Glorying and Vain-Glorying.

The title we have chosen for this paper reminds us of two conditions of soul that may characterise us as believers. They are found in Paul's two epistles to the Corinthian Assembly. The Apostle first deals with the spirit of vain-glory which was very much in evidence at Corinth, for he well knew that this evil must be firmly judged and removed before the Corinthians could be in a fit spiritual condition to appreciate and enjoy the glorious things that filled his own heart to overflowing. Indeed it is well for us ever to remember that God's order is always "Cease to do evil; learn to do well" (Isa. 1:16-17); for if we reverse this order, as many attempt to do, we shall always be in doubt and difficulty.

It is well known that the saints at Corinth had fallen into such a low spiritual condition that the Apostle was burdened with grief on their account. In his second letter to them (2 Cor. 2:4), he writes, "for out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears" — "Much affliction," "anguish of heart," "many tears." Surely the repetition of these significant and sorrowful words from the pen, and from the heart, of the Lord's devoted servant ought to touch a sympathetic chord in every true Christian's heart. How great must have been his affliction when the sad news reached him from the household of Chloe, that the saints at Corinth, among whom he had so fervently laboured, through trying days of persecution, and among whom he had determined to know nothing save "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), were forming parties and thus destroying the unity of the assembly, in the truth of which he had sought to establish them! How great his "anguish of heart" to behold his beloved children torn by strife and contention! and when we recall the fact that in Christ Jesus he had begotten them through the Gospel we can understand that the "many tears" flowed copiously from a heart filled with parental affection for them notwithstanding all their waywardness and folly (1 Cor. 4:15).

We may here remark that the evil of division which had its beginning at Corinth in the early days of the Church, is fully developed in Christendom today, and apparently there is no hope of recovery. This lamentable state of things is due to the fact that the professing church has abandoned the truth of Christ's Headship, and aided and abetted earthly heads to usurp His place. More grievous still is the fact that there are many true believers who give a mental assent to the truth of Christ's Headship of His Assembly, and yet who in practice deny it. Boasting the knowledge of such important truths as the one "Headship" and the one "Body" and yet refusing to walk in the separate path such knowledge apportions to them, do they really differ in spirit from those to whom our Lord addressed the heart-searching and memorable words "Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say" (Luke 6:46)?

No worldly-wise schemes such as we hear of today, for healing the many breaches in Christendom would have met with Paul's approval. Nor would those leaders, who refuse the guidance of Scripture and adopt human arrangements, such as amalgamation, have been any more successful.

It is both uplifting and edifying to note how Paul seeks to win the Corinthians from their evil ways and thus to accomplish his desire that they should be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." We refer to 1 Cor. 1:9-10, here he tells them that "God is faithful, by whom ye have been called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Without further preamble, the Apostle at once endeavours to bring the consciences of these wayward and worldly saints into God's holy presence.

He reminds them that they have a link with God as His "called" ones, and further that this calling was a high and holy one, even to be in the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Doubtless this forcible reminder of their high calling, falling, as it did on the ears of saints who were in a low spiritual condition, would produce searchings of heart, such as were caused by the divisions of Reuben; but it was generally Paul's method in seeking to reach the consciences of backsliding saints to remind them of the purpose of God for them. This he does in the beautiful context preceding the verse we are considering, in which he assures them that they were "awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ Who shall also confirm you to the end unimpeachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." Precious, precious promise! What words could be more fitting to deepen the work of repentance in backsliding hearts?

As a result of the wonderful declaration in v. 9, Paul now exhorts them by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ that they all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among them. The Apostle well knew the power and sweetness of that Name, that it was the only centre of unity, and only by that Name would his exhortation to unity and happy fellowship come home to their souls.

When Paul called together the elders of the Church at Ephesus (Acts 20:29) he informed them that after his departing grievous wolves would enter in among them not sparing the flock. In Corinth, however, it was the flock themselves who were the evil workers. The enemy, whose constant purpose it is to scatter the sheep, does not mind whom he uses as his instruments, so long as the scattering is accomplished, and it is important to note that these instruments, whether false shepherds or deluded sheep seek their own glory. All the parties in Corinth were verily guilty, but surely the worst was the one that chose for its party badge the very Name which should have been their common bond of union, the very Name pleaded by Paul, for the restoration of unity among them.

It is most touching to note how Paul seeks to instruct and to warn his beloved children in the faith. This he does in ch. 1 (latter part), 2, 3 of 1 Corinthians. These chapters contain many profound and precious truths for example:
1 Cor. 1:18. The preaching of the Cross — foolishness to the perishing. Unto us which are saved — the power of God.
1 Cor. 1:20. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
1 Cor. 1:23. Christ crucified — unto the Jews a stumbling block. Christ crucified — unto the Greeks foolishness.
1 Cor. 1:25. The foolishness of God is wiser than men. The weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Cor. 1:31. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

These are selected from ch. 1, and there are many other gems in this wonderful casket of holy Scripture.

In 1 Cor. 4 other matters are referred to by the Apostle which manifest the spirit of vain-glory existing among the saints at Corinth, but limited time and space will only permit a brief reference to them. We gather from v. 3 that such was their high opinion of themselves that they considered they were quite competent to pass judgment on their leaders, even Paul himself not escaping their criticism. What dignity and humility is shown in Paul's reply! "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment, … But He that judgeth me is the Lord(vv. 3, 4). Happy is the Christian who can make a like confession! In v. 6 the Apostle charges them with being puffed up for one against another, and that this exaltation of their teachers was really a gratification of their own pride. It was not that they puffed up the teacher, but themselves. Then he explains their folly and shows how absurd is their glorying in men, for even if one possess some gift, he has not attained it by his own excellence or ability, but it is the free gift of God. Paul asks "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" It is apparent that there were those in Corinth, apart from the leaders, who gloried in their own fancied gifts. Paul refers to such in ch. 8, where he says "Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth, and if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (v. 1-2). The last two cases to which we wish to refer, display the spirit of self-glorification in a more marked degree than any of the others. The Apostle brings them vividly before us in ch. 4 and 5.

In 1 Cor. 4:8, he says "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us, and I would to God ye did reign that we also might reign with you." Doubtless, it was with much anguish of heart that Paul wrote these words. Bad doctrine, as it always does, had produced bad practice they had forgotten that the Lord's pathway through this world was one of suffering, shame and loss, and that their's should be likewise; but for suffering they preferred surfeiting, for tribulation they preferred triumph, for the world's curse they preferred its Crown. The joy of the Christian in sharing rejection with Christ they knew nothing of, and the precious promise that "if we suffer we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:12) had lost its charm for them. Paul waited in patience for the reigning time to share it with his beloved children, but they preferred to reign without him. The account he gives of his own manner of life, must have filled them with shame, though this was not his object (see verses 9-14).

The last case for our consideration is that recorded in 1 Cor. 5. It was a case of evil so heinous that it was not so much as named among the Gentiles, and the guilty man was a member of their own assembly. Instead of having mourned that he might be removed from their company they were "puffed up" and apparently quite prepared to tolerate his continued presence with them. It seems incredible that a company of believers who had been called into the fellowship of the Son of God (1 Cor. 1:9) should display such disregard for the holiness of that fellowship. In Psalm 89:7, we read "God is greatly to be feared in the Assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him." But it is the Christian's privilege to know God in a far nearer and more blessed relationship than Old Testament saints could do. We know God as Father; we know Christ as Firstborn among many brethren; we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him; then surely our fear of God, and reverence for God, should greatly exceed that of the psalmist of old. But does it? As far as the Corinthians were concerned, both fear and reverence were absent. Hence the urgent entreaty of the Apostle to "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" 1 Cor. 5:13. The unholy idea that the evil of another is not to be judged, but that each must judge himself, means the destruction of God's glory in the Church.

In recording these various phases of evil in the Assembly at Corinth, their carnal divisions, their exaltation of leaders, their acting as judges, their boasting in their gifts, their glorying in this life, their being puffed up, when evil was rampant in the Assembly; the writer's earnest prayer is that the saints of God may be preserved or delivered from similar evils which abound in Christendom in this present day.
R. B. Wilson.


"Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom."

How many words — not bad or evil — but idle, for the moment without harm meant, do we speak in a day? It is not Christ, and mark, if it is not Christ, it is something else — the flesh.
J. N. Darby.