Amalgamation or Separation
Are you a “No Push” Christian
late Wm. Rodgers
“When Ye Come Together”
By WM. BUNTING
Christians who meet upon scriptural ground are not infrequently invited to sectarian buildings to hear popular preachers, or to occupy the platform themselves. We have endeavoured in earlier papers to show from the Word of God that, while we are to love and pray for all saints, the only path possible for the believer who would be true to New Testament principles, is that of separation from the various systems of Christendom. Certain arguments, however, are from time to time advanced in favour of occasionally uniting in evangelistic work with the denominations. It may be profitable, therefore, if at this juncture we examine some of these in the light of Scripture Amongst the most common arguments are the following :
It is urged that since our Lord’s Commission to His disciples was, “Go ye into ALL the world and preach the Gospel to EVERY creature” (Mark 16:15), we should embrace every opportunity so to do. irrespective of the associations involved thereby.
That our Lord charged the disciples to proclaim the good news to “EVERY creature” is undoubted. When we turn to the parallel passage in Matthew 28, however, we learn that this was only part of His Commission. According to the other part, we are responsible to “baptize” converts, and “to teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” It will thus be seen that it is as much the servant’s duty to baptize those that believe , and to teach them the whole counsel of God. as it is to preach the Gospel. Now. in what denomination is there liberty to fulfil this threefold Commission? Would not serious offence be caused in any sectarian congregation were one to attempt to teach our Lord’s “all things”? W’hat then are we to do? Are we to suppress those commands of Scripture which we deem may be unwelcome to our hearers 1 Are the full terms of the great Commission of the risen Lord not binding upon us? The Commission is not surely so unimportant that we are at liberty to pick and choose from it what we think will appeal to the varied tastes of our hearers. An army General was some years ago relieved of his post because he chose to communicate a War Office message in his own words. “He paraphrased an order which it was his duty to read.” said the Minister of War. “and I removed him.” Then how dare we mutilate or tamper in any way with the solemn charge of Him to Whom “all authority in heaven and in earth is given”? Listen, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of MY WORDS … of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). It follows that any platform which is too narrow for all the truth of God, if too narrow also for the servant of God who wishes to be faithful to the sacred trust committed to him.
THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE
Again, it is claimed that since Paul preached in Jewish synagogues, we are at liberty to speak wherever we can find an opening.
Now, it is true that for some years it was Paul’s custom to preach in the synagogues. See Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1,10; 18:4. 19. 26; 19:8. We must remember, however, that the religion of Israel had Divine sanction. Its origin was in God Himself. He it was Who prescribed its ordinances, ritual, ceremonies, and service. It is important to bear in mind that this cannot be said of any of the so-called churches of Christendom. These religious organisations, be they modernistic or evangelical, all had their origin in the minds of men. The men may have been good, godly, and great, and their motives most praiseworthy. Nevertheless the existence and respective constitutions of the systems they formed, lack Divine warrant and are indeed a denial of God’s order. It was the knowledge of this which over one hundred years ago made it impossible for brethren to whom assemblies to-day owe so much, to remain in those denominations. How, then, can it be the Lord’s will that we should be associated even for a brief hour with one such organisation?
We have also to remember that the time came when, there being no longer room for the truth of God in the synagogues, Paul withdrew from them. At Corinth “he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house” (Acts 18:7). At Ephesus he “separated the disciples” from the synagogue and met with them where he had liberty to teach all that God had revealed to him (Acts 19:8, 9). Subsequently, we never again read of his preaching in a synagogue. Though he remained a full week in Troas and “broke bread” with the saints in that city (Acts 20: 6-12), there is no mention of his visiting the Jewish place of worship there. It will thus be seen that as the Jews in different centres persisted in rejecting the gospel, God was gradually setting aside the guilty nation, and as He did so, the separation of the Hebrew Christians from what Paul speaks of as “the Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1:14), became more and more pronounced. In Acts 21 we have the Apostle’s last visit to Jerusalem and its Temple. His testimony there being rejected, he departed as “the prisoner of the Lord,” to “bear witness also in Rome” (Acts 23:11). where again the Jewish people refused his message (Acts 28:17-28). It was now, we suggest, that the final setting aside of Judaism took place. Henceforth ihe watchword of the Hebrew Christian was to be “UNTO HIM WITHOUT THE CAMP” (Heb. 13:13). As we have said in an earlier paper. “There was now to be no more frequenting of Judaistic places of worship. The day for that had passed. The transition period had ended.” The fact, therefore, that Paul during a period of his life preached in synagogues, affords us no licence to occupy sectarian pulpits. The two things are not analogous. Indeed, Paul’s principle of separating the Christians, instead of supporting this practice, militates entirely against it.
“WITHOUT THE CAMP”
Another argument in favour of amalgamation with the religious systems is that the “going forth without the camp” in Heb. 13:13 has reference merely to a spiritual attitude, and not to our ecclesiastical position at all.
In dealing with this argument, it will clarify matters if we understand exactly what is meant by “the camp.” The writer, who uses figurative language, has just spoken of Israel’s sin offering which, when the people were in the wilderness, was burned outside the camp (v. 11). He has shown that in like manner Christ, the true sin offering, has “suffered without the gate” (v. 12), i.e. the gate of Jerusalem. That is to say, Jerusalem, which represents the religious centre when this epistle was penned, answers to Israel’s camp of old, and our verse is a call to identify ourselves with the One Whom it disowned and cast out. It is probable that the writer also has in mind the episode of Ex. 33:7. There Israel’s camp was defiled through the people’s, siu in the mutter of the golden calf. Moses, therefore, took “the tent of meeting” (R.V.) and pitched it “without the camp and. .. everyone which sought the Lord went out unto the tent … without the camp.” This also aptly illustrates the position that obtained in the writer’s day. The defiled camp was Judaism. No longer could God’s presence be there, so flagrantly had the people dishonoured His holy Name in their rejection of Christ. Thus whether we think of the Levitical type, or of the episode of Ex. 33. the verse is clearly a challenge to the Hebrew Christians to dissociate themselves once and for ever from the religious system which had rejected the peerless One Who was now their Lord and Master. To us to-day it is just as clearly a challenge to come out from every system where, though lip service may be paid to His Name. His claims as Lord are denied. Of course mere outward separation is not enough. The correctness of our ecclesiastical position means little if our hearts are obsessed in worldliness. On the other hand, there is no consistency in claiming to be outside the camp in spirit, if we are content to remain within its precincts in person. Surely the association which we form and cultivate outwardly, should be in harmony with and, indeed, the expression of. our inward sentiments. It would have been but empty talk for the sons of Levi to claim that they were “on the Lord’s side.” had they not gathered themselves unto Moses at the gate of the camp (Ex. 32: 26). Further, the going outside the camp in Heb. 13, as in Ex. 33, was meant to be a testimony against the wrongdoers. It was this which incurred the “reproach.”’ and it is the same to-day. It is when the saint makes a clean break with the denominations, thus condemning their unscriptural practices, that he experiences the curl of the lip and the cheap jibe of the proud religionist. So long as one is content to remain within a sectarian fold, or to acknowledge and support it by occasional visits, there is little suffering, even though otic may speak sentimentally about being “outside the camp.”
“ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN ”
It is also contended that since Paul in the exercise of his Christian liberty “became all things to all men that he might by all means save some.” we should adopt any method we deem suitable and preach in any place where we can gain a hearing, for “the gospel’s sake” (1 Cor. 9: 22. 23).
This sounds very plausible, but let us not overlook the context of these verses, for it is a safe maxim that the meaning of any text is determined chiefly by its context. A notable example of difficulty being created through Ignoring this rule is found in connection with the last statement of this very chapter — “Lest. .. after that I have preached to others. I myself should be a castaway.” These words seem to mean lhat Paul feared that he might forfeit salvation. When it is seen, however, that the subject dealt with in the immediately preceding verses is not that of salvation at all, but of service for Christ, and that in the R.V. the clause in question reads. “I myself should be rejected.” the difficulty disappears. What Paul feared was the Lord’s disapproval of his labours as a servant. Now. with this in mind, let the entire context in 1 Cor. 9 be read. It says absolutely nothing about one’s ecclesiastical associations, or the sphere of one’s evangelistic activities. Not for a moment does Paul suggest that he would identify himself with his former religion to gain a hearing. The Apostle is dealing with the principles which in his service governed his approach to different classes of people. “Unto the Jews he became a Jew.” That is to sat. he introduced the Gospel to the chosen people in a manner calculated to win
their confidence. Thus in Acts 13 he quoted extensively from the Old Testament, surveying briefly the history of the nation. In Acts 22 he addressed his hearers as “Men, brethren, and fathers” (v. 1). He spoke in their “Hebrew tongue” (and with good effect, too, for they “kept the more silence.” v. 2). He emphasised his own Jewish character, and appealed to their Scriptures and their national zeal for God (v. 3). In this way Paul in his opening sentences avoided antagonising his audience, which would have defeated the end he had in view. In like manner, his approach to Gentiles was such as would disarm them of prejudice. In his introductory sentences to the philosophical Athenians in Acts 17, for example, he referred with respectful courtesy to their devotion to religion. “Ye men of Athens,” he said, “in all things I perceive that ye are very religious” (A.R.V.) He then used one of their heathen altars as an object lesson (v. 23) and a little later made a quotation from one of their poets (v. 28). In modern times, Hudson Taylor, who dressed and lived as a Chinaman, in order to win the Chinese for Christ, is an excellent example of the principle here inculcated.
While Paul was “made all things to all men,” it is important to note, however, that he at all times acted in a manner consistent with Divine principles. Whatever he “became” for “the gospel’s sake,” he never contravened any commandment of the Lord, as is clearly implied by the parenthetic clauses, “being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ” (v. 21). In view of this it cannot be too strongly emphasised, especially in these days of shameful compromise when, under the specious plea of personal liberty, all sorts of unhallowed associations are formed, that Christian liberty has its limitations. It ever recognises the Lordship of Christ, as we have just now seen from verse 21. It considers the consciences of weak brethren (ch. 8:9). It is at all times consonant with the leading of the Holy Spirit, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). This does not mean freedom to do, or speak, or go where a man pleases, but liberty for the Spirit to direct him as HE pleases, and since it was He Who inspired Holy Scripture, His leading never can be contrary to its teaching. Christian liberty is freedom from the trammels of sin and religious tradition (Gal. 5:1), to worship God, to do His will as revealed in His Word, and also to declare His “whole counsel” (Acts 20:27. R.V.) It was that this glorious liberty might be enjoyed that brethren came out from the bondage and dead formality of the sects and founded assemblies. To-day the men of mixed principles, both by their teaching and example, are leading saints back to that bondage, and doing so, if you please, under the very plea of liberty. Many. alas, who once had spiritual vision have, like Samson, allowed the world to gore out their eyes, so that they cannot see the deception. The Corinthians were permitting their liberty to degenerate into license (just as the Galatians were reverting from liberty to legality), and this is our danger too. for in many cases what masquerades as liberty in Christ is in reality nothing but self-pleasing and lawlessness.
Some who upon occasions join with the religious systems do so under the pretext of promoting Christian unity.
Unity amongst saints is a priceless boon to themselves and a most pleasing sight to their common Lord. See Ps. 133:1. So far as our standing in Christ is concerned, of course, all believers in this Church period are Divinely united. They form a spiritual organism, being “one body” (Eph. 4:4)— “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Their unity is perfect, indissoluble, and eternal. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). What concerns us presently, however, is the outward manifestation of this Divine oneness. For this our Lord prayed (John 17:23), and for this we are earnestly to strive —“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Observe, we are not called upon to “make” this unity. It has been made. See 1 Cor. 12:13. Our responsibility is to recognise that fact and by grace exert ourselves “to keep the unity.” It follows that every hindrance to this visible expression of our oneness in Christ should, as far as it is possible, be removed, and that every opportunity should be seized to further and deepen the fellowship of God’s dear people. We are to love all saints, and that love will never permit us to say. as did Cain. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As fellow-members of the same Body (Rom. 12:4. 5) we are mutually dependent upon, and responsible to care for, one another. The gifts bestowed by the ascended Head are not the monopoly of any party. They are for the “edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12); and we believe that all true ministry has as its aim the giving of practical expression to the oneness of that body (“That there should be no schism in the body,” 1 Cor. 12; 25).
Christendom with its hundreds of sects, however, is a complete denial of God’s unity. The question, then, resolves itself into this: How can my associating with that which denies Christian unity, possibly promote that unity? It is utterly preposterous to imagine that it ever could. The pain of seeing saints divided by sects and names was another reason why brethren in the early part of the last century seceded from the denominations and gathered upon ground where the unity of the children of God could be expressed. If they were right in the step they took, and bv our being in assembly fellowship we profess to believe that they were, then by what process of reasoning can it he shown that our going back to those sects will promote unity? The sects have not changed anything in the meantime, except for the worse. It should thus he clear that while we are to love all God’s children, and are gladly to recognise all that grace has wrought in them, because they are our fellow-members of the Body of Christ, we can have no truck or fellowship with human systems which divide the saints and deny to so many the liberty and privileges of holy priesthood which are their birthright heritage.
Real unity never can be attained apart from a whole-hearted return to God’s order as revealed in Scripture. It is a profound mistake and entirely contrary to the teaching of God’s Word to imagine that we can have units by sinking our differences. Doctrine is not to be relegated to the “non-essential” scrap-heap. In the New Testament it is assigned a place of priority. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s DOCTRINE and fellowship. and in breaking bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42, Compare 2 Tim. 3:10. 16). So long, therefore, as divergent views upon vital matters of doctrine exist, how can there be true oneness? It is impossible. Unity based upon the understanding that doctrinal differences will be sunk and that nothing will be said to offend those who are in unscriptural associations, for the duration of a special evangelistic mission, after which each will he free to return to his peculiar tenants. is a spurious unity. It may express “a spirit of unity.” or “a unity of spirit.” but these must not be confounded with “THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT.” Oneness at the expense of truth is not unity in the Bible sense of the word, but a mere tolerance of evil. Further, if it be right to unite for a special effort, it must be wrong to break-up that unity when the effort ends.
A DAY OF RUINS
Some see in the failures of assembly testimony an excuse for acting as “free lances.” They claim that all corporate witness now being in ruins, it matters little in what sphere they serve the Lord.
That there is failure cannot be denied. Indeed, there ever has been a falling short in testimony since the Church began her pilgrimage. One has only to read the Epistles of the New Testament to verify the fact that even in the Apostles’ time much corrective ministry was needed. Failure in church life, however, was not regarded by Paul and his fellow-servants as an excuse for abandoning the Divine pattern as though it were impracticable. Rather did it cause them the more urgently to press upon the saints the importance of cleaving to it. Has that original pattern ever been withdrawn? Has it gone out of date? Is it no longer serviceable in this modern age? Why should the failure of others cause me to turn my back upon God’s holy commandments? On the contrary, we believe it should spur us on to cleave more closely to the faithful Word. It is to the one who “overcomes’’ in a day of general apostasy that a special reward is promised in Rev. 2 and 3. Thank God, in spite of all the failure there are still many assemblies marked by godliness, loyalty to the Truth, and zeal for the work of the Lord, let us not throw up our hands as though all were lost. We do not presume to “forbid” those who “follow not with us’’ (Luke 9:491. but we are not on that account to leave the right ways of the Lord to run after them.
By the late Mr. WM. RODGERS
The section of the Epistle to the Hebrews which begins at ch. 5:11 ff and ends at the close of ch. 6 is one long parenthesis. The writer had come to the point in ch. 5:10 where he wished to show that Christ’s priesthood was “after the order of Melchizedek.” and to enumerate the blessings which flow therefrom. Being aware, however, that those to whom he wrote were not in a spiritual stale to appreciate these glorious truths, he here pauses to express the difficulty he felt, to emphasise the danger of the position of the Hebrews, and to show them the remedy for it. It is only at the end of ch. 6 that he returns to the point he was about to make, and there he repeats the words he had used already in ch. 5:10. that Christ is “an high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This passage, from ch. 5:11 to ch. 6:20 is occupied to a great extent with one subject. In dealing with this subject, the writer uses a particular word twice, and one which is not elsewhere found in the New Testament. Unfortunately, it is translated by two different words in our English Version, and so it is nol as noticeable as it might be. It is the word rendered “dull” in ch. 5:II (“ye are dull of hearing”), and “slothful” in ch. 6:12 l”be not slothful”). It comes from a Greek verb which means, “to push, to shove, to thrust.” and it has a prefix which signifies “not.” Its literal meaning, therefore, is “not pushful.” or “without push.” Now. if you look at these passages you will see that in ch. 5:II the word is used with reference to our having “no push” in the matter of hearing what God has to teach us. This was one of the troubles of the Hebrews What glorious truths the writer wished to untold truths regarding our Lord’s high priestly work for us upon the throne, but they were making “no push” to receive them. Hence his difficulty, in ch. 6:12 the word is used with regard to our continuance in God’s service. In this matter, says the writer, “Be not without any push, but be imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
There is a close association between these two things, for if I have no push in me to hear what God has to teach me, there will also be no push in me to continue steadfastly in His work. Conversely. If I am sluggish in the Lord’s service, it means that I am sluggish in hearing His voice also. Because of this, sluggish people are not easily cured. If you exhort them to stir themselves up in God’s work, you have the difficulty that they are so sluggish also in the matter of hearing, that your exhortation is lost upon them. It is no wonder that it says in Proverbs that ‘The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (ch. 26:16).
The mention of Proverbs reminds us that we get more there about slothfulness, or sluggishness, than we do anywhere else in the Scriptures. From the references there made to the slothful man. we have illustrations of both sides of the trouble which have been already mentioned—sluggishness in hearing and sluggishness in doing. For example, we read twice over that “The slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth” (ch. 26:15; 19:24). The word rendered “bosom” in these verses occurs in but one other place in the Scriptures, and there it is translated “dish,” and it is thus that the R.V. here renders it. This change makes the meaning of our two verses very clear. “The sluggard buries his hand in his dish; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.” Taking this in its literal sense, one surely has the picture of a very lazy fellow—so lazy that even when his food is placed on the dish in front of him he cannot take the trouble to lift it to his mouth. Now. there is nothing far-fetched in apply this spiritually. We have heard preachers refer to those who never seem to get anything from the Word of God for themselves, but just live upon what they get in meetings. ‘Well, there is something worse even than that, and it is this, that when a brother not so sluggish as yourself gets something from God and dishes it up to you in the meeting, you are too lazy even to lift it from the dish and put it to your mouth. In the words of Heb. 5. you have “no push” in you to hear God’s truth. Many. I am convinced, are just like this, and the consequence is that much good truth ministered in meetings is lost on them.
Then there is another somewhat similar picture of a sluggard, who seems not quite so bad as the one at whom we have been looking, in Prov. 12:27. He does some hunting for his own food, but he “roasteth not that which he took in hunting.” Isn’t he a curious fellow, going to all the trouble of hunting for his food, and then when he has got it. he won’t make use of it. Perhaps those of us who study God’s Word a little, often do so in that fashion. We hunt after something and arc quite pleased when we get it, yet we do not turn it into food.
These passages illustrate the man who has “no push” in him to hear God’s Word, but there are others in Proverbs which illustrate sluggishness in service. Some of them furnish us with the excuses which the “no push” man makes for his laziness. One says. ‘There is a lion without. I shall be slain in the streets” (ch. 22:13). Of another we are told he refuses to plough because it is too cold, and in this case the threat is added. “Therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing” (ch. 20; 4). Have we not seen many of these sluggards? They say. “Ah. it is too wet to go out to meeting. I would catch cold.” They imagine they are so delicate it would be a danger to do the smallest thing in God’s service.
Only one other reference do I wish to make to the Book of Proverbs. It is to the sluggard’s garden of ch. 24:30. Solomon says he walked past it. and found it what Empty? No, when you don’t plough and sow, you do not leave your field empty. Without the least trouble on your part, you will find it full of thorns and nettles. This is what Solomon found — a splendid crop of nettles — good. tall, stingy one. That is what the garden of the “no push” Christian is like. As Heb. 6 itself tells us. the ground which beareth thorns and briers is rejected and is nigh unto cursing” (v. 8).
There is a point made in this picture of Solomon’s which is very important. As he often does elsewhere, he gives us an alternative name for the slothful, and in the A.V. that alternative reads, “the man void of understanding.’’ But the word translated “understanding” is the ordinary Hebrew word for “heart.” and so the exact idea is. “the man void of heart”; and this lets us into the secret of the trouble of Christians who have “no push.” IT IS LACK OF HEART.
THE FORMER DAYS
Now. let us return to the Hebrew epistle to notice one or two further points there. The first is that these people had not always been sluggish either in hearing or doing. The writer says. ”Ye are BECOME such as have need of milk” (ch. 5; 12). and indeed the same word is used in the phrase. “Ye are dull of hearing” (v11), which would be rendered more accurately by, “Ye are BECOME dull (or sluggish) of hearing.” This implies a better condition in earlier days—a time past when they were not dull of hearing. Similarly in ch. 6:10 he looks back to their “work of faith and labour of love” in the past, reminding them, as he also does in ch. 10. of “the former days when they were first illuminated.” This is the experience, unfortunately, of far too many of the saints. Their best days were their earliest, before they lost the bloom of first love, and love of the world came in its place. This is the real cause of present sluggishness in their case. As I pointed out already from Prov. 24, it is a question of “heart.” The love of the world may not in some cases have taken any gross form, it may be merely a desire to be respectable and to have their children get on in the world. On the other hand, there are many cases of slothfulness amongst those who profess to be Christians in which there is no better past to look back to. They have always been the same, and the only member of their bodies which tells they are saved is their tongue, and it does so only, when it has to. because of someone asking the question. The fact about such is that they never have been born again at all.
Turning again to those who have gone backward on what they once were, you will notice that the opposite is what should have been the case. They should have “gone on to perfection” (ch. 6:1); for those who do not go on. go back. Notice how strongly he puts it:“For the time ye ought to be teachers” (ch. 5:12). It is not even that a few of the more gifted ones of you ought, but all of you. Notice also the reference to “milk” and “strong meat.” Had they profited by the milk, they would by now be able to digest meat, but because they did not do so they would need now to go back to the milk again. The mark of their condition is that they have not “their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” Ministry which pleases them they think good, whether or not there is anything in it. The men who humour them and lick them over are their favourites, whether or not they are really men of God.
Notice one thing more. The exhortation, “be not slothful” (ch. 6:12), is strengthened by the words which come after it—“followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” We have many examples in chap. 11 of Old Testament saints who did this — men, and women too, who not only began well but ended well, who had no desire to return to the country from whence they came out, whose faith was not merely a starting line from which to set off, but a powerful incentive to continuance all the way, working itself out in patient endurance and well doing. Then, too, we have the further example of the New Testament guides in ch. 13, whose faith we are also urged to follow, because it, like that of the Old Testament saints, in ch. 11, impelled them onward through a whole life of service to the Lord. Greatest of all, we have the example in the opening verses of ch. 12, of “Jesus” Himself, the Author and Finisher of faith, and Whom as we consider Him, we are to imitate. What examples ! And what encouragement, too I Let us, then, put away all slothfulness and “go on to perfection (full growth),” ch. 6:1. Don’t be a “no push” Christian.
By A. McSHANE
MEMBERSHIP (1 Cor. 12—14)
A recapitulation of what has been written in former papers of this series may help not only to refresh our minds of the various subjects dealt with by the apostle in this part of 1 Corinthians (chs. 10-14), but also serve to emphasise the order in which those subjects are arranged. In our first article we pointed out that the writer views believers as sharing FELLOWSHIP at the Lord’s table. In our second, that he teaches saints to recognise HEADSHIP in their church meetings; while in our last paper we considered what we thought was Paul’s central topic of this portion, namely, WORSHIP at the Remembrance Supper. We now propose considering his instructions with regard to believers’ exercising their gift as members of the body of Christ. In other words, our present subject is MEMBERSHIP.
A little thought will leave few doubts in anyone’s mind that in writing these chapters Paul had before him the coming together of the Church at Corinth on the first day of the week, and that he was as much guided by God in regard to the order in which he presents matters as he was in the instructions given about them. In all assemblies, moulded after the New Testament pattern, this order is closely followed—First, believers are united in church fellowship. Thus united, they habitually assemble together, and in their meetings they give expression to the Divine principle of headship. Further, they meet to remember the Lord, and in their gatherings the Spirit is at liberty to direct the exercise of the different gifts. By deferring the subject of Gift until after that of the Supper, the writer implies that no special ability is needed for remembering the Lord. The Bible knows nothing about a brother requiring gift to lead in either prayer or worship. After the Lord has received His portion in the celebration of the Supper, however, there is liberty for ministry to feed the saints, and this calls for the exercise of gift as the Spirit may direct; for vitally important as the remembrance of the Lord is (and no one would desire to detract from its value), we must not go to the extreme of occupying all the time that we are together on the first day of the week in that way. No, the saints must have their portion, and opportunity should be given for the Lord to exercise the gifts for their edification. At no time are our hearts more tender than after we have handled the emblems of His body and blood, and therefore we believe there is no more fitting occasion than just then for us to have set before us His claims as Lord. Assemblies in which no practical ministry follows the breaking of the bread are in danger of drifting from the Lord, and in addition, the growth of any gift He may have imparted will be stunted. Bearing in mind these general remarks, we shall now consider some of the early verses of chapter 12.
The closing words of ch. 11 suggest that some matters would be adjusted when Paul arrived at Corinth, but the subject of spiritual gift, about which they had probably written to him. was too important to be deferred until then. The confusion in their public gatherings, which was so unprofitable to themselves, and so damaging to their testimony in the world, must be arrested immediately. Therefore, he proceeds to write upon this matter of gift and its exercise and to deal with it more extensively than he deals with any other subject in this epistle.
When spiritual or super-human powers are operating, it is vitally important that their origin should be discerned. No one could have witnessed the performances in the heathen temple at Corinth or, for that matter, view idolatrous worship in our own day, without being convinced that behind these religious frenzies, there is at work a power beyond that of flesh and blood. It is the power of the Devil. In verse 2 the Corinthians are reminded of the time when, in their unconverted days, they were carried about by this satanic influence. “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” Now a new power is at work in them — a Divine influence — the indwelling Spirit. What they needed, therefore, was some directing principle which would enable them to distinguish between these two forces. The guiding rule, given by the Apostle was as simple as it was indispensable. Spirit-filled men ever exalt Christ and give Him His place as Lord. In like manner, all who speak so as to belittle Him are under another influence. Saints in fellowship with God are keen to sense what will detract from the glory of the Lord, so those who speak derogatory of His person and work, or who exalt themselves, ought not to imagine they can escape undetected. A marked feature of many of the modern cults which claim to have the gifts of “healing” and “tongues” is the disparaging way they speak of the Lord. Seldom do they use any other title, but His human Name. “Jesus.” Indeed, an examination of some of their writings reveals that they are unsound in doctrine both as regards His Person and His work. Eternity will, in all probability, reveal that these movements which have at times troubled the minds of saints, were but Satan’s imitations of the Spirit’s work in the early Church.
There are three great passages in Paul’s epistles in which he deals with the subject of Spiritual Gift, namely. Rom. 12. Eph. 4. and 1 Cor. 12-14. These portions have much in common, but they differ in at least one particular. In Romans. God the Father is stated to be the Bestower of the gifts; in Ephesians. Christ the Head gives them; while in 1 Corinthians they are said to be given by the Spirit It will, however, be noticed that all three Persons of the Godhead are mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:4-6. and all are working for the profit and well-being of the Church. Unlike the stereotyped form so common In religious circles to-day, where almost all the “Ministers” speak as if they were run in the same mould, God’s work is characterised by variety. Hence the word “diversity,” thrice repeated in these three verses. It will be noticed that it is followed by a different word each time it occurs. In v. 4 the word is “gifts, which has to do with the inward spiritual fitness; in v. 5 the word “administrations” is employed, and has to do with the use or service to which the gifts are put; and in v. 6 the word is “operations,” which points more to the result accomplished when the gifts have been employed. For example, Peter, who had the “gift’ of healing, was given the opportunity of “administering” his gift towards the lame man at the Beautiful gate (Acts 3). and the “operation” or “work” resulted in the man’s healing.
There are two important principles with regard to spiritual gift which cannot be too strongly impressed upon our minds. First, no gift has been bestowed for the possessor’s own glorification; secondly, it ought always to be exercised for the PROFIT OF OTHERS. A spiritual man will never use his gift to gather a party around himself, or to divide the saints. In serving the Lord his primary question will ever be. “What shall I profit you ?”
It is interesting to note the order in which the gifts are listed in our chapter (vv. 8-11). The first two—”wisdom” and “knowledge”—are related to the mind. These were probably not the most valued by the Corinthian church. Be that as it may. they were the most necessary, as a reflection upon the earlier part of the epistle will reveal. The question. “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you ?” (ch. 6:5). and the oft-repeated inquiry, “Know ye not’?”. leave us in no doubt about this fact. The second group—“faith.” “healing” and “miracles”—are gifts which have to do with the exercise of “power.” These are more outward than the former two and were exercised chiefly in the healing of the diseases in the human body. The last group—“prophecy.” “discerning of spirits.” “tongues,” and “interpretation”—is associated with the tongue or speech. How humiliating it must have been to the Corinthian believers to find the gift they prized most relegated to the bottom of the list and given the position of least importance ! In thus grouping the various gifts of the Spirit in evidence at Corinth the Apostle undoubtedly was guided to trace them from the more inward, important and lasting, to the more outward, less valuable and transient. Truly the Corinthians came “behind in no gift.’’ so that if their prosperity and growth were not all they ought to have been, no blame could be placed at the Lord’s door. The pity was that they, like many of ourselves, failed to make proper use of their divinely given talents
- For ah! the Master is so fair,
- His smile so sweet to banished men;
- That they who meet it unaware,
- Can never rest on earth again.
- And they who see Him risen afar,
- At God’s right hand to welcome them;
- Forgetful stand of home and land,
- Desiring fair Jerusalem.
- Praise God the Shepherd is so sweet!
- Praise God the country is so fair!
- We would not hold us from His feet,
- We can but haste to meet Him there.