The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
IN THE Corinthian epistles, the dais is brought before us in connection with our work (3:12-15), especially the administration of God's secrets (4:1-5) and our good and bad practices (2 Cor.5:10). Corinth is a good background for all these aspects, as the saints there specialized in failure to live up to the truth and needed to be reminded of the future test which will be applied to it. It is especially helpful today when false motives and incentives and wrong standards are used in God's work so that most of it is only fit for the flames.
Paul used a fine figure in setting forth the work of the Corinthian ecclesia, especially the part played by himself and those who succeeded him there. It is represented as a building of which he laid the foundation and left the superstructure to others. The quality of the work is figured by materials of various value, but rated especially according to their fire-resistant qualities. Most of the monuments of antiquity which still remain are built of costly stones. Very little else is left of the temples on Mount Moriah but the large, expensive stones in the foundation. The gold and silver doubtless would still be there also if it had not been carried away. The work which will abide that day is figured by the mineral kingdom.
THE FIGURE OF THE FARMER
The work of God's servants will earn wages at the dais of our Lord, even though He provides the very vigor with which it is accomplished. This is shown to us in the figure of the farmer. He plants and irrigates, but what would that avail if God did not make it grow? Without the life He stored in the seed and the warmth He sends from the sun, the seed would rot and the labor bestowed upon it would be in vain. Yet the farmer does not hesitate to harvest the crop. Too often he deems it his due, the product of his own toil, and forgets to give thanks to Him Whose beneficence it is (1 Cor.3:5-9).
Paul transfers this to himself and Apollos in a figure in order that the saints should not be puffed up for one or the other. In reality, the farmer plays a very small part in the production of his crops, and this he owes to God (cp Isa.26:12; Prov.16:4). So it is in the Lord's service. Paul, as an evangelist, may lead the Corinthians to believe, and Apollos may foster their faith, but all would have been in vain without the vital power of God. Paul was only calling those whom God had already chosen. Before Paul preached, God assured him that He had many of His own in the city (Acts 18:17). Why, then, should they set these men up as if they had produced the crop? Neither one is to get the credit, but praise and thanksgiving should go to God, for He it was Who had provided them with the ability to do their part and inclined their wills accordingly (Psa.110:3).
The enlightened servant of God will not lay claim to anything at the dais of Christ. Without His life, His strength, His faith, His zeal, he would never have been able to lift his hand in the Lord's service. All of these were gifts from God, none inherent in himself. If an earthly master had made an automatic machine and it performed the part planned for it, does he pay it wages? But we are not machines, and God is not a man. He will get His heart's desire in the love engendered by His operations. And to further fan this affection, He pays wages where little has actually been earned or deserved. His servants will be rewarded according to their toil (1 Cor.3:8).
THE FIGURE OF THE BUILDER
But the amount of work done by anyone is not necessarily an index of its value in God's sight. In order to illuminate this aspect of service, Paul uses a different figure, that of a building. The growing of a crop is a seasonal effort and produces no permanent results. A building is erected to last indefinitely, depending upon the materials used. There is going to be a fire in the future which will consume our whole building except that which will stand the flames. We should, therefore, be very choice in our materials, and use only such as will abide the conflagration.
The two classes of materials will seem very strange to us at first glance. We do not erect buildings out of gold and silver and precious stones. If we did, they would be very small! We do use wood, grass, and straw, and with these, we can make a marvelous show. Aside from the value of the materials, the principal difference is that the former are fireproof, the latter inflammable. The true servant of God will seek to use nothing in edifying the saints that will not stand the fire! Apollos was the builder in Corinth after Paul had laid the foundation, hence the figure is to be explained by his ministry there. He was their teacher.
We are introduced to Apollos as follows (Acts 18:24): "Now a certain Jew, named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, a scholarly man, arrives at Ephesus, being able in the Scriptures. He was instructed in the way of the Lord, and fervent in spirit. He spoke and taught accurately what concerned Jesus, being versed only in the baptism of John. Besides he begins to speak boldly in the synagogue. Now, hearing him, Priscilla and Aquila took him to themselves and expounded the way of God to him more accurately." The material, then, consisted of the teaching which he imparted to the Corinthians. And it is the accuracy of his doctrines that leads us to think that Apollos used a good deal of gold and silver in his construction, which will remain to his credit in that day.
THE BUILDING MATERIALS
We may rest assured that neither Paul nor Apollos erected a church building in Corinth, especially not of literal gold and silver and precious stones. Yet there is ample evidence in the epistle itself that these are the materials they used, in contrast to the wood, grass, and straw, which is so freely used today, not, indeed, in the literal buildings, but in the spiritual edification of the saints. In this passage Paul and Apollos are teachers, and we should consider their doctrine if we wish to recognize what each material represents. Yet this letter is not a systematic statement of their teaching, so it is not so easy to identify the materials as in Romans, which sets forth their message in clearly defined aspects. Corinthians is more of a laboratory than a textbook. So we turn to Romans and its three great themes, justification, reconciliation, and the deity of God, to explain the figure.
In Romans, we have three distinct divisions of the doctrine which Paul dispensed in Corinth. Justification is the great basic truth on which all is built. This may well be figured by the great stones, the precious stones, such as were used in erecting the temple. This is the manward side of the evangel. Then comes conciliation and reconciliation, figured by the silver. This is mutual because both man and God must be conciliated before there can be reconciliation. Then there is the gold, God's subjectorship, the Deity as Disposer, the divine aspect of our evangel, the most glorious of all. All of these doctrines are eternal, everlasting. They will abide, even after the consummation, when all mankind will be justified and all creation reconciled, and God becomes All in all. No fire will ever destroy these eternal verities.
The gold is God's glory as the great Disposer. It is most deplorable to see even intelligent saints shrink from giving the Deity His proper place as God, and deny the plainest declarations of Holy Writ. The golden All is out of Him, is degraded into the wooden "man's free moral agency." Or, it may be that all good is acknowledged to be out of Him, or all essential to His plan, or some other of many desperate restrictions which would leave man a share in divine glory. How can God be All in all, until all of this has been burned up? Let us take heed that, above all else, we do not infringe on the glory that is God's alone, for we may rest assured that the fire will eagerly devour all that hinders Him from taking His place supreme in the beginning as well as at the consummation. All is out of Him! All is through Him! All is for Him!
The true relationship between God and man at the present time is practically unknown, hence is not preached from our pulpits. The silver doctrine that the death of God's Son has conciliated Him to mankind is not only ignored, but strenuously opposed by both priests and people. Instead, we have the grass of fear and threats of purgatory and hell, of lawkeeping and religion, all of which are fit only for the fire and cannot last in the coming eons or the consummation, when God wipes all tears away in the last eon and reconciles the whole universe at the consummation. Let us bum up all such futile and inflammable doctrine now rather than wait until the dais. Then we will be thankful to see it feed the flames.
THE PRECIOUS STONES
In English idiom, the word "precious" as applied to stones is limited to small gems or jewels of great beauty or rarity, but in the Scriptures, it is also used for large, hewn building stones. Some of these were much more expensive than the average gem, because of the great labor involved in quarrying, cutting, and transporting them. The order of the words--gold, silver, precious stones--suggests that jewels are not in view, for they are more precious than gold. Besides, few would care to test them by fire. A close friend of mine had a process of making small commercial jewels by means of a retort. In a figure such as this, there should be no question of their fire resistance.
In the Orient one often sees buildings that have been ravaged by fire and tested by the tooth of time. In the great temples at Athens and Baalbek and Jerusalem, there is not much left of their ancient architecture except stones, many of them tremendous in size and great in cost. Their lasting quality is most striking in the midst of magnificent ruins. As the figure here is in contrast with straw, which was often used for fuel and seldom survives a single year, such stones as these are most impressive when used to suggest a doctrine.
In Romans, it would stand for justification. Again, we sigh at the almost total lack of teaching on this tremendous theme. Even when the word is used, the sense is diluted to pardon or forgiveness of sins, such as belonging to the kingdom administration. In the land of Luther, I attended meetings in his own house, along with several hundred other editors of Protestant religious publications, and I found no evidence that any of them, with perhaps one exception, really grasped its vital significance. Some of them were excessively zealous and ready for any sacrifice for the cause of their Lord, yet they were engaged in teaching that which would be food for the flames at the dais. The pardon of sins is a temporary measure, limited to the kingdom heralding, which will be obsolete when all men are justified at the consummation.
It will be seen from this that the teaching which will come through the fire and call for wages has two distinctive features, which may help us to identify it and avoid that figured by the wood, the grass, and the straw. The picture of houses built of wood, grass, and straw is not put before us because these are not good building materials. Many a shelter from the elements is built entirely of them. The house in which this is written is built mostly of wood, the outside being an almost rot-proof siding and shingles of so-called "redwood." It has lasted for many years and is still good. But it certainly will not stand a test by fire! So it is with much of the teaching in Christendom today. Salvation is brought to men by some of it, and the saints are helped. But most of the teaching belongs to the kingdom. It is not only out of place now, but it will not pass the fiery inspection of the dais.
Not only must our teaching be Paul's rather than Peter's, but it must be fireproof. It must be such that it will never be destroyed or replaced. That is the special characteristic of the evangel for today. It is everlasting. It is not only true of the saints now, but will be expanded to include all at the consummation. We are justified now, and all mankind will enjoy it after the eons. We are reconciled now, and all creation will be included when God is All in all. God is All in us now. He will be All in all at the consummation.
THE KIND OF WORK THAT REMAINS
Quite often in our work, we reach retired ministers and elderly servants of Christ, who have spent most of their lives in the usual channels of service. When they grasp some of the precious truths which we bring to them, such as the final reconciliation of all and the conciliation of the nations now, the divine mysteries, the function of evil, and so forth, they almost all exclaim, O, that I had known these things long ago! They realize that much of the materials which they used in edifying the saints will go up in smoke at the dais, yet they would not have it otherwise. They could not accept wages for work which must be wiped away in that day. No longer do they deem the amount imposing, for they recognize that the kind makes all the difference.
On the other hand, we are greatly heartened by those who are still young or in their prime, much of whose ministry still lies before them, when they voluntarily make a bonfire of many of their past beliefs and teach the Word more accurately for the rest of their careers. The very fact that most of us have already thrown much to the flames should show that we will be eager in that day to consign the rest to the fiery test. If we do not want to lose all our work in that day, we should emulate Apollos, and teach the Scriptures accurately, and, when we learn of the further light which has come through the apostle Paul to the nations, then we will be able to teach it more accurately.
THE FIERY REVELATION
These examples, which forestall the process at the dais, may also help us to understand how it will proceed. The fire will reveal. The case of each one need not necessarily come before the whole ecclesia and be examined and passed upon in detail. Would that not be an interminable and intolerable trial? Even if each one took only a minute of time, which would hardly be possible, the session would last longer than the millennium. What a sad one that would be for us! Israel on the earth would be enjoying peace and plenty and prosperity, and we would be concerned with our past failings and that of all the others in the ecclesia! Would it not be a perpetual pain?
Instead of a long drawn-out judgment session with interminable testimonies and endless evidence in order to ferret out the facts, each case, or all together, will be revealed by fire. In the city where this is written a case of alleged illegal picketing is being tried in which there are hundreds of defendants. The trial has already dragged on for months. Now the unwieldy mass has been split into groups. But quite a few have decided that the trial was already worse than the sentence could be, and have paid their fine, in order to be relieved of further annoyance. How much simpler and better if a flash of flame had revealed an infallible verdict!
Few of the Lord's servants are sufficiently illuminated to forestall the flames. Indeed, the most enlightened would refuse to claim infallibility and insist that their earlier groping among the fogs of orthodoxies made it impossible for them to build with fire-resistant materials, no matter how clear their conscience may be as to the present. And, indeed, it is not wise to be overly concerned as to the past, but attend to the present, that we do not continue to build for the fire in the future.
Fire is the finest purifier. Let us be clear that it will not be a lake of fire for the saints. Yet even if we were cast into fire at the dais, that would not harm us. Being immortal, with spiritual bodies, we would not feel it and it would not affect us. However, the figure of fire is not used of the saints, but of their work as servants of Christ in building up the saints. Paul and Apollos were teachers. They taught the Corinthians. Literally, their teaching was either truth or error, fact or fiction. Truth remains, even in the hereafter. Error cannot. It must be destroyed. This will be done by the revelation given to us at the dais. Even temporary truths must be replaced by eternal verities.
It goes without saying that error must vanish in the future. The intolerable state of the church today would turn the bliss of heaven into the horrors of an orthodox hell if infinitely protracted and magnified. Were error corrected today it would mean untold agony for many servants of our Lord. Their frail frames could not bear to see how little is the value of their labors and how much is only fit for the flames. Even if the fire did not touch their persons, it would bow down their souls and afflict their spirits. It does this to some degree even if their illumination is gradual and the source of much joy and satisfaction. How gracious is it that the full light does not fall upon our deeds until we are furnished with bodies so powerful and glorious that we will only be glad to be rid of our errors once and for all!
FIRE AND FORFEIT
In order that our teaching in regard to the dais should not be destroyed in that day, we should consider accurately the terms used. The mere mention of fire and loss is disturbing to the infirm in faith, who think of everything in terms of their own felicity for the future. We wish to impress on them that these words assure their permanent happiness, rather than threaten it. The fire does not take anything that will contribute to our welfare in the future, but rather removes the hindrances to perfect bliss.
Paul himself has already suffered the loss of all things (Phil.3:8), because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ. He has already, in spirit, burned up his wooden doctrines. He had taken great pride in his race and religion. Judaism was everything to him. His own law-righteousness was his most prized possession. But when he learned the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, he forfeited all this. He could not have both. Did he regret his forfeiture of "the righteousness which is in law"? By no means! He considered it no better than refuse to be rid of. So will it be with us at the dais. Much may be forfeited, but nothing of lasting value will be lost. All the transitory error which clings to us now will be permanently removed and replaced by eternal truth, thus preparing us for felicity everlasting.
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