Having considered some disturbing aspects of conformity to Christendom in present-day testimony and service for Christ, we now purpose to deal with the twin evil — that of co-operating with the religious world.
To an unbiased mind, the New Testament Epistles clearly and consistently teach separation from all known evil — from sects, lawless men, and all who by unsound doctrine cause or perpetrate division amongst God's people. Let any who doubt this ponder the following passages, to which others could be added:
Rom. 16:17—“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and AVOID them."
2 Cor. 6:17—“Wherefore come out from among them (“unbelievers," see v. 14), and BE YE SEPARATE, said the Lord, and TOUCH NOT the unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
2 Thess 3:6—“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye WITHDRAW YOURSELVES from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received from us.”
2 Tim. 2:21—“If a man therefore PURGE HIMSELF from these (evil teachers, see v. 17), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
2 Tim. 3:5—“From such (evil workers with a ‘form of godliness’) TURN AWAY.”
Tit. 3:10—“A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition REJECT.”
Heb. 13:13—“Let us go forth therefore unto Him WITHOUT THE CAMP, bearing His reproach.”
2 John 10—“If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, RECEIVE HIM NOT into your house, and GIVE HIM NO GREETING.”
These and kindred passages bear out a truth which can be observed throughout the Word of God, namely, that separation is presented in a twofold way. It has its Godward and its manward aspects. Separation is first of all UNTO GOD, for “The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself” (Ps. 4:3). Drawn by a love that knows no measure, the “godly” own Him as Lord and joyfully yield themselves to live only for His pleasure. As the Gadites “separated themselves UNTO DAVID” (1 Chron. 12:8), to be his even unto death, so they as willing bond-slaves, pledge allegiance to Him Who purchased them to be “a people for His own possession.” Secondly, separation is FROM ALL KNOWN EVIL, for fellowship with Him forbids everything that is not consistent with His holiness. These two aspects of truth are typically set forth in Ezra and Nehemiah respectively, the books which deal with the Jews’ return from Babylon. In the former, the Temple is erected—God is given His place as centre of His people’s worship. In the latter, the Wall is built—the world gets its place without. It is vital that our hearts should be held by both these aspects of this great truth. Without the one we are but formal isolationists, for what matters our ecclesiastical position if the Lord be not the all-absorbing object of our devotion ? Without the other we become hypocritical, since “whosoever will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
To this two-fold view of separation, the New Testament affords a close and interesting parallel. The early disciples were occupied with giving Christ His place as Lord. His Name—the Name par excellence—was their gathering centre, in accordance with His own words in Matt. 18:20. There was at first evidently little concern about separating from Judaism. For some years the disciples still frequented the Temple and synagogues. This transition period, however, soon passed away, and in such passages as 2 Cor. 6:17; 2 Tim. 2:21 ; 3:5 ; and Heb. 13:13 we have ministry which answers to the building of the wall. Of these Scriptures, Heb. 13:13 was probably the last written, and it very clearly sets forth the two aspects of separation which we have been trying to emphasise. The first is Godward—“Let us go forth UNTO HIM”; the second, manward—“WITHOUT THE CAMP bearing his reproach.” There was now to be no more frequenting of Judaistic places of worship. The day for that had passed. The transition period had ended.
Now, history repeats itself, and in times more recent something very similar to what we have been considering can be traced. What chiefly concerned brethren who over a hundred years ago came out from the “isms” of men was the desire to give Christ His place as Lord, which was denied Him where they were. Many of them did not break with their old religious associations immediately. The whole truth relative to the Church in its universal and local aspects, to the true ground of gathering, and to the priesthood of all believers is not to be learned in a day or two. Consequently, for a time things were somewhat in a fluid state. As in the case of saints in the apostolic age, however, this period was but transitory. The more that Spirit-taught men entered into the enjoyment of their rich heritage in a risen Christ, the more did they see the enormity of the sin of clerisy and sectarism and the utter incompatibility of fellowship between God’s assemblies and the denominations of men.
It is also important that we should preserve a proper balance in our interpretation of these passages. We have to remember that our attitude towards the persons described in them is not to be quite the same in each case. We must, as Jude says, “make a difference,” distinguishing between the deceiver and the deceived, between evil systems and godly individuals who in their simplicity have been ensnared by them, and between those who wilfully reject the truth and others whose disobedience may be due to ignorance. Thus the person contemplated in 2 John 10 was to be refused all hospitality and even a common greeting, whereas the “disorderly” man of 2 Thess. 3, who was evidently a person in assembly fellowship, was to be “counted not as an enemy, but admonished as a brother.” Whilst this is so, however, these passages make it unmistakably clear that we are not at liberty to associate in public service with any of the characters described in them. “AVOID.” “BE YE SEPARATE,” “TOUCH NOT,” “WITHDRAW YOURSELVES,” “PURGE HIMSELF,” “TURN AWAY.” “REJECT,” “GO FORTH ... WITHOUT THE CAMP,” “RECEIVE HIM NOT,” and “GIVE HIM NO GREETING” are not terms of doubtful meaning. They all point to the path of separation for the loyal-hearted believer.
There are three different ways in which we may study with profit this remarkable chapter of God’s Word:
As a short yet complete poem on the great subject of LOVE.
As related to the immediate context, viz. chapters 12 and 14, which have to do with the subject of gifts and their exercise in the local church.
As an integral part of the Epistle, and having a definite bearing on the subject matter of the Epistle as a whole.
In considering the first method of study, we observe that here we have a concise treatise on the greatest thing in the world — LOVE. It should be noted that the word rendered in the A.V., “charity,” is the one used throughout the New Testament of the love of God. The Lord Jesus when upon earth perfectly revealed this love (see John 1:18).
The statements in John’s first Epistle — “God is light,” and “God is love”—clearly sum up the moral nature of God, and concerning our blessed Lord it was written, “He hath declared Him,” i.e. led Him into revelation. In this connection it is interesting to note the Father’s testimony at the end of those thirty years which were lived in comparative privacy (Matt. 3:17), and also at the zenith of His public life and ministry (Matt. 17:5)—“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
At conversion we become partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4); moreover “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5), and so we are capable of manifesting the nature of God, and of exhibiting His love in our life and walk. This is what God is looking for, and indeed it is only what is the product of this love operating in our souls that is well-pleasing to Him, and will meet with His approval.
In analysing the chapter, we see how it falls into three natural divisions. The first three verses show us the supremacy of love above eloquence, knowledge, generosity or even a martyr spirit. The next four verses (4—7) .portray to us the beautiful features of love — what it is, what it does, and what it avoids; while the last section of the chapter (verses 8—13) declares the permanency of love — it never faileth, it abideth, and is eternal. It would be a wholesome exercise were we to read this chapter over and over until our souls become saturated with its vital truth.
While we may derive much pleasure and profit in viewing this great subject abstractedly, surely we would miss much of the Spirit’s meaning if we failed to consider it in the light of its interesting context. It has already been hinted that chapters 12, 13 and 14 form a distinct section of the epistle. In chapter 12 we have the gifts in the local church, and in chapter 14 we see them in exercise, while sandwiched between is chapter 13. The thoughtful reader will not fail to ask the reason why the Spirit through the Apostle inserts this dissertation on LOVE between these two important chapters. We suggest the answer is simply this : that God would impress us with the profound truth that it is only when gifts are exercised in the spirit of LOVE that they can either give glory to God or bring profit to His people. One has aptly said that in chapter 12 we have the machinery, in chapter 14 we see it in motion, while chapter 13 supplies the oil which is necessary to make it run smoothly.
The Church at Corinth was richly endowed with gifts. The apostle could say that they “came behind in no gift” (ch. 1:7). But what they failed to appreciate was that gifts were only a means to an end, namely, the building up of the Assembly. This is where they missed the road. They treated these gifts much as children would their toys, as something to be played with for their own gratification. Indeed, like children, they seemed to put greater value on those gifts which were more noisy and demonstrative, such as the gift of tongues. Paul’s exhortation in chapter 14:20 "Brethren, be not children in understanding, ... but ... be men” confirms this, and doubtless his testimony in chapter 13:11, contrasting his manhood, when he “put away childish things,” with his childhood, when he “spake as a child, understood as a child, and reasoned as a child,” is an allusion to the very same thing. The Corinthians had never grown in grace, their carnality had kept them in a condition of perpetual babyhood (see ch. 3:1). The Hebrews through lack of exercise had BECOME such as had need of milk, even babes (Heb 5:12), but the saints at Corinth never were anything else.
Now, in correcting their erroneous notions, the Apostle does not belittle the gifts, indeed he exhorts them to covet earnestly the best gifts, but he shows unto them “a more excellent way,” and that “more excellent way” is LOVE. This is how chapter 12 ends, and it is instructive that, having shown them the more excellent way of love in chapter 13, he commences chapter 14 with the exhortation “Follow after love,” and proceeds to demonstrate the weighty principle that in the matter of gifts the criterion is not what pleasure they give to us, but rather what profit they yield to others.
Two great truths come to light when Paul draws his comparison between GIFTS and LOVE. One is that gifts are subservient and transient, the other that love is pre-eminent and eternal. Had the Church at Corinth understood these verities, then things would have been different, and the Apostle could have written to them in another strain.
Having thus briefly examined this wonderful chapter in connection with its immediate context, let us enlarge our horizon and consider it in relation to the whole letter. In reading this Epistle we notice that its tone is to a large extent corrective. The saints at Corinth were dear to the heart of Paul. He had begotten them through the Gospel, and had planted the Assembly. He ardently loved them, and yet they gave him little joy. The reason was, they were not going on well. Tidings, well confirmed, had reached him concerning many evils and errors which were prevalent in this highly-gifted assembly. About the same time he received a letter from them, asking for advice on certain matters such as marriage, eating meats to idols, etc. (see ch. 7:1 and ch. 8:1). Hence the Apostle was guided by the Spirit to write to them, with a view to their restoration and blessing, and to combat certain clever men who were making a prey of them, and undermining his authority as an apostle. Now, true ministry will not only expose what is wrong and rebuke it, but it will point out what is right and foster it. In the epistle, therefore, we see the beloved Paul, with apostolic authority denouncing all that is evil, and yet seeking to encourage the saints to judge the evil, and walk in the ways of God which he set before them.
A cursory reading of the epistle will show that the errors and evils in the Church at Corinth were many and varied. Let us carefully note these troubles, and then observe that in his definition of LOVE in chapter 13 Paul’s comments are a complete answer to them all.
chs. 1-3—There were envies, strifes and divisions.
ch. 4—They were judging motives, and reigning before the time.
ch. 5—Moral evil was committed and tolerated.
ch. 6—They were going to law with each other.
ch. 8—They were abusing their Christian liberty.
ch. 11—Irreverence and drunkenness were seen at the Lord’s Supper.
ch. 14—Irregular conduct among the womenfolk.
ch. 15—Erroneous teaching concerning the fundamental truth of resurrection.
Now compare the truth of chapter 13 and see the correspondence :—
“Love envieth not.”
“Vaunteth not itself” (marg. “is not rash”), “is not puffed up” (cf. ch. 4:6).
“Thinketh no evil”—“rejoiceth not in iniquity.”
“Suffereth long and is kind.” “Beareth all things.”
“Seeketh not her own.”
& g. “Doth not behave itself unseemly.”
“Rejoiceth in the truth.” “Believeth all things” (i.e. all things taught in the Holy Scriptures).
It is evident, therefore, that LOVE is the panacea for every ill, and that not one of the evils that stained the assembly at Corinth would have been allowed to raise its ugly head if the love of God had been truly operative in the souls of the saints. In closing the epistle the Apostle writes, “Let all your things be done with love.” “And now abideth FAITH, HOPE, LOVE ... but the greatest of these is LOVE.”
Yes, our Conference was really “good”—good in the highest sense. Christ was presented in all His peerless perfections. Hearts were gripped There were good addresses, in the grace and unction of the Holy Ghost, and consciences searched as well. What Christ is for us, to us, in us, was set before our souls in all fullness. But it did not stop there. What we His people are in Christ, to Christ, and are to be for Christ, was not omitted nor forgotten, as too often it is in general ministry. “The mercies of God” were well exalted (Rom. i-viii), and the call to “present our bodies”—ourselves—“as living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1), as constrained by these “mercies of God,” was pressed home in due season, and felt to be the word in power to our souls. And there were results, present, visible results, that the Christ of God and the Word of Truth, so ministered in the Spirit had reached the right place, and begun to do their work.
At the door of the hall after this searching ministry, a Christian widower, with tears in his eyes, grasped the hand of one of the speakers, and drawing from his finger a ring, said, “I had the joy of placing that ring on the finger of my bride, on our marriage day. She wore it as a token of our union, for over thirty years. Then she passed to be with Christ. As I knelt by the side of her lifeless body, I drew it from her cold finger, and placed it on my own. It is the dearest thing I have on this earth. But as one who owes all that I enjoy of spiritual blessing to these ‘mercies of God,’ I gladly yield it to my beloved Lord.”
Later, two gold ear-rings were found in the collection box and a valuable diamond ring, with the words written on a slip of paper attached. “This ring
I find to be a hindrance to my work for the Lord among the poor. I received it from my father, who is now in heaven, and for his sake I value it. But I can no longer wear it to adorn my person, while going in and out among those who lack the daily necessaries of life. So I gladly give it to the Lord for His work and to feed His poor.”
These are surely fruits of “a good Conference.” Would to God we had many more of the same sort. We are too often well pleased to sit and hear delectable truths, and go away to live selfish, worldly, and useless lives, decking ourselves as citizens of the world, and putting on finery to let it be known that we are “the upper ten,” while the Lord’s poor, who sit with us at His table, may be without bread on their own.
GOD never intended any of His people to be isolationists. That they I should be not only dependent upon Himself, but also upon one another, has ever been the good pleasure of His will. This truth is beautifully illustrated in the boards of the Tabernacle which stood not only upon their individual and costly foundations but were also united to each other by bars, seen and unseen. A desire for communion with the Lord and a yearning for fellowship with His people are two clear evidences of Divine life in a soul ; the converse being equally true, that those who drift away from God and forsake the company of saints, usually prove to be “strange children.” The world knows no greater testimony to the power of the Gospel than the gathering together in happy fellowship of those who formerly were alienated from each other by national, religious, and social barriers.
There is a passage in 1 Corinthians, beginning in the middle of Chapter 10 and extending to the end of Chapter 14, which should be of paramount interest to the Lord’s people, because it is the chief one in the New Testament dealing with the principles that govern our behaviour in church meetings. The expression, “When ye come together,” occurs in this section more than half-a-dozen times, showing that throughout it Paul has in mind the meeting together of the saints, particularly to remember the Lord. Before we look into some of these verses in detail, it might be well to note carefully the position given to this extended passage in 1 Corinthians. The order in which truths are placed in the epistles is always worthy of our serious consideration. Not until the subjects of internal division, outward testimony, and conscientious scruples have been dealt with, does the apostle begin to correct behaviour in the public gatherings. Does not this suggest that if we are to profit when we come together, we must behave aright towards fellow-saints and in the world? As often has been said, “Only spiritual men can carry out spiritual order.”
Equally important is the order of the various subjects touched upon in this section. As already mentioned, the gathering together of the assembly to remember the Lord is uppermost in the apostle’s mind. It will be observed, however, that before the details regarding this meeting are given the teaching concerning fellowship and headship is developed, while the question of spiritual gift is deferred until after the instructions for the supper. Departure from this simple order has resulted in much trouble amongst
assemblies of God. For example, some companies allow those to break bread who are not in assembly fellowship, and in many cases not even baptised. Surely such a procedure is contrary to the order here as well as that in Acts 2:42. In other assemblies much grief is caused to the spiritually minded by those who, forgetting that gift is not introduced until after the supper, occupy the time before it in giving exhortations and addresses on practical subjects. It is not to be inferred, of course, that Scriptures helpful to our remembrance of Christ should not be read, but to introduce matters which detract our minds from Him is, to use the words of another, “bad table manners.”
Now, to return to 1 Cor. 10:16-22, it will be observed that in this passage mention is made of three circles of fellowship. The first is the Lord’s assembly gathered around His table; the second, Israel sharing their peace-offerings around their altar; and the third, the Gentile idolaters at the table of demons. Compromise or federacy between these incongruous associations was obviously impossible. The apostle emphasises the solemn principle to the Corinthians that in partaking of the Lord’s supper, they had shared fellowship both with Himself and with one another. To leave His table and associate with that which had rejected Him (represented by the Jewish altar), or with Gentile worship (represented by the table of demons), would not merely stumble their brethren but "provoke the Lord to jealousy.”
The fact that the blood of Christ is the basis of our fellowship accounts for the cup being here mentioned first, whereas in Chapter 11, where the instructions for the supper are given in detail, the bread is first. It will be noted that in these verses no reference is made to the partaking of the cup. nor to the blessing of the bread. Obviously the apostle is thinking of the two aspects of our fellowship experienced at the Lord’s table, the one being inward and spiritual, and the other outward and material. In blessing the cup our spirits unite in true appreciation of Him who shed His blood for us. It is not mere ritual, but a blending together of our spirits. Likewise, when we break and partake of the one loaf we publicly demonstrate that we are one with all who have shared in this act. The idea of breaking the loaf in two in a representative way has no foundation in Scripture. Unlike "blessing,” breaking and partaking are material acts, and must be done personally.
Our association with the Lord, His table, and His people demands separation from all that is contrary to His revealed will. Alas, the Corinthian believers, like some in our day, were looking lightly upon mingling with religious evils, hence the fervent exhortation to “Flee from idolatry.” It is no trifling thing in the Lord’s sight for one to rise from partaking of the emblems of His body and blood, and share the companionship of those who are still His rejecters. Nor is it a small matter to leave His table and associate with denominations and missions where His claims are disowned, and where in most cases evil doctrine, is believed and taught. Is it not to be feared that many sit professedly to remember the Lord who have grasped but little of the fellowship in which they share, and the responsibility thereby entailed?