Leaving far behind the tenets of human philosophy, the Corinthian believers were to find in Christ the unfathomable depths of the revelation of the only wise God. They were to explore these riches in every aspect of the person and work of Christ, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge are hidden. Foolishness, injustice, impurity and bondage had been their normal elements, for the very name Corinthian was synonymous with licentiousness and dissipation. In the deep and wonderful wisdom of God, revealed in Christ, they would experience righteousness, sanctification and redemption. There had been a complete ousting of accepted values that was to lead, in ever-increasing measure, to the infilling of Spirit-inspired truth.
The invisible, the inaudible, the incomprehensible, were now to be brought in a miraculous way within their ken. We believe very firmly in the verbal inspiration of the Word of God, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth”, 2. 13. It does not surprise us that the Emmaus couple became those of the burning heart, as, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, the Lord expounded to them, in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself, Luke 24. 27. Their discussion of relative possibilities was discarded as they came into contact with the absolute in the person of the Son of God revealed in the Scripture of Truth. What a joy when we leave on the one side the musty, mildewed tomes, product of the mind of man bereft of divine inspiration and turn to the eternal freshness of the mind of Christ. The Scriptures, leading the Corinthians into the appreciation of the deep things of God, were to be the answer to their problem. John 10. 14-15 establishes by comparison the vastness of the curriculum. The Lord would know His own and His own would know Him in the way that the Father knew Him and that He knew the Father.
But in spite of outward appearances, 1 Cor. 4. 8, where the believers are seen as being full, rich, and reigning as kings, the members of the assembly were immature and underdeveloped. Behind the facade of proud, human attainment lay an aching void. Like those glittering shop fronts that in some rapidly developing gold-rush town hid the rusting corrugated iron of the actual structure, the Corinthians endeavoured to create an impressive display by their human reasoning. Alas, deep-rooted carnality, expressed so vividly in their sense of values, had totally deprived them of the power of assimilation of the truth of God revealed in the writings of the Old Testament and in the teaching of the servants of God. They were almost living on the level of the natural or animal man. Where exactly are we? What do we know, not only doctrinally, but experimentally, of the fulness of God in Christ? What percentage of our time is spent in the mere reading, let alone intensive study, of the precious Holy Scriptures?
Turning to the actual growth of the work of God in Corinth, Paul insists on the unique character of the foundation: Jesus Christ. Much is being envisaged today in the planning of organised religion that is based on a Christ of fantasy, but certainly not the Christ of the New Testament. Castles in the air may appeal to poetic fancy, but the Church of God is made of sterner stuff. The true work of edification is totally divorced from everything that is not on the bedrock of the Christ of divine revelation. We shall need to remember this, or perhaps we shall be forcibly reminded of it, in coming days. Scriptural teaching concerning Him is essentially fundamental.
How careful the master-builders, the courageous pioneers like Paul, must be. They must draw inspiration only from the wisdom of God, for the building plans of the New Testament Epistles have consistently proved their worth. All that is on the solid foundation has stood the test, while the figments of human ingenuity have continually been absorbed into the even more grandiose manifestations of organised religion.
From the foundation the structure rises. Can anyone fully define the labour involved in the building-up of a local assembly? The present-day experiences of the servants of God may be less spectacular than the “labours more abundant” of the apostle, 2 Cor. 11. 23, but in terms, of self-sacrifice they are akin. Right at the outset though, it must be remembered that we are labourers together with God. The apparently heavy burdens taken up in the process of building chafe less as we move forward. Our Lord’s promise is, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”, Matt. 11. 30. Some Christians avoid responsibility because of the fear of the weight on their shoulders. They would prefer the new cart tactics in 1 Chronicles 13. 7, when revival blessing promised to be organised, mechanical and smoothly automatic. 1 Chronicles 15. 26 reveals another picture, as the Levites, bearing the burden of the testimony on their shoulders, were helped of God. Their joy was unbounded as they became in reality labourers together with Him. God’s fellow-workers! What an inestimable privilege!
The building materials in the evident work and witness of the believers destined to raise up something for the glory of God fall into six categories. The sacrifice involved in procuring the first three, the gold, the silver, and the costly building stones was great. In the case of the wood, the dusty hay, or the wheat stumps sacrifice was practically non-existent. We are building day by day, and the God who tries the hearts of all men, alone knows the price we are paying for the materials we are using. The counsel given to the inflated Laodiceans to buy from Christ gold tried in the fire reveals the source of the most esteemed building element. Service that demands the giving of oneself without reserve, work inspired by the sacrificial love of the Christ of Calvary – this is pure gold, and extremely costly. Not all attain to this, as not all attained to the front rank among the mighty men of David, 2 Sam. 23. 19, 23. But many others did worthy exploits for the King. Many dear Christians furnish consecrated service in evangelisation, ministry, shepherding, and helping on the level of everyday human contacts in a thousand different ways – service that can readily be compared to the silver of heart-appreciation of Christ’s redemption, or the richly veined marble of His perfections glimpsed in the quarry of the Word. We must bring to the building the material that the Lord Himself grants in exchange for the sacrifice involved.
On the opposite side, Paul sees believers whose Christian service demands very little of their time, talents or treasure. Huge planks of lifeless wood, heaps of dry grass, and bundles of wheat stumps from which personal profit had already been made in everyday circumstances were the elements brought by them into the work for God. These were bulky, visible elements that no doubt often hindered the freedom of the gold and silver builders and cluttered their pathway. But the spiritual specific gravity of these things was small indeed.
Spiritual stocktaking is a salutary exercise, and it is necessary to examine carefully the materials we are using in the building job to hand. The testing time is coming. Are we working according to God’s specifications? Whether Paul was thinking of the burning of the temple of Jerusalem by king Nebuchadnezzar,, 2 Chron. 36. 19, or a vast Corinthian holocaust, the fact remains that he thought of trial by fire, that unrelenting force devouring all that cannot stand the test. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, 2 Cor. 5. 10. The eyes of our Lord, which John in his Patmos vision sensed as flames of fire, will examine all service undertaken and He will remove every worthless factor. The final estimate of reward or loss will be established, no doubt in view of future responsibility in the purposes of God. This is the only profit and loss sheet that really matters in the believer’s life. Everything else is incidental, for the plus and minus of present day affairs will cease to have any meaning in the mathematics of the age to come. What a tragedy to be totally bereft of reward in His presence at that moment. Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon, 3. 10.
The dwelling place of the Spirit of God is the local church, composed of born-again believers, the result perhaps of years of edification. The Shekinah glory that once filled the tabernacle and the temple seeks a resting place. The impurity that was rampant in Corinth could not be tolerated in the midst of the people of God. In Ezekiel 11. 23, the glory of the Lord moved away because of the abominations among the people; “holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever”, Ps. 93. 5. The solemn warning is that God will destroy those who purposely introduce defilement into such an atmosphere. Practical sanctification leads to revival blessing. What a picture of perfection has been presented in this section! The solid foundation, the building up in gold, silver and costly stones characterising the service of the assembly structure, with the glory of God filling the entire scene! This is as things could have been if the Corinthians had so elected. This is as they should be. Collective blessing depends on individual sanctification, and until the creeping corruption that banishes the presence and power of God from the lives of some of His people has been eradicated, the outshining of the glory will not be seen.
Boasting in men leads to human domination and bondage. Glorying in God leads to appropriation,, not only of the ministries of His dear servants through His grace (Paul, Apollos, Cephas), but of the true value of material things (the world), of the spiritual outcome of the span of the years (life), of the benefits of the crisis of departure (death), of the meaning of present-day happenings (things present), and of the glorious events of the future (things to come), v. 22. The continuing perspective is the ever-widening glory of God. And through all this comes the calm consciousness of being kept in His hand. I give unto my sheep “eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand”, John 10. 28-29. Life eternal is the infinite goal. You are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. The possessed believer possessing all things glorifies the God of origins in the temporal and eternal development of His wisdom. All things are yours. You are God’s.