Blessings Bestowed Demands Becoming Behaviour
or, The Church, the Sanctified Company in 1 Corinthians
The Establishment of the Church at Corinth (Acts 18)
Before we begin to consider the first epistle to the Corinthians I would call to your remembrance Acts 18 where we find the founding of the testimony in the wicked city of Corinth. There Paul, Silas and Timothy, preached the gospel concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. Firstly to the Jews Paul preached that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed of God. They refused that testimony, they blasphemed and Paul turned to the Gentiles. However, we find that Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and all his house and others did accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that he and his colleagues preached “the Son of God, Jesus Christ” (1:19). In 1 Corinthians 15 he reminded the Corinthians of the gospel that he preached to them, “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (v.3), that He was buried and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and in that faith they stood before God in grace.
Now it seems to me, dear brethren, that we will never be able to understand the bearing of the epistle if we do not see the greatness of the work of God centred in our Lord Jesus Christ in the preaching that went on in the city of Corinth. It brought to light men and women who were the objects of the grace and mercy of God and also of His purpose. The sixth chapter of this first epistle tells us that some of them, before they were saved, were wicked persons indeed (v.11), but from that they were gloriously saved and brought to our Lord Jesus Christ. They were transferred from the old man, the nature that had committed those evil things, and put in a position before God in Christ Jesus, a place that is inviolate, beyond the power and malice of Satan and man. It is on this basis that Paul unfolds his teaching to them, what they were in Christ Jesus, not what they were as sinful Corinthians. That had gone forever, but now he is referring to them in a place of privilege and blessing and responsibility, and from that standpoint he exhorts them in many ways. Now I feel it is of the utmost importance to consider the introduction to his letter because it gives us all that is positive, all that is triumphant, and all that God will yet accomplish for His pleasure and glory.
The Standing of the Church at Corinth (1:1-2)
I want to speak initially on four things. Firstly “the church of God”, then those who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus”, then the individual place of blessing, “called saints”, and fourthly, the linkage with all other believers, “with all those that in every place who called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”, the “fellowship of [God's] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”. These are all very important things.
God would “confirm [them] unto the end, that [they] may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8). The Corinthian saints “were waiting for the coming (or ‘the revelation') of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7). This is a very wonderful thing to lay hold of and not to forget, that God will not be defeated in His purpose in relation to the church. God has committed Himself to the blessing of His people and that will be secured despite all the enemy's attacks and in spite of all our failure. Thank God it is not all failure, there is a great deal to encourage, but it does not matter what opposition there is against the truth, God will see it through. God will be triumphant and the day is coming when, thank God, we will be presented blameless in a way that is suitable to God. We are all, I trust, awaiting, not so much the rapture here, but the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the unveiling in that wondrous day of display when every feature of faithfulness will receive its reward.
“ Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth ” (1:1-2)
This expression “the church” means ‘the called-out ones of God'. We have seen that in the city of Corinth there were men and women, boys and girls called out by the gospel from that wicked city and all that it stood for. Those that accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour come to light as those whom God has purposed for blessing. But we might ask, what were they called out from ? The ruler of the synagogue was connected with the law of Moses and all that that stood for in that day. The Gentiles were called out from the pagan circles in which they moved. When they heard the gospel and believed it they were all baptised and demonstrated publicly to both the synagogue and the pagan circles that they were finished with that forever and from henceforth their lives would be spent in relation to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One to whom they were baptised. But not only were they called out from those circles that provided nothing for God, they were called out to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, they were called out to God Himself and to all the power and service of the Holy Spirit. At the end of Paul's second letter we find an expression that is, sad to say, often said as a reiterated benediction without much heart and soul in it, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (or fellowship) of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (13:14). What wonderful things we are called to, the Persons of the Godhead and all that is connected with them! So, if we are called out from that which is empty and wicked, we are called out to everything that is pure and precious, holy and true.
Now while we speak about it historically, we also want to speak about ourselves and its application to us. I trust that each one here has answered to the call, but maybe there are some here who have not yet and I briefly address myself to them. Have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour? If you have not this is a wonderful moment to accept Him as your Saviour and Lord. If we have done this, then we have the opportunity of expressing our devotion to the Lord Jesus and our determination to be true to Him by being baptised to His name. Do not let anyone misguide you and lead you astray by saying that baptism is unimportant. The undisputed testimony of the New Testament is this, that those who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ were baptised to His name, and by so doing they cut themselves off from all that they had been connected with, and expressed a desire to please the Lord. Have we all done this? Have we all been baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus? And not only to pass through the rite of baptism, but to be true to it in our lives? This is the most important thing. Could you imagine a situation where those persons who are called out to the name of the Lord Jesus and have been baptised to Him going along to the synagogue afterwards and seeking to find their enjoyment in that circle, or going along to the heathen temple and seeking to find their enjoyment in that circle? Why, you say, it is unthinkable. Equally so today for each one of us that, if we have been called out by the Lord and to the Lord, and we have been baptised to His name, it is unthinkable that our time should be spent where the Lord is not honoured. Our time should be spent in connection with Him and our whole lives should be devoted to His interests.
This is what the assembly is, a called-out company, separate from the world and from all false cults and religions and everything that dishonours the name of Christ and of God, and called out to please Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. What a transformation after the preaching of the gospel, a company of people was formed who were unified by this common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, having a wonderful sense of deliverance from the power of Satan and sin, and experiencing the control and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the resources flowing to them through the glorified Head in heaven. That little company Paul addressed as “the assembly of God which is in Corinth”.
Now we have got to say this, dear brethren, perhaps it is not said sufficiently: there is a vast difference between the time when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians and the present day in which we find ourselves. When Paul wrote there were no divisions that we see in the church of God today, no Church of England, no Church of Scotland, no Roman Catholic Church, no different classes of ‘brethren'. We have to find our way through the difficulties that exist today to express what we find in the New Testament; and that is not easy. However, I believe there is sufficient evidence in the word of God to encourage us. We must not throw up our hands in despair and say ‘It is too complex, it is too difficult, we will just go along in the simple way that we think is best.' No, there is instruction in the word of God for those who would desire to be true to the truth.
“... to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus ,” (1:2)
Secondly, there is a company called “the sanctified in Christ Jesus”. I have read that there was an expression that circulated in the ancient world in connection with evil called ‘Corinthianising'. The city was so wicked and so vile that people who committed wickedness were likened to Corinthians. In the midst of this corruption, a company was formed, set apart (this is what the word means) in holiness to God, set apart “in Christ Jesus”. Oh, dear brethren, if Corinth was bad, what can we say about the modern world? I heard a tape of a well known preacher and he said that if God did not judge the United States of America He would have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah. We know what he meant. The modern world is just as evil as the ancient world, and becoming worse and worse all the time. In the midst of this corruption there was a little company set apart for God, and holiness was to mark that company. They were set apart in holiness, they were constituted holy because of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. They could not improve on that position of holiness but they could live consistent with it. The sad feature of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was the inconsistencies that he had to speak about in connection with this company (and we will speak about that in a few moments).
Dear brethren, just as it was true of the Corinthians, so it is of us. We belong to the sanctified company. Every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ belongs to the sanctified company. Hebrews 2 reminds us that “He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified, are all of one for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (v.11). No, we are not ashamed of the name ‘brethren'. It is a Scriptural and a precious term, and it indicates the height and blessing that we have received through Christ. The sanctified company is set in the midst of corruption. This is our position and we cannot say that we are immune from all the dangers that affected the Corinthian assembly. It is well for us to take account of them. We must not only dwell on what is objective, but we must also take account of what is practical, what is demanded of us as answering to the truth of this wonderful position of being “sanctified in Christ Jesus”.
This expression “in Christ Jesus” is a Pauline expression (only once is it used by another New Testament writer, 1 Peter 5:10 J.N.D.). It indicates to us a position that we have in the glorified Man who is at God's right hand. We do not find this title in the Acts of the Apostles, neither do we find it in the gospels, we find it used almost exclusively by Paul, and it always indicates that we, as believers, are centred in Christ, in glory, in a position before Him of blessing, of stability, and of resource, particularly in connection with the Christian company. Dear brethren, that is a wonderful thing to take account of. It will rid us of the idea that we are poor failing creatures, and that in the sight of God we are nothing, because it is God who has placed us is “in Christ Jesus”, it is God who has given us this position. This position will not deteriorate, it belongs to every believer in Christ. Oh, that we are true to it! This is the great trial of the present day. Here is a sanctified company in Corinth viewed as “in Christ Jesus”.
“ ...... called (to be) saints ,” (1:2)
This is literally “called saints”, not “called to be saints”. We do not believe in the idea that a certain person can be canonised after three centuries when it comes to light that miracles have been performed at his grave or because prayers have been given to him and they have been answered; all this is mere superstition and a lie of the Devil. The truth is that every believer is a saint for the simple reason that they belong to the sanctified company. They are constituted holy and they should act in a holy way. We are all holy in His sight. The work of Christ is so complete, its glory nothing can dim, all that we were has been removed forever and we stand before God in perfect holiness. Now we can see that all the exhortations that Paul gives in this epistle to this Christian company to do better stems from this point, that they are holy, that they are a separated company, that they are called out (this never alters), and, because they are in this position, their conduct ought to be different from those who were around.
“...with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours ” (1:2)
“God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord ” (1:9)
We come lastly to the fellowship of God's Son; what a wonderful fellowship. I suppose Corinth had their crafts and unions in the ancient world, many fellowships to which those who had the qualifications could be connected with, but here was a fellowship distinct in all its dignity, its power, its glory and its blessing, a fellowship that had its centre in the Son of God; and who would not want to be connected with the Son of God? We might have many qualifications that entitle us to be connected with fellowships here upon earth; I have nothing to say about them, but oh, the wonder of belonging to this fellowship! And our credentials are simple, we belong to God through Christ, His precious blood having cleansed us. We are all bound up together in this great blessing in belonging to Christ, belonging to God through Christ, and empowered by the Spirit, but if there is anything which marks the dignity of this fellowship it is this expression “the fellowship of [God's] Son”.
The Becoming Behaviour of the Church at Corinth (1:1-2)
Now as we start to examine this epistle we will see that all that Paul has to say to the Corinthians is connected with these four spheres of blessing. He appeals to the saints to place their behaviour on this standing, to act in a way consistent with what God had made them. Before we leave this, I was speaking about what God had made them and if you read carefully through this epistle, and I commend this to you for your own exercise, just notice how often Paul says “ye are”; not that ‘ye should be', but that “ye are”. He says “Ye are God's husbandry” (3:9), “ye are God's building” (3:9), “ye are the temple of God” (3:16), “ye are unleavened” (5:7), “ye are washed” (6:11), “ye are sanctified” (6:11), “ye are justified” (6:11), “ye are the body of Christ” (12:27). Paul is saying because these things are so for every true believer in Christ then there ought to be a manner of life that is in keeping with it. I have before me a few Scriptures in this connection and I want you to turn them over with me because it is more important that you listen to what the word of God says than to what I say to you. The first one is in chapter 6 and verse 4.
“If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.” (6:4)
This statement comes in in connection with brothers going to law against each other. What a very sad situation it is when brothers in Christ have a problem that they cannot settle between themselves and so they go to the civil court to get some settlement. There is such a thing in the New Testament as forgiveness, and I know you will all agree with me that it has a very important place there. If we are insulted, if we are defrauded, if we are in any way affected by something that a brother or sister says or does to us, and it is so great in our minds that we decide to take it to law, are we not stepping down from the platform of blessing that God has placed us upon? Should not Christian forgiveness operate so that this matter might be done with once and for all and find no place in the civil court? The assembly is a place of adjustment so that brothers and sisters can get right with each other and so harmony can exist in the local company that the honour of Christ may be maintained and the free flow of worship and testimony proceed. We cannot be right in testimony, and we cannot be right in worship if we are out of harmony with our brothers and sisters. Paul is saying, if such a matter exists it is a very simple matter, it is not a complex matter, why does not someone say ‘I forgive' and get the matter settled that the honour of Christ and the glory of God be maintained?
“ But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churche s .” (7:17)
This chapter has to do with husband and wife and their relations with each other, perhaps the case of an unbelieving husband and a believing wife, a marriage that would have taken place, I believe, before her conversion, but it could equally well apply to a Christian husband and a Christian wife. ‘Now,' says Paul, ‘there is a way to deal with things and the great thing to do is to see that what is proper before God is maintained'. We mentioned that when Paul, Silas and Timothy preached in Corinth, households were secured and we find in the Corinthian epistle that homes have a very important place. Here is one of them, the home where the husband and wife live and a proper Christian life has to be maintained. In the eleventh chapter Paul says “Have ye not houses to eat and drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?” (11:22), and then at the end of the epistle he speaks about “laying by at home” in view of collections that were necessary for the saints (16:2).
Satan is very active today in the homes of the saints. I want to address myself to those who are husbands and wives because we cannot expect a true functioning of the assembly, either in worship or in testimony, if there are not proper conditions in the home, with both husband and wife fully committed to the interests of the Lord. Much of the weakness and declension that exists in the Christian testimony begins at home. Many of the problems that are in the homes are carried into the assembly and the conditions are sadly affected. Paul is saying ‘Husbands, wives, settle all your difficulties, get right with the Lord, get right with one another and find your true place in the assembly for the glory of Christ and for the glory of God'. Dear brethren, Satan is attacking the homes of the saints in perhaps a way he has never done before. In our part of the world in recent years we know of six Christian homes that have been affected by Satan, divorce has come in and how sad that is. Dear brethren, let us hear the warning, the enemy is attacking the homes of the saints. Divorce and breakdown in the family is a dishonour to the Lord. I cannot state it in stronger terms. Husbands and wives need to be devoted to the Lord and sink their differences, whatever they may be, forgive each other and live together in a way that is becoming to the Lord Jesus Christ and to God. What was happening at Corinth was a disgrace to the position that God had brought them into. Young men, young women, if you are looking to get married do not enter into it casually, do not trifle with each other's affections. Marriage is a matter of the greatest importance. Think about it, pray about it, and enter into it with all the solemnity that it requires because if this breaks down, again I say, it is a positive dishonour to the Lord's name. Do not think that because this kind of thing characterises the world that it can be allowed in the Christian circle; it must be refused.
“Give none offence... to the church of God ” (10:32)
If we behave in a way that is unbecoming we are giving offence to the assembly of God. God's eye was upon this little company that existed in Corinth with special favour, it was dear to His heart. All the architecture of Corinth was nothing to God, and there was much that was pleasing to the eye of man. But that little company, so precious to the heart of God, was the object of His care and blessing. All His thoughts were centred there, His truth was operating there, and how He desired its prosperity. Now if those in Corinth just lived the way they had always lived in the past they would have offended the assembly of God in the sense that they were living inconsistently with the position that God had given to them. So, dear brethren, do not think that the only time we are to be on our best behaviour is when the assembly is gathered together. We are always in the house of God and correct behaviour is always required of us, so our leisure moments also have to be lived in the dignity that belongs to the assembly of God. It may be that when people hear the things that we say and then they see the things that we do, they might shake their heads in disbelief and say ‘I thought those people were Christians', and, of course, if they have anything of a critical nature to say I believe it is an offence to the assembly of God. Paul is basing all that he says on this truth, that they were the assembly, the called-out ones, of God and he wants a behaviour that is consistent with the blessing.
“What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God , and shame them that have not ?” (11:22)
When the Corinthians came together there were some who were hungry having no food, having nothing to eat, and there were others who had plenty to eat and they never thought of their poor brethren, they never offered them a share in what they had, and so the principle of selfishness was operating amongst them. ‘And', Paul says, ‘in that way you are despising the assembly of God'. It is a very solemn thing that this glorious truth that we enjoy so much in practice, the remembrance of the Lord, is brought in in the epistle to the Corinthians to correct them in view of their selfishness, to show them that there was a proper behaviour becoming to the assembly of God. Only then does he go on to remind them of all that was expressed in the Person of Christ when He gave His body, when He shed His precious blood.
I think I have mentioned sufficient except to say this, that in the assembly in chapter 14 there is edification. This is to be expected. It was once asked ‘What would you look for as the evidence of a gathered out company?' And the reply was two things, firstly, the ability to shut out evil, and secondly, a rich supply of food from our Head in glory. These two things are worth thinking about because, if evil is excluded, then there will come from the Head an abundant supply of food to build up and encourage the lives of the saints. So in the assembly, in chapter 14, Paul says there is edification, comfort and exhortation, a circulation of truth and ministry that guides and helps us and encourages us so that we are able to live here for God.
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. ” (14:34)
I am not going to speak first concerning the sisters, but instead I am going to remind the brothers that there are occasions when they also are to be silent (v.30). This instruction is mentioned before the sisters are told to be silent, and it is good for brothers to remember this. Sometimes meetings can be governed by feverishness and a desire to speak and to say something when someone else might have something to say from the Holy Spirit. In the Corinthian assembly Paul gives instructions as to how the assembly is to operate, and if one receives the impression to keep silent he should keep silent and so make way for the one who is receiving something from the Lord that is worthwhile.
Secondly, we are reminded that the sisters are to keep silent in the assembly. This is the word of God. It is not Paul's word, not my word, not the brethren's word, it is the word of God; and we desire to see this maintained. We know that there are companies of Christians attempting to put this aside and make way for sisters to audibly partake in meetings of the assembly in direct contravention to the plain statement of the word of God. We are not disparaging them but if we desire to function together as an assembly in any given place then it behoves us to listen to what the word of God says. I think I have said sufficient about the assembly.
The Becoming Behaviour of the Sanctified Company at Corinth
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication that is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (5:1-2)
If ever a man stooped below the level of the sanctified company it was the incestuous man that we read of in 1 Corinthians 5; he committed an abominable sin. It is to the credit of the Corinthians that when they were ministered to by Paul as to this sinful act they dealt with it and removed it from their midst. It is obvious that they knew about this, it was a public matter. It was not only known amongst the Christians, it was known by all in Corinth, and yet they had never mourned. Dear brethren, and I am speaking for myself, what do we know about mourning in relation to the low state that exists amongst us and in the Christian testimony generally? It is good to mourn in relation to this. I believe that Paul was more concerned over the failure of the Corinthian assembly to mourn in connection with this sin than in the actual sin itself, evil as that was. He says ‘You are puffed up, coming behind in no gift, you have plenty of knowledge and yet a dishonour is in the midst of you and you have not even mourned before God'. When we read the Scriptures we find that the men of God in the Old Testament who did great things for God were men who mourned before God in humiliation confessing their own sin and the sin that was so obvious around them (e.g. Dan.9, Ezra 9, Neh.9) and this had power with God.
We said a few moments ago that there is a great difference today in the condition of the assembly compared to Paul's day. In 1 Corinthians 5 the assembly was in such a reasonable condition that they were able to put out from amongst themselves this evil man (v.7), they acted in discipline. In 2 Timothy 2:21 where the same word is used (these being the only two cases where this particular Greek word is used) the condition is such that in the professing body evil has such a grasp, is so deeply entrenched that I cannot put it out, I can only separate myself from it. That is the course for all those who seek to be true to the Lord. I believe especially in 2 Timothy that the evil is of a religious character and those who desire to be free from it have simply to leave it, to purge themselves out from the condition that obtains. What is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 is to remind us that discipline is to be a mark of this sanctified company. It is not a free for all. Lawlessness obtains in the world, but lawlessness is not to obtain in the Christian company. Discipline is to be in activity, whether in an extreme case as excommunication or perhaps a rebuke and remonstrance where necessary in minor cases. This requires love, care and patience. I am not advocating a tyranny, an austerity, a wielding of the big stick as we say, I am asking for an exercise of discipline in love and care, principally for the Lord's glory, but also for the benefit of those concerned. Dear brethren, we cannot possibly have true worship or a true testimony if we allow things that are wrong to circulate in our midst. The Lord will in some way or other, in prayer and in waiting upon Him, give guidance as to how to deal with these matters.
“Now I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1:12)
This is another occasion in this epistle of brethren dipping below the level of the sanctified company, they were following men, creating parties. Paul says ‘You are all together, we do not want any of this party spirit, we do not want any situation to arise where the saints are divided through following certain persons, we want the sanctified company to be one and to follow each other in the truth'. Over these last few years it has been a great joy to see companies that were formerly apart moving together with a desire to be true to the Lord. I suppose we all feel, belonging to different companies, that things are done in a different way from what we have experienced when we move to different companies that we did not walk with before. Perhaps this experience is greatest in the breaking of bread meeting, where one company likes to see the bread broken immediately, a second company likes to see it broken halfway through the meeting and a third company likes to see it done at the end of the meeting. When we come to Scripture we say there is no guidance on this matter, and so no company can claim that their particular way is the correct way, but the important matter is to make sure that the Lord is honoured and the Father is worshipped. This, we believe, is the great truth connected with the supper. What I am trying to get at is this, that it is a great matter to have tolerance and to wait upon each other without insisting that our way is the best way, our way is the only way, and our way is the way that must be followed. We have proved in these years that the merging together in love and in patience has paid dividends. If we had persisted in pursuing one particular way it would have been disastrous, and how thankful we are that we can come together as those who love the Lord Jesus, and who desire, humbly and faithfully, to walk the pathway for His pleasure and glory. If we are going to follow a certain procedure what we desire to do is come to the word of God and see what the word of God says. We are not to be governed by what any brother says, however gifted or esteemed he is, our sole authority for all that we do, for all that we think and for all that we say is found in the word of God, and if we believe that then we ought to practice it.
The Fellowship of the Sanctified Company, the Church
“with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's” (1:2)
Now for a few moments I want to talk about fellowship. If you look at the commentators or expositors, most, if not all, will say that this verse brings in profession, that there is the possibility of some persons calling upon the name of the Lord but not being real. That might be so, but I am perfectly sure of this, that when Paul made this statement he was not thinking about persons who were not real, he was saying ‘Now you Corinthian believers, I am addressing you, Sosthenes the brother is addressing you, and those who call upon the Lord's name in other places, they too are addressing you, and we are all bound up together in one fellowship'. I want to prove this to you by quoting some Scriptures, and I want you to turn to them because I feel this is very, very important.
“For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you in remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church .” (4:17)
Paul is saying to the Corinthians ‘I am not giving you a particular form of teaching that I do not give to others, I teach the same everywhere. The truth is one. What I am saying here I say in every assembly that I visit.'
“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churche s .” (7:17).
Again Paul is saying that this matter of husband and wife is not something that is peculiar to the Corinthian assembly, he preached this in every assembly.
“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God ” (11:16)
This very important chapter deals with the matter of headship and I want to speak about it very briefly. This very important chapter deals with headcovering. Sometimes this question has been relegated to the simple matter of ‘wearing a hat or not wearing a hat', and that is a great oversimplification of the issue; it is much greater than that, it is a very dignified thing. In the opening verses Paul says “the head of every man is Christ; and head of the woman is the man; and the head Christ is God” (v.3). This is a matter of headship, so that what follows is in a very dignified setting. We can all say this, that when Christ submitted to the headship of God it was in perfection, you could not think for one moment of Christ not answering to God's headship in perfection. Every moment of His life God's headship was accepted by the Lord Jesus. Now Paul says “the head of every man is Christ”. This is much wider than the Christian circle. I would ask my brethren as I ask myself ‘Have we all been subject to the headship of Christ? Have we submitted to His authority, His direction and His guidance?' This is a very humbling matter. Then says Paul “the head of the woman is the man”. It is in this context that he brings in the teaching that a man is to have his head uncovered when he prays or prophecies, but when the woman prays or prophecies she is to have her head covered. So this is a very dignified thing, the woman sees her proper place in the scale of headship that has been set up by God and expressed by Christ, and that it is a thing that men should follow just as she does. It is outside the realm of ‘Do I wear a headcovering or do I not?' Is it a preference of mine, can I opt out of it?' The Bible says, No. Paul says “if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God” (11:16). Paul says ‘We do not contend about this matter, it is a settled matter in the churches. The sisters cover their hair, they look after their hair because it is a glory to them, they submit themselves to the claims of God. They do what is right in His sight', and so order is maintained in the assemblies. Dear sisters, do not relegate this to merely a question of ‘Shall I do it, or shall I not' or ‘shall I conform to fashion or to custom?' See the dignified place that you have in the scale of headship and if Christ glorified God by submitting to His headship, and if brothers can glorify Christ by submitting to His headship, oh, think that you sisters can glorify God by submitting to man's headship and wearing the headcovering that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches is appropriate.
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints ” (14:33)
Here Paul is dealing with the matter of taking part in the assembly, the exercise of gift and making sure that order, according to God, is maintained. I think I have said sufficient to indicate to you from the word of God that in New Testament times assemblies were not independent of one another, they were linked together. This was firstly and most importantly by their allegiance to Christ, they obeyed Him, He was the common object. The truth also linked them together, their nature, so to speak, linked them together, they were all ‘called out persons', and they were all moving together, governed by the same truth. I was reading in a book an account of some meetings in another part of the country and one of the brothers said ‘In an assembly about four miles from us they do things differently from us but we are not interested in what they do'. This seemed to me to be a very independent attitude. We are interested in what each other does, we are interested in the prosperity of our assemblies, and we are linked together, and linked together in this way that I think I have demonstrated from the word of God.
Now how did assemblies communicate with each other? Paul, an acknowledged servant of the Lord, travelled amongst them having apostolic authority and he could speak very plainly and simply and definitely about the truth that he had received from the Lord. There came a time (we read of this from the second letter) when the Corinthians said ‘Paul, the next time you come to us you make sure you bring a letter of commendation' (3:1-3). What effrontery! Why, they owed their very existence to Paul's ministry! they would not have been saved apart from his ministry and that of Silas and Timothy. But this does indicate that that was a method of communication in those early days. If a Christian went from one place to another he carried with him a letter of commendation signed by accredited persons, so that when he presented it to the assembly they knew him to be a member of another assembly. Here was a method that bound them together and they were known in their movements with each other. Paul mentions in the second epistle about giving certain persons letters because they were moving to another assembly with gifts. Romans 16:1-2 is Paul's letter of commendation for that beloved sister, Phoebe. Dear brethren, this is the word of God; it is not a brethren custom, it is a Scriptural practice. We are to use letters of commendation as we move amongst the assemblies. If a stranger comes along and desires to be received at the breaking of bread and he has not a letter of commendation then I think it is right that for that particular occasion he ought not to be received. Now brethren might disagree with me, I am stating what I think. It is right in these days of confusion that we should identify persons clearly as persons who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and are not connected with anything that is dishonouring to the Lord. In this respect letters of commendation are extremely important.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (15:58)
We are not living in apostolic days, but we are living in days of opportunity. We are living in days when the apostle appeals to us, as he appealed to his beloved Corinthians, and notice he did not say to them, ‘You are a worthless lot', again and again he addressed them as his ‘beloved' brethren (4:14,17, 10:14, 15:58). What an affection the apostle had for them. Oh, the desire he had for their spiritual prosperity! So he exhorted them. Notice what he says, “your labour is not in vain in the Lord”. In these last days it is not easy to maintain what is right and proper before the Lord. We read in Revelation 3 about those who “kept the word of [the Lord's] patience” (v.10). I want to say a word about that. The word ‘patience' there does not mean that we are waiting for something in the future and we wait quietly and simply for it, the word patience has the meaning endurance, that is, that you bear up under the trials and difficulties that prevail and you remain true to the Lord and to His word. So I say to us all, young and old alike, that it is not easy in these last days to maintain what is right for the Lord. ‘But,' says the Lord, “You have a little strength” (v.8), and do not think for a moment that that word “little” indicates that it is insignificant, not for a moment. “Fear nor, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) - are they an insignificant company because they are designated a little flock? Not for one moment. So, dear brethren, the little strength that the Philadelphians had was a commendable feature in them in that in that little strength they could hold on, they could endure, they could maintain things right to the end. Thank God they, like us, were waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A few steps remain, I do not know how many, but may we be found faithful to the truths of the called-out ones of God, those who are precious to the heart of God, precious to the heart of Christ. Do not let us forget that every true believer belongs to this position, but whether every true believer wants to walk according to the principles of that position is another matter, and we would say humbly ‘ We want to' , and in the grace and power that the Lord would give us, may we hear Paul's word again “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”.