The Time Is Short
1 Corinthians 7:18-40
Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. (vv. 18-40)
In the earlier portion of this chapter the apostle, by the Holy Spirit, laid down for us the Christian standard of marriage, showing that with a single exception, which the Lord Himself has indicated in Matthew 19, marriage is indissoluble, the marriage relationship once entered into cannot be broken with impunity, and if any one attempts to break it and marries another, he is guilty of the sin of adultery, the violation of the seventh commandment. That at once raises a question, for there are many people who have had rather unhappy marital experiences before their conversion, and have been separated from husband or wife. Remarriage has taken place, and while they are in such circumstances the grace of God finds them and they are saved. What of them? The apostle makes that point clear when he says, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” He illustrates this in this way: If you were called, if God saved you as a Jew, do not try to Gentilize yourself but just remain a Jew. Though you are now a member of the body of Christ you cannot undo what you are by nature, and you cannot undo what has taken place before you were converted. On the other hand, if you were a Gentile before you were converted, and now find yourself in a community, as many did in those days, of Jewish believers, do not attempt to Judaize, do not try to make a Hebrew of yourself, for that is impossible. You are saved as a Gentile, God opened the door of faith to you as a Gentile, He took you up as you were; therefore abide with God. To be either Jew or Gentile means nothing now. The great thing for the future is obedience to the Word of God.
Now that you are a Christian you have a new standard by which to live, for God has given His Word to you. That applies where people have had rather mixed experiences along the line of marriage and divorce. When they are converted, all the past is wiped out by the precious blood of Christ. God called them and He saved them in the condition in which He found them. He did not ask, for instance, that the husband and wife who had been married contrary to Christian principles separate in order to be saved. He took them as they were, made them members of Christ, and He recognizes them as His own who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Now let them abide in the relationship in which His grace has found them, and by living faithfully as husband and wife adorn the doctrine of Christ.
The apostle continues by saying, “Art thou called being a servant?” The word for “servant” is “bondman,” and when this epistle was written slavery extended over the entire world and many of the early Christians were slaves. “Art thou called being a slave? care not for it.” Do not get restless because of that. You are the Lord’s freeman, but if you are set at large, then use your liberty for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.” He is no longer a slave in God’s eyes, he is free to serve Christ; and as the slave serves the earthly master it is a wonderful thing for him to realize, “I am not simply serving my master, I am serving the Lord Christ. He called me in these circumstances, and here I am to glorify Him.” And he that is free is not to say, “Well, I have no master, I am free, I am not a slave; I can do as I will.” Oh, no! He says, “He that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant,” and he uses the same word again, Christ’s “bondman.” He has been bought, he has been purchased, and so is never to seek to have his own way but is to take the way of the Lord.
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” And then he reiterates, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” That brings in a restriction. I may be saved in a certain calling in which, after all, I could not abide with God.
And then he reverts to what he had been speaking of in the early part of the chapter. “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” Some would say, “Well, the apostle recognized that he was not inspired when he wrote this.” Not at all. He is simply telling us that the Lord has given him no commandment to say that a virgin must marry or must not marry, but he gives by inspiration his judgment in the matter. He was a wise pastor who recognized the conditions prevailing at that time, and said, “I suppose, therefore, that this is good for the present distress.” The days in which this letter was written were days of great persecution, of fearful suffering, when one might have to flee at a moment’s notice and leave home and loved ones for Christ’s sake. And so Paul is saying, “For the present distress I should say this is the best thing.”
“Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed.” If you are bound to a wife, do not, of course, seek to break the tie; but, “Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.” But if one says, “Yes, but I have found one who appeals very much to my heart and I would like to make her my wife,” if she is willing to share with you the risk and danger, “If thou marry, thou hast not sinned.” On the other hand, “If a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” It is not a question of taking vows and saying, “I will or I will not marry.” It is a matter of being guided by the Lord under existing circumstances.
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.” The apostle says, “Whatever you do, keep in mind that you are here for only a little while, and you are here to glorify God and that is far more important than to seek your own happiness. You are living in difficult times, in perplexing days, but your hope is the Lord’s near return.” This is always the blessed hope for the Christian, and they were to live with that in view. “This I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed
not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.” In other words, we are not to allow any temporal relationship or any human occupation to hinder our fellowship with God or our obedience to His will. When he says, “It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none,” he does not mean that they are to disown their wives, to be cold and indifferent toward them, or hard and unkind. Nothing like that, for he has already inculcated the very opposite principle. He means that the one thing to live for is not your own happiness as husband and wife, but if you are united in the Lord, see that your great business is to live for Him.
A dear friend of mine spent a great deal of his time traveling around the world giving out the gospel and his precious wife remained at home perhaps two-thirds of the year caring for the little family. I once said to her, “It must get awfully lonely for you. You hardly have any married life living like this.” Her eyes filled with tears, and she said, “The day my husband and I were married we promised each other we would never let our personal comfort interfere with our devotion to the work of the Lord, and I believe He called my husband for this great evangelistic ministry, and therefore I am glad to keep the house while he goes out to his work.” I said, “I have a choice tidbit for you. Have you noticed what David said concerning those that abide by the stuff while the others go out to war? He said, ‘As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff’ (1 Sam. 30:24). And so if you carry out your part, when the judgment seat of Christ is set up and you and your husband stand there before God, if he has thousands of precious souls to his credit for whom he is to be rewarded in that day, you will get half of it, even though you could not go out and do the preaching, for the Lord says that those who abide by the stuff shall share with those that go to battle.” That is the principle. Every one is to act in view of the fact that the time indeed is fleeting, the Lord’s return is nearing, and no consideration of personal comfort is to be allowed to hinder devotion to the will of God.
And then Paul adds, “They that weep, as though they wept not.” The causes of weeping will soon be over and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. It does not say that you must not weep; but if you do, it is to be as though you wept not. Who are the folk who weep not? They are the happy people; and though you weep you can be joyful, even in the midst of sorrow, if you are looking on to the glad day of the Lord’s return.
And then, “They that buy, as though they possessed not.” You cannot get through this world without buying; it is impossible to live in this scene without something for physical comfort as you go along. But do not set your heart upon such possessions, do not let your affections be entwined about earthly things. As you go through this world it is perfectly right and proper to enjoy many privileges: “He giveth us richly all things to enjoy”; “and they that use this world, as not abusing it.” In other words, do not let the spirit if the world get hold of you. While enjoying the good things that God in His grace lavishes upon you do not set your heart upon them, for they are all fleeting, they will be gone someday. If your treasure is all here, if your heart is set upon things here, when everything here has disappeared, what will you have left? If you have Christ, you will have that which satisfies the soul when everything else is gone.
Remember that the “fashion of this world passeth away.” The apostle is careful to explain that in what he has to say in regard to the single life, as under certain circumstances preferable and possibly wiser than to enter the marriage relation, he does not mean to put people under legal restriction. It is evident it was necessary for him to explain this because within a century-and-a-half after these words were written monasticism had come into the church. People were living in deserts and caves as hermits; they had dedicated themselves to the Lord and taken a vow that they would never marry. Communities of monks and nuns were supposed to be holier than other people, because thus dedicated to a virgin life. The apostle says, “I am not urging anything like that upon you when I speak. It may be wiser for the present distress that you do not marry,” but in the thirty-second verse he says, “I would have you without carefulness.” That is simply, I would have you without anxiety.
In the midst of persecution what crushing anxiety must of necessity rest upon the heart of a husband and father if away for a time, knowing that the family is exposed perhaps to a cruel and awful death. He cannot get them out of his mind and he will find it difficult if away on a mission, to serve the Lord without distraction, and so he says, “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” He may say, “I have only one life anyway, and if called to lay it down for the Lord, very well.” It may be a great deal harder if he has to think of wife and children in grave danger because of affliction and persecution.
“He that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” He that is married is necessarily anxious about temporal things. When he says, “Careth for the things of the world,” it is not meant as a slur as though it were wrong, but it means that he cares for temporal things; he has to think of the provision for and the safety of his loved ones. It is very right and proper that he should. There is the same difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman, if dedicated to the work of the Lord, cares for the things of the Lord that she may be holy in body and in soul. Some of the most wonderful Christians that have ever lived have been women who for Christ’s sake chose never to marry, but to devote their lives to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. I never quite understand why married people who have the comforts of home often speak in a disparaging and unkind way of unmarried people. I should think, if marriage is so delightful, that married people would speak in a very tender and sympathetic way of people who have not married, but instead of that they speak sometimes in such a contemptuous way. I never like to hear people say, “Oh, she is just an old maid!” or, “He is just an old bachelor!” Wait a moment, he whom you so designate may be glorifying the Lord in a way he could not have done if he were the head of a household, and she of whom you speak may be one who is rendering wonderful service to God and humanity. I repeat, some of the most devoted Christians I have ever known have been unmarried men and women who gave themselves wholly to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All honor to them!
But now he says, “And this I speak for your own profit”—I do not want to cast a snare upon you, you are perfectly free to choose in the Lord which life you would lead. I am simply exhorting you concerning that which is seemly—”that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” But if, after thinking it all over, after living up to the present time of life unmarried, you think it might be better for you to marry, very well, do what you will; you do not sin in being married. But on the other hand, if you can stand steadfast in your heart, if you do not feel any particular yearning for the marriage relationship, and have decreed in your heart to live singly, do so. Whether you keep your virginity or whether you do not, you are doing well, if unto the Lord. “He that giveth her in marriage doeth well,” but under these circumstances, “he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”
And then he concludes by laying down the definite principle, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth.” Mark this; do not let any one miss this; it does not say, “as long as the man liveth”; it says, “as long as her husband liveth.” If he who was her husband became an adulterer, he has broken the marriage relationship. While he may be forgiven, yet nevertheless, our Lord Jesus shows that there is one sin that dissolves the relationship. “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” What does that mean? It means a great deal more than just following your own fancy. It means a great deal more than, “in Christ.” We are distinctly told that the Christian is not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. If you are a Christian and unmarried, and you have never thought this through, take it home. If you ever contemplate marriage, put it out of your mind at once that you might possibly marry somebody who is unsaved. That would be positive disobedience to the Word of God. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). Of course if you are saved while married to an unsaved person, we have had instruction not to leave but to pray that they may be brought to Christ. But if you are not married, settle it in your mind that you will never permit your affections to be entwined around an unsaved person.
An old Puritan said, “If you are a child of God, and you marry a child of the Devil, you will be sure to have trouble with your father-in-law.” Do not forget it. For a child of God to take the Devil for his father-in-law will be a fearful mistake; nothing but trouble will follow, for God has said so in His Word. You say, “Well, I am thinking of being married, so I must marry a Christian person.” True, but there is something even more than that. Let your marriage be “in the Lord.” One is to be led by the Lord in this important matter as truly as in anything else, and so, marriage “in the Lord” is marriage in subjection to Him whom we own as Lord and Christ. “Oh,” you say, “then if I marry in the Lord, I will always be happy and never have any troubles!” Not necessarily, but when the troubles come you can say, “The Lord gave me this husband, or wife, and the Lord will give me grace to get along with him, or her.” When you know it is of the Lord, the Lord will enable you to get through to His honor and glory.
“But,” the apostle says, “she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment”; and he is giving inspired judgment, but not a command. It is good sound judgment. You know it is often proven that the second marriage is a mistake. Of course sometimes it is a blessing.
Then I think there is a little irony in the last part of this verse, for there were some people questioning Paul’s apostleship and judgment, and so he says, “She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the mind of Christ.” In other words, “They say I haven’t, but I think I have.” He wrote these words as truly by inspiration as when he penned that matchless eighth chapter of Romans.
Let me bring you back to those words, “This I say, brethren, the time is short.” We have but a little while to testify for God. Christian, shall we not seek to use every moment for His glory? Shall we not seek in every calling wherein He has called us to abide and be used in blessing for a lost world? Shall we not put out of our lives anything that hinders fellowship with God and usefulness in testimony?
If you are unsaved, take these words home: “The time is short.” The time when mercy is being offered is slipping by.
Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf:
Be in time!
Fairest flowers soon decay,
Youth and beauty pass away,
Oh, you have not long to stay:
Be in time!
Our Lord’s return draws near, death too is ever following on your track and you are still out of Christ. In grace He “came from Godhead’s fullest glory down to Calvary’s depth of woe” for your redemption. Does He not deserve to have you trust Him and confess Him openly as your Savior? “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
Christian Liberty And Brotherly Care
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (vv. 1-13)
In this chapter the Spirit of God deals in a very remarkable way with the great theme of Christian liberty and brotherly care. It is almost impossible for us, in a land like this, to visualize the exact circumstances in which the early Christians were found, but those who have labored for any length of time among a heathen people will understand exactly what the problem was with which the apostle deals in this particular chapter. It was the question of how far a Christian was at liberty to eat meats which at their killing had been dedicated to idols. This was the common practice. In fact, practically all the meats that were sold in the markets had been so dedicated. One can understand that many of the early Christians feared that if they fed upon meats of this character they should be bringing dishonor upon the name of the Lord and possibly appear to countenance idol worship. I have noticed the same thing among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona, and also the Navajo and other Indians when they become Christians; they are concerned as to anything that looks like participation in or recognition of heathen ceremonies, because they want the people to understand that they have made a clean cut with the old life. In Corinth this was quite a problem, and it is evident that they had written to the apostle Paul for information concerning it.
“Concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me,” we read in the opening verses of the seventh chapter, and this expression introduces the rest of the epistle. From that point on the apostle is dealing with matters that had been submitted to him by letter, that he might give his inspired judgment for the guidance of the church. And so here he says, “As touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge.” “We all,” that is, we Christians, we know the one true and living God and we know the folly of idolatry. However, in these first three verses the apostle stresses the importance of humility, both as to our attainments in grace and our knowledge of the truth. We may know certain things that others do not, and may act upon our knowledge in such a way as to put a stumbling block in the path of someone else; so he exhorts us to hold that knowledge that God has given us in the spirit of humility. We quite understand that there are no such beings in the world as those represented by the idols, but that does not do away with the fact that behind the idolatry is satanic power. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to [demons], and not to God” (1 Cor. 10:20); therefore there must be no compromise whatever between Christianity and pagan religions. We know that those who are in the darkness of heathenism are in the bondage of Satan, and therefore our missionaries are not to take from their pagan religions all the good they can and then share what we have with them. Not at all. To a people whom we know to be lost in their sins, worshiping idols that represent nothing that is real, our missionaries go to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. This was what the apostles and their fellow workers went forth to do, and their methods should be our methods. We need nothing new. The gospel is still “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16), and where it is preached in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, miracles will be wrought in the hearts and lives of heathen men today just as truly as nineteen hundred years ago and down through the centuries.
“We know that an idol is nothing in the world,” but on the other hand everybody does not have this knowledge, and it may not be wise to say, “It does not make any difference to me whether these meats were offered to idols, and so I am at liberty to eat.” Yes, as far as my own conscience is concerned I am at liberty to eat of it, but let me stop to consider the effect of that upon others. “But,” you say, “I know.” Yes, but “knowledge [mere knowledge] puffeth up.” It is quite possible to be conceited and proud over the fact that I have a little knowledge that someone else has not. I may well ask, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). There is a tendency to pride in our hearts even in the things of God. We get a smattering of His Word that some others do not have, and instantly we are lifted up in our own conceit. He says, “Knowledge [if it is only that] puffeth up.” Do you see the difference? Knowledge puffs up— love builds up. Some of us get to be like a great swollen frog on a log, just puffed out with wind. We imagine that we have advanced wonderfully over other folk. Throw a stone at the frog and he suddenly shrinks to about one-fifth of the size he seemed to be. Yes, knowledge puffs up but love builds up. It makes for real, solid growth.
We need to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and if we put knowledge before grace, it will work harm to ourselves as well as to others. “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” Has God given me a little light on His Word? After all, I know very little compared with the many things of which as yet I have no knowledge, and so let me hold in all humility what He has imparted, thanking Him for it, but walking carefully before Him.
“If any man love God, the same is known of him.” We might have expected the apostle to say, “If a man love God, he knows God.” That is true, but the other side is the wonderful part of it. If any man love God, God knows him, and it is that in which we can rejoice. I like the way the apostle John speaks of himself so often, “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” If you or I had been writing that, we might have said, “The disciple who loved Jesus”; and I do not know whether we would have stopped there, we might have said, “That disciple who loved Jesus whose name is So and So.” That is the way most of us do. Naturally we all like to get our own names to the front. We need to be brought low to the feet of our blessed Savior. John gloried in the fact that he was that disciple whom Jesus loved, and it is for us to rejoice in the fact that we are known and loved of God.
Then in verses 4-6
we have the hollowness and the emptiness of all idolatrous systems. There is a science, a very recent one, known as the “Science of Comparative Religions.” I think it had its origin largely in the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893, when there was a great Congress of Religion and teachers came from all parts of the world to exchange thoughts on religious concepts. From that time on men began comparing one religion with another. There is a “Science of Comparative Religions,” but Christianity is not one of them. Christianity is not a religion, it is a revelation. It is not something that men have thought out; it is not a system of philosophy, or ethics; it is something revealed from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit. Idolatrous systems are the works of men energized by the enemy.
“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” That God is the God who has been revealed as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “For though [in the world around and in the pagan nations] there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (as there be gods many, and lords many), but to us [to those of us who have accepted the revelation that has been given in this holy Word] there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” Observe, Paul is not speaking here of the doctrine of the Trinity, neither is he intimating that it might be a mistake to put our Lord Jesus Christ as the divine eternal Son on the same level with the Father and the Holy Spirit. To us there is one God, and that God is the One who has revealed Himself in the Word as our Father, as the Creator of all men; He is the Father of all that believe. He is the Father of the universe because that through Him it came into existence; it came out of Him, and therefore there is a sense in which it is perfectly right to speak of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. He is the God of the spirits of all flesh; all men came into existence through Him. But man is a fallen creature, he has turned away from God; he is dead spiritually, and therefore needs to be quickened into newness of life; and it is only when regenerated, when born again, that he comes into the family of God through redemption. Now he can look up into the face of God and say, “Our Father,” something that he could not do in his unconverted state.
The apostle says, “There is but one God,” and this is perfectly true. Elsewhere in Scripture we find that He subsists in three persons: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That comes out very clearly in the baptismal formula. “Go ye therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). How incongruous it would be to put the name of a mere creature in there! Suppose, for instance, much as we revere the one who was blessed and favored above all women because chosen to be the mother of the Son of God, that we should say, “Unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the blessed Virgin Mary.” How instinctively every Christian heart would shrink from that. We must not put a creature into the place of Deity, but we can say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” for the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit is God; the Father without the Son and the Holy Spirit would not be God. The Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit is God: the Son without the Father and Holy Spirit would not be God. The Spirit with the Father and the Son is God; but the Spirit without the Father and the Son would not be God. That is a definition that was coined some years ago by the venerable Dr. Joseph Cook of England, and it sets forth the truth as it is in Scripture.
When we are speaking of Christ in His mediatorial position, we bring Him down to the place He took in grace as a Man without denying His Deity. Someone asked me this question: “Is there any sense in which God the Father is greater than Jesus Christ?” When we think of the Lord Jesus as the Eternal Only-begotten Son, He is coequal with the Father; and when He speaks of Himself as the Son, He says, “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23). If any man does not honor the Son, he dishonors the Father. “I and my Father are one.” But having stooped in grace to become Man, the Man Christ Jesus voluntarily takes a place of subjection to the Father, and therefore, as the Son born on earth of a virgin mother, He is the same Person, but the same Person in different circumstances; He voluntarily assumes humiliation and says, “My Father is greater than I.” There is no difficulty about this if we remember that He is Son of God in two senses: God the Son from eternity, and the Son of God born of a virgin mother here on earth, with no human father.
“There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him.” And then, there is “one Lord Jesus Christ,” one to whom we yield the allegiance of our hearts and recognize that He is our Savior, “By whom are all things, and we by him.” That is, our blessed Lord is the originator of both creations—”By whom are all things.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). This entire creation came into existence through the word of His power. “He spake, and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.” He who is God is the Son from all eternity. But this creation fell and a mediator was needed, and so He came into the world in lowly grace; He assumed a servant’s form and became Man without ceasing for one moment to be God. As Man He went to Calvary’s cross to settle the sin question. He was buried, but He rose again in triumph, and as the risen One He is Head of the new creation. “By him are all things”—that is the old creation. “And we by him”—that is the new creation. God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). For we who were dead in sins have been quickened together with Him, and it is because we know this, because we know that God has thus revealed Himself, that we are through forever with idols. Sometimes when we talk of missions, there are those who speak slightingly of this work, speak of it as though it pays very poor returns. We ourselves have only to go back a few centuries to find that our ancestors were idolaters, but the gospel came to them with the knowledge of God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ delivered them from their idolatry and thus we are what we are today. Shall we think for one moment of refusing to give the gospel to those still sitting in the darkness in which our forefathers once sat?
From verse 7 to the end of the chapter the apostle dwells especially on the importance of concern for the consciences of others. We may not face exactly the same problems that these Corinthians did, but we need to have the same care for the consciences of other people. A Christian may say, “I am quite sure that this thing is right; I have perfect liberty, and I am not going to let somebody else dictate to me what I should do.” But stop a moment; suppose that someone else who does not have light on this thing is quite convinced that you are deliberately and willfully disobeying the Word of God. If by-and-by that person should come to the conclusion that since you, a stronger Christian, feel free to do that, he is free to do it too, what then? Do you not see that his conscience will be defiled and his testimony eventually be ruined. So the apostle says, “There is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol,” that is, believing that an idol is a reality, and believing that they are committing an idolatrous act. “And their conscience being weak is defiled.” Under those circumstances we can deny ourselves of that which might injure and hurt them if they persist in it.
“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” Why do we need to be concerned about nonessentials like these? If this matter will trouble someone else, I will put it out of my life. I will not use my liberty if it causes another to stumble. I will not use my liberty to gratify my own desires. “Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols?” Perhaps he is just a young convert, or simply an inquirer, maybe one not at all established, perhaps not yet truly regenerated, and if he sees you do something that hurts his conscience and he does the same thing, he denies his conscience, and it may lead to the shipwreck of his faith. Because you insist upon your liberty, shall that weak brother perish? He is not affirming that any true child of God will ever be lost, but he puts it in the form of a question. Would you be willing so to behave that it would cause another’s shipwreck? “Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”
Some years ago I was preaching in a gospel hall in Detroit. A former Muslim from India was there who was at the head of a tea business, and he had been brought to know the Lord Jesus Christ. On one occasion when holding a meeting there, the Sunday school had its annual outing and we all went over to a beautiful spot, and spent the day together. I was chatting with this brother, Mr. Mohammed Ali by name, when a young girl came by passing out sandwiches. She said, “Won’t you have a sandwich?”
“Thank you,” I said, “what kind have you?”
“I have several different kinds.”
“I will help myself to several of them.”
And then she turned to Mr. Ali and said, “Will you have one?”
“What kind are they?” he asked.
“There is fresh pork and there is ham.”
“Have you any beef?”
“No, I do not.”
“Have you any lamb?”
“Thank you, my dear young lady, but I won’t take any.”
Laughingly she said, “Why, Mr. Ali, you surprise me. Are you so under law that you cannot eat pork? Don’t you know that a Christian is at liberty to eat any kind of meat?”
“I am at liberty, my dear young lady, to eat it,” he said, “but I am also at liberty to let it alone. You know I was brought up a strict Muslim. My old father, nearly eighty years of age now, is still a Muslim. Every three years I go back to India to render an account of the business of which my father is really the head, and to have a visit with the folks at home. Always when I get home I know how I will be greeted. The friends will be sitting inside, my father will come to the door when the servant announces that I am there, and he will say, ‘Mohammed, have those infidels taught you to eat the filthy hog meat yet?’ ‘No, Father,’ I will say; ‘pork has never passed my lips.’ Then I can go in and have the opportunity to preach Christ to them. If I took one of your sandwiches, I could not preach Christ to my father the next time I go home.”
Of course the young lady understood. He was acting exactly as the apostle is suggesting here. We have liberty to refrain from doing these things if they will trouble other people. Love is to be the dominating motive. “When ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”
And so the chapter comes to this striking conclusion, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” This is true Christian liberty coupled with brotherly care.
Servant Of All
1 Corinthians 9:1-23
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (vv. 1-23)
Everywhere the apostle went his steps were dogged by legalistic men who hated the doctrine of grace and who sought in every way possible to shake the confidence of his converts. His commission had been called in question and they denied that he was a true apostle. In order to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ in an official sense, it was necessary that one should have seen the Lord and have been commissioned by Him. More than that the signs of an apostle, the working of wonders, should be manifested in him, and these enemies of Paul’s intimated that he could not be a true apostle, for he had not been connected with the testimony when the Lord was here on earth; he had not seen the Lord, they said, and he did not work the signs of an apostle, having no true commission. He answered them like this, “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”
Certainly Paul had seen the Lord. He saw Him in the glory that day when he was thrown to the ground on the Damascus turnpike and he beheld the risen Savior seated on the throne of God. That was the time when he received his commission, for the Lord said: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:16-18). That was the time he saw the Lord, and it was then he received his commission. And had not the signs of an apostle been manifest in him? He does not even deign to speak of the miracles. He had wrought miracles as had the Twelve, but there was a far greater sign that ever accompanied his ministry, and so he says to those who had been turned to the Lord through the preaching of the Word from his mouth, “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” The evidence that he was a truly God-sent servant was found in this, that wherever he went the Spirit of God confirmed the message that he carried, convicted men of their sin, led them to definite faith in Christ, and gave them the assurance of forgiveness and justification, that afterward by a new life they might demonstrate the reality of the work that had taken place in their souls. And so he says, “Do you listen to men who impugn my apostleship? Are you prepared to believe that possibly the signs of an apostle are not found in me? What about yourselves? Who brought you to Christ? To whom are you indebted under God for the knowledge of His grace?” “My answer to them that do examine me is this.”
Others said, “Well, you can see he does not have the same confidence that the rest have, he does not even have a wife, he goes about alone.” Many believe those people are mistaken who tell us that Paul was a bachelor and that this possibly accounts for some things that he has to say in this letter and elsewhere in regard to the ministry of women. They think this is a mistake because when the blood of the martyr Stephen was shed, he gave his voice (or literally, his vote) against him. That seems to imply that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, and that he voted for the death of Stephen. He could not have been a member of the Sanhedrin if he had not attained the age of thirty years and if he had not been a married man. So he may have been married in his earlier life, but now was a widower and chose to devote his life in widowhood to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, not because he thought it was wrong for a minister of Christ to have a wife. The idea that those who preach the gospel should live the celibate life was unknown in apostolic days; that was a superstitious fiction of later years, when men came to believe that the unmarried monk and the childless nun were holier than the Christian father or mother.
The apostle says, “I have full authority to lead about a sister in Christ as a wife, I have full authority to marry a sister in Christ if I desire to do so. The other apostles did.” This of course shows that the celibacy of the clergy, so-called, was unknown in those days. “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” That is, James and Jude were married men, and Cephas, Simon Peter, was a married man! Some people tell us that he was the first Pope. Well, then, he was a married Pope. “Or,” says the apostle, “should only I and Barnabas live this celibate life?” They chose that life that they might be untrammeled in their missionary work as they traveled from land to land enduring hardships one should not expect a wife to endure with them.
Others objected on this ground, “He knows he is not a real apostle for he does not depend on his ministry for his temporal support.” I suppose if he were living today, there would be those who would say, “He degrades the cloth by working for a living.” He was a tentmaker, and some said, “He would never soil his hands making tents if he knew that he was a genuinely appointed apostle; he would never stoop to anything like that.” But he says, “Oh, no, I have a perfect right to be supported in the same way as others, but I have reasons why I refuse to permit you to support me.” He came to them when they were heathens, when they were pagans and living vile ungodly lives, and he did not intend to pass the collection plate and ask them to contribute toward his support; he would rather go among them and labor, working with his own hands to support himself and his companions and keep the gospel absolutely without charge. I wish the church of God had never given up that position. It is a great reproach on the church of God when its representatives turn to a Christless world and beg and wheedle money out of ungodly men to support the work of the Lord. The divine method is that the gospel of God should be supported by the people of God who give out of love for Christ, and when a servant of Christ under certain circumstances is not thus properly supported, he should not be above working with his own hands while he continues to minister the gospel as occasion presents itself.
The apostle here shows that it is quite right and proper that the Lord’s servants should be supported by the church of God. “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” If a man is a soldier, he is not expected to support himself; the country for whom he is fighting takes care of him. “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?” And then he uses an apt illustration from the law of Moses. It is written in the book of Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (25:4). The reference is to the old-fashioned way of threshing corn or wheat. The ox goes around and around and treads it out. How inhuman it would be if the ox becoming hungry would not be permitted to munch a little of the grain as he treads it out. The law permitted him to have some for himself. “Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.” There is an admonition here, something for the people of God to take note of: “That he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”
And so he lays this down as a principle, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things,” that is, if the servant of Christ gives his whole time and energy to the study of the Word of God in order to prepare himself the better to minister the things of the Lord, if he turns from what people call secular life, “is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” Just as the ox finds its food in the work it is doing, so the Lord has appointed that His servants should be cared for by those who receive benefit from the ministry that they give. “If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power”—we prefer to forego our own rights in order that you may see that our service is an unselfish one and in order that the heathen may not say that we are in the ministry for what we can get out of it. “Lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.”
It is perfectly true that they that minister about holy things should live of them. These words refer to the priests in Judaism for they were sustained by tithes and offerings. “They which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar.” In our dispensation while there is no distinct priesthood, and all believers are priests, yet they that give themselves to ministering the Word are to be sustained by the people of God in that work. “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” But if a servant of Christ says, “I choose to forego that privilege, I am able to support myself and still carry on the work of the Lord,” he is free to do it. Paul says, “I have chosen that path, I do not want one of you to say that a selfish motive actuated me. I preach the gospel, but I have nothing to glory in; I am a servant. My Master sent me to preach it. He put necessity upon me, yea, I find myself in trouble if I do not preach it.” “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” I wonder if that word has been forgotten by many who once gave themselves to the ministry of the gospel, but today seldom mention the great truths whereby men and women are saved. Is it not a sad fact that many today who are looked upon as evangelistic preachers never tell sinners that Christ died for the ungodly, never proclaim the saving power of the Lord Jesus, never exalt the cross as the only means of redemption for poor sinners? What an account to face before the Lord someday! I wish that a minister of Christ who gives himself to what he calls a social program, merely ethical preaching, might be awakened through these words of the apostle, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” Our responsibility is to make Christ known as the only Savior of sinners. If I do this thing willingly, if I gladly go forward preaching the gospel for the name’s sake of the Lord Jesus, by-and-by when I stand at the judgment seat I shall be rewarded.
Never mind whether people appreciate me now, never mind whether I get my reward down here, I can leave it until that day when the Lord will estimate everything aright. But even if I do not preach the gospel willingly, still the message is going out, and God will bless the message, but I myself will lose the reward. “A dispensation [a stewardship]…is committed unto me,” and I must fulfill it. What is my present reward? That I make money in preaching it? No! That “I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.” I will not go to dying men and say, “Give me your money, and if you do, I will preach to you,” but I will go and preach the Word freely whether I ever receive a penny for it or not. After they become converted it remains with them and the Lord: it is my business to give out the message. The apostle takes a very high and noble position. It is a most obnoxious thing to God when those of us who profess to be ministers of the Word commercialize His truth by setting a price upon our service. Only so much preaching for so much money. Paul says, “It is my joy to preach whether supported by men or not; I make the gospel without charge.”
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” I am not concerned about what men think of me, but I have deliberately and of my own volition made myself to be the servant of men. What does he mean by that? Simply this, I am the servant of Christ, but Christ has sent me to minister His Word, and I seek to do so in such a way as best to reach men in their need, and in this sense I put myself under bondage to men in order that I may make the gospel clear to all men. “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” When he preached to the Jews, you will find instance after instance in the book of Acts where he turned them back to the Old Testament, to their Jewish ceremonies and laws, and based everything upon the Jews’ hope of the Messiah, showing how all has been fulfilled in Christ. On the other hand, when speaking to the Gentiles, men who did not know the law of Moses, he put himself on a level with those to whom he spoke. He talked of God, the Creator of all things, who gives us “rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). The God who does all this cannot be an image, an idol made with man’s hands, He created the heavens and the earth. And then he undertakes to show how God has sent His Son to save men who have sinned against Him; he puts the gospel in a way that the Gentiles may understand it.
Verse 21 is very interesting and should be a help to many who may not quite understand the Christian’s relation to the law. Reading from the latter part of verse 20, “To them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law.” Here we have two classes of men. There are those that are under the law, they are the Jews or, in our day, any to whom the law of God has come. But here is the other class, “To them that are without law, as without law,” that is, the Gentile nations, the pagan nations. They have never heard the law of God. If Paul himself were under the law, as some Christians think a believer is, he would not say, “I
became as under the law.” Where was Paul? He was not under the law nor was he without law. He was neither subject to some legal ritual nor was he lawless. Where did he stand? Between the two, “Being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.” He says, as it were, “I am not under the law of Moses, neither am I lawless, but I am under law to God, being legitimately subject to Christ.” Do you see the place of the believer? Neither under law nor without law, but legitimately subject to Christ. And where has Christ expressed His mind for me? In the four Gospels and in the Epistles. Somebody says, “You do not mean the four Gospels! Do you not know that they are altogether Jewish?” I know some have said that, but I remember that the Spirit of God has said something very serious in regard to such. He says in 1 Timothy, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings” (6:3-4). Let us be very careful that we do not teach otherwise than in accordance with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The words of our Lord are found in the four Gospels, nowhere else excepting in the first part of the book of Revelation and in one or two sentences in the book of Acts, and there the Lord shows us the kind of life Christians should live. Paul says, “I seek to be legitimately subject to Christ.” And then the Lord has further given His will in what we call the Epistles. Through the Holy Spirit He has shown us the heavenly calling and the lives that should correspond. We should be very careful if we say we are not under the law, which is true, lest we are found to be lawless, which is antinomianism and repugnant to God. We are to be en-lawed, or legitimately subject to Christ.
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” That is, in ministering the Word of God Paul delighted to enter into the circumstances of the people to whom he spoke. Possibly you make up a sermon in the quiet of your study, working it all out carefully, your introduction, your firstly, secondly, thirdly, and as many other numbers as you like, and then your conclusion, and you say, “There, I have a sermon on such and such a text.” And then you go to the pulpit without taking the needs of the people into consideration, and you just pour out the sermon that you have made up for them in the study. That was not Paul’s way; he had the needs of men before him and he preached the Word. A minister told me about a difficult position in which he found himself at one time. He always read his sermons, and he had been asked to go and preach to a certain congregation, and so, looking through the barrel, he selected one and shoved it into his briefcase with his Bible. When he got on the platform, he pulled it out, spread it before him, and found that he had brought a different sermon than the one he intended taking. It was a Memorial Day sermon, and this was some time in the fall of the year. So he said, “I am very sorry, dear friends, I have made a mistake, but I am going to give you a sermon I preached on Memorial Day and hope you will get something out of it.” Is it any wonder that people get so little edification when they listen to things like that? As a minister of Christ Paul’s great object was to get to the hearts of men and give them the Word as they needed it. “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” He did not try to astonish people with his eloquence, he gave them the Word to convict and help and bless and cheer and make things plain to them, that he might gain the weak. In fact he says, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” This should be the object of all gospel testimony. We have been commissioned to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Striving For A Crown
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (vv. 24-27)
There are two lines of truth running parallel through the Word of God; salvation, which is by grace alone, and reward for devoted service. Salvation is not a reward for anything that you or I may do, nor is heaven a reward for a life of faithfulness here on earth. Salvation is a free gift, eternal life is a free gift, heaven is the home of all the redeemed, open to every one who puts his or her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot pay for a place in heaven; we cannot earn it by tears, by sacrifices, by our gifts or by anything that we can do.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
That must ever be the confession of every saved soul. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). But while salvation, eternal life, a place in heaven, are all set before us as God’s free gifts to believing sinners, the Word of God has a great deal to say about the importance of service and about rewards for faithfulness. “Behold, I come quickly,” says our blessed Lord, “and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). Manifestly, the reward is not a place with Himself in heaven, but it is the special expression of His satisfaction in the believer because of devotedness, because of faithfulness in the life. The importance of this is brought out in the passage before us.
The apostle Paul has the race course in mind. There is a great deal in the Bible about athletics. One can scarcely help coming to the conclusion that Saul of Tarsus was a thoroughly red-blooded young man, interested in games and sports and in everything that would challenge a normal, clean, decent young fellow such as he evidently was even before he was converted. What he saw in the games made a deep impression on his mind, and the Holy Spirit used all this in after years to give us some very striking and remarkable illustrations, one of which we have here. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” What is the prize at the end of the race? For a young Greek it would not be citizenship. It was a law with the Greeks that no young man could contend in the games unless he could prove that he was of pure Greek parentage; that had to be settled before he became a contestant. As the people watched the races they knew that those young men were already Greeks by birth. They were Greek citizens running a race. For what? To obtain honor, to obtain glory, to obtain a prize. And so the apostle here pictures those who are saved as running a race. We are already heavenly citizens. Of every Christian it is written, “Our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall [transform] our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). Our citizenship is settled if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not born Christians, but we are born-again Christians. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:6-7).
It is a great moment in the soul’s history when he awakes to realize that by nature and practice he is an alien, “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Col. 1:21), that he does not belong to the family of God; that ere he can belong to the family of God a change must take place, a change which he himself cannot effect, but which God brings about by His sovereign power. “Of his own will,” says James, “begat He us
[by] the word of truth” (James 1:18). Notice, it is through the Word that we are begotten of God. Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word [not the whole Bible as such] which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). Believing the gospel we are born into the family of God. And now, as in the family of God, we are running a race, not to get to heaven for, as far as that is concerned, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16), but we are running a race for reward for Christian service, Christian responsibility, and if we run our race well, there is a reward at the end. If we fail in the race, we fail in the reward. We do not fail of heaven, of salvation, because our work is not all it ought to be or all we would like it to be. “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15), provided he is a Christian.
So the apostle says, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” If I am going to run in order to obtain a prize, I must do it in obedience to the Word of God. “If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5). The 1911 King James Version translates it, “If a man contend in the games yet is he not crowned if he hath not observed the rules.” God has given us instruction in the Word concerning how we are to serve, how we are to run, what we are to do, and we will be rewarded if we go in accordance with the Book.
An incident struck me forcibly some years ago when working among the Indians in New Mexico. It was during the time of the Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden. One Saturday night I went to the trader’s store. He was a very intelligent Christian Indian, and was also my interpreter. He was standing up on a chair with perhaps forty or fifty Indians crowded around him, and he was reading from a newspaper and interpreting it for these Indians. I stepped up behind him, and as I looked over his shoulder, I saw that he had a metropolitan newspaper containing an account of the games in Stockholm, Sweden, telling of the triumphs of that well-known Indian athlete, James Thorpe. Many of these Indians knew him well, and how proud they were to think that one of their race had gone over there and, contending with a great number of different athletes, had carried away the greater part of the prizes. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds when the interpreter translated the words of the King of Sweden as he took him by the hand and said, “You, sir, are the greatest amateur athlete in the world today.” Those Indians were so interested because he was one of their own, and had beaten the white man in his own games.
A few weeks later I went into the store again. Once more the trader was reading from a newspaper, but this time the atmosphere was tense. I could feel that something was wrong. The Indians were scowling and grunting and I wondered what it was all about, so I stepped behind the interpreter again and looked over his shoulder, and read that a certain white man had been indignant that an Indian should have carried off so many prizes, and so made an investigation of his past life and found that some years before when a student at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he had received five dollars a week during the summer months for playing ball with a village baseball team. They unearthed the evidence, sent it to the King of Sweden, and proved to him that James Thorpe had no right to participate in the games at all because they were entirely for amateurs. He had taken money for playing ball, and that put him out of the amateur class. The king had written to Thorpe and asked him to send back all the papers and medals, and it had nearly broken his heart. He sent all back and wrote to the king, “I hope your majesty will not think too hard of me. Please remember that I am only a poor ignorant Indian boy. I did not know that taking five dollars a week for playing ball on the village baseball team made me a professional. I never meant to deceive.” The sequel of that story was that the man who came next in the contests sent them all back to Jim and said, “I won’t keep them; you did better than I, and you deserve them.” James Thorpe did his work well, but he had not observed the rules, and he lost out accordingly.
I am afraid there is many a one who does a great deal of what we call “Christian work,” works early and late, and hard and often, and yet who will fail of the reward at the judgment seat of Christ because instead of going by the Word of God he has simply been following his own ideas and inclinations. “So run, that ye may obtain.” How important, fellow Christians, that we study the Bible and learn what God’s mind is, and then work accordingly.
Now notice the importance of self-control. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” One cannot help but admire some of these splendid young athletes as they look forward to a field day or something of the kind. How self-denying they can be as they train down. They will set a mark and say, “I must enter the field weighing just so much, and before that day I have so many pounds to lose, for I must be at my very best.” Some of their friends may say, “Come, now, let us go out and indulge in this and that.” But the athlete who means to succeed says, “I cannot do that, I must be at my best when I get into the arena. I cannot, I dare not dissipate.” “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown.” In this instance it was a wreath of laurel which would fade away in a few hours, and yet how much young men were willing to endure to win that crown, to have it placed upon their brow by the judge among the plaudits of the people. “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” We have an incorruptible crown in view, and shall we be less consistent, less self-denying, shall we show less self-control than they? For us there stands in the distance the blessed Lord Himself waiting to place upon our brow the incorruptible crown, and alas, alas, many of us are in danger of losing it because we are so self-indulgent, so careless, so carnal, and so worldly minded. Let us take a lesson from the athlete and be willing to give up present pleasures for future glory.
The crown, you see, is the symbol of reward. It is presented in different ways in the Scriptures. In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians the apostle, speaking to his own converts, says, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (v. 19). What is the crown of rejoicing? That is the soul-winner’s crown. Oh, to get home to heaven to stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and see there a great throng that one has had the privilege of leading to Christ! What a crown, what a reward that will be! Think what it will mean for the apostle Paul when surrounded by all his converts he comes before the Lord and says, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me.” Are you going in for a crown of rejoicing? It is your privilege if you know Christ.
The apostle says to Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). The gift of righteousness is ours by faith. Every believer has been made the righteousness of God in Christ, but the
crown of righteousness is the reward given so those who behave themselves in the light of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you love His appearing? How do you show it? By ordering your behavior now in view of His close return. “Every man that hath this hope [set on] him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
In James and in the book of the Revelation we have another term used. In Revelation we read, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (2:10). And James says, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
Eternal life is ours by faith. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). But the
crown of life is earned by patient suffering, by enduring trial and temptation, taking it all as from the hand of God Himself, even unto death if need be rather than to deny the name of Jesus.
In 1 Peter we read, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you.” He does not say, “Fleece the flock,” but, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:1-4). I like that, a crown of
believer will be glorified. “Whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30), but the
crown of glory is the reward for feeding the sheep and the lambs. In the earliest Chinese translations they had different terms for some of the idioms used. First Peter 5:4 would read like this, “When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you will receive a bright hat that will never wear out.” “A crown of glory that fadeth not away” is to be given by the blessed Lord Himself. My brethren, shall we allow the things of time and sense to so absorb us that we shall lose out in that day? Let us rather gladly say:
Take the world and give me Jesus,
All earth’s joys are but in vain;
But His love abideth ever,
Through eternal years the same.
Let us gladly “lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”(Heb. 12:1-2).
This was Paul’s determination, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Some people imagine that Paul was not quite sure that he would get to heaven, that he feared that something might happen that would turn him aside. But he is thinking of the reward at the end, and he is not afraid of losing this for he is determined to go through with God. He says that he is not uncertain; “so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” I am not engaged in a sham battle. And then, how important this is!—”But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” What does he mean? Is it just a haunting fear that he may backslide and be lost after all? Keep in mind what he is speaking of here. He is speaking of reward for service, and is saying, “I want to so serve that I can have the Lord’s approval in that day. I must not be self-indulgent, I must not let my physical passions master me, but I must master them and keep under my body.” My body is not to be the lord of me, I am to be the lord of my body. Sustained by divine grace I am to keep every physical appetite in its place, lest if I become careless and self-indulgent I bring dishonor upon the name of the Lord and become a castaway.
What does he mean by a castaway? The word
adokimos means “disapproved.” Lest he be disapproved, lest the Lord shall say to him someday, “Paul, I had a crown for you, I was counting on you, and for a while you ran well. What hindered you? You became self-indulgent and careless, and you broke down and brought dishonor upon My name. I cannot crown you, Paul; you will have to stand to one side and let someone else have the crown.” To be set to one side when they are giving out the crowns! God grant that you and I may not have to endure this great disappointment.
Have you not known of those who ran well for years and then little by little began to let down? They were not as prayerful as they used to be, they did not give as much time to the careful study of the Word as they did in the early days, they gave freer rein to the natural appetites, they thought more of their own pleasure and of taking their ease, and one day the whole Christian community in which they moved was startled to hear that there had been a terrible breakdown. They may have confessed it all with breaking hearts and eyes from which the tears were streaming, they may have judged it all and turned from it, yet people never trusted them again as they had before, and possibly they were never able to go on with their ministry. No matter how freely and fully God had forgiven, they never could be what they once were. Some experiences are simply heartbreaking, and so the word to every one who attempts to help others in spiritual things is, be careful of yourselves. “Take heed to thyself,” says the apostle writing to Timothy. Keep your physical appetites in subjection, keep your body in its place, do not allow any appetite to master you, and thus you will be able to serve to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you become careless, He may have to put you to one side, and He who once used you will not be able to do so in the future in the way He did in the past.
disapprove is also used for complete disapproval. You may be a church member taking more or less part in so-called Christian work, but see to it that there is a real work of grace in your own soul, or the day may come when you will be utterly disapproved and you will find yourself outside the number of those who enter into the Father’s house in that day, not because you were once saved and are so no longer, but because your life has proved that you were never truly born of God.
Old Testament Types Of New Testament Truths
1 Corinthians 10:1-14
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not surfer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. (vv. 1-14)
If I were to choose one verse out of these fourteen as a text, it would be verse 11, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples [the word is really
types]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have arrived.”
I learn a number of things from this verse. In the first place, I learn that all that is recorded concerning the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is sober, reliable history. The Word says, “All these things happened.” This is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I believe it without a question. The account of the origin of mankind as given in the book of Genesis happened just as we are told it did. It has been given by the only One who was there to know, and that is God Himself. The history of mankind as further unfolded in that early book is all true. “All these things happened.” And then after the calling of Abraham and the separation of the Hebrew people from the Gentile world, the story given in the rest of the books of the Old Testament as to God’s dealings with these people is true history and nothing imaginary, nothing legendary, but actual history. “These things happened.”
The second thing I learn from this verse is that in the preparation of the volume of Holy Scripture, the Spirit of God so guided and directed the human writers that He led them to eliminate anything extraneous, anything not particularly helpful to us, and that the incidents recorded are there for a definite purpose. “All these things happened unto them for [types]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived.” They took place literally just as we are told they did. But there was something beyond the literal. The nation of Israel is a typical nation, the redemption of Israel is a typical redemption, the sacrifices offered under the law were typical sacrifices, the sanctuary of the Hebrew people was a typical sanctuary. David exclaims, “In His sanctuary every whit of it uttereth his glory,” and so we may profitably read all of these Old Testament stories with the light of the New Testament shining upon them and see there marvelous pictures, wonderful types of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the people of God today. And so there are both encouragements and warnings for us in the history of Israel.
In the early part of this chapter the apostle particularly deals with some of these narratives. He reminds us how a great multitude went out of Egypt and started ostensibly for the land of Canaan, the land of promise, but many of them failed to reach that land because of unbelief which led them to many other kinds of sin, and so he says, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ.” That is, as that great company of hundreds of thousands of Israelites left the land of Egypt, it would have been impossible for any one to have drawn any distinction between those who were real and faithful and those who because of sin and unbelief would have to be destroyed. And so the warning comes home to us: it is one thing to profess to be a Christian, it is one thing even to participate in the ordinances of Christianity, to have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to take part in the Supper of the Lord, to receive the consecrated elements that speak of the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ given up to death for us; it is one thing to associate outwardly with the people of God and to seem to have fellowship and communion with them, but it is another thing to prove genuine by going on with God, by living for God, and by bearing a faithful testimony right on to the end. Of course, where there is a real work of the Spirit of God in a man’s soul, it will be continuous, but alas, there are many of whom it can be said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest; and art dead” (Rev. 3:1).
A number of years ago I was invited by a very godly minister to address his congregation on a certain Lord’s Day, and never having preached from his pulpit before, and not knowing what kind of a congregation I might be expected to face, and therefore being rather at sea as to the nature of the message that would be most suitable, I said to him, “Doctor, when I come to speak to your people, what kind of an audience will I address? Will they be mainly your own members, all Christian people, or many strangers and possibly unconverted people?” I can still see the look of sadness that came over his face and the tears that came into his eyes as he said, seriously and solemnly, “Well, my brother, I think that most of them will be our own people; we do not get a great many strangers in our place. But I am afraid that very few of our own members are Christians. After having been with them for a number of years, I greatly regret to say that I fear that the majority of them are like the foolish virgins, they have no oil in their lamps; and therefore I hope you will come to us with a clear, definite gospel message, and I shall be praying that God may use it for the awakening and the salvation of many of our people.” What a solemn thing to have to make a confession like that! And yet is it not true in many places today? We take too much for granted when we suppose that membership in a Christian church, that participation in Christian ordinances and in outward fellowship, means that one is really a child of God. There must be a second birth, there must be personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Israel there were two groups: those who had true faith in God and those who simply had an outward relationship to the people of the covenant. Those who had that outward relationship went with the rest through the Red Sea, and the apostle likens that to baptism. They were sheltered by the pillar of cloud and fire, and he compares that to the gift of the Holy Spirit. They all ate of the manna that came from heaven, and that speaks of participation in Christian fellowship at the table of the Lord. They all drank the water that came from the smitten rock, and that was an outward picture of those who drink today of the water of life that flows from the side of the wounded Christ. But this might all be outward, there might be no reality in the heart, no real work in the soul. Those who were real drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. In other words, it was not enough to drink of the water that came from the smitten rock, but of the stream that flowed from another Rock, and wherever there was reality they drank of the “attendant Rock,” as one has translated it. It was Christ who led the people of Israel across the desert into the land of Canaan as the Angel of the Lord. Jehovah said, “My name is in him” (Exod. 23:21), and in every dispensation all who have been saved at all have been saved through the Lord Jesus Christ. All who were genuine in their profession at any time and in any age were saved because they had put their trust in the revelation that God gave concerning the Seed of the woman who was to bruise the head of the serpent. But with many of this company God was not well pleased and they were overthrown. Why? Because of sin. And so the warning comes home to us now to learn from God’s dealings with this typical people the importance of being right with God today. Turn from everything unholy, judge every tendency in yourself to that which is impure and unclean, that God may be glorified in you.
“Now these things were [types], to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” Christ is the great satisfying portion of the heart. The only way that one can be delivered from the corruption that is in the world through lust is by finding heart satisfaction in the Savior.
O Christ, in Thee my soul hath found,
And found in Thee alone,
The peace, the joy I sought so long,
The bliss till now unknown.
I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But ah, their waters failed,
E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed.
The pleasures lost I sadly mourned,
But never wept for Thee,
Till grace my sightless eyes received,
Thy loveliness to see.
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me,
There’s love, and life, and rest, and joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
When people profess to be Christians, outwardly profess to be members of the church of the Living God, and yet give every evidence that their hearts are still in the world, when there is no separation from the world, no breaking from the things that dishonor our blessed God, when they are still taken up with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”—one may stand in grave doubt as to whether they have ever really been brought to drink of that spiritual “attendant Rock,” that Rock which is Christ.
And then we are warned against putting anything in the place of God. “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” The reference is to the making of the golden calf which they set up in the wilderness. Moses had gone up into the mount. Their leader who had brought them out of Egypt was no longer visible, just as our blessed Lord has gone to the Father’s right hand in heaven and our eyes do not now see Him. Therefore the people turned to Aaron and said, “We cannot see this man, he has disappeared from us; now make us gods that shall go before us, tangible gods that we can see and worship.” And so Aaron told them to bring all the gold, all the “earrings,” and other ornaments, and he would make a god for them. And they brought them and he melted them all down, poured the metal into a mold, and made a calf of gold, and set it upon a pedestal, and even gave it Jehovah’s name. He said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” And the people danced around it and sat down to eat a sacramental meal in the presence of the golden calf, because of which the judgment of God burned fiercely against them as Moses came down from the mount. You remember the dreadful results. Many of them died under the hand of God, they that were spared even had to drink the calf. Moses took the calf of gold that they had made, and ground it into fine dust and poured this into the water that they drank. That was the “gold cure” to show them the folly of worshiping any other than the one true and living God, and the lesson for us is that if we dare to put anything else in the place of God, no matter how precious it may seem to be, the time will come when we will rue it. The golden calf is still worshiped. Many worship money, wealth, pleasure, and yet claim to be followers of the lowly Savior, “Who though in the form of God, thought equality with God not something to be grasped after: but emptied himself, and became obedient unto death, and such a death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8, literal rendering). How can I be a consistent follower of Him if I put self or anything that this poor heart of mine can crave on earth in the place of the true and living God? “Little children,” says John, “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
The third is a solemn warning and is against every kind of uncleanness, “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” We are living in a day when uncleanness is everywhere. Our modern novels are reeking with it, our newspaper stands are filled with vile pornographic literature that came from hell, and men are enriching themselves by poisoning the minds of our young people. The pictures they see, the songs that come over the radio, many are filled with suggestions of impurity and uncleanness. How sternly the Christian church needs to set its face against everything of this kind. We should have no compromise whatever with impurity. People see the pictures, read the books, listen to the songs, and they all have their effect upon the flesh, and before you know it men are drifting off into unholy, unclean things because of the constant incitation to them in the music and literature of the day. Let us give everything like that a wide berth. “Ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” (Gal. 5:13).
I am reminded that this eighth verse is one that unbelievers and modernists like to point to as an evidence that the Bible cannot be fully inspired. We read that because of this sin there “fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” And if you turn back to Numbers 25:5, you will find that twenty-four thousand were destroyed because of the sin of fornication. Therefore, these objectors say, “There is a contradiction in your Bible; in one place it says twenty-four thousand were destroyed and in another twenty-three thousand.” It is not difficult to harmonize the two accounts. In Numbers the complete account is given, there were twenty-four thousand destroyed during that period in which God was dealing with His people, but in 1 Corinthians the apostle is stressing the fact that the very first day that the judgment began twenty-three thousand died. The other thousand, of course, died later on. But he is emphasizing the fact that so indignant was God with His people when they fell into the sin of uncleanness that in one day He destroyed twenty-three thousand.
Notice the fourth warning. “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.” How did they tempt Him? When they said, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” they limited the Holy One of Israel. If we say, “Can God undertake for me? I am in very difficult circumstances; is God able to see me through?” we limit God, we limit the blessed God of all grace who gave His Son for us. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Faith believes God and never tempts Him, but goes forward in obedience to His Word.
Then the fifth warning, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” The reference here is to the destruction of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the wilderness. They murmured against God and Moses, the servant of the Lord, and Aaron, the high priest of Jehovah, saying, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” (Num. 16:3). They practically said, “We do not need a mediator, we do not need a high priest, we are good enough for God as we are.” They found fault with God’s provision for them and destruction was the result.
Let us be grateful to God for the provision He has given through His Word and the Holy Spirit for the salvation of our souls and our building up in Christ. Let us never allow ourselves to become self-confident and imagine we can get along without the daily ministry of our risen, glorified Lord, our High Priest in heaven. “All these things happened unto them for [types]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [have arrived].” In view of them, let us walk carefully, and, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Let him test his foundation, make sure that he is taking the Word of God as his guide, that he is resting upon the testimony that God has given, and when the hour of trial comes, he can be sure that there is abundant grace to sustain.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13), He did this for Israel of old. As we read the story of His dealings with them, we have instance after instance of His wonderful intervention when they were at their very wits’ end, and the God who sustained His people in the wilderness, fed them on manna from heaven and water from the smitten rock, and drove out their enemies from the land of Canaan, is living still. In the measure in which we learn to depend on Him, to count on Him, we too shall find deliverance in the hour of difficulty and trial.
And so the passage closes with the solemn warning, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.” These are serious admonitions. Let us take them to our hearts, remembering that it is one thing to have made a profession, but it is another thing to have that profession backed up by a godly life that proves the profession to be real.