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What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. —1 Corinthians 3:5–7

Like tools in the hands of a craftsman, so are the means God chooses to accomplish his work—important, even necessary, but not the cause of anything.

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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, 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 xx. 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 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 Cor. iii. 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, 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. . . . 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.

Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:128–129.



Posted 2019·07·16 by David Kjos
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Posted in: 1 Corinthians · Calvin’s Commentaries: 1 Corinthians · John Calvin · Ordinary Means

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