Book traversal links for 1 Corinthians (Lectures 6-10)
Jesus Christ And Him Crucified
1 Corinthians 2:1-8
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (vv. 1—8)
In the book of Acts we have the account of Paul’s entry into Corinth where after a year and a half of earnest work he left a church that came behind, we are told, in no gift. Going into that brilliant but godless city where they gloried in human ability and in human attainment, where they made much of the various arts and where they deified human lust and knew nothing of the true God, the apostle’s soul was deeply stirred. He had been but a few days before in Athens and there, we read, had gone by invitation to the place where the philosophers, the intelligentsia, gathered to hear and to tell some new thing, and where at their own request he undertook to explain the message of the gospel. However, they did not permit him to come to the crucial point, for they interrupted him as soon as he spoke of a Savior who died and was raised again, and refused to listen further. Probably never was a more eloquent sermon preached than that which the apostle delivered that day on Mars Hill, and yet the results were somewhat meager. There were a few who clave to him, but the great majority turned away, rejecting him and his proclamation.
From Athens he went to Corinth. I do not believe there is any reason to think that he felt he had made a mistake in preaching as he did at Athens. His rule was this: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” There he realized that he was addressing men of the highest culture and had to present the message in a way that he hoped would appeal to them; but upon going to Corinth he put aside everything, as far as he possibly could, that was merely human and went in absolute dependence upon the Spirit of God with one great message, “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
He says, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.” He realized it was quite possible by the flowers of rhetoric to cover up, to obscure the shame of the cross, and so he did not permit himself any flights of fancy or of the imagination in presenting the glad tidings; but seriously, earnestly, solemnly, as became a man who stood between the living and the dead, he preached the message of the cross in all simplicity, for he determined, he said, “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” And that should still be the method of the servant of God; for after all, there is no other message that will avail for the salvation of sinners or the edification of God’s beloved people. Everything centers in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” That is the Person and the Work. Always Christ personal was presented in apostolic preaching. Men were not asked to believe a creed, they were not asked to subscribe to a system of doctrine, but they were asked to receive a Person, and that Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I think we make a mistake in supposing that just pinning our faith to a verse of Scripture is salvation. I wonder whether many have not been deceived in that way. I hear people speak of knowing they are saved, and when asked why, they reply, “Because I believe John 3:16 or John 5:24,” and you look for some evidence of a new life in them and do not find it. They never appear at a prayer meeting, but if there is a social affair, or something like that, they are present. Apparently they have no real interest in the study of the Word of God; you never see them at a Bible lecture. They have time for anything that ministers to the flesh, but very little time for spiritual food, and it makes one tremble for them. I cannot think of anything more dreadful than to have gone through life thinking that one was really saved, and then at last to be suddenly ushered into eternity and wake up forever lost. You see, believing a text does not save anybody. Believing in Christ saves all who trust Him. I believed every text in the Bible before I was converted. I never thought of doubting one of them until after I was converted. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but as a lad I believed all that I was told, that the Bible was the Word of the living God. I accepted it all. Some years after I was converted I became perplexed over certain things and began to doubt, and it led me to a deeper investigation, and then my faith was confirmed. But in all those years that I believed everything in the Bible I was not saved. I had never been regenerated, I had never received a new nature. I was lost. And if I had died in my sins, I could have quoted hundreds of Bible texts, I could have repeated chapter after chapter of Holy Scripture in the flames of hell while bewailing the fact that I had never been acquainted with the Person that these passages of Scripture glorified. Do not make any mistake here, for it is one that can never be remedied if you go into eternity resting on a false hope. Examine your foundation, ask yourselves, Is Christ Himself precious to me? If He is, why do I not enjoy His Word more? Why do I not love to spend more time with Him in prayer? Why is there so much frivolity and levity and carelessness in my life? Why do I do so many things that I know the Lord Jesus would never do and cannot approve in me if I really love Him? He has said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (John 14:23). “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
What is the use of professing to be a Christian if there is no evidence of it in the life? What is the use of speaking of the new birth, of talking about having eternal life if I live the same kind of a life that tens of thousands of respectable Christless men and women live all around me? What is the difference between my life and theirs? If this change has ever taken place in me, when did it take place? When did I open my heart’s door to Christ and receive Him? If I have received Him, then He has come to dwell in me and that changes everything for me. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the [children] of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Now observe, it is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Some say, “We preach Christ,” but the Christ who lived on earth for those thirty-three wonderful years could never save one poor sinner apart from His death. Jesus Christ was crucified? Why? The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ throws into relief several tremendous facts. First of all, it emphasizes the wickedness, the corruption, the vileness of the human heart. Who was Jesus Christ? He was God manifest in the flesh. He was here in the world His hands had made, and His own creatures cried, “Away with him, away with him; crucify him!” Could we have any worse commentary on the iniquity of the human heart than that? Man, as far as he was capable, was guilty of the awful crime of deicide, he would murder God, drive Him out of His own universe. “The fool hath said in his heart,…no God” (Ps. 14:1). It is not exactly as in our King James Version, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Many a man admits there is a God who says, “No God,” and that is what that verse really tells us, in the Hebrew. “The fool hath said in his heart,…no God.” “No God for me.” He has said, “I do not want God to come into my life, I do not want to be troubled about God, I want to take my own way, to do my own will.” And because men were set on that, they nailed the Christ of God to a cross. If there is anything that tells out what man is, this does.
Stand in faith by that cross, see the blessed Savior suffering, dying there; see the nails upon which He hangs and the blood dripping from those awful wounds; see the thorns crushed upon His sacred brow and the blood enwrapping His naked body as with a crimson shroud. That is what sin has done, the sin that is in your heart and in mine. That tells out the story of the wickedness, the deceit-fulness of our hearts. The men who thronged about that cross and cried out in derision, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:40), were no different from ourselves; their hearts were like our hearts. They were representative men. We may see ourselves there. The cross brought out, declared all the malignity that was in the heart of man, but it also told out the infinite love that was in the heart of God. One might well have understood it if God looking down upon that scene had let loose the thunders of His wrath and the lightnings of His judgment and had destroyed that throng in a moment; if He had said, as He did so long ago, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man…I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Gen. 6:3, 7). But no, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). When man cast Him out and nailed Him to a tree, God in infinite love for sinners made His soul an offering for sin. It was as though He said, “That cross, the symbol of shame and agony, shall become the great altar upon which will be offered the one supreme Sacrifice which atones for the sin of the world—Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What wonderful evidence of God’s love for sinners is seen in that cross!
In the light of that cross how can men still go on doing the things, living in the sins, that led to it? The cross of Christ is that which casts light on everything that men glory in this world and stains all its glory, so that the apostle could say elsewhere, “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). Did you ever think of it in this way? You profess to be a Christian, you say that you owe everything for eternity to the One whom the world rejected. What effect does that have upon your life? Do you still have fellowship with that world that cast Him out? Do you still participate in the things that characterize that world?
A Christian walked down the street one day intending to go to the theater. Something was on that he thought he would be interested in. He came to the very entrance, even stepped up and bought his ticket, and the next moment there came flashing into his mind, “If I go in there, I crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame.” He tore the ticket up, and ran from the place, thankful to be delivered. If you as a Christian go back into the things of the world from which the death of Christ has separated you, you are denying the cross of Christ. That is what it means. If we understood this, what a separated people we would be, how it would do away with all this dilly-dallying with the world and its folly. How we would realize that we owe too much to the One whom the world rejected to go on with that system which has thus treated the Eternal Lover of our souls—”Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
“I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” I think every servant of Christ knows a little of that. How often as one thinks of facing an audience, the heart fails and the spirit cries out, “O Lord, what can I do, what can I say? Suppose I should make a mistake, suppose I should give the wrong message, how dire the effect might be on some! I can never undo it for eternity!” I can see Paul bowing before God every time he contemplated going out to preach the Word, and crying out, “O Lord, keep me from mistakes, let me have just the right word, give me to be Your messenger, save me from trying to attract attention to myself, save me from glorifying man.”
“My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Paul recognized the fact that there is such a thing as meeting man on the soul-plane instead of the spiritual. A man may preach the gospel and yet do it “soulishly,” on the soul-plane, depending upon that which simply appeals to the human mind, and finding perhaps, that at the psychological moment he had gotten a grip on the audience by a tender story, ask for decisions. And when the people respond, he says, “There now, what a lot of people have come to Christ,” and perhaps not one in the crowd has had the conscience reached or has had to do with God about his sins. Paul was afraid of that. He said, “I do not want to preach things in such a way that my human effort will persuade them. I am depending upon the Holy Spirit of God and divine power to do the work.”
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Because, you see, if I make a profession of salvation on the strength of a discourse that has stirred simply my emotions and made me feel that I ought to do something about it, and also because of my admiration for the preacher; then, when the preacher is gone and my emotions are no longer stirred, I will find myself wondering whether I am converted or not, whether there is any reality in this thing or not. I felt so differently under the spell of that emotion; now I do not feel that way at all. If the Holy Spirit of God has presented Christ to me and I have received Him, never mind about my feelings, I am saved and saved for eternity. My faith stands, “not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” I rest upon His sure testimony.
We do not mean by this, the apostle says, that we have nothing but the simplicity of the gospel message to give to men; we seek also to lead believers into the deep things of God. “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” What does that mean? Did you ever see a perfect Christian? Surely not in the absolute sense, but it means perfect in the sense of well-developed. When he talked to the unsaved or to young believers, he had one message, and when he talked to mature saints, he sought to lead them on into the deeper things of God. He does that in this epistle and elsewhere.
“We speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world.” Christianity is a divine revelation, not a human theory. “Not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery”—something that is hidden from the Christless, that which the Spirit of God reveals to believers—”even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” There are rich treasures of wisdom, wonderful truths to make known; for in Christ are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And as we go on with Him we enter into a depth of understanding that the world knows nothing about.
“Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” If they had only known that the Man who stood in Pilate’s judgment hall that day, so meek, so lowly, answering never a word as He was vehemently accused, was God manifest in the flesh, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. And so God takes mankind up on the ground of ignorance and says, “I am going to excuse your ignorance, but there is one thing I will never excuse. After I enlighten you and present My Son to you, if you do not receive Him, I will never excuse that.” Men are excused because the light has not come, but not excused when the light has come. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
This is not to say that God will not judge sin wherever it is found. But simply that He holds men responsible for what knowledge of His truth they have, and not for what has never come to them. “All have sinned” and all “are guilty before God,” but judgment will be according to works and in perfect righteousness.
But when one trusts the Lord Jesus he is delivered forever from judgment. What a wonderful thing it is to know Him—”Jesus Christ, and him crucified!”
1 Corinthians 2:9-13
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (vv. 9-13)
The apostle declared that in making known the gospel he sought to use all simplicity of speech, but when it came to opening up the truth of God to believers, there are deep things, wonderfully precious things, that cannot be given to the world at large, which form the hidden wisdom of God. The world has its various schools of philosophy, its deep things to which the average man on the street does not pay much attention; and so God has His deep things which are not for the world outside, but for those who have already received the gospel message. The Lord Jesus Himself warned His disciples against casting pearls before swine. What did He mean by that? Simply this, the unsaved man, the man who has never been regenerated, has no more ability to appreciate, to enter into and enjoy spiritual unfoldings than the swine has ability to set a value on beautiful pearls, and therefore, the message for the unsaved is the gospel; but to the Lord’s own people He would impart this hidden wisdom, that which none of the princes of this world knew, for he says, “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
The apostle is quoting from the sixty-fourth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. The singular thing is that a great many people stop here with the Old Testament quotation and say, “You know we cannot understand, we cannot be expected to understand or enter into the things which God hath prepared for us, because the Word tells us that, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’” And so they settle back and conclude that we must be content to be ignorant of these things, for God has said that they are not for us to know. Let us look at the passage in the Old Testament and see the connection in which it is found. In verse 4 we read, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” This is the translation from the Hebrew. That which we find in the New Testament is the translation of the Greek version of the Old Testament, hence the difference in words, though the meaning is exactly the same. What is it that Isaiah tells us? It is that no man apart from divine revelation can understand what God has in store for His people in times to come. That was true in Old Testament days, but when we come to the New Testament, since God has revealed Himself in the Person of His Son and given this new revelation of the new covenant in the Gospels and in the Epistles, we must not stop with the verse in Isaiah. We must not be content to take for granted that we are still where they were in the Old Testament days, for that is the very thing the apostle tells us is not the case.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” In other words, the Old Testament speaks of times when there were great and wonderful mysteries which were kept hidden from all men. Even the prophets themselves, as enlightened as they were, knew nothing of the special truths of this dispensation, but God has made them known now. Read the books of the Old Testament, read the Psalms, for instance, which give you the highest inspiration of the saints before the veil was rent, and you get no inkling of the heavenly calling or of believers entering through the rent veil into the very presence of God without an officiating priest between. You get nothing of Christ exalted at God’s right hand and of believers linked with Him so that we can say, “He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). The Old Testament gives us the preparation time. There we have God’s people as children going to school, learning through symbols and types and shadows, but with no realization of the wonderful truths now made known, and therefore, Isaiah could say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But all that has changed today. Now our eyes do see, our ears do hear, and our hearts should be able to comprehend the wonderful things which God hath prepared for those linked up to Himself through the Lord Jesus Christ. “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit,” and so we still need the Old Testament, for the things written there were for our learning.
We go back in the Old Testament and see the exercises of the people of God in years gone by, but we do not stay there; we learn wondrous lessons, but we move on to the full and glorious revelation that God has given in the new dispensation. It is here our souls revel in the precious truths now made known. Christians sometimes imagine that if they come to God in worship, for instance in singing, in the very words of Holy Scripture, like some of our friends who sing the Psalms, their worship takes a higher character than that of Christians using what they call “man-made hymns,” and yet what is the fact? We might gather together and sing the Psalms week after week and year after year, and always be conscious of the fact that we are singing the very words of Scripture, but there would not be a syllable that would give us our place within the holiest, accepted in the Beloved; and you will find that where Christians are content thus to approach God in worship, they have no realization of the fullness of the Christian’s position. It could not be, because the Psalms as all other Old Testament Scripture lead us up to the door, but they do not carry us inside into the fullest blessing. Therefore, you will generally find people who are wedded to the Psalms, precious as they are, a legal people, knowing very little of the fullness of grace, and most of them are content to go through life thinking it is altogether too much to believe that a man can be saved and know it in this life, just let them go on trusting and hoping, and perhaps God will give them dying grace at last.
You have heard of the good old Scotch woman who said, “We will not sing any of these man-made hymns, we will sing just the Psalms of David to the tunes that David wrote!” The fact is that a Spirit-taught Christian today can enjoy in a hymn precious and wonderful truths which would have been amazing to David, truths of which he knew absolutely nothing. What a wonderful thing it is to think that we live in the dispensation of the grace of God. By the Holy Spirit God has now revealed these things formerly hidden unto us, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” That may seem like a peculiar expression. The Holy Spirit is One with the Father and with the Son; our Lord Jesus puts the Trinity all on an equality when He tells His disciples to teach and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You could not think of putting a creature in there and saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the blessed Virgin Mary,” or, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy apostles.” You could not do that, for you would be bringing His creatures on a level with God. But when you say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” everything is in keeping because all are coequal and coeternal.
In what sense does the Holy Spirit have to search to find out the mind of the Lord? “For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” In Himself He does not need to search, He does not have to study to learn the mind of God. But the wonderful thought is that in our dispensation the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us, and it is through Him that we do the searching and the studying, and the Spirit of God opens the truth of God to us. People say, “I do not know how it is that some folks get such wonderful things out of their Bibles. I do not get them out of mine. I know I ought to read my Bible, and I do read it, perhaps a chapter a day, but I do not have much appetite for it, I do not get much out of it.” I will tell you why. It is because you do not sit down over your Bible in a self-judged, broken spirit, putting out of your life everything carnal, everything worldly, everything unholy, and then depending absolutely on the Holy Spirit who dwells within you to search into the Scriptures for you, to open the truth of God to you. God has given you the Holy Spirit for that very purpose. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13). Take a poor, simple, ignorant Christian who can barely read or write and put him down over his Bible in dependence on the Holy Spirit of God, and he will get more out of a given passage of Scripture in half-an-hour than a Doctor of Divinity or a Doctor of Psychology, who studies it with a lot of learned tomes about him depending upon his intellect instead of upon the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God opens the truth to those who depend on Him. I am afraid that many of us are absolutely careless of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are trying to make our own way through the world, trying to find out what is right and wrong in spiritual things instead of handing over everything to the Spirit of God and depending on Him to guide and lead and unfold the Scriptures. He came to do this very thing and He delights to fulfill this mission.
How strikingly the apostle illustrates this in verse 11: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” What does he mean by “the spirit of man which is in him?” Materialists tell us that the spirit of a man is the breath of a man. It is a striking thing that in Greek and Hebrew the same word may be translated “spirit,” “air,” “breath,” “wind.” They say the spirit is the air that you breathe, there is no personality about it, the body is all there is of man as far as personality is concerned. If that were true, would it not be absurd for the apostle to speak as he does here? Translate the word “spirit” by “breath” and you would read, “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the breath of man which is in him?” Is that not remarkable?—an intelligent breath! Is it your breath that knows things? Is it your breath that reasons and weighs evidence? Surely not. It is the spirit of a man. And what is the spirit of a man? It is the real man.
When God created man He created him a spirit living in a human body, and therefore God is called “The Father of spirits.” Translate that, “God, the Father of breaths,” how would that sound? No, God is a Spirit and man is a spirit, and therefore, in that sense, even unregenerated men are God’s sons. The spirit is the personality. It is that which differentiates him from the lower creation, enables him to think, to weigh evidence, to reason, to investigate. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” I cannot read your thoughts, you cannot read my thoughts. We find people who profess to be able to do so, but they always make a botch of it. We try to read people’s minds by their faces, but we often accuse them of things that are not so, as Eli falsely accused Hannah.
“What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” I might talk as humbly as possible and you might be foolish enough to go away and think, “What a lowly man that is!” and all the time I might be a kind of Uriah Heep, of Charles Dickens’s
David Copperfield, with a false humility. Another might seem to you to be proud while in reality he might be very humble. So Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” We are not to try to read other persons’ minds for we will often be mistaken if we do. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” If my human spirit understands my thoughts, if my human spirit knows what is going on in my mind, do you not see the apostle’s argument? The Holy Spirit knows everything that goes on in the mind of God. Is not that a wonderful thought?
“Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” And He has chosen to make them known to us. I can make known my thoughts to you, and you can make yours known to me. Very well, the Holy Spirit of God makes known the thoughts of God to us. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” This blessed Holy Spirit has been received by believers. He has come to indwell us, to control us, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in order that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. That is the secret of learning the Bible, and understanding the truth. You come to the Book and study it in dependence on the Holy Spirit who dwells within and He will open it up. But let me give you another secret. He won’t do that if you are grieving Him. As long as the Spirit is happy within you because you are living in a godly, unworldly, consistent manner, it is His delight to take the things of Christ and open them up; but the moment you grieve Him, the moment you give yourself to unholy thoughts or worldly behavior, yield to carnality, to things contrary to the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are called upon to represent here, then you grieve the Spirit of God and instead of the Holy Spirit being free to do what He delights to do, take of the things of Christ and show them unto you, He has to occupy you with your own failure and sins and shortcomings, in order to bring you to repentance and confession where you will seek to put everything right before God. So the secret of getting the mind of God as you study His Word is to live in the power of an ungrieved Spirit and go to the Book in dependence on Him.
“We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” We have them here, but do we know them? It is one thing to have a vast amount of knowledge shut up between the covers of a book, it is another thing really to know it.
You may have a large library. Everything in all those books is yours. But it is quite another thing to make all that accumulation of knowledge yours practically. It requires diligent study and careful reading. So with God’s wonderful library, the Bible. We need the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we meditate upon its wondrous truths, for it is only in this way we can enter into its treasures. This Book was not written by men, except as they were used as penmen; it was given by God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). And think of the folly of expecting to understand it if I just approach it from a carnal or intellectual standpoint. That is not the way to get God’s truth. He has given it to me, but if I would appreciate it the Spirit must open it up, and I must walk in the Spirit.
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Some people wonder what we mean when we speak of the verbal inspiration of the Bible. There are those who talk of the Bible being inspired in the sense that God gave to the writers of the different books certain thoughts and they embodied them in their own language to suit themselves, but that is not the truth of inspiration as taught in the Book. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth.” They did not take divine truths and write them down in their own words. They expressed divine truths in the words that the Holy Spirit gave. He gave the words as well as the thoughts. Verbal inspiration means inspiration of the words. If the Bible is inspired at all, it is in its words, and that is what the apostle insists upon. When you come to the study of this Book and recognize the fact that the words were given of God, you will have such a conception of the wonder of the Book that you will delight in lingering over every syllable. How often we have studied the Book and one little word seemed to jump at us; we have looked it up and found the original meaning in the Hebrew or the Greek, found what the root is, and as we delved into it we have found there was not any other word that would have expressed that truth. It is like God Himself; it is perfect. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.”
He concludes this section with an expression that is a bit peculiar, one about which theologians have had a great many different views. “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” That may suggest a comparison of one divinely-imparted line of truth with some other opening up of eternal verities. That is blessedly true, and that was perhaps the thought that the translators had in mind, but there is something deeper than that. Others have translated it, “Expounding spiritual things to spiritual minds,” and that is surely important. If men are not spiritual, they cannot take in spiritual truth. One might endeavor to give them the deepest and most wonderful revelation from the Word of God, but they would not be able to take it in. It is the same in spiritual things as in natural things. Take music, for instance. If you do not have music in your soul, if you do not have a real sense of music, you cannot understand it.
I heard a man once tell of going to hear Jenny Lind, the famous “Swedish Nightingale,” who eventually gave up the concert stage for love of Christ. Beside the man sat a sea captain who had paid five dollars for his ticket but who drowsed and slumbered all through the concert. He went, out of curiosity, to
see the noted singer, but he had no ear to enjoy her marvelous tones. He was unable to appreciate that wonderful voice that thrilled myriads who had a sense of musical values. To enjoy music one must have music in his own soul. This is just as true in regard to spiritual things. That is why people need to be born again and then they need to walk in the Spirit, for one cannot understand spiritual things unless he is living a spiritual life.
On the other hand, this last expression is not exactly personal in the Greek, it does not necessarily refer to individuals, and a better translation might be, “Communicating spiritual things by spiritual methods,” or “by spiritual words.” That seems to be a very satisfactory translation. It is the business of servants of Christ to communicate spiritual things by spiritual methods, not stooping to the cheap claptrap methods of the world as they seek to expound the Word of God, but in a reverent way opening up spiritual truths and using suited words in accordance with the testimony that the Holy Spirit Himself has given men. God give to each one of us a deeper appreciation of this marvelous revelation which we have in His Word.
Natural, Carnal, And Spiritual Men
1 Corinthians 2:14—3:8
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. (2:14-3:8)
In this passage we have three men brought before us: the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual. What are we to understand by these expressions? We often say there are only two classes of people in the world, those who are regenerated and those who are not; or, to put it in another way, those who are saved and those who are lost; and of course that distinction stands. But here the apostle divides mankind into three classes: the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual.
Who is the natural man? We read in verse 14 of chapter 2, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural man is the man who has simply been born according to nature. Our Lord Jesus says in John 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” That is the natural man. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That is the genesis of the spiritual man. But the word translated “natural” does not merely mean of the flesh. The word really means, psychical. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the apostle Paul says, “And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He shows that man is tripartite. The spirit, the highest part of the man, that which differentiates him from the lower creation, is that to which God speaks. We read, “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” It is the spirit that gives man intelligence above the brute. By the spirit man reasons, is able to weigh evidence; by the spirit he is able to listen to the voice of God.
On the other hand, the second part of man is called the soul,
the psyche, and this word
natural is an adjective formed from that word,
psychical. “The [psychical] man [or the “soulual” man] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” When God created man, somebody has well said, he was like a three-story house; the lower story, the body; the second story, the soul, the seat of his natural instincts and emotions; and the third story, the spirit, the highest part of man by which he could look up to God. But when man sinned, there was a moral earthquake, and the top story fell down into the basement, and that leaves him a psychical man, it leaves the soul in the preeminent place instead of the spirit. When you remember that the soul is the seat of man’s emotional nature, you will realize that the natural man is a creature led not by conscience, not by an enlightened spirit, but by following the desires of his own heart as a soulish man because he follows his own affections and desires. He is a creature of emotions, and that is why it is so easy to say that every sin appeals in some way to the emotions of the natural heart. At base all sin is selfish; we sin because we think we shall find a measure of satisfaction in that sin. Sin is always selfish, and the psychical man is a selfish being, he is a self-centered person, for after all, the soul is the self. The natural man, therefore, is the man who lives the self-life, the man whose spirit has never been quickened into newness of life; it is still down there a captive in the basement, if you will. You can see at once where that applies to you. What is your motive in life? Are you living to glorify God or are you living to enjoy yourself? Are you seeking your own desires or are you seeking to please the Lord Jesus Christ? As every saved person looks back to the old life, he can say:
I lived for myself, for myself alone,
For myself and none beside;
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
And as if He had never died.
That is the psychical man. He may be outwardly a very good man, a very gracious man, a very courteous man, a very kind man, as long as he can have his own way. He lives for himself and finds a certain satisfaction even in doing good. He learns as he goes through life that honesty is the best policy, that he is happier if he is honest, and therefore many an unregenerate man is a model of integrity. He gets a degree of happiness out of meeting the needs of other people; he may be a very kind man, and there is a glow of warmth in his heart when he hands something to a needy person and that person responds, “God bless you, sir, you don’t know how much good you are doing.” There may be all that and yet no thought of living for God, no thought of glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. Some natural men descend into things groveling and debasing, their appetites lead them into licentiousness and inebriety, but other natural men take what has been called the clean side of the broad way, the higher way of the natural man, but it still is the way that leads to destruction. As you walk down that broad way you find all classes and conditions of people, some openly immoral, some vicious, some abominably unclean, others eminently respectable, looked upon with admiration by their fellows; some of them very religious and finding a certain amount of satisfaction as they wend their way to the great cathedral or little chapel, as the case may be; as they sit in a Christian, Jewish, or some other service, and as the meeting goes on they find satisfaction in feeling that they are doing the right thing. They are affected by the service, they love the music; if the preacher happens to be eloquent and appealing, they enjoy listening to him, and sometimes even though he is not eloquent, if he is earnest they like to listen to him.
When Charles Spurgeon was at the height of his fame as one of the greatest preachers of the gospel, many an unbeliever thronged to hear him, many a man who rejected Christianity delighted to listen to his sermons. On one occasion as a man, well-known as an infidel, was returning from Spurgeon’s meeting, he met a friend who said, “Where have you been today?”
“I have been to hear the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon,” he said.
“You surprise me,” said his friend; “you do not believe a word he says.”
“No, I do not, but he does, you know, and I get a certain amount of satisfaction in listening to a man preach as though he really believed what he was preaching.”
Even a natural man can appreciate that, for he may set a certain value upon earnestness and intensity. It is very possible that one may be outwardly good, his life may be a very righteous one, he may be a man of integrity in business, be very kind and benevolent, and have a certain amount of religious feeling, and yet be a natural man.
What is needed to bring a man out of that state into that of a Christian? There must be a new nature, a renewing of the mind, he must be born of God. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This natural man at his best with all his amiability and respectability cannot enter into, nor understand, divine things. Talk to him of the wondrous truths of the Word of God and he will look at you in amazement and will say, “I do not see the importance of these things.” Tell him that God became Man for our redemption, that He was born of a virgin, and the man smiles tolerantly and says, “If you get any comfort in believing that, all right, but as far as I am concerned it involves a biological miracle which I cannot accept.” Tell him that Christ died for our sins upon Calvary’s cross and that it was there He shed His blood for our redemption, and he will smile again and say, “Rather an old-fashioned idea, that idea of blood atonement. I notice in my studies it has rather a large place in all the ancient religions, but of course I do not see it at all.” “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Cor. 4:3). Talk to him of the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and again he says: “Of course it does not make very much difference whether His body rose; that is a small thing. His principles have been resurrected after being rejected by the men of His day, and they abide, and if we follow the rules He laid down everything will be all right.”
It is only as the Spirit of God lays hold of him and gives him to see his lost condition that the gospel appeals to this man. Believing it he ceases to be a natural man, he is no longer to be placed in that category. He may be a babe in Christ but he is a Christian. However, when you turn to consider Christians, you find two classes suggested in these words of the apostle Paul. He uses these words in verse 15, “He that is spiritual,” and then in the first verse of chapter 3 he says, “I…could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.” Let us look at the word
carnal. Literally it means “fleshly”; it is an adjective formed from the Greek word for “flesh.” The term
flesh as used doctrinally in Scripture does not refer to human flesh, but rather to the nature which we have received from Adam, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Now a carnal man, strange as it may seem, is a fleshly believer. There are many such persons. The carnal man has been regenerated, he has received a new nature, his spirit has been quickened into newness of life, and that spirit that fell into the basement is being elevated into its proper place by divine power, but the man finds he is still under the power of that old carnal fleshly nature in a large measure. Many a Christian’s life is made up of mingled victories and defeats. As he walks with God, as he takes the place of lowliness and humiliation before God, as he feeds upon the Word, as he breathes the atmosphere of prayer, his spiritual life is developed and he grows in grace and in the knowledge of God. But if this believer is slothful in availing himself of the means of grace, he may find that even after being saved for some years he is still far from being the kind of a Christian that it is the desire of the Lord that he should be.
What is a carnal believer, a fleshly believer? It is best to find out from Scripture. In verse 3 we read: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions [or factions], are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Here is a Christian, one who has really trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, but as you get intimately acquainted with him, you find he is a very selfish person. He is delightful to get along with as long as he can have his own way. As long as he can run everything to suit himself he is perfectly happy and agreeable, but cross him in the least degree, bring something before him that is contrary to his own desires, and at once there is a stirring of the flesh within him and he is manifested as a carnal man because there is strife. Think of the Lord Jesus Christ. They could treat Him as they would, but He was always the meek and lowly One; they could not rouse His temper by ill-treatment and yet He had a temper. A spiritual Christian is not one who has no temper. Just as that knife of yours would amount to very little if not properly tempered so the Christian amounts to nothing if he is not properly tempered. We read of our Lord Jesus Christ being angry. He was in a synagogue on a Sabbath Day and there was a poor woman there bowed with disease, and His enemies were watching Him to see whether He would heal her on the Sabbath. He asked the question, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days?” (Mark 3:4) but they would not answer Him, and we read, “He…looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (v. 5). What made Him angry? It was their hypocrisy. Hypocrisy always stirred the indignation of the Lord Jesus Christ. They could heap every indignity upon Him they desired, that never stirred Him to anger, but let them heap indignities upon one of the least of His children and that stirred Him to the very depth of His being. When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the Christians, Christ Jesus spoke to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). He never talked in that way to people when they ill-treated Him on earth, but when they ill-treat His own while He is in glory, He feels it keenly. When you find a Christian quick to resent what you do to him but not at all quick to resent what is done to others, you may be sure he is still carnal.
Then there is envying. A person who envies another manifests the marks of carnality. We are members of one body. If that is really so, if I am a member of one body with every other Christian, I ought to be just as delighted when my brethren are honored as though it were I, and I ought to be as deeply concerned when my brethren are distressed and in trouble as if I were in their place. Scripture says, “[If] one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). And we are exhorted to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15). How different it often is! I can do something reasonably well, but when somebody else is preferred before me, I cannot appreciate what they do. I think I can preach a little bit, but somebody else is enjoyed more than I am, and instead of saying, “Thank God for the way He is using His servant,” I sit in a corner and think, “What is it that makes the people so interested? I don’t see anything in that kind of preaching.” When I do this, I am carnal. You can apply that to everything else. If you cannot enjoy having somebody else preferred before you, you are carnal.
Then there are the faction-makers, the division-makers, those who try to bring in strife among the people of God. Here at Corinth they were divided into little cliques and were saying, “I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos,” and every one had his favorite. Paul says, “That is just carnality. When you go on like that, you are acting like little babes.” “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” If Christians could realize that when they compare one with another, say unkind things about some and laud others to the skies, it is just baby talk, they would be ashamed of it. Paul is telling us that it only shows carnality. It is not anything to be proud of, it is something that may well cause one to bow the head in shame. Paul says, “Here you are in Corinth, you have such wonderful attainments and are so proud because you come behind in no gift, and yet you are just babies, so that I cannot unfold to you the things that I would like to. I have had to feed you with milk, and even now you are not able to be fed with meat. You are still big babies.” Paul was very faithful. The Corinthians gloried in men and they gloried in great swelling words, and some, I suppose, listened to Paul and said, “We don’t see anything in his preaching; we learned that years ago. Why doesn’t he go into the deeper things?”
A brother was a candidate for the pastorate of a church and he preached for the congregation on the text, “Thou shalt not steal.” The congregation thought it was great, and the pulpit committee met after the service to decide whether to give him a call. Finally one of the brethren spoke up and said, “I don’t believe in calling any man on one sermon. That was a fine sermon he preached, but I think we should ask this brother to come back again before we call him.” So they decided to ask him to come back the next Sunday. He did and he used the same text, “Thou shalt not steal,” and preached the same identical sermon. At the close the committee met again and said, “He must have forgotten that he preached that sermon last Sunday, we had better ask him back again.” So the next Sunday he got up in the pulpit and said, “You will find my sermon in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’” Before he could go on, a member of the pulpit committee got up and said, “You are forgetting that you preached that sermon here twice already; we want to hear you in something else.” The preacher replied, “I am going to preach on that text every time I come to this church until you learn to keep away from Widow Jones’s hen-coop of a night.”
So Paul says, “I cannot unfold the great things to you, you are still little babes, you are not developed yet, you are just carnal.” But now he says, “The spiritual are a different class.” Who are the spiritual? Those who walk in a spiritual way, those who are guided by the Spirit of God. The highest part of the man is now in ascendency. Self does not predominate in this man, he lives to glorify Christ and walks on a higher plane than the carnal man.
“He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” What does he mean by this? The word translated “judgeth” is the same as in the fourteenth verse, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually
discerned” (emphasis added). “He that is spiritual
[discerneth] all things, yet he himself is [discerned] of no man.” He is able to see the difference between what is of God and what is of man, what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit, what is of the new and what is of the old nature. The spiritual man discerns all things but he himself is discerned of no man. Other men cannot understand him, if they are not spiritual. They say, “He is a queer kind of a man; he does not seem to be actuated by the motives of other men, he is not dominated by the principles that dominate other men.” Sometimes they even say as in Isaiah’s day, “The spiritual man is mad, he is not normal.” Of course not, according to the present order, because he is controlled by a higher power. One of those old New England philosophers wrote, “If I do not seem to keep step with others, it is because I am listening to a different drumbeat.” And if a man of God does not seem to keep step with the carnal and the worldly and the Christless, it is because his ear is attuned to heaven and he is getting his instructions from above. I remember reading, about forty years ago, a little poem that seems to me to bring out very preciously what should characterize the spiritual man:
There is no glory halo around his devoted head,
No luster marks the sacred path in which his footsteps tread;
But holiness is graven upon his thoughtful brow,
And all his steps are ordered in the light of heaven e’en now.
He often is peculiar and oft misunderstood,
And yet his power is felt by both the evil and the good,
And he doth live in touch with heaven a life of faith and prayer,
His hope, his confidence, his joy, his all are centered there.
Would you like to be a spiritual man, a spiritual woman? If you would, there is a price to pay. You must surrender your own will, you must yield yourself unreservedly to the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. And that means the end of all human ambitions, that means that it makes no difference henceforth what men may think or say, you have only One to please, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a great deal of talk about surrender, about spirituality, on the part of Christians who manifest by their very demeanor the carnality that controls them. God give us to be controlled by Him!
Let us then as believers not be occupied with man but with Christ. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” And what are ministers? They are servants, and so God’s ministers are servants of the people of God. Just imagine a family with a number of servants. Here is Chloe and Nellie and Tom and Bill, and the whole family is upset because some are saying, “I am of Chloe, I am of Nellie, I am of Tom, and I am of Bill.” What, the whole family divided over the servants? What absurdity! God’s ministers are the servants of the people of God; let them accept the service thankfully, but never let them put the servant in the place of the Master. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” The servant has no power to cause the Word to produce fruit.
“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” The servant is nothing, but God is everything. “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one.” And what is that? They are both just nothing; they are two ciphers. But put Christ in front of the ciphers and then you have something worthwhile. “And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.”
The Testing Of The Believer’s Works
1 Corinthians 3:9-23
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. Let no man deceive himself If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. (vv. 9-23)
We have noticed how the apostle warns the people of God against putting His servants in a place that should belong only to the blessed Lord. Every minister is simply what that name implies, a servant, and the danger is that the servant will be exalted and the Master lost sight of, or the servant be so censored and blamed that the message will be refused and the Master dishonored. The servants in themselves are nothing but channels through whom God speaks to His people. The important thing is the message they bring. And so Paul speaks of himself and his fellow servants in this way: “We are labourers together with God.”
The wonderful thing is that God could do all His work without us. It is not necessary that He should take up any of us and use us to spread His gospel. He could write it in letters of fire upon the heavens, He could send angels of glory to preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” even as of old they came to proclaim the birth of Christ and to direct the shepherds to Bethlehem’s manger. But He has chosen to give to us the privilege of making known the riches of His g holy privilege, and yet a very responsible one. It should lead every servant of Christ to ask himself, “Am I really in touch with God, am I seeking my own interests, can it be that I am actuated by selfish motives, by vain glory, simply trying to attract attention to myself and my ministry instead of taking a place like that of John the Baptist of old who pointed the people away from himself to Christ saying, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30)?” This was the attitude of Paul and this will be the attitude of every true minister of God. “We are labourers together with God.” They are not left to work in their own strength, but are to give out their message in dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is the difference between preaching and worldly oratory. An orator may take a passage from the Bible and read it in a most thrilling way, but that would not be preaching, because he would not be doing it in the power of the Holy Spirit. A poor uneducated man may stand up and preach the gospel in halting English, and yet in such divine power that men would break before it and be led to confess their sins and trust the Savior. That is what He means when he says, “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). God’s servants would preach better if you prayed for them more; there would be more response to the preaching if they were more upheld in the secret closet by the people of God. How the apostle felt his dependence on the prayers of God’s people! You find him pleading with the saints to remember him in prayer that he might preach as he ought to preach. That is the petition that we bring to you, and we plead with you for Christ’s sake and for the sake of dying men, bear up the ministry before God, take it daily to God in prayer that those who preach the Word may give it out in the demonstration of the Spirit and in power. “We are labourers together with God,” and it is only as God works in and through us that anything is accomplished.
Then he turns to the servants as a whole and likens them to a field and a building. First we read, “Ye are God’s husbandry”—or God’s tilled field. You remember how the Lord Jesus Christ used that figure. The sower sows the Word and when the Word is sown and people believe it, He likens them to wheat in a field. That is a beautiful picture of His people, God’s tilled field. One lovely thing about a field of wheat is that the heads are rising up toward the sun and they are very much on a level. We are all members one of another; one is not to tower above the other, but together we are to bring forth fruit to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, “Ye are God’s building.” The building is really the temple referred to in verse 16, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Of old when Solomon built the temple, he built it upon the solid rock of Mount Moriah. That was an oval-shaped hill and so it was necessary to make a level foundation. Vast stones were brought from the quarries below and thus made a great platform upon which the building stood, and so the apostle says, “Ye are God’s building,” God’s temple. That is, the church of God collectively is the temple of God. He is not speaking of the individual now. In the sixth chapter and the nineteenth verse he says, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?” That is another thing. In that sense you are a temple of God apart from every other believer, but here he is speaking of the assembly of God who as a whole constitute the temple of God, “The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder [or as a wise architect], I have laid the foundation.” Just as that foundation had to be laid before the temple was erected, so Paul came to Corinth and there laid the foundation by preaching the Word, and was used to bring the first members into the church of God in that locality. Very few of us can do foundation work like that in these days. Our missionaries have that privilege, they do not have to build upon another man’s foundation, but with most of us the foundation has been laid, and so in the same way the foundation of the church in Corinth was laid when Paul first went there to labor. Now he says, “That foundation does not need to be laid again. Others build upon it—but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” In other words, they must preach the truth of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and not allow unscriptural and worldly and carnal things to come in to mar the work that the Spirit of God is doing.
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.” That word
precious should be “costly,” like the great and costly stones built into the temple of old. It is not the thought of diamonds and rubies, but great costly stones, built into the spiritual temple of the Lord. If unconverted, worldly, careless people are brought in, all these hurt and hinder the work of Christ; and so if you apply this to every individual believer, though primarily it has to do with building up the church through the servants of God, the same principle abides. You rest on the one foundation, Christ, and you are building a life, a character, that must stand the test of that coming day. How are you building and what are you building? You may build with gold which speaks of divine righteousness, silver which speaks of redemption, costly stones speaking of that which will abide the day of testing. Or, on the other hand, you may build with wood, hay, or stubble—wood, which may be fashioned to be very beautiful and has a certain value attached to it, but which will not stand the fire; hay, which is of less value than the wood and yet also has a certain measure of worth because containing nourishment; stubble, that which is utterly worthless, that which should have no place whatever in the thoughts of the people of God. How are you building?
God has undertaken for us so marvelously. We have often wondered what we were going to do, how we were ever going to get through, and yet God has brought us through, and we have found that a great deal we worried about we had better left with Him. Someone has said, “I have had a great many troubles in my life, but most of them never happened.” God has been so gracious. Is this not a good time to look back and take stock? How have we been building? Everything that has been to the glory of God will be looked upon in that day as the gold that has His approval. Everything in our life that has been the result of our recognition of redemption, if we have acted as men and women redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, will shine out as silver in that day. Everything that has been in accor- dance with the Word and has sprung from that renewed nature which we have through grace, will be as costly stones built into this edifice of our life. How have you been building? Do you see a great many things that give you pause? Do you say, “There has been so much selfishness, so much carnality, so much downright bad temper, so much just of the flesh and so much that was un-Christlike”? Then, dear believer, go to God and judge all these things in His presence, and they will be burned up now and you wont have to face them later. If you do not judge them now, you will have to face them at the judgment seat of Christ. “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31). We are called to confess all these things that the Spirit shows us are just of the flesh.
A great deal that is called Christian work may be only the energy of the flesh. It is not done for the glory of God at all. What motives actuate us? How do we feel if others are preferred before us? This is a good way to test ourselves as to whether what we are doing is for the Lord. Only that which is done for Christ will be rewarded in that day. Notice, it is He Himself who will point out the differences.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest.” This is at the judgment seat of Christ, not at the judgment of the Great White Throne. Believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ at the Lord’s coming. “For the day [that is, the day of Christ] shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire”—the purging, testing fire of divine approval, discernment, righteousness; for He is going to judge everything by His standards, not by ours. “And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” I beg of you, consider that little word,
sort. “Of what
sort it is.” Not how much it is. There may be much that amounts to very little in that day, but “of what
sort it is.” It is the character of our work that counts, the motives that lie behind our service. The secrets of the heart are to be made manifest. God will test everything in the light of His own truth. It is a great comfort sometimes when you cannot do all you would like to do to know that if it is of the right character, you will be rewarded just the same.
That is so lovely in connection with that dear woman who anointed the feet of the Lord. When others objected, Jesus said, “She hath done what she could.” Is that what the Lord will be able to say of you in that day?—”He hath done what he could”—”she hath done what she could.” And then, I do like that word that the Lord spake to David. Solomon tells how David wanted to build a temple to the Lord, but God did not allow him to do so, but the Lord said, “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart” (1 Kings 8:18). Possibly there is a sister who wanted to be a foreign missionary, but she lost her health and was not able to do so. She has been perhaps a semi-invalid at home for years, but has been able to write kind and helpful letters to those in distress. She gave of her slender means to others to take the gospel to the ends of the world, yet she says, “I feel as though my life has amounted to so little; I wanted to be a missionary, and instead of that I have lived this humdrum existence.” Do not be discouraged; if done for Christ, He will say, “She hath done what she could.” “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart.” Perhaps there is a brother who as a young man thought, “How I would like to go into the ministry, how I would love to devote my life to proclaiming the gospel.” But that necessitated study, years of preparation, and during those years when he would like to have gone to school perhaps he had a dear aged mother depending upon him, or a sick father, and he had to be the wage earner of the family. And so he has toiled on, labored on, helping to keep these dear ones, and many a time he has said, “Well, I have missed it; my life has not been the kind I wanted it to be; I wanted to be a minister of the gospel and here I have had to live in this matter-of-fact kind of way, handling butter and eggs, working in an office, or something like that.” My dear brother, the Lord has taken note of all that self-denying care you have given that dear father or mother. He is not going to lose sight of any of it, and in that coming day He will say, “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart,” and will give you the same kind of a reward as you would have earned if you could have gone out and preached the gospel. It is the heart God looks at—”of what
sort it is.” God grant that our work may be of the right sort.
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” This is in addition to salvation. We are saved by grace, but this is for faithful service. After we have been saved, there is superabounding grace for, of course, the reward too is of grace, for we could not have earned anything but by divine power. He enables us and then rewards us. But, on the other hand, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.” What does that mean? Will I not feel unhappy even in heaven if I suffer loss in that day? You see, I will come before the Lord and He will go over my life from the day His grace saved me. It will pass like a panorama before me, and for everything that was the outworking of His Holy Spirit, for everything that was in accordance with His Word, He will give a reward. He will gather that which was for His glory together, and will say, “I am going to reward you for that.” But He will bring everything to light which was of self, contrary to the Spirit of Christ, and say, “All that is just so much lost time. If you had devoted all that time to My glory, I could have rewarded you, but I cannot reward you for that which did not please Me. But I tell you what I am going to do with it, I am going to burn it up, and you will never hear of it again for all eternity.” There will be nothing left but that which was to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Suppose that in that day I have really nothing to glorify Him, I have trusted Him as my Savior but my life seemingly amounted to nothing. “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” You may have a beautiful home, you may have spent a long time in building it, but one day it takes fire, and you are wakened in the middle of the night to find the flames roaring through the halls. You leap out of the window and are saved, but the house is burned up. That is the way it will be for many a believer; the life will go for nothing, the life and testimony will be wasted, there will be no reward, but the individual believer will be saved yet so as by fire. Look at Lot. He spent years in Sodom building up a great reputation, he became a judge, but he had no business being there. We read: “That righteous man…in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Peter 2:8), but Abraham’s soul was not daily thus distressed. Why? Because he was not there at all, he was separated from it all. Finally God destroyed Sodom with fire and saved Lot. “Saved yet so as by fire.” Everything he had lived for was burned up. Believer, what a solemn thing if that should be true of you or of me, when the blessed Lord takes account of our service.
The apostle goes to the farthest extreme here, but in the next chapter he shows that there will be no believer of whom that is actually true. Chapter 4 verse 5 reads: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” He will find something in every believer’s life that He can reward, some little act of unselfishness, some trembling testimony for Himself, everything that was of the Spirit will be rewarded in that day. But he puts it in the third chapter in the strongest way that we may distinguish between salvation, which is of grace alone, and reward which is for service.
In the last part of the chapter he refers to another class. He has been speaking of members of the church of God, in the temple of God, some who build gold, silver, precious stones, and some who build wood, hay, and stubble. Now he speaks of a third class in verse 16, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” And then in verse 17, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” Of whom is he speaking now? “If any man defile the temple of God”—those who are the enemies of God’s truth, those who try to destroy His church, seek to ruin the work of the Lord, men from the outside who creep in. I tremble when I think of what it will mean for men who today profess to be servants of Christ and ministers of God but despise this Book and deny every fundamental truth of Holy Scripture, and yet for filthy lucre’s sake get into pulpits of orthodox churches, and instead of building gold, silver, or precious stones are only building wood, hay, and stubble, and they are destroying, as much as in them is, the temple of God. God says, “I will destroy them; they will have to account to Me by-and-by.” I dwell upon this because some have misunderstood this passage and think of the temple as the temple of the human body; they have thought it might mean if somebody fell into some kind of habit that defiled the body it would mean that God would destroy him. If you allow yourself to indulge in any habit that injures this body, you will have to have answer for that, but here He is talking about the temple that is being built upon the one foundation, the church of the living God.
“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” “The wisdom of this world,” not the knowledge of this world. Knowledge is perfectly right and proper; gain all you can; but the wisdom, that is, the philosophy, the reasoning of this world, is foolishness with God. “For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” Men may think they are very wise but God is ahead of them, and therefore because He has made foolish all the wisdom of this world, how absurd it is for Christians to glory in that which is just of man. “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours.” Let me give you a title to a fortune. You are rich beyond your wildest dreams. Note carefully this closing passage.
“Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas,” the ministers of Christ, “or the world.” Is the world mine? Yes, because, “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). This is my Father’s world. I can say, “Thank God, it all belongs to me, and I am going to reign over it someday.” “Or life”—yes, life is mine in which to glorify God. “Or death”—death is the servant to usher me into the presence of the Lord. “Or things present”—they are all mine, the trials, the difficulties, the perplexities as well as the happy things. “Or things to come.” What riches are soon to be revealed! “All are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” What a wonderful culmination to this chapter that emphasizes our responsibility!
Stewards of the Divine Mysteries
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (vv. 1—5)
These words follow very naturally on what we have been looking at in the third chapter. The apostle has been seeking to put the servants of Christ in their right place before the minds of the saints in Corinth. There had been a tendency to factionalism and sectionalism, they were exalting certain leaders, and rallying round them, instead of recognizing that these leaders, evangelists, pastors, teachers, were simply God-given servants for the blessing of the whole church. These servants of Christ are God’s gift to the church for the blessing of the whole, whether Paul, the teacher, or Apollos, the eloquent preacher, or Cephas, the stirring exhorter. God has given all to His people for their blessing.
Now he turns to consider the responsibility of the servants of Christ and says, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” We are inclined to go to one extreme or the other, either to laud and praise and overestimate the ability and character of God’s servants, or else on the other hand to set them at naught and disdain the instruction and help God intended them to give. He would have us take the middle course, not to foolishly flatter His servants but to recognize that we have a great responsibility toward them as they seek to fulfill their responsibility toward us. They watch for our souls as those who must give account, and we are not to be angry or indignant if they have serious things to say to us at times concerning worldliness, carelessness, and carnality. We are rather to judge ourselves in the light of the Word of God, that they bring to us, for they are ministers of Christ. He does not use the ordinary word for “servant” which we find so frequently in his epistles, that is, “bond-servant,” but here it is a word that has the thought of an official minister. They have been specially appointed to this particular service as ministers of Christ.
Notice, Paul links up with himself not only Cephas who was an apostle, but Apollos who was not. Apollos, that eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, who first went forth preaching the baptism of John, who was not above being instructed by a godly woman and her husband, Priscilla and Aquila, and went forth to preach the gospel with greater liberty and power when he learned it more fully. He says, “Do not put us on pedestals, do not form parties around us, but, ‘Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ.’ We are sent with a commission from the Most High, sent to sound forth His Word, and we are responsible to do it faithfully. We are ‘stewards of the mysteries of God.’” A steward is one to whom certain things are committed which he is to use for the benefit of others. God has committed His truth to us. Writing to Timothy, Paul says, “That good [deposit] which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (2 Tim. 1:14). And he was responsible to proclaim it faithfully.
We then are stewards of the divine mysteries. We have seen that the New Testament mysteries are not abstruse truths difficult to apprehend, but sacred secrets that had not been known in previous ages. In Deuteronomy 29:29 we hear Moses speaking to the people of Israel on the plains of Moab, just before they went over the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. He says: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God.” But when our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, He uttered “things that had been kept secret from the foundation of the world,” and before He left His apostles He said: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13). And so the present truth revealed by the Holy Spirit in our dispensation constitutes the mysteries, the sacred secrets, that the servants of God are now to make known. What are some of them?
We have the mystery of the gospel. And what is that? It is that grand, wondrous truth that the mind of man would never have ferreted out if God had not revealed it, that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). It is that Christ upon the cross died to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; that having been delivered for our offences, He has been raised again for our justification; and now in resurrection life He sends the message out into all the world that he that “believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is God’s great secret. Man never would have thought of it. I know that the gospel is from God for I am somewhat familiar with almost all the different religious systems that are prevalent in the world, and apart from that which is revealed in this Book not one of them ever intimates that God Himself should provide a righteousness for sinful man. They all demand a righteousness from man, but they simply point out different ways by which men are supposed to work out for themselves a righteousness that will make them fit for God. In the gospel alone we have the mystery explained how righteousness is provided for men who never could obtain it themselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ is made unto us wisdom, even righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and we are stewards of this great mystery.
Then we notice the mystery of godliness or piety, the great mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, God and Man here on earth in one Person. That is beyond human intelligence. We read, “No man knoweth the Son but the Father.” It is utterly impossible for men to understand the union of deity and humanity, and yet this mystery is plain to him that believeth. We simply accept the revelation that God has given and all questioning is at an end. People talk about “the problem of Christ.” Christ is not a problem, He is the key to every problem. Everything else is made plain when we know Christ in whom dwelleth “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Paul opens up the great mystery of Christ and the church, set forth in two characters under the figure of a body and its head and that of a bride and a bridegroom. The Lord Jesus Christ glorified is the Head of the body, and every believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit is a member of that body and becomes thus the fullness of Him that fills all in all. In the other beautiful picture we are told that He who made them in the beginning made them male and female, and we read, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Paul says in speaking about the marriage relationship, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).
Linked with this we have the mystery of the rapture; and that of the olive tree, Israel’s present rejection and future regeneration. These various mysteries are the revelation to us of things kept secret from the foundation of the world. How few who take the place of being ministers of Christ ever unfold these mysteries, and yet this is the responsibility put upon Christ’s servants.
“It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The business of a steward is not to electrify people by his eloquent sermons, not to dazzle them by his wonderful ability, not to please them by flowers of rhetoric, not to so speak that he will simply be to them as a “lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument” (Ezek. 33:32), as was said of Ezekiel, but the business of a servant of Christ is to open up the truth of God, to unfold, to expound, to make known these mysteries in order that the people of God may appreciate the heritage that He has given them in the Word. In fulfilling this ministry, the servant of Christ may be open to criticism, but that is a small thing. The apostle says, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.” In other words, as long as I am faithful in opening up the Word of God I am not concerned whether my sermons particularly appeal to you or not; as long as I know that I am pleasing Him that sent me I am not greatly concerned if I displease you. These Corinthians appreciated eloquence, oratory, and other special gifts, and they said of the apostle Paul, “Why, his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” But he could say, “Well, that doesn’t trouble me at all. Did I give you God’s truth? That is what I am concerned about. Your appraisal does not concern me in the least.” “It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment,” or, as the margin puts it, “man’s day.” That is the entire period of time lasting from the rejection of Christ until He comes back again, while God is letting men try out one scheme after another to see what they can make of a world out of which they have cast the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Yea, I judge not mine own self.” I do not attempt to appraise my own service, I have no right to say, “Well, I think I did pretty well today; that was an excellent address.” That may be simply the pride of the natural heart. On the other hand I am not to go into a funk and throw myself down under a juniper tree, and say, “It was all a failure; I certainly did make a mess of things.” No servant of God is capable of appraising his own service. That which he might think to be excellent may be so much wasted time. That which he thinks wasted time may have just the message for the moment.
Then we read, “I know nothing by myself.” It is really, “I know nothing
against myself.” I am not conscious of anything in my ministry of a harmful character. “Yet am I not hereby justified,” for I may be blundering even when I do not realize it. “But he that [appraiseth] me is the Lord.” He appraiseth everything rightly in accordance with His own holy Word.
He then warns the saints against attempting to get upon the judgment seat. It is not our place. “Therefore judge nothing before the time.” What time? The time when the Lord shall come. We have seen that when He returns He is going to carefully examine all the service of His people. He will separate the precious from the vile, He will distinguish between the gold, silver, and precious stones, and the wood, hay, and stubble. He will pronounce correct judgment upon the labors of His ministers. You and I cannot do that now, and it is better for us just to wait.
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” You see, that is what you and I cannot do; we can hear what comes from the lips or note the actions, but we do not know the hidden springs behind all this. But when the Lord Jesus examines all our labor, He will bring everything to light, all the hidden things of darkness. Yes, if there was envy and jealousy and pride and carnality, He will drag it all out into the light, and many a sermon that sounded very beautiful, that was almost perfect as a piece of oratory, will be shown to be utterly spoiled in that day by the pride that was behind it. He will bring out all these “hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” He will show where there was earnest preaching to glorify Him, even though the speech was faltering and the expressions used were not all they should have been. He looks upon the heart, not merely the outward appearance.
Then observe, he says: “Then shall every man,” and he is speaking of believers, “have praise of God.” But some people say, “Oh, dear, I can do so little and do not seem to have any gifts. I am afraid there won’t be anything the Lord can reward me for in that day.” If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God is dwelling in you, and in that coming day it will be made manifest that every Christian has accomplished something for God for which he can be rewarded.
At the close of a meeting a brother said to me, “Didn’t you go a little strong there?” I said, “No, I do not think I did.” “Well,” he said, “think of the dying thief, that man was saved just as he hung by the side of Christ; what opportunity did he have to do anything for which to get a reward?” “Why, my dear brother,” I said, “think of the dying thief again. There he hung nailed to a cross, he could not move a hand nor a foot, but he recognized in the Man on the central cross the coming King of the ages and said, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,’ and he turned to his fellow and rebuked him and bore witness to the perfection of Christ and said, ‘We suffer justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss’ (Luke 23:41). At the judgment seat of Christ I think I see that redeemed man coming before his Lord, and he says to himself as he comes, ‘I was saved only a few minutes before my Savior died, and I have had no opportunity to serve Him, to witness for Him, I cannot expect any reward.’ And then I think I hear my Lord say, ‘Every one present who was converted through some sermon you heard about the dying thief, come here,’ and I imagine I see them coming until there are thousands and thousands of them, and I see my blessed Lord turn to that man and say, ‘I want to give you this crown of rejoicing for all these souls that you have helped to win to a knowledge of My salvation.’” Do you not see it? “Then shall every man have praise of God.”