The arrangement of the books of the Bible is truly sovereign of the Lord. For example, Revelation is not the first book, and Genesis is not the last. Even this one example proves that the arrangement of the books of the Bible is according to God’s sovereignty.
In the New Testament the four Gospels provide a record of the life of the Lord Jesus and show how He accomplished redemption through His crucifixion. From the Gospels we also know of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. In the book of Acts we have the Lord’s move in the heavenlies and in resurrection through His Body on earth. In this book we have not only the acts of the apostles and disciples, but also the acts of the resurrected and ascended Christ.
After the book of Acts, we have the first of the New Testament Epistles—Romans. The book of Romans gives us a full and complete sketch of both the Christian life and the church life. In Romans we have not only the teachings concerning the Christian life and the church life, but also the principles.
Immediately after Romans we have 1 Corinthians. First Corinthians gives us an illustration of the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life. Each of these lives is fully illustrated in 1 Corinthians. However, not many Christian teachers realize that what is revealed in Romans in the way of a sketch is fully illustrated in 1 Corinthians. To repeat, in Romans we have the sketch of the Christian life and the church life, whereas in 1 Corinthians we have an illustration of the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life.
A number of books on 1 Corinthians have been written by teachers among the Brethren and also by those in the Pentecostal or charismatic movement. Some of the Brethren teachers have said that 1 Corinthians was written to solve a number of serious problems in the church. Those from a Pentecostal or charismatic background may emphasize the so-called gifts in 1 Corinthians, especially tongues-speaking and healing. However, the book of 1 Corinthians is not mainly concerned with problems in the church or with spiritual gifts or miracles. Please be impressed with the fact that this book gives us an illustration of the Christian life, church life, and Body life.
Most readers of 1 Corinthians have a negative impression of the church in Corinth. Do you like this church? If you are truthful, you will admit that you do not appreciate this church. Many years ago, I did not care very much for the church in Corinth. But now I appreciate this local church. To me, the book of 1 Corinthians is very sweet and enjoyable. I enjoy this book not because it solves problems or deals with gifts, but because it illustrates the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life.
Some may argue with the assertion that 1 Corinthians is an illustration of our Christian life. They may ask, “Are we supposed to follow the Christians in Corinth? Are we to have the kind of Christian life described in this book? Are we to follow the example of the church in Corinth and have the kind of church life they had? Should we have the Body life like what we see in Corinth? Everything in the church in Corinth was pitiful. The Christian life, the church life, and the Body life all were pitiful.” However, whether or not the Corinthians were pitiful in these matters is secondary. The point here is that in a very real sense the Corinthians illustrate the usual, or typical, Christian life, church life, and Body life. Actually, the usual Christian life is just like that of the Corinthians. The same is true of the typical church life and Body life.
Consider your own Christian life, church life, and Body life. Is your Christian life better than that of the Corinthians? Is your church life and Body life superior to theirs? If you are honest, you will answer that you are not better than the Corinthians in these matters.
Every local church is a Corinth. Do not boast of the church in your locality and think that it is special, superior to the church in Corinth. Do you have the confidence to say that your Christian life is better than that of the Corinthians, or that your church life and Body life are superior to theirs? Do not consider your local church better than the church in Corinth. The church life in Corinth is an accurate illustration of the church in every locality.
What about your experience of the Body life? Some may appreciate the Body life in a certain place and feel that it is wonderful. But is the Body life there better than what is illustrated in the book of 1 Corinthians? Certainly not. In our fiber, in our makeup, we all are the same as the believers at Corinth. It was certainly according to the wisdom of God to use the church in Corinth as a complete illustration of the Christian life, church life, and Body life found in every locality.
We have pointed out that certain Bible teachers, especially those among the Brethren, say that 1 Corinthians deals with serious problems in the church. The book of 1 Corinthians does in fact cover many problems. The first of these problems is the problem of division. In 1:11 and 12 Paul says, “For it was made clear to me concerning you, my brothers, by those of the household of Chloe, that there are strifes among you. Now I mean this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ.” Just as there were divisions among the saints in Corinth, so there are divisions among believers in the churches today. What local church does not have any divisions? Do you have the assurance to say that there are no divisions in the church in your locality? By divisions I do not mean denominations; I mean the kind of divisions illustrated by the Corinthians, who said, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos.” It is common in a local church for brothers to say that they are for a certain thing or a certain person and for others to declare that they are for something else or someone else. This is what I mean by division. None of us dares to say that in our local church there is not this kind of division.
Often there is division even between a brother and his wife. As a brother and sister in Christ, they come together to the Lord’s table and partake of the one loaf. However, the sister may not be truly one with her husband. For example, she may speak to him in a divisive way, or inwardly find fault with him or disagree with him without saying anything. This is divisiveness. To be sure, none of us can say that there is no division in our church life or family life. In this we are the same as the church in Corinth.
I mention this matter of division not to show that 1 Corinthians is a book concerned with problems, but to emphasize the fact that it is a book illustrating the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life. This book is concerned with individual Christians, the church, and the Body. Hence, it illustrates three categories of spiritual life: the individual Christian life, the corporate church life, and the organic Body life. It is crucial that we have such a view when we read this book. Then we shall understand that it was written not to solve problems or to emphasize gifts, but to illustrate the practical and actual Christian life, church life, and Body life.
It may seem that the illustrations in 1 Corinthians are negative. Yes, they are negative, but they are practical. Furthermore, the actual situation among the believers and in the churches, both at Paul’s time and today, has many negative elements. It certainly is difficult to find any local church where the situation is entirely free from negative elements. Some may wonder about the church life described in Acts 2 and 4. But what could be more negative than the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? The murmuring in chapter six also indicates that a negative situation existed. Even when the Lord Jesus was on earth with His disciples, there were many negative situations. The disciples strove among themselves concerning who was the greatest. Of course, 1 Corinthians is not an illustration of the New Jerusalem. Rather, it is an illustration of the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life in this age. Because we are living in this age, the church age, we need to take 1 Corinthians as our illustration. This book is a photograph of the church in our locality. May we all see clearly that 1 Corinthians is an illustration of our own Christian life, church life, and Body life.
On the one hand, our church life is illustrated by that in Corinth; on the other hand, we are the same as the Corinthians concerning our individual Christian lives. We know from this Epistle that the believers in Corinth were in the soul and acted in a fleshly way. Have you never been in the soul? Have you never lived according to the flesh? In particular, can you say that today you have not spent any time in the flesh? If we answer these questions honestly, we shall see that, spiritually speaking, we all are Corinthians. We are all from a region where people live in the soul and in the flesh. But we praise the Lord that, also like the Corinthians, sometimes we live in the spirit.
A second crucial point is that the book of 1 Corinthians emphasizes Christ. In 2:2 Paul says a strong word: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and this One ” Here Paul speaks not of the resurrected or ascended Christ, nor of the Christ who bestows all manner of gifts upon us, but of the crucified Christ, a Christ who was put to death. Paul’s emphasis in this book is on the Christ who was executed, crucified. In this book of illustration, the focus is on Christ, but not first on Christ as the life-giving Spirit in resurrection, but on Christ crucified. If we see that 1 Corinthians is a book of illustration and that it emphasizes the crucified Christ, we are prepared to consider this Epistle in detail.
In 1:1-9 Paul covers a number of important points. In these verses we first have a proper realization concerning the apostle. Then we have a clear view of the church and of the believers, the saints. As we shall see, Paul then covers something which we may term the initial gifts. If we would understand 1 Corinthians, we must know what are the initial gifts and what are the developed gifts. In chapter one we do not see the developed gifts, gifts which come from the growth of life, but only the initial gifts. Verse 9 is crucial. Here Paul says, “God is faithful, through Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here Paul speaks of the fellowship of Christ into which God has called us. Thus, the main points in 1:1-9 are the apostle, the church, the saints, the initial gifts, and the fellowship of Christ.
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