Reading: John 3:3,6,8,10-13; 1 Cor. 2:7-16: 3:1-4.
When we were opening the matter which the Lord has laid on our hearts for this time, one of our remarks was that the whole of the New Testament is concerned with the superseding of the earthly man by the heavenly Man, and we have been proceeding to see something of how true that is. I could enlarge that and say that the same is true of the Old Testament, bringing the whole Bible into line with that - the superseding of the earthly man by the heavenly, the displacing of the one in the interests of the other.
We have also seen how the letter to the Romans fits right into the third chapter of John at the point marked by verses 14-21. We have seen how the two men, Nicodemus representative of the earthly man, and Jesus the Son of Man, facing each other, had nothing whatever in common, but were looking at each other across a great divide. And then how the Cross is introduced, and in the mystery of identification they both go down into death: the one earthly man is left forever behind in the grave so far as God's view is concerned; the other, the heavenly Man, is raised and goes on eternally. That is the letter to the Romans, the focal point of which is chapter 6.
The Earthly Man and the Spiritual Man Found in the Individual Christian
Now it is very easy for us to see from the passages which we have read from John 3 and 1 Corinthians how this first letter to the Corinthians fits right into that third chapter of John. The first statement, "Ye must be born from above", defined as being born of the Spirit, the nature of that is said to be spiritual - "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" - and the tremendous impossibilities connected with the earthly man are removed when we're born of the Spirit. Far reaches and ranges of Divine thought and intention are immediately opened up, and that is all marked so clearly for us here in this letter to the Corinthians. We are immediately in the presence of two men when we open this letter: the carnal or natural man, and the spiritual man. Now it is not two men outside of Christ, the two men occupy one body. It is Christians, but divided Christians. I am not speaking of Christians in the plural, but Christians individually. Divided Christians are creating a divided condition outside. The fact is that there is a schism here, a division in the Christian. The two are found in a place which is altogether contrary to God's intention; carnality on the one side, and spirituality on the other. The carnal man bringing arrest upon the spiritual man; the spiritual man finding himself unable to go on, under strict and severe limitations because of the carnal man alongside of him. This whole letter proceeds to show how these two are opposed to one another, and how impossible a situation it is for them to coexist.
The Earthly Man's Standard of Values
What the letter really amounts to is just this. It says, in effect, the born from above man must not follow the earthly man, must not try to go on hand in hand with the earthly man. The letter is almost entirely full of the earthliness of this carnal man, but over against him, shadowing him, is the spiritual man. We find earthliness here in Christians in three categories of earthly standards.
(a) In regard to wisdom
The question of wisdom is a perfectly and purely earthly standard with these Corinthians. They are regarding as the thing of importance, the supreme thing, the wisdom of this world. Their attitude is that if you are endowed with this world's wisdom in any extra sense and fulness, that constitutes you somebody of importance, it is that that makes you important.
And then there is another aspect of their earthly standards. They look at people and judge people entirely from the earthly standpoint. If you are somebody as a person on this earth to take account of in a natural way, even though you might be a very spiritual person, your spirituality gives you some influence and some standing, and therefore your spirituality is misunderstood and misinterpreted, and you are made something important naturally by your very spirituality; so subtle is this earthly man. That of course is borne out by the way they looked at the apostles. One said, "I am of Paul." Why did they say, "I am of Paul"? They judged him naturally. Paul had endowments, spiritual values, spiritual measure, spiritual influence. Paul was a spiritual factor, but they did not say, "It is the spirituality of Paul that makes Paul what he is", they said, "Paul himself is an important person, is someone to take account of". They missed the spiritual meaning and just made something of the man and did violence to that which made him the influence that he was.
Others said, "I am of Apollos". Apollos had certain qualifications and qualities of which we know. He was mighty in the Scriptures, he was an eloquent man (Acts 18:24-25). He could reason and argue and out-argue, and that appealed to the earthly side of these people, and they judged Apollos purely from the earthly standards. Others said, "I am of Peter"; the same standard of judgment: not their spirituality as accounting for what they were, but simply the fact that they were something, and that is the thing that matters, that you are something, not that you are spiritual. How carnal that is, how earthly that is. That is done a very great deal. People are looked at superficially concerning their standing, their influence, their value, and the person is made something of simply because of the position they hold, and not how they got there, what it cost, all the travail and anguish and crucifixion of self that gave them that position before God.
Of course, the only outcome of viewing things in that earthly way, from that standard of earthly values, was divisions. "Are ye not as men, earthly men when you say these things?" That is just men, not the heavenly Man, by any means, but the earthly man. I shall come back there again, perhaps, before we are finished.
(b) In regard to behaviour
The second category of earthly things here in this letter is that of earthly behaviour. Oh, the conduct, the behaviour, of these people as it is set forth in this letter, is terrible and shameful: disclosure, license, lawsuits, legality, the Lord's table. Earthly behaviour in all directions and connections - shameful behaviour - the earthly man in the church.
(c) In regard to 'spirituality'
Thirdly - I am going to use a phrase which will sound strange, certainly sound like a contradiction in terms - 'earthly spirituality', There is a lot of it about. That is, pulling heavenly things down on to earth. These people gloried in spiritual gifts. Paul says they were spiritual gifts. The Lord gave them from heaven, but these people, because of their earthly position, pulled them right down from their heavenly realm and made them earthly and gloried in them as things for bringing men into prominence and for bringing gratification to the natural life, the soul-life of man. It is nice to see these extraordinary things at work. Tongues is extraordinary, supernatural, out of the usual, but if it is made something in itself it will not be long before there is fanaticism. Fanaticism is not of heaven; it is devilish and it destroys the church. Earthly 'spirituality'. I could dwell a long time upon that in its many and various forms. I am simply indicating that in this letter we have on the one hand the presentation of the earthly man as he comes into the realm of heavenly things and disturbs the balance, upsets everything, and creates a situation which is a violation of the very nature of things heavenly and a contradiction to that which is born of the Spirit.
The Oneness of the Heavenly Man
What the Holy Spirit is saying through the apostle in this letter is that a heavenly man will not do these things. None of these things will be characteristic of a heavenly man.
Take as an example this matter of divisions. Paul says here, or the Spirit through Paul says here, "This is carnal, this is natural, this is earthly". "As men". These divisions are the earthly man aspect of things. "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal... do ye not walk after the manner of men?" (1 Cor. 3:1-3). It is not forbidden that we should, in the perfectly human sense, be men. The Lord does not want us disembodied spirits. That is not what is here, but when he speaks about being as men, he means this earthly man, and you are forbidden to be that, and he says that divisions among the Lord's people are a disclosure of the fact of the earthliness of the Lord's people and he sets over against that the heavenly Man, and he gets to chapter 12 - one body, one Spirit, and the complete interrelatedness of all the members of the body. And here, in answer to these divisions, he asks, "Is Christ divided?" The heavenly Man is not divided, and the expression of the heavenly Man is the church as one body, and he comes back with that to the Lord's table. "The loaf which we break, is it not our communion, our participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16). "One bread, one body". This is the heavenly Man, and there is no division in the heavenly Man, all divisions belong to earthliness, they are characteristic of earthliness, they are signs of earthliness.
There have been many things said and written about division and union, all with a view to try and bring about something more of Christian unity. Sometimes it is made a matter of essential doctrine, that we will cease to be divided by non-essentials, and we will take our common ground united upon doctrinal essentials. Sometimes it is the appeal to John 17, "That they may be one, even as we are one", the great prayer for oneness of the Lord. Sometimes that is made the ground of the appeal for oneness. There are other things that I could mention which have been set forth as the basis of Christian unity. Now, they may not be all wrong. Do not think I am taking a superior position and saying I have higher ground than that, but what I do come to here is this in the New Testament: the place at which divisions among Christians is most openly shown links those divisions entirely with the earthliness of Christians. And over against that, it shows quite clearly that in the heavenly Man those divisions do not exist and cannot exist. Therefore it is only as Christians take heavenly ground, the ground of the heavenly Man, and are conformed to the heavenly Man that such divisions will cease to affect them. That is what is here. It is a matter that we should take careful note of, this whole matter of divisions and schisms among Christians.
As we have said before, the object of John is to bring in the heavenly Man, and show how He supersedes and supplants the earthly man and, ignoring chapter divisions, see the gospel as one thing and move on to that point which is marked by chapter 17, "These things spake Jesus; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, Father, the hour is come... glorify thou Me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (v.1-5). The setting of that prayer is in eternity, outside of time. And then on through the prayer, how often "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world", "I am not of the world", "the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world", "not of the world", "out of the world", "I am not of the world". The setting is outside of time, and outside of the world, and you have to see that unity, "that they may be one" requires that setting, and you will never have it while men are earthly in their standards of judgment, in their conduct, in their 'spirituality'.
A vast amount of the Christianity today is earthly; it is according to the standards of men. The prayer of the Lord Jesus can only possibly be answered and fulfilled as the Lord's people become a heavenly people, and He says quite clearly that that does not mean that you literally have to leave the earth. "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one." "They are not of the world." It is not a literal leaving of the world. No, it is a spiritual and inward detachment and separation from the standards of this world as actuating and governing the minds, the ideas, the conceptions, of Christian people. You come down to earth, and you can extend - I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter, I am of Wesley. How many people can you mention by name? This all belongs to the same realm; it is earthly.
The Measure of Christ in Christians the Measure of Unity
The only possible way of dealing with this matter is to take the ground of Christ in heaven, and as Paul says in the second letter, "We henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh" - and the Corinthians did that. "I am of Christ", making Christ a part of it. "Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more" (2 Cor. 5:16). We know Christ after the Spirit, the heavenly Man, and our attitude towards all Christians is of that kind. We have knowledge of one another in so far as Christ is present in one another. It is the measure of Christ that creates unity. We go on just so far as Christ is dominant and pre-eminent and ascendant. When we cease to be Christ, or when it ceases to be Christ, and we begin to take up something else, we cannot go any further. We say, "I go with you so long as we meet the Lord in one another, but if you are going down that lane, we cannot go any further".
Disunity Among Christians a Victory for Satan
But remember, this is a tremendous challenge this whole question of spiritual oneness and unity. If you are concerned about it at all, and so much depends upon it, do remember that the soul of man is the playground of Satan. It is not just that Christians are divided, it is that Satan has got what he is after. He is in that way neutralising the very object for which Christ died: "By this shall all men know..." (John 13:35). You must remember that it will be a Body in perfect oneness which at the end will oust the whole hierarchy of Satan from the heavens, and division among the Lord's people is Satan's way of postponing that, hindering that, fighting against that. And that division and disunity is satanic in its source, it is something more than just misunderstanding.
We have so often said these things here, but let me remind you that if Satan can do it simply, he would sooner do it that way, because it does not betray him. If he can just in a simple way bring division between some of the Lord's people so that they are really able to put it down to simple causes and say, "There is nothing very satanic about that", it is simply that that serves Satan's end most suitably. He can hide himself behind simple things and upset Christians in their relationships by petty little things which cannot, on the face of it, be said to be a movement of hell. It suits him very much. If he cannot do it simply, he will do it by very much more drastic means, and he will carry this thing higher and higher, so that if it is not possible to bring about division between Christians by simple means behind which he is hidden, that do not manifest the imprint of his mischievous hand, he will go right up to the place where, not being able to do it along those ordinary simple lines, he will carry it into a realm where it is so utterly spiritual that you cannot track it. You only know that something has happened, and between you and another, or between the Lord's people, something has come about, a strain, a distance. You cannot say it is for this reason or that, you cannot put it down to anything at all. We have not quarrelled; we have not had any kind of misunderstanding; it is not because of this or that yet here it is: somehow or other there's a strained relatedness, or unrelatedness. Satan will follow it through like that and create a situation which is altogether unreal and untrue to practical lines of reasoning, but he will do it. Do take this to heart; it is so important if God's end is to be reached - that is, conformity to Christ, the fulness of Christ, that Christ shall be all in all, we must lay this to heart.
Earthliness Makes for Divisions
And so it is necessary for us to get off of and get further and further away from earthly ground. The plots of the powers of evil, the divisive spirits, are countless in this matter. Do you not see that it is so often when the enemy has got the Lord's people tied up with some earthly things that you will soon begin to get quarrels? Difficulties arise over the earthly things. Satan will get you involved in some earthly responsibility, some earthly liability, some temporal matters, get you taken up with some matter of machinery and organisation, the earthly side of things, and then difficulties arise, and the thing becomes burdensome and problematic and then you are going to look round for a scapegoat - and it is because So-and-so did this! Blame is going to be attached somewhere. He has got you onto earthly ground, and is going to shatter your unity by getting people involved in earthly things.
I am trying to show you that any kind of involvement in the earthly things provides the enemy with a ground for bringing about this thing of discord and strain. We have to be very careful how we allow ourselves to become involved in earthly things, how we take up earthly things as Christians. There may be some snare, some snag, in it. The enemy is presently going to bring about some trouble along that line. Simplicity of life, so far as this world is concerned, is the safest way.
Well, this is all within the compass of this letter to the Corinthians. Here is somebody who has some property. Another Christian is also involved, and here is this earthly business affair of this world. One of these people defaults in some way, or asserts some self-interest. The other Christian goes to law. Paul says, "Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers" (1 Cor. 6:6). That is an extreme case, but it illustrates what I mean. Christians involved in something, then misunderstanding or personal interest arising in some way, and then proceeding to get your rights secured unto you. It does not matter about the church, it does not matter about the Name of the Lord, you must have your rights established. The church can be split from top to bottom.
The Need to Keep on Heavenly Ground
The Lord Jesus, the heavenly Man, never allowed Himself for one moment to become involved in things on this earth. He lived an extremely simple life. It saves a lot of trouble. I know that may raise some problems for some of you, but I am simply trying to emphasise the point. We must abide on the ground of Christ as He is known after the Spirit, as the heavenly Man, as the One who is not down here like other men if there is going to be this triumph of spiritual life. If we are going to get down there on the level of man and allow our reactions to people's attitudes and conduct towards us to be the reactions of an earthly man - they give us something, we give them equal or better in word or in deed - if we are coming down on any level like that, to get even, to be even, to stand for our rights and so on, we are violating the very principle of our new birth, we are going against our being born from above. The whole New Testament says that. And you will be reproached, but you are not to reproach; you will be slandered, but you are not to answer back. You are not to meet the flesh with the flesh, the earth with the earth. You have to keep your position. Peter said, "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Peter 2:20). Keep on heavenly ground.
Only the Heavenly can be Spoken to as Heavenly
Now I want to gather all this up. There is much more in this letter. But I want to sum it up in this way. The proof of earthliness is found in what the Spirit says and in the fact that He has to say it. The fact that this letter to the Corinthians is composed of what is here is itself a proof of the state of the Corinthians. The Holy Spirit speaks according to what He knows to be the state of things. Ministry in the Holy Spirit will always betray the state of the people. You literally cannot speak of some things in the Holy Spirit among some people, "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual" (1 Cor. 3:1). In the letter to the Hebrews, you have something similar about Melchizedek - "of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing" (Heb. 5:11). "You are not in a state", the writer says, "to hear them". Think of what is held back of Divine revelation because of a spiritual condition! And here the apostle says - "Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Cor. 2:9,10). "And I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual" - there was limitation imposed upon ministry and revelation by the spiritual condition.
On the other hand, is it not a grand thing when the Holy Spirit is free to give in fulness with no restraint and the deep things of God can all come out! It shows that there is a state ready, there is an opportunity presented. The very fact that this letter has in it what it has in it, betrays the state of this people. How the Lord speaks, that He has to say things like this, just shows what the people are like. Take, for instance, one point. This letter is full of it. Take 1 Corinthians 13, the great classic on love. There is nothing like it on love in all the Bible, not because these people were so loving that the Lord could speak to them like that about love, but because they were so unloving. He had to set over against their spiritual condition something which contrasted with their spiritual state. He has to speak like this, and anybody would go down before this revelation of love. Break it up, and every one of us would have to go down on our knees and say, "That finds me out!" "Love suffereth long, and is kind." That is not Corinth, in the light of all that has been said up to this point. "Suffereth long... But you go to law against one another! Love envieth not... is not puffed up by worldly wisdom. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own." Any of those fragments will find anyone out, but how it will find out the Corinthians!
Turn over to the letters to the Thessalonians, and what have you there? "The love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth" (2 Thess. 1:3). "We need not to speak anything (1 Thess. 1:8), everybody is speaking about you, your love aboundeth, is known in all the church". It is a different way of speaking about love, it shows the state of the people. If you can say, "Your love aboundeth and everybody knows about it" there is a good state there. If you have to say, "Love envieth not... is not puffed up... seeketh not its own", it is disclosing a state.
Christ Presented According to Need
The form in which Christ is presented is according to opportunity given. That is another axiom, another truth. How is He presented in the first letter to the Corinthians? "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). "The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18). You know that word "word" there is 'logos', not just a part of speech. It is the word that is used by John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh" (John 1:1,14). That is the word Paul used here, the Logos of the Cross. Christ is presented as crucified, the Cross; and then corporately, "There is one body, one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). That is how Christ is presented to the Corinthians. That is all the opportunity that they give for the presentation of Christ. He will be presented in other ways to other people. Compare the presentation of Christ to the Colossians. There is nothing in all the Bible to compare with Colossians 1, or again, Philippians 2. How marvellous the presentation of Christ is. But here it has to be Christ crucified. What an indictment of spiritual condition!
Heavenly Revelation Calls for Heavenly Ground
What does this mean? It means this, that if we want all that God would have us have, if we desire to see Christ as God would reveal Him to us, and to give to us all which lies within the compass of those words, "Things which eye saw not, and ear has heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him", we have to give God opportunity for it, and the only opportunity is to take heavenly ground. You get heavenly revelation if you take heavenly ground; you get a full and glorious presentation of Christ if you take the ground of Christ, the heavenly Man.
It is our position which determines how far we go on, how much the Lord will give us. So let us ask the Lord, "Lord, am I proceeding on the ground of man? My way of speaking - is that man's way of speaking? My way of conduct - is it man's way of conduct? My reactions to what I meet - is that how man does it? Am I on that low level? Well, I shall not get very far." We have to come at things from above, not from beneath, and if so, then there is no hindrance to going right on. The Lord commits Himself to the heavenly Man as He will not to the earthly. May the Lord explain this to us in our hearts!