The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Notes on 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 by Father Charles Callan

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 4, 2009

A Summary of 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

So far St Paul has given two arguments against the factions in the Corinthian Church.  In the first (1 Cor 1:13-17a) he showed such divisions to be injurious to the unity of the Church of which Christ is the head; in the second (1 Cor 1:17b-3:4) he established, against the followers of Apollo, that his own method of using simple, unadorned speech when preaching to them was in conformity with the character of the Gospel and accommodated to the capacity of his hearers, and consequently afforded no reason for their factions.  Now he comes to his third argument and proves the absurdity of Corinthian divisions from the fact that all their religious teachers were only ministers and servants of the one and the same God.

1 Cor 3:5  The ministers of him whom you have believed; and to every one as the Lord hath given.

It is plain then who Paul and Apollo are; they are only ministers of God “through whom” the Corinthians have received their faith.  The term διάκονος (Diakonos) is used here in the sense of servants.  Instead of the phrase of him whom, etc., the Greek MSS. have: “through whom” (διά ων).  The Apostles are, therefore, not the authors of the faith they have preached, but only instruments of God who has called them all to His service, and has given to each the particular part of the ministry he is to perform.  In the Vulgate eius, cui should be per quos, to agree with the Greek.

1 Cor 3:6  I have planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase.

I have planted, etc.  The Apostle explains the different ministries exercised in the vineyard of the Lord.  He it was who first preached the Gospel, who sowed the seed of faith at Corinth.  Then came Apollo who by his preaching nourished that seed (Acts 18:27 ff.).  But both Paul and Apollo were only exterior agencies to the growth of the faith among the Corinthians; for it was God that made their labors fruitful in the hearts of their hearers

1 Cor 3:7  Therefore, neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
1 Cor 3:8  Now he that planteth, and he that watereth, are one.  And every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.

The first conclusion that follows from what has been said in the two preceding verses is that, without the grace of God in the hearts and souls of the faithful, the work of the preacher is vain and useless.  Secondly, it follows that, while compared with God the preachers of the Gospel are on no account, when compared with one another they are all on the same level and all equal, inasmuch as all are servants of the one God, working in the same vineyard and for the same end.

The faithful, therefore, should not make distinctions between the preachers of the Gospel, preferring one to another.  But from this we must not conclude that God will treat all alike, for every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor, i.e., each one shall re rewarded, not according to the office he has held, nor according to the success of his efforts, but in proportion to his labors performed in the state of grace.

The Greek term μισθός (misthos), reward, used here means wages paid for work performed.  Hence this verse affords proof that good works do of themselves merit before God, as the Council of Trent teaches (Sess. VI De Justificatione, can. 32).  The same doctrine is declared more clearly in 2 Cor 4:17: “For that which is at present momentary…worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.”

1 Cor 3:9  For we are God’s coadjutors: you are God’s husbandry; you are God’s building.

This verse is to be connected with the second part of the preceding verse, and shows who will reward the laborers in the Lord’s service.  The evangelical workers are not slaves who have no right to reward, but God coadjutors, i.e., free workers, who earn a wage for their labors; they are co-workers with God.

Note:  The canon from the Council of Trent cited above reads: CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema. (source)

For more on the subject of merit see here and read sections 1 thru 3. See also the Joint Declaration On The Doctrine of  Justification By The World Lutheran Federation And The Catholic Church.


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