The Church as the House of God: 1 Corinthians 3

1 Corinthians 3  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
1 Corinthians 3
We may notice two aspects in which the assembly (Church) of God is spoken of in Scripture; first, "the body of Christ" (Eph. 1:2323Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:23); Col. 1:1818And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)); second, "the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:1515But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15); Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)). In this second aspect there is again a distinction made in the Word of God between the building as it will be in heaven, when every living stone will have been fitted into its place and the whole have grown "unto a holy temple in the Lord," and this building viewed as at any time existing on the earth. Of the former it is evident that Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18) speaks, where the Lord declares that against what He builds the gates of hell shall not prevail; and again Eph. 2:20, 2120And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:20‑21), where the whole building is "fitly framed together," not yet completed, but "groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord." Of the latter our chapter especially speaks, besides Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22), 1 Tim. 3:1515But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15), a n d other passages, where the assembly of God as existing upon earth, and not in its future, is viewed as "the house of God," "the temple of God," "a habitation of God through the Spirit." This was formed on the day of Pentecost by the gathering together in one of the children of God who before were scattered abroad; and the Holy Ghost descended and filled the house—the assembly of God -with His presence.
But ere we proceed, one thing should be noticed with respect to the assembly as the body of Christ. In that, Scripture speaks of a Head and members vitally united together by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12:1313For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)). In the house of God, on the contrary, we have stones and a foundation, and cornerstone an d a master builder, or architect, and the living God as He who dwells in it. To confuse one line of thought with the other is ruinous to "rightly dividing the word of truth." Moreover, there is no such thing as a member of a church; in Scripture, it is membership of "the body of Christ," and a member of Christ can never cease to be a member; the figure of the natural body is used to show its oneness; and of this natural body, Psalm 139 speaks: "In Thy book all my members were written,... when as yet there was none of them." How much more true of those who were given to Christ before the foundation of the world. (Compare John 14:1919Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (John 14:19), "Because I live, ye shall live also.")
His body is Himself—His own "flesh"—which He nourishes and cherishes; a n d therefore there cannot be such a thing as a false member of the body of Christ; but there may be bad materials built into the house, as we shall see. And further, this union between Christ and His body is so intimate that in 1 Cor. 12:11Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. (1 Corinthians 12:1)2 The whole body; that is, Head and members, is called "Christ," just as in Gen. 5:22Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (Genesis 5:2) it is said that God made man, male and female and called their name "Adam."
Returning to our chapter, we note that all the saints, at any time existing upon the earth, are not only living stones of the heavenly temple, but have been gathered together by human instrumentality into the assembly of God; or, to keep the figure used, built into the temple in which the Spirit of God dwells; in the case of the Corinthians, by Paul and other laborers.
But let us bear in mind that there is not a trace in Scripture of such a thing as independent churches forming themselves into associations according to their own convictions. The only thing known in Scripture is "the assembly of God." Into that the New Testament workmen gathered—the house of God—into that the stones were built. In verse 10 Paul declares that the grace of God was given to him as the architect, and he had laid the one and only foundation—others might build on it, but other foundation could not be laid. Mark, what is spoken of here is not the foundation of a sinner's salvation, but of the building which is the habitation of God—His temple upon earth.
There has been no other architect but Paul appointed by God; there can be no other foundation laid, though many have taken the place of master builders, and laid down the foundations for the churches they sought to form, in creeds, confessions of faith, etc.
Alas! we in this dispensation have done so, and formed churches according to our own patterns, one of the chief reasons being, that the idea of "God's house" has been lost; and the Church has been regarded more as the dwelling place of saints than of God the Holy Ghost. For it is evident, if we regard it as the dwelling place of God, His dwelling must be according to His own mind; and any departure from it is a step toward bringing it into that condition when it could no longer be His habitation, though His patience is long, and His true saints will ever know His presence with them till they are caught up to heaven. The foundation then of the house of God upon earth is "Jesus Christ," and Paul says, "I have laid the foundation"; but note when the heavenly temple is spoken of, apostles and prophets are the foundation stones (Eph. 2:2020And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; (Ephesians 2:20); Rev. 21:1414And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:14)), Jesus Christ Himself being t h e chief cornerstone.
To return, Paul having laid the foundation, others built on it. "But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon." "Gold, silver, precious stones" might be built, or "wood, hay, stubble" might be added; it depended upon the builders, but the coming day would declare it. Paul himself could look forward to that day, and view his work in the light of it; those whom he had gathered, he looked to be his hope and joy and crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord at His coming. The work would stand when tried by fire; such a one's work would abide, and he received a reward. "Ye are our glory and joy." 1 Thess. 2:2020For ye are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20).
Second, a converted man is supposed (v. 15), but his work will not stand the fire—the scrutiny of God's holy judgment. He suffers loss as a workman, though he himself is saved, "yet so as by fire." It is as a man who has surrounded himself with possessions, from the midst of which he is saved, but they are burned; his work is not his "glory and joy."
Third, there is not only a bad workman, but he himself corrupts the temple of God. He is corrupt himself, and therefore he is a corrupter. "Him shall God destroy." Now mark what was the occasion of this solemn warning of the Apostle. The Corinthians were a clever people in this world, and they were beginning to bring their own cleverness and energy into the temple of God; they had not learned to become fools that they might be wise. Our own wise thoughts are our greatest hindrance. "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain." To bring in human wisdom into the assembly of God is so far to begin to render it unfit for His habitation; it is as if Bezaleel had deemed that his own wisdom could deviate from the patterns given to Moses, instead of which he had wisdom given him to follow out the patterns.
Thus far we have looked at the building. If we now turn to 1 Corinthians 12, we shall there find the Spirit giving us by the Apostle, as it were, the furniture and services of the house as he received them from the Lord. "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant." 1 Cor. 14:37, 3837If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. (1 Corinthians 14:37‑38). Alas! we may say again, that we of this dispensation have been careless as to the building, so that not only have other foundations been sought to be laid, and bad materials built in, but the internal orderings of the assembly also have not been according to the commandments of the Lord.
The first point the Apostle notes is the Lordship of Christ, of which the Holy Spirit was the witness. The assembly is the sphere of spiritual gifts or manifestations. Anything spoken derogatory of Jesus was not of the Holy Ghost, and no one could say Jesus is Lord but by the same Holy Ghost. Here then is affirmed a solemn first principle, that the Holy Ghost bears witness in every spiritual manifestation to the Lordship of Christ. Compare Heb. 3:66But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:6): "Christ... Son over His own" (that is, God's own) "house." "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit"; and He divides to each "severally as He will" (1 Cor. 12:4, 114Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:4)
11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (1 Corinthians 12:11)
), so that all needful gifts are from the Holy Spirit. Again, "There are differences of administrations [ministries], but the same Lord." All services are directly under the one and same Lord. "And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."
In whatever way (and there are diversities) a service is carried on, the energizing power is of God. To use a figure, the various members of my body are gifts to my body. Take my hand, as an example. It is one of the most necessary and important, but with it I feed myself. That is a ministry to my body. But how is the operation of feeding myself to be wrought? It is by the enabling power of Him in whom I live and move, and have my being. So in the assembly. There are gifts of the Holy Ghost; the ministries are under the Lord, and the enabling power is of God. It is not because I have a gift that I am to use it either at my own will, or under the will and control of others, save as all ought to be subject one to the other, as "God hath tempered the body together," but under the Lord Christ. If this had been recognized at Corinth, there would not have been the confusion there was, nor would they have gloried in man, had they recognized that it was not human power or wisdom, but God who operated each gift in each one—"It is the same God which worketh all in all" (1 Cor. 12:66And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. (1 Corinthians 12:6)).
The Apostle then speaks of the varied gifts and, using the comparison of the body, shows how all were in the unity of the body, and not for self. My hand cannot be for itself, nor for one part or other which it may esteem more highly, but for the body. "Now," says the Apostle, "ye are the body of Christ" (v. 27); and "God hath set some in the church [assembly]," etc. The ordering of the house then in its services and furniture is of God; and what we need to realize is, that any other order is confusion. It may not appear so to human wisdom—with it human arrangement would be best—but in God's house it is ruinous disorder.
I would notice the difference now between the sign-gifts; that is, such as were for signs-tongues, miracles, etc.; and edification-gifts, as teaching, exhortation, etc. In Ephesians 4 we have no sign-gifts mentioned at all. There the Spirit is more speaking of what was the body and bride of Christ, of what He nourishes and cherishes, and will finally present to Himself without a spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. We find then that the gifts mentioned there are for the perfecting of the saints, etc., "Till we all come... unto the measure of the stature of t h e fullness of Christ"; that is, they continue till each individual member of the whole Church is come to the one perfect Man in glory. We are now all growing up into Christ by the ministry of these abiding gifts: first, apostles and prophets-those we have in the Word of God. And oh what wisdom of God to give them to us in that way, so that we have unchangeable foundations! "Are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:2020And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; (Ephesians 2:20)). Then we have evangelists, pastors, and teachers—for gathering first, and then perfecting the members of the body. These we may always count upon. They are gifts of the Spirit, given by an ascended Lord, who has led captivity captive for the nourishing of His own body.
But the Apostle tells us in 1 Corinthians 14 that tongues were for a sign, not to those who believe, but to them that believe not. God has given to the assembly not only gifts for its own edification, but those whereby it might minister the grace of God to the world. First and foremost, tongues, by means of which every man might hear in his own dialect in which he was born, the wonderful works of God. Nor were the bodies forgotten, but gifts of healing told that the gospel of God was not words only, blessed as they were, but active love to men; and we find, consequently, that while handkerchiefs from Paul's body healed the sick Ephesians (Acts 19:1212So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:12)), as a witness accompanying the word which all Asia heard, yet Paul left Trophimus, himself an Ephesian, sick at Miletum (2 Tim. 4:2020Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick. (2 Timothy 4:20)), and that when he was begging Timothy to come to him; not that some in the Church were not healed, as Dorcas, but the aspect of such gifts was to the world.
Two things might be affirmed as reasons why they have ceased: 1) the unfaithfulness of the Church, which was already using her ornaments of grace, as in the case at Corinth, for self-exaltation and show, and not to exhibit to the world the worthiness of her Lord; 2) and the fact that Christianity is now "believed on in the world" (1 Tim. 3:1616And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)) and needs not miraculous power to establish it; that has been done. But, on the contrary, we are told that in the latter days some shall depart from the faith, and give heed to seducing spirits, etc. (1 Tim. 4:11Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; (1 Timothy 4:1)); that is what has happened. At Corinth they came "behind in no gift." We no longer have sign-gifts; but it is important to see that what we have is set by God in the assembly, and ordered and energized by Him.
In chapter 14 we have distinctly the ordering of the assembly, which the disorder of the Corinthians had upset.
The great thing was, "Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church." "Let all things be done unto edifying." So much was this to be sought that the prophets were to speak two or three, and the others judge. We can easily see that at any meeting more than two or three speaking would not be to edification. Profit would be lost if too much were given to digest. All might speak if they could do so to edification. If there was a revelation, all must give place to that. We cannot have that now, as revelation is complete; but the order of God's house we can maintain as against disorder. Moreover, it is true that "where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst." That abides, though the unity of the building has been destroyed; and of no section can it be said that it is "the assembly of God"; yet there is no other ground for those who bow to the Lordship of Christ to take than to gather to the name of Jesus Christ, to maintain that He is Lord of all ministries and services, to own the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost, who abides, as sent by Christ, and not on account of our faithfulness, and that all gifts are His, and that the power of using them is alone of God, as also the power of worship. It is useless to assume anything; it is blessed ever to count on the faithfulness of God, for "He abideth faithful"; and thus, What we have, hold fast till He comes.