may be taken actively in this sense: “You have been planted in the Lord’s field by the labor of men in such a way, that our heavenly Father himself is the true Husbandman, and the Author of this plantation. You have been built up by men in such a way, that he himself is the true Master-builder. 167167     “Et conducteur de l’oeuvre;” — “And conductor of the work.” Or, it may be taken in a passive sense, thus: “In laboring to till you, and to sow the word of God among you and water it, we have not done this on our own account, or with a view to advantage to accrue to us, but have devoted our service to the Lord. In our endeavors to build you up, we have not been influenced by a view to our own advantage, but with a view to your being God’s planting and building. This latter interpretation I rather prefer, for I am of opinion, that Paul meant here to express the idea, that true ministers labor not for themselves, but for the Lord. Hence it follows, that the Corinthians were greatly to blame in devoting themselves to men, 168168     “De se rendre suiets aux hommes, et attacher la leurs affections;” — “In making themselves subject to men, and placing their affections there.” while of right they belonged exclusively to God. And, in the first place, he calls them his husbandry, following out the metaphor previously taken up, and then afterwards, with the view of introducing himself to a larger discussion, he makes use of another metaphor, derived from architecture. 169169     “De la massonerie, ou charpenterie;” — “From masonry, or carpentry.”


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