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” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 yet 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.
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