For we are labourers together with God - ͂ ́ ̓ ́ Theou gar esmen sunergoi . We are God' s co-workers. A similar expression occurs in II Corinthians 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 cooperated in the production of the effect; or that it was a joint-work; as we speak of a partnercy, or of joint-effort among people. 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 cooperates 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, cooperates with the same design. If this is the idea, it gives a special sacredness to the work of the ministry, and indeed to the work of the farmer and the vinedresser. There is no higher honor 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-laborers, that is, fellow-laborers in his employ, under his direction - as we say of servants of the same rank they are fellow-laborers of the same master, not meaning that the master was engaged in working with them, but that they were fellow-laborers 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 III John 1:8, Christians are indeed said to he "fellow-helpers to the truth" ̀ ͂ ̓́ sunergoi tē alētheia ; that is, they operate with the truth, and contribute by their labors and influence to that effect. In Mark also Mark 16:20, it is said that the apostles "went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them" ( ͂ ́ ͂ tou kuriou sunergointos ), where the phrase means that the Lord cooperated 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-laborers with him. While, therefore, the Greek would hear the interpretation conveyed in our translation, the sense may perhaps be, that the apostles were joint-laborers 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-laborers 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 - ( ́ geōrgion ); margin, "tillage." This word occurs no where 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 labor of tillage, or culture, to produce fruit. The word is used by the Septuagint in Genesis 26:14, as the translation of ‛a budaah ; "For he had ' possession' of flocks," etc.; in Jeremiah 51:23, as the translation of tsemed "a yoke;" and in Proverbs 24:30; Proverbs 31:16, as the translation of ׂ saadeh , "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 II Corinthians 6:16, and Ephesians 2:21; see also Hebrews 3:6; I Peter 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.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing 1 Corinthians 3:9:
1 Corinthians 3:16
1 Corinthians 3:23
1 Corinthians 3:23
1 Corinthians 4:6
2 Corinthians 6:1
2 Timothy 2:19
1 John 1:3
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