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1. And I, brethren He begins to apply to the Corinthians themselves, that he had said respecting carnal persons, that they may understand that the fault was their own — that the doctrine of the Cross had not more charms for them. It is probable, that in mercantile minds like theirs there was too much confidence and arrogance still lingering, so that it was not without much ado and great difficulty that they could bring themselves to embrace the simplicity of the gospel. Hence it was, that undervaluing the Apostle, and the divine efficacy of his preaching, they were more prepared to listen to those teachers that were subtle and showy, while destitute of the Spirit. (145) Hence, with the view of beating down so much the better their insolence, he declares, that they belong to the company of those who, stupefied by carnal sense, are not prepared to receive the spiritual wisdom of God. He softens down, it is true, the harshness of his reproach by calling them brethren, but at the same time he brings it forward expressly as a matter of reproach against them, that their minds were suffocated with the darkness of the flesh to such a degree that it formed a hindrance to his preaching among them. What sort of sound judgment then must they have, when they are not fit and prepared as yet even for hearing! He does not mean, however, that they were altogether carnal, so as to have not one spark of the Spirit of God — but that they had still greatly too much of carnal sense, so that the flesh prevailed over the Spirit, and did as it were drown out his light. Hence, although they were not altogether destitute of grace, yet, as they had more of the flesh than of the Spirit, they are on that account termed carnal This sufficiently appears from what he immediately adds — that they were babes in Christ; for they would not have been babes had they not been begotten, and that begetting is from the Spirit of God.
Babes in Christ This term is sometimes taken in a good sense, as it is by Peter, who exhorts us to be like new-born babes, (1 Peter 2:2,) and in that saying of Christ,
Unless ye become as these little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God, (Luke 18:17.)
Here, however, it is taken in a bad sense, as referring to the understanding. For we must be children in malice, but not in understanding, as he says afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14:20, — a distinction which removes all occasion of doubt as to the meaning. To this also there is a corresponding passage in Ephesians 4:14.
That we be no longer children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and made the sport (146) of human fallacies, but may day by day grow up, etc
(145) “ Combien qu’il n’y eust en eux ancunc efficace de l’Esprit;” — “Though there was in them no efficacy of the Spirit.”
(146) Our author gives in this, as in many other instances, the substance of the passage quoted rather than the express words In the expression “ made the sport of human fallacies,” he seems to have had in his eye the term κυβεια — rendered by our translators sleight (of men,) which, as Calvin himself remarks when commenting upon the passage, is “ translatum ab aleatoribus, quod inter eos multae sint fallendi artes :” borrowed from players at dice, there being many arts of deception practiced among them. — Ed
2. I have fed you with milk Here it is asked, whether Paul transformed Christ to suit the diversity of his hearers. I answer, that this refers to the manner and form of his instructions, rather than to the substance of the doctrine. For Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13,) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow, (Mark 4:33,) and so that, in short, he drops in his instructions by little and little, (147) lest it should run over, if poured in more abundantly. At the same time, those first principles will contain everything necessary to be known, no less than the farther advanced lessons that are communicated to those that are stronger. On this point read Augustine’s 98 homily on John. This tends to refute the specious pretext of some, who, while they do but mutter out, from fear of danger, something of the gospel in an indistinct manner, (148) pretend to have Paul’s example here. Meanwhile, they present Christ at such a distance, and covered over, besides, with so many disguises, that they constantly keep their followers in destructive ignorance. I shall say nothing of their mixing up many corruptions, their presenting Christ not simply in half, but torn to fragments, (149) their not merely concealing such gross idolatry, but confirming it also by their own example, and, if they have said anything that is good, straightway polluting it with numerous falsehoods. How unlike they are to Paul is sufficiently manifest; for milk is nourishment and not poison, and nourishment that is suitable and useful for bringing up children until they are farther advanced.
For ye were not yet able to bear it That they may not flatter themselves too much on their own discernment, he first of all tells them what he had found among them at the beginning, and then adds, what is still more severe, that the same faults remain among them to this day. For they ought at least, in putting on Christ, to have put off the flesh; and thus we see that Paul complains that the success which his doctrine ought to have had was impeded. For if the hearer does not occasion delay by his slowness, it is the part of a good teacher to be always going up higher, (150) till perfection has been attained.
(147) “ Il leur propose la doctrine petit a petit, et par maniere de dire, la face distiller en eux;” — “He presents instruction to them by little and little, and, so to speak, makes it drop upon them.”
(148) “ Ne parlans de l’Euangile que quelques mots bleu obscurement, et comme entre les deurs, pour la crainte qu’ils ont de tomber en quelque danger de leurs ersonnes;” — “Speaking merely some words of the gospel very indistinctly, and, as it were, through their teeth, from the fear that they have of incurring some personal danger.”
(149) “ Par pieces et morceaux;” — “Into pieces and morsels.”
(150) “ D’avaneer tousiours ses escholiers, et monter plus haut;” — “To be always carrying forward his pupils, and going up higher.”
3. For ye are as yet carnal So long as the flesh, that is to say, natural corruption, prevails in a man, it has so completely possession of the man’s mind, that the wisdom of God finds no admittance. Hence, if we would make proficiency in the Lord’s school, we must first of all renounce our own judgment and our own will. Now, although among the Corinthians some sparks of piety were emitted, they were kept under by being choked. (151)
For since there are among you. The proof is derived from the effects; for as envying, and strifes, and divisions, are the fruits of the flesh, wherever they are seen, it is certain that the root is there in its rigor. Those evils prevailed among the Corinthians; and accordingly he proves from this that they are carnal He makes use of the same argument, too, in Galatians 5:25 If ye live in the Spirit, walk also in the Spirit For while they were desirous to be regarded as spiritual, he calls them to look at their works, by which they denied what with their mouth they professed (Titus 1:16.) Observe, however, the elegant arrangement that Paul here pursues: for from envying spring up contentions, and these, when they have once been enkindled, break out into deadly sects: but the mother of all these evils is ambition.
Walk as men From this it is manifest that the term flesh is not restricted to the lower appetites merely, as the Sophists pretend, the seat of which they call sensuality, but is employed to describe man’s whole nature. For those that follow the guidance of nature, are not governed by the Spirit of God. These, according to the Apostle’s definition, are carnal, so that the flesh and man’s natural disposition are quite synonymous, and hence it is not without good reason that he elsewhere requires that we be new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17.)
(151) “ L’estouffement touteffois venant de leurs affections perverses, surmontoit;” — “The suffocation, nevertheless, proceeding from their perverse affections, prevailed.”
4. For while one saith He now specifies the particular kind of contentions, (152) and he does this by personating the Corinthians, that his description may have more force — that each one gloried in his particular master, as though Christ were not the one Master of all (Matthew 23:8.) Now, where such ambition still prevails, the gospel has little or no success. You are not, however, to understand that they declared this openly in express words, but the Apostle reproves those depraved dispositions to which they were given up. At the same time it is likely, that, as a predilection arising from ambition is usually accompanied with an empty talkativeness, (153) they openly discovered by their words the absurd bias of their mind, by extolling their teachers to the skies in magnificent terms, accompanying this at the same time with contempt of Paul and those like him.
(152) “ Qui estoyent entr’eux;” — “Which were among them.”
(153) “ Cette ration de jetter son coeur sur un homme par ambition, est accompagnee d’un sot babil;” — “This way of setting one’s heart upon an individual through ambition, is accompanied with a foolish talkativeness.”
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. (156) “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. (157) 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.
(156) “ 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.”
(157) 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
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. (158) 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 (159) 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 (160) 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.
(158) “ 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.”
(159) “ Tous les ans;” — “Every year.”
(160) 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.
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, (161) 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 (162) 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, (163) 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. (164) 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.
(161) Calvin will be found adverting to the same subject at considerable length, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 9:1. — Ed.
(162) “ Suyuant ceste consideration;” — “In accordance with this view.”
(163) “ 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.”
(164) 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.
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, (165) 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 (166)
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. (167) 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, (168) 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. (169)
(165) “ Poures vers de terre;” — “Mere worms of the dust.”
(166) 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.
(167) “ Et conducteur de l’oeuvre;” — “And conductor of the work.”
(168) “ De se rendre suiets aux hommes, et attacher la leurs affections;” — “In making themselves subject to men, and placing their affections there.”
(169) “ De la massonerie, ou charpenterie;” — “From masonry, or carpentry.”
10. As a wise master-builder It is a most apt similitude, and accordingly it is frequently met with in the Scriptures, as we shall see ere long. Here, however, the Apostle declares his fidelity with great confidence and fearlessness, as it required to be asserted in opposition not merely to the calumnies of the wicked, but also to the pride of the Corinthians, who had already begun to despise his doctrine. The more, therefore, they lowered him, so much the higher does he raise himself up, and speaking as it were from a pulpit of vast height, he declares (171) that he had been the first master-builder of God among them in laying the foundation, and that he had with wisdom executed that department of duty, and that it remained that others should go forward in the same manner, regulating the superstructure in conformity with the rule of the foundation. Let us observe that these things are said by Paul first of all for the purpose of commending his doctrine, which he saw was despised by the Corinthians; and, secondly, for the purpose of repressing the insolence of others, who from a desire for distinction, affected a new method of teaching. These he accordingly admonishes to attempt nothing rashly in God’s building. Two things he prohibits them from doing: they must not venture to lay another foundation, and they must not raise a superstructure that will not be answerable to the foundation.
According to the grace He always takes diligent heed not to usurp to himself a single particle of the glory that belongs to God, for he refers all thing’s to God, and leaves nothing to himself, except his having been an instrument. While, however, he thus submits himself humbly to God, he indirectly reproves the arrogance of those who thought nothing of throwing the grace of God into the shade, (172) provided only they were themselves held in estimation. He hints, too, that there was nothing of the grace of the Spirit in that empty show, for which they were held in esteem, while on the other hand he clears himself from contempt, on the ground of his having been under divine influence. (173)
(171) “ I1 leur fait assavoir, et declare fort et ferme :” — “He gives them to know, and declares strongly and firmly.”
(172) “ Ne faisoyent point de conscience d’amoindrir ou offusquer la grace de Dieu;” — “Made no scruple of disparaging or obscuring the grace of God.”
(173) “ Monstrant, quant a luy qu’il a este pousse et conduit de Dieu, il se defend et maintient contre tout mepris;” — “Showing, as to himself, that he had been led on and conducted by God, he guards and defends himself against all contempt.”
11. For other foundation can no man lay This statement consists of two parts; first, that Christ is the only foundation of the Church; and secondly, that the Corinthians had been rightly founded upon Christ through Paul’s preaching. For it was necessary that they should be brought back to Christ alone, inasmuch as their ears were tickled with a fondness for novelty. It was, too, of no small importance that Paul should be recognized as the principal, and, so to speak, fundamental master-builder, from whose doctrine they could not draw back, without forsaking Christ himself. The sum is this — that the Church must by all means be founded upon Christ alone, and that Paul had executed this department of duty so faithfully that nothing could be found to be wanting in his ministry. Hence, whoever may come after him, can in no other way serve the Lord with a good conscience, or be listened to as ministers of Christ, than by studying to make their doctrine correspond with his, and retain the foundation which he has laid. Hence we infer, that those are not faithful workmen for building up the Church, but on the contrary are scatterers of it, (Matthew 12:30,) who succeed faithful ministers, but do not make it their aim to conform themselves to their doctrine, and carry forward what has been well commenced, so as to make it quite manifest (174) that they are attempting no new work. For what can be more pernicious than by a new manner of teaching to harass believers, who have been well instructed in pure doctrine, so that they stagger in uncertainty as to the true foundation. Now the fundamental doctrine, which it were unlawful to undermine, is, that we learn Christ, for Christ is the only foundation of the Church; but there are many who, while they make use of Christ’s name in pretense, tear up the whole truth of God by the roots. (175)
Let us observe, then, in what way the Church is rightly built upon Christ. It is when he alone is set forth for righteousness, redemption, sanctification, wisdom, satisfaction and cleansing; in short, for life and glory; or if you would have it stated more briefly, when he is proclaimed in such a manner that his office and influence are understood in accordance with what we found stated in the close of the first chapter. (1 Corinthians 1:30.) If, on the other hand, Christ is only in some degree acknowledged, and is called a Redeemer only in name, while in the meantime recourse is had to some other quarter for righteousness, sanctification and salvation, he is driven off from the foundation, and spurious (176) stones are substituted in his room. It is in this manner that Papists act, who rob him of almost all his ornaments, leaving him scarcely anything but the bare name. Such persons, then, are far from being founded on Christ. For as Christ is the foundation of the Church, because he is the only source of salvation and eternal life — because in him we come to know God the Father — because in him we have the source of every blessing; if he is not acknowledged as such he is no longer regarded as the foundation
But it is asked — “Is Christ only a part, or simply the commencement of the doctrine of salvation, as the foundation is merely a part of the building; for if it were so, believers would have only their commencement in Christ, and would be perfected without him. Now this Paul might seem to intimate.” I answer that this is not the meaning of the words; otherwise he would contradict himself when he says elsewhere, that “in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. ” (Colossians 2:3.) He, then, who has learned Christ, (Ephesians 4:20,) is already complete in the whole system of heavenly doctrine. But as Paul’s ministry had contemplated rather the founding of the Corinthians than the raising up among them of the top-stone of the building, he merely shows here what he had done in respect of his having preached Christ in purity. With respect to himself therefore, he calls him the foundation, while at the same time he does not thereby exclude him from the rest of the building. In fine, Paul does not put any kind of doctrine in opposition to the knowledge of Christ, but on the contrary there is a comparison between himself and the ministers.
(174) “ En sorte qu’on puisse voir a l’oeil;” — “So that one may see with the eye.”
(175) “ Arrachent et renversent entierement;” — “They tear up and entirely overthrow”
(176) “ Et non eonvenantes;” — “And not suitable.”
12. Now if any man build upon this foundation He pursues still farther the metaphor. It would not have been enough to have laid the foundation if the entire superstructure did not correspond; for as it were an absurd thing to raise a structure of vile materials on a foundation of gold, so it were greatly criminal to bury Christ under a mass of strange doctrines. (177) By gold, then, and silver, and precious stones, he means doctrine worthy of Christ, and of such a nature as to be a superstructure corresponding to such a foundation. Let us not imagine, however, that this doctrine is apart from Christ, but on the contrary let us understand that we must continue to preach Christ until the very completion of the building. Only we must observe order, so as to begin with general doctrine, and more essential articles, as the foundations, and then go on to admonitions, exhortations, and everything that is requisite for perseverance, confirmation, and advancement.
As there is an agreement thus far as to Paul’s meaning, without any controversy, it follows on the other hand, that by wood, stubble and hay, is meant doctrine not answering to the foundation, such as is forged in men’s brain, and is thrust in upon us as though it were the oracles of God. (178) For God will have his Church trained up by the pure preaching of his own word, not by the contrivances of men, of which sort also is that which has no tendency to edification, as for example curious questions, (Titus 1:4,) which commonly contribute more to ostentation, or some foolish appetite, than to the salvation of men.
He forewarns them that every man’s work will one day be made manifest of what sort it is, however it may be for a time concealed, as though he had said: “It may indeed happen, that unprincipled workmen may for a time deceive, so that the world does not perceive how far each one has labored faithfully or fraudulently, but what is now as it were buried in darkness must of necessity come to light, and what is now glorious in the eyes of men, must before the face of God fall down, and be regarded as worthless.”
(177) “ Ce seroit vne chose mal seante que Christ lust suffoque en mettant et meslant auec luy quelques doctrines estranges;” — “It were an unseemly thing that Christ should be choked by placing upon him and mixing up with him some strange doctrines.”
(178) “ On vent a force faire receuoir pour oracles et reuelations procedees de Dieu;” — “They would force us to receive it as if it were oracles and revelations that have come forth from God.”
13. For the day will declare it In the old translation it is the day of the Lord, (179) but it is probable that the words of the Lord were added by some one by way of explanation. The meaning unquestionably is complete without that addition. For with propriety we give the name of day to the time when darkness and obscurity are dispelled, and the truth is brought to light. Hence the Apostle forewarns us, that it cannot always remain a secret who have acted fraudulently in the work of the Lord, or who have conducted themselves with fidelity, as though he had said: “The darkness will not always remain: the light will one day break forth; which will make all things manifest.” That day, I own, is God’s — not man’s, but the metaphor is more elegant if you read simply — the day, because Paul in this way conveys the idea, that the Lord’s true servants cannot always be accurately distinguished from false workmen, inasmuch as virtues and vices are concealed by the darkness of the night. That night, however, will not always continue. For ambition is blind — man’s favor is blind — the world’s applause is blind, but this darkness God afterwards dispels in his own time. Take notice, that he always discovers the assurance of a good conscience, and with an unconquerable magnanimity despises perverse judgments; first, in order that he may call back the Corinthians from popular applause to a right rule of judgment; and secondly, for the purpose of confirming the authority of his ministry.
Because it will be revealed by fire. Paul having spoken of doctrine metaphorically, now also applies metaphorically the name of fire to the very touchstone of doctrine, that the corresponding parts of the comparison may harmonize with each other. The fire, then, here meant is the Spirit of the Lord, who tries by his touchstone what doctrine resembles gold and what resembles stubble The nearer the doctrine of God is brought to this fire, so much the brighter will be its luster. On the other hand, what has had its origin in man’s head will quickly vanish, (180) as stubble is consumed in the fire. There seems also to be an allusion to the day of which he makes mention: “Not only will those things which vain ambition, like a dark night, concealed among the Corinthians, be brought to light by the brightness of the sun, but there will also be a strength of heat, not merely for drying up and cleansing away the refuse, but also for burning up everything wrong.” For however men may look upon themselves, as forming acute judgments, their discernment, notwithstanding, reaches no farther than appearance, which, for the most part, has no solidity. There is nothing but that day to which the Apostle appeals, that tests everything to the quick, not merely by its brightness, but also by its fiery flame.
(179) It is so in two of the old English versions. In Wiclif’s version (1380) the rendering is as follows: For the dai of the Lord schal declare. The Rheims version (1582) reads thus: For the day of our Lord will declare. — Ed.
(180) “ Celle, qui aura este forgee au cerveau des hommes s’esuanouira tout incontinent, et s’en ira en fumee;” — “That which has been forged in man’s brain, will quickly vanish, and go off in smoke.”
14. If any man’s work remains, he will receive a reward. His meaning is, that those are fools who depend on man’s estimation, so as to reckon it enough to be approved by men, for then only will the work have praise and recompense — when it has stood the test of the day of the Lord Hence he exhorts His true ministers to have an eye to that day. For by the word remains, he intimates that doctrines fly about as it were in an unsettled state, nay more, like empty bubbles, they glitter for the moment, until they have come to be thoroughly tested. Hence it follows, that we must reckon as nothing all the applauses of the world, the emptiness of which will in a very little be exposed by heaven’s judgment.
15. If any man’s work shall be burned. It is as though he had said: Let no man flatter himself on the ground that, in the opinion of men, he is reckoned among the most eminent master-builders, for as soon as the day breaks in, his whole work must go utterly to nothing, if it is not approved of by the Lord. This, then, is the rule to which every one’s ministry requires to be conformed. Some explain this of doctrine, so that ζημιουσθαι (181) means simply to perish, and then what immediately follows they view as referring to the foundation, because in the Greek θεμελιος (foundation) is in the masculine gender. They do not, however, sufficiently attend to the entire context. For Paul in this passage subjects to trial, not his own doctrine, but that of others. (182) Hence it were out of place to make mention at present of the foundation. He has stated a little before, that every man’s work will be tried by fire. He comes afterwards to state an alternative, which ought not to be extended beyond that general observation. Now it is certain that Paul spoke there simply of the structure which had been erected upon the foundation. He has already in the first clause promised a reward to good master-builders, (183) whose labor shall have been approved of. Hence the contrast in the second clause suits admirably well — that those who have mixed stubble, or wood, or straw, will be disappointed of the commendation which they had expected.
He himself will be saved, etc. It is certain that Paul speaks of those who, while always retaining the foundations, mix hay with gold, stubble with silver, and wood with precious stones — that is, those who build upon Christ, but in consequence of the weakness of the flesh, admit something that is man’s, or through ignorance turn aside to some extent from the strict purity of God’s word. Such were many of the saints, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, and the like. Add to these, if you choose, from those of later times, Gregory and Bernard, and others of that stamp, who, while they had it as their object to build upon Christ, did nevertheless often deviate from the right system of building. Such persons, Paul says, could be saved, but on this condition — if the Lord wiped away their ignorance, and purged them from all dross.
This is the meaning of the clause so as by fire. He means, therefore, to intimate, that he does not take away from them the hope of salvation, provided they willingly submit to the loss of their labor, and are purged by the mercy of God, as gold is refined in the furnace. Farther, although God sometimes purges his own people by afflictions, yet here by the name of fire, I understand the touchstone of the Spirit, by which the Lord corrects and removes the ignorance of his people, by which they were for a time held captive. I am aware, indeed, that, many refer this to the cross, (184) but I am confident that my interpretation will please all that are of sound judgment.
It remains, that we give an answer in passing to the Papists, who endeavor from this passage to prop up Purgatory. “The sinners (185) whom God forgives, pass through the fire, that they may be saved.” Hence they in this way suffer punishment in the presence of God, so as to afford satisfaction to his justice I pass over their endless fictions in reference to the measure of punishment, and the means of redemption from them, but I ask, who they are that pass through the fire? Paul assuredly speaks of ministers alone. “There is the same reason,” they say, “as to all.” It is not for us (186) but for God to judge as to this matter. But even granting them this, how childishly they stumble at the term fire. For to what purpose is this fire, (187) but for burning up the hay and straw, and on the other hand, for proving the gold and silver. Do they mean to say that doctrines are discerned by the fire of their purgatory? Who has ever learned from that, what difference there is between truth and falsehood? Farther, when will that day come that will shine forth so as to discover every one’s work? Did it begin at the beginning of the world, and will it continue without interruption to the end? If the terms stubble, hay, gold, and silver are figurative, as they must necessarily allow, what correspondence will there be between the different clauses, if there is nothing figurative in the term fire? Away, then, with such silly trifles, which carry their absurdity in their forehead, for the Apostle’s true meaning is, I think, sufficiently manifest.
(181) “ Le mot Grec suyuant, qui signifie souffrir perte ou dommage;” — “The Greek word following, which signifies to suffer loss or damage.”
(182) “ Car ce n’est pas sa doctrine, mais celle des autres que Sainct Paul dit, qui viendra a l’examen;” — “For it is not his own doctrine, but that of others, that St. Paul says will come to be tested.”
(183) “ Et fideles ouuriers;” — “And faithful workmen.”
(184) “ Et affliction;” — “And affliction.”
(185) “ Les pecheurs, (disent-ils);” — “The sinners, (say they).”
(186) “ Je respon, que ce n’est pas a nous;” — “I answer, that it is not for us.”
(187) “ Car a quel propos est-il yci parle du feu ?” — “For to what purpose does he speak here of fire?”
16. Know ye not, etc. Having admonished the teachers as to their duty, he now addresses himself to the pupils — that they, too, may take heed to themselves. To the teachers he had said, “You are the master-builders of the house of God.” He now says to the people, “You are the temples of God. It is your part, therefore, to take care that you be not, in any way defiled.” Now, the design (190) is, that they may not prostitute themselves to the service of men. He confers upon them distinguished honor in speaking thus, but it is in order that they may be made the more reprehensible; for, as God has set them apart as a temple to himself, he has at the same time appointed them to be guardians of his temple It is sacrilege, then, if they give themselves up to the service of men. He speaks of all of them collectively as being one temple of God; for every believer is a living stone, (1 Peter 2:5,) for the rearing up of the building of God. At the same time they also, in some cases, individually receive the name of temples We shall find him a little afterwards (1 Corinthians 6:19) repeating the same sentiment, but for another purpose. For in that passage he treats of chastity; but here, on the other hand, he exhorts them to have their faith resting on the obedience of Christ alone. The interrogation gives additional emphasis; for he indirectly intimates, that he speaks to them of a thing that they knew, while he appeals to them as witnesses.
And the Spirit of God. Here we have the reason why they are the temple of God Hence and must be understood as meaning because (191) This is customary, as in the words of the poet — “Thou hadst heard it, and it had been reported.” “For this reason,” says he, “are ye the temples of God, because He dwells in you by his Spirit; for no unclean place can be the habitation of God.” In this passage we have an explicit testimony for maintaining the divinity of the Holy Spirit. For if he were a creature, or merely a gift, he would not make us temples of God, by dwelling in us. At the same time we learn, in what manner God communicates himself to us, and by what tie we are bound to him — when he pours down upon us the influence of his Spirit.
(190) “ De cest aduertissement;” — “Of this caution.”
(191) Audieras, et fama fitit. Virg. Eclog. 9. 11.
17. If any man corrupts the temple of God. He subjoins a dreadful threatening — that, as the temple of God ought to be inviolably sacred, that man, whoever he may be, that corrupts it, will not pass with impunity. The kind of profanation of which he now speaks, is, when men intrude themselves, so as to bear rule in the Church in the place of God. For as that faith, which is devoted to the pure doctrine of Christ, is called elsewhere spiritual chastity, (2 Corinthians 11:2,) so it also sanctifies our souls for the right and pure worship of God. For as soon as we are tinctured with the contrivances of men, the temple of God is polluted, as it were, with filth, because the sacrifice of faith, which he claims for himself alone, is in that case offered to creatures.
18. Let no man deceive himself Here he puts his finger upon the true sore, as the whole mischief originated in this — that they were wise in their own conceit. Hence he exhorts them not to deceive themselves with a false impression, by arrogating any wisdom to themselves — by which he means, that all are under a mistake, who depend upon their own judgment. Now, he addresses himself, in my opinion, to hearers as well as teachers. For the former discovered a partiality for those ambitious men, and lent an ear to them, (192) because they had too fastidious a taste, so that the simplicity of the gospel was insipid to their taste; while the latter aimed at nothing but show, that they might be in some estimation. He accordingly admonishes both to this effect — “Let no one rest satisfied with his own wisdom, but let him who thinketh himself to be wise, become a fool in this world, ” or, “ Let him who is distinguished in this world by reputation for wisdom, of his own accord empty himself, (193) and become a fool in his own estimation.”
Farther, in these words the Apostle does not require, that we should altogether renounce the wisdom that is implanted in us by nature, or acquired by long practice; but simply, that we subject it to the service of God, so as to have no wisdom but through his word. For this is what is meant by becoming a fool in this world, or in our own estimation — when we are prepared to give way to God, and embrace with fear and reverence everything that he teaches us, rather than follow what may appear to us plausible. (194)
The meaning of the clause in this world, is as though he had said — “According to the judgment or opinion of the world.” For the wisdom of the world is this — if we reckon ourselves sufficient of ourselves for taking counsel as to all matters (Psalms 13:2) for governing ourselves, and for managing whatever we have to do — if we have no dependence on any other (195) — if we feel no need of the guidance of another, but are competent to govern ourselves. (196) He, therefore, on, the other hand, is a fool in this world, who, renouncing his own understanding, allows himself to be directed by the Lord, as if with his eyes shut — who, distrusting himself, leans wholly upon the Lord, places his whole wisdom in him, and yields himself up to God in docility and submission. It is necessary that our wisdom should in this way vanish, in order that the will of God may have authority over us, and that we be emptied of our own understanding, that we may be filled with the wisdom of God. At the same time, the clause (197) may either be taken in connection with the first part of the verse, or joined with the last, but as the meaning is not much different, I leave every one to choose for himself.
(192) “ Trop facilement;” — “Too readily.”
(193) “ Soit fait fol en soy de son bon gre s’abbaissant, et s’aneantissant soymesme;” — “Let him become, of his own accord, a fool in his own estimation, abasing and emptying himself.”
(194) “ Bon et raisonnable;” — “Good and reasonable.”
(195) “ Que de nous-mesmes;” — “Than ourselves.”
(196) “ Nous semble que nous sommes assez suffisans de nous conduire, et gouuerner nous-mesmes;” — “It appears to us, that we are quite competent to conduct and govern ourselves.”
(197) “ En ce monde ;” — “ In this world. ”
19. For the wisdom of this world This is an argument taken from things opposite. To maintain the one is to overturn the other. As, therefore, the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, it follows that we cannot be wise in the sight of God, unless we are fools in the view of the world. We have already explained (1 Corinthians 1:20) what he means by the wisdom of this world; for natural perspicacity is a gift of God, and the liberal arts, and all the sciences by which wisdom is acquired, are gifts of God. They are confined, however, within their own limits; for into God’s heavenly kingdom they cannot penetrate. Hence they must occupy the place of handmaid, not of mistress: nay more, they must be looked upon as empty and worthless, until they have become entirely subject to the word and Spirit of God. If, on the other hand, they set themselves in opposition to Christ, they must be looked upon as dangerous pests, and, if they strive to accomplish anything of themselves, as the worst of all hindrances. (198) Hence the wisdom of the world, in Paul’s acceptation, is that which assumes to itself authority, and does not allow itself to be regulated by the word of God, or to be subdued, so as to yield itself up in entire subjection to him. Until, therefore, matters have come to this, that the individual acknowledges that he knows nothing but what he has learned from God, and, giving up his own understanding; resigns himself unreservedly to Christ’s guidance, he is wise in the world’s account, but he is foolish in the estimation of God.
For it is written, He taketh the wise He confirms this from two Scripture proofs, the first of which is taken from Job 5:13, where the wisdom of God is extolled on this ground, that no wisdom of the world can stand before it.
Now it is certain, that the Prophet speaks there of those that are cunning and crafty; but as the wisdom of man is invariably such without God, (199) it is with good reason that Paul applies it in this sense, — that whatever wisdom men have of themselves is reckoned of no account in the sight of God. The second is from Psalms 94:11, where David, after claiming for God alone the office and authority of the Instructor of all, adds, that He knows the thoughts of all to be vain. Hence, in whatever estimation they are held by us, they are, in the judgment of God, vain Here we have an admirable passage for bringing down the confidence of the flesh, while God from on high declares that everything that the mind of man conceives and contrives is mere vanity (200)
(198) “ Ce sont de grans empeschemens, et bien a craindre;” — “They are great hindrances, and much to be dreaded.”
(199) “ Quand la sagesse de Dieu n’y est point;” — “When the wisdom of God is not in it.”
(200) “The humbling tendency ef the statement referred to is well brought out by Fuller of Kettering. ( Fuller ’ s Works, volume 4, p. 89.)
21. Therefore let no man glory in men As there is nothing that is more vain than man, how little security there is in leaning upon an evanescent shadow! Hence he infers with propriety from the preceding statement, that we must not glory in men, inasmuch as the Lord thus takes away from mankind universally every ground of glorying. At the same time this inference depends on the whole of the foregoing doctrine, as will appear ere long. For as we belong to Christ alone, it is with good reason that he teaches us, that any supremacy of man, by which the glory of Christ is impaired, involves sacrilege.
22. All things are yours. He proceeds to show what place and station teachers should occupy (201) — such as not to detract in any degree from the authority of Christ, the one Master. As therefore Christ is the Church’s sole master, and as he alone without exception is worthy to be listened to, it is necessary to distinguish between him and others, as even Christ himself has testified respecting himself, (Matthew 23:8,) and no other is recommended to us by the Father with this honorable declaration, (202) “Hear ye him.” (Matthew 17:5.) As, therefore, he alone is endowed with authority to rule us by his word, Paul says that others are ours — meaning, that they are appointed to us by God with the view of our making use of them — not that they should exercise dominion over our consciences. Thus on the one hand, he shows that they are not useless, and, on the other hand, he keeps them in their own place, that they may not exalt themselves in opposition to Christ. What he adds, as to death, life, and the rest, is hyperbolical, so far as concerns the passage before us. He had it in view, however, to reason, as it were, from the greater to the less, in this manner. “Christ having put in subjection to us life and death, and everything, can we doubt, whether he has not also made men subject to us, to help us by their ministrations — not to oppress us by tyranny.”
Now if any one takes occasion from this to allege, that the writings both of Paul and of Peter are subject to our scrutiny, inasmuch as they were men, and are not exempted from the common lot of others, I answer, that Paul, while he does not by any means spare himself or Peter, admonishes the Corinthians to distinguish between the person of the individual, and the dignity or distinction of office. “As for myself, viewed as a man, I wish to be judged of simply as a man, that Christ alone may have distinction in our ministry.” This, however, in a general way, we must hold, (203) that all who discharge the office of the ministry, are ours, from the highest to the lowest, so that we are at liberty to withhold our assent to their doctrine, until they show that it is from Christ. For they must all be tried, (1 John 4:1,)and we must yield obedience to them, only when they have satisfactorily shown themselves to be faithful servants of Christ. Now as to Peter and Paul, this point being beyond all controversy, and the Lord having furnished us with amply sufficient evidence, that their doctrine has come forth from Him, when we receive as an oracle from heaven, and venerate everything that they have delivered to us, we hear not so much them, as Christ speaking in them.
(201) “ C’est a dire, quelle estime on en doit auoir;” — “That is to easy, in what esteem they ought to be held.”
(202) “ Nul autre ne nous a este donne du Pere authorize de ce titre et commandement;” — “No other has been given to us by the Father, authorized by this distinction and injunction.”
(203) “ Pour vne maxime;” — “As a maxim.”
23. Christ is God’s This subjection relates to Christ’s humanity, for by taking upon him our flesh, he assumed “the form” and condition “of a servant,” that he might make himself obedient to his Father in all things. (Philippians 2:7.) And assuredly, that we may cleave to God through him, it is necessary that he have God as his head (1 Corinthians 11:3.) We must observe, however, with what intention Paul has added this. For he admonishes us, that the sum of our felicity consists in this, (204) that we are united to God who is the chief good, and this is accomplished when we are gathered together under the head that our heavenly Father has set over us. In the same sense Christ said to his disciples,“
Ye ought to rejoice, because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I,” (John 14:28,)
for there he set himself forth as the medium, through which believers come to the original source of every blessing. It is certain, that those are left destitute of that signal blessing, who depart from the unity of the Head. (205) Hence this order of things suits the connection of the passage — that those subject themselves to Christ alone, who desire to remain under God’s jurisdiction.
(204) “ Car il nous donne a entendre, et remonstre, que le comble et la perfection de nostre felicite consiste la;” — “For he gives us to understand, and shows, that the summit and perfection of our felicity consists in this.”
(205) “ Qui ne retienent ce seul Chef;” — “Who do not retain that sole Head.”
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26