6 — The Church Growing and Multiplying

(Read Acts 2:41-47; Acts 4:31, 32; Acts 6:1-4, 7; Acts 9:31; Eph. 4:7, 8, 11-16)

We were considering last week the establishment of the church of God at Pentecost through the operation of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven by the exalted Lord and Christ. The church was then formed, but it was needful according to the purpose of God that this church should extend itself territorially, that it should expand numerically, that it should develop potentially, and become a great witness for the absent Lord throughout the world. And the subject now before us is how this development was brought about. In dealing with it we might consider historically the whole of the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the way in which the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and faith in Him were spread in those early days; and we might further consider the remainder of the New Testament after the Acts, for the Epistles, especially those of Paul, give us that holy teaching whereby the growth of the church is permanently secured. But in the time available we can only look at the matter from a general point of view, as the Lord may help.

What Growth and Multiplying Mean

I take it that the growth of the church, meaning by the church the assembly of God's people and not a material building, is its growth in love, that peculiar love which is of God, and in holiness, and in righteousness, and in faith, and in faithful testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and also in intelligence concerning what God has been pleased to reveal in His holy word. All this detail is comprised in the growth of the church, which necessarily includes the growth of the individuals.

But there is also multiplying in connection with the church. The church originally was founded in a place, in Jerusalem, and probably in outlying towns and villages also, while in other places in Galilee as well as Judea there must have been those who had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ in the course of His ministry. And these, too, with those in Jerusalem, would have been baptized by the one Spirit into the one body of Christ. Still, while a local church was first formed, it was the purpose of God that it should spread throughout the whole world, that it should multiply its companies, and that it should increase numerically. And we know historically that this result was brought about by the spread of the full gospel-story of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You will probably have noticed that we find these two words, "growing and multiplying", used with reference to the children of Israel. They occur in Stephen's address to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:17). The sons of Jacob went down into Egypt, seventy-five souls, and in a short space of time they grew and multiplied to a miraculous degree. This increase was in such a striking manner that it attracted the attention of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. He was alarmed and took drastic measures to put a stop to the marvellous increase which God was giving His chosen ones as the seed of Abraham, who He promised should be in number as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the seashore.

But the growing and multiplying, in Egypt was by natural means. Here in the Acts you have the history of a numerical increase which is altogether different from the ordinary enlargement of families and nations. You read of a few persons in Jerusalem, persons of little account so far as the world went, but believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and confessing His name, and from them emanates a power which in a single day spreads among those in that city to a marvellous and incredible extent.

Increase of the Church in Jerusalem

A man from Galilee stands up and speaks of what God has done to the crucified Jesus, and the power of his words enters the hearts and consciences of those who listen to him. As a consequence, three thousand souls are born again by the power of the burning words of Peter. It was a phenomenon altogether unknown in the world's history until that time. A man speaks and three thousand persons pass from death unto life — what does this astounding event mean? It means that the power of God has come down. It proves that the Holy Spirit is here, as promised, that Peter was full of the Holy Spirit, that he was speaking words that were not his own, but words charged with living and divine power by that same Spirit.

Through this Spirit-given witness, a great company of guilty men were brought to confess Christ and to be baptized in His Name, to leave the untoward generation that had crucified the Lord Jesus, and to associate with the company that bore His name. These three thousand souls in Jerusalem were added to those that believed; and this was how the church grew and multiplied even in that day of its birth at Pentecost.

Day by day the progression went on. Day by day the church increased. As we read, "the Lord added . . . daily." Men here, women there, children too, heard the same words of grace and power; and the same mighty result was wrought within them. They were brought to own the name of Him Who was crucified in their midst so very, very recently. Fifty days or so had passed, that was all, since that awful event.

But the preaching proceeded and the converts multiplied amazingly. Whole-hearted devotion filled the hearts of the disciples. They were prepared to give their lives for Him Who had suffered for them. The mighty change was wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Let us look at the effect as it was displayed in its simplicity and its power in Jerusalem, for it is a lesson that we, as those that belong to the church of God, must never forget. The power for growth in grace, the power for multiplication in numbers is now what it was then; the same mighty, changeless Holy Spirit of God is still here to see that the church makes its proper advance and that it does its work in announcing the glad tidings everywhere throughout the whole world.

The church rapidly increased in Jerusalem, so that we read of a multitude that were together, of a multitude of people believing (Acts 4:32; Acts 5:14; Acts 6:2). Jerusalem was very thickly populated at that season of the year and great numbers of visitors to the annual feast were also lodged in the immediate vicinity; but there was the fact that grace was working mightily among the Jews from other lands, as well as among the bloodstained betrayers and Murderers of Jesus Christ of Nazareth; the good seed was springing up and bearing fruit abundantly. God had mercy upon that guilty city that had slain the righteous, the Holy One. Their sin was at their very door, but "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound", and so large numbers were brought to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. A great company of the priests also were obedient to the faith.

Spreading Outwards

But while the testimony to the exalted Christ was to begin at Jerusalem, it was not to remain there. God saw to it that the word of the gospel should go out elsewhere from that centre. Accordingly, we find that persecution arose to disperse the disciples. A valiant witness for the Lord Jesus Christ had to surrender his life for his Master. Stephen died, and received the crown of martyrdom; but the persecution that began with him spread with unmitigated fury throughout Jerusalem.

Once the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem felt that they could injure the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in the person of His witnesses, they threw their energies into this work. Impelled by the evil one, they set themselves to stamp out the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem by persecuting His followers.

But the Lord had foreseen that persecution would come upon His disciples, as first of all it came upon Him. He had said to them, "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another." Accordingly the believers in Jerusalem were all scattered abroad, except the apostles. But in other places they did not cease their work of witnessing for Christ. They went everywhere preaching the word. And wherever they preached the word, the same Holy Spirit was behind the preaching, and the preaching was effective, so that men were brought to confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria men heard of the death, the resurrection, and the glorification in heaven of Him, Whose words many of them remembered, Whose miracles they had seen, Whose gracious presence they had missed from their streets. Now they heard that He had shed His precious blood for the ransom of souls, and that God had received Him into glory on high.

The Holy Spirit was with the preachers, and the word of God had its effect in saving many souls. But we find that those persons who believed the gospel were all gathered together into the new company formed at Pentecost. Those who believed, the new converts, were added to those who already believed, and we read that throughout Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, the church (for this most probably is the true reading in Acts 9:31) had rest and was edified. It was one church, one assembly; many meetings, many towns, many villages, but one assembly. Why were they all one assembly? Because One Spirit had come down to form the one body. As there is but One Holy Spirit, so there can be but one church, and as there is but one Head, so there can be but one body.

We read, therefore, that the whole church throughout those provinces had peace. Being edified, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, the church was multiplied. There was growth up to this point, and throughout this book we continue to read of the progress of the word of God in the enlargement of the church. It was not only in Samaria, and in the districts immediately around Palestine, but throughout Asia Minor and into Europe and Africa the word spread, and everywhere men were brought to know our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet the remarkable result was that although so many in so many places confessed Christ, there was never more than the one assembly, united to the one Christ on high and inhabited by the one Holy Spirit, Who had come down to form that holy temple unto the Lord.

So then without going further through this book for evidence, we can safely come to this conclusion, that the growth and the multiplication of the members of the body of Christ continued from Pentecost onwards. And all the time of which we read in the New Testament, the increase continued. There was no cessation; the church was a continually growing thing, for behind it was the energetic and unresting power of the Holy Ghost.

The Work of God in Building

The church is called the church of God, because its origin is of God, and it is the power of God by His Spirit that accounts for the presence and continuance of the church in the world to this day. Though sadly ruined, it is still the church of God. We are apt to judge of a thing only as we see it, but scripture shows us what is behind the scenes in the history of the church. And there we behold the mighty power of God, in contrast with the outward failure of man.

"I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace", the apostle Paul said when he was speaking of church declension to the elders of Ephesus, "I am going to leave you, but remember God is for you." "Ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building", as the same apostle wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:9). God is calling out of this world a special company, which is known as His assembly, and, when He has finished it, it will be for the praise of the glory of His grace.

There is also the present work of the Lord Jesus Christ in connection with the formation of His assembly. I think a very refreshing subject to take up as a study in the Acts of the Apostles is its various references to the activity of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are apt to think of the Lord Jesus only as One Who has for ever left this weary world, Who has done the mighty work of eternal redemption here so completely that nothing needs to be added to it. It is indeed blessedly true that He has finished His work, having glorified God the Father here upon the earth, and that now He is seated at God's right hand, His work finished, and He consequently resting there: and indeed this side of the truth it is most necessary to know. It is establishing to the heart and conscience to be persuaded that the great work of atonement is completed and that a seated Christ is the abiding proof of it.

But there is another aspect of revealed truth to remember. We ought to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is still active. When Peter, taught by the Father, made his remarkable confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God", the Lord Jesus Christ said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My church." When is that work of building His church carried on? When He went up on high, He then commenced to build. Who was it that added together those that were being saved? We are told that the Lord "added to the church daily such as should be saved." The three thousand souls at Pentecost were those that He brought into His assembly. They were living stones placed by the Builder in that new building, in that spiritual house which was to grow up by His own mighty handiwork until complete.

Though ascended, the Lord Jesus is said to be active on earth, working with His servants (Mark 16:20). As we go through the history in the Acts we find it is so. Who was it that looked down from heaven and spoke to Saul of Tarsus, arresting him in his course of persecution? It was the Lord, Who had a special purpose in doing so in connection with His church. "I will reveal especially to him that Christ and the church are one, and that the church has a heavenly and a glorious calling. To him I will communicate the mystery of Christ and the church, hitherto not made known to the sons of men."

The Lord Jesus Himself spoke directly to this man, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?" It was a real, verbal challenge, a real Person speaking real words to the man's conscience and heart. It was not a noonday dream; he was smitten to the ground, and the persons around him heard the sound of the voice. It was a substantial vision, right here in the world, and was the result of the special agency of the Lord Jesus at work in the formation of His church.

We may take comfort from the great fact. When here the Lord said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." You and I may possibly be idlers in the Lord's field, but the Lord is never idle. He is at work continually; He is building His church, adding stone by stone, day by day, as it pleases Him. The Lord has a purpose before Him that the church may be completed, and until His church is completed, He will never cease from His labour. He has also a work for each of us to do for Him, but we will come to that later.

The Personal Energy of the Holy Spirit

We need to remember that these divine Workmen, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are all concerned in the building and maintenance of the church, yet men despise the church because of its outward failure. God has revealed in His word the truth concerning the essential nature of His church, and He has associated its establishment on earth with the special agency of the Godhead — God the Father promising the Spirit, God the Son shedding the Spirit forth at Pentecost, and God the Holy Spirit founding and forming the assembly.

A more correct title of this book containing the history of the early church would be the Acts of the Holy Spirit, not the Acts of the apostles. All through it the acts of the Holy Spirit are recorded. Whatever the various servants of God did in preaching and teaching, they did as they were animated by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was behind Peter, Stephen, Philip and others guiding and controlling them and their service. For instance, the servants of the Lord wanted to go on one occasion into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not; it was not the will of God that they should go to that place at that time (Acts 16:7).

Is this directing government of Christian service a thing of the past only? Has the Holy Spirit departed from the church? Is the church an empty, tenantless wreck and ruin? No, the Holy Spirit is still here to take up those who desire to be used by Him and to use them in this glorious work of edification and evangelization, so that the church may continue to grow and multiply. Before we think about what our service should be, let us think of that blessed Holy Person Who is at work in connection with the establishment and the development of the church which will ultimately sit with Christ on His throne and reign over the earth in His name.

The Edification of the Holy Spirit

The work of the Holy Spirit does not cease because of human failure, though it may be hindered. In the Acts we get historical examples of His work outside and inside the church. When we come to 1 Corinthians 12, we shall find the nature of His work in the assembly. The Holy Spirit gives His gifts to aid the spiritual life of persons in the church. He gives a word of wisdom to one, and a word of knowledge to another for the benefit of the whole company, He provides just what is needed for the growth and development of each assembly, so that it may not be lacking in any one spiritual grace.

What is the great object of those diversities of gifts exercised by "that one and the self-same Spirit"? The 12th and 14th chapters of this Epistle show that they are exercised for the edification of the saints, for the express purpose of building up the church in the faith of God's elect.

Edification means a building process. Christ said, "I will build My church", which implies that He will continue to add living stones to His assembly founded upon the rock. He can raise up stones to be witnesses for Him, for He gives life to dead stones, so that they become living stones, and are immediately brought into and made part of that spiritual house. This is the Lord's work in building His church.

But there is also the edification or building up of saints in their most holy faith, widening their knowledge of the truth, deepening their love for Christ, quickening their activities in worship and service. Who does this? It is the Holy Spirit, working in the midst of the assembly, giving through this one and that one the necessary ministry for the edification of each and all.

We are none of us perfect, we all are lacking in one respect or another. There is One Who knows what we lack, and there is One Who can give it, One Who is prepared to give it. God's Holy Spirit abides in the midst of the assembly for this purpose. He sees one member who is declining in devotion to Christ, and He brings His word to bear upon that person's heart and conscience. He shames him, He makes him to feel that he has received so much and given so little, that he is spending his life for himself instead of living for his Master. He makes the backslider in heart to feel that he has been disobedient to the plain teaching and holy precepts that are contained in the Holy Scripture. By the ministry of the word the Spirit quickens the sluggish energies to greater activity.

In many such ways the Holy Spirit carries on His work among the saints. Because you are one of the assembly, the assembly is the place where the Holy Spirit ministers to you by means of others, speaking through them to you for your spiritual advantage and blessing. Correction is not a pleasant experience. You do not like the things that hurt, but very often the things that hurt most are the things that do most good. A cunning doctor often disguises his bitter medicine, nevertheless it is the bitter medicine that does good to the patient. There is no remedy in its sugar-coating.

But the Holy Spirit does not disguise the word of truth. He does not use the sword concealed in a scabbard. The truth comes home to you with its piercing point and sharp, dividing edge, and you know it is the truth about your naughty ways; yet you say, "I do not like the man who is telling me this. I do not like his speech. I think he might correct his own conduct, and not talk about me." You ought rather to say, "Is he speaking the truth of God, and does that truth apply to me and condemn me?" If the exhortation proceeds from the Holy Spirit, it will be to your spiritual loss if you refuse to receive it and apply it to yourself.

All the members of the body of Christ need exhortation, correction, and instruction from time to time, and these varied requirements of the assembly are met by the word brought to us by the Holy Spirit through the mouths of this one or that one. It may be simply the inaudible speaking of the Holy Spirit within ourselves. Many of us can say that some of the sweetest thoughts of the things of God in connection with the Holy Scriptures have arisen within us in the assembly, without a sound to be heard. Often and often, in those sweet silences of the gathering which are of the Spirit, He speaks to our hearts in a still small voice. Oh, for ears to hear and hearts to receive what the Holy Spirit would bring before us at such times! He is truly the great and capable Teacher; He will guide us into all truth; and He always will lead us on if we will only let Him. He is here with us to work in the church to the edification of all by means of the gifts that He Himself has given.

The Lord Gives Persons to His Church

In Ephesians 4 we have yet another side of this subject. We there read again of gifts, but they are spoken of in connection with the Head of the church, the One Who ascended up on high, and not, as in Corinthians, with the Spirit Who has come down from above. The exalted Head is the One that gives gifts unto men, and we are told that He gives "some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." He gives the persons; the men themselves are His gifts to His church.

There is thus a slight difference between the gifts that we read of here and those we read of in Corinthians. In Corinthians we read of the Holy Spirit giving a word of knowledge, a word of wisdom, or the like through one person or another. He impels one person to pray, and another person to prophesy, and so on. There the gift is the thing that is done, the action, the use of the organs of speech in the assembly but here in Ephesians, the Lord, as Head of the church, gives certain persons for the benefit of the assembly. He gave apostles; Paul and others were actual persons, who were given to secure the establishment and the growth of the assembly.

In Ephesians we are not shown how the unseen Spirit works in a variety of ways through this one and that one for the benefit of all. Here we learn that a particular person receives a particular gift from the Lord, and that gift brings responsibility to use it for the spiritual well-being of the whole church. If the Lord Who went away from this world has bestowed a gift upon any of us, then we are directly responsible for its use to Him Who gave that gift. We shall have to answer to Him; and that is why the Lord is spoken of here as the Head. The apostles, prophets and others were all in relation to the Head from Whom they derived their usefulness to the church. By and by they must all stand individually before, their Lord and Head to give an account of what they have done.

We are not responsible to the Holy Spirit in exactly that way. The Holy Spirit has not taken His place in the church on earth for the exercise of supreme rule and authority, except that He has the authority which is proper to Him as proceeding from the Father and the Son. As Isaac figuratively represented the Son, so Abraham's servant represented the Spirit. But the Lord Jesus is in the place of authority and power and supremacy in all that concerns the assembly, and He has bestowed upon the church her gifts, those persons who are responsible to Him for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

We have no apostles now. The early apostles have all passed away, but we have the apostolic writings. All that is needful for us to know we possess in the Scriptures, for the apostles and prophets have once for all laid the foundation of the church. We have the writings of the prophets as well as the apostles. Luke was a prophet; Mark was not an apostle, but he was a prophet. These two prophets wrote the mind of God about the life of Christ, each for a particular purpose in the scheme of divine instructions for the church. So we have the writing of the apostles and prophets as the foundation upon which the church rests.

Evangelists

The evangelists too, thank God, are not missing among Christ's present gifts to the church. They are those who go out anywhere and everywhere preaching the word. Philip was an evangelist, and he went down from Jerusalem to preach Christ in the city of Samaria, and then he went down into the desert to preach Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch. He was a man under the influence and direction of the Spirit of God to make known Christ where He was not named. He was a gift bestowed by the Head to go out into the world in service that Christ might build His church. Philip was to find the stones for his Master, so that they might be wrought into the spiritual edifice. He sought in the quarry of wickedness and shame for dead souls for his Master in connection with His formation of the church.

Thus the evangelist belongs to the church; he is a gift to the church from its Head; his work is intimately concerned with the growth of the church. If he is concerned only in getting a confession from a man's mouth that he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if he then leaves the convert to shift for himself, he is not doing his full work. His work is to see that the convert becomes part of the confessing body of persons upon the earth, which owns the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The evangelist should not omit to instruct the new recruit in what the word of God reveals as the truth about the church.

Pastors and Teachers

Pastors and teachers are also necessary to the growth of the church, and in the list given here the pastor comes before the teacher. Probably the pastor and teacher was often a double gift united in a single person, though not always so. A pastor is one who feeds the sheep of Christ, not one who stands up and talks a great deal of airy stuff about the higher criticism of scripture, and usually leads his hearers away into a mist of darkness, where they cannot follow him. Such are persons who "understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm." A man who is a teacher of that sort is certainly no pastor. The pastor that Christ gives is one who feeds the hearts of His saints with the bread and water of life.

We who love the Lord Jesus Christ hunger to know something more about Him. There is nothing that we value more than some new thought or some new glimpse of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is sweet to us because it is about Him. And the pastor knows how and shows us how to bring Christ into the things of daily life, into the workshop, into the busy street, into the home, into the various circumstances in which we find ourselves. We need instruction and advice about these practical matters because sometimes young Christians are not as wise as they might be, though they mean well. For instance, they sometimes talk about Christ in the office, perhaps, when they ought to be doing their duty to their masters, and that is not a wise nor a righteous thing. Again, we sometimes talk to people with a view to help them, and instead of that we drive them further away from the truth by our foolish remarks, and we never have another opportunity of saying what we should to them. We are so unwise, and need to be taught how to present Christ worthily and winningly.

The pastor is a wise person who brings the truth of God before me and down to me, so that I feel that it is just the word that want in my present associations. For example, here we are tonight, all differently situated. I cannot say what truth will suit you, and you cannot say what truth will suit me exactly. But the Holy Spirit of God knows my need and brings the suitable word before me by means of another's wise conversations, so that I see at once the truth I want. It sheds its light upon my pathway. The pastoral gift is something to covet.

How can we become pastors in the church of Christ? I mean in a very simple way, of course. We can only be useful in this service by first of all proving for ourselves the adaptability of the truth of Christ as it is revealed in the word. When we have proved the value of a thing for ourselves, we can with confidence recommend it to others. If we find a scripture that helps us in the worship and service of Christ, it is absolutely certain to help other people in the same way. We may, therefore, with confidence recommend to others what we have found good for our own souls; and so in a simple way we can feed the sheep of Christ.

Teachers are gifts employed by the Head of the church to lead on the saints in knowledge of what is revealed in the word of God.

The Whole Body Growing

Without dwelling further on the various gifts, I want to draw attention to the direct reference made in this scripture to the growth of the church. In verse 16, we read, "From Whom" (that is, the Head) "the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Here all the saints are viewed in the unity of the whole body, which makes increase of itself because of its association with the Head in heaven. This is of immense encouragement. If you are really a confessor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and belong to the one body of Christ, you are included in this supply of vital energy communicated by the heavenly Head for the well-being of all.

We are told that the connection between the Head and the body is so intimate, so profound, so far-reaching, that "every joint" and "every part" are affected. Consequently the spiritual well-being of the whole and of its parts also is secured. It follows that normally each member should contribute to the health and efficiency of the whole body of Christ. We are necessary to one another and to all fellow-members. If one member suffer, then all the members suffer in consequence.

How important I am then to my brothers and sisters! The fact that my own soul is in touch with the living Lord in glory will have a helpful effect upon all that are present in the assembly. But suppose, for instance, I go to the breaking of bread with an ill temper in my heart, I may sit down and say not a single word, but there is a smouldering fire of evil feeling within me. I am a silent hindrance in worship and prayer to every brother and sister that is there.

I ought not to have come in such a condition. I ought to have confessed this sin. I ought to have owned it to the Lord in private. I ought not to have come unwashed into the holy assembly. What I wish to convey is that without saying a word it is possible by my personal failure to mar the worship of God in a whole meeting. This is because every part of the body contributes to the efficiency of the whole. This statement applies to sisters as well as brothers, to young as well as to old, to every part of this wonderful structure which the Lord is energising. We are all so united one to another that, if anything is wrong in one person, it has an ill effect in others. The converse is also true. Let me come with my soul happy in the Lord, let me come empty of self and full of the Holy Ghost, let me come with my heart uplifted in praise to worship God and remember the Lord in His death, then the radiancy of this inward joy spreads to the others. I do not need to advertise it, the Holy Spirit is there to make it good and make it real, "according to the effectual working in the measure of every part." My right condition is necessary to the perfection of the whole; and in this necessity lies our individual responsibility.

Individual Responsibility

In 1 Corinthians 3 also we find this subject of responsibility with regard to the growth of the assembly. We ought to realise what responsibility rests upon the members of the body of Christ in, this matter. It applies to those that are taught in the assembly, and to those that teach, as well as to those that help or minister in any way. There is a great deal of instruction on this point in this chapter, but I can only briefly refer to it. You can study the chapter at your leisure.

At the beginning of it the apostle speaks in a somewhat strange way to the saints at Corinth. He says that he cannot write to them as he would like to do. Their spiritual state hindered him. It was three or four years since he had left them, and they had now fallen into a state of sad disorder. And instead of feeding them with meat as adult Christians, he has to feed them with milk as babes. Now there was a reason for this low and stunted state. He writes, "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ."

The Flesh Hinders Spiritual Growth

What was the matter, what was wrong at Corinth? Why were they so stunted in growth? They had forgotten that being now members of the body of Christ, they belonged to a new class of persons entirely. Their relationships to one another were new. In the assembly, they were not to be governed by their former worldly responsibility and worldly ways. There was a new standard, for they now belonged to Christ; and yet they had been acting just as men of the world. They were influenced by carnal motives, and there was strife among them, and divisions.

Their differences arose about something which in some respects appeared to be commendable. They did not agree among themselves with regard to the relative merits of their leaders and teachers. They had various prominent persons before them in their assembly. They well knew the apostle Paul, of course, who had been among them some eighteen months teaching the word of God. There was also Apollos, and there was Cephas too. The saints had attached themselves to these leaders in a spirit of appreciation and devotion, which, however, developed into rivalry. One said, "I am of Paul", another "I am of Apollos", and another said, "I do not belong to any of you, I belong to Christ", and a party was set up even in that way.

Thus while there was no open division, there were cliques in the assembly. And this party-spirit was just what they had been accustomed to in their unconverted days. Consequently, the assembly in Corinth had its circles of doctrine; one man was wholehearted for his teacher, and another was whole-hearted for his teacher, and they had brought these varying views and feelings into the assembly. They were looking at influential men; they were not looking at Christ as the Head of the whole body. When a man said, "I am of Christ", that is, "I have got Christ in a way that you have not", he made Christ the head of a party instead of the Head of the church. His zeal was not according to divine knowledge.

The truth was that they had allowed worldliness and self to usurp the place that Christ should have in their hearts. They were fleshly, and therefore had to be fed with milk. They could not receive the truth of God which the apostle would have loved to minister to them. And if a person cannot receive the truth of God, he does not grow up into Christ "in all things, which is the Head, even Christ." He makes no progress in spiritual things, and so there is a failure in his personal responsibility.

Individually and collectively, spiritual growth depends upon obedience to the word of God. We have an example in the early church, of whose progress we read thus: "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, was multiplied" (Acts 9:31, R.V.). The church was multiplied, and this increase followed a faithful walk.

This connection between spiritual growth and faithful walk is important to note. As members of the body of Christ, are you walking in separation from the world? You know very well that the world and Christ cannot go on hand in hand. You know that if you indulge in worldly parties, clubs, and associations, you at once acquire a distaste for the word of Christ, and soon you have no relish for Christ Himself. You are asked, "What is the matter with you?" You say, "I do not know." But you do know; it is the result of your association; you have been allowing the love of worldly pursuits to creep into your heart; and this is destroying your communion with the Lord. You do not like Bible readings; you do not like to read the word of God yourself, nor to read it with other people. You do not grow in grace and truth. Why is it? Because you have fallen into worldly ways and carnal habits. This is what the apostle upbraided them for at Corinth, and the passage provides a word of caution for all those who are being taught in the truth, lest they should by their own practical failure interfere with the church growing and multiplying as a whole.

Now, in the latter part of the chapter, Paul speaks about teaching and service in the church. He speaks of laying the foundation (1 Cor. 3:10). He himself laid the foundation in Corinth, and the foundation was Jesus Christ.

Works which Stand the Fire

Other persons came there afterwards, and taught various doctrines. They built upon the apostolic foundation. But some of the workmen, some of God's workers in the assembly at Corinth, had not been building wisely. They had not been serving the saints faithfully. They did not have the Lord before them to direct their work, and they had not used the right material, the truth of God, in their work; and the apostle here warns them against this improper and unfaithful service.

If we are helping in the assembly to build up the saints in any way, let us take heed what we build, because Christ means to have a pure, holy, and spotless church, which He will present to Himself. And if we are putting anything into the structure, He will test our work to prove whether it is good. He tests it by fire. The apostle deals with the subject in figurative language. Some build on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones; others wood, hay and stubble. In the day of Christ, He will try every man's work, to show publicly what sort it is. Fire will try every man's work, and some of it will disappear, being only wood, hay, stubble. Gold, silver, precious stones will stand fire. And only what is of God's word will stand the fire of His judgment, His final test.

The Bible is the imperishable word of God, and if I put into the heart of my fellow-Christians what is the truth of God contained in this word, the work will stand. But if I minister my own thoughts and opinions, the work will be destroyed in the judgment day. Let every one take heed what he is doing in the church of God. It is a terrible thing to put a stumbling block in the way of one of Christ's little ones, and to cause him to fall. Some are placed in difficult circumstances wherein they have to walk every day, and any moment they are liable to slip and fall. What am I doing? Am I holding out a helping hand to them, or am I giving them a push? If I give them any helpful advice, I must give them what is written by God. If I do not, it may do them more harm than good; and this service of mine will be burned.

But there are also the good workmen of whom the apostle speaks. Their work will stand inspection when the Master comes, and He will say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Oh, let us covet to be good workmen in the sight of the Lord, faithful workmen in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you are seeking to help a person in spiritual distress, what is the good of reading to him something out of Shakespeare or Milton? Such literature may be useful in some matters so far as this world is concerned. But the use of God's holy word is to keep you loyal to Christ of Whom that word speaks. Help him then with what is sterling and good, and you shall have your reward. A man who wishes to work well chooses the best material for his work.

In addition to the second class of workmen, whose works are burned, but they themselves saved, there is a third class. These are wicked and terrible persons, who defile the holy temple of God, bringing evil, poisonous teaching into the assembly of God. Nothing is said of their works, but the apostle says solemnly of such an one, "Him shall God destroy."

Conclusion

We have only had before us a very imperfect outline of this subject of the growth of the church. But let us remember that there is a divine work proceeding in connection with the building of the church. This work is infallible and cannot be overturned. It will go on in spite of our failure.

But there is also the individual work, in which we each have a responsibility. So surely as we belong to this church of God, so surely we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters to help them, to do them good, to get them a little further advanced in the things of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord looks to each of us for this. Let us by His grace do what we can for His name's sake.