"From the same apostle to the church of God in Corinth..." that, of course, is historically true, spiritually it is the word of God for the church anywhere today as much as it was to the church in Corinth. And the message is very up to date, and the apostle puts his finger upon a point which makes it so.
In his first letter, at the point now marked in our division of the letter by chapter 10, he reaches back - right back in the history of Israel to their exodus from Egypt, their passage of the Red Sea, and their life in the wilderness. And he says "these things were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come". So in that reach back he takes hold of those things and brings them over the many centuries, right into the time when he was writing, but the time in which he was writing did not comprehend all that is meant by "the ends of the ages." What he meant was that we are in that period of this world's history which will terminate with the coming of the Lord again. And right up to that time, these lessons have got to be applied, taken account of, they are for our admonition so that we can truly say that we are not just considering a New Testament writing which relates to some past time and situation in the history of the people of God, but that this word of the Lord belongs to us and must be taken quite serious account of by us, because it bears very much upon the end time.
What I mean is this: that the instruction here is going to count a very great deal in the life of the Lord's people when the Lord comes. It's going to have a very large place in decisions which will be made then. We, this morning, referred to the foundation and the superstructure, and the apostle's warning "in the day... that day" everything will be tested by fire. Well, that is exactly where we are. So, we are in that period and position when we come to consider what is here from the Lord. It's going to bear very much upon the great judgment of life and its works in the day of the Lord. That sounds, of course, serious, solemn - and it is - although I trust not somber.
Now let us come again, then, to these letters to the Corinthians. And we're going to get more into them, I trust, at this time, to the very heart of them so that we may get to the real meaning and lesson that they are intended to teach.
These two letters circle round two men, or two types of men. They are called the natural man on the one side, and the spiritual man on the other side. That difference and distinction is made in other ways through the letters. When the apostle, for instance, speaks about the first Adam, and then the Last Adam. He is only in another way and by other words, referring to these two distinctly different classes of men; what he calls the "natural man" and what he calls "he that is spiritual". And it is quite clear that he puts between the two, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and our union with Him in resurrection. That comes out very clearly in the second letter in chapter 5. Between these two stands the resurrection by which the two are distinguished. The natural man is the man who lives, mainly, if not altogether, on the pre-cross side; conditionally. The spiritual man is the man who lives, if not altogether, mainly, on the resurrection side of the Cross.
Now, let us say here at once, it may be or it may not be, that the apostle was dividing the believers in the church at Corinth into these two categories, absolutely, as people. That is, that he was saying, "Now some of you in Corinth are what I call spiritual men and some of you are natural men." That may or may not have been. I think it is more likely that he was meaning that "some of you are living more on the natural line or side, than the spiritual, and others are living more on the spiritual side." Whether that be so or not, dear friends, I am quite sure that you will agree with me when I say that the battle is not always between such clearly defined and clearly cut classes of people that you can say about certain [ones], "They are absolutely spiritual" and that these are "absolutely natural." What I find is that the battle between the two is in myself; these two men are in me and they are in you, and they are more or less in all believers. And the whole issue is one of the side on which we are living, toward which we are leaning, which it is that is mainly governing us and dictating our course. And, of course, the appeal is to get right off the ground of the natural man and right on to the ground of the spiritual man. That is the way of spiritual growth to maturity.
The apostle is not speaking to unconverted people. He is speaking to saved people who are in a state of spiritual infancy and immaturity and that unduly so, because of their leaning toward the natural side of their makeup more than toward the spiritual. Now, that may not be the most perfect way of putting it. I would stay and try and explain that better, no doubt I could do so, but I think that fairly clearly represents the situation.
Spiritual growth, then, is a matter of movement, transition, from one kind of man to another. The Lord would have us all, as fully as possible, the other kind than the natural.
Now, we have said that the thing that stands between these two things is the resurrection. We have sought this morning to point out that the large place that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus has in these letters is very significant. It is here in this matchless fifteenth chapter of the first letter, and it is again in the fifth chapter of the second letter that "they which live should henceforth live not unto themselves because..." because all died in Him. I say that this is very significant.
The place that this matter of resurrection holds is not just as many have looked upon it: Paul's answer to a question which has been sent, included in a big questionnaire by the Corinthian church. They had, as we know from what he said and says, sent a number of questions for him to answer. His answers are found after the first chapters in the first letter. Perhaps amongst them there was this question about the resurrection, the nature and form of the resurrection: how are the dead raised up and with what body do they come? He says some men will ask that. Whether this chapter is his answer to that or not, it does not matter. It is perfectly clear, I think, that as he opens that section and begins to deal with that matter, he does so by saying, "Now, as to the gospel which I preached unto you."
This is something more than answering a question of merely mental interest - and we'll come to that again in a minute - one of those questions that people ask out of curiosity, you know, "Which of the planets in the vast constellations of the heavens is heaven itself, where the saints are going to?" Well, you can ask questions like that if you like. They're merely speculative, curious, of the mind. Lots of questions like that are asked. Paul goes beyond - far beyond anything speculative, anything that is just of this character of curiosity, even about the resurrection body of believers. He said, "Now the gospel which I preached unto you, which you received, by which you're saved, in which you stand." And he brings that in as an offset, or as set over against, all these conditions in Corinth. It really is a mighty, a mighty rejoinder to something much bigger than a curious question. In effect he is saying, "Now, here are all these conditions about which I've had to write so much - miserable stuff - that I hate even putting down on paper. Here are all these conditions, but they represent a state of natural life which contradicts the meaning of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. You Corinthians may be positionally saved, positionally on right ground, the foundation of Christ, but in condition you are an absolute contradiction to your position! Your condition is a denial of your position."
And so he brings in this matter of the resurrection. And you will notice that here, as in chapter 2, he puts a tremendous emphasis upon two kinds of persons: the natural in the first Adam, and the spiritual in the Last Adam.
And, of course, you have to be a little familiar with the language that he actually used in order to get to the heart of it. When he spoke about the natural man, he used the word soul - "now the man of soul," the soulical man. And he set over against that man, the man of spirit: the spiritual man. It's a little technical, but when he comes to this part about the resurrection, he says, "The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, the Last Adam a life-giving Spirit". There's a difference in the two men. The first, the first soul man of the earth: earthy. There's a distinction between these two kinds of men. And he says "In resurrection you're on the ground of what is spiritual. It's spiritual man, because here it's Christ spiritually. We don't know Christ after the flesh any longer. We don't now know Him as a Jew, even as Jesus of Nazareth, as the historic person of Palestine. Now our knowledge of Him is spiritual knowledge, wholly and only spiritual knowledge." He transfers that to believers and said, "It should be like that with us!" Well, I've got to come back to that again in a few minutes.
But what I'm trying to indicate to you is this: that these letters circle round these two types of men: the natural - what kind of a person he is, what he does, how he behaves, how he thinks, what he says. And my, what a lot there is there about that. What a lot there is. Far too much for us even to refer to, but it would be overwhelming, dear friends, if I were to bring it to you, what is here by verse, statement, and inference as to how they behaved and what they were saying. "And that," he says, "is the man of the soul, the natural man who produces that kind of thing." That is just the fruit of something that lies before the resurrection. But on the other side, how different it is. What a different situation obtains on the resurrection side.
Well, we'll look at it. Here, then, are the people before and after the Cross and the resurrection. A man who is not in the real good and effect of the meaning of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and a man who can be, should be, and is to be in that good. Failure to understand this matter of the nature of resurrection union with Christ is what we have here in this first letter drawn and painted in very dark and somber colours.
What is the main difference? Can we focus it down upon any particular thing that explains the difference? You look again, even at the very word itself: natural, or soul, and then see it in its context. You will see that the man who is not living on the resurrection side of the Cross, who is not the spiritual man, is the man who is ego-centric, or self-centred. Self-centred, whose selfhood in every respect governs and dictates his course. The aspects of that selfhood are very many. I leave you to trace them out in these letters - there's too many for our study now, very many indeed: self-defense, self-justification, self-preservation, self-advancement, self-assertiveness, and on you go. The centre of the life of that man is: himself, his soul, his ego.
On the other side:
The Spiritual Man
The man of the resurrection is Christ centred. Christ centred. The centre of his life is Christ! All his concerns are for Christ. His interests are Christ's. All that he is living for is the honour and the glory of Christ - Christ in the centre for him.
We might anticipate a little by pointing out that this is the very thing that the apostle sought to impress upon these Christians, in answer to all the charges that they were leveling against him. The charges being levelled against him... you know this second letter, dear friends, is almost from start to finish Paul's reply to charges levelled against him. They are very terrible indeed. They were levelled against his person. They were levelled against his teaching. I think it's better not to commit ourselves even to a mentioning of them, only have we to indicate some of them about himself: "He is mean and contemptible in his own person. He is boastful about his knowledge and revelations. His letters are very strong, but his presence is contemptible and abject." And on it goes. I've made a list like this of the things that are indicated as things to which he is answering. He had spoken about ministry given to him being not in the wisdom of this world, but in the hidden wisdom, the mystery. And they snapped that up and said, "His gospel is a mysterious thing that no one can understand." See what a lot he has to say about it. So it is. All this is here.
I say the second letter is almost entirely an answer to all these charges against himself, but the thing that he is doing (and it's the only right thing for any man who answers charges to him) he is not out just for self-vindication, to establish his own rightness or righteousness, he is prompted by one thing and that is this, and this runs through everything through it: "Really, after all that you say, after all the cruel things, all the untrue things, all the wicked things that you say, I am a man with a passion for my Lord. I am a man committed to Christ. If, as you say, we are beside ourselves (in other words, he's mad) it is for your sake, it is for the glory of God. All right, we'll be mad, but even our madness must be used for the glory of God! That's where our heart is." You see the point, it is, after all and through all, and in all, a man with a heart for the Lord. That's the answer to everything. Yes, there may be truth in a lot of these things; not all of them, some of them, he may be weak, if you like. His person may be something that you despise. There may be that about him that you do not like or take to. His kind of teaching is not the thing that you would go after. All this and a lot more, but behind it all and beneath it all, there's a heart absolutely consumed for his Lord and that is the answer - the only answer - to give, "Oh, Corinthians, if only you would stop looking as natural people upon me with your natural eyes and seeing in me what you think naturally, but if you would focus upon the Lord Jesus, what there is of Him and know men not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That, that would indicate spirituality on your part. That's how the spiritual man goes to work." You see the point? Two kinds: the spiritual man is the man who has spiritual judgment.
Now, the apostle, as you'll notice, in the early part of his first letter, does focus upon this matter of the mind, the judgment. In chapter 1 and verse 10: "Now I beseech you, brethren, through the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
In chapter 2, verse 16: "For who hath known the mind of the Lord that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. The spiritual, he that is spiritual, judgeth all things."
He focuses upon this matter of the mind and judgment. Now, you see, we must be careful about what we're getting at. This describes whether we are spiritual people or not. This determines on what side of the Cross we really are living; whether are governed in ourselves by the first Adam or the Last Adam: it's our mentality, our mind, our judgment, our standard of judgments. The error of the Corinthians was to exalt the natural man; exalt the natural man, firstly because of his learning. Note chapter 2 of letter one: all about the wisdom of this world.
The Wisdom of This World
What a lot the apostle has to say about it and what emphasis upon it: the wisdom of this world. And the meaning was this, "You Corinthians, living on the natural side and the side of your souls, think, think so much of the wisdom of the natural man, the wisdom of this world, that you put him above the Holy Spirit." That's exactly what it says.
And it works out in this way, dear friends, people think that because a person is very highly educated, has great scientific knowledge, or industrial knowledge, or political knowledge, whatever knowledge there is in this world, because someone has that in large measure, they are the people to go to and ask questions about spiritual matters. You will take their judgment on spiritual matters before you will take anyone else's. All right, what does the apostle have to say about that? Referring to the wisdom of this world, its philosophy, its knowledge, all its education, its wealth, as was centred there in Corinth itself, all this is written off as nil in the realm of the things of the Spirit.
Now, let there be such a man, the natural man with all that the world can give by academic instruction, by philosophical study, by research and every other pursuit of knowledge, let there be a man or let there be men like that who have it all, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them". So don't consult the wise of this world about spiritual things on the basis of their natural wisdom, because it's fatal! It's fatal to do that. It may be very helpful if he happens to be a spiritual man as well as an educated man, has a facility for presenting his case because he has a trained mind; that's another thing. But to allow his judgment to influence any course in spiritual matters on its own value, is to do a fatal thing. It is to contradict this: that the natural man in the wealth of his wisdom cannot! He just cannot know the things of the Spirit of God. And that is that.
But they were exalting the natural man, making a mark of the wise of this world. And tell me, is that not always a peril? You come into touch with a highly educated person, is not your peril at once to make something of them? To make something of them, to give them some place in church affairs, to honour them amongst Christians, more than others? Let me put it the other way. Those who are not so furnished, advantaged, capable, learned; the poor, the illiterate - what sort of a place do you give them, and that sort of thing? Is not the peril always to set them at nought, to count them as not counting for much? Having no room for them? You say, "After all, what are they?" The apostle is striking a tremendous blow at anything like that, saying, "That is sheer and utter natural mindedness." And it's ruled out, it's ruled out of this realm of the Spirit as a ground of appeal or even of admission.
No, he sets over against that the spiritual man and he says, "You see your calling, brethren, not very many wise, not many mighty, not many noble." God hath chosen the foolish, not because He puts value upon foolishness as such. Not because He holds a brief for ignorance, but because He sees the possibility of giving something that so often the natural man's self-sufficiency closes the door to. If we are poor and if we are ignorant and we know it, but at the same time we are not just living on that and saying, "Well, I am poor and ignorant and therefore nothing is ever possible for me," but: "I am all that, I am all that. But the Holy Spirit is quite an extra to what I am and can make good all my deficiencies and give me even more than those who have everything in themselves." That's the position, you see, between the natural and the spiritual.
On the matter of wisdom he passes at once to the matter of power - the power of the world, "Christ crucified, the wisdom and the power of God". Now they were exalting the natural man on the basis of his power. What power that may have been it's not stipulated, but we can easily guess. Perhaps it was the power of his position in the world, of influence amongst men. Perhaps it was the power which was in his hands because he was a successful man in business - the power of success in this world - or other kinds of power, but this is the world. And they were saying, "Now, you see, that man, he's made a success of it! He has gained eminence, he's in a good high position! He's a strong man! He has a lot of influence, therefore that man counts for something!" And so they were making an idol of this world's power and they were saying, "That's the thing! That's the thing, you know. Be successful, get position, get into a position of power. That's what you must do in this world, that's the Greek ideal." The apostle comes down on that as he does on the matter of wisdom, to speak about his own weakness - much about his own weakness. And he puts a tremendous premium upon weakness here, because it gives God an opportunity!
Now, tell me, dear friends, is not our peril here, often even in the church as in the church at Corinth, giving place to those who are something in this world? Worshipping the idol of worldly success, saying, "You know, he's made a success of life." Or, on the other hand, "Well, he's a failure. He's a failure. He's a misfit. He's never succeeded at anything. Despise him, rule him out! Give him no chance." And the apostle says, "That is the natural man; pure and simple. The spiritual man doesn't do that. On resurrection ground there's a chance for everybody. On resurrection ground there are tremendous potentialities because that is the ground of the Holy Spirit." We'll have to speak more about that.
Now, this mindedness betrays, you see, the mind as to fellow believers. You see it here as to fellow believers, how they despised the poor, the ignorant, and the weak, and how they would go to law against their own brethren in Christ to get their own rights. Thus, thus despising members of the Body of Christ. That's a mentality of the natural man.
Our attitude toward, our judgment of fellow believers betrays our spirituality or unspirituality as to the world and, as I have said, as to the servants of the Lord - their preferences, their biases, their prejudices. Paul was a case - an outstanding case in point - of their mentality about the servants of the Lord, judging naturally after the flesh the servants of the Lord. Paul says, "No. No! Whether it is I, or whether it is Apollos, or whether it is Peter, we are after all but the servants of Christ, ministers of Christ. Look upon us like that. With all our faults, and all our weaknesses, and all that you can say about us, and you'll never be able to say worse than we'll say about ourselves, for we know better than you do. Nevertheless, with all that God knows, we know, and you may think you know, spirituality on your part requires that you look upon what is of Christ. Make more of the anointing than you do of the vessel. Indeed, make everything of the anointing." That is spiritual mindedness. How searching it is! How challenging it is. You and I, whether we can understand and appreciate all that is being said in this way, will understand this: that the great thing that is required of us is that we should be spiritual men and women in these ways, that we should be men and women of the Spirit of Christ.
That just perhaps will lead me to close with an underlining of one thing: the difference between the world's standards and heaven's standard. Where does this head up in the apostle's letters? He lays himself out to try and attract and to draw their attention to the heavenly glory, the treasure deposited in the vessels. And then he says, "We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, not of ourselves." What is he saying? "You Corinthians are making so much - far too much - of the strength, the wholeness of this world's men. The Lord makes everything of a broken man, a fragile man. And the test of spirituality will, after all, be the measure of a man's brokenness before the Lord."
I'll listen and you will listen to a man whom you know has been broken. You will listen to the word of the Lord through a vessel conscious of utter dependence upon Him for everything and you know it to be so. You will be helped if you know that this is not just retailing of Christian teaching, doctrine, and truth, but this is born out of a deep and anguished history in the spiritual life of the Lord's messenger. And if the Lord's messenger is like that, you'll meet the Lord. You'll meet the Lord. And that is spirituality. And that is spiritual value.
You will not misunderstand me in putting it like that. I'm speaking of principles. Principles. We are not prepared, we are not prepared to take our instruction from anyone whom we know has never been broken upon the anvil of God. Clever, intellectual, successful, strong, holding position, and everything else in this world, but we are not going to have anything from any such unless we know they've been through the mill with God and what they say comes out of a travail of soul in the presence of the Lord. Then, all right, we'll not only listen, but we'll be helped.
Now, that is what the apostle is talking about in these letters. You can read them again in the light of that. Read the first five chapters, or four chapters of the second letter, and you'll see that's all that this is about. That's all this is about: the vessel that's been in the presence of God, emptied of its own fullness and glory and strength [and power]. A vessel of fragile clay. Nothing to depend upon in himself, but what the Lord has done there and put there. That is spiritual value, spiritual vision.
May I say again, Paul was writing to a church, while he put his finger upon the individual, he was writing to a church. And in effect, he was saying, "Oh, that the church in Corinth were like that. The church: a broken church, an emptied church, a weakened church, a humbled church, an utterly dependent church whose spiritual value has been born out of anguish, and travail, and sorrow". A church like that will have a testimony, will have a ministry, will have an influence, but it will not be according to the standards of this world, but according to the standards of heaven.