For our meditation at this time I want that we should read from the first letter to the Corinthians at chapter 2. Chapter 2 of the first letter to the Corinthians:
"And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
"Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, which are coming to nought: but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world knoweth: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, 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. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Now, the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ."
And one fragment from the second letter and chapter 3. I want to condense this eighteenth verse of chapter three: "But we are transformed into the same image." We are transformed... that is, we pass from one form to another.
As I have moved about amongst Christians in many parts of this world, and in many situations, one thing has been growing upon me more and more strongly. In the presence of a great deal of confusion amongst Christians and many complications in Christianity, the feeling that has become stronger and stronger with me is the need that Christians should really know what Christianity is, really what it is that they are in as Christians. That sounds, perhaps, rather drastic, but I am quite sure that a very great deal of the trouble - and I think we all agree that there is a good deal of trouble in Christianity generally - a very great deal of the trouble is due to a failure to really understand what Christianity is. And it may seem strange that I should come to speak to you, mostly experienced and more or less mature Christians, about the true nature of Christianity. Well, if you feel that that's presumptuous and hardly called for, be patient, and I think before we get very far you will feel as I do: that although we know a good deal about Christianity as it is in the New Testament taught, we too are very often in difficulty ourselves for the simple reason (or the profound reason) that we haven't really grasped the meaning of what we are in.
May I say this to you (and a moment's thought I'm sure will make you agree) that this major part of the New Testament, particularly after the book of the Acts, I mean all these Letters which make up the larger section of the New Testament, it is all bearing upon this one thing: to make Christians understand what Christianity is. And if that created the New Testament, and it was all to Christians, surely we have to conclude that even New Testament Christians needed Christianity explaining to them, that even then there was this necessity of just defining the real nature of that into which they had come.
Well, begin with the Letter to the Romans. Was that necessary for Christians? And it was written to Christians, but what was it written for? To put them right in the matter of Christianity! Apparently those people were not quite clear in their position, in their lives, in their hearts, as to the implications of that into which they had come by faith in Jesus Christ.
Proceed, as we are going to do, into the Letters to the Corinthians, and what are they? Set over against a background of real confusion and contradiction, as we know, in Corinth, those Letters were written really to try to make those Christians understand what Christianity really is. And so on and on through the New Testament that is the object of it all; that we and all who believe in the Lord Jesus, should really have a clear understanding of what this is, of the meaning of the name we bear, the meaning of that which we believe and into which by faith we have come by the grace of God. And we can gather it all up in this simple statement: that the whole Christian life is an education as to what Christianity is. Is that true? Do you not sometimes stand in the presence of some situation, some difficulty, some trial, some complication, some perplexity, some experience, and say: "What does it all mean? What does it all mean? I am a Christian. I have put my faith in the Lord Jesus, I trust in Him. I am His, but I don't understand what it all means. My experience... why? I'm going this way, but why has this come my way? Why is my life such as it is?" These many things are so full of mystery and perplexity. "What is it that I have got into? Is this, is this Christianity? Is this really what I have to expect and accept? If so, I need understanding, I really do need enlightenment, I need help, as a Christian, for this thing is often beyond me altogether."
Alright, that's the setting - is that true? Well, if there is anyone here this evening who has never been that way, never had a moment like that, whose path has been so nice and smooth, with everything so right and perfect and well adjusted and without any kind of trouble, I think I'll excuse you if you would like to get up and go home again, for I haven't anything to say to you! So I must assume that if you don't go out, you agree! And I think that's true.
Well now, what is it? What is it? What is the point, the point at which these words in 2 Corinthians 3:18 are focused? "We are transformed...", we Christians, and it is the present active tense: 'We are being, being transformed'; the process, we are in a process of transformation, passing from one form to another. There is a sense in which that fragment, that condensed verse, put into those few words, touches the heart of the whole New Testament and explains everything.
Well, having said that, we come back to the chapter which we read, the second chapter of the first Letter, and this Letter (indeed both of these Letters, and I go further: all the Letters, but this as an example, a very good example) this Letter is built around two contrasted words, they are in this second chapter of the first Letter. Those two contrasted words describe two different types of humanity, two different manhoods, and between the two, firmly and squarely, the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is planted.
Look at the chapter and read it again, read it in the light of that last statement: "When I came to you... I determined, determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified", and everything afterward rests upon that distinction; the distinction here between these two types which the Cross divides and says: 'That belongs to one category of human beings and this belongs to another category of human beings.' And there is a cleavage cut by the Cross of Jesus Christ between those two which separates them and makes them two different species of mankind. That, that truth follows right through this Letter. You must read the rest of the Letter, and the second Letter, and as much more of the New Testament as you like, but read through this first letter with that which I have just stated in your mind. The apostle here speaks about a foundation and a building. He says: "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ, but let every man take heed how he builds thereon...", and then he drives the wedge of the Cross right in, right into the superstructure, and he says of one kind of work and works, for "every man's works shall be tried by fire" he says, "Let every man take heed how he builds", one kind of work or works which are the product of one kind, one type of man, or Christian, and another kind of work or works, are the product of another kind. The first is going up in the flames, in smoke and will never be found in eternity. It has gone for ever. The second will abide. That's the apostle's word: "will abide" will abide! It will abide the fire, the test, it will abide time, it will abide everything and be found in the ultimate structure, the building of God.
You see, he is applying this principle of the divide, the divide between two kinds of people, Christian people, and two kinds of work, or fruits, from each respectively. And the building, he says, as to its eternal value, will be determined by who is producing it; what kind of man, manhood, is producing it. Which of the two is producing this building? Building on Christ, building on Christ... think about that! These are not non-Christians. What an immense amount is being built upon Christ that is going up in smoke! And I say it's going to be determined, "for every man's work will be tried by fire," and its real value and its endurance will depend upon where it comes from, that is, from which of these two types of manhood.
Now you are wondering what the two words are which define the two. Well, you read the chapter, chapter 2 of the first Letter: "Now, the natural man... he that is spiritual." There are the two words: the natural and the spiritual Christians - not unconverted people, not non-Christians. Is it necessary for me to put in all the detail to confirm and ratify what I am saying? May I remind you that the apostle Paul had been in Corinth for two whole years with these people! And I don't know what you think, but if you had the apostle Paul with you for two whole years, going in and out, concentrating upon you, what you would have had! There he was for two whole years, amongst them going in and out, teaching probably every day, for some time. And then he went away and he went away for five years. He was away for five years and then he sent to Corinth to get... well, he'd heard some things which were reported by the household of Chloe. He got a report. I wish everyone would do what the apostle did - not take the report without investigating it. He got the report, but he immediately dispatched a reliable messenger to investigate, to either find the thing was not true or to find that it was. The messenger went and came back, and said: "It is all true, and worse; worse than the report." In five years... the deterioration.
You are perhaps are startled by that, shocked, and will say: "Can it be?" Ah well, remember the messages to the seven churches in Asia in the Revelation, remember how those churches began, all of them. There were wonderful things in those churches at the beginning. Read the story of the beginning of the church in Ephesus, my, what a movement - a move against such tremendous antagonism and hostility - they came out clear, and brought all their magic books, and the price is given (a tremendous amount they represented in human values) they brought them out into the street, perhaps the market place, or some open space, and set them all aflame; burned the whole lot. That is thorough-going devotion! Where are you with that church in the Revelation? "Thou hast left thy first love. Repent, repent! Consider from whence thou art fallen...". What can have happened? What can have happened? Well, I put that in by way of emphasising this possibility, at least, of declension.
Why, why, why in Corinth, why in Ephesus, and why in all the others that declined as they did? You come back to the two men: the two men inside of one man, the two men instead of each individual. It is not a dividing of a company into this category and that category, but the two things in a person. You know, we are all, if we are the Lord's, in some measure at least, natural and spiritual. Do you agree with that? Well, it doesn't need arguing does it? You know, I know. The question is not whether we are altogether perfect and there is no more of the natural in us. That's not the point. The point is: Who is dominating? Who is governing? Which of the two? Here at Corinth, as we see by the Letter, it was the natural man that was in control, the natural man in the men (and the women) that had taken ascendancy over the spiritual man.
The two words, then, are 'natural' (and you need not that I should tell you that the Greek word is 'soulical') and the 'spiritual'; the spiritual. The man of soul - the man of spirit - always in conflict. Who is going to have the upper hand, the mastery, in every one of us? The two are in each person.
Now, what is this natural category, this "natural" species? Well, look at the Letter again. First of all, first of all the dominance, ascendancy, and control of intellectualism. We read the chapter, read it again: the wisdom of this world. The wisdom of this world; that is the thing that is being marked and underscored as a part of the trouble at Corinth; the control of intellectualism: the natural reason, the natural mind, the idea, the idea that you are going to solve the problems of life along intellectual lines. Will you tell me that that is not a peril of Christianity today? Why, it's everywhere! It's everywhere, it shouts at you from the religious press. You may not read so much of it, but it is my business to be familiar with what is happening, what is happening in the Christian theological world. And I tell you, friends, that as I receive certain Christian magazines, theological magazines, I find death. They are wearisome to the spirit. All this terrific effort to solve the problems of Christianity by the human intellect; the research, argument, discussion and debate, theses, and what-not; philosophical Christianity trying to solve spiritual problems; and what a weariness it is! I put down these papers sometimes, I can't finish the things, they are so dead, so utterly lifeless. And that sort of thing is everywhere. Everywhere! It is thought that if you go to our seats and seminaries of learning with a clever brain, able to put out a convincing argument, you are going to save those souls. There was never a greater fallacy!
And this Letter to the Corinthians says that. Read this second chapter again, it's saying that, Paul is saying that. Paul was an educated man, so much so that for two thousand years the best scholars have found him beating them at every point, and they haven't mastered him yet! Go to your religious bookshops and look at the shelves on the expositions of the New Testament, and you will find that Paul predominates.
I got a book by one of our leading professors of theology in the university and it was called A Portrait of Peter. This man, with all his learning, with all his learning set out to give us a portrait of Peter. I opened the book and I found that the first few pages were wholly occupied with Paul! He couldn't get to Peter because Paul was in the way, and the issue, the issue of his attempt was: "Well, Peter's a great man, but Paul was very much greater!" Yes, this man Paul was an educated man, an intellectual man, a learned man. You cannot, you cannot discredit Paul along that line, not at all, he will beat you every time in that realm. But, listen: "You Corinthians, when I came to you I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, I was with you in fear and trembling! I had determined, made up my mind, come to this resolved position that I would know nothing amongst you intellectual Corinthians save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." What was Paul's conclusion? "It is no use, however much I may have of the schools, whatever I may know, however I might be able to argue with the learned Corinthians or Athenians on Mars Hill, I will get nowhere along that line with a spiritual situation like this. I have made up my mind." It is part of the natural man to think that you are going to be able to build up something by intellectual, scholastic, academic acumen. The fact is what intellect can build up, intellect can pull down! What the Spirit of God builds, nothing can pull down.
Then look again at this prominent word: power. Wisdom, power, that's in the chapter: power... power. And there at Corinth there was a worshipping of natural power, ability to conquer by natural strength. You can call it 'powerism', for it was an 'ism' there. "Crush by your superior strength, impose something forceful, mighty, upon people, and you will win. Be only strong enough and you can solve all the problems and change all the situations." 'Powerism' - the natural man's idea of how it is going to be done.
And then, as is shown so clearly here, intellectualism, powerism, emotionalism has a large place - going to capture, captivate and master, and gain your end by force of emotion: stirring up people's feelings, playing upon their feelings, working upon them until, until they make a response, almost hysterical. And if you do that well and thoroughly, you will get some Christians by that means! The apostle is saying: "Not at all, not at all." It's evident that these Corinthians were very emotional people, you see.
What does the apostle put over against those three aspects of the natural man? Over against the wisdom he puts foolishness. He says "through the foolishness of the preaching"... that some might be won, the foolishness of the preaching... foolishness! It's a great thing with the apostle Paul is "foolishness", if you'd like to go through his writing: "We were fools for Christ's sake" counted as foolish. What did he mean? Well, he didn't mean be simpletons, or what we immediately take to be the meaning of being foolish. What Paul meant by foolishness was the denial, the denial that intellectualism can find out God. "The princes of this world, and the wisdom of this world did not find out God", he said, could not find out God, could find out nothing to do with God. Are you recalling the whole chapter? "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: neither can he know them." Neither can he know them! The denial that all the wisdom, the philosophy of the Greeks as there in Corinth where they boasted of this thing so much, all of it, never got through the barrier, never got through the barrier to find God; never could succeed. That is what he calls foolishness, what he means by foolishness, that all this power of mind projected and asserted in any way whatever, will come up against the barrier and not get through, will not find God, or the things of God. It is all written off as foolishness when the quest for God is pursued along that line. How foolish it is! And he gives a wonderful, almost a startling example of this: "The princes of this world's wisdom, by their wisdom, killed the Prince of Life." Not much sense in that, is there? Not much logic in that, not much philosophy in that!
So he puts what he calls 'foolishness' over against their wisdom, meaning a positive denial registered by the Cross of the Lord Jesus that mere intellectualism can find God and the things of God. It cannot, because that kind of man cannot, he cannot. The natural man cannot!
Over against the powerism of this mentality of the natural man, the apostle almost glories in using the word 'weakness'. He says that even Christ was crucified through weakness, and he is always speaking about his own weakness and glorying in it. What does he mean? He means this: the denial that this kind of human grip, hold, force, tenacity, assertiveness, can achieve anything in the spiritual world. My, what a building we are tearing down aren't we?!
Let me just put it this way. What the apostle means, and he says it, he puts it actually into words what he means is: the ability to let go. The ability to let go, to relax your natural tenacity and let go. Do you know that has been the test of man right from the beginning? Was it the test of Abraham, to let go even what God had given him in Isaac? The test of this man's real spirituality was his ability to let go. Was it true of Jacob? Was he a man of tenacity, of determination, a man who would get what he wanted at any price, at the cost of anybody else's convenience and wellbeing? He's going to get it. Isn't that the issue of Peniel, or Jabbok? "I will not let thee go!" That's Jacob! He has been like that all his life, holding on, tenaciously holding on to what he wanted, what he got or what he intended to have. But the finger of God touched the hollow of his thigh at that time, now you can see that he is a cringing man, how he meets his brother Esau after that!
You are not going, whether it's Abraham or Jacob or any of the others that we might mention, you're not going to get through with God fully and finally by your own natural determination and tenacity. One of the great lessons of the Christian life; is it not true friends? One of the great lessons of the Christian life is how to let go to God. Oh, of all the exhortations to be strong in the Lord, to endure, to "quit you like men and be strong", it does not mean with this natural strength. It is another kind of strength, and a very different kind of strength, a strength which is only seen by our ability to let other people sometimes have their way, to get what they are after and set us at nought, to hold, grip, maintain things in their hands to our disadvantage, and our real strength is in our weakness. I said the apostle had put this into words. Read the second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians: "He emptied Himself, though He was equal with God", emptied Himself, took the form of a bondslave... became obedient.... Well, has it proved to be the right thing? "We are being transformed...". Do you see the point now? Well, we haven't finished yet.
Over against intellectualism - foolishness; over against powerism - weakness; over against emotionalism - what? The denial that the quest, and craving, and pursuit of sensationalism will get you there. For I believe that was the heart of their lust for, and I use that word, their excessive desire, their outreach of soul for spiritual gifts. It is always impressive that it is to the Corinthians, more than, far, far more than to any other church in the New Testament, that so much is said about spiritual gifts. These demonstrations, this display, these things that you could see and glory in because you could see, it's all out. And I am quite sure, from what we read, that if you had gone into some of those gatherings in Corinth you would have seen some terrible things, shocking things, the behaviour of hysteria as they made these spiritual gifts, as they thought, as they thought, the ground and nature of their spirituality - and they are the most unspiritual church of all. Balance, balance over against unbalance, lopsidedness in the Christian life.
Do you notice one characteristic of these Christians, one defect which is written so clearly and so largely here in the Letter? The lack of the power of spiritual discernment, spiritual perception. And the absence of spiritual discernment and perception and spiritual intuition which warns, which says inwardly to you in the presence of things: "Go steady, go steady! Don't be carried away! Don't be thrown off your balance! This thing may be all right in its right place, under proper control, but be careful!" There is a snare in every spiritual gift, and if you make the gift the main thing and not the spiritual meaning of it, that thing, which in itself may be quite right, will lead you into trouble, get you into trouble. I am recounting a lot of history you know, when I say that. Perhaps some of the biggest problems that some of us have had to do with in people have been the result of this unbalanced quest for the manifestation and sensational aspects of Christianity. Our asylums are full of people who did that.
Well, perhaps some of you are not able to understand all this, but this is the situation here, and I am only saying it to show that there are these two orders, two categories of what I have called "species of humanity" which have their residence within one shell of the human body: soul and spirit. They're there, and the apostle writes to these same people - because the second Letter is only a continuation of the first in principle or on the principles, "We are being changed from one form to another". What is going on? What is the process of the Spirit of God in the believer? What is the meaning of all this that the Lord allows to come our way: this discipline, this chastening, these trials, these adversities, these difficulties? These strange things (to use Peter's word) "as though some strange thing has happened to you", things that seem strange to us as coming from God, or being allowed by God. What is the meaning of it all? To bring about the change, the transformation from one species to another, from one kind of humanity to another. Have you got that? There's something in this trial, in this adversity, in this suffering, under the sovereignty of God, there's something in this *intended by Him to make a difference in us. 'We are being transformed.'
It is certainly not wrong to have a soul! It is that which has to be saved. In the course of that salvation, the great lesson is how to keep the soul under the control of the spirit. This is what is meant by being 'spiritual'. This is truly "He that is spiritual".
[The final portion after the * is missing on the audio, but was given in this message when it was published as an article in the A Witness and A Testimony magazine in 1969, Volume 47-4 as "Christianity - A Process of Transformation".]