For we are labourers together with God. – συνεργοί – co-workers.1 Corinthians 3:9
A similar use occurs in 2Co_6:1. This expression has two interpretations:
- they were co-workers with God; engaged with him in his work, that he and they cooperated in the end result.
- that it was a joint-work or a joint-effort among people.
Many interpreters have understood this to mean #1. 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 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 necessarily 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 the work of God.
(3) The main purpose 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. (Barnes Commentary – available in E-Sword)
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