The Building Work of God, by Witness Lee

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Today many speak on 1 Corinthians, using it to present the matter of edification. However, I would like to ask God’s children, when the apostle wrote 1 Corinthians, was it written for the edification of individuals? No! The apostle’s emphasis was not on the edification of individuals but on the building of the church. At the time the Epistle was written, the most shameful thing in the church in Corinth was that the believers there had allowed Satan to do a work of tearing down among them. Satan caused them to not speak the same thing, to not be of the same mind, and to strive with one another. They said, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ” (1:10-12). Consequently, they were divided, and there were strifes among them. This was altogether the result of the wiles of Satan. Therefore, the apostle wrote a letter to deal severely with their abnormal situation. The apostle seemed to be saying, “Today the Lord does not care for the spirituality of individual saints but for the building up of the whole church. Your condition is altogether fleshly! As God’s fellow workers, we come here to work among you, not to edify you so that you may be spiritual individually, but to help you to be built together to be an inhabitable house. We help you to know the cross and to know Christ, not for your individual spirituality but altogether for the building up of the church.”

Moreover, the apostle said that as a wise master builder he had laid a foundation, which is Jesus Christ, and that another would build upon it. He said, however, that every man should take heed how they would build upon it. Would they build with gold, silver, and precious stones? Or would they build with wood, grass, and stubble (3:10-12)? The goal of the apostles’ work was absolutely not for individuals to become spiritual, but for the church to be built up into a house, a dwelling place.

In 1 Corinthians 3 the apostle also said, “You are the temple of God” (v. 16). Unlike in 6:19 where Paul said that our body is a temple of God, in this verse the temple does not refer to our body individually. Rather, it denotes the church as the house of God. Therefore, in 3:17 he went on to say, “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” This means that if anyone destroys the house, the church, of God, God will destroy him. When some in the church in Corinth said, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ,” they were tearing down the temple of God and destroying the house of God. In response to this, the apostle said that he and his fellow workers went out to work for the building up of the church. Hence, 1 Corinthians was written not merely for the edification of individuals but even more for the building up of the church. Therefore, in chapter twelve the apostle seemed to be saying, “You are the Body of Christ. Even though the body is one, it has many members; no one member can be without the other members. The eye cannot say that it does not need the hand, nor can the head say that it does not need the foot. Even the weakest member has its function, and even the most uncomely member has its place. In the Body of Christ you are members one of another, and all the gifts you have received are for the building up of the Body. It is a pity that although there is an abundance of gifts among you and you are not behind in any gift, those gifts cause you to have divisions and contentions. Consequently, there is no building up but tearing down.”

In chapter thirteen the apostle seemed to say, “All these gifts of yours, as sounding brass and clanging cymbals, neither edify others nor build up the church. I would rather that you did not have these things. My desire is that you would have love, because only love can join others to you. Only love builds. Gifts divide you, while love joins you.” Then in chapter fourteen he said that if the Corinthian believers would like to have spiritual gifts, they should seek to excel for the building up of the church (v. 12). Therefore, we can see clearly that the apostle’s emphasis in writing this Epistle was not on individual spirituality but on God’s building. The apostle’s work was altogether based on the blueprint laid out before him, that is, the dwelling place of God. It was with this as his goal that he led people to know the cross and to be spiritual. He did not merely lead people to take the cross, neither did he only lead them to be spiritual. All his work had the building as its goal. What a pity it is, however, that today many use 1 Corinthians merely for their personal spirituality or for helping others to be spiritual. I say again, what causes me the greatest pain is that all who receive this kind of help only seem to become individually spiritual and cause the church to suffer and be torn down. If you take a closer look, you can see that many who pay attention to individual spirituality eventually lose God’s presence and blessing. If there are many people in a locality who continually pay attention to personal spirituality, eventually that church will be divided and torn apart.


May the Lord be merciful to us so that we may see that today what He needs is not for individuals to be spiritual but for the church to be built up. Please do not misunderstand my words. I absolutely acknowledge that personal spirituality has its value before God. Each one of us must learn to live before the Lord and to be broken by the cross that we may all arrive at the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. But please remember that personal spirituality should not be for individuals; rather, it should be for the building of the church. The problem today is that many people pay attention to and care for personal spirituality only; they do not care for the building of the church at all. This is really the deceit of the enemy. Once we focus on our personal spirituality, our self will come in and will have the ground. Once we come to this stage, seemingly we are most spiritual; actually we are full of self. We seem to be persons who receive the breaking of the cross the most, but actually we are the most difficult to be broken. In any group of Christians, the person who is most difficult to be broken is the one who pays the most attention to personal spirituality. Such a one hopes to be personally spiritual and to help others to be spiritual as well, but instead the result is that he is the one who is the most difficult to be broken. Although he continually talks about the breaking of the cross, he is the hardest person to be broken by the cross. May the Lord be merciful to us and grant us to see that we do not need mere edification; instead, we need building. We do not need individual spirituality; instead, we need the building of the church. Any spirituality that we may need must also be for the building of the church.

(The Building Work of God, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)