Addresses on the First Epistle to the Corinthians
For nearly two years, 1934 and 1935, it was my privilege to attempt to expound the Corinthian Epistles at the regular Sunday morning gatherings, numbering from 2500 to 3500 people, in the auditorium of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. With radio equipment these addresses were broadcast over a large stretch of territory, thus reaching many thousands more. So insistent has been the demand for their publication in printed form that I have decided to send them out in this way. The original messages were taken down by a competent reporter and have been considerably revised and shortened, as otherwise it would have taken several volumes to reproduce them.
I am more firmly convinced than ever that there is need to emphasize the fundamental principles set forth in these letters given by inspiration through the apostle to the Gentiles, in order that Christians generally may be called back to the simplicity of early days. In 1 Corinthians we have the order that should prevail in Christian assemblies, while the second Epistle deals more particularly with the ministry of the church. If it please God, the addresses on that second letter will be published later.
I hope my readers will not come to this book looking for a critical analysis of the Epistle. If so, they will be disappointed. The object I had in view was to expound the Word as simply as possible for the edification and instruction of plain people who have neither the time nor the learning to follow heavy and erudite comments. If any such are helped to a greater appreciation of the value of this portion of the Word of God, I shall be abundantly repaid for the time and labor required to reproduce the spoken messages.
The two letters to the Corinthians, the letter to the Romans, and the letter to the Galatians form a quartet of Epistles that were apparently written during Paul’s third missionary journey and are intimately related to each other. In Romans the great fundamental doctrine of justification by faith alone is set forth. In Galatians that doctrine is defended after having been questioned by legalistic teachers. Therefore these two Epistles, Romans and Galatians, form the very foundation of Christian teaching. In the two letters to the Corinthians Paul gave instruction concerning the church: in the first Epistle, the ordering, calling, and discipline of the church; in the second Epistle, the ministry of the church. If we should lose all the rest of the New Testament-and God forbid that we should-and have only these four letters preserved, they would be sufficient to show us the way of salvation and to show us how to conduct ourselves as Christian people coming together in a church relationship. Therefore we can see the importance of being thoroughly familiar with these letters.
How the gospel reached Corinth we learn from Acts 18, where we are told that after his visit to Athens, the apostle Paul traveled to Corinth and began the work in a very quiet way. He did not enter the city with a blare of trumpets; he was not advertised as a great evangelist or Bible teacher; he simply went to work as an unknown craftsman. He was a tentmaker and in association with his two friends Aquila and Priscilla, who were engaged in the same business, he opened up an establishment. Elsewhere we are told that they labored night and day, and that by means of tentmaking the apostle was able to support not only himself but also those who ministered with him when the churches forgot their responsibility to them.
Paul was a great foreign missionary and when the churches of God did recognize their responsibility and send gifts, as in the case of the Philippian church, he gladly received the money and used it for the glory of God. But when he was neglected, he did not sit down and pine and whimper because of the coldheartedness of Christians in other places; he simply created a job for himself and went to work making tents and providing the wherewithal to carry on his testimony. This in a way was helpful to his ministry, for sometimes when a preacher or a missionary goes out as a well-supported individual bearing an official title and relationship to the church, people are not as interested in him and his message as they would be if he had come to work with his own hands as they have to do.
Having established his business in Corinth, the apostle began to move among the Jews. He attended the local synagogue where he doubtless listened to the regular services and then when opportunity was given, presented the gospel. There was a great deal of freedom in a Jewish synagogue. Jewish visitors, particularly if attired in the teacher’s garb, were permitted to take part in the service. Undoubtedly when Paul went there, he wore the garments that showed that he was a graduate of the school of Gamaliel and therefore the apostle was recognized as a teacher.
On one occasion when he and Barnabas attended a synagogue, the rulers, having completed the first part of the service, recognized the two men as teachers and said, “Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” And we read, “Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience” (Acts 13:15-16). This would be the customary procedure in the Jewish synagogue. There was nothing irregular and nothing disorderly about it; Paul was simply availing himself of a privilege.
So from sabbath to sabbath-that was on Saturday of course- he reasoned with the Jews and any Gentiles who might be present. It was a common thing for inquiring Gentiles to attend the Jewish services. Tired and weary of the customary recurring heathen festivities, finding nothing in paganism to answer the yearning desires of their hearts, they sought in the synagogue what they could not find elsewhere. When they in a measure at least accepted the Jewish doctrines, they were recognized as “proselytes of the gate” or “God-fearers.” To these people as well as the Jews, the apostle presented the message; he reasoned with them on the sabbath day.
Some of our present-day legalistic friends who have never known the blessedness of deliverance from law say, “We read in the book of Acts that Paul preached on the sabbath day, and that day is Saturday; so we are duty-bound to recognize that day rather than Sunday as the Lord’s day.” The fact is that the apostle was simply accommodating himself to the Jews who met on their sabbath. If he wished to reach them, he had to reach them on that day. The Christians themselves met together on the first day of the week to break bread and pray. This was their custom from the beginning, but on the Jewish sabbath they found opportunity to minister to the Jews and so used that day for that purpose.
Paul at first simply dealt with them from the standpoint of the Old Testament, but “when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia [to Corinth], Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:5). The apostle’s work up to this time was preparation, but now that he had the backing of other helpers, he felt the time had come to give a clear ringing testimony, to show that all these Old Testament Scriptures pointed to the One who had been crucified outside Jerusalem, who had been raised from the dead, and who had ascended into Heaven. When many of the Jews opposed this message and turned from him, Paul did a very significant thing. Shaking the long eastern robes that he wore, he said, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). And so he left the Corinthian synagogue, never to enter it again. He found a preaching place in the house of a man named Justus.
Evidently Justus was a Gentile proselyte; his house adjoined the synagogue and he had accepted the Jewish revelation about God. When Paul began preaching in the home of Justus, one of the first converts was Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue; he believed “with all his house.” The work went on for a year and a half “and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
Notice the order: they heard the message; they believed the gospel; and then they were publicly baptized, thus confessing that they had received the crucified One as their own personal Savior. I emphasize that final step because some people imagine that in his Epistles the apostle seems to minimize the importance of Christian baptism. He did not ordinarily do the baptizing himself, but he always insisted that it be done. The fact that Paul himself was generally not the baptizer does not indicate that he slighted the ordinance.
As we go on in that eighteenth chapter of Acts we read of the insurrection stirred up against Paul in the days of Gallio, and we are told that the Greeks caught Sosthenes, who had become the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him for attempting to foment a riot. It would seem that the beating did him good because when we next find his name, it is linked with the apostle Paul’s in 1Corinthians 1:1. Of course we have no positive proof that this Christian brother is the same man, but I take it for granted that he is. His beating brought him at last to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
A mighty work of God was accomplished during the year and a half that Paul was in Corinth. It was not a likely field for missionary service. This metropolis with a population between six and seven hundred thousand people was given over to the worship of the goddess Aphrodite, the Greek name for the one whom the Romans worshiped as Venus, the goddess of lust or carnal love. In celebrating the rites of Aphrodite, the Corinthians gave themselves up to the most shameful licentiousness. So notorious was their worship that in all parts of the Greek-speaking world if men or women were found behaving in an unclean way, the worst that anyone could say of them was that they acted like Corinthians. Today if it is said that a person is like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we at once understand that he lives a life of the vilest uncleanness; similarly in Paul’s day if it was said that a person was Corinthianized, the intimation was that he had totally lost all sense of morality and decency.
Such was the city into which Paul went to preach the gospel of the grace of God, and in that city the gospel won many to the knowledge of Christ. It was the means of delivering people from their lives of wickedness and making saints out of those who had been vicious and utterly lost to all sense of decency.
What interest this background gives to the opening verses of 1 Corinthians! “Paul, called an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.” I left out the italicized words “to be” (which had been added to 1Cotinthians 1:1 by the editors of the King James version) because I wanted to convey the fact that they should be left out of the second verse also. Paul was not called “to be” an apostle; he was an apostle-a “called” apostle, an apostle by divine calling. And so you and I are not called “to be” saints if we have trusted the Lord Jesus; we are saints, saints by calling.
Keep in mind that Paul’s apostleship, as he told us in Galatians 1:1, was “not of men, neither by man.” No one had anything to do with putting him into the apostolate except the risen Lord. An apostle was one who had seen the Lord and went forth to proclaim His message. Paul, as Saul, saw the Lord that day on the Damascus turnpike and went forth to proclaim Christ to the Jews and Gentiles. It was “the will of God” that made him what he was.
Notice how Paul linked himself with “Sosthenes our brother.” I take it for granted that this must have been the Corinthian Sosthenes because those receiving the letter would at once recognize his name. A thrill would go through their hearts as they exclaimed, “Yes, Sosthenes, once the persecutor but converted here in our own city, is still with the apostle Paul and is sending his greetings to us!” Just as we value the greetings of those we love and respect in the Lord, and when they go elsewhere we are always pleased to hear from them, so the Corinthians would find pleasure in seeing his name linked with that of the apostle Paul.
Paul wrote “unto the church of God which is at Corinth.” What a change had taken place since the years when this very man-as Saul of Tarsus-persecuted the church of God! I have heard of a strange teaching that the church of the book of Acts is not the church of our day, that the church, the body of Christ, did not begin until after Paul was put in prison in Rome. But Paul persecuted the church of God when he was still unconverted; how could he have persecuted that which had no existence? The church had its birthday on the day of Pentecost, and after that, churches of God were established in local communities.
The local church in Corinth was composed of those who were once legalistic Jews or blind Gentiles, but were now all one in Christ Jesus. And the apostle spoke of them as the “sanctified… called saints.” Often we think of a saint or a sanctified one as a sinless person. We see someone in whom the grace of God shines out most wonderfully and we say, “Well, certainly there is a saint.” Or perhaps someone has just gone home to Heaven and we speak of him as “the sainted so-and-so” because he has gotten beyond the reach of sin. But that is not the way Scripture uses these terms. It says “them that are sanctified,” not “them that are sinless”; it says “saints,” not “absolutely holy ones.” The saints are the separated; the sanctified are those set apart to God in Christ Jesus.
“Sanctified” and “saints” are two words that come from the same root meaning “separated, set apart, devoted to a holy purpose.” If you are saved, the moment you put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God separated you from a world under judgment and set you apart for Himself in Christ Jesus. In that instant you became a saint; in that moment you were sanctified, and that sanctification is a perfect one.
We read in Hebrews 10:14, “He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” I used to be taught, and perhaps some of you have been told, that a man has to be justified first, and then sometime afterward he goes on to receive what some call “the second blessing” and he becomes sanctified. When I turn to the Book of God, however, I find that the order is just the opposite. I find that a man is sanctified by the work of the Spirit in his heart even before he comes to the knowledge of Christ. It is the sanctifying, separating work of the Spirit of God that leads him to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The moment he puts his faith in Christ, God sees him as sanctified in Christ Jesus, as set apart to God, as separated from the old life, from the old ways, from the world to which he once belonged; that moment God counts Him as clean in His sight because of the infinite value of the atoning work of His beloved Son.
You may say, “I would hardly dare say that I am sanctified. I know I am a Christian. I trust I am justified. But I am afraid I am not good enough yet to say that I am sanctified.” But just as your goodness had nothing to do with your justification, it is not your goodness that entitles you to take your place among the sanctified. When you were justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all the past was put away forever and God gave you a new standing before Him.
Sin makes men not only guilty but also unclean. Because we are guilty we need to be justified; because we are unclean we need to be sanctified. We are cleansed by the blessed atoning blood through which we are justified. So we read of being sanctified by the blood of His covenant: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12).
Jesus said, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). The moment He rose from the dead God saw all believers as linked with Him. In Hebrews 2:11 we read, “He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” So if you are a Christian and have any doubt about your sanctification, put the doubt away and thank God that you are in Christ and therefore sanctified.
As we go on reading in 1 Corinthians, we will find that the apostle had to bring to the attention of his readers many things that needed correction. He told them that they were carnal, for they were taking one another to court and tolerating all kinds of unholy things in their midst. Some of the Christians in Corinth had wrong ideas about the marriage relationship, and some were ignorant about their relation to their past idolatry, but still the apostle speaks of them all as the “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
Observe that Paul not only addressed this letter to “the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints”; he widened out the address so that it takes in every Christian to the end of the dispensation: “with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Do you see the importance of that? There are many things in this Epistle that some Christians today try to dodge and get away from, and very often you will hear them say as the Epistle is read, “Oh well, that was for that age and that day, or for folks living in Corinth, but not for people today.” They ignore the fact that the letter is addressed to each one who seeks to acknowledge the lordship of Christ.
As we study the Epistle, let us accept it as a personal message from the Holy Spirit of God to each one of us as Christian individuals. We would not like to think that the passages about grace were only for the Corinthians, so we should not attempt to apply the passages about responsibility only to the people of Corinth. We must remember that the whole letter was written for the whole church of God until the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him.
In the third verse we find the apostolic salutation, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are saved by grace, but of course this is not the grace to which Paul here referred. He knew that people who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” are already justified by faith, saved by grace. And all Christians have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (italics added). It is a settled thing.
In 1Corinthians 1:3 Paul was not praying for Christians to obtain saving grace. He was praying for the grace that sustains Christians in all the trials of the way, the grace that enables us to overcome in every hour of temptation. In Hebrews 4:16 we are bidden to “come boldly unto the throne of grace [upon which our Great High Priest sits], that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” We need grace every day of our lives. The grace of yesterday will not suffice for today. Morning by morning we need to draw down from above, through meditation and prayer, supplies of grace to start the day aright. Throughout the day we need to “pray without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17); our hearts should continually be reaching out to God so that new supplies of grace may come down to us constantly. We cannot keep ourselves even for one moment, so we need the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And the peace that Christians need is not peace with God, but the peace of God, the peace of which we read in Philippians 4:6-7: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” You see, this has nothing to do with the sin question; that has been settled. We have peace with God because our sins have been forever put away. The peace of God has to do with the question of things that would keep us anxious, the trials of life that would trouble our hearts. How blessed is the privilege to go to God about them all!
I am afraid that many dear Christians miss a great deal of peace because they have never learned to go to Him about their temporal affairs as well as their spiritual needs. Some look at me aghast when I tell them of praying about money and family matters. They say, “You do not mean to say that the God who created the world is concerned that I have money to meet my rent and to pay for food? Are you saying that He will intervene in my family problems?” Scripture answers, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing [that word is all-inclusive] by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what trial comes to you, no matter what perplexity you are called on to face, no matter what need you have to meet, God invites you to come to Him about it, and He will “supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). That is a promise.
We cannot help noticing how frequently the full name and title of our Savior is used in these verses-and throughout the entire Epistle. We will never find in the Bible the undue familiarity in the use of divine names that is so common in the irreverent days in which we live. No one in Scripture ever addressed our blessed Savior merely as Jesus. He was sometimes spoken of as Jesus; for example, by divine inspiration when His atoning work was particularly in view, the angel said, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). But when He was addressed directly, and ordinarily even when He was spoken of by His followers, He was called the Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ our Lord.
I am sure there is a lesson for each one of us in Paul’s reverence. The One who brought the Corinthian Christians out of darkness into His marvelous light is the One who through grace has brought those of us who are Christians today to a saving knowledge of Himself. He is our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us ever remember when we approach Him in prayer that He is our Lord. Let us ever remember when we speak of Him to others that “God hath made that same Jesus [who was] crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Let us also beware of calling Jesus Lord and then slighting His commands.
If He is not Lord of all,
Then He is not Lord at all.
The Epistles to the Corinthians emphasize His lordship throughout. Christ said to His disciples, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13). Thank God, we delight to know Him as our supreme sovereign Master.
Later in 1 Corinthians Paul pointed out many irregularities in the church at Corinth and reproved the believers there for a number of things that were bringing dishonor to the name of the Lord. Yet in this introductory portion of the Epistle the apostle first of all gave God thanks for what His grace had already wrought. As he remembered the year and a half that he labored in Corinth, during which time most of those he was primarily addressing in this letter were brought into a saving knowledge of Christ, he said, “I thank my God always on your behalf.” It brought great joy to the heart of that soul-winner to think of those whom he had the privilege of pointing to Christ.
Paul expressed gratitude for “the grace of God,” for His free unmerited favor toward those deserving the very opposite. For the moment he was not thinking merely of the grace that saves. The Corinthian Christians were saved by grace and we are saved by grace; no one is saved in any other way. But having been saved, we are endowed by grace with all we need for our journey through this world. Among other things, provision is made for us to be built up as companies of believers when we gather together in church fellowship. God’s will is that believers gather in various localities as churches, and the Lord makes Himself responsible to minister that which will profit and edify such assemblies of believers. It is this aspect of grace on which the apostle was particularly dwelling here.
He thanked God for the grace given by Jesus Christ so that “in every thing [the Corinthian Christians were] enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.” In other words, the church at Corinth was greatly blessed with gifts of the Spirit. Some of the Corinthians could minister the Word of God most acceptably; others who had the gift of evangelist could go out and carry the message to the world; some who were gifted as teachers could impart spiritual instruction to their brothers in Christ; many had miraculous gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12). It is questionable that there ever was a Christian church more enriched with spiritual gifts, yet it is a solemn fact that although the Corinthians were so wonderfully endowed, they were very carnal.
That fact leads us to realize that gifts in themselves are not preservative. One may have great ability individually, yet not have a close walk with God. One may be very gifted, yet not be guided by the Holy Spirit in the use of His gift. A church may have in its fellowship many on whom God has bestowed special gifts of the Spirit, but these gifts do not in themselves prove that that church is more spiritual than other fellowships.
We live in a day when there is a very unhealthy craving for what we may call the miraculous gifts, and people have an idea that if these were more in evidence in the church there would be more spirituality and more accomplished for God. I think the history of the Corinthian church proves the unsoundness of such reasoning. No church that I know of has ever been blessed with more spiritual gifts, yet they were anything but a truly spiritual church.
In Ephesians 4:7 Paul wrote, “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” and then he went on to mention the different gifts that the ascended Christ has given to the church. It is the grace of God that leads the Holy Spirit to bestow such gifts on His people. How much we need to respond to the grace of God by holding each gift in subjection to Him and by not becoming occupied with the gift rather than the Giver! The Corinthians became so occupied with the gifts that they all wanted to do miraculous things, and so their eyes were taken off Christ and fixed on demonstrations of supernatural power. As a result they lost the sweetness of communion with Him.
We should be careful never to confuse natural talent with spiritual gifts. God gives the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, teaching, preaching, and exhortation, but those gifts are altogether different from any mere natural ability along what we might call oratorical lines. A man may be a born orator; it may be just as natural for him to preach in an interesting, compelling way as it is for another to sing beautifully. But whether speaking or singing, one needs something more than mere natural talent to be truly effective, and that something is the power of the Holy Spirit. If a man is naturally talented, he is not to discard his talents when yielding himself to Christ, but they are not to be put in the place of spiritual gifts. Mere natural talents are displaced by spiritual gifts when the Holy Spirit of God takes possession of a human instrument, works through him, and anoints him.
After people are converted and yielded to Him, the Holy Spirit bestows gifts on them “severally as he will” (1Corinthians 12:11). Often the Spirit gives amazing power to people who are not at all remarkable for natural talent in presenting spiritual truth. Such power is a divine gift.
The apostle said, “Covet earnestly the best gifts” (1Corinthians 12:31), so if you are already saved, if you are trusting Christ as your Savior, look to God to bestow on you some special gift of His grace so that you may be better able to win others to Christ and better able to help His beloved people. But never confuse mere human eloquence with divine ministry; never substitute mere oratory for the preaching of the Word. Preaching the Word may be oratorical or it may lack that characteristic entirely.
The apostle Paul was naturally a wonderful orator, but when he stood before people to preach the gospel, he said he held all that back lest their faith should stand in the wisdom of man rather than in the power of God (1Corinthians 2:5). Divine gifts enable servants of Christ to minister to edification, to the salvation of sinners, and to the building up of saints. But one may have these gifts and be out of fellowship with God; therefore it is important to live day by day in the spirit of self-judgment so that He may have the controlling power in the exercise of the gifts.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift.” The apostle had come to Corinth to minister the Word; they had believed and in turn ministered to others. God graciously confirmed that testimony in blessing until there was no gift that was not found in their assembly. In other churches there may have been a few people with some special gift, but in Corinth there were a great number. Yet as we read the Epistle, we are amazed to find how far many of them had dropped from faithfulness to Christ and true communion with the Lord. Surely this is a warning to us.
Paul went on to say that the Corinthian Christians were “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word translated “coming” here in 1Corinthians 1:7 is not parousia, the term generally used for the coming of the Lord to the air when saints rise to meet Him; the Greek word here is apokalupsis, which refers to His unveiling when He is revealed to the whole world. We too are waiting for the unveiling of Jesus Christ. This of course is the goal. The Lord’s descending and calling His people to meet Him in the air is a preparation, but the goal is the unveiling. When He is revealed in glory, we will be manifested with Him. We should be content to live quiet, godly, unworldly lives now because in that day we will have our reward as we shine forth with Him. That revelation of Jesus Christ was put before the Corinthian saints as the goal of all their hopes. Then the apostle told them that the One for whom they were waiting would keep them until the end.
I wonder whether you have noticed the method of the Spirit of God throughout the Scriptures when He has to reprove Christians because of failure in their lives. He begins by commending them for all that He can and by assuring them that everything is going to come out all right in the end. In Philippians 1:6 the apostle assured his readers, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [complete] it until the day of Jesus Christ.” In 1Corinthians 1:8 Paul said, “[He will] confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Note that both verses mention “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The day of our Lord Jesus Christ is the day when He will return to call His own to be with Himself, the day when we will stand before His judgment seat. On that day we will be turned inside out, as it were; all our hidden motives will be brought to light and we will be rewarded according to deeds done since His grace saved us.
Until that day the Lord will “confirm” us. Some people make confirmation a ritual in a special church service-a child is under the care of the church until a certain year and then he is confirmed and brought into the full membership of the church. The Bible has much to say about confirmation, but never presents it as a rite. Confirmation in the Bible is always the work of the Spirit of God making His truth real to the soul. This is our confirmation.
Paul was saying to the Corinthians, “I am absolutely sure that your confirmation will go on until the day of Jesus Christ.” In other words, the apostle did not have the slightest thought that anyone who had ever been born again would fail to reach Heaven. He knew that many of them might fail grievously on the way, but he also knew that they were not responsible to keep themselves, for they were being kept by the power of God. People say to me, “Oh, you are one of those old-fashioned folks who believe in the perseverance of the saints.” I generally answer, “To be perfectly frank, I am not at all conceited about the perseverance of the saints. My experience with myself and with a great many other saints is that most of us are not very much given to perseverance. We need to be prodded along most of the time.”
I heard Sam Jones explain why the Lord allowed the Presbyterians to believe once-saved-always-saved and the Methodists to believe that a person would only be saved at last if he held on. Jones said he sometimes thought the reason was that some of the Presbyterians were “such an ornery crowd” that they never would go on if they did not feel sure that they were eternally saved, and some of the Methodists were “such a poor type” that if the Lord did not keep the whip over them, they would never go on! That could be said of a great many people, but when we turn to the Word of God we find that everything for a Christian depends on the perseverance of the Savior. He who took us up in grace has committed Himself to carry us through to the end. He knows how to deal with each individual saint so that he may be confirmed unto the end. And the final consummation is this, that every believer will appear “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The word translated “blameless” here in 1Corinthians 1:8 may also be translated “unimpeachable” or “unaccusable.” In other words, when we stand at last at the judgment seat of Christ, God Himself is going to see to it that no charge can stand against any believer because the Lord Jesus Christ has atoned for all our sins with His own precious blood. Every failure in the life will be dealt with there; all the wood, hay, and stubble will be burned in the fire of that day and we will stand before our Lord unimpeachable.
The next subject Paul brought up is most precious to every Christian’s heart: “God is faithful.” I would like to take time to dwell on those three words, but I do not really need to say much about them. You who have known the Lord for years, do I need to try to reason with you to show that God is faithful? As you look back over the years, do not all His dealings with you tell the story that you have served a faithful God? You can be sure that when we come to the end of the way, when at last we meet with loved ones around the throne, we will realize then as never before the faithfulness of God.
When I shall meet with those that I have loved,
Clasp in my eager arms the long-removed,
And know how faithful Thou to me hast proved,
I shall be satisfied.
I never have been and I am afraid I never will be faithful in the absolute sense, but I have to do with a faithful God who has promised to see me through.
“God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” God does not save us merely as individuals, but having saved us individually, He introduces us into a wonderful fellowship of which our Lord Jesus is the risen glorified Head in Heaven. Every local church should be an expression of this fellowship of the body of Christ. As the apostle said in 1Corinthians 10:16 : “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” If you have been redeemed by His blood, if by the Holy Spirit you have been baptized into the body of Christ, you are called into the fellowship of God’s Son, and you are one with every other believer on the face of the earth. It makes little difference what labels people may use-denominational, interdenominational, or undenominational. The important question is, Are they members of the fellowship of God’s Son?
The word translated “fellowship” in 1Corinthians 1:9 really means “partnership.” We have been taken into partnership in a wonderful firm of which the Lord Jesus is the Head and in which every believer has a place. Do you wonder that some of us never crave any other fellowship? In His we have found all we need.
When we trace this word “fellowship” through the New Testament, we find that many beautiful truths are associated with it. In 1John 1:3 we read that we have been brought into fellowship with the Father and the Son. Is not that a wonderful thing? We are in partnership with the Father and the Son! We share their common thoughts. When you are interested in something that I am interested in, we get together and have fellowship, but just think of it: God the Father and God the Son have taken us into partnership with Them in Their thoughts in regard to redemption, the glorious plan of salvation!
In Philippians 2:1 we read about the fellowship “of the Spirit” because it is not a natural thing. It is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. There is no real Christian fellowship apart from Him, and that fact shows the incongruity of unsaved people uniting with the visible church of God. Lost souls cannot have fellowship with God’s redeemed ones because that fellowship is produced by the Holy Spirit and He does not dwell in unsaved people.
The apostle Paul commended the Philippians for their participation in the fellowship of the gospel (1Corinthians 1:5). Fellowship is not only a sweet and lovely sentiment; it is a practical thing, for we labor together for the blessing and the salvation of a lost world. Each one is to do his part. The preacher is not to do all the work; we have been called into a company in which each partner has service to do for the blessing of all. In 2Corinthians 8:4 Paul spoke of “the fellowship of the ministering,” in which every believer (not just certain individuals) ministers according to his or her ability. This is the Christian ideal, and if you and I seek wholeheartedly to walk in accordance with it, we will have real blessing in our church relationships.
I wonder if anyone who is reading this commentary is saying to himself, “If in order to have fellowship like this I must possess the Holy Spirit, I am afraid I got into the visible church too soon, for I am not conscious of possessing the Spirit of God; I am not conscious of the indwelling Christ.” If those are your thoughts, what you need to do is to come to God as a poor sinner, put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and come right out into the light where God is, for it is written, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1John 1:7).