Practical Pioneering - A Special Gospel Effort
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
It all began with tent work. Not perhaps as we think of it today, but the foundation was laid and the development envisaged during hours and days of hard labour. The Lord never honours laziness. The willingness of Paul, Aquila and Priscilla to dirty their hands in honest service opened the way for spiritual construction. And they progressed from tent to temple through a series of experiences that proved the fallacy of the thesis sometimes expounded, “Evangelisation without Tears”. There are never any short-cuts in the Lord’s service. The path to the throne lies through the garden of Gethsemane to the cross.
Interest in the Gospel message in Corinth led to weekly meetings in the synagogue. Then the opposition of organised religion caused their removal to the house next door. The early believers were always at their best when on the move, e.g., Acts 11. 19-21, and drawing-room or house meetings brought the people in. The leader of the synagogue, Crispus, was soundly converted, as was his successor, Sosthenes. The Gospel of Christ is the most upsetting factor in human history, 17. 6.
But the political authorities were unconcerned. They seldom have any inkling of what is really happening or why. The pompous Caesar never realised that he turned his empire upside down simply to bring a young peasant woman from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It is hardly likely that the Corinthian news centres made any mention of happenings in the house of Titius Justus. If men depend on newspapers, television and radio to know just what God is building up today, they certainly would be an ignorant people. In Corinth a work had begun. God had planned the beginning; He envisaged growth and development. Many people in the city would believe the good news. There is nothing that brings more joy to the believing heart than to be in the middle of such Corinth-like experiences. Are they known where you are?
Growth and Development
These are the words to underline., “ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building”, 1 Cor. 3. 9. Throughout the two epistles the apostle, labouring with God, speaks as the planter, 3. 6, and the wise master-builder, 3. 10, working and praying, teaching and rebuking, so that there may be growth and development in the local church in the power of the Spirit of God. Similar thoughts are found in Ephesians 2 and 3 where the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord, and where the rooting and the grounding are in love. The local assembly should never be regarded as something that came into being accidentally and whose doors can be closed without anxious thought on the part of anyone. The development must continually come from God Himself, and if this is non-existent, then the lessons learned from this epistle should constitute an effective remedy, removing the causes that dwarf and hinder.
The world, the flesh and Satan are opposed to anything being built up for the glory of God. Their aim is a tumble-down house and a weed-infested field, and alas, in so many parts of the world, these abound as proofs of the successful intervention of the evil, opposing forces. This is no cause however for pessimism or despair. When Paul, whose teaching is continually directed against jerry-building and jungle chaos, comes near the end of the letter in which he has drawn attention to all the dangers and suggested the remedies, he writes, with a note of triumph and assurance with regard to the future, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”, 1 Cor. 15. 58. Abundant growth and development on a solid foundation will follow that which is according to God’s thoughts.
The Divine Blueprint, 1.1-9
Before examining minutely their condition, Paul describes the position of the Corinthians and outlines the perfections of the local church truly enriched by God, Here are believers as God wishes them to be, and the various faults and failings mentioned in the chapters which follow can be set in vivid contrast to the beauty of their spiritual standing. The believers, set apart in Christ Jesus, are called holy ones, and are conscious of their link, in this capacity, with all those that everywhere call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their true wealth lies in one gift or another freely granted by the wonderful grace of God. The outward revelations of this deep, inward spiritual work are expressed in speech impregnated by that true knowledge of the things of God that alone furnishes stability in the witness. There is nothing nebulous in their appreciation of Him. Their attitude is influenced, not by the present or the past century, but by the power of the age to come as they eagerly expect and await the revelation and the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their planning is based on His coming, and the thought of being irreproachable in that day their major concern; contrast 4. 3, 13.
Everything depends on the faithfulness of God, and His willingness and capacity to honour His promises. The circle to which they have been called is the fellowship of His Son. How these truths cut across all that the human mind esteems and to which it clings so tenaciously. This is God’s blueprint for the building-up of the testimony. Confirmation in verses 6 and 8 speaks of the desired stability. In so far as leaders have deviated from this, in their pursuit of earthly riches, their substitution of human knowledge for divine gift, their evident planning for this world, their party spirit, their worship of meaningless tradition, their illicit business associations, or their buttressing by human means of those things that in themselves would clearly witness to the faithfulness of God, in that measure has the local witness been jerry-built and the husbandry of God ruined by rapidly-growing weeds.
The blueprint itself is most encouraging and as we continue to study the weaknesses, we shall often re-read this passage. It is most beneficial to remember the breadth of divine possibilities and to long and pray ardently for their expression. The faithfulness of God will assure the carrying out of His plan, 1 Thess. 5. 24. Hence, “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory” is the later joyful exclamation of Paul, 15. 57. The gates of Hades will not prevail!’
Pride of Party and Pride of Intellect, 1. 10 to 3. 23
PRIDE OF PARTY
It ill became privileged Christians to squabble. This was certainly not a gift from God, either in word or in knowledge. But squabble they did! Losing sight of the absolute Headship and Lordship of Christ, they descended to the level of party politics. They vaunted the qualities of the leader of their choice. Making much of Paul’s pioneer work, of the eloquence of Apollos, or of the devotional ministry and ordered family life of Cephas, they formed their clans. Then there were those who claimed the monopoly of Christ’s leadership, but of an artificial, restricted Christ. They reduced the blessed Lord to the level of party bickering. They put Him on the same platform as His own bond-slaves. With their smug, superiority complex, they were perhaps the most guilty of all. And they prattled on!
Man’s mind craves tangible leadership on an earthly level that will create the right impression in given circles. “Make us a king to judge us - like all the nations”, pleaded the elders of Israel. “And from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people”. But such blind allegiance costs dearly, and has done across the centuries. Peter’s wish to place Moses and Elijah in separate tabernacles with Christ led to their rapid removal. The bright cloud of the Shekinah glory of God will never brook rivalry from inferior sources. The disciples saw no man but Jesus only. All other leaders must pale into insignificance in the light of His presence. God has exalted Him supremely!
The antidote to the party spirit is the cross of Christ. The crushing of the serpent’s head leaves room for no other but that of the risen Christ, head over all things to the church. As we view the Beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased, and in whom the Holy Spirit finds rest, how can mortal man, with feet of clay, aspire to leadership and the attracting of partisans?
What a warning to every budding Diotrephes, puffed up like the frog in the fable of La Fontaine, and endeavouring to justify at all costs a policy of self aggrandisement and to become leader among adulating admirers. “Was Paul crucified for you?” It is not possible to boast in fleshly capacity and to glory in the cross of Christ at the same time. Many of the personality clashes that so mar the testimony would never occur if the thorn-encircled brow and the once-bleeding features of the crucified Christ dominated the vision. God has exalted Him far above all. In the measure that He leads men, men lead. Resurrection power depends on the extent of death in personal experience.
THE SKULL AND DEICIDE
The wisdom of this world and the wisdom that is from above are in two absolutely different categories. They must not be confused. The exclusive criterion is “the word of the cross”, R.V. The Jewish religious chiefs and the Gentile political heads, the leaders of this age, 2. 8, were worldly-wise men. They followed their carefully planned and much discussed schemes to their logical end. When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified the Lord of Glory. The apex of man’s wisdom is the murder of the Son of God. The master plot is expressed in the words, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours”, Mark 12. 7,
The dominant factor in present-day planning is worldly wisdom. Civilisation so-called is geared to the policy of a solution without divine intervention. More than that. The rebel spirit screams, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us”, Ps. 2. 3. Man’s independence-plot has been revealed more clearly in recent times. We are surrounded so much on every hand by this influence that we have almost ceased to sense it. Present day education, with its plausible explanations of the problems of the universe following natural reasoning, has eliminated the Creator God. The sad feature is that, now and then, a young man or a young woman from Christian circles clings to the text-book and jettisons the Bible. The time has come to face facts, and to recognise the nature of the God-destroying rubbish that is being injected from earliest days into the minds.
The assembly of God is not thus built up. Famine conditions prevail where human intelligence is the sole source of church edification. Mr. Worldly Wiseman had a great deal to say to Christian, but his diatribes never set forth the way to the cross. The Corinthians, like many other continental peoples whose languages are conducive to philosophical expression, loved discussion. The search for wisdom was perpetual. “What is truth?”, asked Pilate; “What will this babbler say?”, cried the Athenians.
Into the midst of all this confusion came the Word of the cross. It told of the ignominious death, in tragic conditions, of One who had been laid in a manger at His birth, who had worked as a carpenter in a small, despised, provincial centre, and whose most devoted followers had been the outcasts of society or simple fishermen. This was not at all the kind of message to attract respectable, cultured, civilised, proud men and women. But the wisdom of God had thus conceived the proclamation. The Word of the cross would bring the human skull, impregnated with worldly wisdom, into the nothingness of the crushed serpent’s head. Fleshly pride would be completely crushed. The Jews might stumble, the Gentiles gape, but hearts humbled and convicted of sin would find in the proclamation of the Christ crucified the power and the wisdom of God. When this message is preached in this spirit precious souls will glory only in the Lord.