1. This lesson is an admonition to the Corinthians calculated to stimulate them in the performance of the duties they already recognize. The words are easily enough said, but execution is difficult and practice rare. For Paul gives a strange description of the Christianlife, and the color and characteristics with which he exhibits it render it decidedly unprepossessing. First he says: “And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.”
2. He calls the Corinthians co-workers, as in 1 Corinthians 3:9, where he puts it: “We are God’s fellow-workers; ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.” That is, we labor upon you with the external Word — teaching and admonishing; but God, working inwardly through the Spirit, gives the blessing and the success. He permits not our labor with the outward Word to be in vain. Therefore, God is the true Master, performing inwardly the supremework, while we aid outwardly, serving him through the ministry.
The apostle’s purpose in praising his co-laborers is to prevent them from despising the external Word as something inessential to them, or well enough known. For though God is able to effect everything without the instrumentality of the outward Word, working inwardly by his Spirit, this is by no means his purpose. He uses preachers as fellow-workers, or colaborers, to accomplish his purpose through the Word when and where he pleases. Now, since preachers have the office, name and honor of fellowworkers with God, no one may be considered learned enough or holy enough to ignore or despise the most inferior preaching; especially since he knows not when the hour may come wherein God will, through preachers, perform his work in him.
3. Secondly, Paul shows the danger of neglecting the grace of God. He boldly declares here that the preaching of the Gospel is not an eternal, continuous and permanent mode of instruction, but rather a passing shower, which hastens on. What it strikes, it strikes; what it misses, it misses. It does not return, nor does it stand still. The sun and heat follow and dry it up. Experience shows that in no part of the world has the Gospel remained pure beyond the length of man’s memory. Only so long as its pioneers lived did it stand and prosper. When they were gone, the light disappeared; factious spirits and false teachers followed immediately.
So also we now have the pure Gospel. This is a time of grace and salvation and the acceptable day; but should the world continue, this condition, too, will soon pass.
4. To receive the grace of God in vain can be nothing else than to hear the pure word of God which presents and offers his grace, and yet to remain listless and irresponsive, undergoing no change at all. Thus, ungrateful for the Word and unworthy of it, we merit the loss of the Word. Such as these are described in the parable ( Luke 14:16-24) where the guests bidden to the supper refused to come and went about their own business, thus provoking the master’s anger until he swore they should not taste his supper.
First, he tells us that it is an “acceptable time,” as the Hebrew expresses it.
Our own way of putting it would be: “This is a gracious time, a time when God turns away his wrath and is moved only by love and benevolence toward us and is pleased to do us good.” All our sins are forgotten; he takes no note of the sins of the past nor of those of the present. In short, we are in a realm of mercy, where are only forgiveness and reconciliation.
The heavens are now open. This is the true golden year when man is denied nothing. So Paul says, “At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee”; that is: “I am kindly disposed toward thee. Whatsoever thou shalt even desire and ask for, thou shalt surely receive. Be not neglectful, therefore, and ask while the acceptable time continues.”
6. Second, Paul declares that it is a day of blessing, “a day of salvation.” It is a day of help, wherein we are not only acceptable and assured of God’s favor and good will toward us, but we experience even as we have been assured — that God really does help us. He verifies his assurance, for his beneficence gives testimony that our prayers are heard. We call it a happy day, a blessed day, a day of abundance; for these two truths are inseparably related — that God is favorable toward us, and that his kindness is the proof of his favor. God’s favor toward us is revealed in the first clause, which speaks of an acceptable time; that he extends help to us is revealed in the second clause, telling of a blessed day of succor. Both these facts are to be apprehended by faith and in good conscience; for a superficial judgment would lead to the view that this period of blessing is rather an accursed period of wrath and disfavor. Words like these, of spiritual meaning, must be understood in the light of the Holy Spirit; thus shall we find that these two glorious, beautiful expressions refer to the Gospel dispensation and are intended to magnify all the treasures and the riches of the kingdom of Christ. “Giving no occasion of stumbling [no offense] in anything.”
7. Since this is a time of blessing, let us make right use of it, not spending it to no purpose, and let us take serious heed to give offense to none; thus avoiding reproach to our ministry. It is evident from the connection to what kind of offense the apostle has reference; he would not have the Gospeldoctrine charged with teaching anything evil.
8. Two kinds of offense bring the Gospel into disgrace: In one case it is the heathen who are offended, and this because of the fact that some individuals would make the Gospel a means of freedom from temporal restraint, substituting temporal liberty for spiritual. They thus bring reproach upon the Gospel as teaching such doctrine, and make it an object of scandal to the heathen and worldly people, whereby they are misled and become enemies to the faith and to the Word of God without cause, being the harder to convert since they regard Christians as licentious knaves. And the responsibility for this must be placed at the door of those who have given offense in this respect.
But for love’s offense, offense caused by shortcomings in our works and fruits of faith, the things we are commanded to let shine before men, that, seeing these, they may be allured to the faith — for offense in this respect we cannot disclaim responsibility. It is a sin we certainly must avoid, that the heathen, the Jews, the weak and the rulers of the world may never be able to say: “Behold the knavery and licentiousness of these people! Surely their doctrine cannot be true.” Otherwise our evil name and fame and the obstacles we place before others will extend to the innocent and holy Word God has given us to apprehend and to proclaim; it must bear our shame and in addition become unfruitful in the offended ones. Grievous is such a sin as this.
Not that it is possible for anyone thereby to become a Christian, or godly; but, being servants of God, or Christians and godly people, we furnish in this manner, according to Paul’s statement here, the evidence thereof as by fruits and signs.
Mark his phrase “ministers of God.” What a remarkable service for God is this wherein we must endure so much suffering, so much affliction, privation, anxiety, stripes, imprisonment, tumult or sedition, labor, watching, fasting, and so on! No mass here, no vigil, no hallucinations of a fictitious service of God; it is the true service of God, which subdues the body and mortifies the flesh. Not, indeed, as if fasting, watching and toiling are to be despised because they do not make just. Though we are not thereby justified, we must nevertheless practice those things, instead of giving rein to the flesh and indulging our idleness.
13. What is meant here? With Paul, knowledge signifies discretion, understanding, reason. He speaks of the Jews ( Romans 10:2) as having “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”; that is, a zeal without reason, without understanding, without discretion. His message here, then, is: “We should conduct ourselves in Christian affairs with becoming reason and moderation lest we give offense to the weak by a presumptuous use of Christianliberty. Rather we should, with discretion and understanding, adapt ourselves to that which promotes the neighbor’s welfare. Likewise, when we labor, fast, or when we regulate our sexual relations, we are to exercise reason, lest the body should be injured by too much fasting, watching and toil, and also by needless abstention from sexual intercourse.
Let everyone take heed to remain within bounds by using reason and discretion. The apostlecounsels the married ( 1 Corinthians 7:5) not to defraud each other too long, lest they be tempted. In all such matters, he would impose no measures and rules, no limits and laws, after the manner of the councils, the popes and the monks. He leaves it wholly to each individual’s discretion to decide and to test for himself all questions of time and quantity bearing upon the restraints of his flesh. “In longsuffering, in kindness.”
14. The meaning of these phrases has been stated in many other places, particularly in connection with Romans 2 and Galatians 5. “By the Holy Spirit.”
15. What are we to understand here? The words may have one of two meanings: First, the apostle may have reference to the Holy Spirit in person, who is God. Second, he may have reference to the spirit of individuals, or their spiritual condition. “Holy Spirit” may be intended to stand for “spirituality,” Paul’s meaning being: “Beware of the professedly spiritual, or of things glittering and purporting to be spiritual; beware of them who make great boast of the Spirit and nevertheless betray only a false, unclean, unholy spirit, productive of sects and discord. Abide ye in that true, holy spirituality proceeding from God’s Holy Spirit, who imparts unity and harmony, determination and courage.” As Paul expresses it elsewhere ( Ephesians 4:3), “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” They, then, who continue in one faith, one mind and disposition, give testimony by the reality and saintliness of their spirituallife and by the presence of the Holy Spirit that they are servants of God. For true spirituality, or a holy walk in the Spirit, means to be in heart and mind at one with the Spirit, through faith. “In love unfeigned, in the word of truth.”
Again, he opposes the “Word of Truth” to abusers of the Word of God, who misconstrue it and comment upon it according to their own fancy, and for their own honor and profit. While much that purports to be spiritual has not the Word as source and gives honor to the Spirit at the expense of the Word, the class under consideration profess to magnify the Word; they would be master interpreters of the Scriptures, confident that their explanations are correct and superior. In condemnation of this class, Peter says ( 1 Peter 4:11), “If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God,” and not his own word. In other words, let him be assured he speaks the Word of God and not his own. God’s Word Paul here terms the “Word of truth”; that is, the true Word of God and not our own misconstrued, falsified word palmed off as God’s Word. In our idiom we would say “the real Word” where the Hebrew has “Word of truth,” or “true Word.” “In the power of God.”
17. Peter speaks also of this power, in the verse before mentioned: “If any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth.” And Paul elsewhere declares ( Colossians 1:29): “Whereunto I labor also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily”; and again ( Romans 15:18): “For I will not dare to speak of any things save those which Christwrought through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles.” Christians should have the assurance that they are the kingdom of God, and that in whatever they do, especially in undertakings of a spiritual character, which have the salvation of souls as aim, they beware of everything not absolutely known as true, so that the work be not theirs but God’s.
In God’s kingdomGod alone is to speak, reign and act. Christ says ( Matthew 5:16): “Even so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” — may glorily him as the worker, and not yourselves. Seductive spirits, however, come cavorting in their own power, throw the pictures out of the churches and establish rules of their own, without caring whether it is done in the power of God. The consequence is that their work is neither permanent nor fruitful.
He must be as one dying — continually expecting death by reason of the hatred and envy directed against him, and the various persecutions he suffers. He must be beaten and scourged; must at times feel the weight of the enmity and envy wherewith the worldinflictstorment. He is like the sorrowful, for so ill does he fare in the world, he has reason to sorrow. He resembles the poor in that nothing is given him but injuries; he possesses nothing, for if he has not been deprived of all his possessions he daily expects that extremity.
20. On the right he places honor and good report, inasmuch as we are after all true, well known, alive, defiant of death, full of joy, rich, possessing all things. The Christian will have always a few to honor and commend him; some there will be to give him a good report, to praise him as true and honest in doctrine. And there will be some who receive and acknowledge him, who are not ashamed of him. Life remains in spite of death oft faced, even in scourgings. He rejoices when things with him are at the worst, for his heart remains joyful in God, that joy finding expression in words, deeds and manner. Though poor in the goods of the world, he does not die of hunger, and he makes many spiritually rich through the Word. Even though he have no possessions at all, he suffers no lack but has in hand all things; for all creatures must serve the believer. As Christpromised ( Mark 9:23), “All things are possible to him that believeth.” For himself, it is true, he possesses nothing, and gladly he endures his need; but for his neighbor’s sake he can do all things, and all he has he is ready to place at the disposal of his neighbor whenever need requires. These blessings also give occasion for a powerfularmor, for we must guard against pride and haughtiness.