Book traversal links for 1 Corinthians (Lectures 1-5)
Sanctified In Christ Jesus
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, (vv. 1-3)
The two letters to the Corinthians, the letter to the Romans, and that to the Galatians form a quartet of epistles which were apparently written during Paul’s third missionary journey and bear a very intimate relationship each to the other. In Romans we have set forth the great fundamental doctrine of justification by faith alone. In Galatians that doctrine is defended after having been called in question by legal teachers. These two epistles, Romans and Galatians, form therefore the very foundation of Christian teaching. Then in the two letters to the Corinthians we have instruction as to the church. In the first epistle we have the ordering, the calling, and the discipline of the church. In the second we have the ministry of the church. If we should lose all the rest of the New Testament—which God forbid we should—and have only these four letters preserved, they would be sufficient to show us the way of salvation and how to conduct ourselves as Christian people coming together in a church relationship. Therefore, we can get some idea of the importance of being thoroughly familiar with them.
How the gospel reached Corinth we learn from Acts 18, where we are told that the apostle Paul after his visit to Athens passed on to Corinth and at first began the work in a very quiet way. He did not enter the city with any blare of trumpets; he was not advertised as a great evangelist or Bible teacher, but he simply went in quietly as an unknown craftsman. He was a tentmaker, and in association with two friends of his, Aquila and Priscilla, who were engaged in the same business, an establishment was opened up where they wrought, we are told, night and day. We learn elsewhere that in this way the apostle was able to support not only himself but all who labored with him when the churches forgot their responsibility to them. He was a great foreign missionary and when the churches of God did recognize their responsibility and sent gifts, as in the case of the Philippian church, he gladly received them and used the money for the glory of God. But if he were neglected, he did not sit down and pine and whimper because of the coldheartedness of Christians elsewhere, but simply created a job for himself and went to work making tents and providing the wherewithal to carry on his testimony. This in a way was a real help, for sometimes a preacher or a missionary goes into a field where he is looked upon as a well-supported individual bearing an official title and relationship to the church, and the people often are not as interested in him and his message as if he came among them working with his own hands as they have to do.
Having established his business the apostle began to move among the Jews. There was a synagogue in the city, which he attended and where he doubtless listened to the regular services, and then when opportunity was given, he presented the gospel there. There was a great deal of freedom in a Jewish synagogue. Jewish visitors, particularly if attired in the teacher’s garb, were permitted to take part in the service. Undoubtedly when Paul went there he wore the garments that showed that he was a graduate of the school of Gamaliel and therefore he was recognized as a teacher. On one occasion as he and Barnabas sat in a synagogue, the rulers, having completed the first part of the service, recognized these two men as teachers and said, “Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:15). And we read, “Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience” (Acts 13:16). This would be the customary procedure in the Jewish synagogue. There was nothing irregular and nothing disorderly about it. Paul was simply availing himself of a privilege. So from Sabbath to Sabbath, that is, on Saturday of course, he reasoned with the Jews and any Gentiles who might be present. It was a common thing for inquiring Gentiles to attend the Jewish services. Tired and weary of the customary recurring heathen festivities, finding nothing in paganism to answer the yearning desires of their hearts, they sought there what they could not find elsewhere. When they in a measure at least accepted the Jewish doctrines, they were recognized as “Proselytes of the Gate.” To these people the apostle presented the message; he reasoned with them on the Sabbath Day.
Some of our present-day legalistic friends who have never known the blessedness of deliverance from law say, “We read in the book of Acts that Paul preached on the Sabbath Day, and that day is Saturday and so we are in duty bound to recognize that day rather than Sunday as the Lord’s Day.” The fact is that the apostle was simply accommodating himself to the Jews who met on their Sabbath. If he wished to reach them, he had to reach them on that day. The Christians themselves met together on the first day of the week to break bread and for prayer. The earliest Christian testimony along that line confirms that very thing. One of those early writers says, “On the first day of the week, the day after the Jewish Sabbath, the day which we Christians call the Lord’s Day, we come together for worship, etc.” This was the custom of Christians from the beginning, but on the Jewish Sabbath they found opportunity to minister to the Jews, and so used that day for that purpose. We learn that Paul at first simply dealt with them from the standpoint of the Old Testament, but “when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:5). His work up to this time was preparation, but now, with the backing of other helpers, he felt the time had come to give a clear ringing testimony, to show that all these Old Testament Scriptures pointed to the One who had been crucified at Jerusalem, had been raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. And now many of the Jews turned from them, they opposed the message, and the apostle did a very significant thing. He wore the long eastern robes, and he shook his garments and said, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). And so he left the synagogue, never to enter it again as far as this particular city was concerned. He found a preaching place in the house of a man named Justus.
Justus was evidently a Gentile, but one who was a proselyte; he had accepted the Jewish revelation as to God, and his house adjoined the synagogue. Paul began preaching in his house, and one of the first converts was the chief ruler of the synagogue, Crispus, who believed with all his house; and the work went on for a year and a half, and many of the Corinthians having heard the Word believed and were baptized.
Notice the order. They heard the message, they believed the gospel, and then they were publicly baptized, thus confessing that they had received the crucified One as their own personal Savior. I emphasize that because some people imagine that in his epistles the apostle seems to minimize the importance of Christian baptism. He did not ordinarily do the baptizing himself, but he was always insistent to see that it was done. The fact that Paul himself was generally not the baptizer does not indicate that he slighted the Christian ordinance of baptism.
As we go on in that eighteenth chapter of Acts we read of the insurrection stirred up against Paul in the days of Gallio, and we are told that the Greeks caught Sosthenes, who had become the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him for his attempt to foment a riot. It would seem that the beating did him good because we next find his name linked with the apostle Paul in Corinthians as a Christian. Of course we have no positive proof that this is the same man, but I take it for granted that it is. It brought him at last to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
A mighty work of God was accomplished during the year and a half that Paul was in Corinth. It was not a likely field for missionary service; it was one of the metropolises of the ancient world. Its population numbered at this time between six and seven hundred thousand people and it was given over to the worship of the goddess Aphrodite, the Greek name for the one whom the Romans worshipped as Venus, the goddess of lust, or carnal love, and in celebrating the rites of Aphrodite, the Corinthians gave themselves up to the most shameful licentiousness. So notorious was this that, in all parts of the Greek-speaking world, if men or women were found behaving in an unclean way, the worst that anybody could say of them was that they acted like Corinthians. Just as, for instance, the names of those two cities of the plains have come down to our day, linked with such wickedness that if one says of a person, “He is like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah,” you at once understand that he lives a life of vilest uncleanness. So to say one behaved like a Corinthian, or was Corinthianized, intimated that he was a man totally lost to all sense of morality or decency. Such was the city into which Paul went to preach the gospel of the grace of God, and in this city that gospel won many to the knowledge of Christ. It was the means of delivering people from their lives of wickedness, of making saints out of those who had been vicious and utterly lost to all sense of decency.
When we have this background before us, what interest it gives to these opening verses, “Paul, called an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.” I leave out the italicized words, “to be,” because I want to convey to you the fact that they should be left out in the second verse also. Paul was not called
to be an apostle, he
was an apostle, but he was a
called apostle, an apostle by divine call. And so you and I are not called
to be saints, if we have trusted the Lord Jesus; we
are saints, we are saints by calling. Notice then that Paul’s apostleship, as he tells us in the letter to the Galatians, was not of man, neither by man. No one had anything to do with putting him into the apostolate except the risen Lord. An apostle was one who had seen the Lord and went forth to proclaim His message. Paul, as Saul, saw the Lord that day on the Damascus turnpike and went forth to proclaim Christ to the Jews and Gentiles. It was the will of God that made him what he was.
Notice how he links with himself, “Sosthenes our brother.” I take it for granted that this must have been the Corinthian Sosthenes, because those receiving the letter would at once recognize his name, and a thrill would go through their hearts as they exclaimed, “Yes, Sosthenes, once the persecutor, converted here in our own city, is still with the apostle Paul, and is sending his greetings to us.” We value the greetings of those we love and esteem in the Lord, and when they go elsewhere we are always pleased to hear from them, and so the Corinthians would get a special thrill of pleasure as they found his name linked with that of the apostle Paul.
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth.” What a change had taken place since the years when this very man as Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church of God and wasted it. There is a strange teaching going around today that the church of the book of Acts is not the church of our day, that the church, the body of Christ, did not begin until after Paul was put in prison in Rome. Paul persecuted the church of God when still unconverted. How could he have persecuted that which had not existence? The church had its birthday on the day of Pentecost, and after that, churches of God were established in local communities. Here it was one composed of those who were once legalistic Jews or blind Gentiles, but now all one in Christ Jesus. And the apostle speaks of them as, “the sanctified.” “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called…saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Our idea of a saint or a sanctified one is often a sinless person. We see someone in whom the grace of God shines out most wonderfully and we say, “Well, certainly there is a saint.” Or, perhaps someone has just gone home, and we speak of “the sainted So-and-so,” because they have gotten beyond the reach of sin. But that is not the way Scripture uses these terms. “The sanctified,” not the sinless; “saints,” not those absolutely holy. The saints are the separated, the sanctified are those set apart to God in Christ Jesus. These are two words that come from the same root, meaning separated, set apart, devoted to a holy purpose. Are you saved, have you put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? The moment you did so God separated you from a world under judgment and set you apart unto Himself in Christ Jesus, and that instant you became a saint, that moment you were sanctified, and that sanctification is a perfect one.
We read in Hebrews, “He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” I used to be taught, and perhaps some of you have been told, that a man has first to be justified, and then perhaps sometime afterward he goes on to receive what they call the second blessing and he becomes sanctified. When I turn to the Book of God, I find the very opposite. I find that in the first place a man is sanctified by the work of the Spirit in his heart even before he comes to the knowledge of Christ. It is the sanctifying, separating work of the Spirit of God that leads him to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But the moment he puts his faith in Christ, that moment God sees him as sanctified in Christ Jesus, set apart to God from the old life, the old ways, the world, that to which he once belonged, set apart to God and counted clean in His sight because of the infinite value of the atoning work of His beloved Son. Have you trusted Christ? Are you sanctified? Do you say to me, “I would hardly dare say that. I know I am a Christian, I trust I am justified, but I am afraid I am not good enough yet to say that I am sanctified.” Just as your goodness had nothing to do with your justification, so it is not your goodness that entitles you to take your place among the sanctified. You were justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and all the past put away forever, and God gave you a new standing before Him. But sin makes men not only guilty but unclean. Because we are guilty we need to be justified, because we are unclean we need to be sanctified. But we are cleansed by the blessed atoning blood through which we are justified. So we read of being sanctified by the blood of His covenant. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13:12). “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). The moment He rose from the dead God saw all believers as linked with Him. In Hebrews we read, “He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). So if you are a Christian and have any doubt about your sanctification, put it away and thank God that you are in Christ and therefore sanctified.
As we go on in this epistle we find the apostle had to bring a great many things before these Corinthians that needed correction. He told them that they were carnal, going to law with one another, tolerating all kinds of unholy things in their midst. Some had wrong ideas about the marriage relationship, some were very ignorant about their relation to their past idolatry, but the apostle speaks of them all as the sanctified in Christ Jesus. But observe, he not only addresses this letter to, “The church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called…saints,” but widens out the address so that it takes in every Christian to the end of the dispensation, “With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Do you see the importance of that? There are many things in this epistle that some Christians today try to dodge and get away from, and very often you will hear, as the epistle is read, “Oh, well, that was for that age and that day, or for folks living in Corinth, but not for people today.” Now notice the address is, “With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” This letter then is addressed to each one who seeks to own the Lordship of Christ; and therefore, as we study it, I trust we will accept it as a personal message from the Holy Spirit of God to each one of us as Christian individuals.
We would not like to think that the great grace passages in this epistle were only for the Corinthians. Let us not then attempt to put the responsibility passages upon the people of Corinth alone, but remember that all is written for the whole church of God, clear down to the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him. In the third verse we have the apostolic salutation, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are saved by grace, but of course this is not the grace to which he here refers. He knows that is settled, these people who are sanctified in Christ Jesus are already justified by faith, saved by grace. It is not that which he is thinking of when he says, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” And then again all Christians have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we
have peace with God”—it is a settled thing—”through our Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). He is not praying that these Christians may obtain that grace of which he speaks here. First of all, it is grace to sustain in all the trials of the way, grace to enable us to overcome in every hour of temptation. In Hebrews we are bidden to “come boldly unto the throne of grace”— upon which our great High Priest sits—”that we may obtain mercy, and find grace [for seasonable] help” (Heb. 4:16). We need grace every day of our lives. The grace of yesterday will not suffice for today. We need to go to God morning by morning, to draw down from above by meditation and prayer supplies of grace to start the day aright. But throughout the day we need to learn to “pray without ceasing” that our hearts may continually be reaching out to Him that new supplies of grace may come down to us constantly. We cannot keep ourselves, not for one moment, therefore the need of the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the peace, I repeat, is not peace
with God, but that peace
of’God of which we read in Philippians 4:6-7: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” You see this has nothing to do with the sin question. That is settled.
We have peace with God because our sins have been forever put away, but this has to do with the question of things that would keep us anxious, the trials of life that press upon our hearts. How blessed the privilege to go to God about them all. I am afraid many dear Christians miss a great deal here because they have never learned to go to Him about their temporal affairs as well as their spiritual needs. Christians have looked at me aghast when I have told them of praying about money and regarding family affairs. They say, “You do not mean to say that God who created the world is concerned that I have money to meet my rent and to pay for food, that He will interfere in my family affairs?” “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing”—that is all-inclusive—”by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” My brother, my sister, not a trial ever comes to you, there is not a perplexity you are called upon to face, there is not a need you will have to meet, but God invites you to come to Him about it, and you have the promise, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
The Fellowship of God’s Son
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (vv. 4-9)
Even as we read these words we cannot but notice how frequently the full name and title of our Savior is used, and throughout this entire epistle we shall find this is characteristic. He who brought these Corinthians out of darkness into His marvelous light is He who through grace has brought many of us to a saving knowledge of Himself. He is our Lord Jesus Christ. You will never find in the Bible that undue familiarity in the use of divine names which is so common in the irreverent days in which we live. No one, for instance, in the Scriptures ever addresses our blessed Savior merely as Jesus. He is sometimes spoken of as Jesus, and by divine inspiration, when His atoning work is particularly in view, for the angel said, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). But when He is addressed directly, and ordinarily even when spoken of by His followers, He is called, “the Lord Jesus,” “the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Jesus Christ our Lord.” I am sure there is something in that for each one of us. He has said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13). Let us ever remember when we approach Him in prayer that He is our Lord; when we speak of Him to others, that “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). These epistles to the Corinthians emphasize His Lordship throughout. Let us beware of calling Jesus, Lord, and then slighting His commands.
If He is not Lord of all,
Then He is not Lord at all.
Thank God, we delight to know Him as our supreme sovereign Master.
In this introductory portion, the apostle who points out in other parts of the epistle a great many irregularities in the church at Corinth, who reproves these believers for many things bringing dishonor upon the name of the Lord, yet first of all gives God thanks for what His grace has already wrought. As he remembers the year and a half that he labored in Corinth, during which time the greater part of those primarily addressed in this letter were brought into a saving knowledge of Christ, he says, “I thank my God always on your behalf.” As a soul-winner it brought great joy to his heart to think of those he had the privilege of pointing to Christ. “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.” And when he speaks thus, he is not thinking for the moment merely of the grace that saves. They were saved by grace; no one is saved in any other way, and grace is God’s free unmerited favor toward those deserving the very opposite. But having been saved we are dowered by grace; God provides through His grace all we need for our journey through this world. Among other things, when He gathers people together in church fellowship, and it is according to the mind of God that believers should be gathered together in various localities as churches of God, the Lord makes Himself responsible through the same grace that saves to minister that which will profit and edify and build them up as companies of believers. It is this particularly on which the apostle is here dwelling.
He thanks God for the grace of God given him by Jesus Christ, “that in every thing,” he says, “ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.” In other words, this Corinthian church was one greatly blessed, from the standpoint of gifts of the Spirit. There were those among them who could minister the Word of God most acceptably, there were others who had the gift of the evangelist who could go out and carry the message to the world, there were some who were gifted as teachers, who could impart spiritual instruction to their brethren; there were many who had miraculous gifts (chap. 12). It is a question if there ever was a Christian church more richly blessed from this standpoint than the Corinthian church, and yet it is a solemn fact that they were very carnal, although so wonderfully endowed. That leads us to realize that gifts in themselves are not preservative. One may be very gifted, one may have great ability individually, and yet not necessarily be walking with God, not necessarily guided by the Holy Spirit in the use of His gift. A church may be blessed with many in its fellowship upon whom God has bestowed special gifts of the Spirit, but these do not themselves prove that that church is spiritual above others. We live in a day when there is a very unhealthy craving for what we may call “the miraculous gifts,” and people have an idea that if these were more in evidence in the church there would be more spirituality and more accomplished for God. I think the history of the Corinthian church proves the unsoundness of such reasoning. No church that I know of has ever exceeded them in the grace of God in regard to gifts, and yet they were anything but a truly spiritual church. In the epistle to the Ephesians a very similar expression is used to what we have in Corinthians: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (4:7). And then he mentions the different gifts that the ascended Christ has given to the church.
It is grace on God’s part that leads the Holy Spirit to bestow these gifts upon His people. How much we need to respond to the grace of God by holding the gift in subjection to Himself and not becoming occupied with the gift rather than with the Giver. The Corinthians became so occupied with the gifts that they all wanted to do miraculous things, and so their eyes were taken off Christ and fixed upon manifestations, and they lost the sweetness of communion with Him.
We should be careful never to confound natural talent with spiritual gifts. For instance, God gives the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge, He gives the gift of teaching, the gift of preaching, the gift of exhortation, but that is altogether different from any mere natural ability along what we might call oratorical lines. A man may be a natural born orator; it may be just as natural to him to declaim in an interesting way, a compelling way, as it is for another to sing beautifully; but whether speaking or singing one needs something more than mere natural talent, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit. If a man is naturally talented, if a woman has certain natural talents, these are not to be discarded when yielding themselves to Christ, but they are not to be put in the place of spiritual gifts. It is the Holy Spirit of God taking possession of the human instrument, working through it, and anointing it that displaces mere natural talent by spiritual gifts. Very often God takes people who are not at all remarkable for natural talent, and after they are converted and yielded to Him, the Holy Spirit, who divides to every one severally as He will, gives to such amazing power in the presentation of spiritual things. This is a divine gift. The apostle says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31). And so, if you are already saved, if you are trusting Christ as your Savior, look up to God that He may bestow upon you some special gift of His grace that thus you may be better able to win others to Christ and help His beloved people. But never confound mere human eloquence with divine ministry, never confound mere oratory with preaching of the Word. Preaching the Word may be oratorical or it may lack that characteristic entirely.
The apostle Paul was naturally a wonderful orator, but when he stood before people to preach the gospel he said he held all that back lest their faith should stand in the wisdom of man rather than in the power of God. Divine gifts enable servants of Christ to minister to edification, to the salvation of sinners, and the building up of saints. But one may have these and be out of fellowship with God; therefore the importance of living day by day in the spirit of self-judgment that He may have the controlling power in the exercise of the gifts.
Through their gifts the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them. Paul had come to Corinth to minister the Word. These Corinthians had believed, and now in turn they ministered to others, and God graciously confirmed that testimony in blessing, so that Paul says, “Ye come behind in no gift.” Whereas in other churches there may have been a few with some special gift, in Corinth there were a great many. There was no gift that was not found in that one assembly, and yet as we read the epistle we are amazed to find how far many of them had dropped from faithfulness to Christ and true communion with the Lord. Surely this is a warning to us.
In the last part of the seventh verse he says that they were waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word translated “coming” is not
parousia, the word generally used for the coming of the Lord to the air when saints rise to meet Him, but it is
apokalupsis, His unveiling, when He is manifested before the whole world. We are waiting for the unveiling of Jesus Christ. This, of course, is the goal. The Lord descending and calling His people to meet Him in the air is a preparation, but the goal is the unveiling. When He shall be manifested in glory, then we shall be manifested with Him. Therefore, we should be content to live quiet, godly, unworldly lives now because in that day we shall have our reward as we shine forth with Him. The apostle put the coming of the Lord, the revelation of Jesus Christ, before these saints as the goal of all their hopes, and then tells them in the eighth verse that the Lord Jesus Christ for whom they wait shall confirm them unto the end.
I wonder whether you have noticed that this is the method of the Spirit of God throughout the Scriptures, particularly when He has to reprove Christians because of failure in the Christian life. He begins by commending them for all that He can and by assuring them that everything is going to come out all right in the end. In the first chapter of Philippians the apostle writes of his assurance regarding them. In verse 6 he says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [complete] it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Here he says He “shall confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The day of our Lord Jesus Christ is that day when He returns to call His own to be with Himself, the day when we shall stand before His judgment seat, when we shall all be “turned inside out,” when all hidden motives will be brought to light, when we shall be rewarded according to the deeds done in the body since His grace saved us. And the apostle says, “He is going to confirm you unto the end.” This is our confirmation. Some people make confirmation a special church ritual service. A child is under the care of the church until a certain year, and then he is confirmed and brought into the full membership of the church. The Bible has much to say about confirmation, but it is never presented as a rite. The confirmation of the Bible is always the work of the Spirit of God in the life making His truth real to the soul.
Now he says, as it were, “I am absolutely sure that your confirmation will go on until the day of Jesus Christ.” In other words, the apostle had not the slightest thought that any one who had ever been born again would fail to reach heaven. He knew that many of them might fail grievously on the way, but he knew also that they were not responsible to keep themselves but that they were being kept by the power of God. People say to me, “Oh, you are one of those old-fashioned folk who believe in the perseverance of the saints.” I generally answer, “To be perfectly frank, I am not at all conceited about the perseverance of the saints. My experience with myself and with a great many other saints is that most of us are not very much given to perseverance. We need to be prodded along all the time.” I heard Sam Jones say he thought sometimes that the Lord allowed the Presbyterians to believe once saved always saved, and the Methodists, that you would only be saved at last if you hold on, because some of the Presbyterians are “such an ornery crowd” that they never would go on if they did not feel sure they were eternally saved, and some of the Methodists are such a poor type that if the Lord did not keep the whip over them, they would never go through. That could be said of a great many, but when we turn to the Word of God we find that everything for a Christian depends upon the perseverance of the Savior. He who took us up in grace has undertaken to carry us through to the end. He knows how to deal with each individual saint in order that he may be confirmed unto the end. And the final consummation is this, that every believer will appear “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
blameless, may be translated “unimpeachable” or “unaccusable.” In other words, when we stand at last at the judgment seat of Christ, God Himself is going to see to it that no charge can stand against any believer, because the Lord Jesus Christ has atoned for all our sins with His own precious blood. Every failure in life will be dealt with there, and all the wood, hay, and stubble will be burned in the fire of that day and we shall stand before our Lord unimpeachable, unaccusable.
In the ninth verse he brings before us a subject that is most precious to every Christian’s heart: “God is faithful.” I should like to take time to dwell on those three words, but I do not really need to say much about them. You who have known the Lord for years, do I need to try to reason with you to show that God is faithful? As you look back over the years, do not all His dealings with you tell the story that you have had to do with a faithful God? And be assured that when we come to the end of the way, when at last we meet with loved ones round the throne, we shall realize then as never before the faithfulness of God.
When I shall meet with those that I have loved,
Clasp in my eager arms the long-removed,
And know how faithful Thou to me hast proved,
I shall be satisfied.
“God is faithful.” I never have been faithful. I am afraid I never will be faithful in the absolute sense, but I have to do with a faithful God who has undertaken to see me through. “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” God has not undertaken to save us merely as individuals, but having saved us individually He now introduces us into a wonderful fellowship of which our Lord Jesus is the risen glorified Head in heaven. That is why it is called, “the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” and this is the only fellowship that Christians really need. Every local church should be an expression of this fellowship; it is the fellowship of the body of Christ. You remember how the apostle in speaking of the communion says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). So, if you have been redeemed by His blood, if by the Holy Spirit you have been baptized into the body of Christ, you are called into the fellowship of God’s Son, and you are one with every other believer on the face of the earth. We all belong to one great fellowship. It makes little difference what names people may use, they may be denominational, interdenominational or undenominational, but the great thing is, they are members of the fellowship of God’s Son. That word,
fellowship, really means “partnership.” We have been taken into partnership in a wonderful firm of which the Lord Jesus is the Head and in which every other believer has a place. What a fellowship that is! Do you wonder that some of us never crave any other fellowship? We have found all we need in the fellowship of God’s Son.
As we trace this word
fellowship through the New Testament, we shall find many beautiful and suggestive thoughts. In the first epistle of John we find that we have been brought into fellowship with the Father and the Son. Is not that a wonderful thing—in partnership with the Father and the Son! We share their common thoughts. That is one meaning of “fellowship.” You are interested in something that I am interested in, and we get together and have fellowship. Just think of it, God the Father and God the Son have taken us into partnership with Them in Their thoughts in regard to redemption, the glorious plan of salvation, and we enter into fellowship with the Father and the Son!
Then this fellowship is called “the fellowship of the Spirit” because it is not a natural thing. It is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. There is no real Christian fellowship apart from Him, and that shows the incongruity of unsaved people uniting with the visible church of God. They cannot have fellowship with God’s redeemed ones because that fellowship is produced by the Holy Spirit and He does not dwell in unsaved people. It is only as recipients of the Spirit that we enter into fellowship. The apostle Paul commends the Philippians because of their participation in the fellowship of the gospel. Fellowship is not only a sweet and lovely sentiment, it is a practical thing, that we may labor for the blessing and for the salvation of a lost world. Each one is to do his part. The preacher is not to do all the work. No, we have been called into a fellowship where each one has his service to do for the blessing of all, the fellowship of the gospel. Paul speaks of “the fellowship of ministering,” which is not just certain individuals ministering, but every believer ministering according to his or her ability. This is the Christian ideal, and in the measure in which you and I seek to walk in accordance with it shall we have real blessing in church relationship.
I wonder whether I am addressing any who perhaps are members of some church but have been saying, “If in order to have fellowship like this I must possess the Holy Spirit, I am afraid I got into the visible church too soon, for I am not conscious of possessing the Spirit of God, I am not conscious of the indwelling Christ.” What you need is to come to God as a poor sinner, put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, come right out into the light where God is, for it is written, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Baptized Unto Whose Name?
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect, (vv. 10-17)
We have seen that God has established a wonderfully blessed fellowship here on earth into which He has called His saints: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto [or into] the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” The fellowship of God’s Son is that communion of saints embracing all believers everywhere, all who have been washed from their sins in the precious blood of Christ and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Men have formed denominations, and so the visible church of God is, in our day, divided into a great many different factions, and unhappily, some of these factions are very markedly un-Christian in their attitude toward others. Yet in all real Christian groups there are those who belong to the fellowship of God’s Son and who, I am sure, are often troubled and distressed as they think of the way Christians are divided among themselves. I have heard people justify these denominational divisions by saying that each one represents a different regiment in the army of the Lord. As you have in the army the cavalry, the infantry, the artillery, the air corps, and the engineers, so we have all these different denominations, and each one can choose for himself just which one he prefers, for taking them all together they represent the one army of the Lord. This is a very comfortable way of looking at it if one does not want to have his conscience exercised by present-day conditions, but the fact of the matter is that Scripture tells us that divisions are the work of the flesh. It is not the Spirit of God who divides His people into these different groups. It is the work of the flesh in believers that leads them thus to separate one from another into different companies. You say, “What shall we do under such circumstances? Shall we leave them all and start another company?” In what sense would you then be better than they? This would simply add one more to the many divisions of Christendom. What shall we do? Shall we not recognize the fact that in spite of man’s divisions there remains “one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4), and so welcome all real believers who hold the truth of God as fellow members with us in the body of Christ and thus endeavor to rise above the spirit of sectarianism and denominationalism which prevails in so many places.
It is not denominationalism directly, however, that the apostle is rebuking in this passage. It was rather incipient divisions in the local church; for these Corinthian believers were not as yet separated from one another into various sects. But in the one local church in Corinth there were different cliques and factions, and so there was dissension and trouble. They were losing sight of the blessedness of true Christian fellowship.
Notice how the apostle addresses them, “Now I beseech you, brethren.” How in keeping that is with grace. Where grace rules, “I command,” becomes, “I beseech.” “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” The admonition is to refrain from murmuring and complaining and from factiousness in the local assembly of Christ in order that all may be bound up in the same mind and in the same judgment. Of course, the Spirit of God speaking through the apostle does not attempt to force all believers to look at everything from exactly the same standpoint. That will never be. No two people ever see the same rainbow. If you stood near me looking at a rainbow, you would see it differently from what I would, because you would be a little away from me and get a slightly different view, and then, too, my eyes are very astigmatic and yours may be perfect. How foolish it would be for us to stand there and quarrel about the rainbow, about its tints, and so on. Rather let me say, “I am so glad you are able to see it so much more clearly than I, that with your perfect eyes you can get so much better a view of it than I with my astigmatic vision.” And you can think kindly of me and say, “Well, I hope the day may come when you will be able to see as clearly as I do.” That is the way the apostle puts it in his letter to the Philippians, “If in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you…Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (3:15-16). We do not see eye to eye even as we read the Scripture. So much depends on our education, on our cultural standards, on our environment. We often misunderstand statements of Scripture because of not being more familiar with the languages in which the Bible was originally written.
You say, “But it says we are to be ‘perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.’ How can that be if we do not all see eye to eye about everything?” If we were to insist that we could have no real fellowship unless we did this, I am afraid our church fellowship would become a very small circle indeed. I do not know where you could find a dozen people who see eye to eye on everything. We have all laughed at the old Quaker who left one meeting-place after another, and finally someone said to him, “Well, what church are you in now?”
He said, “I am in the true church at last.”
“How many belong to it?”
“Just my wife and myself, and I am not sure about Mary sometimes.”
It would simmer down to that if we could not have fellowship with any except those who see things exactly as we do. But what about “the same mind”? “We have the mind of Christ.” “The same mind”—that is the lowly mind, the subject mind, the mind that was displayed in Jesus. You may look at things one way and I look at them differently, but if we have the mind of Christ we are not going to quarrel, but will get along in real happy fellowship considering one another and praying for one another. And then, “the same judgment”—what does that mean? We read that we are to increase in knowledge and in all judgment. That does not mean judging one another, but it means discernment.
Every believer has the Spirit of God dwelling within him to give him discernment, and when things come up about which we differ, if we depend upon the guidance of the Spirit of God, He will give the discernment we need. I am afraid some of us never get very far in real discernment, and the reason is that we neglect the study of our Bibles. We are called “a royal priesthood.” In the Old Testament times no man was allowed to be a priest who had a flat nose. What does the nose speak of? It speaks of discernment. Some dish is brought to you and you smell it. You have discerned that there is something wrong with it and do not want to eat it.
Out among the Navajo Indians they had a peculiar idea about the nose. One old Navajo said to me, “Long Coat, where is the mind located?”
I said, “It functions through the brain.”
“No,” he said, “it is the nose.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, when you want to go anywhere, doesn’t your nose settle it first and then you follow it? When you come to a corner, your nose turns first and then the rest of you goes after it, and when you want to know whether to eat a thing, don’t you use your nose first to find whether it is suitable?”
He was a wise Navajo. The nose does speak of discernment, and a flat-nosed priest was one who could not discern, and God said that he could not serve. I am afraid many of us as believers are flat-nosed. We are taken up with almost anything that seems to have some scriptural backing, and we listen to all kinds of teaching, and pay little attention to the careful study of the Word of God. People say, “I go anywhere; I listen to everything, for I can get a little good out of everything.” If you do this, you will soon lose all ability to discern the truth as it is in Jesus. It is barely possible that one could so train his digestive powers as to get nourishment out of sawdust, but why eat that when you can eat good substantial oatmeal? And what is the use of going after all kinds of fads and follies when you can have the pure unadulterated Word of God? “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Now the apostle gives one of his reasons for writing this letter. “It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” Observe first, the apostle has heard a bad report about these Corinthians. He writes them about it and tells them exactly who brought the bad report. He would have no sympathy with these anonymous letter-writers who write, “Dear Pastor: Perhaps you do not know it, but there is a woman in the church doing very prominent work who is a thorough hypocrite. I hope you will see that she is disciplined. Sincerely yours, A lover of Christ.” The apostle would never pay any attention to a thing like that, nor would he have any sympathy with the person who came to him and said, “Brother Paul, I am sorry to speak to you about this, but there is one of our brethren—don’t for anything say that I told you—but Mr. So and So, oh, Brother Paul, it is perfectly dreadful—I do hope you will do what you can—but don’t give him the least idea that I told you.” I think Paul would say sternly, “What business do you have coming to me slandering a brother when you are not willing to face him openly about it?” And so when they sent a bad report to Paul regarding these Corinthians, he wrote them about it and said, “I received this report from the house of Chloe.” If it is not true, the house of Chloe would have to face the fact that they had been guilty of libeling the Corinthians. In this case it was true, but Paul is straightforward about it and said, “It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you”—there was division right in the local assembly of Corinth. Then he uses an illustration to show what he means. “Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.”
“I am of Paul”—Paul, the teacher. “I like real Bible teaching, I do not have much use for this other kind of thing, I am not interested in evangelism and exhortation. I like Brother Paul, for he feeds my soul—I am of Paul.” And another said, “I am of Apollos.” Apollos was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures. “I like a man who can stand up and give a wonderful oration, a man who can give a great address winding up with a marvelous peroration that almost brings you out of your seat. That is the man for me. I am not concerned about these dry Bible teachers, I want something to thrill my blood and stir my soul.” And then others said, “I am of Cephas. I like these practical men, these exhorters, Cephas, the man who over and over again used the words, ‘I stir you up.’” And then others said, “Well, you may have Paul and Apollos and Cephas, but I am of Christ. I am not interested in any one else. I do not need any man to teach me, I am of Christ, and I do not recognize any of the rest of you. Stand by, for I am holier than thou.” Have you ever seen that crowd? They are the most conceited of all.
Those were not the actual names that were used. In 4:6 we read, “These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” Paul is saying, “You see, I have simply used this figuratively.” It was not actually Paul and Apollos, it was men in their local group, and they were saying, “Well, I am for this brother and I am for this other one,” and another, “I am of Christ and am not interested in any of the rest of them.” And so Paul put in his own name and that of Apollos and Cephas to illustrate how wrong this was. And then he asks the question, “Is Christ divided?” Is it only a little group who are of Christ? Even those who sometimes say, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas,” if they are truly converted, are all of Christ. And so no one group should arrogate that distinction to themselves.
“Was Paul crucified for you?” What does he mean by that? I am not to take any man and make his name the head of a party, I am to remember that the fellowship to which I belong is that of the One who was crucified for me. We owe a great deal to Paul. I think after I have seen the Lord Jesus Christ and my father and mother, the next one I want to see is the apostle Paul. I want to have a good talk with him and tell him how much the messages he left on record have meant to me. But Paul was not crucified for me. He helped to give me a better understanding of the One who was crucified for me and so I value his ministry.
“Were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” Why does he put this question? The only One that I am to recognize as the Head of the church of God is the One in whose name I was baptized. Do not get the idea as some have that the apostle Paul was putting a slur on baptism, that he meant to imply that baptism was an unimportant thing, eventually to have no further place in the church of God. He is recognizing it as a tremendously important thing when he bases his argument upon it. When you became a Christian, in whose name were you baptized? In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Very well then, you belong to Him. Recognize the entire fellowship of which He is the Head, but do not try to make His name the head of a party and do not make the names of His servants the heads of parties, but recognize that the only real Head is Christ.
Because of the fact that these Corinthians were making so much of individuals, Paul says, “I am very thankful as I look back that I personally did not do the baptizing in many cases.” He is not saying, “I am thankful that you were not baptized.” They were baptized. We read, “Many of the Corinthians hearing believed and were baptized.” Their baptism followed their believing. But he says, “I am very thankful, since you are so given to party spirit, that so few of you can say, ‘I have been baptized by Paul.’ ‘I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crisp us [he was the ruler of the synagogue] and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.’” And he adds, “And I baptized also the household of Stephanas.” Evidently Stephanas was not with them at this time because he was one who ministered elsewhere. We read in the last chapter of this epistle, verse 17, “I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.” Stephanas, apparently, was a traveling preacher. Elsewhere Paul tells us that the household of Stephanas had “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). Finally he said, “Besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.”
Now he gives his closing argument: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Observe, he is not saying that he was not commissioned to baptize, but he is saying that he was not
sent to make baptism the important thing. He was sent to preach the gospel. As an apostle he went out preaching, and when any believed the gospel they were baptized. This is the opposite to the great church systems of today and also of Roman Catholic missions. Where Catholicism goes it is its first business to get as many infants together as possible and baptize them, but the apostle says that he was not sent to do that, he was sent to preach the gospel, and when they believed that gospel, they were baptized.
There are many things that are right and proper in their own sphere which must, of necessity, occupy much of a preacher’s time, but it was not to do these things he was set apart as a servant of God and sent into the world. He was ordained of God to preach the gospel. And so with Paul. His great ministry was making Christ known, “not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” He did not depend upon mere human oratory or rhetoric, but on the power of the Holy Spirit enabling him in all simplicity to present to the people a crucified, risen, ascended, and returning Christ, that all hearts might be taken up with Him and men be brought to put their trust in Him. That is the thing that unifies. As Christ is presented to the hearts of God’s people they are drawn together, they are drawn to Him, they are occupied with Him, their glorious Head.
The Simplicity Of Preaching
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (vv. 18-24)
The apostle Paul’s great business was proclaiming the cross. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” There is a challenge in almost every word in this verse. “The preaching of the cross.” The word translated “preaching” is not the ordinary word for “announcing” or “proclaiming,” which is so frequently used in the New Testament; it is the “Logos,” that which is used for Christ Himself in the gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word [the
, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). It is the ordinary term for a spoken message, and the apostle here puts the word of the cross in contrast to the word of wisdom of verse 17. There he says that it is his aim to preach the cross not with wisdom of words, or it might be just reversed, to give the exact meaning of the original, not with the words of wisdom. When he presented the cross, the doctrine of the cross, he did not want to hide it by beautiful verbiage, he would not obscure the message by human eloquence, nor weaken or dilute it in any way by charming rhetoric. He did not desire people to listen to him with admiration and go away exclaiming, “What a brilliant preacher, what a splendid orator!” instead of saying, “What guilty sinners we are and how amazing is the love of God that sent His Son to die and bear the shame of the cross for our redemption!”
Some years ago a gentleman living in a country town in England went to London, and while there listened to some of the great preachers of that day. Writing home to his wife he said, “Last Sunday I went in the morning to hear Dr. So-and-So (he named one of the most eloquent men occupying a London pulpit at that time), and in the evening I went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle to listen to Charles Spurgeon. I was greatly impressed by both of them. Dr. Blank is certainly a great preacher, but Mr. Spurgeon has a great Savior.” Do you see the difference?
It is so sadly possible to spoil the message by dependence on that which simply appeals to the human mind, and so the apostle says, “I try to preach Christ, not by words of wisdom, that is, this world’s wisdom, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Even the most utterly godless man can appreciate eloquence, oratory or rhetoric, whether he believes the message being proclaimed or not, but it is not the will of God that His servants should tickle the ears of their hearers but that they should grapple with the consciences of those to whom they are speaking. If I am addressing any unsaved ones who are still in your sins, let me earnestly remind you that you are in a most precarious position. One moment may seal your doom forever. If the brittle thread of your life were snapped and you should be ushered out into a Christless eternity, how hopeless would be your condition! How foolish then, how wicked would it be of us, if we should simply entertain you when we know, as Archibald Brown once said, “There is only the thickness of your ribs between your souls and hell.” How guilty before God we should be if we sought the admiration and praise of our hearers instead of endeavoring to bring them face to face with their sins before God and seeking to get them to flee to the cross for refuge.
It was this that had gripped the apostle Paul. He knew that men were lost without Christ, that there was no hope for them save through the cross, and so he said, “I do not want anything that will hide the cross. I do not want to decorate the cross with flowers and ribbons and tinsel, and make people lose sight of what it really is, the declaration of man’s utter depravity and the manifestation of God’s infinite love. It is the preaching of the cross, the word of the cross, in opposition to the word of wisdom. ‘The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.’”
What do we mean when we speak of the cross? I wonder sometimes if we have any conception in our day of what the cross meant when Paul wrote these words. Cicero says, “The cross, it speaks of that which is so shameful, so horrible, it should never be mentioned in polite society,” and yet you find Paul exclaiming, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The cross meant far worse than the gallows or the electric chair means today, because it declared that the one who was hanging there was guilty of the vilest, the most awful crimes, and was utterly unfit to live, that he was rejected of man and accursed of God. And this cross bore our Lord Jesus Christ! What does it mean? It means that man’s heart was so wicked, so sinful, that there was no other way by which he could be saved than through the Eternal Son of God becoming Man and suffering the most ignominious death for his redemption. But it means too that in the most complete way man’s heart has been fully exposed, for when God thus sent His Son, man cried, “Away with him! Crucify him, crucify him!” There at the cross man told out the very worst of his nature, but God told out the infinite love of His heart. Peter said to the men of his day, “Him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and with wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). If you want to know how wicked you are by nature, if you want to get an understanding of the awfulness of the sins of which your heart is capable, stand in faith before that cross and contemplate again God’s holy, spotless Son hanging on that tree suffering unspeakable anguish, the very expression of man’s attitude to God, the word of the cross.
It is not merely the physical suffering that men heaped upon Jesus that made atonement for sin, for we read, “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53:10). God made Him to be the great sin offering. And so the word of the cross is the story of God’s infinite love to guilty men. Righteousness demanded that sin be punished, and there upon the cross it was punished to the full in the Person of our blessed Substitute. And now the word of the cross goes out to all the world, and as man at last is going to be judged by his attitude toward that cross, “the [word] of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.”
I am sorry they translated that word, “perish,” for that may throw us off the track. Some may think that someday if you reject the cross and the One who died there, you are in danger of perishing, but that is not what he is saying. It is something far more solemn, something that ought to affect you very much more, if you are unsaved. What he really says is, “The [word] of the cross is to them that
are lost foolishness.” Them that are lost! “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Cor. 4:3). Do you get the solemnity of that? Not in danger of being lost by-and-by, not that you will be lost if you finally persist in rejecting Christ and die in your sins. That is terribly true, but this is more solemn than that. They
are lost. If the Christ of that cross is not yet your Savior, you
are lost. If you get up and walk out unsaved, you go out lost and go down the street lost; if you get into your car and drive off, you drive off a lost man or a lost woman, and if a crash comes and you are suddenly ushered into eternity, you go into eternity lost, to be lost forever. Men do not think of these things, they do not face these things as they are. If the cross as yet means nothing to you, you are lost. “The preaching of the cross is to them that [are lost] foolishness.” “Oh,” they say, “I do not understand it at all. The very idea that a man, no matter how good he is, could be nailed to the cross and there make atonement for my sins, is foolish, is repugnant to me.” Very well, “if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” That is why you do not understand; it is because you are
lost. What a terrible condition to be in!
Then look at the other side. “But unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” “Us which are saved.” Of whom is he speaking? He is speaking of a people who once were lost but are now saved. But someone says, “I do not get that. You mean they are in process of salvation for, of course, nobody can be sure of his final salvation until the day of judgment, when at last he stands before God and the question is there definitely decided.” That is not what the Book teaches, dear friend. It contemplates people already lost and people already saved. “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).
An old Scotch woman had been very religious, she had gone to church all her life and she always hoped that at last she would get dying grace and be fit for heaven. She went one time to a meeting where two earnest servants of God were preaching and when she came home, they said to her, “Well, Grandma, how did you like the preachers?” “Well,” she said, “I could not make them out. The first man got up and talked to folk he said were saved already, to folk so good I did not know there were any in our town like them. And then another man got up and preached to folk so wicked that he said they were lost and going to hell. But there was not one word for me.” She was not lost and she was not saved, according to her own estimation. But there are just the two classes, “Them that [are lost]” and “us which are saved,” those who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, those who have faced their sins in the presence of God and have seen in the cross, in the work of the cross, that which has satisfied God and that in which their hearts can rest. They are saved right here and now.
Am I addressing anybody who has been in doubt about that? Perhaps you are a church member, perhaps you profess to be a Christian, and yet have often had doubts as to whether you are really saved. Suppose that you have never been saved (you had better give yourself the benefit of the doubt), will you, right now, take your place before God as a poor, lost sinner and look up in faith to Him who died on yonder cross and tell Him you are the sinner for whom He suffered and that you are going to rest in Him?
Years ago my father had an old friend who was a familiar figure in our home when I was a boy. One day after he had been saved for many years someone said to him, “Mr. Ross, do you ever doubt that you are saved? Has it ever come to your mind that you have made a mistake and that you are not really saved?” He said, “It is strange that you should ask me that question for, do you know, last night when I was on my way to the meeting where I was to preach the gospel, it just came to me as though a voice spoke, ‘Donald Ross, what on old hypocrite you are! You have never been saved at all,’ and I could hardly tell whether it was the voice of the Devil or whether it might be the voice of the Lord. I said, ‘Man, could that be true? After years of preaching Christ to others, could it be true that I have never been saved?’ And then I said, ‘Well, Lord, if it is all true that I have just been thinking I am saved, I am so thankful that Jesus died for hypocrites, and I come to Him now just as I am.’”
Just as I am! without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God! I come!
This dear old saint said that in a moment the cloud was lifted and he knew that he had been listening to the voice of the Devil and not that of God.
If you are not clear, let me beg of you, shut your eyes and ears to everything else just now and lift your heart to God and trust the One who died on the cross for you, trust Him as your Savior, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38).
Well, then, unto us which are saved the word of the cross is the power of God. That is, there is no human energy that converts people, we cannot convert them by any ability of our own. Somebody said to me a short time ago, “You know Dr. So-and-So, well, he is a grand man of God. He converted me ten years ago.” I know that he meant that this dear servant of God had presented the gospel which he had believed. But it is not servants of Christ who do the converting. We cannot save people, we cannot give men peace with God; it is the word of the cross that is the power of God. Here is a poor, troubled, anxious soul not knowing what to do or where to go; suddenly the Spirit of God presents the cross, the fact that Christ on the cross died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and faith leaps up in the heart, and the soul says, “Thank God, He died for me!” In a moment that soul passes from death to life. The word of the cross is the power of God. Sometimes we have to preach about a great many other things, but in a sense I begrudge the time that has to be given to other subjects when I think of men who might be sitting before me who have not seen the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. How all this writes “folly” over everything of the natural mind, for the apostle referring to Isaiah says, “It is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’”
Men pride themselves in their philosophies, in their reasoning powers, but no philosophy in the world would ever have reasoned out the need of the cross nor have suggested that only through the death of Christ sinners could be saved. “Where is the wise? where is the scribe?” that is, the reasoners, for reasoning goes for naught in the light of the cross. “Where is the disputer of this world?” When he mentions the scribe, he is naturally referring to the Jews, the wise men in Israel, who tried to work out a way of salvation through systems and ritual, but the apostle brushes them to one side. What does he know of the word of the cross? And then the disputer, the Greek philosopher, proud of his learning, investigating all the various sciences and systems of thought of his day. But not one of them would ever have dreamed of Christ dying on a cross as the means of salvation for sinners. So he said, “Where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” Mere wisdom would never have delved into the mystery of the cross. It is a striking fact that our English word,
world, is made to do duty for two Greek words here. It might be rendered,
“Where is the disputer of this
age? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this
the first instance it is
aion, “the age,” and in the second instance it is
kosmos, this “ordered universe” in which we live. The whole trend of the age is against the word of the cross. The wisdom of this age would never have thought that only by the death of the Son of God on the cross salvation could be wrought out, and so far as this ordered universe is concerned, the things that men pride themselves in are only foolishness in the sight of God. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2:4).
Well might the omnipotent God laugh (I do not say this irreverently) as He hears the ravings of these godless professors in our universities, trying to explain the mystery of the universe, as they measure everything by their own little foot-rules, delving into things utterly beyond human comprehension, deliberately turning away from the revelation that would make everything plain.
“For after that in the wisdom of God”—God has permitted man to grope and grope and do his best to find out these hidden mysteries, to come to an end of himself at last—”the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” What is preaching? It is a simple proclamation, and it has pleased God by what looks to man like foolishness, the simplicity of making an announcement, to save them that believe. I stand up in the name of the God of heaven and declare that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The world says, “Foolishness! You could not prove that if you had to.” No, I could not; but I repeat the announcement: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” And whenever a man is humble enough and lowly enough to believe the announcement, he is saved. “It pleased God by the [simplicity of an announcement] to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign.” They say, “Give us some evidence that this is true; work some miracle.” Some say, “If you could work miracles today, would it not be wonderful?” I do not know that it would. If I had apostolic power and could go through an audience and lay my hands upon some poor cripple and he would leap to his feet well and whole, I fancy I could fill a building and we would have all kinds of cripples coming, but I have never heard of anything like that causing poor sinners to awake and turn to Christ. Even when the apostles could do these things, men turned on them and tried to kill them, as in the case of Paul at Lystra.
It is the preaching of the cross that saves. That is what guilty sinners need. “The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” Someone says, “But Paul, if you know it is a stumbling block and foolishness, why don’t you serve it up to your audience in such a way as to get rid of those elements?” And Paul would answer, “Because if I make it attractive to the natural man, it will not be the means of salvation to sinners.” “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” This involves the work of the Spirit of God. He must prepare the heart. This is the effectual call.
There is a general call that goes to all men, there is an effectual call when the Spirit of God drives the truth home, and a man realizes that God is tugging at his heart to draw him to Christ. “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” This was the apostolic message. “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). That message still has the same power as of old. God give us to preach it in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Christ, The Wisdom Of God
1 Corinthians 1:25-31
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (vv. 25-31)
The foolishness of God! What a striking expression! I remember on one occasion a friend of mine, a very faithful preacher, advertised on a large billboard in a Canadian city that he would preach on these words. He was almost immediately summoned before the magistrate and asked if he did not know that there was a law in Ontario against blasphemy. He had to explain that the topic advertised was simply a quotation from Holy Scripture. The expression, of course, is akin to that of verse 21, “the foolishness of preaching,” and in commenting on the former passage we suggested that it might be rendered “the simplicity of preaching,” and so here we learn that the simplicity of God is wiser than men. That is, the program of the gospel that seems so simple to the worldly wise is after all the source of all wisdom, wiser far than all of man’s philosophies.
Then we are told that the weakness of God is stronger than man. The weakness of God refers to the cross. Christ was crucified through weakness. He, the omnipotent One, chose in infinite grace to take the place of a helpless prisoner in the hands of His enemies. At any moment He might have destroyed them by His power, or, if He was still to keep in the place of weakness, He could have prayed for help from above and twelve legions of angels would have been sent to rescue Him. But He did neither of these. He humbled Himself unto death, and that death for the destruction of him who, up to that time, had the power of death, that is, the Devil.
The believer’s calling is brought out very effectively in verses 26-29. In making up the members of the body of Christ, it has not pleased God to choose many from among the wise, the mighty, the noble, or the great men of this world. Lady Huntington, the friend of Whitfield and the Wesleys, who took such an active part in the great revival movement of those wonderful days, used to say that she was only going to heaven by an
m. When someone asked her what she meant, she stated that she was so thankful that Scripture did not say, “not
any noble are called,” but “not
many noble.” Therefore she got in by an
m. Had God selected those whom the world admires as the pillars of His church, to a very large extent it would have destroyed the very thing He had in view. It was His desire to manifest the results of His grace. He works, not with what He finds, but with what He brings. He delights to take up those whom the world looks down upon and to make them devoted saints and faithful servants who will be to the praise of His glory throughout all the ages to come. So we read that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” He has, in His sovereign grace, taken up “the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,” base things, things that are despised has God chosen, and things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are.
Look back over the history of the Christian church. What wondrous stories it tells of grace reaching down to the lowest, the poorest, the most insignificant, bringing such to repentance, creating faith in their souls by the word of truth of the gospel, regenerating them, justifying them from all things, sanctifying them by the Holy Spirit and the Word, and then sending them out as ambassadors for Christ to turn the world upside down by the simplicity of preaching the message of the cross. The earlier followers of the Lord Jesus Christ were, with very few exceptions, men from the lower walks of life: fishermen, tax collectors, Galilean peasants! Judas was the only “gentleman” in the entire apostolic band. He was from Judea, the bursar of the little company, and he turned traitor. But God filled those men from the common walks of life with the power of His Holy Spirit and through them won thousands more to a saving knowledge of His Son. Saul of Tarsus stands out himself in vivid contrast, and one who, whether saved or not, would have had some great place among the people of that day, but he is the one who writes the words that we have been considering, and he counted himself among the base things, and the things that are not, and thanked God that to him it was given to be used of God to bring to nought the things that are.
The reason for all this comes out clearly in the twenty-ninth verse in a succinct statement, “that no flesh should glory in his presence.” Had God taken up the wealthy and the powerful, it would have given the flesh a large place in the eyes of men at least, but by choosing the weak things He had the greater opportunity to manifest His own power. In themselves they could accomplish nothing; through Him they did valiantly. Therefore all the glory belongs not to them but to Him. He has said, “My glory will I not give to another” (Isa. 42:8).
How we need to remind ourselves again and again of these things today. It has always seemed to me that there is so much mawkish sentiment linked with so-called religious leaders, even in the professing church of Christ. As teachers and preachers are presented to audiences, it is considered the right thing, the proper thing to laud them to the skies, to expatiate on their brilliancy and learning and wonderful personality, until I myself have often felt grieved and shocked and thoroughly ashamed as I listened to such laudations. One cannot imagine the apostle Peter so introducing his beloved brother, Paul, nor can we think of Paul presenting his fellow laborers, Epaphroditus, Titus, or Timothy in such a manner to those to whom they were to preach. He does indeed say the kindest things of them all, for he loved them truly and was grateful to God for all the good things seen in them; but as he speaks of them, he does not dwell upon their ability or personality or charm or wonderful gifts, but rather on their devoted-ness to Christ in suffering for His name’s sake. Surely there is a lesson in all this for us. If we give to man the glory which belongs alone to God, we may be certain that we shall incur the divine displeasure.
Let us now consider the wonderful thirtieth verse, and as we quote it, let me make a slight change from the text of our splendid King James Version, a change which I believe any scholar will recognize as warranted by the original text, and which brings out more vividly the actual truth that the apostle means to set forth: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom: even righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” That is, Paul is not telling us exactly that Christ is made four things to the believer, but rather one, and out of this one three others spring. Christ is made unto us wisdom. He is Himself the wisdom of God. “In whom,” we are told in Colossians 2:3, “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” People often speak of the “problem of Jesus,” the “problem of Christ.” There is no problem of Christ. Christ is not a problem: He it is who explains every problem. Listen to that poor, sinful Samaritan woman at the well. She had many questions over which she had puzzled for years. As she conversed with the Lord Jesus, the conviction evidently grew upon her that here was One whose wisdom was superhuman. Timidly, and yet hopefully, I am sure, she exclaimed, “I know that Messias cometh which is called Christ” (John 4:25). No doubt the thought in her mind was this: “Oh, if I could only see Him. If He could come in my day, I would go to Him with all my cares, with all my problems and perplexities, and He would explain everything.” Jesus, looking at her with those wonderful eyes of His (they had already seen into the very depths of her soul), answered, “I that speak unto thee am he” (v. 26). Startled, she looked again upon Him, feasted her own eyes on that wonderful face until she was absolutely convinced that the words He spoke were true. One might have expected a torrent of questions, but no—she had found the Messiah. Every problem was settled when she knew Him, and away she went to the city to call others to meet Him too. And so I say again, there is no problem of Christ, but Christ is the key to every problem. To know Him is to have all the knowledge that is really worthwhile. And we who are saved are in Him. That is a remarkable expression which Paul uses over and over again, “in Christ Jesus.” It speaks of our new standing before God. It tells of the intimate union that subsists between the risen Lord and all His own. In Him there is no condemnation. In Him we are accepted in all His own blessed perfection. And God has made Him unto us wisdom. Everything we need for our souls’ deliverance is found in the knowledge of Christ. Our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption, all are found in Him.
It is well that we should dwell on each of these words separately, and be clear as to their exact significance. Righteousness. We had none of our own. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). All that we thought to be such we have learned is but as polluted rags in the sight of an infinitely holy God. But He has set forth Christ, the risen Christ, who once bore our sins in His own body on the tree, as the expression of the righteousness of God. We are made the righteousness of God in Him. “This is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:6), and so we stand before God in a perfect, unchallenged righteousness, complete in Christ.
Sanctification. Whether we think of sanctification as practical or positional, nevertheless all are found in Him. To be sanctified is to be set apart. For us it means, of course, to be set apart to God in Christ in all the perfection of His finished work. This is our positional sanctification. But it also means to be set apart from the sin, pollution, uncleanness, and corruption that prevails in this world, even as our Lord prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). It is as our hearts are taken up with Christ that we will know the reality of this.
Redemption. We who had sold ourselves for nought have been redeemed without money. “Redeemed [not] with corruptible things, as silver and gold,…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). He gave Himself for us. His life is the price of our redemption, life given up to death in order that we might be delivered from the fear of death and enter into life eternal. We have everything in Jesus, and Jesus everything.
And so we have nothing for which we can give ourselves credit, but, “As it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” Like David, we can each one exclaim, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord.” John Allen, the converted navy (or section-hand, as we would say in America), one of the first officers of the Salvation Army, exclaimed as he was dying, “I deserve to be damned; I deserve to be in hell; but God interfered!” Yes, and so may each redeemed one say. The sinning was ours, the disobedience was ours, the curse, the wrath, the judgment—all were our desert. The holiness is His, the perfect obedience unto death is His. He became a curse for us, He drained the cup of wrath, He bore the judgment. Thus He has become in very truth our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and to Him belongs all the glory now and through eternal ages.