The Highest Spirituality—1 Corinthians 7

highest spirituality 1 corinthians 7 Witness Lee

Certain chapters in the New Testament seem like poor prospects for small group Bible studies.

The top three that come to mind would probably have to be Matthew 1, Romans 16, and 1 Corinthians 7. The first half of Matthew 1 is a genealogy, Romans 16 is a list of greetings, and 1 Corinthians 7 is a technical Q&A on marriage. We may snort at these “Nazarene” chapters with the incredulousness of Nathanael, “Can anything good be from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). However, if we believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16), that man lives on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), and that the Lord’s words are spirit and life (John 6:63), we shouldn’t discount these chapters. In fact, we may be shocked at what profound revelations lie just beneath these dull surfaces. These unassuming chapters conceal some of the greatest implied revelations in the entire Bible. But to enter into these “dark thickets”[1] and pluck the concealed fruit, we need the Spirit’s guidance and illumination, and we need to apply ourselves to diligent study.

I’m reminded of something Augustine said about obscure passages,

It is a wonderful and beneficial thing that the Holy Spirit organized the holy scripture so as to satisfy hunger by means of its plainer passages and remove boredom by means of its obscurer ones.[2]

Implied Revelation

The revelation in each of these three chapters has to do with consummation. The word consummation denotes a process that has been brought to completion or fulfillment.

  • Matthew 1 implies the consummation of the entire Old Testament history—the incarnation for the bringing forth of the God-man Jesus.
  • Romans 16 implies the consummation of the gospel—the practical church life for the crushing of Satan and the expression of God.
  • First Corinthians 7 implies the consummation of our spiritual experience—living as one spirit with the Lord in the maturity of the growth in life for the expression of the mind of Christ, unconsciously, through our speaking.

I say “implied revelation” regarding these chapters, because none of these things are explicitly stated here. But when you consider the deeper denotation of these chapters from the vantage point of God’s economy, this light breaks forth.

Witness Lee explains the concept of implied revelation and gives one example in his study on Romans:

Romans is an all-inclusive book, a summary both of the Christian life and of the church life. It is impossible to exhaust the revelation conveyed and implied in this book. To say that revelation is implied means that it is not conveyed directly and explicitly, but that it is implied by what is directly conveyed. In the divine Word what is implied is often more important than what is directly stated. In this message we shall consider one of the implied revelations in the book of Romans: the dispensation of the Triune God for the fulfillment of His purpose.[3]

Louis Berkhof is very strong to say that even the implications of Scripture that we deduce by inference must be regarded as the Word of God:

“The consequences that are deduced from Scripture by unavoidable inference, and more largely still the consequences that are deduced from a comparison of the various Scripture statements among themselves, were foreseen by infinite wisdom… and the Revealer not only knew that men would deduce such consequences, but designed that they should do so.” Therefore not only the express statements of Scripture, but its implications as well, must be regarded as the Word of God.[4]

In this light, we can approach 1 Corinthians 7, and any other apparently inauspicious chapter, with great expectation.

The Highest Spirituality

Although 1 Corinthians 7 is a very helpful chapter for technical, “pastoral” questions regarding marriage, it also reveals the highest level of spirituality.

The highest level of spirituality for the New Testament believers is revealed in 1 Corinthians 7.[5]

This may seem like a shocking claim. We may think the highest spirituality would be foretelling the future, or healing someone, or casting out demons, but the highest spirituality is a man living Christ and expressing God’s thought, unconsciously, in his speaking. Four verses bring this out:

But to the married I charge, not I but the Lord, A wife must not be separated from her husband. –v. 10

But to the rest I say, I, not the Lord, If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she consents to dwell with him, he must not leave her. –v. 12

Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who has been shown mercy by the Lord to be faithful. –v. 25

But she is more blessed if she so remains, according to my opinion; but I think that I also have the Spirit of God. –v. 40

The key phrases that reveal the highest spirituality are: “I charge, not I but the Lord”; “I say, I, not the Lord”; “I give my opinion”; “according to my opinion; but I think that I also have the Spirit of God”.

Paul’s speaking here is radically different from the Old Testament way of saying, “Thus saith the Lord”, which was kind of like the introductory fanfare of prophetic legitimacy. Paul’s speaking in these four verses is lacking this kind of certainty or overtness. In fact, in three of these verses he flat out tells us, “This is just Paul speaking. This is my opinion.” BUT it turns out that Paul’s opinion, given without explicit divine directive, became the Bible! This is because Paul was mature in the growth in the divine life to the extent that he had the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Paul’s opinion here is fully inspired, authoritative, and inerrant. All the characteristics we attribute to Scripture, Paul’s opinion here has.

Paul’s speaking in 1 Corinthians 7 is a real-time demonstration of his teaching in 1 Corinthians 6:17—”he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”[6]

That the regenerated believers are one spirit with the Lord indicates that, if they are abiding in and walking in this reality, they and the Lord operate simultaneously and inseparably. Tea is a good example. Once the tea has been made it is impossible to separate the water from the tea. Both are present simultaneously in each sip and yep are distinct in the retention of their characteristics and properties. Watchman Nee has a hymn that says:

Thy Spirit in my spirit now
Supplies Thyself, unites with me,
Thus I am all the time myself
And constantly am also Thee.[7]

This was Paul’s situation. So what he gave as his opinion, was actually the Lord’s inspired speaking, although Paul was not conscious of this (except to add a qualifying “I think”). His pattern of speech in v. 10 manifests the same pattern of his teaching in Galatians 2:20—”I charge, not I but the Lord” mirrors, “No longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives… I now live”. To streamline it even more would yield—”I, not I, but Christ” and “Not I, but Christ, yet I.” What Galatians 2:20 teaches, 1 Corinthians 7:10 demonstrates. Underlying both verses, however, is the reality of 1 Corinthians 6:17—our life union with the resurrected Christ in the mingled spirit. Paul demonstrates this staggering reality in the most subjective of human actions—giving an opinion. This is the highest spirituality, one that is unfeigned, unpretentious, and devoid of self-glory.

This is the destiny of every believer. The Bible begins with God’s solitary speaking—”Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). But the Bible ends with God and man, the Spirit and the bride, speaking together as one—”The Spirit and the bride say, Come!” (Rev. 22:17). This indicates that the church becomes so united with the Spirit that they speak together. And I don’t think they had to cue each other to be in unison. They both simply spoke and it turns out the other party was saying the exact same thing at the same time. This is the corporate development of Paul’s experience in 1 Corinthians 7 which manifests the highest level of spirituality.


 

1. Augustine, Confessions, 12.28.38
2. Augustine, On Christian Teaching, 2.6.8
3. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Romans, p. 625
4. Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, p. 159
5. Witness Lee, The Experience and Growth in Life, p. 165
6. John Pester, “The Operation of the Mingled Spirit in First Corinthians.” Affirmation and Critique, XI.2, (Oct 2006): p. 32
7. Hymns. Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1980. #491

Mutual Justification

mutual-justification

Romans 3:4 is a very interesting verse. It says,

Let God be true and every man a liar, as it is written, “That You may be declared righteous in Your words and may overcome when You are judged.”

The You and Your in these verses refer to God. Paul is quoting David’s confession to God in Psalm 51:4, where he says,

Against You and You alone have I sinned, And I have done what is evil in Your sight. Therefore You are righteous when You speak; You are clear when You judge.

Paul is quoting exactly from the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text (hence the differences). What this verse is saying, as quoted in Romans, is that fallen man judges God. Sinners judge God for many things. They may blame Him for the evil, suffering, and injustice in the world. Or they may rail against His condemnation of certain lifestyles. Or they may slander God by saying that He is not righteous or good or all-powerful (the Epicurean paradox is a classic example of this). Fallen man is so blinded by pride that he judges God. However, Paul says that God will overcome when He is judged and He will be declared righteous by sinners. He must convince sinful and proud man that He is in fact righteous in His judgments. This is what Romans chapters 1-3 are all about. These chapters were written so that every mouth would be stopped (Rom. 3:19). Our mouth is stopped when we are subdued and convinced that we are wrong.

Romans 1-3 reveals God’s judgment on mankind generally, the self-righteous particularly, the religious specifically, and all the world totally. These chapters are part of God’s work to convince us that His judgment of us is righteous. These chapters are the worst news in the world—I am a sinner, I have sinned, and it is right for God to judge me. If we are convinced of that, our mouth with its excuses will be stopped. We won’t blame others, or the circumstances, or bad luck. We will admit that we are wrong and deserve God’s judgment. This was the point David reached in Psalm 51. He confessed that he had sinned. He didn’t blame the schedule, or the architecture, or Bath-sheba. He said “I have sinned”. And then he added the part Paul quotes, “Therefore You are righteous when you speak and clear when You judge”, referring to God’s word to him through Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 12:7-14).

When the light of God’s law shines on us, all our arguments and rationalizations cease. We see ourselves as we really are. Then we justify God. We declare Him righteous. We own up to the worst news in the world. This is exactly what one of the criminals on the cross did. He said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are in the same judgment? And we justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we did” (Luke 23:40-41).

Commenting on this criminal, Watchman Nee said:

If he were to curse the magistrates as agents of the imperialists, and if he had not seen that what he suffered was what he deserved, he would not have seen who the Lord was. When we do not see ourselves, we do not see the Lord. When we see ourselves, we see the Lord. This is repentance.[1]

And then:

We may say that faith is our looking up to Christ, and repentance is our looking at ourselves in the light of Christ.[2]

The amazing thing is, as soon as we confess that we are sinners under the righteous judgment of God, the light of the gospel shines on us and we believe that the death of Christ on the cross was for our sins. We hear, “You shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). As soon as we accept the worst news in the world, God gives us the best news—you are redeemed, forgiven, justified. As soon as we justify God, God justifies us.

Paul goes on to say,

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth as a propitiation place through faith in His blood, for the demonstrating of His righteousness… so that He might be righteous and the One who justifies him who is of the faith of Jesus. –Rom. 3:24-26

Witness Lee sums up the amazing truth in Romans 3:4 with this short but very helpful comment,

God must first convince us of His righteousness before we can repent and believe into Him. Thus, He is declared righteous by us before we are declared righteous by Him.[3]

In this way, Romans 3 takes us all the way from the righteous judgment of God to the righteous justification of God, from mutual judgment to mutual justification.


 

1. Watchman Nee, CWWN, 28:215
2. Ibid., p. 212
3. Witness Lee, Recovery Version Footnotes, Romans 3:4, note 2

The Economy of God in the Burning Thornbush

burning-bush

The burning bush in Exodus 3 is a picture of the entire economy of God. God’s economy is His plan and arrangement to dispense Himself as life into His chosen people to become one with them for His corporate expression.

To see this we need to know two things about how the Bible was written. Two verses guide us:

For his words are: Rule upon rule, rule upon rule; Line upon line, line upon line; Here a little, there a little. –Isa. 28:10

Now these things happened to them as types, and they were written for our admonition, unto whom the ends of the ages have come. –1 Cor. 10:11

Scattered Truths

The first verse indicates that all the Bible has to say on any truth is scattered throughout the whole Bible. The whole truth is scattered throughout the whole Bible. To have a full understanding of any topic we must collect all the relevant verses, view them together, and hold them in a creative tension. We must respect the corporate witness to the truth and not sacrifice any passage. For instance, there is no one chapter in the Bible called, “The Chapter on Baptism.” The Bible is not organized like a systematic theology book. To discover the fullness of the biblical revelation of baptism, the will of God, God’s calling, or even something as seemingly simple as creation, we must become hunters and gatherers. The revelation is “here a little, there a little.”

For instance, if we were to consider Christ’s relationship to creation we would need to gather many verses:

  1. Heb. 1:10—Christ is the Creator
  2. Col. 1:16—Christ is the sphere of creation
  3. John 1:3—Christ is the means of creation
  4. Rev. 3:14—Christ is the 0rigin of creation
  5. Col. 1:15—Christ is the Firstborn of all creation
  6. Heb. 1:3—Christ is the sustainer of creation
  7. Col. 1:17—Christ is the holding center of creation
  8. Col. 1:16—Christ is the end and goal of creation

Deeper Denotation

The second guiding verse (1 Cor. 10:11) indicates that many of the events of the OT are types for NT realities. In this way, much of the OT has a deeper denotation and a spiritual significance[1]. The OT is bustling with types, shadows, figures, and allegories (Rom. 5:14; Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 9:8-9; Gal. 4:24). What the children of Israel experienced typifies the spiritual realities in the NT that the church is enjoying (this does not minimize in any way the significance or question the reality of the historical happenings in the OT). Augustine memorably put it this way:

The New Testament lies concealed in the Old, the Old lies revealed in the New.[2]

The Old Testament, you see, is the promise in figure and symbol; the New Testament is the promise spiritually understood.[3]

So when we read about the burning thornbush in Exodus 3 that was not consumed, we should ask ourselves if there is any deeper significance involved. And there is—it just so happens that the entire economy of God can be seen here.

Diligence and Dependence

These two characteristics of Scripture—its scattered truth and its spiritual significance—test our diligence and our dependence. We must be diligent to search the Scriptures and collect all it has to say, and we must be dependent on the Lord who authored them by coming to Him as we read. John 5:39-40 captures this twofold requirement. We need to be diligent for aggregation and dependent for revelation. Proverbs 23:23 indicates that we must pay a price to buy the truth. This is diligence. No lazy person can have the full knowledge of the truth. Ephesians 1:17 indicates that we must pray for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. This is dependence. No person by their natural intelligence alone can have the full knowledge of the truth.

We must be diligent and dependent and we must pay and pray.

The Symbolism of the Burning Bush

To start out on this exegetical journey, three verses need to be viewed together.

For our God is also a consuming fire. –Heb. 12:29

But if [the earth] brings forth thorns and thistles, it is disapproved and near a curse, whose end is to be burned. –Heb. 6:8

And the Angel of Jehovah appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thornbush. And when he looked, there was the thornbush, burning with fire; but the thornbush was not consumed. –Exo. 3:2

The paradox of these verses is that although God is a consuming fire and the destiny of thorns is to be burned, the thornbush in Exodus 3 is burning but it is not consumed. What does this mean?

Thorns are a sign of the curse. Hebrews 6:8 is a direct reference to Genesis 3:17-18 where God cursed the earth because of man’s sin. Sin brought in a curse and the law made this curse official and imposing on man. The fire in Hebrews 12:29 signifies God’s holiness (this is a chapter on holiness). If cursed sinners, represented by the thorns, come into contact with the fire of God’s holiness they can only be consumed.  But the greatness of this sight to Moses was that although the fire burned, the thornbush was not consumed!

In Genesis 3, three negative things came in to frustrate God’s eternal purpose—sin, death, and the curse. Because of these negative elements man was alienated from God (Eph. 4:18) and excluded from the tree of life by a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). At the end of Genesis 3 three symbols are used to portray man’s relationship to God in the fall. The thorns signify sinners under the curse, the flame of fire signifies the demand of God’s holiness, and the tree of life signifies Christ as the eternal life.

Because of God’s eternal love for man, He refused to give man up to the flames. But because of God’s unyielding righteousness, He was bound not to relinquish the flame. So Christ became a man to bear the holy wrath of God’s judgment on the cross. During the last three hours on the cross, Christ bore the full issue of the fall. He became what we were, and in our place suffered the righteous judgement of God.

  1. Christ was made sin—2 Cor. 5:21
  2. Christ was made a curse—Gal. 3:13
  3. Christ tasted death on behalf of everything—Heb. 2:9

On the cross, Christ offered Himself to God as a sin offering and was burned outside the camp by the fire of God’s holy wrath (Heb. 13:11-12). He was the Lamb of God roasted with fire (Exo. 12:9). Because He was under the flame of God’s holy wrath, He said “I thirst” (John 19:28) and “My heart is like wax melted within Me” (Psa. 22:14).

Christ came to cast fire on the earth (Luke 12:49). This is the fire of His divine life and indwelling Spirit, not the fire of judgment that the sons of thunder wanted to call down out of heaven to consume men (Luke 9:54-56). Because He bore the flame of God’s judgment in our place, we can bear the glory of God’s holiness for His manifestation and know the Spirit’s indwelling as the “favor of Him who dwelt in the thornbush” (Deut. 33:16). This is the entire economy of God in picture form.

The church is the Triune God burning within a redeemed humanity. This is the divine economy.[4]

 


 

1. Witness Lee, The Practice of Prophesying, pp. 30-35
2. Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch 2.73
3. Augustine, Sermon 4.9
4. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Exodus, p. 112

The Meaning of Jesus’ Name

name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.[1]

Juliet asks the oft quoted question, What’s in a name? Her answer is that names do not really matter. They are mere outward conventions that bear no intrinsic relation to what an object or person really is. Romeo would still be the perfect guy if he were named Steve.

The Bible however takes a very different stance on names. In the Bible, names are very significant and are representative of spiritual realities related to a person. This is seen in a number of cases where a person’s name is changed, signifying a change in that person.

Famous name changes include:

  1. Abram → Abraham
  2. Sarai → Sarah
  3. Jacob → Israel
  4. Joseph → Zaphenath-Paneah
  5. Daniel → Belteshazzar
  6. Simon → Peter
  7. Saul → Paul

In fact, in the kingdom, the overcomers are promised a new name (Rev. 2:17) and even the Lord Himself will have a new name (Rev. 3:12). Why would the Bible mention this, and mention this as a reward, if a name weren’t significant? The name here is “the interpretation of the experience of the one who has been transformed.”[2] What we are, is designated by our name (of course I don’t mean this literally with whatever name you were given at birth).

This comes into clearest focus with the name of Jehovah and with the name of Jesus.

The Name of Jehovah

Jehovah (YHWH) is the revealed, personal name of God forever.

Then Moses said to God, If I come to the children of Israel and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they say to me, What is His name? what shall I say to them?  And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. And He said, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you… Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, Jehovah… has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial from generation to generation. –Exo. 3:13-15

Moses anticipates the awkward situation of coming to the children of Israel as their redeemer and then fumbling with an answer when asked what the name of this God is who is delivering them. The Lord reveals for the first time to Moses His personal name, Jehovah. This name is basically a conjugated form of the verb “to be”, denoting God’s self-existence, ever-existence, and all-inclusiveness.

That this is the revealed divine name is incredible because it embodies two fundamental aspects of God—God in His transcendence and God in His economy. The first is rather straight forward and well-known. God is eternal, perfect, self-sufficient. Only God is in the absolute sense. The second aspect however embodies God’s purpose and economy, what some have called “God for us.” God wants to be or become something to us. The New Testament reveals two great “becomings” of Christ. Through the incarnation, God became a man (John 1:14) and through resurrection, this God-man became the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). Now in His great communicability, God in Christ can become wisdom to us for our full salvation—righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). God applies what He is in His all-inclusiveness to our being for our full salvation. He does this through the divine dispensing. In this way, the entire purpose of God is embodied in the name Jehovah.

The Name of Jesus

The name of Jesus is the highest name in the universe. It is above every name (Phil. 2:9). But let’s ask for a moment with Juliet, what’s in this name? Three primary things really. The name Jesus, means “Jehovah our Savior” or “the salvation of Jehovah”. These are the three components of the name Jesus—Jehovah, the Savior, and salvation itself.

Three verses bring out the three components within the name Jesus:

Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I am. –John 8:58

And she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. –Matt. 1:21

…When the parents brought in the little child Jesus for them to do according to the custom of the law concerning Him, Simeon received Him into his arms and blessed God and said, Now You release Your slave, Master, according to Your word, in peace; for my eyes have seen Your salvation. –Luke 2:27-30

In John 8, Jesus makes a startling claim. This man from Nazareth, in His early thirties, a carpenter by trade, is I AM—Jehovah, the eternal God, who appeared to Moses in the thornbush. The monumentality of the claim wasn’t lost on the Jews either. They immediately picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:59). Jesus didn’t say, “Before Abraham came into being, I was.” That would have been correct grammatically, but incorrect theologically. Jesus wasn’t merely making a claim about His age, but about His identity. He is the self-existing and ever-existing God.

But the Gospel of John further demonstrates that Jesus is I AM in a predicated sense, in His all-inclusiveness:

  1. I am the bread of life (6:35)
  2. I am the light of the world (8:12)
  3. I am the door of the sheep (10:9)
  4. I am the good Shepherd (10:11)
  5. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
  6. I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
  7. I am the true vine (15:1)

All this is in the name of Jesus. As the I AM, He is whatever we need. The Old Testament Jehovah is the New Testament Jesus. In the Old Testament it was prophesied that the Lord Jehovah would come (Isa. 40:10) and in the New Testament it is preached that Jesus is Lord (2 Cor. 4:5). The fact that there is continuity in these names indicates that all that God is to us, He is in Jesus Christ. Paul says that, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). God has embodied Himself in all His riches in Christ and Christ is accessed for full salvation through His name. We take the cup of salvation by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus.

I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of Jehovah. –Psalm 116:13

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord [Jesus] is Lord of all and rich to all who call upon Him; for “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” –Rom. 10:12-13

In giving us the name of Jesus, God has given us everything. We should call on this name, pray in this name, and do all things in this name (Col. 3:17). Sorry Juliet (and Shakespeare), there’s a lot in a name.


 

1. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, (II, ii, 1-2)
2. Witness Lee, Recovery Version Footnotes, Revelation 2:17, note 4