Comments on First Corinthians
Down through the centuries the epistles to the Corinthians have become two of the most neglected books of the New Testament despite the fact that certain portions, such as 1 Corinthians 13 - the love chapter, are familiar to professing Christians everywhere. The thrust of their ministry is corrective, and they center around the vital topics of order and discipline in the Assembly Of God and of ministry that truly builds up the body of Christ. Man, as a rule, does not appreciate correction. The problems grappled with in their incipiency in these epistles by the Spirit of God have since then grown and developed and congealed and hardened as men displaced the divine patterns with patterns of their own.
The universality of the order taught in these books is repeatedly stressed therein. Yet men have dismissed much of this as applicable solely to conditions in the bawdy, bustling seaport of Corinth in the 1st Century A.D. Perhaps nowhere else in the New Testament have Christians been more free with blue pencil and scissors, deciding which portions of these books to retain, value, and stress, and which portions to discard as irrelevant or impractical for contemporary conditions.
In view of all this, one would welcome these Comments on both First and Second Corinthians, written straightforwardly from the standpoint that God says what He means and means what He says. No apologies are made to pressure groups ancient or modern, whether judaizing legalists, radical freethinkers, feminists, charismatics, or whatever other cloak these self-styled apostles would approach under. Brief and concise, these comments attempt to explain. rather than to explain away what God has said in this portion of His holy Word. May God use them to help settle, stablish, and satisfy His dear people in the sufficiency of the truth of His Word.
Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
This epistle deals with practical order, activity, and discipline in the Church of God, and therefore is addressed to the collective company, which is held responsible for the maintenance of unity and godly order. Individual responsibility in connection with the assembly is seen in such epistles as those to Timothy and Titus; but we must remember that the saints of God are not merely units: they have a collective unity for which all are collectively responsible. Matters in Corinth that were not orderly are the occasion for the writing of this Epistle, which is largely corrective. Where is it not needed today?
Paul writes here as "a called apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." As such, it is the authoritative word of God he communicates, that which requires the subjection and obedience of all the Church of God. He allows no latitude for the preferences or wills of men, whoever they are. The will of God is supreme and absolute: if communicated graciously through a humble instrument called of God for this very purpose, yet such grace only magnifies the authority of the message.
And with him he links the name of "Sosthenes our brother." This may be the Sosthenes mentioned as at Corinth in Acts 18:17; but little more is known of him. Perhaps one reason for Paul's so identifying him with himself here is that none may limit the apostle's message to leaders, for one simply "a brother" is involved in this too.
Only the two epistles to the Corinthians are addressed to "the church of God," for it is corporate assembly order and responsibility that is so emphasized in these. Their character is that of being sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling; therefore at the outset reminded that theirs is a place totally set apart from the world, which was sadly having too much influence with them (Cf. ch. 6:11). But most interesting is the additional word in verse 2: "With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." This, and other verses in the Book (ch. 4:17; 11:16;
14:33,37) urge upon us the fact of the all-embracing message of the Book. It is not only for Corinth, but for ourselves, the entire Church of God everywhere; as necessary for those far off from Paul as for those in direct contact with him. The Spirit of God here anticipated the fact that there would be those (as there are today) who would challenge the applicability of the truth to their particular churches, claiming that this was written merely for this local assembly in view of then present conditions. But the Book itself declares it cannot be limited in this way.
"Grace be unto you:" Shall we not in this case say grace to overcome the evils that so gravely endangered this affluent assembly? "And peace," the peace of true unity according to God, the peace of godly consideration of one another, in precious communion with Him who is "the God of peace." For the source of all is "God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." The preciousness of relationship as children is surely involved here, and the dignity of sonship too, for God is our Father; yet with this, "the Lord Jesus Christ." While He is the risen Savior, yet in this Epistle His lordship is specially emphasized, for subjection to His authority was the urgent need in Corinth, and is imperative always for the maintenance of assembly testimony, order, and discipline.
It is most precious to observe that Paul begins his message to them, not with reproof, but in thanking God for them all, a matter too that was a habit with him "always." And it is "for the grace of God given you by Jesus Christ." Such an attitude, and such appreciation of the grace of God bestowed upon others, will greatly influence the manner in which we may seek their correction.
Their blessings by grace were outstanding: God had enriched them in everything, in the way of utterance and knowledge: in regard to public gift they were inferior to none: the testimony of Christ was confirmed in the fact of their ability to speak out: there were evidently no long drawn-out silences in their gatherings. God's provision was abundant, as they waited for the coming of Christ, the culmination of blessing by grace. For there was no question of the certainty of the continuance of this: the Lord Himself would confirm them unto the end, blameless; that is, blameless in His sight by virtue of His own workmanship in His saints. This cannot fail, for He is faithful, who has called us to the fellowship of His Son. The power of that call has established His saints in that blessed fellowship, that of the assembly of God, the entire body of Christ, He Himself being the source and center of it. Thus the Epistle begins on this wonderful positive note of God's overflowing provision of grace toward His beloved saints, the assembly of the Living God.
After so exalted and precious an introduction, it is humbling to consider in verse 10 the necessity of the urgent appeal to these dear saints "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" that there should be practical unity among them. When considering the greatness of the grace that has been showered upon the Church of God unitedly, how can we dare to act in discord and division? But such is the sad tendency in an evil world, and while having still within us a fleshly nature that responds to selfish and self-centered attractions. It was true in Corinth, and how true in the Church at large through all the years! Who is there today who does not deeply need this challenging Epistle?
First, it is urged that they "all speak the same thing." For it is wrong speaking that is the beginning of division. If we are inclined to "speak our mind," let us remember first that "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16); and be watchful that it is His mind that moves our tongues. If this is true, we shall "all speak the same thing;" our speaking will all have the same concerted objective, moving in the same stedfast direction.
Secondly, "and that there be no divisions among you." Small indeed are the occasions that will sometimes cause these things; and we must be always watchful against anything that would introduce friction between saints of God, and judge it promptly. Thirdly, "that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." This is possible only if we have our minds set on things above, and in this way are unitedly seeking the mind of Christ, in which there is certainly perfect unity. Mere personal preference must be given no place, but that which is honestly for the glory of Christ. This will give sober judgment too as regards occasions that demand some proper judicious decisions.
But in Corinth there were contentions. Paul candidly tells them who had informed him of this. And he spares no one in his reproof. He takes sides with no one, but presses the fact that the assembly was responsible for this, not merely some individuals. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and even Christ, they were making leaders of divisions among themselves. If some felt they were honoring Paul in this way, Paul did not think so. Nor indeed were they honoring Christ who would put Him in the place of their particular leader in contrast to other saints of God.
"Is Christ divided?" No, He is the Head of the entire body of Christ, the Assembly. "Was Paul crucified for you?" In view of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, how can any child of God give a place of superiority to any mere man?
Their public baptism had designated them all as followers of Christ, not of any servant of Christ.
Nor only this: Paul had not even done the baptizing of the Corinthians, except for Crispus and Gains. For he diligently sought that their faith would stand in the power of God, not as attached to any man (Compare ch 2:4,5). He had been careful to avoid any charge by men that he baptized in his own name: the baptism therefore was left to others.
Let us observe that verse 14 is emphatic: Paul had baptized none in the assembly but Crispus and Gains. Yet he adds, "And I baptized also the household of Stephanus." This household therefore was not in the assembly, though Stephanus himself was. Is there any other explanation than that the household was composed of children too young to be in the assembly? In chapter 16:4 however we read that "the house of Stephanus . . . have addicted themselves to the ministry." This would pose an insoluble problem if the word "house" and "household" were the same, but the Greek word for "household" in chapter I refers strictly to the children of the householder; while that for "house" in chapter 16 is a term that includes servants. Is it not therefore likely that it was the household servants of Stephanus, who, being in the assembly (not therefore themselves baptized by Paul), had addicted themselves to the ministry. There seems no other answer to the problem.
Further, he says, "Besides, I know not whether I baptized any other." Why had he forgotten this? Because it was a matter of little importance. There may have been others in Corinth whom he had baptized, but they were at any rate not in the assembly, as would no doubt be the case if they were young children.
To Paul, baptism was not the important matter it is to some. He emphatically stresses that Christ had not sent him to baptize, but to preach the gospel: it was the gospel he preached that was the vital matter: it is this that brings souls to the Lord Himself, furnishes forgiveness, justification, eternal life, settled peace with God. Baptism could do none of these, nor help in doing so: it is merely a public ordinance that puts one in the place of outward discipleship.
But more, Paul avoided all intellectual or philosophical reasonings in his presentation of the gospel. These are things that lead to self-exaltation and consequent disunity, and draw attention away from the cross of Christ. For the cross is the basis of the unity of the body of Christ (Eph. 2:15,16). And without it there could be no gospel whatever. If the preaching of the cross appears to those who are perishing to be foolishness, yet to us who are saved, it is the power of God. "The wise and prudent" very often are those who are blinded to the truth of the gospel by the very fact of its simplicity, and that it makes of little importance the profound learning of men. But those who bow to it and are saved, recognize power in it that is not humanly explainable.
Whether verse 19 refers to Job 5:12 specifically, or whether the general message of the Old Testament involved the truth here declared, still God's revelation now, which renders null and void all men's vaunted wisdom, this was consistent with prophecy. This is a matter far higher than human intellect could conceive, a matter too that is not submitted to the reasoning's of human wisdom, but before which such wisdom collapses. God destroys it and brings it to nothing.
Where are the wise, the scribe, the disputer of this world? No doubt these are prominent men in the world's estimation; but in the light of the revelation of God they become like the magicians of Egypt when the plague of boils afflicted them: they could not stand before Moses (Ex. 9:11). Indeed, this matchless revelation actually renders foolish the wisdom of this world.
God first allowed man's wisdom to prove itself to the full. But its strivings could never attain to the knowledge of God. God's own wisdom had decreed this could not be. When Paul wrote, and in fact before the cross, the outstanding philosophers of Greece - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle - had proven complete failures in finding the knowledge of the true God, and were mired with the rest of Greece in the worship of many false gods.
Yet now it has pleased God, by the foolishness of the preaching of the cross, to save those who believe. This of course is what men count to be foolishness. It requires no great intellect to understand, but only simplicity of faith in the Son of God. And because of this great wisdom being expressed in terms so simple and clear that a child can understand it, therefore men who pride themselves on their superior wisdom are haughty enough to despise this, and call it foolishness. It is of course not the fact of preaching that is despised, but the subject matter.
Jews, because of their background and training in the public knowledge of a God who manifested Himself in visible miracles and signs, were those who considered that only striking visible signs were valid in proving a thing to be of God. The Greeks, on the other hand, priding themselves on intellectual achievement, sought after such wisdom as would of course exalt the most philosophical minds.
"But we preach Christ crucified," says Paul, "unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." What kind of a sign was this? - the Jews would ask: had not many others been crucified? Yes, but not another like Him. Here is the one Man without sin, the One who is more than man, the eternal God manifest in flesh. Him crucified? Yes, and it was Jews who demanded it because Fie said He was the Son of God (J n. 19:7). But on His part it was a sacrifice of infinite value, how much more than a sign!
And the Greeks, they may say it is foolishness; but when death strikes, where is all human wisdom? Indeed, often before death, many of the wisest intellects are reduced to utter inability to reason, or to even remember. But here is death, the violent death of the curse, proclaimed as the means of eternal blessing to mankind. And it cuts down everything that is merely of man, everything that would tend to exalt man's pride, levelling Jews and Gentiles practically to the dust of the earth, but with the precious object of lifting them out of it. Actually, the wonder of it is worthy of the utmost admiration, and it is nothing but the pride of man that refuses it; whether religious pride, as with the Jew, or intellectual pride, as with Gentiles. But to those who are called, Christ is seen as the power of God, power manifested through such weakness as the Jews despised; and the wisdom of God, far above and beyond all that Greek philosophy could imagine.
If, as in verse 25, men wish to consider this the foolishness of God, yet it is infinitely wiser than man's highest wisdom; and if considered weakness on God's part, yet there is a power in it far above the greatest strength of men: it accomplishes such permanent results as to put to shame those things in which men boast as their greatest accomplishments.
Now Paul appeals to the Corinthian brethren themselves to consider the fact of their calling. Certainly it is God Himself who calls His saints: why were there not many wise men, not many mighty, not many noble among them? Can it be that God arbitrarily discriminated against these? No indeed; for at least there were some of these who believed the gospel. But God had seen fit to choose the foolish things of the world in order to confound the wise, weak things to confound the mighty, and things ignoble, despised, and of no account, to render of no value those things that men highly honor. It is not that God condemns intelligence or human ability, but by the preaching of the cross He strikes the death-blow to man's pride and confidence in these things. Some refuse it simply because it injures their pride: they will not come down to admit that God is really greater than themselves.
If human wisdom and ability is kept in its true place, as subject to, and dependent upon the superior wisdom and power of God, then the wisest, most powerful men would gladly accept the precious gospel of His grace, the preaching of the cross; and they would be only the wiser for this, for they should learn well the lesson that "no flesh should glory in His presence." And the fact is that if not comparatively many, yet there are those who have done so.
Verse 30 however shows that, though all mere human wisdom and work is reduced to nothing by the gospel of God's grace, yet the believing Corinthians were by this the recipients of the greatest possible blessing. It was God's doing that they were established "in Christ Jesus": God had brought them into a place of vital identification with Him, His own Son; and their full supply of every kind was perfectly provided in Himself, not by mere human instrumentality or effort. God has made Him "unto us, wisdom," moreover, this wisdom involves what man's wisdom ignores, that is,
righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. These are matters vitally necessary because of the most grave problems of the moral contamination that infests all mankind, and which philosophy does not consider, because it has no answer. Righteousness is that character of consistency with whatever relationship in which we may be placed. But this is universally violated, in every nation, culture, community, and family. Where then is it to be found? Only in Christ, and He Himself is the believer's righteousness, One who thoroughly satisfies God in every respect, as the perfect Exemplar of consistency in every relationship.
And "sanctification" is the character of being set apart to God from all this is contrary to His nature. For association with evil is corrupting; but in Christ we see One "separate from sinners," and He Himself is our sanctification: God has put us in this position "in Christ." Redemption is the complete liberation, by virtue of a price paid, from the bondage that holds men generally in a condition from which it is impossible to extricate themselves. It is "in Christ" alone this is found: He has paid the full price of our redemption in His sacrifice of Calvary: thus He Himself is made unto us redemption. Precious, perfect provision for all who will accept Him! What full and marvellous reason for boasting in the Lord.
It was through Paul that the Corinthians had been brought to God; and he here reminds them that when he first came there, he had avoided the use of high-sounding speech and intellectual arguments: it was not through these things that they had been converted, nor did the testimony of God require any such thing. And certainly the whole Christian course should be consistent with its beginning.
For Paul had been thoroughly purposed in coming there not to be turned aside in any way from the one vital object of his message, "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Let us be careful to note here that it is first of the Person of Christ he speaks; but it must not stop there, as though Christ had come to add His voice to the wisdom of this world. No, He has been crucified by the world, rejected by the wise and powerful, cut off in the midst of His days, leaving everything behind that would exalt man in the flesh.
Therefore Paul was with them "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." This was not in any way subservience to men, but a realization of God's own hand upon him; weakness as merely the instrument dependent upon the superior power of God; fear and trembling, the sober realization of the greatness and reality of the revelation of God with which he had been entrusted. For he was simply a servant of the Living God, responsible to communicate only what God had made known to him; and certainly not to add any human philosophy to it. He used no adroit salesmanship, no psychological persuasion; for he sought a real response of faith, faith that would have solid root in the power of God, not in the wisdom of men.
However, it is not by any means that the apostle despised or ignored wisdom; for among "them that are perfect," those brought to a proper knowledge of God, they did indeed speak wisdom. But it was not wisdom in the way the world regards it, not the wisdom of this world, nor of the rulers of this world; for however prominent such men may be for a brief moment, both they and their wisdom are very soon reduced to nothing.
"But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery." This does not have the sense of a mysterious, strange type of thing, but of something previously unrevealed, that is, "hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world." It was hidden from the understanding of men, who could not possibly understand it until Christ Himself was manifested to take away our sins. God's wisdom had long antedated the wisdom of men, being simple in its grandeur and grand in its simplicity, yet not discoverable by the highest exercise of man's wisdom. Nor was this simply to display the superior wisdom of God, but was designed "unto our glory," that is, for the bringing of sinful mankind into a place of dignity and glory before unimagined.
None of the rulers of this world had known, nor could have known this. If they had previously known what marvelous results in glory to God and to the Person of the Lord Jesus would issue from the death of the cross, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. They had no idea that what they considered their victory over Christ was their actual defeat.
Verse 9 is a quotation from Isaiah 64:4, showing how totally obscure to man are the counsels of God, apart from a direct revelation of God. "Eye hath not seen:" human observation could find nothing here. It was this to which Eliphaz appealed in his reproving Job (Job 4:8); but he was wrong. "Nor ear heard." Never had the ear received this from all the combined wisdom of ages past, - the tradition to which Bildad appealed in his judgment of Job (Job 8:8-10). He was just as wrong. "Neither have entered into the heart of man." No man's intuition could have imagined any such wisdom as was God's; though Zophar (Job 11:6) considered that his own intuition was authoritative. This is the most foolish of all, and of course false.
"But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit." The answer then is exclusively a revelation from God. After Job's three friends had been proven wrong, and silenced, then Elihu approached the subject on this solid basis: "There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them wisdom" (Job 32:8). It is the Spirit of God who has communicated this divine wisdom, and of course by the direct inspiration of those whom He chose to give us the written word of God. These writers all write with a wisdom manifestly higher than their own, though each one has a manner and style distinctive of himself: each was not merely an automaton, but the Spirit of God exercised each one to write in full personal liberty, yet every word guarded and guided by His sovereign power.
For the Spirit of God penetrates the deep things of God, as no creature could ever do; and it is He therefore who is capable of revealing these. This is illustrated in verse 11 by the analogy as to the spirit of a man. It is a man's spirit that knows the things of a man. Knowledge, intellect, understanding is connected with the spirit, not with the soul, which is more characterized by desire and feeling.
As to the things of God therefore, it is the Spirit of God who knows them: man naturally knows nothing whatever as to these.
But believers have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, with the object of our knowing the things freely given to us of God. This does not mean that the conscious knowledge of all believers is therefore the same, but all have the same Spirit, who is able to communicate the things of God, so that we shall know them in proportion as we are willingly taught and led by the Spirit.
There is however, special emphasis put upon the fact of the apostles having the Spirit of God, by whom they communicate the truth of God to others. They spoke in words, not of man's wisdom, but as taught by the Holy Spirit, "communicating spiritual things by spiritual means" (J. N. Darby Trans.). It should be evident that spiritual things can be no more communicated by natural means than that they could be understood by natural intellect. Therefore, it must be by the power of the Spirit of God that they are both understood and communicated to others. Let us closely observe too, that it is not merely the thoughts or concepts involved that are inspired of God, but the "words." Every word as it was given was precisely right, exactly expressing (in the original languages) the mind of God. Translators are not at liberty therefore to merely translate what they conceive to be the meaning of any given passage. An honest translation must translate the words as faithfully as they can possibly be translated, in strict consistency with the meaning of the words in the original language.
The original writers of Scripture then were fully and absolutely guided by the Spirit of God in their writing, and preserved totally from any human error, though in many cases, if not all, they were unaware at the time that they were actually writing Scripture that would endure for eternity. It is important that we too who may minister the Word of God to others, should learn to depend on the leading of the Spirit of God, and not on any human intellect, in so speaking; though we know absolutely that our speaking now cannot ever result in being actual Scripture, for the Word of God is complete.
Verse 14 insists that the natural man cannot receive or know the things of the Spirit of God; for he has not been born again, and is dependent upon his own natural senses in regard to what he understands. Spiritual things are outside the realm of his experience and of his knowledge, and he considers them only foolishness, because they are discerned only spiritually, not by his natural senses.
Verse 15 is the total opposite of this. "He that is spiritual" does not describe every believer, for some of these are "carnal, even though they have the Spirit of God (ch. 3:1). It refers to those who in practice depend upon the leading of the Spirit, as every believer ought to. A carnal believer will not discern all things, because, while some of his thoughts may be spiritual, yet fleshiness is so mixed with these that his outlook will be confused. But one who is spiritual discerns all things. Indeed, he not only discerns spiritual things, but will discern the true import of natural things in a way the natural man cannot. "Yet he himself is discerned of no man." He is an enigma to men, for he thinks and acts on a different level, not energized by self-centeredness, but by a genuine regard for the glory of God.
"For," it is questioned, "who hath known the mind of the Lord: who shall instruct Him." This is knowledge inscrutable, because high above any creature level. "But we have the mind of Christ." Marvelous, precious declaration of fact! Having the Spirit of God, this is the revelation of the mind of Christ. The believer has this. Then he should certainly seek to make use of it in daily experience. If not, he is not "spiritual."
But in practical experience the Corinthians were not properly regarding, nor depending on, the wisdom of the Spirit of God, who had been given to them. Paul could not write to them as spiritual, but as unto "carnal," or "fleshly," or as unto "babes in Christ." Actually they were not babes, but were as babes, a matter of shame, for this was not normal. When they ought to have been able to digest solid food, Paul had found it necessary still to feed them with milk, the most elementary truths of the Word; and even now they could not bear the solid food of which they were in need. Therefore, instead of teaching them, he must first reprove their carnality.
The evidence of their fleshliness was in their emulation, strife, and factions. The spirit of rivalry is how contrary to Him, who, being Himself the Highest, has come amongst us "meek and lowly in heart." And of course the fleshly effort of one to be in a high place will awake the fleshly resentment of another, and strife follows, with its consequent breaking of the people of God into factions.
Paul considered it no honor to be flattered by such followers, and insists that, whether himself or Apollos, they were only ministering servants whom God had used for their blessing, giving each servant his particular gift and function. When one sends a messenger with a message, it is most unbecoming that the messenger should be given a place of high honor. He should be respected simply for his message, and his message carefully considered; but he must not be given the honor that belongs only to his master. And his message is to be carefully checked, as to whether it is simply and only the word of the master faithfully given.
Paul had planted, Apollos had watered, each doing the work for which he was fitted. Labour is surely involved in each case, but it was God who gave them ability for this. Moreover their labour was nothing if God did not cause the seed to grow: the work of God alone is that which is of true value. Certainly the servant working as under the clear direction of God will be blessed; but all the honor belongs to God, who gives the increase. Paul's establishing of the assembly at Corinth was surely accompanied by labour and travail; and Apollos would not water this with the refreshing ministry of the Word, apart from serious exercise of soul; but they were both servants of one Master. They were united as to their labours, not rivals, as the factions in Corinth would make them. And the Corinthians were not told to reward them according to their own estimate of their value. God would do this, according to their labour, after their labour was finished.
For they were "God's fellow-workmen" (J. N. Darby Trans.), that is, working together in subjection to God's authority, concerned that only the work of God should prosper. And the Corinthians were "God's husbandry, God's building," that is, the object of God's own workmanship. What a fact to lift their souls far above any thought of glorifying man! If they were the product merely of one man's workmanship, of what real value was this?
Yet Paul was given by God the special grace, as a wise master builder, to lay the foundation. And they were not called upon to merely admire the master builder, but to build. They were to be diligent too, as to how they built upon the foundation. For the foundation is Jesus Christ, and this has been permanently laid: nothing can change it, nor substitute for it. He is the Rock on which His Church is built, the foundation of all spiritual prosperity and blessing. Every believer builds upon this foundation, and of course the unbeliever has no place as a builder here.
It may be questioned in what sense Paul laid the foundation, if the foundation is Christ. Is it not in the fact of Paul's declaring the whole truth concerning Christ in every relationship to the present dispensation of grace - Christ crucified, raised, glorified, Head of the new creation, Head of the church, His body, with all the precious truths connected with these things? The foundation therefore involves the complete revelation of Christ personally and His magnificent work. It is this upon which the assembly is built.
What believers build here is not the building basically, for God does this of living stones (I Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:20-22); but that which adorns the building, "gold, silver, precious stones." These three are of value, of course, for fire will not destroy them, but will rather tend to bring out their purity and beauty. Gold is a symbol of the glory of God: silver of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: and the precious stones of the fruit of the Spirit of God. What is done therefore honestly for God's glory, what is done out of appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ, what is done as the response of the soul to the Spirit's working, will be rewarded. It is actually the working of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that produces all that is acceptable to Him, yet the builder is rewarded for it! - for of course he has responded to such working in grace, and the heart of God has pure delight in the response of faith to Himself.
The "wood, hay, and stubble" may vary in their value, just as certain works may be good or better from a fleshly, material viewpoint, but when the crucial test of fire tries them, none will endure. The pure holiness of God will manifest everything for what it is, and at the judgment seat of Christ that which abides the fire will be rewarded; but if one's work is burned, he will suffer loss. Since he is himself on the foundation, the burning will not touch his person, but as to his works he suffers loss. Lot is a most painful example of this in Genesis 19: he escaped the awesome judgment of Sodom, but all his possessions were burned up. How tragically sad that a believer may have nothing to show in the way of real spiritual value for all the years God has given him on earth!
The building here is of course the building up of souls personally and of the Church collectively. Let us seek full part in this. Verse 16 urges upon us that the Church is the temple of God: in this the Corinthians had their place, and the Spirit of God dwelt in them, not only individually, but corporately: they were the display of the Spirit's work in a united way. It is an unchangeable truth, and certainly worthy of our full response to it.
Verse 17 however does not speak of a builder, but a destroyer, and therefore not a believer at all. There are those on the outside willing to do Satan's work of destruction; and sometimes "grievous wolves enter in" among the saints with the intention of destroying. In our verse, the marginal reading, "destroy" is correct, rather than "defile." Such an one God would destroy. But while this strictly refers to an enemy, yet let the believer be diligent not to resemble a destroyer in the slightest way. "For the temple of God is holy, which ye are."
Such truth should lead to wholesome self-judgment now, for it is far better to confess our own foolishness that we may be wise, than to glory in a false show of wisdom. Let us keep from glorying in human wisdom or in men. "For all things are yours," whether God's servants, given for the help of all saints; or the world, life, or death, etc., all are intended for the spiritual benefit of saints of God, servants to their need, not masters. For "ye are Christ's," not then mere servants of men or things, but Christ's own bondservants. And Christ is God's, in Manhood come in perfect subjection to God, devoted utterly to the service of His Master. Here is the supreme Example of proper subjection to true authority.
But while we are not to exalt a ministering servant, no more are we to despise him or his work. The apostles should certainly be recognized for what they actually were, "ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." They both served Christ, and ministered Christ to others; and were entrusted with a stewardship in reference to rightly administering the truth of the mysteries of God which had been revealed to them for the sake of all the saints of God. How blessed an honor, yet how solemn a charge! For the requirement of paramount importance in a steward is that he be found faithful. Human intellect, zeal, ingenuity, ability, are all of no value if this one matter of faithfulness is missing.
As to this, the steward is not answerable to men, but to God. It was of trivial importance to Paul that in this he should be judged by the Corinthians, "or of man's day" (margin). A mere human judgment based on what is observable in man's brief history of independence of God, was to Paul only empty vanity. In fact, as to estimating the value of his own work, Paul did not even judge as to this himself. For though he knew nothing against himself (a more correct translation), yet this itself did not justify him: his own estimation decided nothing: this discerning judgment as to the value of his work was entirely God's prerogative, not his, nor any man's.
In these things, the Corinthians are told to "judge nothing before tile time, until the Lord come." We must of course be careful to consider this in its context, for chapter 5:12 shows that the Corinthians had been negligent in judging when they ought to have judged. In this chapter (4) they were judging when they ought not. But the Lord, at His coming, will bring to light what we do not see in the work of His servants, making manifest the counsels of the hearts. Not merely the outward work done, but the motives discerned only rightly by Him, will be involved in the praise that each servant receives from God. Too frequently we may assume that our own motives are right, when in fact they may be badly mixed with selfishness and pride. How well then for us to be in constant remembrance that God will bring all to light.
These principles Paul applies directly to himself and to Apollos, to teach the Corinthians that neither the one nor the other must be exalted as a leader; for the true value of each will be actually revealed only at the coming of the Lord. And they are to apply the same principles to themselves also, to avoid having special favourites among themselves, and being puffed up in a spirit of rivalry.
Verse 7 strikes sharply at this unseemly pride. Who had created the differences among saints? Certainly not themselves. It is God who has made each just what he is. Or if it is a question of abilities, capacities, or spiritual gifts, we have not been originators of these, but receivers. And if simply having received them (from God, of course), then only thankful humility should be our response, not boasting as though one were a self-made being.
This spirit too had led to self-complacency and an emphasis on material advantage that virtually made them to "reign as kings." They were filled up with earthly things (Corinth means "satiated"), and "rich," but not in a practical spiritual sense. This show of material prosperity is unbecoming to the character of the Church of God, a people who trust a despised, rejected Lord, and wait for the time of His being exalted and reigning. They sought to reign before the time, and as Paul says, "without us," the apostles, who were willingly suffering with Christ.
Not that Paul did not deeply desire the day of reigning: he did indeed, and that both the Corinthians and the apostle might reign together; but God, not they, will introduce that day. Meanwhile, it is a day of testing of faith and patience.
But rather than exalting the apostles on earth, God had, in Paul's opinion, set them forth last, giving them the lowest place so far as this life is concerned, appointed to death, not to earthly honor. (It must not be forgotten, however, that the first shall be last, and the last first.) For they were in the limelight of the world's contempt and ridicule, a strange sight to angels and to men, willing to be fools in the world's estimation, for Christ's sake. This was practical experience, while the Corinthians would stop short at the position that was theirs as "wise in Christ," not choosing to accept the experience with it of suffering with Christ. In this real Christian experience the apostles were "weak" and "despised," but the Corinthians desired only the attractive side of the truth, with its strength and honor.
To make the precious truth of God known, the apostles were willing to sacrifice every temporal advantage, to the point even of hunger and thirst, lack of clothing, hard knocks, and being deprived of any assured place of dwelling.
And along with the proclaiming of the gospel of God, they laboured with their own hands rather than taking support from the Corinthians. When reviled, they returned blessing; persecuted, they quietly endured it; falsely represented, they used entreaty rather than indignant self-defence. Their treatment by the world was as though they were only garbage to be thrown out, or an undesirable accumulation to be scoured off a vessel. It is good to take note, however, of the expression "unto this day." This continues only through the present day of grace. What a change indeed when "the day of the Lord" comes!
If this did make the Corinthians ashamed, as no doubt it should, yet this was not the object of the apostle in so writing. Rather he was warning them, as a father who loved his children, of the dangers of their living in self-pleasing and self-complacency, the danger of their suffering loss at the judgment-seat of Christ because of living for present advantage rather than in view of eternity.
For they were his own children in the faith, and their soul prosperity was his deep concern. He was not merely acting as an "instructor" as so many are inclined to do, communicating knowledge apart from a true interest in the state of the souls of those whom they instruct. The thousand of these are not worth the value of one man of God who has a father's heart. And having begotten them in Christ Jesus, through the gospel, he would not cease to care for them.
His entreaty in verse 16 that they should be followers of him, must be considered in its context. He certainly did not merely seek followers for himself, but urges them to follow his example of willing self-sacrifice for Christ's sake, rather than to be self-indulgent. This important object led him to send Timothy to Corinth (his beloved child in the faith also), one who met the requirement of verse 2 of faithfulness to the Lord. He was not sent to teach them any new thing, but to reaffirm the truth as Paul had given it, truth exemplified in Paul's ways which were "in Christ," and which Paul had consistently taught everywhere in every assembly. The same truth is applicable to all saints everywhere, and at all times.
But he knew that in Corinth some were puffed up in the vanity and pride of the flesh. He does not single them out, but holds the assembly as such responsible for the condition. They thought to have things their own way, counting on no intervention by Paul. But he would come, he says, if the Lord will, and would show up what was merely speech, and what was true power. "For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." How deeply important a matter is this sober, sound, discerning spiritual power.
And He gives them the choice as to how he should come to them -- whether with a rod, that is, with sharp, chastening apostolic authority; or in love and the spirit of meekness. In the former, certainly love would not be lacking, but it could not be free and affectionate in its expression. And meek submission would be out of place where judgment of evil is required.
The emphasis on human wisdom in Corinth was sadly accompanied by a case of revolting moral corruption. Philosophy is far removed from spiritual power, very commonly. Paul speaks here of a case well known, that of a man having his own stepmother. Such fornication as this was not even considered among the ungodly nations. This illustrates the fact that grace, once known, may be taken advantage of in a most unholy way, if it does not hold living power over the soul. And a believer may slip into such evil as even scandalizes the conscience of an unbeliever.
But more serious still is the self-complacent indifference of the Corinthian assembly to such evil in their midst. Proper moral sense would have humbled them in brokenness of heart before God, and in prayer for His intervention at least. If they did not know how to handle the case, yet certainly they could entreat the help of the Lord, that the offender might be taken away from them; for it was evident that the whole assembly was corrupted by this evil.
The facts of the case being unquestionably established, Paul had, though personally absent, judged absolutely, as though he had been present, in regard to this matter. If there had been any question of doubt as to actual facts or circumstances involved, he would not of course have written so positively. But when the case is clear, then action must not be delayed.
But it is the assembly that must act, not simply as complying with Paul's word, but "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," that is, as directly representing Him. It is their solemn responsibility, with His authority behind it. No assembly can be excused from the responsibility of judging evil when it is manifestly present. And all the saints are held responsible: the matter is not to be delegated to just a few in the assembly. The assembly is to be "gathered together" to express a united pronouncement on excluding from among themselves the person guilty of this evil. In this case too, Paul takes full responsibility for the instruction he gives them: his spirit would be thoroughly in concord with their judgment, along with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Putting this man away would be to deliver him to Satan. For he would be put outside all Christian fellowship, into Satan's realm. He would have place in no Christian assembly, for there were no denominations into which he might carelessly be received; as is the case today. So that we today could not claim to be delivering one to Satan, though to put away such a man is certainly as binding now as then.
Yet it cannot be too strongly insisted that the good of the offender is most important in this case. Such discipline should properly tend to humble and break down the flesh with its evil activity, so as to cause in the end a proper restoration to the Lord, and to the assembly. The welfare of the spirit is a vital need here, and to this end the flesh and its lusts must be judged. To some people this may appear to be cruel, but it is actually the only way that true love can honestly take for the eventual good of the offender. It is God's way, and He allows no substitute. At such a time their glorying was unbecoming, a mere show that ignored serious responsibility. Did they not know that a little leaven would permeate the whole lump?
Leaven is clearly evil allowed to act. If manifestly evil practice is allowed to be indulged, with no restraint on the part of the assembly, then the assembly becomes party to the evil. To become a new lump they must purge out the old leaven, and in this case the evil could not be purged out except by putting away the guilty man. The expression, "as ye are unleavened" is a reminder to them that their proper character as "in Christ" is that in which sin has no place whatever; and to be consistent with this holy character, they must judge and put away the evil.
Then Christ is spoken of as "our Passover... sacrificed for us." Leaven was utterly forbidden in the Passover feast (Ex. 12:8). For in the sacrifice of Christ sin is totally judged; and in keeping the feast that is a memorial of that blessed sacrifice, we are certainly called upon to do so consistently with the blessedness of the sacrifice itself. Of course, it is the Lord's supper that is such a memorial feast, and "the old leaven of malice and wickedness" must be fully judged and refused as we are privileged to remember the sufferings of our Lord. "The unleavened of sincerity and truth" is only right and consistent here, and the assembly must be exercised to see that this is practiced. It is the Lord's supper, and He certainly serves no contaminated food; but it is a feast that can give purest delight to the partakers, though our prime object there is to give Him delight.
But while the Lord's supper, being the central expression of fellowship in the assembly, is specifically denied to a fornicator, yet this is not all. The saints of God were to have no fellowship with him whatever, not even to eat a common meal with him. There is a necessary distinction here, however. Fornicators of the world, covetous, extortioners, idolators, the believer is not told to avoid, for they are everywhere around. Their evil was not a direct dishonour to God, as was the case with one who was called a brother, and was guilty of a course of sinful practice. This was a denial in practice of the Lord he claimed to serve. Love for him would dictate this serious disciplinary treatment, as well as faithfulness to God, and concern for the purity of the assembly. In fact, added to this is the concern that the world itself would recognize that Christianity refuses to embrace evil, and specially in one who professes to be Christian.
It was not Paul's responsibility (nor ours) to judge those outside the assembly. This is entirely in God's hand, but judgment within the assembly is emphatically the responsibility of the assembly itself, and therefore of all in the assembly. Therefore, all were called upon to be in concord in putting away from among themselves the man who is here called "that wicked person." They are allowed no other alternative. Certainly action of this kind must be always in a spirit of brokenness and humiliation, not of mere anger or of contempt; but it must be done.
In this chapter there is another matter raised in which the Corinthians had not been using proper judgment. No individual is singled out here, but the strong reproof of the apostle is for any who had laid charges in the law courts against their own brethren. Did they realize they were relying on the judgment of the unjust in this case? Was it becoming that they should accept the judgment of the ungodly at a time when they might have the fair and properly considered judgment of the saints of God?
Had they not been taught that the saints will judge the world? They will be fully identified with Christ in that discerning judgment that distinguishes between one matter and another that must be faced when the world is brought under judgment. How thoroughly wrong then it is that the world should sit in judgment as regards the saints. If saints are to judge the world, are they not able now to judge as regards the trivial personal matters between believers?
Verse 3 goes still beyond this to assert that we shall judge angels. It is as Man that the Lord Jesus is given authority to execute judgment, and this includes the judgment of angels (Jn. 5:22,27). And redeemed mankind will be fully identified with Him in this judgment. Then if so, how much more should a believer be able to judge as to things in this life. Let it be remembered that "he that is spiritual judgeth (or discerneth) all things" (ch. 2:16).
But a striking principle is laid down in verse 4. It is evident that for spiritual matters the discernment of a spiritual person is necessary; but if merely matters of this life, those "who are least esteemed in the assembly" should be expected to be competent for this. Not spirituality, but simple honesty is required for this. These matters are not of sufficient importance to take the time of those who engage themselves in the spiritual welfare of saints of God. Let us guard always against such things assuming an importance that overshadows the infinitely more important spiritual prosperity of the saints.
The matter was so serious that Paul presses them severely: "I speak to your shame." Among the entire assembly was there not one man able to exercise any discerning judgment in such cases of dissension among brethren over mere material possessions? Going to law before unbelievers was utterly disgraceful, and he allows no excuse for it whatever. In fact, much rather than this, one should allow himself to be defrauded. And if one did take his brother to law, he was himself guilty of defrauding his brother - defrauding him of the right at least to have the matter settled by his brethren.
Verse 9 is no doubt intended to cut two ways. First, the unrighteous to whose judgment they had been appealing would not even themselves inherit the kingdom of God, where authority is maintained in true righteousness. But secondly, let the Corinthians judge in themselves as to the way in which they by their actions were guilty of resembling the unrighteous. For as to the list of evil characters that follows, it is positively declared they shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Some of the Corinthians had themselves been so classified before conversion, but were now washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God. The washing here is riot evidently the cleansing by blood, though of course this was true of them too. But it is the washing by the Spirit, as in Titus 3:5, no doubt through the application of the water of the Word, and therefore having a moral effect in the soul. The sanctification too, being that of the Spirit, would speak of their being set apart not only positionally, but in practical, moral character, from a world of evil, and to the Lord. Justification too, though it is positional in its elementary character, putting the individual into a place of perfect righteousness before God, is yet here shown to have a practical character also attached to it by the fact of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. "In the name of the Lord Jesus" therefore is the positional side of the truth, but "by the Spirit of our God" is the side of the vital work done in the soul to give expression to this. There was no right reason therefore, that fullest expression should not be given to this.
These things are manifestly not accomplished by the law, but by the grace of God; and the apostle will not allow the thought of mere legality entering into this matter. If one insists now that grace has made "all things lawful," yet grace has a powerful voice to persuade the individual that "all things are not expedient." Grace teaches us the opposite of self-indulgence (Ti. 2:11,12). And it teaches with living power to the renewed heart. If "all things are lawful," yet personal faith will not be brought under the power of mere "things." The believer has a Master who is supreme, and it is only right therefore, that he should allow nothing else to dominate him.
"Meats" are used here as an apt example of the mere temporal things that may too easily get control of a man. One may allow his appetite to make him a virtual slave to food; but God will destroy both the belly and the meats. Should mere temporary things govern us? Should temporal pleasures hold such power over a believer that it should pervert the proper use for which God has given us created things'? Our own body is for the Lord, not for fornication, not for the mere gratification of fleshly lusts. And how precious too, the words, "and the Lord for the body." He has vital concern for the proper well-being of our bodies, not merely of our spirit and soul; and we may entrust our bodily needs into His own hand with utter confidence, rather than concentrating on taking thought for our life or our body (Mt. 6:25).
Indeed, as God raised up the body of the Lord Jesus from among the dead, so will He raise up our bodies. The care of our bodies then is in the power of His own hand, and it is for us now to use them rightly, not to abuse them. In fact, the striking statement is made that "our bodies are the members of Christ." What a dignity is this given to the body! In its present state, of course, it is subject to decay and death, but this is only temporary, and it is to be honorably and properly treated for the Lord's sake. How grossly wrong to take the members of Christ and make them the members of an harlot! It is a practical denial of what is actually true. In practice the joining of two bodies together makes them one, as God declared when He created the woman for the man. "But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." It is a higher, more precious, and eternal unity, and though spiritual, yet the believer's body is to share in this blessing for eternity.
"Flee fornication." In this one is not told to fight, but to keep far from it, as Joseph fled from the wife of Potiphar. Other sins may not involve the body in this way, but this is sin against one's own body. And as well as our bodies being the members of Christ, now we are told, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost." The Spirit of God dwells within our body in order to display in us the precious reality of His character in our practical lives. Notice that it is not said that our spirits or souls are His temple, but our bodies. So that when we are told, "Ye are not your own," we cannot regard this as being merely in regard to our spiritual interests, but fully applicable to our bodies. Being bought with a price - a price so infinitely great - certainly we are totally the property of the Living God; and it is only right and becoming that we should glorify God in our body.
Those things in Chapters 5 and 6, which were of such serious importance as demanding correction, had evidently not even been questions in the minds of the Corinthians. But Paul was required to raise these first, before he answered questions they had raised as to various practical problems that arise as regards the marriage relationship, problems occasioned by fallen human nature. We must not forget that as God instituted it, "Marriage is honorable in all" (Heb. 13:4). And we must distinguish between the purity of God's creation and the fleshly, fallen nature which has brought corruption into this creation.
It may seem strange that the apostle, after affirming that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, yet fully approves every man and woman having a spouse. His first statement in verse I could not have been written when creation began, for it would have been bad for Adam to have refused the wife God gave to him. But in Christ now raised from the dead, God has introduced the new creation, and Paul himself is an example of the fact that the power of Christ, now known and enjoyed, is such as to be able to lift one above the perfectly normal and legitimate needs of the first creation. In no way are these things themselves sinful, though they have often been corrupted by man's sin. So that, while it is good for one to remain unmarried, in view of thorough devotedness to the Lord; yet if this would in any way involve the danger of fornication, it was much better to marry.
Verses 3 to 5 would insist that, when married, both wife and husband are responsible to show full consideration of each other according to the proper character of the marriage bond. They are one flesh, and neither the husband alone, nor the wife alone, has power in reference to his own or her own body, to bear fruit. They are united, and must not ignore this sacred relationship. By consent they could be apart for a time, to give themselves to fasting and prayer, and no doubt this could be greatly used of God in blessing; but it was generally not to be too long protracted, for Satan is ever ready to take advantage of such things. Proper consideration of each other is the important matter, and no defrauding of one another of his or her proper rights in the marriage relationship.
But Paul makes it clear in verse 6 that this is not the direct commandment of God, but his own advice, which God permitted him to give. In this chapter these two things are carefully distinguished, and interestingly so. This does not in any way violate the fact that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God; but it does illustrate the fact that all Scripture is not revelation. But God inspired Paul in this case to give, in response to the questions of the Corinthians, his own spiritual judgment in these matters. And let us remember, as we read it, that here is a man who is willing to forego what is lawful himself, to do what is most becoming in order to joyfully please the Lord. It would hardly seem wise to belittle the advice of such a man. Could we ourselves give better?
His own desire was that all men (believers of course) were as himself, unmarried. Certainly this was impossible of fulfillment, for everyone had his proper gift from God. If God had not himself fitted one for this, it would be a mistake for him to refuse to marry a wife God had brought to him. Paul's viewpoint certainly was a blessed one, but it is not the
normal, usual path, and however we might admire it, this is not itself the power to follow it. We can fully agree that it is good to remain unmarried; yet even Paul himself advises that if the natural instinct and desire for marriage were strong within one, it is better to marry. "Forbidding to marry," he assures us elsewhere, is diabolical teaching (I Tim. 4:1-3).
But verses 9 and 10 are not simply Paul's advice, but the Lord's commandment. The wife is told positively not to depart from her husband. Of course, if he were unfaithful to her, this would be a different matter. If circumstances were such however, that a wife did leave her husband, she is told to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to her husband. If of course in the meantime her husband had remarried, this would change things completely. She could then never be rightly re-united to him, even if his second wife died (Dt. 24:3,4).
Verse 12 again is Paul's advice. So long as an unbelieving spouse was willing to remain with a believing husband or wife, then his unbelief was not sufficient reason for his spouse to leave him, or her, as the case may be. "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband." The faith of the one sets the other apart in a very real way, for he is a member of a household where Christ is recognized as Lord. He is set apart in spite of himself, and however ungodly his character may be. And the children are "holy," a stronger word than sanctified: it is of course the position they are privileged to occupy because of the faith of one parent: the parent is not expected to leave his children in "Egypt," exposed to the unclean world, just because the other parent is an unbeliever.
Under law, when Israelites had taken strange wives, they were required to put away their wives (Ezra 10:3,19); but grace is far different. It will not hold the unbelieving against his will, for if he desires to depart, the believer is told to "let him depart." When the unbeliever takes the initiative, then the believer is not under bondage in such cases. How much wiser for him to leave the matter with God, with no contention. But the faith and the gracious attitude of the believer may be the means of winning the unbeliever to the Lord: therefore, he is to take no harsh action against the other. Under law a Moabite could not be changed into an Israelite, but under grace an unbeliever may be changed into a believer. This certainly gives no permission for a believer to marry an unbeliever, for this is expressly forbidden in 2 Corinthians 6:14; but if one partner has been converted after marriage, he is encouraged to use the grace and faith of Christianity now in his marriage relationship, in patient testimony, for it may be the means of the other's conversion.
In verses 17 to 24 is laid down the principle that generally speaking one who was converted was to remain in the same relationships as before. Of course, if in these there was moral evil, this must be put away; but the context does not consider this. God had distributed to every man: none of us is in our particular circumstances merely by chance. In all assemblies this was to be recognized. Those who were married, let them remain this way, and bring Christ into their marriage. If one were Jewish and circumcised, he was not to renounce this to become a Gentile, for the knowledge of Christ lifts one above the mere questions of circumcision or uncircumcision: neither was now of any spiritual importance, but keeping the commandments of God; not the ten commandments, but those of the New Testament. For in new creation there is neither Jew nor Gentile.
This too is applied to a person's occupation. Even if he were a slave to an ungodly master, let him be submissive in this. If the opportunity were given him however to be made free, then he is told to take advantage of this. If God has given one any certain employment, let him be thankful for this, and faithful in service. If there is reason to desire something different, and the opportunity presents itself, then so long as God is honored, there is nothing to prohibit this. Of course, one is always to wisely consider all the circumstances. It should be manifest to all, certainly, that any employment that requires questionable or dishonest practices is to be utterly refused by the believer.
But if one feels the burden of being a slave, let him remember that he is really the Lord's freeman: this will give calmness and dignity to rise above his circumstances. On the other hand, if one is free, let him remember that he is the Lord's servant, and thereby keep himself from an independent attitude. For all saints are bought with a great price: none are to be mere servants of men: if they serve, it is to be "with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men" (Eph. 6:7). Paul made himself servant to all, but he was the servant of God (I Cor. 9:19).
In whatever relationships therefore one were called, let him abide in this, "with God." If he can there enjoy the presence and approval of God, let him be at peace in this.
Verse 25 to the end considers now the case of the unmarried, as to whether or not to marry. As to this again Paul has no direct commandment of the Lord, but the Lord inspires him to give his own judgment, because he had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. Let no one lightly despise this statement.
In view oft hen present circumstances that were evidently of some trying character, he considered it wise for one to remain unmarried; though if already married, not to try to change this. A spirit of contentment is that which he seeks to encourage. If one were "loosed from a wife," by her death, or by her leaving to marry another, his advice is to "seek not a wife."
Yet, so long as he had been honorably loosed from a former wife, the fact of his marrying again would not be sin. And the fact of marrying for the first time is not sin. Of course, if marrying an unbeliever, this would be disobedience to the Word of God, and therefore sin (2 Cor. 6:14). And it is possible for one to marry while in a bad state of soul (1 Tim. 5:11,12), and reap sad results. In any case, one should certainly seek the clear guidance of God in a matter so serious, and not rush into something for which he is not prepared. Marriage itself, as Paul says, will bring with it "trouble in the flesh": the married man will be faced with many problems that never occur to one unmarried. Let all who contemplate marriage be fully prepared for this. But Paul adds, "I spare you." He would not press this point too far. For it is evident that God will provide grace for whatever path He may lead His own to take.
But the time was (and is) short. All those things that are of temporary duration, whether marriage, weeping, rejoicing as to present circumstances, buying, or using the world, were not matters that should overmuch engage the time and attention. If they are things given of God for our present comfort, they must not be allowed to enslave us in any way, or to so occupy our interest that eternal realities are clouded, and not given the prominent place that is becoming. For all that is present is passing.
Paul's own concern was to have the Corinthians without carefulness, not held back by the cares of this life. From his own point of view, one who was unmarried cared for the things of the Lord, and as to how he could please the Lord. If this is the wholehearted exercise of one unmarried, it is well indeed. Of course it does not follow that this is always the case. A believer may be unmarried for other reasons, and not really making the Lord the supreme object of his life. But he does not have the care of a wife to occupy his time and attention, and therefore should have more time for the Lord. If one is married, he is responsible to properly care for his wife, and some of his time at least must be spent in pleasing her. Of course we know that, in spite of this, many men who have wives have been greatly used and blessed of God, more than many others who have remained unmarried. On the other hand, some have remained unmarried with the sole intention of devotedness to the Lord, and it is this that the apostle recommends, for he himself was an honest example of such devotion.
But Paul knows this is a delicate subject, and insists that he speaks for their profit, not as suggesting rules for them, nor as expecting anyone to follow his advice merely from a sense of duty, which may prove only a snare to the individual; but to encourage each saint to give attention to the things of the Lord without distraction.
Verse 36 is more correctly given in Mr. Darby's New Translation; "But if anyone think that he behaves himself unseemly to his virginity, if he be beyond the flower of his age, and so it must be, let him do what he will, he does not sin: let them marry." When the fleeting beauty of youth is passed, and one is old enough to know what he is doing, if he thinks it more comely or becoming in reference to himself
that he should be married, then to marry is certainly not sin. In any case, whether man or woman, let the matter be well considered, and faith be acted upon. This does not touch upon the subject of the choosing of a wife or husband, but supposes that the choice is a proper one.
But one might stand with firmness of faith, having no necessity for marriage, having control over his own will, and purposing that he will maintain his virginity. This is the case of one making himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake (Mt. 19:12). If it is not too common, yet it is blessedly commendable.
Again, in verse 38, a more proper translation is: "So then he that marrieth doeth well; but he that marrieth not doeth better." This supposes in each case that the will of the Lord is followed. Merely marrying, if not "in the Lord," could mean dreadful disaster; or refusing to marry because of selfish, evil motives, is certainly not better than marrying, if the Lord were leading one to marry. Joseph had no alternative but to marry when the Lord told him, "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife" (Mt. 1:20). But if the Lord should lead one to a single path of devotion to Himself, this is better than the married state.
Again, in verse 39 the New Translation is more correct: "A wife is bound for whatever time her husband lives; but if the husband be fallen asleep, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord." Romans 7:1,2 rightly gives the legal aspect of this matter; but Corinthians rather speaks of what is morally binding as before God, so that "by the law" is not to be included here. It is clear that only death rightly does away with the marriage bond: any other dissolving of the bond is abnormal, yet it could be allowed to one if the other partner were guilty of virtually breaking the bond by fornication (Mt. 19:9).
But as our verse indicates, if one spouse has died, the other is perfectly free to be married again, but "only in the Lord." This does not merely mean, to a Christian, but as in subjection to the authority of the Lord: it is His will that is to be paramount. But Paul's opinion is that to remain unmarried would be happier. And in such a conclusion he thinks he is not without the influence of the Spirit of God.
Chapters I to 4 have given God's answer to worldly wisdom; chapters 5 to 7 have dealt with questions concerning the flesh: now chapter 8 turns to the matter of Satanic influence, and this is further discussed in chapter 10 and the beginning of chapter 12. The Corinthians were too little aware of the subtlety of all three of these evil influences, the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But they had evidently questioned Paul as to the eating of things sacrificed to idols. All Christians had knowledge that the idol was really nothing. But mere knowledge alone would puff one up with the pride of knowing. Love, on the other hand, would edify, or build up. If one prides himself on knowing anything, let him remember that he actually knows nothing as he ought to know it. For if we know anything rightly, there will be no pride in the fact of knowing, but concern to act in loving consistency with that knowledge, a desire to both understand, and to act more rightly. And in loving God, one is known of God: how much more precious is this than emphasizing our own knowledge.
To apply this principle therefore, it is clear that an idol is nothing in the world: there is only one God. True, there are those "called gods," whether by man, or even in the Scriptures, where the elders of Israel were called this, simply as being God's representatives on earth (Ps. 82:6; Jn. 10:34,35); but never in the latter case as giving them any place of worship. If there were "gods many, and lords many," these were simply as lightless asteroids in comparison with the sun. To us there is one God, the Father, originator of all things, and we are the fruit of His own work. This is the revelation of Christianity, in contrast to the ignorance of idolatry. The Spirit of God is not mentioned because the subject is not the dynamic power behind the scenes, but the manifested supremacy of God the Father, and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But every man does not have this clear, proper knowledge: some think of an idol as having some spiritual significance or evil power in itself; and if eating anything offered to an idol, would think of it as such, their conscience therefore being affected; even though in actual fact this did not change the food, and before God he was neither better or worse if fie ate.
But if one had liberty to eat meat offered to idols, without any conscientious scruples, he must still be careful not to stumble those whose conscience is weak. True knowledge is considerate, not overbearing. If the one who had knowledge would sit at meat in the idol's temple, this might embolden others to do the same thing, at a time when their own conscience spoke against it. This principle may be applied to various circumstances in which we may be found today. A weak Christian may see another go to a place that his own conscience forbids him to go; but because the stronger Christian has gone, then he does also. The stronger has therefore encouraged the other to ignore his conscience. And it is asked, ''Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?'' Not that God would allow any believer to perish, but my heartless treatment of him is virtually having no concern as to whether he would even perish. But Christ died for him!
Such lack of care for my brother's conscience is sin, and not only against my brethren, but against Christ. Let us seriously consider this.
The apostle then takes the firm stand that if his eating meat would cause his brother to stumble, he would utterly refrain from it. Of course, if another were to demand of Paul that he must not eat meat because of the other's conscience, this is totally different: he could not submit to any such legality. But a genuinely weak conscience must be considered. How good if one can willingly forego his own liberty for the sake of others! This is a proper use of knowledge.
Because of the lowliness and grace on the part of the apostle, such as chapter 8 shows in the consideration of his brethren, there were some who would use this as an occasion to belittle him. He made no arrogant show of his liberty or of his authority as an apostle, as did "false apostles" (2 Cor. 11:13-20); and evidently some, on this account, moved by fleshly vanity, dared to question whether he were an apostle at all.
Behind this was the subtle enmity of Satan; for in order to nullify the truth of the unity, order, and discipline of the assembly, he uses this means of discrediting the chosen vessel whom God is using to communicate these truths.
Paul appeals therefore to their consciences. Did he not have the credentials of an apostle? They could not honorably dispute the fact that he had seen the Lord, nor certainly that they themselves had been converted through him. Not that one of these facts alone was proof of apostleship, but these, together with the fact of his own witness of God's definite designation of him as such, was certainly evidence that their consciences could not ignore. His very character was contrary to that of a man of false pretences. Therefore, their own state as Christians was proof of his apostleship. Whether others recognized this or not, they ought to.
Did they think that an apostle should throw his weight about, as would a mere politician among the Gentiles? Was it because Paul had no right to eat and drink that he did not make himself dependent upon the support of the Corinthians? Did he not have a right to be married to a sister in the Lord, and take her with him on his journeys, as did Peter, and other brethren? And since he did not do this, did this make him inferior to them? Or, of all the apostles, did Paul and Barnabas alone have no right to forbear working with their hands for their own support? How sad that all of these things, the fruit of devotion to the Lord, were interpreted by some as evidence of Paul's insignificance!
If a man's country call him to war, is he expected to pay all his own expenses? Typically of course, this is the declaring of the gospel in an enemy's country, and it is thoroughly right that one should be supported by such labour. Or if one plants a vineyard, should he not be allowed to eat of its fruit? This would speak of the labour of establishing the assembly. Or, in feeding a flock, is one denied even the milk of the flock? Here it is the labour of shepherding the assembly. In each case it is only morally right that those who receive blessing should help in the sustenance of the labourer.
And the apostle asks, is this merely human reasoning? Did not the law, the Old Testament, affirm the same? And here is another strong confirmation of the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were written particularly for our benefit in this present day. This quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 is shown to apply with far more emphasis to the Church than to the case of a literal ox. Not that verse 9 implies that it had no literal reference to an ox; for of course the Jews were expected to have proper concern for the life of their beasts; yet this was only minor compared to the spiritual significance of it.
For the one who ploughed should certainly do so in hope of an eventual harvest; if there were no such prospect, why plough at all? And he who threshes, is he to have no part whatever in the results of his threshing? He certainly threshes in hope of some yield of grain, and should himself be partaker in that hope.
The apostle had sown spiritual things to the Corinthians, and there were results. Would it have been any large return if he had reaped their support in temporal things? It was only normal and right. Others had used this right, and if so, was Paul not even more entitled to it than they? But he had not used it, rather had suffered all things in desire to avoid every possible hindrance to the prospering of the gospel of Christ.
Verse 13 refers to the Levites who served in connection with the temple, and the priests waiting at the altar. The Levites received the tithes of the people (Num. 18:21); and as well as sharing in this, the priests received part of the sacrifices that they offered (Lev. 6:26; 7:6,14). In this way provision was made for their support. And similarly God had ordained that the gospel preacher should "live of the gospel." This does not mean that the preacher himself is at liberty to take collections or to make any charge for his preaching. This is written, not to the servant, but the assembly, to stress the assembly's responsibility of willingly providing such support, not as a salary, but entirely by voluntary exercise. The servant in preaching is to practice the principle, "Freely ye have received; freely give." And the saints are to practice the same principle in their temporal care for the servant.
But Paul had used none of these things: though entitled to it, he had taken no support at all from the Corinthians. Nor did he now write with the object that this might be the case. Indeed, he would rather die than have taken away his rejoicing in this self-sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. For as to the preaching of the gospel itself, this was nothing for him to boast of. He had no choice whatever in this matter: necessity was laid upon him. God had called him, and he had no alternative. "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel." Such being the case, one might as well have a willing heart in this matter, and Paul considers that a spirit of willingness will reap reward. If, on the other hand, he should be unwilling, this does not change the fact that he was responsible for the administration of the gospel committed to him: he is still required to prove faithful in this.
But let us mark well what Paul considers his reward, as given in the New Translation: "That in announcing the glad tidings I make the glad tidings costless (to others), so as not to have made use, as belonging to me, of my right in (announcing) the glad tidings." This is the opposite of mere material reward: he would willingly forego all material benefits connected with the gospel, thinking of this self-sacrifice itself as a reward. For his own soul rejoiced in doing this for the sake of others. Personally free from all men, made free by the boundless grace of God in Christ Jesus, yet he had made himself a bond-servant to all, with the object of gaining every soul he possibly could for Christ.
And this spirit of service went even further; for he would use every effort to adapt himself to the circumstances of those to whom he brought the gospel. If theirs was a Jewish background and culture, he would adapt himself to this. If they were under law, he would from this viewpoint deal with them, with the object of presenting Christ. If they were without law, he would leave aside the question of the law's claims in his contacts with them, but use their own viewpoint by which to win them to Christ. Not that he would be lawless, "but in lawful subjection to Christ," as is a more exact translation. If they were weak, he would come down beside them, to show them the weakness that finds its answer of strength in Christ, and to gain them for Him. Being "made all things to all men" was by no means giving up proper moral principles but sacrificing his own comfort and natural preferences in order to enter into the circumstances of others.
This he did for the sake of the gospel (which was so exceedingly precious to him), that the gospel might produce much fruit, and Paul himself have the joy of being "partaker with it," that is, have part with the gospel in its fruitfulness. He is no mere salesman, but his heart is vitally bound up in the preciousness and value of the message of grace entrusted to him.
There may be many running in the race of Christianity, but not all will receive the prize, that which is eternal, incorruptible. The fact of running is not enough to obtain the prize: certainly one must run in such a way that he will finish the course. If a runner is really striving for victory, he will be "temperate in all things," not self-indulgent, but self disciplined. If one knows nothing of self-discipline, though he may be running, he is not a Christian at all, though he would like to pass as one. He is running uncertainly, as one who beats the air. He does not have the proper end in view, nor does he make true progress. His fleshly appetites master him, rather than he keeping them in control. He can even preach to others, and eventually be cast away himself, for eternity.
But Paul makes it clear that he had no slightest fear of this as to himself. It was not his character to run uncertainly, as one who beats the air. If he had been merely this (and the principle applies to anyone who professes Christianity), merely an uncertain, undisciplined professor of Christianity, as was the case with "false apostles" (2 Cor. 11:13), then he would be eternally cast away, even after preaching to others. It was infinitely more important to be a true Christian than to be a preacher. The true servant runs certainly, he does not beat the air, he keeps his body under subjection.
Just as, in the end of chapter 9, Paul shows himself willing to submit to a serious test as to the reality of his Christianity, so in the first of chapter 10 it is plain that all who claim the place of Christian will be subjected to a similar test. And the early history of Israel is appealed to as an example of this. All the children of Israel had the benefit of the protecting cloud in leaving Egypt. All of them passed through the Red Sea, "and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." These things linked them publicly with Moses, just as water baptism identifies one outwardly with Christ. They all ate the manna, not that it was spiritual in itself; but it had spiritual significance as speaking of Christ, the true Bread from Heaven. They drank of the spiritual Rock. Again, it is the significance of the Rock that is stressed as being spiritual: the rock was a type of Christ. Not that the rock literally followed them, but the blessing that is symbolized in the water from the rock followed the entire company through the wilderness. "That Rock was Christ." He provided blessing for them, just as today He provides blessing in the circle of Christianity; and all those who profess the name of Christ are in that sphere of blessing outwardly, just as all Israel was outwardly blessed because of association with Moses and the nation.
"But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness." When the test came, they were found lacking: they did not complete the race. If the reality is not present, this will be eventually exposed. If so in Israel, then certainly so in the present day. For these things were types, directly applicable to us, seriously warning us not to lust after evil things, as they did. This is the first of five negatives, and deals with the state of heart that is at the root of all the following evils. The positive antidote to this is of course in maintaining "first love" toward the Person of Christ.
Next, idolatry is warned against. Israel introduced this to have a religious justification for indulging their own appetites and pleasures. They talked about holding a feast "to the Lord" (Ex. 32:5,6); but it was contrary to Him, and a god merely of their own invention. In all idol worship there is necessarily the element of hypocrisy. And whether realized or not, it is actual entertainment of the devil, who uses this means of displacing God.
And fornication follows. If faithfulness to our one Master is compromised, then association with any kind of evil will result. Balaam counselled Balak to use the Moabites to seduce Israel, and they succumbed to this false and evil association. But God hates such mixtures, and in one day twenty-three thousand Israelites died as a result. Numbers 25:9 speaks of 24,000 dying in the plague, but it does not say, in one day. Evidently the other 1,000 died on a different day. Let its remember that spiritual fornication is no less serious than that literal.
Next, we are admonished not to tempt Christ. Israel did this by despising the manna as a light and unsatisfactory food (Num. 21:5). But it is a type of Christ in humiliation as the lowly Son of Man. Playing into Satan's hands by doing his tempting work, they were destroyed of serpents, the symbol of Satanic deceit.
The last of the five admonitions here is no less serious: "Neither murmur ye." The spies of Israel who brought back a report of the land of Canaan mixed with their own murmuring, "died by the plague before the Lord" (Num. 14:36,37). Such murmuring was the dreadful evil of judging God as being untrustworthy in His assurance that he would enable them to conquer the land. Let the believer remember that all mere complaint is in its essence against God. Is He not caring rightly for His people and all their interests? Notice here it is not the serpents destroying, but the destroyer: it was a divine infliction, God's own judgment.
Verse 1 I insists that all these things happened to Israel for types. It is not that they occurred by chance, and are taken as convenient lessons; but that the wisdom of God Himself designed the history in such a way that we should have these specific types from which to learn. While they may not have been written to us, yet they are written specifically for us. In fact, Israel could not realize the significance of these Old Testament types in such a way as can believers today; and we must not lightly estimate their present value. For upon ourselves is come the end of the ages. The probationary ages of conscience, human government, and of law had an end in view, that is, the pure grace of God revealed in the Person of His Son; and we, the recipients of this glorious revelation, are therefore those who, by the Spirit of God, are privileged to benefit the most greatly by past history, which has been designed by God for this very purpose. Let us not ignore or forget a truth so transcendently wonderful.
And one who thinks he stands is warned test he fall. Is his confidence in himself? Peter had this, and he sadly fell, though not as did Judas, who had no faith whatever. For one who is not born again, that confidence in himself only leads to eternal ruin: on the other hand, as to a believer, self-confidence will lead to a painful fall, but for which there is recovery by the grace of God.
So that verse 12 presses the faithfulness of God, and that it is upon this only that we can safely depend. If temptation comes to a believer, it is not a completely new thing: others too have been similarly tried, no matter how unusual the thing may seem. But God will not allow one to be tempted above his ability to endure it. Let us therefore remember God's faithfulness, and depend thoroughly upon it. He will provide a way out in His own time, that the individual may have grace to bear it. The important thing here is the confidence of faith in the Living God that is the opposite of self-confidence. We cannot stand alone, but God is able to make us stand.
Verse 14 sums up this section with the urgent admonition to "flee from idolatry." This goes back to verse 7 as the first manifestation of the inward working of evil, and is in fact the underlying principle involved from the first of chapter 8 to the end of chapter 10. Paul was himself so purposed to be fully for, Christ that no element of idolatry would have a place to enter in; and in this chapter he encourages the Corinthians similarly.
This leads now to the central expression of all true assembly fellowship, the united fellowship of saints with Christ Himself, and with one another, as the body of Christ. Paul appeals to the wisdom they have in Christ Jesus, and asks that they judge wisely as to his words.
Was not the cup in the Lord's supper the fellowship of the blood of Christ? When partaking, one expresses fellowship with the value and significance of the blood of Christ, identification with the atonement fully completed by shedding of that blood. Precious association indeed! And the bread which is broken, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? Certainly, His literal body given for us, in which He suffered agony beyond all thought, is to be considered here, ourselves expressing fellowship with the blessing resulting from His dread sufferings, with hearts drawn in appreciation and thanksgiving.
But verse 17 indicates a further application for us here. Believers being many, are one loaf, one body, all being partakers of that one loaf. This is most striking and important. The breaking of bread is the predominant expression of assembly fellowship. In doing this we are to give expression to fellowship with the entire body of Christ, not with any mere part of it, local or otherwise. This is a basis we must not ever ignore, or we drop into sectarianism. When Paul wrote, separations had not divided the Church into numerous parties, of course, though the attitude of independency and division was threatening harm in Corinth, and had to be reproved. This being the case, how important it was that they get back to the precious recognition of the one sound principle, basic to all unity in the Church of God. We too must pay greatest attention to this crucial matter.
At the present time, every denomination has its distinct and separate basis of gathering; but any basis that is not that of the entire body of Christ worldwide is in its essence sectarian, however good or however poor may be the attitude or spirit of those who gather on such grounds. Many may acknowledge the truth of the one body; and urge that, on this account, there should be interdenominational fellowship; but this is not at all really acknowledging the only basis of fellowship, for in this case, various bases are retained, and their inconsistency with one another ignored. And more seriously, God's basis is ignored, a basis far more important than is our enjoyment of fellowship. Faith therefore would cause the believer to leave every other basis, and gather on God's one basis, not adding anything to the declared truths of Scripture in these matters. The breaking of bread, in these verses, is seen clearly to be not at all individual, but connected with the Assembly, the body of Christ, and it is only rightly observed when its basis of the one body is recognized as its principle of unity, and of gathering.
Israel after the flesh is again used in illustration of these things. When an animal was sacrificed on the altar, those who ate of the sacrifice were thereby identified with the altar. The serious question of association is that which is pressed here. If we are having fellowship with Christ and His body, as expressed in the breaking of bread, is it consistent at the same time to have fellowship with what is contrary to Him?
One might say that an idol anyway was nothing, and therefore there was no significance in any outward identification with it. But this is not correct reasoning. True, the idol is nothing, and meat offered to idols is not actually changed by this. But, behind the idol in every case, is an evil spirit, and the Gentiles, in their idol worship, were sacrificing to demons. Can the believer have any part in this? It is not a question of whether his own conscience is defiled, or his own soul affected; but of his outwardly showing fellowship with an idol. He is outwardly compromising the honor of his Lord.
This principle can certainly be applied to a denominational association. Many denominations have been so mixed with idolatry that any Christian should discern this clearly, and have no fellowship with such things. The very effort to exalt and justify a certain denomination, has in it the element of idolatry; for it puts the denomination in the place of Christ. Certainly we are to love those Christians who may be deceived by such things, but the thing itself we should avoid.
For it is impossible to drink the cup of the Lord, and also the cup of demons: impossible to be partakers of the Lord's table, and also of the table of demons. This is a matter of our true, vital fellowship. It is not here the Lord's supper he is speaking of: this is found later in chapter 11:20-33. But every true believer drinks the cup of the Lord and partakes of the Lord's table by the very fact of his being saved. It is spiritually true the moment one believes, that he eats of the Lord's flesh and drinks of His blood. Compare John 6:53-57. This has become his proper, vital sphere of fellowship. So therefore it is impossible for him to drink the cup of demons or partake of their table. God has in absolute fact delivered him from that realm, to which he cannot return. If God has done this in fullest perfection, then it is only right that our practical actions should be consistent with the established fact.
And they are asked a conscience-searching question: "Do we provoke the Lord to jealously?" Is He not rightly jealous of our giving any honor (honor that belongs to Him) to demons? Or, "are we stronger than He?" Do we think we are strong enough to engage in such mixtures without danger, while God Himself is totally separate from them?
Was it a question of what was merely "lawful"? Indeed, no legal attitude of "touch not, taste not, handle not" is implied at all; for that kind of thing is contrary to Christianity. But were they not wise enough to judge as to what is becoming to those redeemed by the blood of Christ? Did not their own faith and conscience, as well as the Word of God, enlighten them in these matters? Paul at least sought the positive character of things, things expedient or becoming, and that might be for true edification, the building up of souls. A principle of great value here is urged upon the saints: "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth." If the blessing of others is honestly sought, this will itself give a more proper perspective as to my own personal conduct; while mere selfishness will always leave me susceptible to Satanic influence. And let us avoid the subtle suggestion that we are kind and unselfish if we mingle with others in wrong associations: this is neither faithfulness to God, nor actual kindness to others.
The connection here with chapter 8, where this subject began, is evident. If meat was sold in the stores, there was no need to question whether it had been offered to an idol. Certainly this made no difference as to the meat itself, and the Christian has perfect liberty to eat it; "for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." And the believer receives it from the Lord, with thanksgiving.
Or, if a believer accepts an invitation to a meal with an unbeliever, he is to be fully free to eat what is furnished without question. But if his host, or anyone present, were to tell him this had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, then immediately the issue is raised as to whether he will recognize the idol. His informer certainly has this in view, and therefore the believer is not to eat. This is proper care for the informer's conscience. And again it is said, "for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." If my eating would give another the impression that I believed the food was a demon's, and not the Lord's, then I should not eat. So whether eating in the first case, or not eating in the other, the basis of truth for both is identical.
The conscience of another then, not merely my own, should concern me; for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? If I have liberty, let me express it in such a way that the other man's conscience will not judge it. For if my eating would stumble him, then let me use my liberty not to eat, and his conscience will not judge my liberty. If I partake with thanksgiving to God, why should I do it in such a way that another will have occasion to speak evil of me on account of the very thing for which I give thanks?
So that, as well as the consideration of another's conscience, there is the question of the glory of God involved here. For His glory is certainly a supreme consideration in the way we represent Him before men. "Do all things to the glory of God" is a sobering, steadying reminder for our souls. Our conduct should give no occasion of stumbling to any, whether Jews, Gentiles, or the Church of God. They are all God's creatures, and my own comfort and pleasure is secondary to the proper welfare of their souls. Paul was the example in this self-sacrificing attitude of pleasing all men in all things. This is, of course, not pleasing men as subject to their domination, or as merely seeking human approval (as is fully refuted in Gal. 1:10); but as genuinely seeking the purest good of their souls, that they may be saved. He would not compromise the truth of God for anyone, but he would give up his own personal advantage for the sake of any, if it might bring them to God.
Chapters 11 to 14 no longer consider the question of testimony or conduct as before the world, but rather the conduct, order, unity that is becoming in the Assembly, the body of Christ. Yet this is introduced, not with direct reference to the gathering of the Assembly (which begins with verse 17), but with the basic truths of God's order in creation. For if this first and lower is ignored, then how can the higher be rightly kept'?
But verse 1 preserves the continuity from chapter 10. As Paul followed Christ in his self-sacrificing devotion to the glory of God, so he exhorts saints to follow him; not to be tinder his domination, but to follow his example. And he commends them for keeping him in such remembrance as to keep the instructions he had given them, no doubt as to their assembly character. He is glad to give such commendation first, though correction was necessary in some things.
They must be reminded that the head of every man is Christ. Adam had this place, but through sin has forfeited it. Now Christ, since He is Creator, coming as Man into His own creation, is rightly given the place of "Firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15,16). He is the One Man who can be trusted as Head of every man. "And the head of the woman is the man." This has been true from the time God created them; and 1 Tim. 2:14 adds to this the fact that "the woman being deceived was in the transgression." But beside this, "the head of Christ is God." It' we should resent being in subjection to a "head," let us consider well that Christ who is Himself "equal with God," has come down in grace to take the Servant's place, in lowly subjection to the supreme will of God. This being true, is it difficult for a believer to gladly accept the place God gives in subjection to whatever headship God has established? These fundamental principles the apostle lays down as basic to that which follows. Too frequently there are those who quarrel with the following conclusions because they have not properly considered the basics, which are so deeply important and precious.
The man in praying or prophesying with his head covered, dishonors his head, that is, he dishonors Christ, outwardly. His own physical head is typical of Christ, and Christ is to be manifested, not covered. Let the man express this. On the other hand, if a woman prays or prophesies without a head covering, she dishonors her head, that is, she outwardly dishonors the man. How does she do this? By virtually putting the man in the place of Christ! For her head is typical of the man, who should not be manifested, but covered. It is not he himself who should be uncovered, but his head. The man himself should be covered, but his head uncovered. The woman should not only herself be covered, but her head covered also because it is typical of the man.
For if the woman's head is not covered, it is the same as if she were shaven. For it is in the very nature of things that God has given her long hair, to indicate the fact of her subjection to the headship of man; and if she refuses to use a covering to acknowledge this on her own part, then why not also reject God's testimony to her subjection by shaving her head? But of course it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven. Then let her be covered. Surely it is no burdensome bondage for a woman who loves the Lord to simply put on a head covering at times of prayer or prophesying.
Verse 7 indicates that the important matter is that God's glory should be manifested, not the glory of the man. Man is said here to be "God's image and glory," that is, that he represents God who is in fact revealed in the Person of Christ. "But the woman is the glory of the man;" and this glory is not that to be displayed: indeed it is her very glory to be in lowly subjection that seeks no public place.
For in creation the woman was made from the man, not the reverse; and she was created for the man. Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that God ordered it so, and nothing can change it. And for this reason the woman ought to have on her head that which signifies her subjection to authority. It is interesting too that angels are introduced as being concerned witnesses of this. They are also members of God's creation, having their own distinct place, - neither male nor female, - but interested to observe how God's order is carried out on earth. This emphasizes for us the fact that there is a unity in God's creation such as should encourage our walking in thorough harmony with its overall order.
Some have objected that since, "In Christ Jesus" "there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28), then these things may now be ignored, but this is merely using one side of the truth as a denial of the other. "In Christ" we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, and our position also is in the heavenlies; but by the very fact of our still being on earth we have a decided connection with the first creation, and cannot ignore its order without serious consequences. Such objectors would in effect tell us that God ought not to have included this chapter (and many others) in His Word! Indeed,
they have no proper discernment of either side of the truth.
Verses 11 and 12 show however, that the man and the woman are the complement of one another: it is not that the man is a dictator and the woman a slave: each is necessary in his or her place for the maintenance of the human race. If the woman came from man in the beginning, yet ever since then the man has been "by the woman." "But all things of God." His wisdom and work is supreme in every aspect of creation.
Verses 13 and 14 make an appeal to the believer's sense of propriety. One's own proper discernment should lead to the conclusion that a woman ought not to pray to God uncovered. Even nature teaches that if a man have long hair, it is a shame to him, but it is a glory to a woman to have long hair. It is true that many ignore this evident voice of nature; but there is no excuse for a Christian to do so. In many areas custom has dulled this sense of propriety, but faith should certainly restore its keen edge.
Some would argue that since a woman's hair is given her for a covering, there is no need of any other covering, but this assumption ignores the force of the entire passage. The apostle is rather showing that, since God has on His part given her the covering of long hair to indicate her place of subjection, then on her part she is to acquiesce in this, by using a covering on her head.
But the Spirit of God has anticipated the fact that in this matter some would be contentious; and the subject is decidedly closed by the declaration that the apostles had no such custom of being contentious. God has spoken: they had declared the truth of God: they will not descend to the level of merely arguing over it. And the assemblies of God are not to be in any wise contentious either; but to obey the Word of God.
Verse 17 now begins the subject of order in the actual gathering of the assembly. This is local, of course, but is to be the expression locally of the unity of the entire body of Christ. Corinth was faulty as to this matter. Paul could not commend them in their coming together, for their very gathering was a detriment to unity, rather than a help. Did they come together only to show that they were divided? In the breaking of bread particularly this was a serious shame; for the loaf itself symbolizes the unity of the entire one body of Christ, as we have seen in chapter 10:17.
Verse 19 shows that heresies (or sects) would inevitably arise among saints because of our own sinful natures, just as in Matthew 18:7, "It must needs be that offences come." The "sects" here are differing shades of opinion based upon a one-sided view of the truth. Certainly we have no excuse for these, but they will arise. But if so, then will this not make manifest those who do not take part in such sectarian contention, but seek honourably the unity of saints by a well balanced view and presentation of the truth? Today of course, men have justified their sects by separations into innumerable denominations. Yet even then they will denounce the sectarian spirit of others who do not fraternize with them! But an avowed sectarian position is far worse than a sectarian attitude. Still, we want neither the one nor the other, nor sectarian action either. Both sectarian practice and a sectarian attitude are strongly reproved here. If this had been heeded by the church generally, then sectarian separations would not have developed, with their denominational distinctions. And if these are justified, then it is impossible to avoid sectarian practice; for in this case one takes the adamant position that evil is good.
The Corinthians are told that, though they came together with the purpose of eating the Lord's supper, they were not really doing so at all. Some were eating before others, and independently: one remained hungry, another drinking to excess. There was evidently a so-called "love-feast" held in connection with the breaking of bread; and instead of giving the Lord's supper a place distinctly apart, with all engaging unitedly; apparently in the very place of gathering, they were broken into groups in their eating and drinking. It was an aggravated case, but yet illustrates the attitude that may too easily infect any of the people of God. But if they wanted to eat and drink independently of others in the assembly could they not do this in their homes? They were despising the Church of God, and shaming others less privileged than themselves.
The Lord's supper is a most sacred institution, and shown here to have first importance of all the gatherings of the assembly. Paul had personally received from the Lord the truth concerning it, as a special revelation for the sake of the Assembly. Other apostles still living had been present, as Paul had not, at the actual institution of the supper; but Paul did not simply consult them: the Lord Himself had given him this, for he had been chosen as special minister to the Church. Others had been sent to baptize: he had not: the breaking of bread was to him a much more vital and important matter. The solemnity, the stark reality, the tender feeling that pervades the atmosphere of the Lord's institution of the supper, is in this account intended to affect the believing heart in such a way as to both thank and adore the Lord Jesus, and to do so in purest unity with the Assembly, which is His body.
It is not that, when we so gather, we can stir up feelings of worship within ourselves, but that we are simply to remember Him. And essentially we remember Him as the One come from the eternal glory He had with the Father, down to the suffering and agony of Calvary, the dreadful death of the curse of God. The bread and the cup, separate from each other, emphasize this solemnly. And what child of God can reflect on this without his soul being drawn out in thankful worship? Yet it is not said we remember His death, but we remember Him, and we announce His death. Every such occasion is a fresh, public announcement, for every observer, angels or men, of the blessed death of our Lord. But if it is He Himself who so draws the heart, this cannot but produce both worship and unity on the part of those gathered.
It is not to be practiced without the fellowship of the assembly. Some have conceived the thought of having the Lord's supper independently of the assembly on any occasion that may arise, but this is wrong. If one of the saints were for some time sick or incapacitated, there is surely no objection to others of the assembly going to have breaking of bread with him, so long as this is in full fellowship with the assembly, with all of the assembly welcome to be present, if they so desired, and were able. But our chapter reproves all independent practice in the Lord's supper.
In verse 27 it is the manner of eating - eating and drinking unworthily - that is so serious. A selfish, inconsiderate attitude that ignored other beloved saints of God, was insulting to the body and blood of the Lord: the offender is said to be "guilty." It is not here a question of one being personally unworthy, but of the way he acts at the Lord's supper. Each one in the assembly, therefore, is called upon to judge himself (for this is the force of the word "examine"), and in this spirit of self-judgment to eat. He is not told to examine himself to find whether he should eat or not, but after judging himself, to eat. This is of course one already in the assembly, not someone coming from outside.
For if one eats in a selfish, independent manner, he eats and drinks judgment to himself, "not discerning the Lord's body." This was a reason in Corinth for the Lord's chastening hand upon them, many being weak and sickly, and many also taken away by death. God would not allow a matter of this kind to be treated lightly. If they would judge themselves, then He would not have judged them in this way. But when the necessity was there, the Lord would chasten because they were His own, and not leave this to the time when He will condemn the world.
When they are told, then, to "tarry one for another," the force of this is evident. There is to be such dependence upon the Lord that this makes for an interdependence among the saints, a true consideration of each other. We must guard against pressing ourselves forward, yet also against leaving responsibility entirely to others. If it was the physical appetite that needed satisfying, this was to be done at home, so that mere selfish desires would not enter into the sacred feast of the Lord. These things at least they must correct, and other things Paul would set in order when he came.
The Lord's supper has been first considered, being the most important of all gatherings, because it is for the united expression of the affections of the saints toward Him. Now ministry toward the saints is in view in chapter 12. For this the Lord manifested Himself by the Spirit's work in saints. And we must not be ignorant as regards spiritual manifestations, for evil spirits are adept at simulating the work of the Spirit of God. The Corinthians had themselves known this in their former idolatry. Verse 3 lays down the basic principle as to ministry in the assembly. Did it depreciate the name of Jesus? Of course, an evil spirit might not in so many words directly call Jesus accursed, for he might do this indirectly, so that everyone might not at first discern it. On the other hand, does the ministry of any man show evidence of acknowledging the Lordship of Christ? It is not simply in the fact of once saying that Jesus is Lord, and then going on to deny it in his following words. The saints were solemnly responsible to judge soberly as regards all that was spoken. Compare chapter 14:29. And certainly it must be understood if they were to judge as to it. That ministry that rightly owned the Lordship of Jesus was by the Spirit of God.
Each of these manifestations were different, but all by "the same Spirit," not diverse spirits, as in the case of demon activity. Diversity in gift, but unity in function is most emphatic here. This verse deals with the actual, vital possession of gift by the power of the Spirit.
Verse 5 is not the question of power, but of authority. It is one Lord who is in authority over the various administrations, each gift given its proper place, and ordered in unity with the others. For the possession of gift does not give one authority to use it as he pleases, but only in subjection to the Lord.
Verse 6 now adds the thought of "diversities of operations," the working out of these things, and in this case it is the supremacy of God in sovereign wisdom working out His will. When considering gifts given to His saints, how good to begin with these basic facts of the power of the Spirit, the authority of the Lord, the supremacy of God. For in the Trinity we see wonderful diversity, yet absolute, precious unity.
Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every believer, for its profitable use. None of us can excuse ourselves therefore, in feeling that we have no gift. Each gift certainly is different, but each necessary. There are nine gifts now listed, though we must not consider this a complete list, for another viewpoint of gift is found in Romans 12:6-8; and a still differing viewpoint in Ephesians 4:11-16. But here he is pressing the practical functioning of the Assembly in unity, by the indwelling Spirit, each gift being given for the profit of the Assembly, the body of Christ.
"The word of wisdom" is put before that of knowledge, for wisdom is the proper application of knowledge to whatever circumstances. One may be far wiser in his use of knowledge than another whose knowledge is greater. But "the word of knowledge" has its important place too, for it is no virtue to be ignorant. It is "the same Spirit" that gives each his gift: we must therefore not despise any. "Faith" here is seen too as a special gift, so that it is not the same Ephesians 2:10, where every believer is included, when faith is seen as "the gift of God." In our present case rather the_ "faith" spoken of is that unusual boldness of confidence Godward, that stands out in the energy by which it depends on God for His definite answers. Some are particularly gifted in this way.
"The gifts of healing" now indicate compassion manward. In the early church these sign-gifts were evident. But more important than the sign-gift is that which it signifies. Bodily healing is all very well, if it is the will of God; but how much more vital is the spiritual healing of discord, ruptures, schisms among the saints of God! How precious indeed if one has a gift for this kind of work!
"The working of miracles" is another sign-gift. In this would be included the blinding of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8-11), and cases of casting out of demons. But if we see no one today literally gifted in this way, yet there are those who may have special gift for the virtually miraculous removal of obstacles to spiritual blessing, perhaps so ministering the Word as to totally change the attitude of one formerly opposed or rebellious. "Prophecy" is "forthtelling," not necessarily "foretelling," but giving the Word of God suitable for the immediate occasion, to have an effect upon hearts and consciences. "Discerning of spirits" is that spiritual discernment that recognizes in any given ministry whether it is totally the work of the Spirit of God, or whether in any measure an evil spirit may be involved. It may be a quiet gift, not at all one for public speaking, but is deeply important.
"Kinds of tongues" is next. These of course are intelligible languages, unknown naturally to the speaker, but in which he was given ability to speak his own thoughts. In any true sense of what these were, no doubt they have ceased; but being another sign-gift, its significance remains emphatically for us. They were first given in Acts 2 to promote an understanding between those naturally unable to communicate. The Corinthians were using such gifts in the interests of factions and of self-exaltation, but all gift is given for the opposite reason, that of unity and understanding. Though we do not have this gift literally today, yet are there not those who are gifted with such grace as to encourage a proper understanding and fellowship between saints naturally aloof from one another? How much better is this than speaking in a way that none can understand!
"The interpretation of tongues" involves an explanation of what was not understood by some, at least. This was a sign gift also, and a spiritual application would be that of making more plain for some the ministry of another, which tended to be difficult for uninstructed saints. Let us remember that all gift has the blessing of the body of Christ in view, not by any means merely that of the person gifted. And all of these are the work of "the selfsame Spirit," whose object is unity in His diversely giving each his special function, "as He will."
For as our human spirit controls the function of our bodies, so the Spirit of God is the animating power of every member of the body of Christ. The body is one: it has many members; yet all unitedly are one body. "So also is the Christ." This certainly is not merely local: it includes the entire body of Christ worldwide, though of course the local assembly is intended to give expression to it.
Verse 13 is most important as the basis of all true unity among saints. Though "the baptism of the Spirit" is spoken of six times previously to this, and every time referring to the public coming of the Spirit in the book of Acts, yet this verse is the only one that explains what is accomplished by the baptism of the Spirit. It refers to the initial forming of the one body of Christ by the coming of the Spirit, uniting all believers, Jews and Gentiles, in one. It is not, therefore, a personal blessing, but a collective one, the property of the entire body of Christ. The Spirit has endowed every believer with many personal blessings too; but this is corporate. The word "baptism" is used because it implies burial; the burial of all mere natural differences, national, social, cultural, or whatever. Then, drinking into one Spirit, they become one indeed. Of course, as believers are added to the body of Christ, they participate in the already established "baptism of the Spirit:" they are not given any independent "baptism."
But the body has many members, each different, and each necessary in its own place. Can the foot excuse itself from use because it is not the hand? Does walk have no place because it is not work? Or because the ear is not as prominent as the eye, is it therefore unnecessary? Is receiving a report unimportant because it is not personal observation by sight? These verses show that no child of God ever has any excuse for not functioning in unity with the rest of the body of Christ. And verse 17 adds that if the eye is essential (observation), so is the hearing (communication), and the smelling (perception). Whether one is prominent or not makes no difference: it is God who has set every member in its own place in the body, not by our preference, but "as it has pleased Him." If I were disposed to prefer a different function, let me consider that if I were able to change, I would very soon prefer something else. God knows better what is good for me than I do.
Verse 14 has stressed the fact of many members, now verse 20 emphasizes, "yet one body." Verses 15 and 16 have reproved any excusing of oneself from responsibility: now verses 21 to 26 strongly reprove any attitude of despising of any member of the body. "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee." The eye lets in the light; but is light (even spiritual light) sufficient of itself, without the conformable actions of the hand? The one may apprehend true principle, but the other is needed for true practice. Or can the head dispense with the feet? In other words, is intellect sufficient, apart from a consistent walk? Indeed, to reject one member would be to cripple the body. Some members may seem to be more feeble. We have never even seen our windpipe: could we easily dispense with it, or refuse it permission to function for ten minutes?
And most of our apparent members we cover with clothing, to give them more abundant honor. Are they not as essential as the head and the hands? Our very concern for them is a witness that we should similarly be concerned for every weakest member of the body of Christ, to give them honor, if they have not been publicly honoured by a prominent gift and function. The more quiet and obscure the gift, the more encouragement we ought to give that person: those more publicly gifted do not need the same encouragement, though they need our prayers. It is God who has tempered the body together, fitting each member in its place of interdependency and interactivity in conjunction with all other members. And in doing so, He has manifested an evident real care and concern for the most feeble member.
So there is no excuse for division in the body. The natural body just does not function in any divided condition, an example for ourselves as to having impartial care for every member.
If one member of the physical body suffers, the person suffers, which includes all his members. We may not see clearly how this applies to the entire body of Christ, but is it not through the head that all communication comes, and all feeling is registered? Christ is affected by the suffering of any single member, and in this way, so is the rest of the body of Christ affected, whether or not we intellectually realize it. And the same is true in reference to the blessing or honor one member may receive: the other members rejoice, for they are blessed also. Let us think of it in this way, and all selfish envy will be honestly judged.
It is interesting that verse 27 is properly translated, "now ye are body of Christ, and members in particular." For the Corinthians were not the entire body of Christ, so that the definite article could not rightly be used. The people of New York City might be told, "You are Americans," in order to alert them as to their responsibility as American citizens. They could not be told, "You are the Americans," for they are but a small part, yet responsible to act in a way that would rightly represent the American nation. Just so, each local assembly is but a small representation of the entire body of Christ, and of course to act in unity as a credit to the whole. And each individual is a "member in particular."
Verse 28 speaks then of gifts given to the body of Christ as a whole, not of the local assembly. For certainly an apostle was not an apostle of a local assembly, but an apostle everywhere. No gift is merely local, though the charge of elder or deacon is only local. Note here that there is emphasis on the order of the gifts, "first," "secondarily," "thirdly," and "after that." Apostles are first because they were sent with distinctive authority from God, with the main object of establishing the Church on the basis of that authority. None of the other gifts could possibly take this place. Certainly today there is no living apostle to take such authority; but we have them still in the Scriptures they have left to us, in which alone is the absolute authority of God. But submission to Him is of first importance.
Prophets are mentioned secondarily: these bring home the truth of God to consciences and hearts: their function is giving the message at the time necessary for the need of souls, in order to encourage obedience to the Word of God. Teachers are third, for they enlighten the mind. While the intelligence must certainly be instructed, yet the conscience and heart must first be reached. These three are fundamental to all proper functioning of the body in unity, and they must have precedence over those that follow. Some today put the last mentioned gifts in the most important place, and sad confusion is the result. But the words "after that" are intended to mean just what they say.
Miracles" deal with the power to overcome obstacles that may hinder true blessing in the assembly. "Then gifts of healing," no doubt in Corinth literally present, are significant of spiritual healing of ruptures, discord, etc. "Helps" is next, no doubt unpretentious, yet of precious value. "Governments" would of course imply the sober wisdom and balance so necessary in keeping godly order among saints. And last of all, "diversities of tongues." It was these in particular that the Corinthians were emphasizing, and using to please themselves, yet God puts them in the last place. No doubt they have ceased today, literally speaking; but their significance of promoting godly understanding among those naturally separated has real meaning for us.
The questions of verses 29 and 30 of course are intended to imply negative answers. No more did all speak with tongues or interpret than were all apostles or teachers. Yet they are encouraged to desire earnestly the best gifts, This is not that each individual is to desire this in order to rival others, but rather the assembly was to desire earnestly that the best gifts should be in godly exercise in the assembly. As to the regulating principle in desiring gifts, however, chapter 14:12 is plain: "Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church." Gift is given for the good of others, not for my own satisfaction. And the apostle adds, "Yet show I unto you a more excellent way." More excellent than gift itself is the genuine spirit of love in which it should be consistently exercised. Chapter 13 considers this.
Verses I to 3 of this chapter show the necessity of love; verses 4 to 7 the characteristics of love; and verses 8 to 13 its permanence.
And in the first section, verse I deals with what I speak; verse 2 with what I have; and verse 3 with what I do. Though spoken in most sublime language, "tongues of men or of angels," my words are merely as a brass sounding instrument or a clanging cymbal, if love is not present. The warmth and reality of a proper personal element is lacking: this cannot rightly represent God. Or if one possesses the excellent gift of prophecy, and is exceptionally well taught; and though faith is such as to remove mountainous obstacles, yet if love is not the power in which this is exercised, "I am nothing." In such cases the motive for using the gift is selfish: it is not that of genuine concern for others, and for the glory of God. Thus, in my every effort to be something, "I am nothing."
And verse 3 still more strongly indicates the importance of proper motives. For one may do remarkably good things, as giving all his goods to feed the poor, or giving his body to be burned in martyrdom, and yet be lacking in the genuine motive of love in so doing. A philanthropist may give merely to draw attention to his liberal character; or one may give liberally in order to salve a bad conscience, troubled because his wealth has not been honestly gained. But let the believer always be moved by love toward the Lord, and toward others.
Otherwise his works will bring no real profit to himself. One may be a martyr too, simply from a strong-willed determination not to give in to his oppressor; but this is not pure love toward Him who alone is worthy of the sacrifice of our lives.
But what is love? Verses 4 to 7 show how it expresses itself. It suffers long, and in suffering still remains kind. It "envieth not," for it is honestly glad that another is favoured. Nor does it vaunt itself: unseemly advertising of oneself is not love for others. "Is not puffed up." However one may be used of God, if love is the motive, he will not be thinking of his own importance, but still of the need of others. Its conduct is not unseemly, not offensive to any sense of decency. It does not seek its own, for it is an outflowing stream. Nor is it easily provoked, because not occupied with its personal feelings. And it does not suppose evil, apart, of course from manifest evidence. It rejoices not in evil, but in the truth: being genuinely ungrudging. Believing all things is being not suspicious without clear reason; then even when things seem to the contrary, love continues to hope all things. And finally it endures all things: it does not give up.
Verses 8 to 13 now deal with love's permanence. It never fails. So it is put in contrast to prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecy is only for a condition in which souls require edification, exhortation, comfort. Even in the millennium, prophecy will no longer be necessary (Zech. 13:2-5).
Tongues would cease. After they had fulfilled their purpose, God would no longer communicate this as a gift. Indeed, they are not even mentioned again in Scripture after the writing of Corinthians, and it seems that they very early disappeared. Their purpose was simply temporary, for the
establishing of the Church in unity at the beginning.
Knowledge also, in the way in which we gain it today, shall be done away. It is not that we shall no longer be intelligent, but that at present there is constant exercise necessary in gradually gathering the knowledge of spiritual things, learning from the viewpoint of our own imperfect, partial knowledge. Not one of us can see things totally objectively, from the viewpoint of the perfect, overall knowledge of God. And our prophesying too is "in part." It should humble us always to remember this, so that we do not dare to make the ministry of any man a set standard for doctrine or practice. We are only servants, limited to a very small sphere.
But when, in the presence of the Lord, we have reached the state of perfection, or of full maturity, then all that is merely partial will have fulfilled its purpose, and therefore be no longer necessary.
Verse 11 illustrates our present, immature condition by that of childhood. A child's viewpoint is totally different from that of a man: it is necessarily restricted to his own small sphere of observation or instruction. He speaks as a child, and perhaps properly too, in accordance with his knowledge, but it is very limited, as is our own ministry of the Word of God. Conceptions and feelings too in childhood are necessarily childish, for they are formed by this limited knowledge. And reasoning also takes its character from this: I do not reason as an adult until I become one. But just as a maturing adult puts away childish things, so in glory will we leave behind such limitations.
Another illustration in verse 12 emphasizes this. At present we see as through a mirror in an enigma, but then face to face. Spiritual things now are learned with the help of reflections, types, symbols, and faith of course must be in exercise to discern in its measure the significance of all these teaching aids. It is not like seeing the object itself, but its reflection as in a mirror. We learn what the Church of God is by symbols, such as the Pearl of Great Price, the Building of God, the One Flock, the One Body, the Epistle of Christ, the Bride, and the Holy City. Thus now we gradually learn; but then what may seem too abstract to us now, will be seen in its full reality and blessedness.
This is not the same as 2 Corinthians 3:18, for there the words, "in a glass" are not included in more correct translations. For in that case, it is not merely spiritual things in view, but "looking on the glory of the Lord." There is no veil between, no hindrance whatever to the eye of faith in seeing the glory of the Person of Christ at God's right hand, and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. This is not partial knowledge.
But our partial knowledge of the truth will give place to knowledge in the measure in which "I am known." This is not by any means omniscience (knowing all things), but knowing all that relates to my position and condition in manhood, as God knows it. This of course involves a great deal more than is seen on the surface; and all will be seen then in a perfect perspective, not influenced by our present limited, unbalanced condition. These are necessary reminders when considering the actual exercise of ministry in chapter 14.
At present, faith, hope, and love are all essential in both practical life and in ministry. "But the greatest of these is love." It will of course abide in eternal beauty and fullness and sweetness, long after faith gives place to sight; and when hope has realized its precious, perfect fulfillment in eternal glory. For "God is love:" this is His very nature; and through knowing the love of Christ, we are "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 2:19). We shall know Him in His full outflow of unhindered love, no longer through trial and sorrow and experiences that humble the heart, precious as these are too in our present conditions of learning by experience. But if His love has so proven its preciousness in His absence, what indeed will be its fullness in His blessed presence?
Chapter 12 has shown the placing of every gift in its own place in the body by the Spirit of God. Chapter 13 insists on love as the pervading influence for unity and peace in the functioning of the body. It has been likened to the oil that lubricates machinery to enable it to run smoothly and without friction. Now chapter 14 deals with the actual functioning of the body, each member in service toward each other.
Along with love, it is good to desire spiritual gifts, but prophesying is emphasized in the case of the assembly being gathered together, as is the subject here (v. 23). "Tongues" is treated here as in contrast to prophecy, not because it was forbidden, but because inferior to prophecy. It was a sign gift, and the Corinthians were so attracted by its miraculous character as to ignore its significance, which was more important than the gift itself.
Verse 2 is by no means a doctrinal statement of what is properly true in God's giving the gift of tongues; but speaks of the case of one speaking in the assembly, where the Corinthians were all of one language (Greek). If one should use the gift of tongues there, no one would understand him. He would be speaking to God, no doubt, and to himself, for only God and himself would understand. Compare verse 28. In the Spirit he would be speaking mysteries - not mysteries to himself or to God, but to the assembly. And I must seriously remember that gift is not given merely for my own blessing, but for the help of others. We shall understand much better the force of this chapter if we keep in mind that we are here considering the gathering of the assembly, and that which is becoming as regards ministry for the sake of all.
How much more valuable then was prophecy, which brings edification (building up), exhortation (stirring up), and comfort (binding up), all of which are so necessary for the assembly. For one who spoke in a tongue edified himself because he understood, but did not edify the assembly, because the assembly did not understand. The tongue here is a genuine language, just as is seen in Acts 2:6, but one which the speaker did not normally understand. The wonder of the gift was that God gave him ability to speak his own thoughts, by the power of the Spirit, in this foreign language, he himself being in thorough control of his words. The value of this in speaking to a foreigner whose language this was, is evident, as Acts 2 shows; and in this respect Paul spoke with tongues more than others; but in the assembly, where aIl understood Greek, other tongues were unnecessary (vv. 18,19).
Yet Paul does not belittle the true gift of tongues. He would be glad if all were blessed with the gift (to be used of course in godly propriety), rather than to use no gift whatever. This of course clearly indicates that the Corinthians did not all speak with tongues. But he would still rather see them prophesying than speaking with tongues, for this was a greater gift, no doubt because it was more useful for the assembly, unless the one who spoke in a tongue also interpreted, in order to edify the assembly. The understanding of the assembly is the consideration most emphasized here.
Paul could very well have spoken in tongues to the Corinthians, but asks, if so, "What shall I profit you?" And he lists four aspects of ministry that would be profitable. Revelation is what is distinctly revealed by the Spirit of God to the vessel for the time. It is not a mystery, but the opposite, for it is made known. Knowledge is that previously learned, ; and intelligently communicated. Prophesying is the ministry;' of the truth that appeals to heart and conscience, rather than primarily to intellect. Doctrine or teaching is laying a solid foundation of truth, and requires understanding.
Even men, in making musical instruments, do not intend them to be merely noisemakers, though the Corinthians were using tongues as though God had designed them to be used with no discrimination. If, when serious danger threatens, the military trumpeter blows a confused jargon on his trumpet, who can possibly take to heart the message? Similarly, if one did not use distinct speech, understandable to others, he would be merely speaking into the air. This is a reproof too to those who like to use university language, with unusual words and involved sentences, in speaking to the common people: he might as well be silent unless he explains simply what he means.
Verses 10 and I1 show that whatever tongue it was with which God gifted a man, it was a genuine language, of which there were many kinds in the world, and all of them significant to someone, but not to everyone. For if one did not know the meaning of my voice, 1 should be to him as a barbarian, and he to me: there is no fellowship because no understanding.
Verse 12 gives an excellent regulating principle in reference to all gifts. If we zealously desire spiritual gifts, let it be honestly with the object of the trite edification of the assembly. My own blessing, or joy, or prominence are most unworthy motives: others are in need: I should be concerned as to their need being properly met.
Verse 13 shows clearly that one might have the gift of tongues while not having the gift of interpretation. But he could pray for this. Some have insisted that if he could not interpret, then he could not have understood what he was saying. But this is totally wrong. There are many who understand two languages, and yet have no ability to exactly translate from one language into the other. So these two gifts were distinct, though one might possibly have both. If one had spoken his own thoughts in a foreign tongue, by the power of the Spirit, he would very likely find himself completely unable to express the thoroughly identical things in his own language, unless he was gifted by the Spirit of God to interpret. No doubt God used this means to humble the vessel, for the Corinthians illustrate man's tendency to use such gifts to exalt self.
Verse 14 has often been wrongly interpreted through inattention to what the verse actually says. If Paul prayed in an actual tongue, his spirit prayed. If his spirit prayed, then he knew what he was praying, for "what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him?" (I Cor. 2:11). But his understanding was unfruitful. Some have said this means he did not understand; but this is transparently wrong. Unfruitful means not bearing fruit. So if in the assembly I pray in a tongue unknown to the assembly, though I understand myself, yet my understanding is not bearing fruit in the understanding of others.
The force of this is emphasized in the following verses. Praying and singing with the understanding has reference to using words that others can understand, so that the unlearned can say Amen when another gives thanks. If he does not understand, he cannot do this. It will be noted that praying, blessing, and giving of thanks are practically synonymous here. One may give thanks well, with both he and God understanding what he says, but "the other is not edified."
Paul spoke with tongues more than did all the Corinthians. No doubt in his journeys to foreign lands, God gave him ability to speak to foreigners so as to be understood. The value of the gift of tongues in this case is evident. Yet in the assembly ten thousand words in a tongue would be of less value in his eyes than five words spoken with his understanding. This he explains immediately as that which is teaching understandable to others. It is using his understanding in the bearing of fruit.
Their misuse of tongues was childish, and Paul admonishes them not to be children in understanding; yet in malice he tells them to be children. Let us observe the warning here that misuse of gifts, rather than evincing love for others, will tend rather toward malice, that which undermines true unity and love. A little child has no such attitude. In my attitude then let me have the simplicity of a child, but in understanding be "perfect," or mature. And the understanding here is not merely personal, but that which promotes understanding among saints of God.
Isaiah 28:11,12 is quoted in verse 21, referring to Israel's being humbled by the domination of foreign nations over them, on account of their proud rebellion against God. God would use foreign tongues to humble them, not to exalt them: He sought by this means to awaken them from their unbelief; yet they would not hear. Now God had given Israel a fresh sign as to speaking in tongues, Gentile languages being used in the proclamation of the gospel of grace, indicating that the gospel was not merely for Israel, but for all the world. It was a sign therefore specially for Jews (Cf. ch. 1:22), given for the time being, for the establishing of Christianity as being of God. And unbelieving Israel still would not hear.
How clear an illustration is this of the fact that tongues are a sign, not for believers, as verse 22 declares. But prophesying is as manifestly not for unbelievers, but for believers.
Verse 23 therefore insists that in a gathering of the assembly, if one should come in who was untaught or an unbeliever, and heard the saints speaking in tongues unknown to the assembly, he would consider them mentally unbalanced. Of course, if he knew the language spoken, there would be value in this; but when it is evident that all know one language, then it is vain to use a language some do not know. If a tongue were used outside the assembly, where a foreigner may hear in his own language, this was certainly a sign that would have some effect upon unbelievers.
But if in the assembly the saints prophesy, giving intelligent ministry to stir up the hearts and consciences of believers, then an unbeliever coming in, if at all honest, would recognize that there was true reality: God was manifestly among them. The truth itself (not necessarily the simple gospel) would have the effect of conviction to the man's conscience, and specially so when saints are pressing home the truth to one another's hearts and consciences - not at all with the unbeliever in mind. Truth honestly given to apply with sober reality to believers may make manifest the secrets of an unbeliever's heart to himself: his conscience is reached, though the Word is not directed at him.
Verse 26 questions their practice in coming together. Was it consistent with the principles laid down? All were evident, quite forward in contributing, whether a Psalm, a doctrine, tongue, or an interpretation. He does not reprove this fact but presses that the use of these should be for edification. I one spoke in a tongue, he must leave time for at least on more, but three was the limit, and one must interpret. Two or three comprises sufficient witness, for this is intended to be a proper backing up of a message, not of course contrary, or it is no witness. It would seem almost unnecessary to add, "and that by course," but our own day has proven, through the disorderliness of many, how imperative is the need of being told that only one is to speak at one time. If there were no interpreter, then whatever message one had in a tongue, he was to keep silence, being permitted only to speak inaudibly to himself and to God, for only he and God could understand.
As to prophecy, while this was more valuable than tongues, yet only two or three were to speak at one meeting. Two were necessary for a witness and three were sufficient: more than this would be redundance. Others in the assembly were to judge. This is not of course merely in criticism, but in discernment of the truth and spiritual value of the message, just as Paul asked them in 1 Corinthians 10:15: "I speak as to wise men: judge ye what I say."
If one was speaking, and the Spirit of God revealed a message to another, the first was not to prolong his message, but give time for the other. It might be asked how the first would know of the second message. Would the Spirit of God not give exercise of heart to him along this very line, so that he would have grace to know when to stop? Let each therefore have grace not only to speak when so led, but also to keep silence when God so leads.
Verse 31 then indicates that all could be concerned in this matter, each public gift free to function one by one, not of course aIl during one meeting, but in various meetings; that all may learn, and all be encouraged. This was not to be left to two or three brethren, for they also needed ministry for their own souls, and in this aIl ought to contribute.
But verses 32 and 33 are a necessary addition here. Let no one be so carried away in his speaking as to claim he could not help himself from speaking as he does. This is not the general method of the Spirit of God. We may see such an exceptional case as that of the false prophet Balaam (Num. 23,24), where he was compelled of God to bless rather than curse Israel, as he had desired; but in the assembly the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets themselves. One is at all times to have rule over his own spirit, being fully responsible for what he says. For the Spirit of God works in full conjunction with the spirit of the prophet, using him with the fullest coordination of his own capabilities, intelligence, personality, conscience, emotions. An evil spirit cannot do this, but seeks to so control his victim that the victim has no rule over what he says, and often does not even know what he says.
But God at all times holds us responsible for what comes from our mouths. He is not the author of confusion, but of peace. Prophets who wrote Scripture were completely preserved from error in doing so, though at the time they did not realize this, as Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 7:8; and the prophets must ever maintain a lowly distrust of themselves, and faith in the Living God that will work for unity and consideration of one another, the peace of proper communion. This was normal for all the assemblies of the saints, and therefore imperative today. One must always be prepared to answer for what he says, and willing to have his words tested by the truth of Scripture; for he is preserved from error only insofar as he and his ministry are subject to the written Word.
Let us observe that in all the instruction of this chapter, no mention is made explicitly of the leading of the Spirit of God. Yet certainly only the leading of the Spirit of God should move each individual in the assembly. But this is not mentioned because the subject is rather the responsibility of every gift to be kept in proper order and control through suited exercise of heart and obedience to the Word of God. No one is allowed to claim the leading of the Spirit for the dubious activity of his own mind.
But in verse 34 the assembly (not simply the women) is told that the women are to keep silence in the assembly, being not permitted to speak. It is not left to the woman to decide whether or not she will obey this Scripture: the assembly must not permit her speaking. Her place is not public, but under subjection, as the law also taught. These words are no less plain than the simplest gospel verse, and if one should refuse this, how can he trust those verses that give clear assurance of his salvation? Even asking questions in the assembly is not permitted: they may learn at home by this means, from their husbands. Of course, if they do not have a husband, it is elementary that they are not forbidden to ask someone else in private circumstances. But it is a shame for women to speak in the assembly.
How scathing is the word in verses 36 and 37 to silence any controversy on this subject. Who is the source of the Word of God? Was it their right to decide what was the word of God, and what was not? Or did it come only to them, as though they were now the sole possessors of it? And the apostle anticipates the subtle arguments of men and women today, who claim that very spiritual people approve of women speaking in the assembly. Who decides what is spirituality? If one thinks himself a prophet or spiritual, let him show it by a spirit of thorough subjection and obedience to the commandments of the Lord. This is the test. But if anyone was ignorant, let him be ignorant: this is not mere lack of intelligence, but ignoring of God. The assembly was not to give in to him, or listen to his contentions, but leave him to his ignorance.
The conclusion of verses 39 and 40 is clear and decisive. Brethren should earnestly desire to prophesy, and not forbid speaking with tongues. This of course refers to a genuine tongue, not a counterfeit, of which there are many today. Yet even in this, the matter is put in a negative way. If one should urge another to speak in tongues, or if one should desire earnestly to speak in tongues, he is going beyond Scripture, which is not decent, or in order. Moral, spiritual discernment is to be used, that all things should be done decently and in order.
This chapter itself forms a third division of the book, and deals with another most serious matter in Corinth. Some among them denied the resurrection of the dead. But the resurrection of Christ is the very basis of the existence of the Church of God. So the reality of His resurrection is first considered, then its significance as connected with the resurrection of believers, proving beyond doubt that the first is the pattern and assurance of the second.
Paul had preached to them the fundamental facts of the gospel, which they had received. It was the only basis on which the assembly stood. And it is by this they are saved, at least if they held fast the Word preached to them. Salvation is in that Word: how could a true believer give it up? Did they believe in vain? This would be without reality, empty, not true faith at all. How can one believe in the resurrection of Christ, and at the same time refuse to believe in resurrection?
The basic facts then are simply stated in verses 3 and 4. Paul had received them directly from God, but with abundance of outward testimony also. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Old Testament prophecy had borne great witness to this - every animal sacrifice also a vivid type of it. He was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. Again, the evidence from the Old Testament is abundant. The prophecies that speak of His death speak also of His triumph and glory afterwards. Of course His burial for three days proves the reality of His death, and therefore of His resurrection.
Many human witnesses also corroborated this. The women first at the grave are not mentioned lest their witness should be discounted as though influenced by a highly emotional state. Cephas, on the other hand, was slow to believe, but the Lord appeared specifically to him (Lk. 24:34). Then the apostles together saw him in the upper room both the day of His resurrection, and a week later (Jn. 20:19-26).
Then five hundred brethren saw him at one time. It is not said where, but very likely this was in Galilee where disciples were more numerous than in Jerusalem. At the time Paul wrote, some of these had passed away, but most were still living. The account of James seeing him alone is not elsewhere given, so we do not know where and when this took place. But no doubt all the apostles saw Him again at least at the time He led them out to Bethany, and ascended to heaven from there (Lk. 24:50,51).
And Paul himself was a last witness, seeing Christ, not on earth, but in heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-5); so not born in "due time," as among the other apostles, but a distinct witness, given revelations beyond those of the others. This indeed was a powerfully confirming witness, specifically because Paul had before persecuted the Church of God, in bitter enmity against Christ. He never ceased to feel this in lowly self judgment, considering himself unfit to be at all called an apostle. But it was God who had so wrought with him, in most convincing proof of the truth of Christ risen; and here he stood, a living witness to the marvellous grace of God. The very fact of the change in him, his witness, and the unusual ministry given him, could not be explained by natural means.
(This in fact the more inflamed his Jewish persecutors.) The grace of God was the only explanation, and this was not in vain, for Paul's labours were more abundant than all the apostles, not that Paul takes any credit, but presses the reality of the grace of God with him. Indeed, whether Paul or the others, this made no difference; for whoever the persons, the witness was plain, the preaching was true, and the Corinthians had believed.
This being the case, how could some at Corinth deny a resurrection of the dead? In doing so, they denied that Christ was raised. And if He were not raised, then the preaching of the apostles was vain, and the avowed faith of the Corinthians was vain. The foundation of Christianity was utterly gone. More than this, the apostles would in this way be proven false witnesses of God, for their witness was plain and decided that. Christ was raised. And if there is no such thing as resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised. And more still: if Christ is not raised, than neither the Corinthians nor anyone else can be saved: their faith was meaningless: they were still in their sins. Souls often little realize what they are refusing when they deny the truth of God. In this case too, those who had died in Christ had only perished. Did the sacrifice of Christ have no more value than being simply death, with no power of life in saving grace? If our hope in Christ is merely for our present short existence on earth, then ours is a more miserable existence than that of any unbeliever. For here a path with Christ means reproach and shame, which is worth the while because of the future joy of His presence. Take this away, and what is left?
Verses 20 to 28 are parenthetical. It will be noticed that the apostle's reasoning ceases in these verses, then continues in verse 29. The parenthesis is a precious, absolute statement of Christian teaching. Christ risen from among the dead is the firstfruits of them that slept, that is, of believers who have passed away. His resurrection is the promise of theirs; for the firstfruits is but the beginning of a larger harvest.
For since by man (Adam) came death, so it was essential that Christ must be man in order to both die and rise again. Adam introduced death for all his race, but in him was no power of life. But on the contrary, all who are "in Christ" shall be made alive. In resurrection He is the Head of a new race, involving every soul who has been redeemed by the blood of His cross. Indeed, Colossians 2:12; 3:1-3 shows us that even now believers have the spiritual position of being raised with Christ, identified with Him who is our Representative in resurrection; but Corinthians shows the certainty of our bodies actually entering into this precious resurrection life at the coming of the Lord. There is a becoming order in this: Christ must be first, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Unbelievers have no part in this, and their end is not even mentioned in this chapter except that aIl enemies will be put under the feet of Christ.
Verse 24 goes on to the final victory of Christ over aIl evil. The tribulation period and the millennial kingdom are passed over with only the statement, "He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet." This is finally done at the Great White Throne. As Son of Man He will have brought creation back from its bondage to sin, thus perfectly accomplishing the will of God in all that has been committed to Him; and He will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. The kingdom will no longer be "the kingdom of the Son of Man," but the kingdom of God existing in an eternal form.
Death is here said to be the last enemy destroyed. For after sin has been fully and eternally judged, then death, the sentence against sin, will be totally annulled. This is seen in Revelation 20:14.
In verse 27, Psalm 8 is quoted, and in the present tense. In reality today God has already put all things under Christ's feet; yet the public display of this in power will not be complete until the Great White Throne. The issue is settled now, but the full manifestation is future. But God's putting all things under the feet of the Son of Man plainly does not imply that God Himself is subject. Indeed, the Son of Man is He who is delegated to bring all things into subjection, not only to Himself, but to God. And when this is done, then the Son also, together with the kingdom He has subdued, is subject to the great God who gave Him this stewardship - "that God may be aIl in all." As Son of Man He is subject, in order that God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) may be all in all.
Verse 29 then connects with verse 19. Let us observe that the concern expressed here is not for the dead, but for those who are baptized in place of the dead. If Christians died (and some of them by martyrdom) with no hope of resurrection, what would be the sense of others coming in to take their place in the ranks of Christianity? If this only exposes one to persecution on earth, with no future hope, this would be insensate folly. And the apostles too, continually in jeopardy for Christ's sake - Why?
Their own rejoicing in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, in which Paul shared, because having himself led them to Christ, was certainly an evident protest against such doctrine that troubled them. Indeed, on account of such joy in Christ, Paul was content to "die daily." To speak after the manner of men, he had fought with beasts at Ephesus. Evidently lie refers to men of bestial character, men who believe in no hereafter, and live therefore as beasts. There were many adversaries in Ephesus (ch. 16:8,9); and later opposition increased, as is seen in Acts 19:23-41. Why should he contend with such enemies of the truth, if after all they are right in their mere material conceptions, and the dead rise not? If tomorrow everything comes to a total end, then one might as well live now only for his own pleasure.
But this is dreadful deception, and the Corinthians are warned against any identification with such evil. Good manners will very soon be corrupted by it. False associations will inevitably lead to bad conduct. The assembly then is told to "Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God." This was therefore an assembly responsibility: they must take a decided stand against this insidious evil. If individuals did not have the knowledge of God, how much better to have this exposed; for it was to their shame that such evil doctrine had ever arisen among them. Now they must realize that any association with it is corrupting, and must be refused by the assembly.
But there are objectors who pose questions they think unanswerable: "How are the dead raised," etc. If this expressed an honest desire to understand, of course the apostle would not speak so scathingly. But one who denies resurrection is guilty of folly. The answer, illustrated by nature itself, is most .simple. A seed, falling into the ground and dying, springs up into life. Nor does it revive in the identical state in which it died, but bears a more glorious form. In new life God gives it a body consistent with its character, as He pleases. And He is certainly not at a loss as regards variety, yet each seed reproduces strictly according to its nature.
Similarly, men, beasts, birds, fishes, are totally distinct as to their type of flesh; and this shows that God can give whatever flesh He pleases. This verse totally refutes any evolutionist theories of animals developing into humans.
And if one would deny that heaven is any place for bodies, he has but to look up and see the tremendous number of celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars, planets) that shine in the heavens. Terrestrial bodies are those connected with earth, and of course there is a difference. And among the celestial bodies themselves, the sun, the moon, and the stars, each has a particular glory not shared by any other.
In resurrection then, it is God who decides the character of the body; and He is at no loss as to investing this with a glory greater than as yet we have imagined. Philippians 3:21 tells us our body shall be fashioned like that of the Lord Jesus in resurrection. In this body, material barriers were no obstacle to Him; and in this He ascended up to heaven; time and space no obstacle whatever. Yet also, each individual body will have its distinct glory, just as every individual on earth today is different. Such is the marvel of the ways of our God!
As to our present body, in contrast to the Lord's body on earth, it is sown in corruption, the result of sin. But it will be raised in incorruption, the effects of sin totally done away, because the root has been fully judged at the cross. This shows a marvellous change in its condition. Secondly, its manifestation is completely changed, from that of dishonour, decrepitude, humiliation, to that of "glory," a dignity and beauty impossible to our present bodily state. And thirdly, the weakness of the vessel, coming down often in old age to utter helplessness, will give place to a "power" as yet unimagined. Christ was "crucified through weakness," having taken a place lower than angels, who "excel in strength." But He is raised by the power of God, and given in Manhood a place above angels, His bodily condition now no deterrent to the exercise of this marvellous power. Thus, the capacity of our bodies will be also wonderfully changed. And fourthly, the character of the body will be in great contrast to that of today. For as inherited from Adam it is simply "natural"; as raised it will be "a spiritual body." Not a "spirit body," as though it were merely intangible, but a true body, complete with spirit and soul (1 Th. 5:23), just as that of the Lord in resurrection, handled by His disciples, partaking of material food (Lk. 24:38-43). And yet material obstacles were no hindrance to Him: when the doors were closed. He suddenly stood in the midst of His disciples (Lk. 24:36). But being a spiritual body, no doubt this involves its being suited to spiritual conditions, as our natural body is suited to natural conditions. It may seem strange that a material body may yet have a spiritual character, able to be at home in spiritual conditions; but is this not intended to bow our hearts in wondering adoration at the greatness of the power and grace of our God?
Verse 45 is decisive that there was no man before Adam, either of the same type or of a different type. This settles all men's speculations about this. Here also Christ is called "the last Adam." Adam therefore was typical of Christ, though Christ is a Man of different and lasting character: while He supersedes Adam, none can possibly displace Him. And He is a "quickening spirit." not as Adam "a living soul." For Christ in resurrection is Head of a new creation, as Adam was head of the first, which waxes old and is about to perish (Heb. 1:11,12). But Christ is "life-giving" in contrast to Adam's
bringing death. And this is spiritual life, in contrast to that natural, which is characterized more by soul than by spirit.
The natural had come first, however, in order that it be given full opportunity to manifest itself, so that when the spiritual came, its precious superiority would be evident. More than this also, "The first man was of the earth, earthy," on a plane infinitely lower than that of "the second Man," who is of Heaven, the Lord. Plainly therefore there are only two types of men, for Adam was "the first" (there were none before him): Christ is "the second" (there were none between Adam and Christ); and Christ "the last" (there can be none to follow). The first is earthly, the second heavenly, for the second expresses perfectly the thoughts of God in relation to true Manhood.
Verse 48 insists that as is the head of a race, so is the race itself. In the first creation we have been linked with Adam in an earthly condition: in new creation we are linked with Christ in a heavenly condition. This being true now, then the future is settled as regards our bodily condition too: "The image of the earthly," the outward manifestation of natural life in this body, will give place in resurrection to "the image of the heavenly," that body that will outwardly manifest the spiritual, heavenly life that is in Christ.
While our chapter strongly stresses that the resurrection body is a body, a literal physical body, not a spirit; yet verse 50 shows that it is not a body of "flesh and blood." Some have on this account denied that "flesh" has anything to do with it. Certainly our evil, fleshly nature has no place here; but yet the Lord Himself was raised in a body of "flesh and bones" (Lk. 24:39). His blood had been shed; and manifestly in the resurrection body, blood has no part. Its function is for the repair and replacement of worn or decayed parts of the body, as well as for its sustenance. We may wonder as to the physical makeup of the spiritual body, for it seems it would be greatly altered by the absence of blood; yet the Lord in resurrection ate before His disciples (Lk. 24:42,43). Of course this proves only that His body was physical, capable of eating, not that His body required food. Verse 50 refers to our bodies, not to His, though His on earth was of "flesh and blood" (Heb. 2:14). His was not corruptible, as ours are, for it is sin that brings corruption. Our bodies cannot remain the same in order to inherit incorruption. Yet the identity of our body remains: it is not a different body, but an altered one, changed to be "fashioned like unto His body of glory" (Phil. 3:21).
Verse 51 shows that up till the time Paul wrote, the truth of the first resurrection and its results had been "a mystery." Various other things are spoken of in this way also in Scripture, some now revealed in connection with the ministry of Paul. The resurrection is closely linked with the truth of the Church, and in fact will mark the close of the history of the Church on earth, because her true destiny is heavenly, not earthly. This would involve, not simply resurrection, but a change in those believers living on earth, from a state of corruption to that of incorruption. Those who sleep are of course those who have died in Christ. Here the fact of the Lord's coming is not mentioned; but from verse 23, and from Philippians 3 and I Thessalonians 4, we know that this takes place at that time. The apostle writes then as though this were imminent, and how much more so now! And its suddenness is emphasized, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," not the blinking of an eye, but more rapid. Some have connected "the last trump" with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15; but this does not in any way fit the case. In Revelation the trumpets are connected with God's judgments in the earth, and the seventh trumpet with Christ's taking His place of supreme ruler over all the kingdoms of the earth. But here in Corinthians it is a question of the last trumpet in connection with the Church, not Israel and the nations. The trumpet speaks of a declared public testimony, and this will be the last such as to the Church. What a voice indeed it will have to those who are left behind!
But immediately "the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." Wonderful intervention of pure divine power! Redemption by blood is ours now by virtue of the death of Christ: but then we shall have the redemption of our bodies, by power. Verse 53 insists that it is "this corruptible" that must "put on incorruption"! That is, that it is our present body that must be given an altered condition. This no doubt refers primarily to those who have died, while "this mortal" refers to those still living, though subject to death. Putting on immortality is being invested with that which death cannot touch.
When this takes place, it will bring to pass the prophecy of Isaiah 25:8, "Death is swallowed up in victory." It is not the direct fulfillment of this prophecy, which refers rather to Israel's new birth and restoration of blessing in the millennial kingdom, for death will never after that touch those who have been thus redeemed. But in the first resurrection we shall anticipate this, and in fact on a higher level, for we shall have spiritual bodies for over one thousand years before the saints of the millennial kingdom shall have theirs.
Verse 55 is a question cited from Hosea 13:14. Death has been a righteous sentence of God against sin, and spoken of as an "enemy." But is not God greater than the sentence He has imposed: Is the sting of death final? Does death (or it may be "hades") gain the final victory? Whether "death" or "hades," it is the same question, for death is the state of the body as separate from spirit and soul; while hades is the state of the spirit and soul in separation from the body. But sin is "the sting of death," the very poison that brought death; and sin has been perfectly atoned for by the death of Christ, the effectual basis therefore of complete victory over death. Now also the law is said to be "the strength of sin." For the law, applied in its pure justice, brings sin out clearly in its strong, bold, evil character, and condemns it. But it can of course do nothing as regards taking sin away. So great a work as this could be done by none other than the eternal Son of God Himself, and then by means of the sacrifice of Himself, Himself bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. We have seen this basis laid down in verses 3 and 4 of our chapter, the basis upon which sin and death will be completely triumphed over, so far as present day believers are concerned, at "the resurrection of the just."
And this victory of the Lord Jesus over death God had seen fit to recognize as on behalf of all who trust His beloved Son. It is a matter as settled as though it had already taken place: the victory is ours, through our Lord Jesus Christ. What a basis for the exhortation of verse 58: Since nothing can change this, therefore let nothing change our stedfast, undeviating devotion to Christ. And along with firm, consistent stability, let us combine the active faith that abounds in the work of the Lord. We know such labour is not in vain in the Lord. Present appearances are no real indication of the value of labour, no more than was the outward appearance of defeat when our Lord was crucified. Let the reality of His resurrection power have vital effect in all the walk and service of the beloved saints of God.
This last chapter forms a fourth division of the book of I Corinthians, with its simple, practical instructions. The unity of the body of Christ is to be expressed in genuine practical care for the needs of each member of the body. At this time, a special need existed among "the poor saints . . . at Jerusalem" (Rom. 15:26), evidently the result of a great famine (Acts 11:28-30). At the time this became known by the Corinthians, they "were forward" with desire to supply material help to their Jewish brethren (2 Cor. 8:10); and here Paul shows the orderly way in which they should prepare for this. Each first day of the week they were all personally to lay aside a certain amount, not stipulated, but as a matter of exercise on the part of each individual, according to the measure in which God had prospered him. This is the wise and Scriptural order. The first day of the week is of course the day of Christ's resurrection, He Himself the firstfruits; and therefore it was the becoming day for thanksgiving for His perfect sacrifice and its blessed results, the day of suitable response to His own great gift of Himself. It is no legal claim, such as was the required tithe of the Old Testament; but if one under law could give a tenth, should this be difficult for one under grace? Nevertheless, each heart and conscience is left fully free before God, to do that which is the fruit of his own personal faith. The measure is seen in this verse, "as God hath prospered him"; and also in 2 Corinthians 9:7, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver." How consistent then that such a collection should be taken on occasion of the Lord's supper; for such giving is an expression of thankful worship toward the Lord. A gospel meeting would not be suitable for this, for this is an occasion of God's giving to mankind the gospel they desperately need: it is no time to give to God at all. Nor is it so at a prayer meeting, for this is for requesting from God; and to give at this time would be to give the impression we were paying for what we requested. And a ministry meeting is for the purpose of believers receiving from God, so this is similarly not an appropriate time for our giving. But giving is connected with thanksgiving and worship, as is seen in such Scriptures as Hebrews 13:15,16; and though what is given is for the relief of others, yet it is to be primarily given as to the Lord. And this being so, the receiver is to receive it as from the Lord.
Paul is diligent in urging that there should be no collections when he came; for it is faith toward God that should move such sacrifices, not the influence of Paul's presence. The world will use special men to influence others to give, but Paul refuses this.
The Corinthians were to decide what messengers they desired to carry this aid to Jerusalem, for there must be care to have this distribution fully honest and above suspicion on the part of any. 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 tells us that Titus and two other brethren were chosen for this, and Paul also to accompany them, as he suggests here in verse 4. Let us be reminded here that, though Paul would accept nothing for himself from the Corinthians, yet he would wholeheartedly show fellowship in their liberality toward the poor saints.
The fulfillment of verses 5 and 6 is found in Acts 20:1-3, so that evidently the three months he remained in Greece winter. From there he returned via Macedonia on the way Jerusalem. But of course the Second Epistle had also been written before the above was fulfilled. There could evidently have been therefore only a few months between the Epistles, the first likely in the spring, the latter in the fall. For he did not promise to come soon to Corinth, though when he did conic, he wanted to remain for a time. Meanwhile, he planned to remain at Ephesus till Pentecost. This date would likely be near the first of June.
For he speaks of a great door being opened to him, being effectual in the blessing of many souls. The history of this is seen in Acts 19:10-20, the Word of God mightily growing and prevailing. While Paul evidently remained in Ephesus, yet from there the Word went through all Asia minor (Acts 19:10), no doubt carried by others from Ephesus. Colosse and Laodicea were not too distant from Ephesus, yet the saints in those places had not seen Paul's face in the flesh (Col. 1:2). Epaphras had brought him word of them.
He adds here, "And there are many adversaries," evidently a consideration that influenced him to remain, not by any means a cause of discouragement. Indeed, when apparently soon after this the great uproar against him was raised by Demetrius, Paul was willing to face the mob and speak to them, but was dissuaded both by his fellow-disciples and honourable officials in government (Acts 19:30,31), no doubt the wiser course; but the apostle's courage is admirable.
In chapter 4:17 Paul had spoken of sending Timothy to Corinth: now he urges that they should not in any way intimidate the young man. For though he was of an evidently timid nature, Paul is not hesitant to commend him as a true servant of God, whose work for the Lord Paul would gladly link with his own work. The self-confidence of the Corinthians would no doubt tend to belittle one who did not show that same self-confidence. Some in Corinth had so acted toward Paul himself, and fleshliness would likely take even more advantage of the younger man. And not only are they not to despise him, but to show the positive consideration of conducting him forth in peace. Acts 19:22 gives the history of Paul's sending Timothy (and Erastus) to Macedonia, evidently on their way to Corinth. It was not intended to be a long visit, for Paul looked for him to meet him afterward.
Apollos, on the other hand, though Paul had greatly desired him to go with these brethren to Corinth, was not at all prepared to go at this time. The language seems to indicate that Apollos had an important reason for this, though it is not stated. Did he consider that since some in Corinth were saying, "I am of Apollos" that therefore it was wiser for him to remain away just now in case any would be engaged in this sectarian favouritism? At least, the verse shows that Paul had no slightest jealousy of Apollos, and it may very likely imply that Apollos wanted no suggestion of rivalry to exist among God's servants in the minds of the Corinthians. Yet he would be evidently willing to come when the time was convenient. Also the verse indicates that Paul would not use apostolic authority to require Apollos to go: the apostle leaves that to the exercise of Apollos as before God.
The condition at Corinth required each exhortation of verse 13, and who today is not in such need also? "Watch ye": for laxity and love of ease finds us too frequently unprepared to meet the subtle attacks of the enemy. "Stand fast in the faith": for that firmness of decision to stand upon the clear principles of the truth of God, may all too easily give place to compromise and retreat. "Quit you like men": for man was originally made in the image of God, and therefore put in the place of representing God in a hostile world: let us not lightly esteem such dignity and honor. "Be strong": for whatever our natural weakness, strength is certainly available in Christ, and it is the only strength that can overcome the pride, fleshliness, and Satanic deception that was raising its ugly head at Corinth, and is no less active today.
But verse 14 is most necessary to give godly balance in all these things. Love is to be the ever-present motivating principle and influence in everything.
Now "the house of Stephanas" is spoken of as having "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints." They were not appointed to such ministry by any man or by the assembly. But their work commended them. In general, the saints should submit themselves to such leaders, those who voluntarily, as led of God, do the work of God. Of course, in cases of abuse of leadership, it is a different matter. Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence, was not to be followed (3 Jn. 9-11).
The three brethren mentioned in verse 17 had evidently come from Corinth to visit Paul; and though the Corinthian assembly had not itself caused spiritual joy and refreshment to the heart of Paul, these brethren did supply this. For it is manifestly not temporal needs they had supplied: it was his spirit they had refreshed. Moreover, they had provided this refreshing ministry at Corinth also, which was a reason for their being recognized in godly subjection and receiving of the truth.
Now the apostle conveys to them the greetings of the assemblies in Asia Minor, particularly naming Aquila and Priscilla, and the assembly in their house - no doubt at Ephesus (Acts 19:18-26). Note here that however great the work at Ephesus, the assembly met in a house. Of course, the saints might have gathered in more than one location, as was true at Rome (Rom. 16). And Paul encourages the affections of the saints toward each other, by greeting "with an holy kiss," an expression of the unity that should not be lacking. The signature of his own hand is emphasized, for so important a message must not be questioned as to its authenticity.
While verse 23 gives the usual lovely benediction of "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" toward them, yet the previous verse solemnly shows that such grace does not extend to one who "loves not our Lord Jesus Christ." Rather than blessing, he is assured only of being accursed (anathema) at the coming of the Lord (maran-atha). And last of all, Paul assures them of his own love in Christ Jesus. For the many reproofs of the book are not apart from genuine love for them, but indeed rather are moved by such love.