Commentary on 1 Corinthians
We now enter upon the epistle which above all others deals with matters concerning the local assembly, and the order which by Divine appointment should be observed in it. The church, or assembly, of God in Corinth was a large one, as we gather from Acts 18:10. It had within it some very unsatisfactory elements, as is not unusual in such a case, and these elements were introducing ways and habits and even doctrines, of a sort which were common enough in the Corinthian world, but which were absolutely foreign to the nature and spirit of the assembly of God. Partly perhaps it was due to the ignorance of the Corinthian saints, for they had written a letter of enquiry to the Apostle Paul, who had brought the Gospel to them, as to certain matters, as is indicated in verse 1 of chapter 7. Still Paul not only answered their questions but also brings home to them in most vigorous language their grievous errors both in behaviour and doctrine. This he did not in annoyance or anger or sarcasm, but, "out of much affliction and anguish of heart... with many tears" (2 Cor.2:4). Hence the powerful effect which his letter produced, as evidenced in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11.
Having to write in this corrective strain Paul very naturally emphasizes at the outset the apostolic place of authority which he held from God; and further, he associates with himself one of themselves. Sosthenes came from Corinth (see, Acts 18:17 ), and apparently was converted after the beating he got from the Greeks as chief ruler of the synagogue, having supplanted Crispus, who was converted somewhat earlier.
Two important facts confront us in the second verse. First, that only those who were sanctified in Christ, who were saints by the call of God, and who called upon Jesus as Lord, composed the church of God at Corinth. Second, that though the epistle was written primarily to the assembly at Corinth, yet secondarily ALL who called upon Christ as Lord were in view, no matter where they might be located. The same Lord was "both theirs and ours," and hence all saints were under a common Authority.
We do well to note with care the first fact, for the word, church, is used with a variety of meanings today. We may get an idea of its true meaning according to Scripture from this verse. None but true believers are saints, sanctified in Christ. It is on the other hand a fact that some may professedly call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord without being true believers, and this accounts for passages in this epistle where Paul takes them up on the ground of their profession and says things which implies that some among them might NOT be real. Still, speaking generally, if a man professes faith he must be accepted as real, until proved to be otherwise.
We do well also to observe and digest the second fact, with its significance, and the consequences that flow from it. It quite definitely shows that though each assembly has its own local conditions, and state, and responsibilities, yet it cannot be dissociated from the whole - from the church of God in its universal aspect. The order which this epistle enjoins upon the Corinthians is equally enjoined upon all saints everywhere. The discipline which was to be effected at Corinth, while affecting Corinth immediately, had its bearing ultimately upon the whole church. The recognition of this fact will preserve us from the mistake of treating each assembly as though it were an independent and autonomous unit - from laying such stress upon the local assemblies as to overshadow the fact of the unity of the whole church of God.
Paul's desire for the Corinthians was that grace and peace might be ministered to them. There was evidently a good deal of discord in their midst, which would have been eliminated had a larger measure of grace been amongst them. Yet the grace of God had been ministered to them in Christ, as verse 4 states, and that moved him to thanksgiving. Moreover, from the grace of God had sprung all the gifts that they possessed, while waiting for the coming of the Lord. The God who had called them to the fellowship of His Son is faithful as well as gracious, and consequently he was confident that they would be confirmed without blame to the end.
Notice how repeatedly the Lord Jesus Christ is named in the first nine verses, and how everything is attributed to, and referred to, Him. It is His Name, His grace, His testimony, His coming, His day, His fellowship. All this reinforces, and is intended to reinforce, the strong remonstrance of the Apostle which opens in verse 10. There were divisions, or parties, among them, leading to contention and strife. These parties struck a blow at the fact that they had been called to the fellowship of the One who is God's Son and our Lord.
When David was at Adullam, in the time of his rejection, men flocked to his standard and he became captain over them. They entered his fellowship, for he was the central figure. Had he been smitten the fellowship would have ceased to be. We are called into the fellowship of One who also is in rejection, yet is infinitely greater than David. The One who is Captain over us is God's Son. The fellowship to which we belong is dominated by Him, without a rival.
In the light of this, how great is the evil of party-making or party spirit, even though honoured names be attached to the parties, or even the very name of Christ be adopted as a party label. From verse 6 of chapter 4, we gather that the Corinthians were actually forming their parties round gifted and able men in their own assembly, and that the Apostle avoided the mention of their names by inserting his own with Apollos and Peter. Thus he maintained the delicate courtesy which is characteristic of Christianity, and at the same time heightened the effect of, his argument. Paul was their spiritual father, but even to say, "I am of Paul" is not admissible.
Divisions - i.e., schisms or parties - always lead to contentions. God's desire is that we should be united in one mind and judgment. Though at a distance, tidings of the sad state of the Corinthians had reached Paul's ears, and he dealt faithfully with them. At the same time he plainly stated whence his information came. The house of Chloe could not lay information against them and yet remain anonymous, saying, "Don't let anyone know that we told you!" So also Paul himself avoided all vague and indefinite charges. He was quite explicit and definite in his statement, as indicated by the words, "Now this I say." If such safeguards were always observed when charges must be brought, it would be well.
The questions of verse 13 are very much to the point. Christ is one. He only has been crucified for us. To His name alone have we been baptized. Paul was thankful that though so long at Corinth he had not baptized any of them, save two or three. In the commission given to the twelve (Matt.28 and Mark 16) baptism had a prominent place. In his commission from Christ all the stress had been laid upon the preaching of the Gospel, and not upon baptism. It is possible of course that baptism was playing a part in these divisions and contentions at Corinth. Be that as it may, verse 17 makes it very clear that not baptism but the Gospel of the cross of Christ is the thing of all importance. And moreover, the cross must be preached in a way that does not nullify its meaning and power.
This brings us to verses 18 to 24, a great passage wherein the real force and bearing of the cross of Christ is revealed to us: the cross, that is, as passing the sentence of condemnation upon man, and of destruction upon his wisdom; while at the same time it brings in the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of those who believe. The cross of Christ is the point at which in supreme measure the world took upon itself to join issue with God. It put the Son of God to death, a death of most extreme contempt and shame. God accepted the challenge, and in result the cross also became the supreme proof of the folly of human wisdom, of the disqualification and repudiation by God of even the greatest and wisest of men. Because of this, Paul was sent to preach the Gospel in a way that gave no quarter to human wisdom.
Because of this, also, the cross stands as "the great divide" amongst men whenever it is faithfully preached. On the one side of it stand "them that perish," on the other "us which are saved." To which class any individual belongs may be discerned by observing that individual's attitude toward the preaching of the cross. To the one it is but foolishness, for they adhere to the world and its wisdom. To the other it is the power of God, and that unto salvation. God saves by the foolishness of the preaching. The point of this remark in verse 21 is not that preaching appears a foolish method - as compared with working, for instance - but that the actual message preached - the word of the cross - is foolishness according to human notions, but is wisdom and power according to God.
The world has its wisdom. When the Son of God arrived within its reach and scrutiny the world tested Him according to the accepted standards of its wisdom, denounced Him as acting by the power of the prince of the demons, and crucified Him. The wisdom of the world did not enable men to recognize God when they saw Him; the rather, they mistook Him for the devil. If that is the ripest fruit of the wisdom of the world then it is utterly worthless in the things of God, and condemned of God. And this is the case whether we look at Jew or Gentile.
Both Jew and Greek had their idiosyncrasies. The one required signs, as the fruit of God's frequent miraculous interventions in their past history: only the sign had to be of a certain order to satisfy them. The other almost worshipped the human intellect, and wanted nothing that did not agree with current philosophic notions. To both, Christ crucified was an offence. The Jew awaited the Christ, only He must be a splendid Being, and sensational according to their anticipations. The Greek would have welcomed a new philosopher to carry their speculations to a triumphant climax. Both were outraged by Christ crucified. Such a Christ was a hopeless stumbling-block to the Jew, and He appeared ridiculous beyond words to the Greek. But there is no other Christ than the Christ who was crucified.
And, through grace, no other Christ is desired by us. But then, we are amongst the "us which are saved." We are called of God, whether once we were Jews or Gentiles, and we can see that Christ really is both the power and the wisdom of God. He will bring to nothing all the mighty schemes of men in consummate wisdom and most decisive power and also establish all that God has purposed. At the same time His wisdom and power have wrought for our salvation. From the human standpoint the cross may be the foolishness and the weakness of God, but it is at the same time both wiser and stronger than men.
Now let us review these twenty-five verses that we may not miss the drift of the Apostle's argument in all this. The Corinthians were magnifying men - Christian men doubtless, and possibly very good ones at that - into leaders of parties in the assembly of God. This in effect struck a blow at the supreme and pre-eminent position of Christ; and it indicated that man, his powers, his wisdom, his gifts, had far too large a place in their thoughts. This in its turn indicated that they had but feebly realized the significance of the cross of Christ, which puts God's sentence of condemnation on man and his wisdom. Hence the Apostle's preaching of the cross, and hence his repudiation of mere human wisdom in the way he preached it.
The need for the preaching of the cross, in Pauline fashion, is not less in this twentieth century than it was in the first. Probably it is greater, inasmuch as never more than today was stress being laid upon the greatness and glory and wisdom of man. Never have men, even professing Christians sometimes, felt so pleased with their powers. Yet never has their lack of true wisdom been more manifest. The cross puts all into its real place. It makes everything of the Christ who suffered there. It makes nothing of man who put Him thereon. And that is right.
Have we learned and inwardly digested the meaning of the cross? Many millions in Christendom have turned it into an elegant symbol to be placed upon buildings devoted to religion, or even to be worn on the bosom, made in gold and studded with precious stones. Be it ours to have it engraved in "fleshly tables of the heart," in such fashion that we see through and eschew the tinsel glory of man, and seek ever and only the glory of Christ: that we are delivered from making much of any man, even the best of men, and above all from making much of ourselves. For us let it be Christ first, Christ last, Christ all the way through - Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Having unfolded the significance of the cross of Christ, the Apostle proceeds to show that its meaning had been corroborated by the effects it had produced. He appealed to the Corinthians to consider their own calling, for by the preaching of the cross they had been called. But few among them had been reckoned amongst the wise or mighty or noble of this world. The very opposite, for these were all too prone to stumble at such a message. The rather God had chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised, and even things which are not.
In each case the Apostle speaks of them doubtless according to that which they were according to human reckoning, and it was astounding that God should choose and use such as these for the confounding and bringing to nought of much that looked to them so wise and honourable. At the same time these words could no doubt be applied to that which the Corinthians really were in their unconverted days, and then the wonder is that they should have become what they now were, as the fruit of the Divine choice and workmanship. But whichever way we look at it the significance is the same. The practical effects of God's choice, and of His call by the preaching of the cross, were such as put no honour upon man. No flesh could glory in His presence. All glorying must be in the Lord.
The abundant reasons why we as believers may glory in the Lord are given us in verse 30. We are "in Christ Jesus," partakers of His life and sharing in His place and acceptance. And we are that "of God," and not in any way of man. God Himself is the source of all this grace which has reached us. It is true of course that we are "of God," as is clearly stated in 1 John 4:4, and it is as "in Christ Jesus" that we are of God. But that is, we believe, hardly the point in the verse before us, but rather that all is of God and not of man whether we consider what we are in Christ, or what we have in Christ.
The second "of" in the verse is more literally "from." The Christ who was crucified is made unto us these things from God. Wisdom naturally comes first, inasmuch as it is the point under discussion. We need it, for sin has plunged us into ignorance and folly. But then sin has equally plunged us into guilt and condemnation; hence we need righteousness.
And into contamination and corruption; whence our need of sanctification. And into bondage and slavery; so that we need redemption. Redemption comes last, inasmuch as it is a term which includes the final thing, the redemption of our bodies at the coming of the Lord.
Thus the cross excludes in principle all glorying in man. God's work in connection with the preaching of the cross also excludes it in practice. We have only the Lord in whom to glory, if we glory at all.
When Paul was commissioned to preach the Gospel he was instructed to do so in a way that would endorse the message he preached. This he stated in verse 17 of chapter 1. Had he as a matter of fact done as he was told? He had. And in the opening verses of chapter 2 he reminds the Corinthians of the spirit that had marked him in his approach to them, and the character of his preaching. Verse 1 gives us the style of his preaching. Verse 2 the Subject of his message. Verse 3 the spirit that characterized him. Verse 4 reverts to the style of his preaching, but adding where his positive power lay. Verse 5 shows us the end he had in view.
As to style, he was no orator well versed in the arts of moving men by excellent or enticing speech. All that he eschewed, relying only upon the Spirit of God and His power.
For theme he had Christ and His cross only. Emphasize in your mind the two words, "among you." He knew the tendencies of the Corinthians, with their great ideas as to philosophy and the human intellect. He would not meet them on their ground and be enticed into philosophic discussions of their choosing. He determined that among them he would know nothing but Christ crucified. Paul started his career with Christ glorified, yet he knew well that except they believed on, and laid hold of, Christ crucified, nothing of a divine sort, would be done. The truth of a crucified Christ was that which laid in the dust all their pride and glory; and until man comes down into the dust he cannot begin with God.
And Paul's own spirit was in keeping with this. He did not arrive in their midst with a great flourish of trumpets, announcing himself as "Palestine's most powerful Preacher," or something of that sort, as is customary in this twentieth century. The very reverse. Weakness, fear, trembling, are the things he alludes to. He was acutely conscious that the flesh was still in him, that he might easily be seduced from single-eyed fidelity to his Master, and betrayed into something which was not of God. He knew the mighty power of the devil, entrenched in Corinthian hearts. Hence his fear and trembling. And hence again the room for the demonstrated power of the Spirit of God, and the casting down of the devil's strongholds in human hearts. Would to God that there was more room made for the working of that power today!
Then we might see more of converts who really have their faith standing not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Up to the end of this fifth verse the Apostle has mentioned human wisdom eight times, in every case to utterly discredit it. From this some might imagine that wisdom of every kind is to be discounted. Others again might suppose that the Christian faith only appeals to the feelings and emotions, and hence has in it nothing worthy of the attention of a thinking man.
So, in verse 6, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the faith abounds in wisdom, only it is the wisdom of God, and not of the great ones of the earth. Moreover it is wisdom of a character that only appeals to "the perfect," to those who have graduated, or are full-grown. We may be believers, but as long as we are in any uncertainty as to how we stand before God, as long as we are in the throes of self-occupation over questions of deliverance from the power of sin, we have neither heart nor leisure to learn the wisdom of God as expressed in His counsels and purposes, which were once a secret but now are made known.
The word, world, in verse 6 is really, age. In another scripture Satan is spoken of as "the god of this age." The god of this age uses the princes of this age to propound the wisdom of this age, while blinding their minds so that they have no knowledge of God's wisdom which was ordained before all the ages. When the Lord of glory was here he so blinded their minds that they crucified Him.
This really is a tremendous indictment! The supreme Lord of glory was condemned to a death of supreme degradation and shame, and that not so much by the ignorant rabble as by the princes of this age. The very superscription on His cross was written in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew. The Greeks were incontestably the intellectual princes of the age. The Romans were the princes in matters of military prowess and the arts of government. The Hebrews were princes without a rival in matters of religion. Yet all were involved in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. All thereby revealed their complete ignorance of God and all brought themselves beneath His judgment.
The princes of this age "come to nought." Very humiliating this! Not only is "the understanding of the prudent" coming to "nothing," ( 1:19 ) but the princes of this age themselves come to nothing. The final result, the sum total, of all the clever doings is NOTHING. The clever men themselves come to NOTHING. In contrast with this we are told by the Apostle John that "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" and again we have the Lord's words to His disciples that, "your fruit should remain." The believer, and the believer only, has power to engage in that which will abide to eternity. Let us consider this very attentively, and may our lives be governed by our meditations!
It is a marvellous thought that the wisdom of God, once hidden, but now made known, was " ordained " before the ages unto our glory. Not only were we ourselves chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, but God's wisdom had our glory in view before the ages began, and all was then ordained. And what God ordains never fails of consummation when God's hour is reached. Our glory then is certain, and is connected with, and subsidiary to, Christ's glory. Christ's glory is the supreme thing, but our glory is as certain as His, and equally ordained of God.
That which has been ordained, according to verse 7, has also been " prepared " (verse 9), and the things prepared are altogether beyond man's reach, either by eye, ear or heart. We apprehend many things by using our eyes - that is, by observation. Many others we apprehend by using our ears, listening to what is handed down to us - that is, by tradition. Other things we apprehend by the heart instinctively - that is, by intuition. We apprehend the things of God in none of these ways; but by revelation, as verse 10 shows.
The things prepared have been revealed by the Spirit. The "us" of that verse is primarily the apostles and prophets to whom the truth was first made known. The truth has reached the general body of saints through them, as we shall see in a moment. But in verse 11 we are made to think of the competency of the Spirit to reveal, since He is the Spirit of God. Only the human spirit can really know human things. Just so, only the Spirit of God knows the things of God and is competent to make them known.
But believers have received the Spirit of God as verse 12 states. Thus it is that we have competency to apprehend the things of God. No research, no experiment, no learning, no intellectual powers, can give us that competency; only the Spirit of God.
Let us take this very much to heart, for we live in an age marked by research and experiment and intellectual activity and it is commonly supposed that the human mind is capable of dealing with the things of God just as it deals with the things of man. IT IS NOT. Hence the fearful spiritual blunders perpetrated by otherwise learned men. Highly qualified are they in human things: yet pitiably blind and ignorant of the Divine.
Are we all keen to know the things of God? We certainly should be. We have a personal interest in them. The things "ordained," "prepared" and "revealed" have been " given to us of God." Are we possessing ourselves, in spiritual understanding and enjoyment, of our possessions?
We may be, since the things revealed to God's holy apostles and prophets have been communicated to us in divinely ordered words. This verse 13 tells us. The words "comparing spiritual things with spiritual," may be rendered "communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]" (N. Tr.). Here the apostle definitely claims inspiration, and verbal inspiration at that, for his spoken utterances. Even more so then, if that were possible, for his written utterances. The inspiration claimed definitely relates to "words." If we have not got in the Scriptures (as originally written) God's thoughts clothed in God-chosen words, we have no inspiration of any real value at all.
The last link in this wonderful chain is "discerned." If we today do not discern God's things through God's word it will not avail us much that they have been ordained, prepared, revealed, given and communicated. They may be ours: are ours, if indeed we are Christians; but for practical blessing today, we must discern them. And the discerning on our part is by the same Spirit, by whom they were revealed and communicated.
For discerning, we need the right spiritual condition. The "natural man," i.e., man in his natural or unconverted condition, does not discern them at all. The "spiritual," i.e., the converted man, not only indwelt but also governed and characterized by the Spirit of God, alone can take them in. Possessing the Spirit we have the mind of Christ. Governed by the Spirit the eyes of our hearts are opened to understand.
The word "judgeth," occurring twice in verse 15, is just the word "discerneth," as the margin of a reference bible shows. Read discerneth and the sense is clearer. It is only the spiritual believer who has spiritual eyesight to see all things clearly.
Long ago someone was complaining: "I can't see it. I want more light!" It was said in reply, "It is not more light you want; it is windows!" That was doubtless true. If we allowed the Spirit of God to clean up the windows of our souls we should soon see clearly.
In the opening verses of chapter 3, the Apostle brings the Corinthians face to face with their true condition in very plain words. Enriched as they were "in all utterance, and in all knowledge," they may have imagined themselves to be worthy of high commendation. In point of fact they came under definite censure. They were not spiritual but carnal.
They were not natural, for "the natural man" is man in his unconverted condition. Nor were they spiritual, for the spiritual man is man enlightened and controlled by the Spirit of God. They were carnal, for the carnal man, as spoken of in this passage, is man, who though possessing the Spirit, is controlled not by the Spirit but by the flesh. Being carnal, Paul had hitherto fed them with milk not meat; that is, he had only instructed them in the elementary things of the faith, and had not said much to them of that hidden wisdom of God, to which he alluded in chapter 2.
The Corinthians however might resent Paul's charge against them and wish to rebut it. So Paul proves his point by again referring to their divisions under party leaders, which generated envyings and strifes. In all this they were walking according to man and not according to the Spirit of God.
If the Apostle Paul wrote to us today, what would he say? What could he say, but the same thing with greatly added emphasis? The division of true saints into, or among, the many parties or sects could hardly go further than it has gone. We too might wish to rebut the charge.
We might say - But are we not earnest? Have we not much light? Do we not expound Scripture correctly? The reply would come to us - While some say, I am of A-, and a few, I am of B-, while many say, I am of X-, and a multitude say, I am of Z-, are ye not carnal ?
In so saying we are not unmindful of the fact that there are to be found some who are spiritually minded. There were some amongst the Corinthians, as a later chapter reveals. But this we do say, that they who really are spiritual will be the last people on earth who desire to stand out as exceptions, prominent and distinguished. They know that this would be the very way to help on the evil here denounced, for they would promptly find themselves made into leaders of parties! NO. Their spirituality will rather express itself in humility of mind, and that confession which makes the sin of all the people of God their own. They will pray in the spirit of Ezra 9. Ezra said, "OUR iniquities are increased over our head, and OUR trespass is grown up into the heavens," though personally he had had very little share in all the wickedness, but rather was marked by a very exceptional piety.
The same humble spirit marks Paul here. He promptly disclaims for himself any place of importance, and for Apollos also. Evidently he had full confidence in Apollos, that in this matter he was wholly like-minded with himself, and therefore he could freely use his name. Whilst his omission here of the name of Cephas (Peter), is a witness to his own delicacy of feeling; since there had once been a serious issue between himself and Peter, as Galatians 2 bears witness.
Neither Paul nor Apollos were anything more than servants by whom God had been pleased to work. God was the great Workman. In this passage (verses 5 to 11) the Corinthians are viewed in a twofold way, as God's husbandry, and as God's building. Paul and Apollos were but "God's fellow-workmen." That is the force of the first clause of verse 9. They were not competing workmen, much less were they antagonistic workmen. They were fellow-workmen, and both belonged to God.
Each however had his own distinctive work. In the husbandry, Paul planted and Apollos followed to water the young plants: in the building, Paul was the wise architect who laid the foundation, and Apollos built upon it. Their labours were diverse, but their object was one. This is emphasized in verses 7 and 8. Paul and Apollos in themselves were nothing, yet they worked each in his appointed sphere. And both were one as to their object and aim, though each should finally be rewarded according to their own labour. Thus among His servants does God maintain both unity and diversity, and there is to be no pitting of one against another.
So much for Paul and Apollos. But they were not the only labourers who had taken part in the work at Corinth. So at the end of verse 10 the application of the figure is widened out to embrace "every man," that is, every man who had put his hand to the work at Corinth. It applies of course equally to any man who puts his hand to any work of God, anywhere, and at any time. It applies therefore to us today.
The foundation had been well and irrevocably laid by Paul when he first visited Corinth and stayed for a year and a half. It had been the right foundation - Jesus Christ. The question now was as to his successors. Not so much how they built as what they built in. Was it substance precious in nature, and capable of standing the fire? Or was it common in substance, and easily consumed? The day is coming when the fire test will be applied. Everything will be made manifest. The true character of all our work will be revealed. Not merely how much we have done, but "of what sort" it is. How searching is the thought that, "THE DAY shall declare it."
When that day sheds its light upon us and applies its test, it may leave our work standing. If so, we shall receive reward. God grant it may be so for each of us!
On the other hand, our work may be consumed and fall in ruins, yet we ourselves be saved, "so as through fire." When the three Hebrews passed through the fire, as recorded in Daniel 3, they and their clothes were wholly untouched: only their bonds were consumed. What loss for us if we come through the fire naked, stripped of all that with which we had clothed ourselves as the fruit of our labours here.
But further, there was evidently a doubt in the Apostle's mind whether all those who had wrought at Corinth were truly converted men. Hence the solemn warning of verses 16 and 17. Work may be done which is positively destructive in its effect upon the building. This raises a further important question. What is the nature of this building, which is God's?
The Apostle asks the Corinthians if they did not know that as God's building they had the character of His temple? In them as His temple God dwelt by His Spirit. This gave to them collectively a very sacred character. To do work which would "defile," or "corrupt," or "destroy," God's temple was terribly serious. If in the coming day any man's work is found to be of that destructive character, God will destroy him.
Apparently some who were going about in those days and doing, as Paul feared, this destructive work, were men who had a good deal of the wisdom of this world, and posed therefore amongst the saints, as very superior persons. This would account for the pungent words that fill verses 18 to 20. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. So let no man deceive himself on this point. And if the destructive workers still go about, deceived themselves, and deceiving others, let us not be deceived by them.
What woe and destruction must await the destructive critics, the semiinfidel modernistic teachers, of Christendom! Inflated by the wisdom of this world, they take it upon themselves to deny and contradict the wisdom of God. They may imagine that they only have to expect the opposition of unlearned and old-fashioned Christians. They forget the day that shall declare God's judgment - THE DAY!
Let us not glory in men. Some of those in whom the Corinthians had been glorying may have been men of quite undesirable type. But let us not glory in the best of men. On the one hand, no man is worth it, as chapter 1 showed us. On the other hand, as emphasized here, grace has given us a place which should put us far above glorying in a mere man. "All things" are ours. All things? That is rather a staggering statement. Is it really all things ? Well, look at the wide sweep of verse 22. The best of saints on the one hand, and the world on the other. Life on the one hand and death on the other. Things present on the one hand and things to come on the other. All are ours.
How are they ours? Verse 23 answers that. They are ours because we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. All things are God's. No one can dispute that, and there we begin. But then God has His Christ, who is the Heir of all things. And, most wonderful to say, the Christ proposes to practically possess Himself of His mighty possessions by putting His saints into possession. Even in Daniel 7 this is hinted at. The "Ancient of Days" takes the supreme throne. When He does, "One like the Son of Man appears, and to Him there was given "dominion and glory and a kingdom." But that is not the end of the story, for we further read, "the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom." Read that chapter before proceeding further.
So all things are ours, and we must never forget it. The remembrance of it will lift us above the world with its false attractions, above the wisdom of this world, above glorying in man, in even the best of saints.
The men of this world, and - sad to say - especially modernistic preachers, are often remarkably like "Muckrake" of Bunyan's great allegory. They have no eye for the things of heaven. They boast a purely earthly religion, which aims at producing a little more order amongst the sticks and stones and refuse of the floor. But Paul and Apollos? Who and what are they? May we not glory in them? They are but servants and stewards. And the fourth chapter opens with a reminder of this, and with the statement that the essential virtue of a steward is faithfulness. This again raises the thought of THE DAY, which is to declare all things, as the 13th verse of the previous chapter told us.
In verse 3 the words, "man's judgment," should read "man's day," and thus the connection and contrast is made plain. In the light of "the day," Paul was not overmuch troubled or concerned about the judgment of "man's day," or even of the Corinthians themselves. Had they been in a spiritual condition he would doubtless have listened patiently to any criticism of himself which they wished to proffer. But they were carnal and consequently their judgment was of but little worth. Paul lets them know this.
Moreover Paul had a good conscience. The opening of verse 4 has been translated, "For I am conscious of nothing in myself; but I am not justified by this." How good it would be if we could each speak thus: if we were each so true to what we have learned of the mind of God that we are not conscious of anything amiss. Yet even a Paul had to admit that this did not justify him, for he is to be judged not by what he knew, but by the Lord and what He knows. So have we all; and there is a vast difference between the standard erected by our consciousness and that erected by
What does the Lord know? Let verse 5 tell us - one of the most searching verses in the Bible. When the Lord comes He will usher in the day, and the beams of its light will have X-ray properties. This verse is written, not in view of the enormous evils of the world without, but of the actions that take place within the Christian circle.
Oh! what painful episodes - in their uncountable thousands - have taken place amongst the saints of God. Many of them more or less private in nature; some of them public and ecclesiastical. We may form our judgments and even become violent partisans; and all the while there may be dark corners hidden from our eyes in which hidden things are secreted. There may be secret motives in hearts, altogether veiled from us. All is coming out in the light of the day. The final court of appeal lies in the presence of the Lord. His verdict may irrevocably upset all the verdicts of the courts below. So, if we feel ourselves wronged, let us have patience. If inclined to take some drastic action, let us take great care. Search well the dark corners lest there be some hidden things which should see the light. Search your own heart lest a wrong motive lurk there. Think twice and thrice before launching the thunderbolt, especially if it be an ecclesiastical one which may affect many.
The last clause of verse 5 is rather, "then shall each have praise from God." That is to say, the point is not that every man is going to be praised, but that each who is praised will have his praise from GOD, and not from some few of his fellow-creatures. The Corinthians had their party leaders. They praised this one extravagantly, and these they condemned; and vice versa. It was all worthless. God give us grace to avoid this kind of thing. The only praise worth having is praise from God.
Verse 6 shows us that the real party leaders at Corinth were other than Paul or Apollos, probably gifted local leaders, or even visiting brethren of Judaising tendencies, to whom he alludes more plainly in his second epistle. Paul avoided the use of their names, but he wanted all to learn the lesson, not to be puffed up for one as against another. No one has any ground for boasting, however shining their gift, for all that they have they have received from God.
Now this glorying in man is of the spirit of the world. And if the world creeps in at one point, it will soon creep in at another. So it had at Corinth. They were full and rich, and reigning like kings, having a real "good time," while their Lord was still rejected, and the apostles of the Lord were sharing His rejection. There is a tinge of holy sarcasm in that word, "I would to God ye did reign, that we also [Paul and his companions] might reign with you." The saints will reign when Christ reigns, and the apostles will not be missing from their thrones.
What a picture of the apostles, as they were then, do verses 9 to 13 present! Comment is not needed. We only need to let the picture be engraved on our minds. Paul painted the picture not to shame us but to warn us. But without a doubt we shall be both warned and shamed. He was a spiritual father to the Corinthians and not merely an instructor, for he had been used to their conversion. We, too, as Gentiles, have been converted through him, though indirectly, and he is our instructor through his inspired writings. So let us also take him as our model, and imitate his faith and devotedness.
The closing verses of our chapter show that some amongst the Corinthians were not only running after party leaders, and worldly in life, but they were conceited and puffed up. To such the Apostle writes very plain words. For the moment Timothy had come to remind them of what was right and becoming, but he anticipated coming shortly himself. When he came in the power of God's kingdom, of God's authority, these conceited brethren might measure themselves against it, if they so desired.
Did they desire it? How effectively it would puncture their inflated pretensions! Would it not be better to humble themselves before God, and enable Paul to visit them in a far happier spirit?
And will it not be well for us all to be searched and humbled as we close this chapter?
As we read the opening verses of chapter 5, we see that the Corinthians quite deserved the rod of which Paul spoke, as he closed chapter 4. There was a very grave case of immorality in their midst. Corinth was a licentious city, and the standard of morality amongst the Gentiles was deplorably low, yet even they avoided the particular sin which had been perpetrated by this professing Christian. The thing had not been done in secret. It was known on all hands.
But though it was a matter of common report the assembly at Corinth had taken no action. That was bad enough, but they aggravated their indifference by their conceit. Possibly they might have pleaded that as yet they had no instructions what to do in such a case. But this, if true, was no real excuse, for a very small measure of spiritual sensibility would have led them to mourn for the dishonour done to the Lord's name, and also to pray that God would interfere by removing the evil-doer from their midst. Instead of this they were "puffed up" with a foolish and baseless pride.
In verses 3 to 5 we see the holy vigour and decision which marked Paul, in contrast to the supine indecision of the Corinthians. They should have been gathered together in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and acted in the putting away of the wicked person from among themselves, as indicated in the last verse of the chapter. They had not done so. Paul steps into the breach, judges and acts with Apostolic authority, though associating the Corinthians with his judgment and act. Such an one as this he would deliver unto Satan, for even Satan may be used for the disciplining of a guilty saint.
Apparently the utmost limit to which Satan can go is the destruction of the flesh. In the case of Job he was not allowed to go to that limit, though he grievously tormented his flesh. But if the flesh be even destroyed and death supervene, it is in order that the spirit may be saved in the coming day. This, you see, supposes that the one coming under this extremest form of discipline is after all a real believer.
But there was another fact overlooked by the Corinthians, which showed the wrong and folly of their boastful spirit. They were like a lump of dough in which a little leaven had been placed. Now leaven has well-known properties. It ferments, until the whole lump is permeated by it. Thus they could not rightly look upon this sin of one of their number as being a thing in which they were not involved. The very opposite. It was indeed the "old leaven," the very thing that had been rampant amongst them in their unconverted days, and would be very certain to spread amongst them again if unjudged. Hence they were to purge it out, by putting the wicked person away.
The effect of so doing would be to render them practically "a new lump, as ye are unleavened." They really were a new and unleavened lump, as regards their place and condition before God; and they were so to act that they might be in practice what God had made them to be in Christ. Let us all seize the underlying principle of this, for it is the principle on which God always acts in grace. The law did indeed demand that we should be what we were not. Grace makes us to be what is according to God, and then calls upon us to act in accordance with what we are. You may apply this in a multitude of ways. You are always so to act, "that ye may be... as ye are."
The Apostle uses a figure, of course, in speaking thus of leaven. But it is a most appropriate figure. Israel 's passover feast had to be eaten without leaven, and was followed by the feast of unleavened bread. Now the passover pointed forward to the death of Christ as its fulfilment, and the church during the whole time of its sojourn here is to fulfil the type of the feast of unleavened bread by eschewing all evil, and walking in sincerity and truth.
Just as Israel had to sweep all leaven out of their houses, so are you and I to sweep all evil out of our lives. And beside this there are certain cases in which assembly action is demanded by the Word of God. Such cases in the matter of moral evil are those mentioned in verse 11. The transgressor may be a "man that is called a brother." Just because he has professed conversion he has been found inside the assembly and not without it; and because he is within he comes under its judgment and has to be put away. This putting away is not just a formal and technical excommunication. It is an action of such reality that all the saints were no longer to "keep company" in any way with the offender. When dealing with the men of the world on a business basis we cannot discriminate in this way as to their moral characters: but if a professed Christian is guilty of the sins mentioned in verse 11 we are to have done with him, and not own him as a Christian at all for the time being. Time future will reveal what he really is.
This chapter shows very clearly that while an evil-doer might be dealt with, while the apostles were alive, on the basis of apostolic authority and energy, the normal way is by the action of the assembly gathered together in the name of the Lord. Its jurisdiction only extends over those who are within it. Those who are without must be left to the judgment of God which will reach them in due season.
There was another very grievous scandal amongst these Corinthians, to which Paul alludes in chapter 6. It was less grave perhaps than the foregoing, but apparently it was more widespread. Some amongst them were quarrelsome, and dragging their disputes into the public law courts. Thus they launched their accusations and aired their wrongs, whether real or imaginary, before the unbelievers.
Here again spiritual instinct ought to have delivered them from such an error. It was virtually confessing that they had not one wise man in their midst with the ability to discriminate and judge in such matters. Thus they were noising abroad their own shame.
And further than this, they were proclaiming their own ignorance. Verse 2 commences with, "Do ye not know?" and five times before the chapter is finished do we find the question, "Know ye not?" Like many other carnal believers the Corinthians did not know nearly as much as they thought they did. If truth governs us, we really know it. Mere intellectual knowledge does not count.
They ought to have really known that "the saints shall judge the world." This fact had been stated in the Old Testament. "The Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom" (Dan.7:22). Had they really known it they would not have dragged one another into heathen law courts. If we really knew it, we perhaps should avoid certain things that we do. A still more astonishing fact confronts us in verse 3: though here the change from, "the saints," to, "we," may indicate that the judging of angels is confined to the apostles.
Be that as it may, these verses open up before us a vista of extraordinary authority and responsibility, in the light of which things pertaining to this life can only be spoken of as "the smallest matters." In keeping with this estimate, is the instruction that if such questions are brought before the saints for judgment, those least esteemed in the church are to hear the case. We notice that it does not say that all the saints are going to judge in the coming age. Perhaps all are not, and so those least likely to be judges then are to be judges now. Such is the estimate which Scripture gives of the relative importance of the things of the coming age as compared with the things of this age.
It is quite evident, then, that if one Christian has an accusation of unrighteousness to lay against another, he must lay his case before the saints and not before the world. There is however something better th