"Live in Peace"

A Word on the Carnality of Strife and Division amongst the Saints of God

"Finally brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen" (2 Corinthians 13:11-14).

In the year of our Lord 59 Paul wrote his first letter to the church of God at Corinth. Five years previous to the writing of that letter he had laboured without ceasing for one year and a half in the city, "teaching the Word of God amongst them."

His work had been blessed of God, and the saints forming that assembly were the result of it; but alas, they were not consistent with the fellowship into which they had been called, and with an aching heart Paul wrote to chide them about their ways.

They were a proud and quarrelsome people, and, indeed, we should wonder why God had chosen and saved them, or why He bore with them at all, were it not that we, Christians of this twentieth century, are just as bad, or worse than they were, and yet in spite of this we are saved and preserved by the grace of God. Thank God, we know that He does not save men because of any good thing He sees in them, but because of the over-abounding grace of His own blessed heart.

These Corinthians were saved by the one gospel; they were called into the one fellowship; they were united by the one Spirit to the one glorious Head in heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ; and they were in consequence formed into one body. Surely such should have been of one mind and lived in peace with one another, but instead, there were contentions and strifes and divisions among them, and this seems to have been the Apostle's chiefest complaint against them, for this condition of things was utterly contrary to God's thought for them. Yet so blinded were they in their own conceits that they imagined that these divisions and debates were a sign of their wisdom and spirituality, when in reality they did but trumpet aloud their carnality and folly; yes, in the presence of men, angels, and devils they trumpeted their carnality and folly. They gloried in their shame, for their souls were out of tune with God, and that which was discord in His ear was music in theirs. We have to talk softly about them, while the red blood of shame mantles our cheeks, for we see our own sad ways mirrored in theirs, and as was the flesh in them, so is the flesh in us.

One year later the Apostle wrote to that assembly again, and in his final salutation he expressed the mind and thought of God for them. "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace." It was the mind of God that all the saints should live in peace, and in each of the thirteen letters that bear Paul's name the desire for it is introduced.

This will be readily understood when we see that God is the God of peace; six times in the New Testament He is so called; but He is not only the God of peace in Himself, He is the Author of it for others (1 Cor. 14:33), for all who belong to Him.

Sin and Satan's power compelled Him to come forth as the man of war, and in the greatness of His excellence He has overthrown them that rose up against Him, that He might deliver His redeemed from the hurtful yoke, and guide them in His strength to His holy habitation (Ex. 15).

The great conflict took place upon the cross, and there God triumphed gloriously. His victory was complete, and as the "God of peace" He brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb. 13:20).

The risen Lord came into the midst of His flock, and "PEACE" was the first word that He breathed upon them; and that word of the living Lord was henceforward to be characteristic of that gathered flock, for they were God's assembly, His circle, to be builded together at the coming of the Holy Spirit, for an habitation of God (Eph. 2:22). God is the God of love and peace, and where love has full sway there peace will be. It will be readily admitted that God's nature should be manifested in His habitation, and because this is so those who form it are to maintain practically the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of PEACE (Eph. 4:3).

How preposterous and wicked strife and division in the assembly appears to us when we contemplate the saints of God in this aspect. Yet through the carnality of those within it the sacred enclosure has been invaded by these things which are so utterly contrary to God; love has waned, peace has departed, and the name of God has been falsified.

Strife and contention in the churches could not originate with God, for He is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33). It is from the flesh that these things spring, for we read: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" (Jas. 4:1). The devil, the malignant and untiring enemy of God, is behind the flesh. He can work upon it; he could have no foothold amongst the saints of God apart from it.

It is not pleasant to dwell upon failure and sin, and yet we should feel these things, yea, deeply feel them, and confess them before God, for only as we do so shall we have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:3). And while we feel the failure we learn at the same time how perfect and changeless is the grace of God. How beautifully this shines out in Paul's first letter to Corinth, and what emphasis he seems to lay upon what grace had made them, when he says: "Ye are God's tillage, ye are God's building" (3:9). Ye are the temple of God" (v. 16). "Ye are Christ's" (v. 23). "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost" (6:19). "Ye are bought with a price" (v. 20). "Ye are the body of Christ" (12:27). This causeless and changeless grace was the one hope in the Apostle's heart for them: it is our hope today.

How it charms our hearts — for these things are true of us who believe, even as of them. What mingled feelings it produces in our souls: it makes us sorrow even to tears, because of the carnality that in us has brought forth strife and divisions in the assemblies of God; but it also makes us rejoice, even to shouting, at the grace that is unchanged by our failure, until we are like those ancient Jews who, when the foundation of their restored temple was laid, wept because of the folly that had destroyed the first, but rejoiced at the mercy that gave them a second, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people (Ezra 3:13).

But what practical effect shall this grace have upon us? Can we be careless as to what suits our God whose habitation we are? Dare we, or shall we desire to cause or maintain strife and confusion when He has said, "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God"? Are our own feelings, views, and reputations of more importance to us than His will? and shall these exhortations lie unheeded upon the sacred page of Scripture? God forbid! How can we who are the children of the God of peace live any longer in strife and confusion?

Be assured that no exhortation is ever given in the Word of God that may not be carried out by the saints of God in the new life by the power of the Holy Ghost; and no exhortation is ever given that has not found its living exemplification in our Lord Jesus Christ. Every thought of God as to what His children should be has been lived in this world by the Lord Jesus, and such is the power of the Holy Ghost, who dwells within us, that we may reproduce that which has already been produced: the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Cor. 4:11).

The first great necessity is the condemnation of the flesh; God has exposed its perverseness and folly, and no flesh shall glory in His presence. The cross of Christ is its condemnation: on the one hand it thought the Lord of glory worthy of that shame, and it viewed Him there in that weakness and degradation with utter contempt. On the other hand, the flesh was ended for God in righteous judgment there that we might stand in it before Him no more. The grace of God has enlightened our souls, and we have received the Spirit of God, and Christ crucified is to us the power of God and the wisdom of God, and in the presence of that cross we turn from the flesh with loathing.

"My richest gain I count but loss,
  And pour contempt on all my pride."

The hatefulness of that proud and cruel flesh that is utterly indifferent to everything but its own advancement stands rebuked in the presence of the One whose love led Him even to the death of the cross. The Corinthians to some extent had reached this point in their exercises, for godly sorrow working repentance to salvation was produced within them (2 Cor. 7), and as a consequence their vision was cleared and the Apostle was able to direct their gaze to the Lord in glory.

The exhortations of Scripture are fulfilled by us without effort as out thoughts are upon Him, for beholding the Lord's glory, we are transformed into the same image (chap. 3:18). And what an object is He for our contemplation, the One who was here on earth in lowliness and subjection to God, who never strove with men for His rights, who was gentle to all, so gentle that He would not quench the smoking flax nor break the bruised reed, and who came not to be ministered to but to minister and give His life a ransom for many. He is the same today as He was then, but now He is crowned with God's approval in the glory. It is as we contemplate Him that we shall be comforted and carry out these exhortations, and the God of love and peace shall be with us.

What a portion is this — "THE GOD OF LOVE AND PEACE SHALL BE WITH YOU"! "Foolish," "weak," "base," and nothing in the eyes of the world we may be; it is right that we should be so, for such has God chosen, that he that glorieth may glory in the Lord. But what dignity, what power, what joy, if the God of love and peace be with us; what more than this could heart, renewed by grace, desire on earth? May this be our happy lot.

There is one other matter about which watchfulness is needed: the men who cause division and strife, contrary to the doctrine which we have learned, are often looked up to as heroes and put in the place of leaders, another evidence of the carnality of themselves and those who treat them thus; we are exhorted in the Word to mark such and treat them as we would a pestilential carcase. Withdraw from them, avoid them (Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 5:6). In obedience lies the path of blessing. "The grace of The Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen."