The condition of the saints in Corinth was such, that when the Apostle wrote his first Epistle to them, he felt the need of repeated warning. In 8. 9, he warns against the spirit of inconsiderateness so prevalent among them, and encourages the spirit of selfless love. In 10. 12, he warns against the spirit of self-sufficiency and self-confidence, and encourages humility and dependence upon God. He sounds a note of warning in 3. 10 when showing the havoc caused by their carnality, and encourages to spirituality in exercise and energy.
The whole of chap. 3 is a warning against allowing the workings of the flesh. These saints were not spiritual but carnal, and their carnality evidenced itself in three ways: –
1. Carnality dwarfs – vv. 1, 2.
2. Carnality divides – vv. 2-15.
3. Carnality defiles – vv. 16, 17.
The remedy is a spiritual apprehension and appreciation of the Divine constitution of the assembly. Therefore the Apostle does, what Ezekiel did at the command of God in an effort to arouse the consciences of the people of God in his day, to bring them to conviction and confession, and so to restoration and complete recovery – he “shows them the house” (Ezek. 43. 10).
Divisions among the saints practically deny God’s supreme claims upon His own. Servants of Christ, such as those mentioned in this passage, are instruments through whom we believed. The giver of faith in every case is the Lord. They plant and they water, but “God giveth the increase.” They are “labourers together of God” (Newberry), but no more than that. The Assembly is not “of Paul,” or “of Apollos,” or “of Cephas,” or of any other. “Ye are God’s husbandry.” “Ye are God’s building.” “Ye are the Temple of God” (v. 9, 16).
The use of these three designations of the local assembly lays upon us the responsibility to preserve –
(a) the fruitfulness of that which is God’s Husbandry,
(b) the unity of that which is God’s Building,
(c) the sanctity of that which is the Temple of God.
Some might excuse a turning away from what is called “Church truth” on the plea that it is not practical. No phase of truth is more practical, if only the teaching of the Scriptures as to the divine constitution of the local assembly is apprehended in a spiritual way.
Let us think of the first of these figures. The assembly is compared to cultivated soil – a garden – and the responsibility is ours to preserve its fruitfulness. Paul and his fellow labourers had gone to Corinth while yet it was wholly heathen. The soil was virgin. These servants of Christ had sown the good seed of the Word in many hearts. They had planted and watered, and God gave the increase. In that city God now had a garden producing beauty, fragrance and fruit, for His glory and the delight of His heart. The figure is a lovely one, but it lays on us a responsibility to preserve that fruitfulness for His pleasure and praise. For this two things are necessary – wells and walls.
(1) The living waters of the well.
The first of these necessities is the presence of the Spirit of God in the midst of the assembly, and His sweet ministrations to our hearts. This is beautifully illustrated in the Song of Solomon (4. 12-16), where the bridegroom compares the one on whom he has lavished his love and in whom is all his delight, to a garden. That garden produces fruit and fragrance of such a kind that it is likened to a “paradise” (Newberry), and the secret of its fruitfulness is the fact that the soil is richly nourished by “the well of living waters.” John 4 assures us that “the well of living waters” is the energy of the Spirit of God in our spirits, leading us to the enjoyment of God in holy, intimate communion.
Three things in that chapter are before us in the divine order of experience: –
(a) The well of communion – v. 14.
(b) The Sanctuary of worship – vv. 21-24.
(c) The harvest fields of service – vv. 35-38.
The value and character of our service in the harvest fields depend upon our sanctuary experience. It is the outward expression in relation to men, of our worship in the Sanctuary of the presence of God. Our spirits will never be thrilled with the ecstasy of worship apart from the daily experience of the well of communion – our spirits satisfied in God. The streams of Lebanon too, surely have their message (4. 12-16). Lebanon means “white.” Here are pure streams that constantly flow, nourishing the soil that produces the fruit and fragrance to delight the heart of the one to whom the garden belongs. They speak of those streams of holy life that evidence the workings in us of the Spirit of holiness. The assembly is made up of individuals, and just as tributary streams feed the main river, so streams of holy life supplied by each individual become a concentration of holiness in the assembly. In that way the fruitfulness of the assembly garden is preserved.
(2) Enclosing Wall of Separation is the second necessity.
This also is illustrated in the same passage. “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse.” If the well is the secret of fruitfulness, the wall is the safeguard of fruitfulness. The very opposite is seen in Prov. 24:30-34. “The field of the slothful” had once been productive of fruit. Now nature was producing itself without restraint! The man was too lazy to give the necessary labour to the uprooting of weeds and to keep the wall unbreached. His poverty came slowly but surely, as a man that travels. It was his worst enemy, and difficult to throw off, as an armed man. Such will be our lives, such will be the assembly, if the enclosing walls are broken down.
This is precisely what was wrong in Corinth. (a) The wells of spiritual nourishment were choked, and (b) the walls of separation were breached. Heathen life had made inroads, and there was foulness and stench where there should have been the beauty and fragrance of Christ. Therefore the Apostle wrote those two Epistles. In the first he clears the choked wells of spiritual nourishment – see chap. 12. In the second, he rebuilds the enclosing walls – see chap. 6. 11-18. We are living in a day of carnality and compromise. Let not “the field of the slothful” be the picture of our assembly. Worldliness will come in if the walls are broken down and as a consequence the wells will become choked. In the measure in which the wells of separation are kept intact and the streams of spiritual nourishment flow, in that measure will the assembly be the garden of the Lord, for the delight of His heart.
(We look forward to printing in our next issue another helpful message from Mr. Trew, entitled “God’s Building. The men, the material, the motive, the manifestation.”)
We consider the majority of our brethren and sisters have worthily shouldered heavy burdens during the past six grim and difficult years, and we would be the last to encourage a critical spirit. At the same time it would be folly to ignore the constructive and well balanced criticism of an experienced evangelist.