Life-Study of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 3

IV. THE PARTICIPATION IN CHRIST

In verse 9 Paul says, “God is faithful, through Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” This word is a continuation of verse 8, strengthening the thought with the assurance of God’s faithfulness. In His faithfulness He will confirm the believers till the end, making them unreprovable in the day of the Lord’s return.

Verse 9 tells us that God has called us into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Fellowship denotes the partaking of, the participation in, God’s Son. It is to partake of, participate in, the all-inclusive Christ. God has called us into such a fellowship that we may partake of Christ, participate in Him, and enjoy Him as our God-given portion. This word, like the word concerning Christ’s being theirs and ours in verse 2, stresses again the crucial fact of Christ’s being the unique center of the believers for the solving of the problems among them, especially that of division.

This book unveils to us that the very Christ, who is the portion of all believers, and into whose fellowship we have been called, is all-inclusive. He is God’s power and God’s wisdom as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption to us (1:24, 30). He is our glory for our glorification (2:7; Rom. 8:30), hence, the Lord of glory (2:8). He is the depths of God, the deep things of God (2:10). He is the unique foundation of God’s building (3:11). He is our Passover (5:7), the unleavened bread (5:8), the spiritual food, the spiritual drink, and the spiritual rock (10:3-4). He is the Head (11:3) and the Body (12:12). He is the firstfruit (15:20, 23), the second Man (15:47), and the last Adam (15:45); as such, He became the life-giving Spirit (15:45). This all-inclusive One, with the riches of at least nineteen items, God has given to us as our portion for our enjoyment. We should concentrate on Him, not on any persons, things, or matters other than Him. We should focus on Him as our unique center appointed by God that all the problems among the believers may be solved. It is into the fellowship of such a One that we have been called by God. This fellowship of Him becomes the fellowship the apostles shared with the believers (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:3) in His Body, the church, and should be the fellowship we enjoy in the partaking of His blood and His body at His table (10:16, 21). Such a fellowship must be unique, because He is unique. It forbids any division among the members of His unique Body.

This word fellowship is profound and very deep. I do not believe that any Christian teacher or expositor of the Bible can exhaust the meaning of this word. Fellowship does not merely mean that there is communication between you and someone else; it also denotes participation in that one. Furthermore, it means that we and Christ have become one. It also means that we enjoy Christ and all He is, and that He enjoys us and what we are. As a result, there is not only a mutual communication, but a mutuality in every way. All that Christ is becomes ours, and all that we are becomes His. We all have been called by God into such a mutuality between us and the Son of God. I do not believe that in any other language there is an adequate equivalent for the Greek word for fellowship. We have been called into the fellowship of God’s Son. We have been called into a mutuality in which we enjoy what the Son of God is, and in which we are one with Him and He is one with us. Elsewhere in this Epistle, in 6:17, Paul says, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” We have been called into such a oneness. In this oneness we enjoy what Christ is, and He enjoys what we are.

Even though we are so pitiful, Christ still enjoys us. Perhaps you find this very difficult to believe. You may say, “I certainly believe that we have been called to enjoy Christ. But how can it be true that Christ enjoys us? You may say that this is true, but I find it hard to believe.” Christ, however, would say, “Child, I enjoy you very much. You don’t realize how much I enjoy you. Even when you are weak and low, I still enjoy you, for I am one spirit with you.”

Verse 9 is related to verse 2. In verse 2 Paul says, “With all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, theirs and ours.” Christ is ours, and He is also theirs. He belongs to us and to all the other believers.

Some Bible scholars believe that in verse 2 the words theirs and ours refer to places. I do not agree with this interpretation. Here Paul is not speaking of their place and our place as if to say that they call upon the name of the Lord Jesus in their place and that we call upon His name in our place. This should not be Paul’s thought here. He is saying that the very Lord Jesus Christ upon whose name we are calling in every place is our Lord and their Lord, our portion and their portion. This means that all the saints have the Lord as their unique portion. The reason for this is that we all have been called into the fellowship of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings us to a very important matter. All believers in Christ, including us, have their preferences. The Corinthian believers had theirs. As Greeks, they were a philosophical people. Those who are not thoughtful may not have many preferences. For example, if I ask such a person which elder he prefers among those in his local church, he may answer that all are the same, that he does not see any difference among them. But if you ask this question of a person given to the exercise of his mentality, he would immediately respond that he does have a preference for a certain elder.

In a local church there are always at least two or three elders. Do you not have your preference among them? Whenever you need to discuss something concerning the church, do you not prefer to go to the elder of your choice? You may say that you like to go to Brother So-and-so. Actually, this brother is your preference. The fact that you have such a preference indicates that you are a thoughtful person, even a philosophical one. Probably you have thought a good deal about the elders in your locality. Most members of a local church have spent time to consider the elders in their locality. As a result, they have a preference regarding them.

Preferences are fleshly. As long as you hold to your preference, you are in the flesh. Furthermore, having a preference causes you to lose Christ as the unique center. Our unique center is the Lord who is both theirs and ours, the Son of God into whose fellowship we all have been called of God. We have not been called into our preference, either in elders or in local churches. Sometimes saints have said, “I am not happy with the church here, and I don’t want to stay here any longer. I intend to move to another locality.” This is to have a preference, and it is fleshly. To repeat, to have a preference is to lose Christ as the unique center.

I believe that as Paul was writing this Epistle to the Corinthian believers, he was saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, you need to realize that neither Paul, Cephas, Apollos, nor any other person is the unique center among the believers. This center is not even a narrow Christ, the Christ of your preference. The Christ who is the unique center of all believers is the One who is both theirs and ours.” If we see this, we shall not care for persons, localities, or nationalities. Instead, we shall care for Christ as the unique center of all the believers.

Paul addressed this Epistle specifically “to the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints.” These saints, the believers living in Corinth, were the components of the church in Corinth. Nevertheless, this Epistle was written not only to them, but also to “all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, theirs and ours.” There is to be no difference. Furthermore, according to verse 9, God has called us all into the fellowship of Christ. We have been called into the oneness, into a mutuality, between us and Him. Therefore, there should not be any preference with respect to local churches or individual believers. Only Christ—no other one—is the unique center of all Christians.

Again and again I would emphasize the fact that the unique center is Christ and Christ alone. Whether the church in your locality is good or bad, high or low, does not matter. What matters is Christ as the unique center. We all have been called into Him, called into the fellowship, the enjoyment, the participation, in Him. We have been called into a mutuality in which we are one with Him. Only this can swallow up divisions and eliminate all the differences and preferences among the saints.

Consider the situation among Christians today: there is preference after preference. Some prefer to be Presbyterians, whereas others prefer to be Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, or Pentecostals. Some say, “I like this,” and others say, “I like that.” Some declare, “I like this pastor,” and others say, “I like that minister.” “I like…I like,” is commonly uttered by believers today. You may like a certain thing, but God may not like it. God is only pleased with Christ. God has one center—Jesus Christ—and He has called you not into the denomination of your choice, but into the fellowship of His Son. No individual or group must be our preference. Our only preference, our one choice, must be Christ as the unique center, the Christ who is theirs and ours, the Christ into whose mutuality we have been called by God. Oh, we all must see that God has called us into the fellowship of such a Christ!

LIFE-STUDY OF FIRST CORINTHIANS

MESSAGE FOUR

CHRIST AND HIS CROSS
THE UNIQUE SOLUTION TO ALL PROBLEMS
IN THE CHURCH

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Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 1:10-13

In the first message of this Life-study we pointed out that, after presenting a wonderful sketch of the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life in Romans, Paul gives us an illustration in 1 Corinthians of the actual Christian life, church life, and Body life. However, we should not understand this to mean that what we have in 1 Corinthians is an illustration of the proper or normal Christian life, church life, and Body life. Concerning these three kinds of lives, this Epistle illustrates what is actual or typical, not what is normal or proper. Thus, we should never make the mistake of saying that in 1 Corinthians we have the proper church life. What we see concerning the practice of the church life in this Epistle is neither proper nor normal. Rather, it is usual or typical.

CHRIST, THE UNIQUE CENTER

In 1:1-9 Paul impresses us with the fact that in God’s economy Christ is the unique center. God’s intention is to make Christ His Son the center of His economy and also to make Him everything to all the believers. This is why Paul tells us in verse 9 that we have been called into the fellowship of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is also the reason he points out in verse 2 that Christ is both theirs and ours. In His economy God’s intention is to make Christ everything, to give Christ to us as our portion, and also to work Christ into us.

In verse 10 Paul begins to deal with the divisions among the Corinthians. First, he beseeches them through the name of our Lord, which is the name above all names (Phil. 2:9) and should be the unique name among all His believers. However, by ranking the names of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas with the name of Christ, the divisive Corinthians made the same kind of mistake Peter did on the mount of transfiguration when he ranked Moses and Elijah with Christ (Matt. 17:1-8). To keep the oneness in the Lord and to avoid divisions, we need to uplift and exalt the unique name of our Lord by dropping all names other than this highest name.

When the Corinthians believed in Christ, they did not receive anything from Paul, Apollos, or any other servant of God. No doubt, Paul and Apollos were a great help to the believers in Corinth. But the One received by them was Christ. In 1:13 Paul asks them, “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” No, Paul was not crucified for them, and they were not baptized into Paul’s name. Christ was the One who was crucified for them, and the believers were baptized into the name of Christ. Here Paul seems to be saying, “Actually, you did not receive anything from Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. You should not even be limited to a narrow Christ. You must pay your full attention to the unique Christ. This Christ is not only yours and ours—He belongs to everyone. He is theirs and ours, for He is the portion of the saints in every place. God has given this Christ to us, and He has called us into His fellowship.”

CALLED INTO THE FELLOWSHIP
OF THE SON OF GOD

It is not easy to give an adequate definition of the fellowship of the Son of God. This matter is altogether wonderful. This fellowship involves not only the oneness between us and the Triune God, but also the oneness among all the believers. Furthermore, it implies enjoyment—our enjoyment of the Triune God, the Triune God’s enjoyment of us, and also the enjoyment which the believers have with one another. In this fellowship we enjoy the Triune God, and the Triune God enjoys us. Moreover, we enjoy all the believers, and all the believers enjoy us. What a wonderful, universal, mutual enjoyment! We have been called into something which is termed the fellowship of God’s Son. This fellowship is universal and mutual. The mutuality of this fellowship is not only between the believers and the Triune God, but also among the believers themselves.

Because we have been called into such a fellowship, we should not say that we are of Paul, of Cephas, of Apollos, or of any other person. Neither should we say that we are of a certain doctrine or of a particular practice. God has not called us into the fellowship of persons, doctrines, and practices. We have not been called into the fellowship of Paul or of anyone else; neither have we been called into a fellowship related to a doctrine or practice. We have been called uniquely into the fellowship of God’s Son. This means that we have been called into the reality, the embodiment, of the Triune God. In this fellowship we enjoy the Triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In this fellowship we also enjoy all the believers, and the believers enjoy us. Furthermore, the Triune God enjoys us and all the other believers in every place.

Would it not be marvelous if all of today’s Christians realized that they had been called into this fellowship? If this were the situation, the world would become like the garden of Eden. There would be no need for the millennium, for the millennium would already be here. However, the actual situation among Christians today is altogether different. Many things have come in to replace Christ as the unique portion of the believers. Even demonic and satanic things have come in. Nevertheless, God has determined that in His economy one Person—His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—must be everything. He is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and He must be constituted into us to become you and me. As we pointed out in the Life-study of Colossians, in the church as the new man, Christ must be everything and everyone. Christ must be the reality of the church. He must also be the reality of every doctrine and practice. The reality of our baptism is Christ, and the substance of our communion is also Christ. If this were the experience of Christians today, how excellent would be the situation among us all!

The actual situation among believers is very sad, even tragic. Christians may have many things, but lack the reality of Christ, the living Person. In today’s Christianity there are thousands, even millions, of items and things. But where can you find the reality of Christ, the living Person? The situation among the believers in Corinth was an example of this terrible shortage. For this reason, in 1 Corinthians Paul points out to them that it is wrong to say that they are of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or even of a narrow Christ. That is altogether contrary to God’s economy. In God’s economy there is room only for Christ.

I appreciate Paul’s word in verse 2: “With all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, theirs and ours.” Here Paul speaks of all those who call upon the name of the Lord and of every place. Then he says that Christ is both theirs and ours. Concerning believers and places, there is no difference. No matter where you may be when you call on the name of the Lord Jesus, Christ is both yours and also the portion of all the saints. In every place, Christ is theirs and ours.

God does not pay attention to anything other than Christ. Why then do we pay attention to so many other things, even other persons, in place of Christ? Certain of the believers in Corinth devoted their attention to Paul. To them Paul would say, “Why do you pay attention to me? I am not worthy of your attention. And why do some of you prefer Cephas or Apollos? They should not be the objects of your attention either. Neither should you concentrate on practices or doctrines. No person, practice, or doctrine is worthy of your attention. Your attention must be focused solely, wholly, and absolutely on Christ, the One into whose fellowship we have been called by God.”

CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD

Perhaps you are wondering how we can enjoy this fellowship. We can enjoy it simply by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus. However, if we say that we are of Paul, we are actually calling on the name of Paul. To say that we are of a certain person means that we are calling on the name of that person. Every name other than the name of Christ must be set aside, and we must exalt only one name—the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the name of the wonderful One into whose fellowship God has called us. The way to enjoy this fellowship is to call on the Lord’s name. The more we call on the name of the Lord, the more we enjoy the fellowship into which we have been called. To repeat a matter we have emphasized earlier, we have been called by God to call on the name of the Lord Jesus. By calling on His name we enjoy His fellowship and participate in it. How wonderful! I urge all the saints to learn to call on the name of the Lord Jesus.

LEARNING TO HAVE NO PREFERENCES

It is crucial that the saints in the Lord’s recovery learn not to have any preferences. The saints in a particular church should not prefer one elder over another. All such preferences must be condemned. I also wish to make it emphatically clear that you must not prefer Witness Lee or prefer to be in the place where the ministry is located. Some have asked me if I intend to move elsewhere. Those who inquired of me concerning this went on to say that they intended to move there also. This is a personal preference, and it must be condemned. There should be no preference for Witness Lee or for the ministry. Our only preference should be Christ. We all should be able to say that our preference is the all-inclusive and extensive Christ.

Some may say, “You may prefer a certain brother or even prefer the ministry, but I prefer Christ.” Even this preference is wrong, for it is actually a preference for a very narrow Christ, not the all-inclusive Christ revealed in the writings of Paul. This narrow Christ may be your Christ, but it is not Paul’s Christ. Far from being narrow, Paul’s Christ is universally extensive.

We also should not have any preference with respect to churches. We should not prefer our local church above others, or some other local church above the church in our locality. We should be content to simply be in the church in the place where God has put us according to His sovereign arrangement. Yes, 1:2 does speak of the church of God which is in Corinth. But in this verse Paul goes on to mention every place. We should be willing to be in the church of God anywhere. If the wind of the Spirit blows you to a certain locality, you should simply be in the church there, without any preference. If after a period of time the spiritual wind blows you to another city, you should be equally content to be in the church there. Regarding churches, we should not have any preference. We should never say that we prefer the church in our locality or in some other locality. Rather, we should be able to say, “My preference is only in Christ. I am willing for the wind to blow me in any direction, for in every place Christ is the same.”

We should not have the concept that we can enjoy Christ more in a particular locality than we can somewhere else. We should not think, for example, that we can enjoy more of Christ in that place where the ministry may be located. Actually, if the Lord sends you to a certain city, perhaps for the start of the church life there, you may have more enjoyment of Christ in that place than if you are in the city where the ministry is located. However, if you go to this city out of a preference for that place, you are wrong. Do not go anywhere because of your preference. Instead, simply allow the Lord to lead you in any move you make.

If all Christians preferred only the all-inclusive Christ, the entire world would be subdued. Even a region such as Southern California, a place people consider an entertainment center, would be subdued by us. In addition, New England, a region sometimes considered the graveyard of religion, would also be enlivened through the saints’ enjoyment of Christ.

TAKING CHRIST AS EVERYTHING

I am burdened that we all understand what the Lord’s recovery really is. God’s intention in His recovery is to recover Christ as everything. It is to recover Christ as the unique center of God’s economy and as everything to us as our portion for our enjoyment.

As we consider the Epistle of 1 Corinthians, we see that here Paul gives us an illustration. This does not mean, however, that we should follow the Corinthians in their way of having the Christian life, the church life, and the Body life. On the contrary, it means that we should not complain about the church in our locality. We should not think that the local church where we are is inferior and that, according to our preference, we should move to a place where we imagine the church life is better. We need to see that wherever we may be, the actual church life is like that described in 1 Corinthians. Since we are all in such a situation, what should we do? First, we must drop every name other than the name of Christ. We should drop the names of any persons or servants of God whom we may prefer, and we should also lay aside all denominational names. Furthermore, we must turn from all doctrines and practices and take Christ, the unique center of God’s economy, as our everything.

In the first nine verses Paul lays as the foundation Christ, the unique center. In this unique center we have a unique and all-inclusive fellowship and enjoyment, the fellowship of Christ. In 1:10 Paul begins to deal with the eleven problems found in 1 Corinthians. In dealing with all these problems, Paul makes it very clear that the unique solution to all problems in the church is Christ and His cross. The only answer is Christ and Him crucified. By pointing to such a unique solution to the problems in the church in Corinth, and to the problems in every local church as well, Paul uplifted Christ and exalted Him. Paul was crystal clear that the only solution to our problems is Christ and the cross. Therefore, with 1:1-9 as a good foundation, we can begin to appreciate Christ and the cross as the unique solution to all problems in the church.

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