"The Church of God Which is at Corinth."
by Dr Robert Mckilliam
I. HERE God owns, perhaps claims in grace, the Church even in Corinthian conditions, as the Church of God. They are "men sanctified in Christ Jesus," though evidently God is not sanctified in them. The saints here are as to their manifested Christ-Life, only babes, though they ought to have been in fuller growth. This fact remembered in looking at 1 Cor. xii., shows us the scope and amplitude of the Church as the Body of Christ. All those sanctified in Christ with all who in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, be they babes or otherwise as to the manifested life, are members of the One Body of which He is Head. We need to be recalled to the knowledge of this. To remember this will help us to cherish love to all, notwithstanding Corinthian conditions.
The whole course of outward living here—the walk—is carnal (Chap. iii.). It is not in the energy of the Holy Spirit, but in that of the flesh. This must be taken as a key to the character of this Epistle as distinguished from the other Epistles, e.g., to the Thessalonians, Philippians, etc. Thus many things in the Epistles to the Corinthians, otherwise obscure and apparently contradictory, will be made clear. Since rules laid down here by the Spirit, exhortations given and statements made, are to be interpreted as applicable to Christians in the Corinthian, carnal, babe condition of life. This is very important, as it will thus be seen that the instructions by the Holy Spirit to Assemblies, or Churches of God, such as Corinth (Chap, xi., 16), may as a consequence be different to those given under more spiritual conditions.
The sad manifestations in Chap, i., 12, and v. 4, are, nevertheless mixed up with much for which Paul in the Spirit can thank God (i. 4). Oh! the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and oh! the patient tender ways of our Lord and of the Holy Comforter. Brethren, thus so do we, who think we are spiritual, need to show our spirituality.
There is utterance and knowledge. Moreover, God had sealed their acceptance of the testimony by an impartation among them of all the gifts for "they came behind in none of these." It is of these Corinthian disciples also that the statement is made "that they are waiting for the apocalypsis of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost assures such, through the Apostle, that "the Lord shall confirm them to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ," though his confidence in this respect is not because of what is seen in the walk, but, because of "the Faithfulness of God." Here again surely, we may well pause and review our usual mode of dealing with one another and with all saints. What blessed confidence there is here in God and His Grace. We may not always see much in the saints of God to encourage us and to beget confidence of their growth, and endurance, and ultimate blameless presentation. Shall we turn aside from them? Shall we give them up? Shall we isolate ourselves into more spiritual circles? Nay, for this would be sectarianism of the worst kind, and we should soon be in one of the lowest depths of carnal Corinthianism. Yet alas! has not something like this been the sin of many of us even in our fancied superiority as to our knowledge of the truth of the one Body?
The words "waiting for the apocalypsis of our Lord Jesus Christ" is at first sight perplexing. The solution is the meaning of the words "waiting for." It does not necessarily convey the idea that these Corinthian Christians are consciously in a watching expectant attitude towards our Lord's return. It is this rather, God's assured purpose reserved for them in what they are to receive at the revelation of Jesus Christ—a something apart from and quite out of present things. This thought does not necessarily imply their present appreciation of it. Indeed, in the Epistles to the Corinthians, except for that marvellous brightness of Chap, xv., which in the love of God is given to meet the gloom of abounding sickness and death, the blessed hope is little to the front. Yet even so, these carnally living Christians are "waiting for" assuredly reserved in God's great purpose for all that is to be brought yet to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are often saddened to find how comparatively few of God's children seem to be in the true heart attitude of a lively and glad expectation of our Lord's return, and all that it implies. Well, it is saddening; nevertheless, while speaking the truth in love and praying for a fuller growth in the knowledge of God, let us beware lest even in our heart's feelings, we should become cold towards those members of our Lord's Body who, whatever their present attitude of soul towards such things may be, are just, because they are His, as truly reserved for the grace that is to be brought to us in that day, as those of us who by grace have in a fuller enlightenment of the Spirit, had much revealed to us of which they as yet are ignorant. They have received the Holy Spirit "even as we," and He is "the earnest of the fulness of the purchased possession, to the praise of His Glory."
Let this be the answer to those who believe in a partial rapture; but let it be given in tender love to such, for we are all members one of another, being members of Christ.
We cannot quite get away from dealing with the meaning of this word "waiting" in this place. May we not have attached a somewhat misleading idea to the word? In 1 Thessalonians, i. 10, another Greek word is used, and yet both have very much the same meaning. Both words imply not so much that the Church of God as a whole, whether in its early, or later history, was intelligently and consciously watching for the Lord's return, as that, for the whole Church, God's revealed purpose was ever this, that the portion of the inheritance designed for her, was reserved until the apocalypse. All true members of Christ are waiting, conscious or unconscious, of it. Only by, and at the return from Heaven of the Lord Jesus, shall they receive the things of which the Holy Spirit of God now in each, and among all is the earnest.
A Scotch phrase gives the fuller meaning of the word: it is to "bide back for" implying not only a something reserved, but as in Thessalonians, where the verb is active, a holding oneself back from other things with a view to that which is reserved. Beloved, we are all a reserved people for a reserved purpose. This is part of the Gospel declared to us, and the purpose of God for all is sure, and in His faithfulness sealed to all the members of the Body of Christ.
Intelligently and practically to enter by faith into the knowledge of this truth as expressed by the word in the Corinthian Epistle, will be for us to enter into fellowship with our God so as practically to "bide back" for that which is reserved. This is our sanctification—our separation. Thus it is that "he that holdeth this hope purifieth himself even as He is pure." So also it becomes increasingly the more necessary that we who do intelligently enter into the "waiting" purpose of God for His own should make it known. Thessalonian believers turned to God from their idols not only that they might serve Him now, but to abide here in discipline and trouble, and aloofness from all that would make this present world a pleasant experience, content to wait for the inheritance, be the time of waiting long or short, till the Son of God should come back from Heaven. In Corinthians, the confirming is to the end, i.e., to the full end of God's waiting time, when they are to be without fail at the apocalypsis, and throughout the Day of the Lord Jesus, blameless. This word blameless is ἀμέμπτως, literally "not called up," and by implication to judgment. In other words, not called to the bar to be judged when the world is judged.
So too, in 2 Thessalonians i., "to you who are now troubled, rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed," &c. This also at the apocalypsis; and then again an answer is given to members of Christ not fully instructed in the Word, and who think the saints of God or any portion of them, must needs go through the tribulation. The carnally conditioned Corinthians just because safe in Christ, this including also all who in every place "call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord both theirs and ours" (verse 2 and Acts ii. 21), are exempt from the apocalyptic judgments. Blessed grace and certainty of grace to the end.
II. In our last paper, we found that true members of the Body of Christ may be in very low carnal conditions of walk; nevertheless that, even under such circumstances, God owns and claims them as in and of the Body. We also found that whole Churches, as at Corinth, might be in such conditions, and notwithstanding this designated "Church of God." To remember this will always help us in dealing with others, whether as individual Christians or Churches.
It is, however, most humbling to look into the Holy Spirit's faithful description and dealing with those carnal conditions; and as we see how similar to the description given is the state of multitudes of true Christians to-day, it is difficult to abide in hope and love. To do so needs abundant faith in the unchangeable faithfulness of God, and grace to live in His love towards all. It may further help us, in looking a little closer into these conditions, to note the attitude of the Holy Spirit in dealing with such Christians. It is one of earnest beseechings, and His plea is the Name of Jesus.
There is a world of teaching to us in this plaintive tenderness on the part of the Holy Spirit as He pleads the Name of our precious Lord as the reason why there should be no divisions among His people. How dear that Blessed One and how dear His name to the Holy Ghost. Were the Spirit to have His way with us, all divisions would become hateful and painful to us, for the dear Lord Whose name we are bearing and representing before the world. Alas! how the Spirit has been and is still grieved thus—yet mark how tender His way of curing and healing. In this too, we must, if in the Spirit, learn how to deal with erring saints in their dividing ways. We must ever remember that if any of us are spiritual, we can deal with those who are faulty only in the spirit of meekness; our words and our very manner ought to be "beseeching," rather than superior and dictatorial.
As we have already seen, the first mark of the Corinthian unspirituality is found in the many and multiplying divisions, and these are manifest mostly in what they "say" (1 Cor.. i. 10):—The Spirit beseecheth that they should "all speak the same thing." In verse 12, the contrast is between the "all" and the "every"; the "all" is of the Spirit, the "every" as separate from the whole, is "their cure" and of the flesh. Likewise the Holy Ghost conditions sameness in speaking, sameness in mind, sameness in judgment.
The word translated "the same," is alike in all three places. It is "autos," which means literally "himself," or itself. Without any undue stretch, this may be taken to mean that to speak the same things can only be as we have Him in mind and judgment. If everyone would but subject himself to the Living Word, willing to have His mind and judgment revealed to faith in the written Word, all would necessarily be of the same mind and judgment. To, and in all, it would be "Autos." But when the "every" brings in, without due subjection to the Lord, his own things, then verily the ALL becomes an impossibility. The "every," whoever and wherever he may be, will have a following, hence endless sects; only the "autos" can make the "all," and that only just as each is truly, and in love, subject to Him.
Let it be here said that what is often called being subject to the Word is not enough. A great many "everybodies" are always more or less studying the Written Word with the idea that they are following it and are subject to it, while all the time, they may be in the light only of their own carnal intellectualism, till by many interpretations, the Bible itself becomes a polyglot jargon of schism. The only remedy is that all the saints of God, and every one of them in particular, shall consent to become subject to the Living Word Himself (autos); thus only can "same" mind, judgment and speaking become possible, even as to the meaning of Scripture. Were the whole Church, yea, were any assembly of true believers, in studying God's Word to agree honestly and unreservedly to subject each one himself to the Lord Jesus alone, the Lord by His Holy Spirit would undoubtedly bring such into this blessed "Sameness."
It is also worthy of note, that in His choice of words, the Holy Ghost is manifest in those translated here "speak" and "say." In both, the original word is "lego," with which the Logos is connected. Our word legislation also. It is the word of authority, and in the mind of God could refer here only to the dicta of our Lord. Hence, the folly and sin of "a multitude of teachers" (James iii. 1); and of the "sayings" of leaders of sects in Corinth. Assuming authoritative function when only the "one Master" is, or can be, right.
Some light is, by all this, thrown on the exhortations of Chap. xiv. The conditions there, is that the assembly of "men and women" had not even been gathered by the Holy Ghost as in Matthew xviii. 20, or as by command of the Spirit in 1 Cor. v. 4 (which is a type surely of a very spiritual assembly), but had, in conformity to the usual fleshly Corinthian style, just "come together into one place"—the only oneness (that of place) alas! for even there, divisions were manifest, though the purpose in coming together was to "eat the Lord's Supper."
Can we wonder that in the Holy Spirit's description of such a scene, the word "lego" is never once used—that used for the speaking is the ordinary everyday universal word for the talk, talk, talk among men generally, and it is used in this description twenty-two times; it is the lip of the flesh. To meet the weak and carnal baby condition of such assemblies, the very prophets may have to speak in like language. "I could not speak unto you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." It is a company of saints indeed, but carnally living and carnally walking saints—"men and women," and the women can be spoken of by the Holy Spirit only as "your women." The Holy Spirit is in the background.
No wonder that in such conditions the women "must keep silence." Naturally they could only be the jealous partisans of their husbands or other male friends, or favourite teachers. No wonder that such talk as was heard then could only bring shame on all. Yet alas! the female partisans of many assemblies have done more than can be measured, even while in letter obeying the law binding such carnality, to increase schism and disorder by their total want of true obedience to the Spirit of the principle, and by influence exerted over their men. Such have succeeded most wondrously in ruling the affairs of assemblies to the great increase of bitterness, contention, disorder and division, though never permitted to speak in the assembly itself.
Brethren, the way to remedy all this, is not merely by a rigid perpetuation of the letter of a law, and the seemly ordering of a number of fleshly conditioned saints whose conduct, at its best, is like that of unruly babies in a nursery. What is needed is that the Holy Spirit of God shall be permitted to have His way, in altering such conditions subjecting all things to the due order of God's Word. On our part, then, must be a present yielding of the "every" and the "all" to the tender beseeching of Chap. i. verse 10.
Readers of this paper (The Faith and the Flock), should carefully study the extreme contrast between the Holy Spirit's teaching in these chapters, and His teachings in Chap. xii. of this epistle, or in that of Eph. iv., where the sphere is still that of the Body of Christ, but with the ordering all of God, and in the energy not of fleshly nature, but of the Holy Spirit alone. In 1 Cor. xii., all is spiritual, and in the first eleven verses, the Holy Spirit is mentioned eleven times, whereas in Chap, xiv., where, though the saints are acknowledged as of the Body, we have a local assembly "coming together into one place," men and women in fleshly confidence and energy with nothing of the "all," but much of the "every," the Holy Spirit is not once mentioned. Surely we have in this a great distinction worthy of our most prayerful and earnest attention and study.
May God, the Holy Ghost, enlighten, teach, and cause us to profit.