The Book of 1 Corinthians - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:9
The purpose of saint-ship is fully described in these words. That is the meaning of the Church in any city. Its members are "called" and "saints," because they "call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ," and so they are "called into the fellowship of His Son." This word fellowship is rich in suggestiveness. We touch its deepest note when we recognize its first meaning. The simple idea is that of having all things in common. It is the word which marks the most perfect realization of unity in every way: in possessions, in purpose, and in effort. Perhaps the ground may be covered by saying that it means that those who are in fellowship have resources and responsibilities in common. Here, then, is the truth about the relationship existing between all Christian souls and the Lord. All His resources are at their disposal. All their resources are at His disposal. They are committed to His responsibilities. He is committed to their responsibilities. That covers the whole fact of Christian life and service. It is because of that we may truthfully sing:-
- I nothing lack if I am His,
And He is mine for ever.
The searching thought is that, if there be any failure in this relationship of resource and responsibility, it is in us, and not in Him. Are our resources all at His disposal? Are we availing ourselves of His resources? Are we facing His responsibilities? Are we trusting Him to undertake our responsibilities? Thus may we question our souls when we are alone with the Lord.
We received ... the Spirit which is of God, that we might know ...
1 Corinthians 2:12
This is really a very wonderful declaration, which we are in danger of failing to apprehend. Let it be noticed that it follows Paul's quotation of a passage from the prophecy of Isaiah; and then let us remember how constantly men quote that passage in order to prove that the things that God has prepared for them that love Him cannot yet be known. This use of the passage, moreover, is almost invariably with reference to the future blessedness of the people of God. Now as a matter of fact this use is entirely unwarranted. Isaiah was referring to God's method of working for those who wait for Him. Paul was referring to all the Divine wisdom, as manifested in redemption. These are the things which cannot be apprehended by the seeing eye and the hearing ear of human intelligence. They need Divine revelation and interpretation; they must be made known by the Spirit of God, Who alone knoweth the deep things of God. Here, then, is the wonder of the statement. We are not to live in ignorance of these things. "We received ... the Spirit which is of God, that we might know." Does not this fact rebuke an attitude of soul to which we are prone, and which may seem to be that of rest and humility? The child of God who has the Spirit of God has no right to be content not to understand the deep things of God. The Spirit is ours, that we may know. Therefore we should give all diligence to know, in dependence upon the teaching of that Spirit.
Saved; yet so as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:15
These words describe a possible condition of a saint of God in the Day of final testing. The subject is one of service. That of life is not in view, save as in some senses that is always involved in service. As we have seen, the saint of God is in fellowship with the Lord in responsibility. That means work: and Paul here deals with it under the figure of building upon the foundation. All such building is to be tested by fire. That which is true and precious will be made more beautiful by the fire. That which is false and unworthy will be destroyed by the fire. When that is so, the man himself will be "saved, yet so as through fire." His ultimate salvation will be secured by the destruction of his work. Can anything be more calculated to give us pause in our work? What are we building? That is, what sort of material are we laying upon the foundation? The things of gold, silver, costly stones, are the things of eternity. Those of wood, hay, stubble, are those which are only of time. When the saints of God are tempted to forget the spiritual and eternal implication and application of all they do, they are in danger of doing work which must be destroyed in order that they may be saved. We are humbled by the grace which will destroy our unworthy works to save us. We are constrained thereby to take heed how we build.
What hast thou that thou didst not receive?
1 Corinthians 4:7
This is a truth the recognition of which will keep the children and servants of God from being "puffed up, for the one against the other." The reference of the Apostle was to the foolish pride which some were manifesting in himself, others in Apollos, and so on. He did not deny the importance of that in his ministry, or that in the ministry of Apollos, in which they were boasting. He reminded them that in every case they had received as a gift that which had helped them. And this was as true in the case of one as of the other, in that of Apollos, as of himself. Pride, therefore, was entirely out of place. Instead, there should have been gratitude, and recognition of the value of the gifts bestowed upon others, which probably they had not shared. The application of the principle was to the teachers as well as to the taught. Paul had nothing of his own, neither had Apollos. What they had ministered, they had received. Therefore they were, as he had already said, "ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God"; and in their ministry, as administering the estate of the mysteries, there could be no place for pride. All this is of the widest possible application to Christian life and service. The gifts by which we serve, and the gifts which we receive through the service of others, are all gifts of God. We do not create them, we receive them. We may do so thankfully, joyfully, but there is neither place nor time for pride; and when we allow it to gain ascendancy, we are frustrating the grace which bestows, and is bestowed.
Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.
1 Corinthians 5:13
This was the Apostle's final word in dealing with a specific case in the Corinthian Church. One of the members of that church had been guilty of the most flagrant wrongdoing, and no discipline had been exercised by the Church. Indeed incredible as it seems, it nevertheless appears that in some way they were glorying in the matter. It is incredible that they were glorying in the sin. It is more likely that they were glorying in the lack of discipline, probably thinking of it as toleration. It was against this attitude of the Church that Paul protested. Within its borders, no disintegrating leaven must be permitted to remain. The life of the Church is a perpetual Passover Feast, and it must be maintained in sincerity and truth. This is a subject of supreme importance. The Church of God is always weakened when it lacks the power to maintain its purity. Toleration of evil in any form within the fellowship of those whose one business it is, individually and collectively, to reveal the Lord to men, must be of the nature of treachery. Yet it should be remembered that discipline should ever be exercised in the spirit of love. Its purpose is not only the purity of the Church; it is also the saving of the one disciplined. If in his apostolic authority Paul charged them to exclude the sinning man from fellowship, it was in order that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. This harmonizes with the teaching of the Lord Himself, Who showed that the purpose of discipline was that of gaining our brother. (See Matthew 18.)
Is it so, that there cannot be found among you one wise man?
1 Corinthians 6:5
There was in this question a note of definite, if gentle, sarcasm. Some members of the church in Corinth were engaged in litigation, and taking their cases before the courts of the city. This, according to the mind of the Apostle, was wrong. All such disputes among the saints should be settled before a court of saints. Where it was not so, there was cause for shame. "Is it so," said the Apostle, "that there cannot be found among you one wise man?" Much is involved in this question, and the view of the Church which it postulates. It is questionable whether the Church has ever risen to the height of his conception in actual practice. The Church is here viewed as being a society, a house-hold, self-contained; having the power and right to deal with all matters arising within itself; having no need to seek guidance or direction from those beyond its own borders; and consequently lowering the standard of her life, and weakening the power of her testimony, when she allows any interference with the affairs of her own members from those outside her fellowship. In cases in which the principles and practices of righteousness have to be maintained as between members of the Church, and those who are outside its borders, it is right and necessary to appeal to civil courts, as Paul himself did more than, once. But the relationship between Christians in Christ is so close, so wide, that there can be no dispute or difficulty that cannot be adjusted by the Church itself in His wisdom and in His grace.
Let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God.
1 Corinthians 7:24
The ultimate value of these words is that they teach us that circumstances are of minor importance in saint-ship. They neither help nor hinder the believer in realizing all that grace and truth of character, or that purity and strength in service, which are the outcome of saint-ship. Note the applications of the principle as found in the context. The married or the unmarried; the circumcised or the uncircumcised; the bondservant or the free; in neither case does one condition nor the other affect the fact of saint-ship, either to help or to hinder. On the contrary, the fact of saint-ship changes and qualifies all these conditions. Therefore the idea which has been very prevalent, and is still in some forms persistent, that if we can change our circumstances we may develop our saint-ship, is entirely unwarranted. The experience of the saints has been that the very pressure and friction of conditions which seem to make saint-ship a difficulty, have contributed to the perfecting of Christian character. The secret of life is that it be lived with God. When that is so, the fellowship transfigures the circumstances, and transmutes the forces which hinder into forces that help. How glorious a conception of life this is, that whatever my calling be, of family relationship, of religious training and habit, or of social position, I can remain therein in the company of God, and so make the circumstances of life the occasion of manifesting His glory.
Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth.
1 Corinthians 8:1
Two ways of life are here contrasted - the way of puffing up, and the way of edifying; the way of inflation, and the way of building; the way that tends to swift destruction, and the way of permanence. The contrast is peculiarly Biblical, and goes back to Habakkuk, and the difference between the righteous living by faith, and the puffed-up moving toward destruction. The arresting note is Paul's contrast between knowledge and love, as he distinctly affirms that the former puffs up, while the latter edifies. Is knowledge therefore wrong? By no means. He had just said: "We know that we have all knowledge," in the matter under discussion, that, namely, of things sacrificed to idols; and there was no hint that such knowledge was in itself harmful. The knowledge was conviction of truth that "no idol is anything," and that there is "no God but one." All such knowledge is of supreme value. When, then, does it become dangerous? The answer is self-evident. When we have pride in what we know, and allow that pride to be the inspiration of the use we make of knowledge, we ourselves, becoming puffed up, are unable to act towards others as we should. Love will condition our use of knowledge so that it becomes of service to others, and thus tends also to our own building up. The man who knows, but lacks love, is a dangerous man. The man who knows and loves, is a man who blesses wherever he comes.
I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.
1 Corinthians 9:22
That would seem a superlative application, and it is somewhat startling. Moreover, it is none the less so when interpreted by Paul's illustrations of its working in his own case; to the Jews, under law, he had become as one under law; to the Gentile, without law, he had become as one without law; to the weak he had become weak. The question arises as to how far we may go in this direction. Many applications might be suggested which would seem to us in danger of imperilling our testimony and our usefulness. A second look at the Apostolic word will save us from all doubt in the matter. Paul became all things to all men that he might save some. The purpose in view must for ever qualify our accommodations. To go so far with men as to imperil our chances of saving them, is wrong. Thus the idea of these words is, not that the end justifies the means; but rather that the end qualifies the means. In our modern life, it means that I may travel sympathetically with men along the pilgrimage of their doubts, but I must not go so far as to deny my faith. If I do, I cannot help them to faith. Or again, it means that in order to save men I may enter into their social life and share their recreations, but never in such ways as to imperil my power to help them in spiritual matters.
These things were our examples.
1 Corinthians 10:6
Here is our warrant for reading our Old Testament history in order to the strengthening of our life of faith. Paul covers the whole ground first, and then gives some illustrations. All God's ancient people were delivered, all shared the sustenance He provided; but "most of them ... were overthrown in the wilderness," and so failed to reach God's intended goal, the Land of Promise. The illustrations follow. They lusted after evil things; they became idolaters; they committed fornication; they tempted the Lord; they murmured; and by these things they failed. Every reference is to some incident the history of which is found in the Old Testament. This gives us a key to the true method of studying those stories. The times have changed. All the material and even mental surroundings are entirely different. But the spiritual things abide unchanged. Moreover, all these stories are concerned with people who lived in the comparative twilight of the revelation by law. We live in the full light of the revelation by Grace. Nevertheless, the principles of relationship are the same. Thus we may read with profit these stories of the men of the past, and of God's dealings with them, always remembering with holy fear that we have at our disposal in Christ greater spiritual resources than they had. Such remembrance will not make us careless, but more full of care, lest we fail as they failed. "If they escaped not, when they refused Him that warned them on earth, much more shall not we escape, who turn away from Him that warneth from heaven" (Heb. 12:25).
Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.
1 Corinthians 11:28
These words are blazoned over the portal of every place where the members of the Christian fellowship gather together to observe the Holy Ordinance of the Communion. The places vary as to situation and as to structure, from the stately cathedral to the lowliest cottage. The methods may be as far apart as that of a solemn ritual and that of a simple rite. These after all, are the incidental, indeed, the accidental, things. In themselves they do not matter. They are neither essentially right nor wrong. Finally, the differences matter nothing. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and let him be true to that persuasion, while he respects the persuasion of others which he does not share. The supreme thing, the essential thing, is the sacred act of communion, the practice of a communion which is constant. It is the act in which the soul is called upon to exercise the highest function of its ransomed nature, that of worship in its purity, and in which it is strengthened for the exercise by the fullest realization of fellowship with the Risen Lord. All that reveals the supreme importance of this injunction. Before the holy hour of fellowship and of worship, there should be solemn self-examination. It should not take place in the service, but before it. The Table of the Lord is not the place for the confession of sin; that must precede it. The absolution of our High Priest is to be sought and found before we enter into the Holy of Holies to offer to Him the sacrifices of our adoration. So, we are to eat the bread and drink the cup, as cleansed worshippers, having no more consciousness of sins. It is at our peril that we neglect such preparation.
God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased Him. – 1 Cor. 12:18
What a wonderful chapter this is, in its unveiling of the unity of the Church! The figure of the body which the Apostle employs is surely the most perfect. The Psalmist of the olden time was constrained to exclaim, We are "fearfully and wonderfully made"; and the more carefully we consider our bodies the more we realize the truth of the saying. The astonishing unification of the most diverse powers and capacities, all fitting instruments for our life-realization and expression, is indeed most wonderful. Such is the Church of God, the very Body of Christ, the instrument of the Spirit. The particular words upon which we have fastened our attention are words that should bring to every heart the most perfect rest, and the truest comfort. My place in the Body of Christ is not the result of my own choosing; neither is it the result of the appointment of the other members of the Body. I am where I am in the Body, and I am what I am therein, by the good pleasure and placing of God Himself. To realize this for myself, is to be saved from any dissatisfaction. No place is unworthy, if it be a place God has chosen. No service is mean, if it be a service to which He has called us. To realize that this is true of all others, is to be delivered from the possibility of thinking unworthily of their places within the Body. To realize this, is to take seriously and joyfully whatever our appointed work may be, knowing that purpose; knowing also that, as we do so, we are enabling all the other members to do likewise.
Love never faileth.
1 Corinthians 13:8
That is not only a glorious declaration, it is one of the most searching for the soul. If that be true, how much that we have thought was love, should be called by some other name? Its final proof is in God, and there we are secure. His love never faileth, and the measure and strength of it can only be expressed by the mystic "so" of the declaration that "God so loved the world"; and we only begin to appreciate the real significance of that "so," as we complete the statement: "that He gave His only-begotten Son." That is the love that never faileth. In the presence of it, we are sometimes almost afraid to call anything of ours love at all. There is so much of selfishness lurking in us all. We do so often love them that love us, and that because they love us. Well, such love has its place, but there is neither merit nor praiseworthiness in it. Of such love, Jesus said: "What thank have ye?" True love, the love with which God loves - the love which is shed abroad in our hearts - loves in spite of unworthiness, in spite of failure. That is the love which inspires and indeed compels service, which is sacrificial. All the attitudes and habits and activities of such love are set forth in this wonderful chapter. The more we ponder it, the more we feel how far we come short - nay, that we are helpless - and that we can only love like that, as the very love of God Himself shall possess and master us.
Let all things be done unto edifying.
1 Corinthians 14:26
That is the test of the exercise of spiritual ministry within the Church, the ministry which in its holy fellowship may be exercised by any of its members as they are led of the Spirit of God. There is to be liberty for such ministry, but only in so far as its exercise tends to edification. And let it be remembered that this idea of edification so often occurring in the apostolic writings, is never that of the deepening of the spiritual life of the individual. It is always that of the erection of the house, the making of the entire building; and so the test of ministry is that of its value in perfecting the Church. This is a simple test, but its effects are far-reaching. No member of the fellowship has any right to exercise a gift, even a gift bestowed by the Spirit, in order to secure glory or popularity. Of course, this needs no argument, but so subtle is the self-life, that it does need to be constantly borne in mind. Moreover, no member of the Church has any right to exercise a gift in the assembly in order to personal advancement in Christian life and character. There is a place for such exercise, but it is in loneliness; it is to be done "to himself and to God." The law of ministry within the Church is that of selflessness. When there is no seeking for glory, and no thought of profit to one's own soul, ministry becomes powerful.
If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.
1 Corinthians 15:19
That is a superlative statement in which Paul clearly revealed how central and fundamental to his Christian experience was the truth of the resurrection of the Lord. To him, that fact opened the gates of the age-abiding life, and guaranteed the franchise of eternity. And yet there is a sense in which we are sometimes inclined to wonder how far it is true. There is such actual joy and present freedom in serving Christ, that we are inclined to think that if the story of Jesus and the resurrection were not true, they have created a delusion so beneficent in its results that it is worthwhile. And who that has known anything of real Christian life and service will deny it? Yet the Apostle was surely right. We are helped to a truer understanding of what he meant by the word "pitiable" which the Revisers have substituted for "miserable." It is rather the view of others, than the experience of believers, that was in his thought. We may not be miserable, but our very happiness, if there be no ground for it, proves how pitiable is our plight. The spaciousness of the outlook which belief in our Lord's resurrection creates and the joy of the soul, are so wonderful that surely we are to be pitied if it is all false. Yet is it not so, that the very strength and joy which so invariably result from belief, go far to prove the reality of the thing believed? Is it conceivable that a delusion could so powerfully and persistently create such joy?
Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper.
1 Corinthians 16:2
That is the true system of Church finance. Whether the money be needed for the succour of the saints who are in need, for the maintenance of the work of God in a given centre, or for the carrying of the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, if this rule were followed by all the members of the Church, there would be no lack, and no languishing exchequers. To read these words carefully, simply, thoughtfully, is to realize how final they are. First, it is an activity for an appointed day, the first day of the week. That is the day of resurrection, the day in which in assembling with the saints, we worship, and prepare for all the coming days. Secondly, it is an individual responsibility. In the transaction no third person can take part. It is something between the soul and the Lord. That will deliver us on the one hand from meanness, and on the other from the dishonesty of giving what we cannot afford, in order to keep up appearances. Thirdly, the giving is to be the laying by in store. That is, the gift is to be separated from all other possessions, devoted to special use, put aside in order that, as occasion demands, it may be available. This is not raising money to pay debts. It is providing so that no debt be incurred. Finally, the measure of giving is, as we prosper. That means continual readjustment. What we put away last week is never to be the measure of what we give this week. Each week the income of the previous week must be considered.