How Are The Dead Raised Up?
1 Corinthians 15:35-50
But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (vv. 35-50)
We have come in our study to the latter part of this great chapter. Having settled the question of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle takes up another problem that has perplexed and exercised the minds of many. If there is to be a resurrection of the dead, in what body will they arise? In answering this he gives us a special divine revelation, and we should remember that apart from revelation this is a matter of which we can know nothing. We are just as ignorant today of what comes after death as those philosophers were five hundred years before Christ whose discussions and dialogues on life, death, and immortality have been embalmed for us in the dialogues of Plato. Men still read of Socrates, Glaucas, Plato, Aristotle, and all the rest of them, and know no more today than they did then, for if God has not spoken all is mere speculation at the best. But He has spoken, He has given us His sure Word, and we may have the certainty of the knowledge that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Let us hear then what God Himself, the Creator of all, the God of the resurrection, has to say on this subject.
In the eighth chapter of Romans the apostle Paul comes to the close of his wonderful exposition of our threefold salvation: salvation from the guilt of sin, salvation from the power of sin, and salvation from the presence of sin; and he looks on to the time when we who believe shall receive the redemption of the body. We have already received the redemption of our souls, we are already saved from the guilt of sin and the judgment due to sin, but we are still in poor failing human bodies. Christians get sick just as other people do, and Christians die just as other folk die. Every little while somebody rises up with a new gospel to tell us that we may have the redemption of the body in this life, and that no Christian need ever be sick if we will just claim the Lord as our healer. But no matter how fervently they believe it, no matter how faithfully they teach it, they all take cold if they sit in a draft, they all get indigestion when they eat things that do not agree with them, they all get sick and die eventually, unless they get run over by an automobile and die by accident. They are just as truly subject to sickness and death as other people are. All the great faith healers of the past are dead, and all of those of the present will die soon unless the Lord Jesus should come in our lifetime and we should be changed and caught up to meet Him without passing through death. Those under the Adamic sentence all die. But, thank God, there is redemption for the body. The hour is coming when our Lord Jesus Christ shall return from heaven and shall transform these bodies of our humiliation and make them like unto the body of His glory. And this is just as true of the decayed bodies of those who have died as it is of those who are living when our blessed Savior returns. But this at once presents a difficulty.
The natural mind says, “I can understand how He can touch this mortal body of mine and quicken it into immortality if I should be living when He returns, but if I should die before He comes, and my body go back to the dust from which it came, and that dust be scattered to the four winds of the heavens, I cannot understand how it could be raised again. I may have a body in resurrection, but it will surely be another body; I shall not actually be raised from the dead.” Scripture answers that objection in the passage we have just read, “Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” In other words, in what way are they brought from the tomb, and what kind of a body will they have in the resurrection? The apostle says, Take a lesson from nature, “thou simple one.” The
word fool here is rather strong; he is not insulting his readers by calling them fools in the sense in which we use the word, but the Greek word means, “unthinking one.” If you would only stop to think, you would realize that there are many analogies in nature to the resurrection. We can think of some apart from these given in Scripture. Take the caterpillar crawling along the leaves. Suddenly a strange alteration comes over it and it spins a cocoon around itself. Its whole appearance is changed and it dies to its old life altogether. It stays in that cocoon a while and eventually it emerges, and out comes, not a caterpillar but a beautiful butterfly, a lovely creature which is able to soar up into the air, and no longer crawls upon the ground, the grass or the leaves. It is a wonderful picture of what the resurrection may be.
The apostle uses the illustration of a farmer sowing grain. He sows it, to use the words that are so often used at funeral services, “in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” The bare grain is sown by the farmer who believes that when it falls in the ground and seems to rot away that will not be the end of it. It will come forth into a fuller life than it has known before. But when the resurrection of that grain takes place, he does not see grain such as he has sown coming up from the ground; he first sees a blade of green, and by-and-by quite a stalk arises and then a head of wheat, oats or barley. “Thou [simple one], that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” There is no mistake made. If wheat is sown, it is wheat that rises from that grain; if he sows oats then oats will rise; if barley is sown, barley arises from that grave. There is absolute identity and yet a wonderful change. That beautiful head of grain is much more lovely to look upon than the simple little seed that went into the ground. And so with the resurrection body; there will be absolute identification in some way to the body that died. How much of that grain is in the seed of wheat? Get down to the root of the wheat stalk and you will still find the little shell out of which this stalk has come. Just so will it be in the resurrection. God will not have to use every part of this body. I do not possess today a particle of the body that I had a few years ago. When I was a boy in school, they said that the body changes every seven years. Now they say it changes every three years. I am not conscious of that change except, of course, that I know that my nails and hair grow and have to be cut. In just the same way my entire body is changing continually. There is not a bit of this body today that I had three-and-a-half years ago, and yet I know that I am I. I say to you, “You are looking so much better than you were when I last saw you,” or maybe you are looking a little worse; and you do not say, “Well, that is because you never saw me before if you haven’t seen me for three-and-a-half years.” No, you are the same person, and the body is your body, and you know it is, and yet there is not a cell in it that was there three-and-a-half years ago. And so we say that there is identity but not necessarily the using of the entire body that is put into the grave when the Lord raises us in resurrection.
The next thing the apostle stresses is that there are different kinds of flesh. We do not understand the differences, and yet we know that they are there, and that we never pass from one to another.
“There is one kind of flesh of men.” Men are made to live upon the earth, and that is the only way they are comfortable There is another kind of flesh, that of beasts, and they can live even in the earth. Think, for instance, of the bear or the raccoon, who as winter approaches go into a burrow or a hollow tree and become dormant for the period of several months until spring comes again, and then they emerge. That would be impossible for a man, but it is not for beasts. The beast is adapted to this environment; its body is different to that of a human being.
And there is another flesh, that of fish, and it is adapted to an environment that neither beasts nor men can live in. They may enter into that kind of environment for a limited period, but would drown if they had to be kept under water continually The fish is at home there; he is so constituted by God that when he is taken out of the water, he dies. One of the great German writers has well said, “If fish are philosophers, if they are capable of thinking, I am absolutely certain that every philosophical fish is quite sure that it is impossible for any creature to live out of water.” It knows that when drawn out of the water it finds itself gasping and will soon die.
Then there is the flesh of birds, and the bird is suited to fly in the air, differing altogether from mankind or beasts or fish. And so, if there are differences here on earth, why need you wonder about the difference between bodies suited to heaven and bodies suited to this lower scene?
“There are also celestial bodies,” that is, heavenly bodies, “and bodies terrestrial,” earthly bodies. Our Lord Jesus came into this world and took a terrestrial body, but after having made satisfaction for our sins on the cross, He came forth in resurrection in a celestial body, and in that body He ascended through the heavens into the very presence of God where “he ever liveth to make intercession” for us. His celestial body is the pattern of what ours shall be; we shall have bodies in resurrection that are not subject to the laws that control us now. When we turn to Scripture and hear our blessed Lord talking with the Sadducees who denied that there was any resurrection, we get a little better understanding of this. They came and said, “Here was a woman who had a husband, and he died, and the brother of that man married the woman, and he died, and there were no children. Then another brother married her, and this went on until she had been married seven times, and they had all died. Last of all the woman died also. Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection?” They thought they had put a puzzling question. But the Lord Jesus simply said, “You do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. They that are accounted worthy to attain to that age (that is, the coming glorious age of the kingdom and the resurrection) neither marry, nor are given in marriage…for they are like unto the angels, being children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:27-36). The angels are sexless. They do not propagate their kind. Each is an individual creation; and believers, in the resurrection, will be like unto the angels. That means that in resurrection we are not going to be men and women as we are now, but we will simply be redeemed people with no sex distinctions whatsoever, because the day will have gone by when the human race is to be propagated as now.
Then again in this epistle where the apostle is reproving believers for making a great fuss about questions of foods, some that are clean and some that are unclean, he says, “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them” (6:13). What is he telling us here? As long as we are in this world, our bodies have to be nourished by food, and so this body has a digestive tract by means of which we are able to take from our food those elements that repair the waste, and build up our physical constitutions. But in the resurrection that will not be so, and therefore the whole digestive tract as we now know it, is to be destroyed. It is not that you will not be able to eat, for Jesus took a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb after His resurrection, but it was not necessary that there should be any digestive tract to dispose of it. We shall have bodies that are unchanging. All the changes of time will have come to an end and our bodies will be like to the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But even when we have our celestial bodies there will be differences in the glories that we shall enjoy. So the apostle turns to contemplate the material celestial orbs, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Notice how they differ in glory. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” We read elsewhere, “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). And when we get our resurrected bodies, they will be bodies of light like that body in which our blessed Lord was manifested on the Mount of Transfiguration, and as Saul of Tarsus saw Him when he said, “I saw…a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).
In that day there will be differences in glory according to the measure of our devotedness to Christ down here, for he says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” We are all saved by the same grace and through that same grace we will be raised and changed at the coming of the Lord. But we will not all be rewarded in the same way, for reward is for faithful service, and I am afraid many of us are going to lose a great deal at the judgment seat of Christ because we have not been more true and real in all our ways down here. The day is soon coming when you and I would give worlds, if we possessed them, if we had only let God have His way absolutely in our lives. The greatest joy, the greatest blessing that can come into any life is wholehearted surrender to the will of God, no matter what it may seem to mean, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time. The things that many of us have dreaded are the things that brought us the greatest blessing as we have sought to walk with our gracious God and Father. In that day when the Lord looks over our lives, when He goes over everything with us, when He says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” how we shall rejoice to have His approbation, and how we shall wish that we had been more devoted. There is not one soul with Christ today who looks back on his earthly life and says, “I wish I had not been quite so out-and-out for God; I wish I had been less self-denying; I wish I had been more concerned about my own comforts.” But I fancy there are many who say, “If I had my life to live over again, no matter what suffering, what rendings of the heartstrings it might mean, I would never hesitate a moment to let God have His will in everything in my life.” It is not a question of whether or not we get to heaven. All who are saved by grace will be there, but there will be a difference in our rewards.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” Observe the impersonal pronoun all through these verses. Thus you will see there is identification between the bodies that die and the bodies that rise, and yet there are differences in appearance. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. Could you have identification brought out more clearly than that? The body that is sown is the one that is raised, and yet it is changed. It will be incorruptible. Death occurs only a few hours before corruption begins; but the new body will be incorruptible; it will be a glorified body. Just what that means may be seen from what the disciples beheld on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw the blessed Lord Jesus shining in that glory and they beheld Moses and Elijah, we read, in the same glory with Jesus. Moses, a man who had died, and yet was there in the glorified body. Elijah, a man caught up to heaven without dying, and he was in the glorified body.
And then we read that “It is raised in power.” How weak this poor body is! The spirit often is willing, but the flesh is weak. We find ourselves hindered by the body, but the day is coming when instead of being a hindrance to the spirit the body will be like wings to that spirit, and we will be able to go to the uttermost parts of the universe on the business of the Lord easier than we could cross the street today.
“It is raised a spiritual body.” Do not misunderstand that. A spiritual body is not a body made of spirit. God is a Spirit and is not said to have a body. He took a body when the Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”—or, “in a body” (Col. 2:9). You and I are spirits each dwelling in a body.
But I am not all spirit; I am also soul. “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). The soul is the seat of my emotional nature, the seat of all my natural instincts; as a man, it is my human self; but the spirit is the highest part of my nature to which God can make Himself known. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). As a Christian I ought to be constantly under the control of the spirit, I ought to live according to the highest part of my nature; but every little while I find that instead of being controlled by the spirit part of me, I am controlled by my soul, and I am more or less a creature of emotions. I am easily influenced this way or that emotionally, and often to my detriment and that of others. And this is called here “the natural body.” The word translated “natural” is simply the Greek adjective from the word
soul, that is, a
soulish body. This body is the suited vehicle for the expression of the emotions of my soul. The spirit is often willing to do certain things but the flesh is weak. The body being a soulish body is a hindrance to the spirit. But in resurrection I shall have a body that is spiritual, that is, a body suited to and dominated by the spirit. There will be nothing then to hinder the full expression of the spirit, and I shall be absolutely subject to God who is a Spirit.
And so it is written, “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” Adam was the head of the old creation; God formed him out of the dust of the ground. If you do not believe that, wait a while, and your body will go back to the dust and prove that Scripture is right. God breathed into this man Adam, and he became a living soul and he is the progenitor of the race. But the Last Adam is our Lord Jesus. He is the risen One and so has become a quickening Spirit. He breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” and we are linked with Him. He is the Last Adam, the Lord from heaven, and we are going to have bodies like He now has. As linked with Adam I have a body like his, but in resurrection I shall have a body like that of the blessed Lord Himself.
“Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” The first man was of the dust, dusty—or of the dirt, dirty. That is what man is by his relationship with Adam. The Second Man is the Lord from heaven, our blessed glorified Savior. The very word
Adam means “red clay.” “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” As we have borne the image of the earthy, and as we have looked like our first father, and had the appearance of the natural man in this world, so we shall bear the image of the Savior. I think this helps to explain a passage which has bewildered people: “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
A lady said to me one day, “If we are all going to be like Him we will all look alike, and how are we ever going to know each other?” That is not what it says. We have borne the image of the earthy; we are like Adam, but we do not all look the same. The wonder of it is that if it were possible for the one billion eight hundred million men and women of the world to pass before you, you would never find two that are exactly alike. Sometimes we find two people so nearly alike that we can hardly tell them apart, but there is always some little difference. The infinite variety in creation is amazing when you think that there is so little to work with: only one nose, one mouth, two ears, two eyes, one chin, two cheeks, and one forehead! And yet the Creator has made over one billion eight hundred million different specimens in each generation, and each generation diverse from every other. I do not know much about music, but I am always dumbfounded when I think how much can be made from seven tones. I cannot understand it. I should have thought all the music would have been written years ago, and that nobody could by any possibility make up another air. But there are symphonies that can be written that men have never dreamed of. So with the human family, there is infinite variety and yet we are all like the first man Adam.
And now in the resurrection body there will be infinite variety too, and yet all shall be like Him in that we shall have incorruptible bodies and yet every one different. We shall know each other yonder as we have never known each other down here. What a wonderful hope is this that Scripture puts before believers!
The Rapture Of The Saints
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (vv. 51-58)
With these words the apostle Paul brings to a close his great treatise on the resurrection, first dealing with that of Christ and then with that of the saints. In this particular section he shows us that while all will have part in the glorious event at the resurrection of the saints, yet some will not pass through death, but will be changed instead of being raised. We noticed in the closing verses of the previous portion the statement that, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God refers, of course, to that future reign when the authority of God will be manifested in heaven and over all the earth. The kingdom of God will consist of two spheres. Our Lord Jesus says, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). Those are the heavenly saints in the kingdom day. Then we also read of people brought into this blessing here on earth during the kingdom. They, of course, will be in bodies of flesh and blood. The apostle is here considering the heavenly side of the kingdom when he says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” As we have remarked before, those that are “accounted worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: but are as the angels of God in heaven” because they are the children of the resurrection. That will be the heavenly aspect of the kingdom. Observe, the apostle does not say, “Neither flesh
nor blood,” but says, “Flesh
and blood.” That is, our bodies in their present condition as sustained by blood are not suited for heaven, for the coming glorious kingdom, and therefore we must be changed. How will this change take place?
“Behold, I show you a mystery.” We have often pointed out that a mystery in the New Testament is not something mysterious and difficult to understand. The Greek word is almost anglicized here, and does not mean something strange and hard to comprehend, but a mystery is something revealed only to the initiated. Some of you have been initiated into some secret society, and have not discovered anything very mysterious, but you have found that there are certain things on the inside that folk like myself on the outside do not know anything about. That is the real use of the word here. It is a secret not known to the generality of the people, but made known to the initiated, and all God’s beloved people are looked upon by Him as His initiated ones. The only lodge I have ever joined is “The Grand Army of the Redeemed.” I was initiated into that by being born again, and then the Holy Spirit conducted me from chair to chair and revealed the mysteries as you have them here in the Word of God.
There are a number of these sacred secrets which were kept from the people of God in past dispensations, but are made known now in the glorious dispensation of the Holy Spirit. One of them is this mystery of the first resurrection and the rapture of the living saints. “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” This is a very remarkable statement. We often hear it said that, “There is nothing more certain than death and taxes.” Taxes seem to be quite certain, but I am glad to say that death is not absolutely certain for the Christian. “Well,” someone says, “doesn’t the Word say, ‘It is appointed unto man once to die’?” That is the divine appointment for man as such, but there will be a generation of God’s redeemed people who will be exempt from that. “We shall not all sleep.” He uses the word
sleep in place of
die, for death to the believer is the putting of the tired, weary, worn body to sleep until the Lord Jesus comes to waken it again. It is only the body that sleeps. The real man, the spirit and soul, is absent from the body and present with the Lord, taken home to be with Christ, which is far better, so that the bodies of our friends in Christ who have died are sleeping, but they themselves are with Christ, wonderfully happy in His presence. The apostle Paul gives us an idea of their state and condition when he speaks of being “caught up to the third heaven.” That is the immediate dwelling place of God. The first heaven is the atmospheric heaven, the second is the stellar or the starry heaven, and the third is God’s dwelling place.
The apostle had the experience of being caught up into the third heaven, and he was so enraptured that he could not tell whether he was in the body or out of the body. That teaches us several things. First, if Paul was in the body, his body was no clog upon him, and when we are in the presence of the Lord in the body our bodies will be no hindrance to us as they often are now. But if Paul was taken out of the body, then he did not miss his body. He was just as conscious out of as he could be in it. Some say that it is impossible to live out of the body, but it is no more impossible than it is for the works of a watch to go on running without the case. The body dies, it is put to sleep, but the believer lives on, “Absent from the body,…present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). In the first resurrection the body is raised in glory, and the spirit comes to dwell in the body again. That is the state of the believer when Christ calls us forth from the tomb.
How many have questioned these words, “We shall not all sleep.” It is a remarkable fact that in the Douay Version, which is read by a large section of the professed church of Christ, this passage reads, “We shall all rise again, but we shall not all be changed.” How it ever got into the text perplexes people, but that is exactly what is written in the Vatican manuscript. But older ones read like the translation we have here, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” The manuscript of the fourth century, from which the Douay Version was translated, shows how unbelievers had already come in; some scribe tampered with the text, and if it were not that we have older manuscripts giving it as here we might be perplexed about it. But “we shall not all sleep,” and there may be some of us in this generation who will be living when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. But whether living or dead we shall all be changed.
Every one of us must undergo the glorious change in order to have part in the heavenly side of the kingdom, and that shall take place instantly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. I cannot think of anything much faster than that. It does not say, “In the
winking of an eye,” but “in the
twinkling of an eye.” As quickly as a gleam of light shines in the eye, so quickly shall we be changed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have often tried to think of what that would mean. There are dear children of God lying on hospital beds, weak and suffering, enduring days of pain and nights of anguish, and they are crying in the distress of their souls, “O Lord, how long?” One moment enduring excruciating pain, and the next rising to meet the Lord in the air in a body that can never suffer again. Then there are some of God’s people whose minds have failed because of the stress of things, perhaps shut away in some sanitarium, possibly melancholy and in gloom, maybe imagining that God has forsaken them and that there is no hope for them. The poor brain has given way completely, and yet the next moment with intelligence such as the angels have, as they find themselves in their glorified bodies looking into the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a marvelous hope it is! No wonder the apostle calls it this “blessed hope.” “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
When will that be? “At the last trump.” How may we understand that? There are those who have attempted to link this trump with the trumpet of the seventh angel in Revelation. In that book you have a series of seven trumpets, and when they are blown, various judgments are poured out upon the earth, and when the seventh is blown, the kingdom of God is ushered in. Some have thought the apostle is referring to that trumpet, thus indicating that the church of God would be here on earth going through all the tribulation and distress, only to be saved out of it when the seventh trumpet is blown. But the book of Revelation was not written until approximately thirty years after the writing of this epistle, so that there is no possible way by which there could be a connection between these trumpets. And when we turn to 1 Thessalonians we find that this trumpet is called, “The trump of God” (4:16). It is not the trumpet of an angel. Why is the trump of God here called “the last trump?” That expression was very familiar to the people who lived in Paul’s day. It was in common use in connection with the Roman army.
When a Roman camp was about to be broken up, whether in the middle of the night or in the day, a trumpet was sounded. The first blast meant, “Strike tents and prepare to depart.” The second meant, “Fall into line,” and when what was called “the last trump” sounded it meant, “March away.” The apostle uses that figure, and says that when the last trump of this age of grace sounds, then we shall be called away to be forever with the Lord. We have heard the first. Many of you remember when you were just part and parcel of the world, you were living with the world and like the world, and you were settling down here, but you heard the gospel trumpet awakening you out of your sleep. And then I trust you have heard the second trumpet calling you to take your places in fellowship with God’s beloved people as soldiers in this scene. And now what wait we for? For the last trump, when we shall be summoned, not to march away nor yet to fly away, but when we “shall be caught up together…to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). When will it take place? It is an undated event in the ways of God with men. It may take place today, it may be tonight; but whether at midnight or in the morning or in the daytime it will make no difference to us for we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” I do not need to dwell on that.
“And we [who are living] shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” You will notice that you have the two groups. “This corruptible”—that refers to the dead—“must put on incorruption.” The dead whose bodies have corrupted away will be raised in incorruptible bodies. But the living, “this mortal,” those that are alive but subject to death if time goes on, “shall put on immortality.” This is the promise that we have in Romans 8:10, where we read, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead.” A little word is omitted there which may be added to make it more clear. “The body is
[still] dead because of sin.” You may be a believer, but your body is still under the Adamic sentence, “Dying thou shalt die.” But the spirit is alive and is the pledge of the new life yet to be. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). I know that some have taught that the indwelling Spirit gives new life to the mortal body right here and now. But that is what the apostle denies in the tenth verse, “If Christ be in you, the body is [still] dead because of sin.” But if the Spirit—the Spirit of life—dwells in you, someday He shall quicken into newness of life your mortal body by the Spirit that dwelleth within you. When will that be? At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.
Then we read, “This mortal must put on immortality.” Notice the terms
immortal. These refer to the body; never to the spirit or soul. The everlasting existence of man is taught in Scripture, but immortality is a blessing that will be revealed when our Lord comes.
“When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” And now he goes back and quotes from the book of the prophet Hosea, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (13:14). Death comes in and takes from us our nearest and dearest, and our hearts are pained because of the separation. But if we know Christ, and if our loved ones were in Christ, the sting of death is gone, and we are looking on to a glorious reunion when Jesus comes again. What a wonderful event it will be when saints who have been separated here on earth will recognize one another as we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Then we can sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” That which makes death terrible to the unsaved is sin—“The sting of death is sin”—but if we know that sin has been put away, that sin has been purged by the precious atoning blood of Christ, then that sting of death is gone.
“The strength of sin is the law.” Do you believe that? I wonder whether some of you have not thought that the law is the strength of holiness. You have imagined that the way to be holy was to be under the law, and you have tried to obtain sanctification by keeping the law. It says here, “The strength of sin is the law,” not, “The strength of holiness is the law.” What does he mean? The law simply stirs up everything in the human heart that is opposed to God, and instead of producing holiness the result is greater transgression. That is what the apostle puts before the Galatians and the Romans. The law never produces holiness. It is the heart occupied with the Lord Jesus Christ that produces holiness. When you have seen that the law condemns, but that Christ has borne the condemnation for you, then you can look away to Him, and as you are occupied with Him you will be a holy man or woman. You cannot make yourself holy by rules and regulations. Not even God’s law given at Sinai has the ability to make men holy, but the living glorified Christ can change people into His image as they are taken up with Him, so that they become holy.
Paul concludes this section by saying, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Death may seem for the moment to triumph. It looked like triumph when death came into your home. I felt it was a triumph of death when it came years ago into our home and took one after another whom I loved most tenderly, but as I look on to the glorious future and realize that death is to be swallowed up in victory at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, I can already claim by faith that conquest over it and exclaim, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the verse with which the section closes comes home to every one of us, “Therefore”—because these things are true—“my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for asmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” They tell me that occupation with these precious truths that have to do with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ may have a tendency to make people heady and theoretical, and no longer useful in the church of God here on earth, but I do not know anything that should so grip the soul and put one to work for God as the knowledge of the truth we have just been considering.
The First Day Of The Week
1 Corinthians 16:1-12
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me. Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do. Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren. As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time. (vv. 1-12)
Many have wondered why such a seemingly prosaic portion of Holy Scripture as this should be preserved for us down through the ages, and have asked what special spiritual help it gives, what lesson it has for the people of God since the days when the apostle wrote it. We can quite understand that there were certain personal things that would be of interest to the Corinthians, but what difference would it make to us whether this portion of Scripture should be lost or not? It is just these personal touches in the letters of the apostle Paul and other apostolic writers that prove that these epistles are not forgeries. Any one trying to write a forged letter to pass off upon people as the Word of God would certainly leave out just such details as we have here, but these are things that come bubbling up from the warm heart of the actual writer of the letter who was in touch with all these people to whom and of whom he speaks. I want to note briefly several things in connection with the persons mentioned, before dwelling more at length on the topic of this address.
The Christianity of Paul was a very practical thing. One occasion for the writing of the first part of this chapter was that there had been a prolonged famine in the land of Palestine and in other parts of Syria, as a result of which many of the Jewish believers were suffering greatly. The apostle, moving around among the Gentile Christians in Europe, where conditions were very different, laid the responsibility upon them of ministering to the needs of their Hebrew brethren in Christ. That is something that Christians have sought to imitate all down through the centuries since. It is a most practical way of showing the unity of the church of Christ and of manifesting the compassion of our Lord toward those in need. It is this that was pressed so earnestly upon the Corinthian church—their responsibility to help their Jewish brethren. They could not say, “Oh, well, these folks in another land are not intimately related to us. If they have not been provident enough to lay aside during the years of plenty, why should we share our possessions with them?”
Christianity demands that we recognize the fact that we are members one of another, and if one member suffers all the members suffer. In fact it is more than that: Christianity demands that we show deep interest even in men and women of the world who are not one with us in Christ, for we are told, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). And this has characterized the true church of God wherever there has been a cry of need. When nations, peoples or cities are in distress, Christian people are the first to put their hands into their pockets and share with those who are in need. I wish that those who spurn the church, those who ridicule the message of the gospel, would bear this in mind. I wonder, if it depended upon utter unbelievers, how much interest would have been taken in past years in famine refugees in India, in China, or in those who suffered as a result of the World War in Europe and elsewhere. The Red Cross is first of all a product of Christianity. That red cross is the blood-stained cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is these practical ministries that show that believers have the same love that animated our Savior when He came from heaven to give Himself for a lost world. So Christians are to look out for those in need and seek to make things easier for them.
The apostle is very careful that everything should be done in a manner that would commend itself to the consciences of others. He never went out on his own responsibility accumulating large sums of money, supposedly for the poor, without being accountable to any one, lest he might have been laid open to suspicion, and people might have said, “He uses this to feather his own nest.” No, it is as though he says, “I do not want to be responsible for your money: I want you to make your offerings in my absence.” “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” He wished nothing to do with it, but allowed them to appoint the men that they trusted to take charge of this fund and carry it to Jerusalem. He told them that, if they wished, he would go with them, but he would not take the responsibility of handling the funds. That is a very good principle. Many a professed servant of Christ has gotten into difficulty through soliciting and obtaining money for which he gave no proper accounting. We can all take a leaf out of Paul’s book when it comes to handling funds.
He was laying out his work for the coming season, for he was not one to trust to haphazard openings. He was coming to the Corinthians when he passed through Macedonia and he said that he might winter with them. First he would visit Ephesus, and then later he was going to Jerusalem, and he was anxious to be there by the Feast of Pentecost, the time when years before the Holy Spirit descended and the church was formed. He wanted to be there on that specific occasion for it would give him a remarkable opportunity of reaching the thousands of Jews who would come up from all over the world to keep the feast, and he would be enabled to meet them and to present the gospel to them. Then too, many Christians would be there with whom he could have happy fellowship.
“For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” God had opened a door for the testimony, and of course there were those that opposed him. No servant of God who is in the current of the divine will ever have to hunt for open doors for testimony. He simply needs to be obedient to the Lord. The trouble is we are not all willing to let the Lord guide us. He has told us that it is “He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth” (Rev. 3:7). The business of the servant of Christ is to be in His will and say, “Here, Lord, I am at Thy bidding. Open doors or close them as Thou wilt. If Thou wilt have me go, I will go; if Thou wilt have me refrain from going, I am under Thy command and Thy control.” If the Lord opens the door, never mind the adversary. “A great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” The adversaries did not frighten Paul. He went forward, “Strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10), knowing that, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Then in verse 10 notice his kindly interest in his younger fellow servants: “Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do.” This is our friend, Timothy, and I take it that he was a bit troubled with what our psychologists call an inferiority complex. He was not constantly shoving himself forward; he rather underrated than overrated his ability, and Paul realized that because he was so humble and lowly there were some who might belittle him and set him to one side. Paul says, “He is my companion in the gospel; he does the same kind of work that I am doing, so help him forward.”
And then I think there is something to be learned from the way he speaks of Apollos. “As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time.” Some folk have an idea that the apostles were the first bishops of the church, that they had all authority in their spheres, and that the apostle Paul was an archbishop of western Asia and eastern Europe. If that were the case, he could command the other brethren to go as he directed. He would have said to Timothy, “You go here,” and to Apollos, “You go yonder,” and they would have gone. But there is nothing like that here. Paul did not occupy any such place; he did not lord it over other servants of Christ. He was himself a servant subject to the Lord Jesus and recognized that the others were in exactly the same position. He would say a good word for Timothy, but he would not command him. Here he suggests to Apollos that it might be well to go to Corinth and minister to the brethren there; he had been there before and they had been greatly benefited by his ministry. But Apollos said, “I do not have any leading of the Lord to go there; at some later day I may.” And Paul says, “Very well, it is not for me to tell you where to go; you are the Lord’s servant.”
All these things help us to understand the conditions that prevailed in the early church. There was no great hierarchy lording it over the rest, but just the various local assemblies of believers and the servants of Christ, as gifted by the Lord, acting as subject to Him. I would not like to tear this chapter out of my Bible. It helps me to understand God’s way of guiding His servants in their ministry for Him.
We come back now to that which he especially wants to stress, “Concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” I want to trace out with you the place that the first day of the week had in the early Christian church, and that which it should have in the church of God today. Let us turn back to the Old Testament to Leviticus 23. There we have the seven great outstanding Hebrew festivals, the feasts of the Lord, the different occasions on which the people of Israel came together in a special way, beginning with the Passover and finishing with the Feast of Tabernacles. In Leviticus 23:10-11 we read: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” When was the Sabbath? The third verse says, “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.” The Sabbath then was the seventh day. The Feast of Firstfruits took place on “the morrow after the sabbath,” which was the first day of the week. And what was this Feast of Firstfruits? It was the feast that immediately followed the Passover.
What was the Passover? We have had its typical significance in the fifth chapter of our epistle. The apostle says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (5:7-8). The Passover was the recurring memorial feast of the death of the lamb, the shedding of the blood, and the sprinkling of the blood upon the doorposts and the lintels in Egypt, by which the people were delivered from judgment. For God had said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exod. 12:13). The Passover speaks of the death of Christ.
Following the Passover you have the sheaf of firstfruits presented before the Lord. Of what does it speak? It tells of grain that has fallen into the ground in death, but has come forth in new life. Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). He was the corn of wheat who fell into the ground in death; He has come up in resurrection. The Feast of Firstfruits speaks of this. The apostle has already explained it for us in 15:23: “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” On the first day of the week the sheaf of firstfruits was presented before the Lord, and this is a type of the resurrection of Christ. In the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel, verse 1, we read, “In the end of the Sabbath”—the word is plural and should be translated “Sabbaths”—“as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” And what had happened? The blessed Lord had risen in power on that first day of the week, that morning after the Sabbath, and from that time on the first day of the week had a very special place in the thoughts and in the hearts and minds of followers of our Lord Jesus.
Psalm 118 prophetically sets forth the rejection of Christ and then His resurrection. We read there in verse 22: “The stone which the builders refused”—that is, His rejection, His crucifixion—“is become the head of the corner”—that is His resurrection. That was what made Him the Head of the corner. “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23). Men crucified Him; God raised Him from the dead, and made Him the Head of the corner.
The psalm continues, “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” What day? The day when Christ was made the Head of the corner. It was the day of His glorious resurrection, the day of the presentation of the firstfruits, the first day of the week. You see what an honored place the first day of the week has in God’s Word.
Then going back once more to Leviticus 23, we read in verses 15-16: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.” This would be another first day of the week. What was this feast? It was Pentecost. And now, on the morrow, after the seventh sabbath following the Passover, which typified the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, while the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, “suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).
The day of Pentecost had fully come, and the Lord received to Himself a new meal offering in those that had been redeemed by His precious blood. It was on the first day of the week that the Holy Spirit came from heaven to baptize believers into one body, and so, from this time on, the first day of the week has always had its special place in the church of God.
In Acts 20 we read of Paul coming to Troas and remaining there a week with the brethren. In verse 7 we read: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” It does not say that on the first day of the week the disciples came together to hear Paul preach, but it says, “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.” That is what they were accustomed to do on that day. They came together to participate in what we call the Communion service, to take part in the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup which speaks of the precious body of our Lord Jesus given up to death and of His blood poured out for our redemption. And when they thus came together that night they found they had a wonderful visitor ready to minister the Word to them. Many of them were slaves and had to work during the day, and so they came together at night. Paul participated with them in the meeting and preached the Word to them, and the service went on until midnight.
When you go back to the earliest records which have come down from those whom we call “the apostolic fathers,” those who wrote shortly after the New Testament was completed, we learn it was the custom of the believers to gather together on the first day of the week for worship and for the ministry of the Word, and, above all, to partake of what they called the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving. They thought of the Lord’s Supper as the Feast of Thanksgiving, when Christians came together to give thanks to the Lord Jesus for the suffering and sorrow that He went through for our redemption. One of these early fathers has written something like this: “Upon the first day of the week, the day that we Christians call the Lord’s Day, the day after the Jewish Sabbath, we come together to break bread,” etc. There have been those who have tried to tell us that we are all wrong in recognizing the first day of the week as a special day for worship and praise, that we should Judaize and go back to the law of Moses for our special day. But all that has been set aside in the old economy, for in the new dispensation we find God gives special honor to this new day, the first day of the week. On this day they came together to break bread. The Holy Spirit descended on this day, Christ arose from the dead on this day, and on this day they made their offerings for the work of the Lord.
The apostle tells them to lay aside at home as God hath prospered them, so that when they come together they may give to the Lord. They were to go over what they had received during the week, and see how God had blessed them, and give the Lord a part. Of course I take it that no Christian would give less than a Jew did, and he gave a tenth to God. So God would have a tenth at least, and more if they could afford it. When they came together to break bread they gave their offering to meet the needs of the Lord’s work, and to care for the needy.
Yes, we can thank God for preserving to us, all down through the centuries, the privilege of gathering together on the first day of the week. How we ought to praise Him that we live in a land that, in some sense at least, recognizes the sanctity of the day so that we can come together to worship and praise Him. How much we would lose were we to be denied this privilege!
Quit You Like Men
1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity. I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the flrstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth. I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such. The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss. The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand. If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. (vv. 13-24)
There is something delightfully personal in most of the closing messages of the apostle Paul to the various churches. He was a very human man as well as a very spiritual one. The late Dr. C. I. Scofield used to say that when we are first converted we have to be changed from natural to spiritual, but after being saved awhile we need another conversion to become natural again—in a different sense, of course. So many of us allow ourselves to become rather stilted and unnatural in our desire to be spiritual, and we lose that sweet, gracious warmth that should characterize us as Christian men and women.
Paul was a man with a tender heart. He made very real friendships and never went back on a friend. He may have grieved over some of them who forsook him, but he continued to pray for them even when they turned away from him. And those with whom he could continue to have happy fellowship were a real joy to him. I want you to notice the various personal references in this portion. For the moment we will pass over verses 13-14.
In chapter 1, when some of them were making too much of leaders and saying, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” and others again were making Christ the head of a party and saying, “I am of Christ,” he had said, “I am so glad that I did not baptize any of you lest you should say I had baptized in my own name.” He was not setting baptism at naught in the slightest degree. Sometimes we find people who make these words the basis of their notion that Paul was making light of Christian baptism. But these Corinthians were making so much of human leaders that he would not have people going about boasting that they were baptized by Paul and therefore considering that they had a different standing from others. He was very glad, under the circumstances, that as far as he could remember, he had baptized only Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanas.
And now he tells us something about that household of Stephanas. They were not little infants, but he says, “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints).” The very first home to be opened up to the gospel, when he went to Corinth, was that of Stephanas. He and his family were brought to Christ and evidently were in a position to help others, for from that time on they “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” The word translated “addicted” is exactly the same word that is elsewhere translated “ordained.” So one could say that the household of Stephanas had “ordained themselves to the ministry of the saints.” What a blessed ordination! Instead of constantly looking for other people to do things for them, they said, “We are going in to do for others; we will try to be a blessing to others; we will set ourselves apart to help God’s beloved people.” And so the apostle says, “Submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.” You see, like Epaphroditus, they made themselves of no reputation that they might bless other people.
Stephanas himself had evidently launched out into evangelistic work, and he with others had come to meet Paul. Paul wrote this letter from Philippi and he says, “I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.” I take it that he means, “I knew you wanted to send me something to help me with my expenses but have not done so, but now these brethren have come and brought an offering and I appreciate it very much.” When he was in Corinth the first time, he would not take anything from them because they were all heathen, and when they were newly come out of heathenism he did not want any one to say, “Paul is just here for what he can make out of us.” He says, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service” (2 Cor. 11:8). Others gave the money that enabled him to meet part of his expenses, and what he lacked he earned by tent-making.
He did not have such a great regard for the “cloth,” you know, that he could not soil his hands. He went into business with Priscilla and Aquila. But now that he has left Corinth, he is glad to receive from the Corinthian church a missionary offering to help him in his work. We at home are glad to send our money to those laboring in heathen lands to help make the gospel known. In return, we read, “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Aquila and Priscilla used to live in Corinth, and Paul stayed with them when he was there, but now they are away and naturally send their greetings back to the home church.
“Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.” There is such a thing as a Judas kiss, or, it might be, an insincere handshake. It means the same thing. Someone says to another, “Well, I am so glad to see you,” and then she has hardly turned her back before she says, “Hateful old cat; I wish she would stay away!” Or, another says, “Good morning, brother, so pleased to meet you,” and then he turns around and says, “I haven’t any use for him.” That is an unholy greeting. In the ancient times women kissed women and men kissed men. Women still kiss one another when they meet, but be sure it is a holy kiss. Do not profess to love her when deep in your heart there is resentment and unkindness. As brethren greet each other let it be in sincerity. Let the heart that is behind it be right. Said Jehu, “Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?” And when Jehonadab said, “It is,” we read that Jehu “took him up to him into the chariot” (2 Kings 10:15). We need to get rid of hypocrisy; we have a lot of pretension to fellowship that is not real. “I would have you,” says the apostle, “to be sincere,” that is, to be genuine in all things.
I will drop the rest of the chapter for the moment and go back to verses 13-14. Here is Paul’s closing exhortation, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity,” or, “with love.” How we need to heed this. “Watch ye.” As long as we are in this world we are in the place of danger, we are surrounded by pitfalls and snares on every hand. “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38), said our Lord Jesus Christ. We dare not trust ourselves and we cannot trust the world through which we journey.
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Since I must fight if I would reign,
Increase my courage, Lord!
I’ll hear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
It is one of the first principles of soldiery to keep a sharp lookout for the enemy, and so we must be on the watch for the enemy of our souls.
“Stand fast in the faith.” There are too many people who blow hot and blow cold; they are one thing in one company and quite different in another. But the servant of Christ, the child of God, should be one who realizes that there has been committed to him the greatest of all possible responsibilities and therefore he is to “stand fast in the faith.” As the apostle elsewhere writes to Timothy, “That good [deposit] which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (2 Tim. 1:14). It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can keep the faith.
And then we have the words, “Quit you like men.” He reproved these Corinthians in the early part of the letter because some of them were acting like babies; some were divided into little sectarian groups, and he said, “When you talk like this, it is childishness.” “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it.” Whenever you see Christians fussing, quarreling about their own rights, complaining because they are not properly recognized, because people do not greet them as they think they should, because they do not get enough applause for what they do, put it down as the “baby” spirit coming out. They have not yet reached spiritual maturity. The man in Christ is indifferent to praise or to blame. If I belong to Christ, I am here to serve Him. If I have His approbation, that is the thing that counts. “Quit you like men.” May God deliver us from our babyishness. In some churches half the time of the minister is spent trying to keep weak Christians quiet over little slights. If you are living for God, people cannot slight you because you will not let them. It will not make any difference to you. “Quit you like men, be strong.”
Someone says, “That is just my trouble. I know I ought to be strong, but I am so weak.” Of course you cannot be strong in your own strength. We read: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). And the more you realize your own weakness, and the more you throw yourself upon Him, the more you will be able to stand in the evil day, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
And then again, you are not to be strong in your own human spirit, but to be strong by the Spirit of the Lord. Turn to Ephesians 3:16-17. The apostle prays, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and He has come to dwell in you if you are a believer. If He is controlling the life, dominating your will, it is not a question of your ability to stand, it is a question of His. You are simply yielded to Him, and as you are yielded to Him you are enabled to be strong and to stand for His glory.
But then, you need spiritual nourishment, and so you become strong through the Word. Writing to young men, the apostle John says, “I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong” (1 John 2:14). How did they get that strength? “And the Word of God abideth in you.” You show me a weak, wobbling believer, and I will show you a Christian not giving very much time to meditation upon the Word of God. Show me one who is a strong, devoted, earnest Christian, seeking only the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I will show you one who is living on the Book. As you eat the Word, as you feed upon the truth, you get strength that you cannot obtain in any other way. People go around lamenting their weakness and their leanness. I get so tired of people coming and saying, “Do pray for me that I may be a stronger Christian.” What is the use of praying for you? You might say, “Do pray that I may get stronger physically.” “What kind of food do you eat?” I ask. “Not any.” And I would say, “Then there is no use praying for you.” What you need as a Christian is a good meal of spiritual nourishment, and you can get it only in the Book. You may do all the praying you like to be a strong Christian, and your prayer will never be answered until you begin to answer it yourself by feeding upon the Word of God.
But do not stop there, for we also become strong through obedience. Turn back to the Old Testament to a very blessed Scripture, Joshua 1:7: “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.”
“To do”—notice that. That is where we lack. We know, but we do not
do. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (v. 8). They had only the five books of Moses when God gave that command. You have a whole Bible with sixty-six books. Apply this to the entire Bible. “Let it not depart out of your mouth. Meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein:
for then you shall make your way prosperous,
and then you shall have good success.” I suppose you want to make a success of your life, young man or young woman. Here then is the divinely-appointed way to do it.
And so, if you want strength, this is how you get it. Live in fellowship with Christ, walk in the Spirit, feed upon His Word, obey His Word, and then when the hour of trial comes, you will not be weak-kneed, you will not be vacillating, you will not be carried about like a leaf before the wind. You will have strength to stand, and you will be able to glorify God even in the fire. It is the testing that is the proof.
It is easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows on like a song,
But the man worthwhile is the man with a smile
When everything goes dead wrong.
The Christian who is really worthwhile is the man who can be bereft of everything—he can lose his good clothes, his money, his home, his health—and after everything is gone he can say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). That is the kind of Christian God would have me be, strong in the hour of trial and strong, too, in the hour of temptation. I am afraid a good many of us keep from falling into various sins because they never come very close to us, and then we look with contempt upon people who go down when stress comes. If you had been exposed to the same temptation that that poor failing brother or sister was exposed to, you might have gone down just as he or she did. You would have, if not kept by the mighty power of God. It is only by living in fellowship with God that you will be kept from yielding. The brother said, “It is an odd thing about me, I can resist everything but temptation.” A good many of us are like that. Go through the Book of God and you will find that the men who could resist in the hour of temptation were the men who knew God before the test came. David was not in fellowship with God when that awful temptation came or he never would have gone down. Joseph was tempted under far more adverse circumstances and he stood fast, exclaiming, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Our blessed Lord could say, “I have set [Jehovah] always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Ps. 16:8). The man who resists temptation is the man strong in the Lord before temptation comes. But there is always danger that the strong will be contemptuous of the weak. So he adds, “Let all your things be done with charity.” Be very exact with yourself, but very generous in your judgment of other people; be very, very strict with yourself, but very gracious in dealing with those who are weak. Remember what they have to contend with. Perhaps they do not know the Lord as well as you do, so seek by grace to manifest the love of Christ to them.
We now come to the end of the chapter. In verse 22 we have a very solemn word before the apostle closes this letter. I wonder whether there are those listening to me who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ. May I just ask you to pause and face this question,
Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? What is your heart’s answer? Can you say, “I do”? Or to be perfectly honest, do you have to say, “No, I do not love Him.” May the Spirit of God give you to realize the solemnity of the warning, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” What strange expressions! I think the Holy Spirit of God providentially allowed our translators to leave those two peculiar words untranslated. One of them is a Greek word,
Anathema, and it means “accursed, devoted to judgment.” The other word,
Maranatha, is a Syriac word and means “the Lord cometh.” If you translated the entire passage, it would read like this, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be devoted to judgment at the coming of the Lord.” What a solemn word that is! O unsaved one, may God give you to realize the dangerous position in which you stand. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, he will be devoted to judgment at the coming of the Lord.”
The Lord has not yet returned, and though you do not love Him, you may love Him. You cannot stir up any love in your own heart, but you may trust Him, the One who loves you, the One who gave Himself for you, the One who died on the cross for your sins. Open your heart to Him, receive Him, bow at His feet in repentance, hide nothing, confess your sins, your sins of hypocrisy, of dishonesty, of immorality, of selfishness, of covetousness, whatever wickedness it my be. Tell Him all about it. Do not say, “O Lord, I am not much of a sinner; I never did many things that are wrong; I pray Thee forgive me,” but get into the company of David who when his conscience was awakened said, “O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Ps. 25:11). You would almost have expected him to say, “It isn’t very great, so pardon it.” No, he says, “It is great.” It is such great iniquity that only a great God can pardon and a great Savior can deliver. “If with all your heart ye truly seek Him, He will be found of you.” If you will turn to Him honestly facing your sin, acknowledging your guilt, trusting Him as your Savior, and then confess Him before men, He will put love in your heart and you will be able to say, “I love Him, my Savior, my Redeemer,” and you will not be devoted to judgment, you will be saved from judgment, and so will be able to enter into the blessedness of this closing benediction:
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” And then the apostle adds so humanly, “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.” Thank you, Paul; we are glad to get this message from you, and when we get home to heaven, we will look you up and will talk it over together. Until then we will seek to carry out the truth we have found in this epistle.