The Supremacy of the Spiritual over the Material

1 Thessalonians 4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.


Once more, and for the last time Paul returns to the theme with which he set out in;


Romans 8: 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.


Compare Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;


Compare Romans 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:


There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. This expresses in a negative form the result of the Divine righteousness which is being revealed, the meaning of the justification which the coming of the righteousness implies. But now Paul, having dealt with successive difficulties and criticisms which presented themselves to his mind, is free to expand his theme without any further digression.

And the first thing is to connect the experience of acquittal with the further experience of life by the Spirit on the spiritual plain. He begins by exhibiting the anti-thesis between the material and the spiritual, There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because they have been emancipated (freed) from the Law which procures condemnation, the law which leads to sin and death.


2 Corinthians 3:7, 9.

7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.


and what has secured their freedom is the spirit-principle that leads to life in Christ Jesus. We note that the word law is used in two different senses in the same verse (v.2).

1.      In the first case it refers not to any positive or external law, similar to the Law of Moses, but to an internal regulative principle, the influence of the Spirit exercised along definite lines. When the Law had proved itself a failure as Paul has shown, especially in the previous chapter (7), God had intervened and introduced a new method whereby the righteous requirements of the Law might after all be fulfilled. (v 4). and what He had done was nothing less than sending His own Son, in the likeness of Sin’s flesh (i.e. of the flesh that had come to belong to Sin) and in connection with Sin (i.e. to deal with Sin).

2.      These last words introduce us to a new way of conceiving salvation, in terms of the anti-theses between flesh and spirit, and the experience of being lifted from the lower to the higher. This Paul now proceeds to develop in Vv5 forward.

Those that are wholly material take the material point of view, but those that are spiritual the spiritual. The material point of view is death; but the spiritual point of view is life and peace. For the material point of view is enmity against God, because it neither is nor can be submitted to the Law of God, and those who are wholly material cannot be pleasing to God.


Those who are in Christ Jesus (v 1). This very significant phrase meets us here for the first time. The possibility of Paul’s using it, and the significance he attaches to it, depend upon two considerations.

1.      In the first place, he conceives of Christ in glory in terms of Spirit, exempt from all conditions of space and time, and therefore as a sphere or atmosphere within which men may dwell, one in whom they may “live and move and have their being.” Acts 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

2.      Paul equates the Spiritual fellowship, the Body of Christ, the Church in that sense, with Christ Himself. 1 Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. In such a way that the idea members of the fellowship being also “in Christ” became easy and natural for him.


Sinful flesh. (v 3) in R.V. conveys a wrong impression. The words mean “Sins flesh,” and Paul is not referring to any quality or disposition in the physical constitution of Christ (far from it), to the fact it was like the physical constitution of mankind in general, in that it had become under the dominion of Sin.


Condemned Sin. (v 3) is not strong enough, it might be construed to mean no more than the expression of strong disapproval. It would be better “pronounced the doom of Sin” Sin was thenceforth deposed from its autocratic power.


The Ordinances of the Law. (v 4), i.e., the Law’s just requirements. For although the law as a system has come to an end, its moral requirements are still to guide the conduct of the Christians.


The Distinction between the flesh and the best expressed for us in terms of the distinction between the material and the spiritual; and when Paul here asserts the incommensurable superiority of the value of the soul and also of the Kingdom of God, that is to say, the spiritual side of life in its individual and its corporate aspects.


Christians have their being on the plane of spirit; in this sense they are “spiritual” 9v 9). The new life which is due to faith in Christ, a participation in His Spiritual life, was a life no longer in the material, but on the spiritual plane, and was guaranteed by the fact that the Spirit of God made His abode in the believer . No one can claim to belong to Christ unless he has the Spirit of Christ. But if Christ has made His abode in you, then the body or lower nature is dead because of sin, but your spirit is alive (V 10) to bring forth the harvest of righteousness. Sin may not have wholly died out from the body, but the body has lost its controlling power; that has passed to the spirit now quickened and reinforced by the Spirit of Christ. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then He who raised up Jesus willshall bring to life your bodies which are marked for death through His Spirit that dwells in you.


Romans 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:


1 Corinthians 15:44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.


2 Corinthians 4:10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.


Note on Paul’s Conception of the Spirit.

Paul’s conception of the Spirit found here and elsewhere shows a marked development from that which we find in the O.T. and even in the earlier parts of the N.T. There the Spirit of God is looked on, along with the Word of God and the Wisdom of God, as a Divine Force, belonging to God, proceeding from God, and carrying out the purposes of God. To the Spirit are specially assigned, though not exclusively, the quickening of life, the enhancement of natural human powers, and the bestowal of prophetic inspiration; but it is always as a non-personal organ of God’s will (relating to, directed to, or intended for a particular person). The same conception meets us in the synoptic Gospels, and even in the narrative of Pentecost. But in the case of Paul something has happened, which best can be described as saying that as Jesus had revealed the Father, so also He revealed the Spirit. The Spirit is now understood to have the same character and qualities as Jesus, to act and influence in the same way as Jesus had acted and influenced men. We now find ascribed to Him self-conscientiousness, and self-direction, qualities we recognise as connoting (To suggest or imply in addition to literal meaning) personality. He is spoken of as a person. And while it cannot be said that Paul ever ignores the distinction between the Spirit and Christ, even the Spiritual Christ in glory, it is equally true that he treats them as inter-changeable in the practical experience of men. He traces various aspects of Christian experience, now to the one and now to the other.


Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.


Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.


Of this we have striking illustration in these verses where the in-dwelling of the Spirit, of the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of God,  evidently refer to one and the same experience.


The Privileges of the Christian, Sonship, and Headship

Such experiences as have just been described carry their own imperative. Those who have been raised to the plane of spirit are bound to live on it. What has in one sense been accomplished, in another has still to be worked out.


Romans 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.


It is those who are governed by the Spirit of God who are really Sons of God. The spirit you have recovered is not a spirit of servitude, renewing your old dread of spirit-forces of evil, but a spirit of Sonship which leads us to address God as Father. To our own conviction is added the witness of God’s Own Spirit that we are indeed the sons of God.


1 John 3:1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.


John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name:


In this quiet way Paul introduces probably what is the highest conception of Christian experience and of Christian privilege. An overwhelming sense of Sonship together with an overwhelming sense of brotherhood which the Spirit creates within the fellowship—in these two experiences we have the heart of Christianity. The new relation of Sonship is so genuine that it carries with it the privileges of inheritance (Gal 4:7).It involves a partaking in the heritage of God (1 Cor 2:9 forward),

a partaking which we share with Christ, on the one condition that we also share in His suffering.


Galatians 4:7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.


1 Corinthians 2:9—16

09 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ. 


Even present Suffering is but a condition, of Future Glory.

“The suffering of the present life is not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us. For that glory is not for ourselves alone, but will involve something for which all created being is waiting on tiptoe, the revelation of the Sons of God. For creation indeed has been subjected to hopeless futility, not of its own will, but because of Him, namely, God, who so subjected it in hope; for not merely humanity but the world of created being shall be set free of the bondage of corruption, and brought in to the liberty of the children of God, whereas, as we know, it sighs and throbs with pain up till this present time. And that is true also of ourselves, even though we have the Spirit of God as the first-fruits of our glory. We also sigh within ourselves waiting for the perfect realisation of Sonship, when our body is also delivered. For that is the hope unto which we have been saved. Hope, we must remember, is always for something not yet realised; and if we continue to hope for that, the we wait for it with patience. Besides, we have the Spirit helping to sustain our weakness. We know not what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself pleads for us with sighs that are beyond words.

For God the searcher of hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, that he pleads for us in accordance with the purpose of God.”


Sons of God (v19).

We should naturally expect “the revelation of the Son of God.” But the phrase is in harmony with Paul’s doctrine of a redeemed humanity as the perfected self-realisation of Christ. Whose manifestation would be part of and equivalent to His own.


Ephesians 1:23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.


Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:


The Whole Creation.(v22). The phrase suggests to us pre-eminently though not exclusively the world of nature and inanimate being; to Paul it probably stood mainly though not exclusively for the world of sentient being (aware of), including the spiritual forces in the unseen


Ephesians 3:10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,


Redemption of our Body (v23).i.e. through the transforming of the natural body of flesh into the spiritual body of the life to come.


1 Corinthians 15:44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.


The Spirit Himself makes Intercession (v 26). The same function is predicated (proclaimed) of the Spirit here as it is predicated of Christ. (v34).


The Contents and the Ground of Christian Hope.

Paul assumes that the man who accepts the love of God which is commended to us through the death of Christ, will love God in return, and proclaims that with all such God co-operates for their good. He then further defines that these in view are not in view of man’s response to God, which might be fluctuating, but of God’s choice and calling, on which He does not go back.


Romans 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.


The goal toward which the Divine purpose (v 28) moves is variously described as bringing them into conformity to the image or character of Christ, and as causing them to participate in the glory , the moral splendour, of God. The certainty of this result rests ultimately not on any human choice or action, but on the timeless knowledge and will of God, which had found its first expression in the Divine calling, and then in the bestowal of the Divine righousness.


Romans 1:6—7

6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.


2 Timothy 2:9 Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.


John 15:16 Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.


From these facts alone the Christian is to draw the strongest possible comfort and encouragement. With God upon our side, it does not matter who is against us. Of that we have the conclusive proof in that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son.


Genesis 22:16 And said, “By Myself have I sworn,’ saith the Lord, ‘for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:’”


After that we may well believe that there is nothing which is truly for our good that He will not give us. Who has the right to challenge those whom God hath chosen?


Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.


Our business is with God; and He is the One Who pronounces acquittal. Who has the right to condemn? We have to do with Christ, and He is the one in whose death, resurrection, and ascension, we see the “power of God unto salvation.” Planted on such a foundation the Christian can securely face everything that menaces either happiness or life. For none of these things can separate us from the love of Christ (v 35).

Some authorities read here “the love of God”; and this is what we should expect from the context, as it is also what we find in v 39


Romans 8:39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


But, as Chrysostom put it, “It is so much a matter of indifference to Paul whether he mentions Christ or God.” The quotation from Psalm 44:22 in v 36 is a parenthetic illustration of the danger which God’s people may incur from the sword of the enemy.


Psalm 44:22 Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.


 The thought now moves on to the climax. None of the things which menace happiness or life can separate us from the love of Christ. But there were believed to be worse foes of man than these, namely, the Forces which were understood to rule human life from the start, “Elemental spirits of the world” (Gal4:3) “spirit-forces of evil in the unseen” (Eph 6:12).


Galatians 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:


Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.


Fear of these were poisoning human happiness and destroying human freedom, a real bondage of dread.


Romans 8:15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.


Paul looks around the whole world of ghostly enemies of man, including even angels 9for the fallen angels might too be foes of God and man), and proclaims their helplessness to destroy the Christians relation with God.


I am persuaded that neither death nor life, not Angels or Principalities or Powers, not the Powers of the Empyrean (The Empyrean was thus used as a name for the firmament) or the powers of the Abyss, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the culminating point of the Epistle. We feel that in a real sense it was for this it was written, to pass on to Christians conscious of being faced by many hostile forces the triumphant assurance, which for Paul; was rooted and grounded in the fact of the Gospel: “We are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.”