1 Corinthians 11:18
There is for us, as Christians, that which is individual in character, and that which is collective. The one does not interfere with the other. The clearer we become as to our individual portion, and the deeper our enjoyment of it, the better shall we be fitted for that which is collective.
The Corinthians very little understood what pertained to them as individuals, and the assembly was with them all in confusion. Along with this it may be noticed that they did not distinguish, as they should have done, between what belonged to their own circle and that which belonged to the Lord. Though they had houses to eat and to drink in, they made the assembly a place for pursuing their individual ways and concerns, even to the extent of some being hungry and others drunken. The epistle to the Corinthians, while correcting all their disorder, gives to us very valuable instruction as to those things which with them were in such confusion.
That which is individual lies within our present path of responsibility to God; that which is collective, while beginning within that sphere, reaches to that which is beyond, to that which is heavenly and eternal, the things which God in His great love has purposed and prepared for us.
As men here on earth we have all had our sins, and we still have our sorrows. These are individual, for, although there may be a similarity between the sins and sorrows of all men, those of one are not exactly those of another. In the gospel the forgiveness of sins is preached to us, and we learn that God is Himself our Justifier, His justification of us being set forth in the resurrection of Jesus our Lord from the dead. Thus we have peace with God, and the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. We can therefore glory in tribulation. And, further, the One who has manifested His love in dying for us is now at God’s right hand, and there intercedes for us. Nothing can sever us from His love, and even our sorrows may become the opportunity for His assuring our hearts in a deeper way of His love. Thus we become more than conquerors through Him who loves us. All this belongs to our individual path.
In assembly we enter upon that which is common to all saints. If we are not clear of our sins and our sorrows, which are individual, we can scarcely be at liberty to enter upon that which is common to us all. Set at liberty from these things, the more fully we know the God who is for us (as seen in our justification) and the more deeply we drink into the love of Christ, the better are we fitted to enjoy all that belongs to the company. For, though I may enter with intensity into Christ’s personal interest in me, as an individual (as Paul said, “I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me”, Galatians 2:20), yet I know that that love is not exclusively mine. John wrote of himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:7), yet he did not view himself as the exclusive object of that love, for again he wrote, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end” (John 13:1). The more deeply conscious I am of His love to me, the more do I delight to see the whole band of His own, loved by Him with the same deep unchanging affection.
Now His love desires the company of its objects; not one alone, nor two, nor a few, but the whole company, as He will have them in the end when He gathers them home to Himself. If we enter into this there will be with us a great desire to be together in assembly. It is perfectly true that we cannot gather together the whole band, but that makes no difference to the principle; we shall be pleased to be with those who are endeavouring to maintain moral principles which are according to the Lord, and in whose midst He is free to take His place. And in so gathering together there will be the recognition of the fact that we are called to leave that which is purely individual, to be engaged with that which belongs to the whole band. Our houses, which we have to eat and to drink in, are left behind, and with them our individual concerns, to have before us the love of Christ to His own, with all that belongs to us in that love.
Clearly, according to our chapter, that which first engages us is the eating of the Lord’s supper (verse 20). The apostle denied that the Corinthians ate the Lord’s supper, for in its place each took before others his own supper, and one was hungry and another was drunken. But the denial of the apostle shows that properly what first engages us is the Lord’s supper. Thus also in Acts 20:7, the sacred historian speaks of those who came together for the breaking of bread. That agrees with what we have here.
The meaning of the Supper explains this; it is for the calling to mind of the Lord. When He was here in flesh He called His disciples around Himself and took charge of the whole company. Now we come together in His absence, and the more deeply we love Him the more we must feel His absence; but, in eating the Supper, we call Him to mind in that which was the perfect expression of the devotedness of His love to His own; we recall Him as the One who has died. Thus, while absent as to bodily presence, He becomes present to our mind and the affections of our hearts. Love is quick to catch the manifestation of His presence, and our love is stimulated in the remembrance of His own love to us. Merely believing that He is present (according to Matthew 18:20) avails us little if we have not the consciousness of it; love can be content with nothing short of the manifestation of His presence, and this is that which the Lord desires to give to His own.
If He be thus called to mind, in the consciousness of His presence, we enter upon the sense of our companionship with Him. For the time, we are outside the things which are in the world, and we come to the enjoyment of all that in which He lives before God. He has made known to us the Father’s name, and as we are with Him He brings us to enjoy all the love of the Father’s heart. Then, as our hearts fill with the joy of this, He leads their fulness to the Father; “in the midst of the assembly will I sing thy praises” (Hebrews 2:12). What can equal this! He brings us to share His own joy in the Father’s love, and to join the praise which He sings to the Father.
Oh! that we may know better what belongs to our being together in assembly. The individual is robbed of nothing by our knowledge of what is collective; on the contrary, the realised joy of the assembly will make us more effective in our individual path. We shall the more intelligently be enabled to say:
‘And stayed by joy divine,
As hireling fills his day,
Through scenes of strife and desert life
We tread in peace our way.’
Whatever may be said of the importance of that which belongs to the individual, as such, and it may be fully granted, yet there is clearly that which belongs to the company, and which can only be entered on in the assembly. The Lord may graciously be with us, giving us a sense of His sympathy and support in our trying circumstances, and no one can afford to lessen the necessity for this, or the sweetness of it; yet it is a different thing when He draws us on to His own ground, and gives us to taste the joy in which He lives before the Father. This is ours in the assembly.