1 Corinthians 4:8-13
Now you are full, now you are rich, you have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God you did reign…
In its widest reference the text teaches that our world is a theatre or arena, whereon men act their various parts, as in a drama — "a spectacle to angels." And this thought is at one with all Bible testimony. It teaches that from the first our planet has been an object of absorbing interest to all spiritual beings.
I. THE DRAMA OF HUMAN LIFE HAS BEEN CAST IN THREE GREAT MORAL ACTS. And as displaying the Divine attributes, the angels are represented as bending down to study all of them.
1. The first scene was one of blissful and holy human life. And endowed, as the first man was, with every power of perseverance in holiness, and plied with every motive to retain it, that first act in the drama of human life was fittingly "a spectacle to angels."
2. The second scene is a world apostate and accursed. An exhibition is now to be made of the terrible nature of sin, as seen alike in the malice of the tempter and the misery of the tempted. And when you consider the whole plot and progress of the drama — all the exhibitions of moral character under this fearful inspiration of sin, the whole wondrous development of redemption, from the first promise down through those ages of antediluvian depravity, through all those slowly evolving ritualisms to the tragic scene of Calvary, through all the gospel's subsequent triumphs — then this second act seems not unworthily "a spectacle to angels."
3. But on this scene the curtain falls. And when it rises again, it will be upon an arena worthier angelic regard. Out of the wreck and ruin of the present system of things, as a platform fitted for the manifestation of triumphant holiness, shall come forth the "new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."
II. ITS SPECIAL AND PRACTICAL APPLICATION TO OURSELVES. It is a plain truth of revelation that these glorious beings are ever around us. They are represented not only as "ministering unto the heirs of salvation," but as watchful of even their seemingly most trivial interests, "bearing them up, lest they dash their foot against a stone." Let us consider this —
1. For encouragement and consolation amid the trials of life. This is the application Paul gives it in the context. In a life wherein so few occasions are ours to do great things for God, and whose great law is suffering, it is blessed to think that it is especially when in sorrow, and agony, and death, we are "a spectacle to angels." They come on their bright wings to our desolate homes, our sick-beds, our death-beds, and every whisper of submissive Christian love sounds out as a grand hallelujah to the Infinite Glory, and every gentle tear in the eye of faith flashes as a gem of immense price in the diadem of their God.
2. As a ground of exhortation. We are all "a spectacle to angels." And how are we acting?
(1) You may be this day an impenitent man; and if so, the part you are acting is one solemn beyond all conception — the part of an imperilled man with an immortal soul to save! For just such acting is this life-stage fitted. Oh, what solemn scenery it arranges around you! Here Sinai with its fire, and there Calvary with its Cross. And now tell me, you that live as if there were no God, and no judgment, sporting with the soul and salvation, if you are acting well your part before this great cloud of witnesses! Hath it not been with gestures of astonishment and indignation they have watched you?
(2) Or you may be a true child of God; and then the part you are acting, if less terrible, is scarcely less solemn; for it is that of a redeemed man in the service of the Redeemer. In reference to this thought, Paul speaks of the believer as having "put on Christ" — i e., as a tragedian assumes that of the hero he personates. Thus, to personate the Lord Jesus is the part you are to act, as "a spectacle to angels." And for such acting, also, is the world-stage fitted. For it is the self-same world wherein He personally acted. The same sinful and suffering humanity is ever around you. The same realities of eternity rise in transparencies beyond you. And tell me, if you seem unto yourselves acting your magnificent part well?
III. AS THUS A SPECTACLE TO ANGELS, IT MAY BE SAID, IN ONE SENSE, WE CAN CHOOSE THE PARTS WE ARE TO ACT IN THEIR PRESENCE. There are some things common and certain to us all, and in regard of them we can choose at least our own style of acting.
1. Take one set order —
1. A death-scene! A darkened chamber. A company of heartbroken relatives keeping watch. The actor is a poor lover of pleasure, who put his eternity carefully away from him, living only for this world. Now witness his acting as it seems unto angels. Behold those feeble hands, lifted as to repel some shape of terror. Listen! That cry of anguish: "Oh, do not let me die!" "I cannot die!" "I rejected the Saviour!" "I am lost, lost, lost!"(2) The next is a judgment scene! And again this poor worldling appears upon the stage, "a spectacle to angels." And see it — that look of hopeless anguish, as there falls on the shrinking sense the appalling sentence — "Depart! — depart!"(3) The last scene is in eternity! Go, ponder it as pictured in God's solemn Book.
2. This is one style of acting. Consider, in contrast, the other! The same stage; the same scenery; but all else different!
(1) Again the death-scene! See the radiant fire in the eye! the rapturous smile on the lip! Hear those words, feeble, yet joyous in faith and love: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," &c. Behold that fixed look heavenward, as the ransomed spirit spreads wing for its place in the many mansions!
(2) The same scene of judgment! Note that look of triumph, that cry of rapture, at the approving sentence: "Come, ye blessed of My Father," &c.
(3) Again, a scene laid in eternity! But here, stage, scenery, acting, all different. Such, shortly, are the two styles of human action on the great theatre of life. And for each of us, just behind this massive curtain, are stage and scenery being prepared! And we are here to choose, each for himself, the style of his performance. And now, tell me how you will act your solemn part — O immortal man! as "a spectacle to angels."
Parallel VersesKJV: Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.