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Joined: 2005/4/4
Posts: 342
Continental Europe

 The Christian Life and Service

Mentality of the Spiritual Warrior

by T. Austin-Sparks

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.", (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

We wish to consider the matter of mentality in relation to our great spiritual warfare. The marginal alternative to "casting down imaginations" is "casting down reasonings" and William Barclay renders this "destroying plausible fallacies". In any warfare there are perils and threats to victory where there is a wrong mentality. On the other hand, the warrior has a tremendous advantage when he is of a right mentality. What are the plausible fallacies which must be destroyed if we are to share in Christ's victory?

A Wrong Mentality as to the Higher Command

The first consideration in warfare is that of the Supreme Command. When we consider the Church as the fighting army we realise how important it is that there should exist no wrong mentality concerning the Lord Jesus who is the Supreme Commander. One aspect of a wrong mentality concerning Him is this: that He is One from whom we GET everything, instead of the One to whom we GIVE everything. There is a great danger of always thinking in terms of what we are to get from Headquarters, of what advantages are to accrue to us, of drawing toward ourselves; in effect - although we would never admit this - really putting ourselves, our interests, in the place of those of the Supreme Command. That is how it works out.

It is just at this point that "popular" Christianity has done a great deal of harm. Christianity has been put on a wrong basis, or perhaps to be a little more charitable, upon an inadequate basis, and the preaching is almost exclusively in terms of what we are to GET. We are to get salvation; we are to get eternal life, peace, joy and satisfaction - all this and Heaven too! But the emphasis is so largely upon what we are to get from the Lord Jesus, our Supreme Commander. It is at least an inadequate mentality, if not an altogether wrong one when it is made a principle; it is a misinterpretation of the whole Christian life. The right mentality - and the only one that is going to serve the great purpose and to minister to the great objective - is the mentality that is governed by the principle: "Give everything to the Lord" and not "Get everything from the Lord".

This is the governing principle of the Godhead, that to give is the way of fulfilment. In the case of the Lord Jesus, that is made very clear in one classic passage where we are told that He "...emptied himself... Wherefore also God highly exalted him...", (Philippians 2:7-9). Fulfilment, the restoration of His voluntarily laid aside fullness, came to Him along the line of emptying, giving, pouring out. That is the principle of the Godhead, and it should be the mentality of all who are engaged in the great spiritual warfare. We shall be knocked about, brought up short and defeated if we are all the time thinking in terms of what should come to us. The self-centred life is always the discontented life.

But the out-going life is the life of abundant return - it all comes back. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.", (Luke 6:38). Those are the words of the Lord Jesus. Do you want eternal possessions? The way to receive is to give. We must not think only of the Lord Jesus in terms of receiving from Him, as though He were only there for our benefit. Those who have this mentality may feel that He is not giving as they expected, so they lose interest and become paralysed in the battle, useless as fighters and powerless as servants. The true mentality about the Supreme Commander is that He should receive the honour and the glory, the dominion and the power, and everything. It is true that He will give and go on giving eternally, our relationship must be not on the basis of what WE can get but of how much He is going to get from us.

A Wrong Mentality as to the Christian Life

Secondly, there are the perils of wrong ideas about the Christian life. There is a prevalent idea that this is merely a matter of being saved and blessed. For many, salvation and personal blessing are the sum of the Christian life, a mentality which is sometimes encouraged by preachers and leaders. The Word of God makes it perfectly clear, however, that this life is something far more. We need to realise that the Christian life involves being actively engaged in the great conflict of the elemental forces of this universe.

That is the issue. Long, long ago, something tremendous was set in motion; and ever since then, down through the centuries, the great purpose of God has been challenged and disputed. All through these generations the people of God have given themselves in relation to that one great battle in the universe; and it still goes on - the battle is not over yet. The real nature of the Christian life is that you and I, immediately we become related to the Lord Jesus Christ, are called into this spiritual conflict. We are involved in what I have called the ultimate elemental forces of the universe in conflict. This means no less than that the whole hosts of the kingdom of God and of heaven are on one side, while on the other side is the vast and vicious kingdom of Satan.

Do not have any illusions about the Christian life. The Lord Jesus did not allow His disciples to harbour any illusions: "Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.", (Luke 14:27). "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.", (Luke 9:24). That is frank and straight-forward. This is what we are in! It is a great privilege to be in it, but we should have no wrong mentality about the costliness of the honour. There IS joy and there IS peace. Thank God for all the blessings. We need, though, to recognise and adjust to the fact that we are in a battle, a fierce and unrelenting battle; a warfare from which there is no discharge in this life.

A Wrong Mentality as to the Church

Thirdly, there can be wrong ideas about the army itself, that is the Church. The Church is the army, but it would be a wrong mentality to imagine that the Church is the end and object of everything. We are accustomed to say much about the greatness of the Church and we do not exaggerate when we do so. We speak of it in superlative terms as, "God's masterpiece" and we are right to do so. We are encouraged by the Word of God to think of the Church of Christ as something great and wonderful, even magnificent. It is a wonderful conception in the mind of God from all eternity; it has a very large place in the divine counsels; and it is to be at last presented to the Lord Jesus as a glorious Church. All this is true.

But when it has all been said, it must still be affirmed that the Church is not God's ultimate objective and end; it is, after all, no more than the instrument. It is but the vessel, the agent for God's purposes. There is something far beyond. It is perhaps the greatness of the Church that it plays such a part in the "super-greatness" of that object which it lives to serve. We must not think that we have to live only and utterly for the Church. We have to remember that, just as the army does not exist for itself, nor campaign in the field for itself, but in the interests of its sovereign and his kingdom, so the Church exists and engages in warfare solely for the glory of the Lord on the throne, and for His kingdom. If we have faulty ideas in this matter, we will find that they constitute a weakness. If we put the Church in the place of Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves in trouble with the Holy Spirit. That is not in any way to displace or to belittle the Church, but only to insist that the Church exists for Christ. All our Church conceptions and procedures should be governed by the fact that everything must be for Christ's sake. We must never regard these as being ends in themselves, but only to minister to the satisfaction of our Supreme Commander.

A Wrong Mentality as to Ministries

We next come to the matter of functioning in God's army, which is the way in which we may well describe the ministries within the Church. It is important to correct any wrong mentality concerning the real meaning and value of ministries. Is ministry just a question of imparting knowledge and information? No, true ministry is something more than mere teaching. We are an army in the field, and what is needed in a day of battle is not lectures but provision for the actual need in which we are found.

Do you see the point? Here is the background of conflict. From time to time the Supreme Commander visits the various positions, gathers the staff together and reviews the situation. He assembles all his men and talks to them. But the scene is a scene of battle. It is a time of war and not of peace. The conditions prevailing are war conditions; the scene and circumstances are those of actual war. Why does he gather the men around? To give them lectures on the theory of military life? Not a bit of it! He calls them together in order to give help and instruction on how to meet the existing and immediate situation; to direct as to how to cope with that which confronts them at that moment.

That should be the nature of all our meetings and our ministry. We ought all the time to be a people on a war footing, ready to face emergencies, perils and dangers. If we had that mentality, that we really are in the thick of the battle, our meetings would serve much greater purposes, our ministry would be of far greater value. Our meetings must at all costs be redeemed from being just sessions of theory. We can reach saturation point as to doctrine and be unable to absorb any more. But if we are conscious of being right up against things and needing help, then we will find the help we seek. We ought to be at our meetings on this footing: "I need it; I cannot do without it; my situation demands it". If there is no demand, then the supply will be valueless. Our meetings and our ministry must represent a provision for actual need.

And if we are in earnest, the Lord will see to it that we are in need. He will make things very practical, very real. He will see to it that our Christian lives are constantly brought up against new needs. Do not worry or think that things have gone wrong, if you find yourself up against a situation for which you have no answer. Our progress can only be on the basis of growing need. Immediately that stops, we stop. We go no further than our sense of need - our very acute sense of need. Blessed be God! He only allows this ever pressing sense of need in order that the need may be supplied.

All ministry must have a practical background, both for giving and receiving. May God save those of us who minister from ministering just theories or sermon material. That which is ministered must be born out of experience and actuality in life. The ministry must not consist in searching out subject matter, putting it together and then retailing it as addresses. It must be born out of life, right up to date. And there must be an active exercise on both sides - in those who minister and in those who receive the ministry. There must be action about it. There must be, on the part of all, a very serious quest, the seriousness of which is born of the desperateness of the situation; the realisation that unless we have this knowledge from the Lord, unless we have new life from Him, we will go under in the battle and cede victory to the enemy. That is the nature of those "councils of war", those meetings with the Supreme Commander, to which we sometimes gather. They are just that we may be equipped for our job - and our job is fighting. Whenever we meet it should be to get equipment for our very life work which is now on hand.

A Wrong Mentality as to Others

Lastly we come to wrong ideas concerning the other personnel in the army - the other people in the Church. We have many wrong ideas about one another. You know how easy it is to be selective, to look at the other man or woman and to write them off as not counting for much. That is very dangerous. Our kind of selectiveness, our judgment of people, may sabotage the whole movement. And what about ourselves? Where would you be, where would I be, if the Lord had been very particular that we should be exactly of the right stature and have full qualifications for His work? I know where I would be if He were so particular; I would be disqualified from any part in the ministry or warfare.

We must be very careful, too, that we do not contemplate others as competitors or rivals who are seeking to get an advantage over us. We must not be "touchy" about our own position and our own rights, becoming explosive if someone else is put before us, or seems to have been given favourable treatment instead of us. It is a horrible thing to think of such an attitude among Christians, but it happens only too easily. By taking personal offence, because of something that has been done that seems to be placing us at a disadvantage, we can be put out of the fight altogether and count for nothing in the battle. In such a situation, whether we judge ourselves to be in the right or wrong, our attitude must be this: "Lord, I am YOURS, I am YOUR man, I am in this just for YOU. Men can do what they like - put me out, put others over my head, whatever they like. That is between You and me, Lord, and between You and them." If you allow yourself to take offence and harbour a grievance, then the enemy can gain an advantage and you will become a casualty. You may as well be carried off on a stretcher straight away!

We need to remind ourselves that a favourite manoeuvre of our enemy is to get amongst us and make us look at one another and misjudge one another. What is the use of an army like that - with its men suspecting and mistrusting one another? What a sad state of affairs! The word is: "Casting down imaginations" - and if we only knew the truth we should discover that our grievances are not real but based on imaginations. This is the clever manoeuvre of the enemy. The counter to it is found in the passage which speaks of casting down such imaginations, "and bringing every thought into captivity... to Christ". Failure to do this may affect the whole issue of the battle. Lay hold of those thoughts about other fellow soldiers and bring them into captivity to Christ. Make sure that you are right, and even if you are right, be prepared to forgive, to be charitable, and above all not to make a personal issue of it.

A Wrong Mentality as to Ourselves

How prone we are to have wrong ideas about ourselves. Paul said: "I say... to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.", (Romans 12:3). What ought we to think of ourselves? In the light of God's grace, mercy and love and in the light of God's holiness, what ought we to think of ourselves? Paul continues: "So to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith". That is, if we may take another saying of Paul's out of its context, "According to the measure of the gift of Christ.", (Ephesians 4:7). The measure of our self-esteem will be in inverse proportion to the measure of Christ that we have. How much of Christ have we received? Well, if we have a super-abundance of Christ, if we have more of Christ than anyone else, we shall not think highly of ourselves at all. The more we have of Christ, the less we shall think of ourselves or want to talk about ourselves. The less we shall want to be in the limelight.

What ravages such a wrong mentality could make in an army. Just imagine what would happen if its men thought more highly of themselves than was right and despised their fellows. It would play right into the hands of the enemy. Our safety lies in "thinking soberly". In this great battle it matters very much that we think of ourselves as we ought to do, and that is, in a related way. An army depends upon its units. The whole can suffer through the weakness of the individual. We can overestimate our personal importance or we can underestimate our related significance. To think of ourselves as we ought to think will mean not to err in either direction.

 2005/5/3 4:31Profile

Joined: 2005/4/4
Posts: 342
Continental Europe

 Re: The Christian Life and Service

Attaining Unto The First Three

by T. Austin-Sparks

"These are the names of the mighty men whom David had... Adino... Eleazar... Shammah.", (2 Sam. 23:8-12)

"(Abishai) was made their captain: howbeit he attained not unto the first three.", (2 Sam. 23:19)

We are not so much concerned at the moment with the details of the exploits of these three men as with the fact that David had a number of mighty men who came to him when he was in the stronghold in the wilderness, shut up because of Saul, and that the thirty chief men were divided into groups, each group representing a standard. The thirty were, shall we say, of one more or less general standard of excellence, and then they were divided into smaller groups, each of which represented a higher standard of excellence, until we arrive at the three named above, who are called the first three. Of all the others it is said that they attained not unto the first three. The point which I want to deal with is that of attaining unto pre-eminence in the estimation of the Lord.

Why was this story written? Why have we the record of these men and their feats of strength? Do you think it is just to include in the Bible some thrilling stories of wonderful things that certain men did? Sometimes some of them seem almost phenomenal. But do you think that the record is here just for that purpose? If the Bible is written really on the basis of spiritual principles and not just to record human stories, earthly things, there is something which is spiritual behind everything.

Different Categories Of Spiritual Greatness

If we look behind these exploits for the principle which the Lord has desired to enunciate and illustrate, surely we find it to be this - that it is possible to be first, second or third rate people; that is, it is possible to be put into different categories of spiritual greatness and effectiveness. That is the first thing. Paul sought to encourage Timothy to be no second-rate servant of God, but to attain unto the first, to be outstanding and not just one of a crowd; to be of particular, special account to the Lord. That is the principle, I think, lying behind all that is here. We can be classified. We can be of the thirty, of that category which has a certain quite real spiritual value, significance and accountability. Such people are not by any means nominal. Indeed they are something far more than the nominal crowd of men in Israel. But even so it is possible to go more than one step higher: you can go further and then still further. There is a place which is represented by the first three. I think Paul himself was the embodiment of the spirit of the first three when he said: "One thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.", (Phil. 3:13-14). "What things were gain to me" (and they were not wrong things at all), "these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.", (Phil. 3:7-8). "The excellency"; the thing which excels; the excelling knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. That is the embodiment of the spirit of that which is first with the Lord.

A Question Of Attaining

Now Paul uses this very word "attain". "If by any means I may attain...", (Phil. 3:11). It is a question of attaining. This has nothing to do with our initial salvation. We do not attain unto salvation in the initial sense, for that is not the result of any effort or resolve on our part. Salvation, in the sense of our being brought from judgment to reconciliation to God and the abundance of forgiveness and assurance, and so on, is given to us. But then there does arise again and again in the New Testament the matter suggested by this word "attain". One man came to Jesus and said, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?", (Mark 10:17). The Lord Jesus did not say you cannot inherit it. He said substantially that you can inherit it, but that there is also something more to be attained unto. Attaining is something beyond our conversion, it is something more than our receiving the gift of eternal life. There is a position to be reached of value to the Lord which is the position par excellence, the supreme position. The Lord wants to find in us the determination that, by His grace, we are not going to accept anything less than the highest and the fullest that God means in respect of our value and usefulness to Him.

Marks Of Supreme Greatness

(A) The Perception Of God's Full Thought

You will ask, Well, what are the marks of this kind of pre-eminence? I do not know that it was altogether what these men did that made them excel, although what they did was certainly outstanding. There were others who did very remarkable things. One other went down into a pit and there slew a lion, in time of snow. Well, get into a pit with a lion! A lion at bay is quite a proposition; it presents a challenge and needs a good deal of courage. Others engaged in battle with mighty giants and slew them. These were exploits. These three, perhaps, did something even more outstanding than that. But I do not think it was altogether in what they did that their superiority lay. Of course, Adino slew three hundred men single-handed. (1 Chronicles 11:11 gives the number as three hundred, and II Samuel 23:8 as eight hundred; the discrepancy we will not discuss at the moment.) Singlehanded he tackled this overwhelming situation, and did not stop until the task was accomplished and the last man lay dead. Then of Eleazar we read that there was a band of Philistines threatening to attack a plot of ground full of barley. The rest of Israel fled before them, but Eleazar stood in the midst of the plot and defended it, and slew the Philistines until his hand was weary and clave to his sword (1 Chron. 11:12-14). And what of Shammah? In similar manner he defended a plot of lentils from the marauding Philistines when all others had fled, and slew the enemy, and thus preserved the food of the people of God.

The above exploits may have their own symbolic significance, but that is not the point. The point is this: these mighty men lived in a day when things were in transition. Something not according to God's full thought for His people was holding the ground. Saul was on the throne, and that was not God's thought. The people had been brought under the domination of this other order of things, and were therefore all the time in peril of spiritual starvation, of defeat, in weakness, bondage and uncertainty. They did not know where they were nor which way to go. Everything was indefinite and in a most unsatisfactory state, because another thought than God's thought was prevailing amongst the Lord's people. God's thought in fulness was centred in David; and the first characteristic of the mighty men, all of them, was that they perceived the state of things. They saw that the word of the Lord revealed as God's mind something more and other than what was prevailing, and that "seeing" was the beginning of the movement, the transition, the secession, to David. That is the first thing - to see what is not generally seen by the Lord's people: the thing which the Lord really would have: that which, if only it were established, would mean such a big change for the people of God. In what greater fulness and on what a higher level they would be living! That is the beginning of the greatness that in principle is here before us. They perceived the thought of God, the direction in which that thought lay, and they said, "We have done with this other! We have been a part of it, but we have finished with it. From now on, we are out for God's full thought, and we are not going to take anything less." They committed themselves to it. That was the beginning of the greatness.

(B) A Sense Of Responsibility

Then you find these men were characterised by a very real sense of responsibility. They seem never to have needed any encouraging, or to have anything said to them, to urge them on. They took the initiative in the matter of responsibility. They each one said, in effect, "Well, this supreme matter of God's full thought becomes a personal matter with me; I bring it right down to myself. The others may have gone, there may be no one else here for it, but because I have seen it I refuse to abandon it. I take this thing up myself." And so, whether against three hundred or eight hundred or the whole unnumbered band of Philistines, these men take their stand, though alone. It is the whole responsibility of this full testimony taken up by the individual as though it rested upon him alone for the time being. That is superior greatness. There are people who can move in crowds, and who will act when they have others supporting and encouraging them, but many fade out when it is a case of facing this tremendous thing alone. Superior greatness is shown by taking personal responsibility whether others do so or not.

Look at Paul. From his conversion to the end of his life he seems to have been like that. At the end we hear him saying, "All that are in Asia turned away from me.", (2 Tim. 1:15). This one has gone, that one has gone - "Only Luke is with me.", (2 Tim. 4:11). He is practically alone, but he is not giving up. It is just at that time, more than ever, that he stands for God's full thought; and we get the fruit of his stand in his prison letters. Superior greatness is willingness to stand for what God has revealed as His will, though we have to stand alone. It may be one against many, there may be a considerable amount of aloneness, but that is where the test of our spiritual measure comes in, in initiative and responsibility that does not wait for an organisation to come into being to deal with the situation, but makes it a personal matter - and a thorough-going one, too.

(C) Spiritual Stamina

Then it does seem that the measure of their endurance in seeing the thing through to a finish was a feature of their spiritual greatness. A thing that seems characteristic of them all is said about one of these men - "his hand clave unto the sword.", (2 Sam. 23:10); that is, he had held on so firmly and so persistently that he now could not let go when he wanted. His sword had almost become a part of his hand. He is in great weariness with the fight, but he sees it through to the end. And this is very important. There are plenty of people who can take up things and start them with zest, but who leave a whole host of unfinished things all over the place. Their lives are marked by unfinished things. They begin in good spirit, but nothing is carried through to the end. There comes a point of tedium, of weariness, a point where the cost or the danger increases, and then the hand slackens and the thing is not finished. There is a lot in the New Testament about enduring unto the end. Spiritual stamina is a test of greatness. Oh, we do need spiritual stamina to stick to a task and go through with it and not give up, our hand cleaving to our sword: we have got into this thing, and we just cannot let go. It is not even a question now of whether we want to let go, we are so committed that we cannot. A mark of greatness is that stamina which goes beyond the initial zest and the first enthusiasms, beyond all the stimulus of a fresh challenge, of a new situation. When tedium sets in and all romance has gone out of it, it is a grim, grim business: now we have simply to stick at it. So Eleazar's hand clave to his sword. He was weary, but he finished the job; he was not put off half-way through. That is what is written over all that these three men did. They finished the task; it was very costly, but they got through, they proved their stamina. It may be all right to go down into a pit and slay a lion, and get it all over in a few minutes; or to go up to a giant and give him one blow, and that is the end of the business. But it is another thing to stand and fight man after man, raid after raid, rush after rush, repelling constantly-renewed attacks. You may take it these bands of Philistines did not make just one assault on each of these men. One after another the enemies fell before him; they re-formed and others came on - whether it were three hundred or eight hundred of them. They came on until the last of them was done; and David's warriors did not give up until the fight was finished. The stamina of these men is remarkable. In like manner we find Paul continuing to the end. Yes, weary, heart-sick, worn out in the battle, but he can yet say, "I have finished the course.", (2 Tim. 4:7). There was no giving up.

(D) Inclusively - Standing For The Fullness Of Christ

This is the test of spiritual stature; firstly, seeing God's full thought and accepting nothing less, being committed to that; secondly, initiative and responsibility where that thought of God is concerned so that we do not have to be told what is needed, nor urged nor coerced into doing it: we are alive to it, and on the spot, and doing it because it has become a matter of personal concern to us; and then, thirdly (to change the metaphor), having put our hand to the plough, no looking back, no half-ploughed field, no breaking off because things are getting monotonous or difficult, but going though with it even though it be in weariness.

I do not know that there is much else to say about this. There is no doubt about it, we are in the counterpart of such a situation to-day, and the majority of people are not prepared to pay the price. It is easier to accept a lesser thought of God, one that is not so costly. But the point is, are we going to attain to the first three, or are we going to be in the second group or in the third group? That is the question we have to answer. When we have said everything else, what does it amount to? In a word, it is the establishment of the Absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ, and of the Absolute Sovereignty of God's full thought as embodied in Him. David represented that. He was the embodiment of God's full thought. Fullness was to come in with him, and it was to come in along the line of his absolute headship, and lordship. Well, that is a type of the Lord Jesus.

A Way Of Faith

I might add this word. It was a day of faith. These men truly perceived that the Word of God for its fulfilment lay in the direction of David, but you must remember David was a lonely man at this time. He had very few with him, and those with him were in a real state of weakness; they had been denuded of everything; and the whole country was with Saul. Saul had the reins of government in his hand. It was a risky thing to break with that. You did not know, humanly speaking, whether David's cause was going to succeed or not, and you did not want it to be one of those small revolts that would be suppressed and then everything would be lost. You were risking everything. Ah, but it was a day of faith, a day when all who took that line had to take it by faith, they committed themselves to the line of faith. Surely it is like that. To abandon ourselves to God's purpose in its fullness (which is not the general objective of God's people) and become an apparently small nucleus who are after something more than the average, and to believe that it is going to have any success at all, a lot of faith is needed for doing that. If you want an easy time, you will not take that way. But there is the test again. Is that not just the whole point of Hebrews 11, when you reach the summary of it all - "What shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of..." You notice that David is mentioned and it is said, among other things, that those concerned "subdued kingdoms... waxed mighty in war..." They did exploits. I think these men of David's come in there, and it was the triumph of faith. That was the test of their spiritual measure.

This challenges us. Are we going to be second-rate, third-rate, or first-rate, recognising that it is an extra cost that is involved, and that the Lord is in need of it? David was desperately in need of this kind of helper, and we are not wrong in saying the same thing of the Lord - He is desperately in need of people like this. There are not many, and His cause is very largely suffering because He has not this type. Surely He is calling us to face the challenge which this presents.

 2005/5/3 4:42Profile

Joined: 2005/4/4
Posts: 342
Continental Europe

 Re: The Christian Life and Service

Captivity In The Lord

by T. Austin-Sparks

Read: Ephesians 3:1, 4:1; 2 Timothy 2:9 & 1:8.

There is a very real sense in which the Apostle Paul, in his own person and experience, was an embodiment of the history of the Church in this age. Indeed it would seem to be a principle in the Divine economy that those to whom a revelation has been entrusted should themselves have it so wrought into their very being and history that they are able to say, "I am your sign." To take the one fragment which is now before us, the end of Paul's life saw a process of narrowing down and limitation working itself through by "a great falling away" on the one hand, and a closing up from the general to the specific in the case of which (him who) represented the testimony on the other. This is precisely what is foretold as to the conditions at "the end" and it is not a little significant that it is specially referred to in prophetic utterances to Timothy - in the end letter. So that this phrase "The Prisoner in the Lord" occurring as it does in the last writings, is prophetic in its meaning, and wonderfully explanatory of the end way of the sovereignty of the Lord. What we have here, then is:

1. The instrument of the Lord's testimony in a place of limiting by the will of God.

As we read the record of the incidents which led up to Paul's going to Rome as a prisoner, and especially when we read the words of Agrippa: "This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar .", we are not far from feeling that there were mistakes and accidents, but for which there might have been a much more propitious issue, and the ministry of the Apostle at large might have extended. There may have been times of stress when Paul himself was tempted to wonder if he had not been impulsive in that appeal to the Emperor. But as he went forward, and when the Lord spoke to him from time to time giving light, it became clear that, however the thing might have been construed humanly, there was a sovereign government of God in it all, and that he was in prison not as the Emperor's prisoner, but as the prisoner of the Lord.

Perhaps Paul did not accept this all at once. Possibly he did not realise just how it would work out. A more or less quick trial and release may have been put to mind. Some hope of further ministry amongst beloved saints seems to be absent from his correspondence. (There probably was a short period of release from the first imprisonment.) At length, however, he fully accepted what was becoming increasingly clear as the Lord's way, and it grew upon him that this was in the greatest interest of the Body of Christ. Thus we see that when the time comes for the Lord's people to be brought face to face with the ultimate and supreme things of the revelation of Jesus Christ: things beyond personal salvation: things which relate to the mind of God from above being saved: then there has to be a narrowing down, a closing up, a limiting. Much activity that has been, and all quite right for bringing things to a certain position and state, now ceases to carry them further, and something more intensive is needed.

That which represents the testimony in its fullest and closest approximation to the ultimate purpose of God, then, has to be shorn of much that has been good, necessary, and of God in a preparatory way, and must be shut up to what is ultimate. The captivity is not to a conceived truth or a superimposed doctrinal acceptance. It is wrought into the very fiber of the being by experience following revelation, and revelation interpreting experience. It is not the championing of some espoused interpretation: it is that it is the very life of instruments and the instrument is that in its very being. It is not a matter of wanting to be or not wanting to be, but cannot be other, a prisoner, the sovereignty of God has done it.

2. The importance and value of seeing and accepting things into God's light.

This applied both to Paul and to those who were brought into touch with him. For the Apostle the settling in to the sovereign ordering of God in his imprisonment issued in increasing illumination leading to spiritual emancipation.

No one can fail to recognize the tremendous enrichment of ministry as contained in what are called "the Prison Epistles". If he had been restive, piqued, rebellious, or bitter, there would have been no open heaven, and a spirit of controversy with the Lord would have closed and bolted the door to the fuller Divine unveilings and clarifyings.

When all was accepted according to the mind of the Lord, then "the heavenly places" became the eternal expanses of his walking about, and earthly bondage gave place to heavenly freedom. So it must be with every instrument set apart in relation to the higher interests of the Lord's testimony. Then the reading of certain passages in his letters and the record of his imprisonment shows how this applied to others. Take the following:-

"Be not ashamed therefore of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me his prisoner.", (2 Tim. 1:8)

"And he abode two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and received all that went in unto him. ...teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus.", (Acts 28:30)

"The Lord grant mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus: for oft he refreshed me, and he was not ashamed of my chain; but, when he was in Rome, he sought me diligently, and found me.", (2 Tim. 1:6)

Clearly the effect of these passages is that there had to be a Divine apprehension and not merely a human appraisal of Paul's position. Human levels of mentality would have produced an atmosphere of doubt, suspicion, question, and would have let in elements of false imputation. Regarded on merely natural lines, association with the prisoner would have involved such associates in the suspicion and prejudice. Doubt of the Lord's servant was very widespread, and even many of the Lord's people were not sure of him. But the Lord was shutting up a very vital revelation to this channel, and for such as were really in spiritual need, and such as were to stand in a living relation to fullness of testimony from identification with Christ in death and resurrection, on to throne-union with Him, power over "Principalities, Powers" etc., and on to the ministry "in the ages to come", there had to be a putting aside of all human, personal, and diplomatic considerations and a standing right in there with the instrument where God put it in honorable imprisonment. For possession of which is to come through the vessel, there has to be a coming where the vessel is, without consideration for reputation, influence, or popularity.

In this way the Lord sifts His people and finds out who really is wholly for Himself and His testimony, and who is actuated in any measure by other considerations and interests. The instrument in this position of popular rejection is thus the Lord's means of searching, and it will thus meet their need. The other truth remains here, then, is that:

3. Shame, reproach and limitation are often God's ways of enriching the whole Body of Christ.

This has always been so. The measure of approximation to the fullness of the revelation has always been accompanied by a relative cost. Every instrument of the testimony has been laid under suspicion and reproach in a measure commensurate with the degree of value to the Lord, and this has meant that, humanly, they were limited to that extent. Many have withdrawn, fallen away, held aloof, doubted, feared, and questioned. But as Paul could say "My tribulations for you, which are your glory.", (Eph. 3:13), or "The prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles.", (Eph. 3:1), so the measure of limitation in the Lord is the measure of enrichment in His people. The fuller the revelation, the fewer those who apprehend, or the greater the number of those who stand aloof. Revelation only comes through suffering and limitation, and to have it experimentally means sharing the cost in some way. But this is God's way of securing for Himself a spiritual seed plot.

A seed plot is an intensive thing. There things are narrowed down to very limited dimensions. It is not a great extensive show that is immediately in view, but things are all considered firstly in the light of seed. The real meaning of things is not always recognized there, but you can travel the world over and find a great many gardens which are the expression of that intensive and restricted seed plot. If ever there was such a seed plot it was Paul's prison in Rome.

All this may apply to individual lives in relation to the Lord's testimony. There may often be a chafing against limitation, confinement, and a restless hankering after what we would call something wider or less restricted. If the Lord has willed us to the place where we are, our acceptance of it in faith may prove that it becomes a far bigger thing than any human reckoning can judge. I wonder if Paul had any idea that his prison meant his continuous expansion of value to the Lord Jesus through nineteen hundred years? What applies to individuals also applies to corporate bodies, assemblies, or companies of the Lord's people scattered in the earth but one in their fellowship in relation to the Lord's full testimony. May the Lord be graciously pleased to cause the merely human aspect of prison walls to fall away, and give the realization that, far from being limited by men and circumstances, it is imprisonment in the Lord, and this means that all ages and all realms are entered through that prison.

 2005/5/3 4:49Profile

Joined: 2005/4/4
Posts: 342
Continental Europe

 Re: The Christian Life and Service

The Servant of the Lord

by T. Austin-Sparks

In choosing a model of a servant of Christ, we instinctively turn to St. Paul. He seems to us to be the most outstanding in every way, and from the greatness of his achievements, the success of his methods, the amazement of his endurance, and his dominating objective, we must get back to his own conception of himself as a worker.

He has given us that conception in many significant and suggestive phrases, some of which we select at once. Not once only, but frequently, he refers to himself as "the servant of Jesus Christ."

Now I venture to say that a right understanding and apprehension of that word "servant" - as Paul used it - is calculated, without other designations, to revolutionize all of our work for the Master.

The actual word used by Paul was "bondslave," and by it we are thrown back into the social conditions of the world in those days. Slavery was a part of the social life of that time, and the readers of Paul's letters were all quite well acquainted with the ideas and customs connected with that system; indeed, some of those readers were slaves themselves. Paul looked upon himself as having been bought by Christ. He gloried in that ownership, and whenever opportunity presented itself he boasted that he was Christ's. To him that ownership was permanent. The slave was bound for life, and there could be no termination of the relationship or obligations.

The transaction was permanently marked by branding ("I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus"). Professor Mahaffy says:

"In the numerous records of manumissions found at Delphi and at other shrines in Greece, we have learned the legal process by which a slave gained his liberty. He did not bring his master his earnings and obtain his freedom with his receipt for the money, but went to the temple of the god and there paid in his money to the priests; who then with the money bought the slave from his master on the part of the god, and he became for the rest of his life a slave of the god. If at any future time his master or his master's heirs reclaimed him, he had the record of the transaction in the temple.... If he travelled from home and were seized as a runaway slave, what security could he have? Paul gives us the answer. When liberated at the temple, the priest branded him with the "stigmata" of his new master, Apollo. Now Paul's words acquire a new and striking application. He had been the slave of sin; but he had been purchased by Christ, and his new liberty consisted in his being the slave of Christ. Henceforth, he says, let no man attempt to reclaim me; I have been marked with the brand of my new master, Jesus Christ."

On the one hand, this Pauline conception of the absolute and indelible proprietorship of Christ throws much of our modern "service" into striking contrast. Rather than being in willing, full, and free servitude, vassalage, and slavery to Christ, we often regard our service as a kind of religious holiday affair. We may be interested, we may be philanthropic, we may be condescending, or we may be dutiful, but we are certainly not under any compulsion. We can do pretty much as we like about it, and if things do not suit us, we can either "throw up" our work altogether or go where we shall be more appreciated or where things are smoother sailing.

So today, the "worker" too often makes the cause serve him or her instead of being the servant of the cause. Paul took his directions as to sphere, time, and kind of work from his Master, Christ, and relegated every concern to Him. He was not his own, and he could not use either his powers or his time as directed by the flesh.

But on the other hand, he was fully aware and convinced that this "slavery" to Christ was for him the greatest thing in the world. He had caught the true significance of the Master's invitation to "Take my yoke... and you shall find rest unto your souls." That, to Paul, meant control and direction for the most serviceable life.

The stream rushes aimlessly, frivolously, and noisily on until it is yoked by a water-wheel, and then - by its arrest - it grinds the grain to feed mankind. The wind blows wildly to no purpose on the sea until the mariner yokes it with his sail, and thus it is harnessed to bear the enriching cargoes from shore to shore. To capture the electricity which would otherwise be lost, we suspend our telegraph wires and direct it intelligently along them, bringing the whole world into an intimate association. And so, as in these and many other ways, the yoke is the symbol of useful control and serviceable direction. Paul knew that the yoke of Christ's service and association would make his life more fruitful than his own independence. There is a liberty which leads to havoc, ruin, uselessness, and remorse.

But the supreme element in Paul's abandonment to Christ was a strong, clear sense of what Christ had done for him... and a perpetual consciousness of what Christ was to him. There is nothing which makes slaves of us more than love, and it is an ecstatic and sublime slavery which never wants release, and only dreads that a breach might at some time come. In the captivity of Christ's love, Paul would ever be found doing everything which would preserve it from suffering hunger in his life, and he would ever be found praying that the "marks" might be burnt more and more deeply into his soul.

"Who that one moment has the least descried Him,
Dimly and faintly, hidden and afar,
Doth not despise all excellence beside Him,
Pleasures and powers that are not and that are.

"I am persuaded that nothing shall sunder
Us from the love that saveth us from sin,
Lift it or lose hereover or hereunder,
Pluck it hereout or strangle it herein."

For effectual Christian service and the more powerful corporate testimony of the Church, it must be realized that the Divine calling and equipment for the prophetic, or pastoral, or teaching, or evangelistic, or apostolic work is not centered in one man in any given community, but that these personal gifts are distributed over the whole Church. Every true disciple of Christ is called to be a "servant of the Lord", and he should prayerfully seek to know in what specific capacity He calls him to serve - not taking up work at random, but having sought His guidance he should give himself earnestly, devotedly, and vigorously to his special ministry... and regard his calling as from God.

The "marks" of Christ must be seen upon His servants whether in the place where the Lord's people assemble, the business, the home, or the social circle; and he must ever be proud to say of Him: "Whose I am, and Whom I serve."

A vital relationship with Christ born of a deep personal appreciation of what He has done for... and daily is to... our souls, and a clear understanding with a profound conviction of what He wishes to do through our instrumentality - these, covered by a complete and utter abandonment to Him, are the only legitimate grounds for His service. Of such servants the world and the Church stand in tragic and pathetic need, and by such all problems of ineffectiveness and failure are solved. Such never take up the work lightly, and therefore never give it up easily - if at all.

Every Christian must conceive of himself or herself as being definitely called by God into the "fellowship of His Son", and as "workers together with Him." He must know that this calling is a solemn and irrevocable ordination to "the work of the ministry."

To be Christ's own purchased possession... and to be Christ's own controlled, directed, and equipped servant... is to have the strength of a great assurance that nothing can separate you from Him; that you work under supreme authority; that all the resources of Christ are at your disposal; and that while doing His work there can be no ultimate failure - unless He is ultimately to fail, an eventuality which is impossible.

This is a service which is eternal and supreme; yet it is only the probation for "higher service" where and when "His servants shall serve Him... and they shall see His face."

"Christ! I am Christ's! And let the name suffice you;
Ay, for me, too, He greatly hath sufficed.
Lo, with no winning words I would entice you,
Paul has no honor and no friend but Christ.

"Yea, through life, death, through sorrow and through sinning,
He shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed:
Christ is the end, for Christ is the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ."

It is so important, beloved, that we should be clear on this matter of service, and it will save us so much sorrow and heartbreak if we have this right as early as possible. We do not want to spend time in pointing out the tremendous mistakenness which prevails far and wide in this respect. "Christian service" has come to be a realm in which all the acquisitive, ambitious, obtrusive, assertive, self-seeking, and numerous other elements of the natural man have been vented and taken hold. It has created a system in which human distinctions are the order of the day. Yes, and much more which it is too painful to mention.

We need an adjustment of our minds by a true spiritual perception of the real nature of service, and it will be well for us ever to remember that all work for Christ is not service to Christ. A child may be very well-meaning and industrious in its "helping mother" (?), but poor mother may find rather more work created than done.

Now let us say right away... with emphasis... that the indispensable and basic thing to real service is THE SERVANT-SPIRIT AND THE SERVANT-MIND. The matter of service is infinitely more than busy-ness in religious causes, earthly activities in Christian interests; it is the accomplishment of a heavenly will and Divine purpose which registers its impact in the breaking of another, foreign will and destroying the works of the devil. This is the force of "obedience" and the "not my will" ...and this is the servant-mind and servant-spirit.

When a slave in Israel had fulfilled his time and could claim his liberty but preferred to remain with his master, he was taken on to the threshold and his ear was bored with an awl. The blood fell on the threshold, and he and his master stepped across that blood; by so doing, a covenant of service - now the service of love - was entered upon. To have stepped UPON the blood and "trodden it under foot" would have been to have "counted it an unholy thing," but passing over ("passover") it hand in hand was a covenant too sacred ever to be broken. So we are reminded that "we are not our own; we are bought with a price, even the precious blood."

The basic vision of all true service is that of "the Lord high and lifted up," His train filling "the Temple," resulting in ourselves being smitten to the ground with a realization of our own worthlessness. Such a vision makes us forever not masters but slaves... and necessitates an abiding application of blood-soaked, fire-impregnated coal from the altar if we are to be sent-ones - His servants.

Might it not be laid to our charge that our vision of service held ourselves high and lifted up and filling the frame as the goal... until we saw the Lord, and then - in that light - saw ourselves as worthless?

The Lord's need is to have bond-servants - such as... even though the extreme pressure at some time might make them say that they would "no more speak in this Name" ...find that they cannot forbear for long; but cost what it may, they must be in it and at it - the fire is in their bones and zeal of His House eats them up. May we be such, and may the true ground and motive of this fellowship in service be:

"I love, I love my Master,
I will not go out free!
For He is my Redeemer,
He paid the price for me.
I would not leave His service,
It is so sweet and blest;
And in the weariest moments
He gives the truest rest.

"My Master shed His life-blood
My vassal life to win,
And save me from the bondage
Of tyrant self and sin.
He chose me for His service,
And gave me power to choose
That blessed, perfect freedom
Which I shall never lose.

"I would not halve my service,
His only it must be!
His only, Who so loved me
And gave Himself for me.
Rejoicing and adoring,
Henceforth my song shall be
'I love, I love my Master,
I will not go out free!'"

For the work of God a wisdom and a skill different from... and far transcending... that of man at his best is essential. A wisdom which is the gift of God. A wisdom, however, which is very often foolishness to men, and yet which - when the work is done - makes the wisdom of men look like foolishness.

Many things are being constructed to which the Name of the Lord is being affixed - things which appear fine and great and like "the Church," but which are destined to collapse when God's hurricane and fire test every man's work. Good works - philanthropy, hospitality, reform, education, religion, relief, etc. - may be the products, or byproducts, of what is called "Christian civilization" ...and things for which to be profoundly grateful... but let us not confuse these with "a new creation", regeneration, a being "born from above."

The Church is nothing which man can build by any resource in himself personally or collectively. The Church is an organism, not an organization: "Behold, I show you a mystery - we are members of His flesh and of His bones." Build that, if you can! Launch that; organize that; "run" that! It cannot be done. It is the spontaneous outworking of spiritual forces released... in the acceptance by faith of tremendous facts concerning Christ - facts which are proclaimed out of experience in the power of the Holy Ghost. Not the theological Christ; not the doctrinal Christ; not the Christ of the letter; much less the Jesus of history; but the Christ of Eternity in all the meaning of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into the Throne of God revealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit - this alone is authority to preach, to serve, to occupy position, to "build" in relation to the House of God. It is folly to spend time and strength otherwise. It is wisdom to labor on this foundation.

Many inquiries have been set up as to the unsatisfactory situation which exists for so great an area in relation to the gospel and Christian life - questions concerning widespread indifference, gospel-hardening, wholesale backsliding, disappointing "converts," ineffective Christians, low level of spiritual life, worldliness in the "Church," the misleading of believers by false doctrine and deceiving spirits, spiritual immaturity, etc., etc.

To some extent such conditions existed from the beginning, even in the great apostolic days, but it was then much more the exception than now. It was then something in the midst of the greater and better conditions which made the apostolic Church so mighty in the world. Now it would seem to be the other way round. The genuine thing is the smaller company in the midst of the more general failure.

Far be it from us to join in the tirade against that which bears "His" name, but we are so constantly confronted with the heartbreaking story of the difficulties of service, the disappointment of workers, the despair of Christians, that we must enter the inquiry and seek to help.

Now without pressing it as our conviction - which it certainly is - we would present it as a question:

May not this state be largely due to an inadequate gospel?

Is the means used such as is calculated to achieve the tremendous end in view?

Have we an adequate conception of what that end is?

May it not be that such an inadequate conception has resulted in the eliminating or neglecting of essentials on the one hand, and the laboring of certain unworthy factors on the other?

With regard to the latter: Is fear of hell and gain of heaven really worthy of the "so great salvation"? Is the horror of being doomed to eternal punishment - giving rise to all the sensational means and methods by which fear is meant to be produced - really a sufficient motive? Is the personal going to heaven, with all the personal gains and pleasures associated therewith - producing all the sentimental appeals intended to capture by pathos, emotion, excitement, pleasure, etc. - really mighty enough to bring through the eternal purpose? The gospel of "escape from hell and going to heaven," with all the cheap elements of its proclamation which has nauseated so many and turned them away in disgust - may it not be this gospel which prejudices the true and has become played out in the emotions of many who can no longer be appealed to along these lines, setting up a gospel deadlock?

It is absolutely essential that if all the great purpose of God with its vast inclusions is to be entered into, and if there is to be an adequate impact upon men, there must be the sufficient background of the New Testament evangel. It would be very salutary if every "Christian worker" were to sit down... or kneel down... and prayerfully consider the background of New Testament preaching, exhortation, admonition, entreaty, appeal, instruction.

It will be discovered that that background begins in eternity past, before times eternal, in the eternal counsels of God. It will reveal a conception and design with which every movement and gesture of God throughout the ages is related. It will explain the existence of the universe and the purpose of the whole creation. It will set the sovereignty of the Son at the center and make it also the circumference. It will reveal that each soul saved is a vindication of the wisdom of God in plan and creation... and the justification of the existence of the world.

Salvation - conversion - is never something in itself. An ultra-individualism in being saved or in seeking the salvation of others is contrary to the Scriptures... and is baneful. The "therefores" and the "wherefores" of the New Testament are pegs upon which hang vast ranges and mighty weights of spiritual significance and reason.

Why should men be saved? Why should I be utterly abandoned to Christ? Why should I accept the Cross of Christ in its total application to all the elements of my natural life? Why should I leave all for the Gospel's sake? These and many other such questions must be answered in the light of that infinite background of "the eternal purpose" in the first place.

True it is that conversions take place from the preaching of the immediate issues of sin and hell... and salvation from these. But so often such remains for a long time with but the personal salvation and the immediate issue and a single note. Why should maturity be so long delayed - the nursery so long occupied? Why not the full compass of Divine Meaning from the beginning? Again we ask, may not the widespread failure of a certain evangelism be due to an inadequate motive?

Then in the next place there must be an ADEQUATE DYNAMIC. There is no subject which concerns the servants of the Lord more than that of spiritual power and effectiveness. We have prayed about this until we despaired. We have read books upon it until we were sick. Yes, we have spoken about it ourselves until shame has silenced us.

We see the apostolic example and demonstration.
We know the Master's promise.
We know the doctrine and teaching basic to power.
But what of the power itself?

Far be it from us to think that we can improve upon, or profitably add to, all that has been written. But if the Lord has taken us through an experience which has made possible an unfolding of His secrets, it will not be conceit on our part if we humbly place such at the service of His children.

It is not sufficient that we recognize the need for power and pray for it. Indeed, it might be very unsafe for the gospel and for the Name of the Lord if it were given. It is of primary importance that we should know the nature and the basis of power. It is equally important that we should recognize that it is that power which has as its object the building of the "House" - the "Temple" of God.

From Genesis to Revelation, resurrection is invariably the basis upon which the direct purpose of God is carried forward. Every instrument which is used in that direct purpose has to be wrought on to a basis of resurrection. The experimental spiritual ground upon which the Church stood at Pentecost was the Resurrection. Paul's whole life and work rested upon his own experience of the Resurrection. The basis of power is Resurrection union with Christ. The principle of "the eternal purpose" is Resurrection Life in Christ. The Holy Spirit comes only upon Resurrection ground. Power is to "know Him and the power of His Resurrection..." By that Life the Holy Spirit constitutes the believer a personal demonstration of the Resurrection, and the word of testimony thereto is only a consequence... but it is a consequence.

In the meantime, "the eternal purpose" proceeds, but it proceeds only in those and through those who have firstly recognized the death of Jesus as their death... and then accepted it in one all-inclusive reckoning of faith, trusting God to make it actual. They have claimed and apprehended by faith their inheritance in the Risen Lord, even Resurrection Life. It becomes the exclusive basis of all the activities of God within and through His children relative to the eternal purpose. But it is Resurrection Life - mighty, unconquerable, indestructible, deathless. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit's law of operation is Divine Life.

 2005/5/17 15:29Profile

Joined: 2005/4/4
Posts: 342
Continental Europe

 Re: The Christian Life and Service

The Meaning of Union With Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

What is union with Christ? It is union with Him as the new creation - as the new-creation Man; union with Him in the Life which is the Life of the new creation by the Spirit of Life.

What is the meaning of that union? It is that only by such union can God's works be done. What governed Him in relation to the Father governs us. Nothing can be done except on the ground of this union. It is not a matter of action or of undertaking for God, however well intentioned. What we see as seeming necessary to be done for the Lord's glory is not the criterion of service. Many things are embarked upon by the mere simple, though honest and sincere, judgment of the heart when confronted by what is judged as something to be done for God - something needing to be done. A tragic situation, for example, calls for action; we have the means to meet that situation, and so we embark upon it for the Lord. A vast variety of undertakings have been embarked upon in that way - from that basis - and the Lord Jesus says, No! Not so!

He is not governed by the apparent demand of a situation. He is not governed by the impact of things upon Himself, as calling for an undertaking. With Him it is a question of what God is doing... and doing just at the particular time. With one object, God does different things at different times... and has a different emphasis from time to time; and those who are really in union with Christ have to be governed by that which Christ at that particular time is Himself undertaking - is giving Himself to: "...what things soever he [God] doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner."

The whole question of spiritual perception in relation to the work of God is bound up with this union. We may embark upon many undertakings for the Lord; we have done it, and many are doing it. Sovereignly the Lord blesses and uses, but there is something which comes nearer to the heart of God than that... and which gets more directly and immediately to God's end. In a less roundabout way it gets right to the heart of things. It is that we should be found in that which is God's immediate object at a given time. Union with Christ brings us under that law. It is a matter of what God is doing... and of life-union with Him in Christ for the accomplishment of that.

So then, we have to put back all our schemes and all our plans and all our arrangements and all our programs for the Lord, and in the secret place with the Lord get into the value of true, living, spiritual union with Him... so that the purpose may not commence with us - in our thought, in our desire, in our will - but may begin with God and find a registration in us from God. He would have us see with spiritual perception what He is doing... and do it... and "in like manner"; for God is as particular about His method as He is about His purpose. The question is not one of doing a thing for God, but of God. In the new creation all things are out from God.

There is a Man in the work of God. There is a Man to whom all the works of God are entrusted. There is one Man - only one. All the works of God are bound up with that Man in the glory. The important thing for us is to see what Christ is - not only who Christ is but what Christ is - that Christ is an inclusive new-creation Man, that He is a Divine humanity now, and that He expresses fully and utterly, conclusively and finally, the thought of God. There is no expression of God apart from Jesus Christ, so far as the new creation is concerned. God's thoughts, God's will, God's desires, God's works are finished in Him. He is the First and the Last, and you cannot get outside of that.

Christ is representative and inclusive of the new creation. You and I, in order to come into the new creation and to work according to the new creation - that is, according to God's thoughts and will and desire, and God's works, have to come into that union with the Lord Jesus Christ... which means that we live by what He is. Our old humanity has to be set aside, and the new humanity of Christ has to take its place.

The deep mystery of Christ and of union with Christ is this, that by and in the Holy Spirit - in the one Life which we thus share with Christ - we are living upon His glorified, perfected humanity. That is to say, what Christ is as Man in the glory is our Life.

When we take food and drink, we take it into our very tissue; and that food becomes us physically. You know how that works in various ways. You become the kind of person you are physically very largely because of the kind of food you eat. You can tell very often what people feed upon by looking at them. It could be illustrated in many ways.

That is the governing law here in things spiritual. God has a standard Man in His presence. God has a conception of humanity realized in His presence. God says, For Me that standard - that conception - governs everything, and you have to live according to that... and that has to become you. What Christ is has to become you - to become the very Life of your life, the innermost reality of your being.

Your food becomes your power of thought. You do not know how it is done, but you can prove it; if you but abstain from food long enough, you will have no more thoughts. How your daily food is translated into the letters you write, the poems you may compose, you do not know; but it is a fact. Stop your daily food, and there will be no more letters and no more poems. You cannot trace the relationship, but it is a fact. Your food becomes your activity. That is your food in action. Stop your food and you do nothing more. You see the illustration.

Christ is God's standard, God's mind, God's thought; and in the Spirit, by union with Him, you have to live on Him, be governed by Him, open your being to Him... and think your thoughts, speak your words, do your deeds after Him - let Him become your mind, your utterance, your activity. That is the clear teaching of the New Testament. "Not in the wisdom of words, but in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth", says Paul. What is that then? It is simply Christ finding expression; not things springing from us but coming out from Him. That is the meaning of union with Christ.

To all this, is your reaction much as follows: Oh, well, how few know it, and how few live like that? With ninety percent it is just the opposite of that - it is a case of works for the Lord according to the judgment of the one or more concerned. Even so the Lord has done His work through the generations! Are we going to reason like that?

First of all, we must ask ourselves, Is this what is set forth in the Word of God? After all, that must govern us. There are a few other considerations besides, of course, which influence the matter. Are we quite sure, for example, that in comparison with all the mass of undertakings for God, the spiritual result is commensurate? Surely that is a question we need to ask ourselves? If we are influenced by the Word of God, we shall be brought to the position where we have to say: Well, the Word of God makes it perfectly clear that everything begins with God. The words, "In the beginning God..." express a ruling principle; and as in the old creation, so in the new. Everything is out from God, and the Holy Spirit is the executive member of the Godhead. He alone knows what God would do, and He alone can accomplish it.

Now, am I to abandon myself to what that implies; or am I, in all sincerity and earnestness according to the best light I have and the best desires I possess, to launch out in a lot of undertakings for God? They are two quite different things. We shall, if we are honest, sooner or later be brought to the position where, however things may appear and however small may be that which lives according to this standard, we cannot help ourselves - we must capitulate to this law; namely, that it must be the Lord initiating, the Lord projecting, the Lord energizing, the Lord directing - it must all come from the Lord. It is not for me to sit down and plan things for God; it must come to me by the quickening movement of the Holy Spirit. That is the meaning of union with Christ.

Oh, for a revelation of Jesus Christ. Paul said, "It pleased God... to reveal his Son in me..." That is the explanation of everything that followed in the life of the Apostle. If you read his life from a purely human standpoint, as so many have done, and run through his life as though it were the life of any other man lived for God, then you may argue for human initiative, human enterprise; but to get back of that and to see God - to see Christ - that alone can truly account for the effect of that life.

We have taken Paul as an example; we could well take the greater example of the Lord Jesus Himself. Write the life of Jesus on a human level and you cannot explain it in that way. The influence, the power through all these centuries, the spontaneous growth, cannot be accounted for on the ground of His being just a man. In a lesser way, that was so with the Apostle. Today Paul lives more than he did when he was here in the flesh. He has been growing all the time. What is the secret of that vitality? The explanation is union with Christ and in Christ.

There are those who want to build up a work which will forever be a monument of their name. They are building tombs, like Absalom, to their own memory. But that is a poor thing... and is bound to fade sooner or later. That which shall abide forever is that which comes out from God Himself... and is not done by us but through us, so that all things are of God.

A true knowledge of the Lord Jesus will reverse a good many of our ideas and a good many of our procedures. A true knowledge of Christ and union with Christ, with all that that means, will make us go to work in entirely the opposite way from that in which we have been accustomed to go. We shall come to be governed by this one consideration, that it is not what we would do for the Lord but what the Lord would do through us, that is alone to rule.

It is a very testing way. You can hardly believe, unless you have been the same way, how often and intensely and bitterly the enemy fights and tempts you to come down on to a lower position and to take up things again for God - launch big schemes, enter upon big undertakings, set up something on the earth that can be seen - because all those who are governed by that standard of things seen have said: You see, you are doing nothing! Show us what you are doing! You cannot show us anything for it all!

Satan does work on that line. To the flesh, that is not easy. To go on with God and have nothing to show for it - never to be able to have the work written up in the papers, to publish no reports nor statistics, and yet to know in your heart of hearts that, although it is hidden, something is going on... and that you cannot do otherwise than you are doing... is far from being a path of ease to the flesh.

It is a testing way, but - blessed be God - if we do endure the testing and go on patiently with Him, in His time... when that flesh has been finally laid low, when the voice of natural ambition is no longer sounding and having influence and we are now utterly at the place where, if things are not going to be of the Lord, then there is not going to be anything at all... the Lord has a free way and He is able to indicate that all the time something has been going on. He shows how He has been at work and how that in time there will be manifested a work of God - a work that shall have such a large percentage of spiritual value and meaning in it that you are very glad, after all, that you walked with God and not with men in the work of God.

 2005/5/19 16:34Profile

Joined: 2005/4/4
Posts: 342
Continental Europe

 Re: The Christian life and service

Enlargement Through Conflict

by T. Austin-Sparks

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil days, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds; that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.", (Eph. 6:10-20)

I think it is well known to you that the Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament corresponds to the Book of Joshua in the Old. As to the Book of Joshua, the Lord told His people, before ever they went into the land, that He had given the land to them; that every place that the sole of their foot should rest upon was already theirs by gift; that already the land was their possession, and the enemies were subdued. In Him it was already a concluded matter. Yet when they actually came into the land, they found that they had to fight for every inch of it. There was no contradiction really in that, because they were fighting in something that the Lord had already done. We have often put it this way - they were fighting in a victory rather than for a victory. It was a case of faith's possessing rather than of faith's receiving. Now there, of course, it was the matter of the inheritance and the enlargement of their possessions; and they did not come to possess any part, to extend and spread themselves out over the land, except by meeting a challenge all the way along and overcoming that challenge.

That is exactly the position here with the Church in the heavenlies. The heavenlies in "Ephesians" corresponds to the land in the Book of Joshua - that is, the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. It is the Lord in all the fulness of His ascended life and position, and that fulness is for the Church. It is to be His fulness, but the possession by the Church of any measure of Christ, the possession of any fragment of spiritual fulness and enlargement, comes along the line of spiritual conflict. The Lord left the enemy in the land; even when He said that He had given it to His people and would subdue their enemies under them, He did not go ahead and drive the enemy out. He left them to do that. Although in the Cross the enemy is defeated and everything is secured to the Church, the Lord has left the enemy in order that the Church may come, not to a mechanical or theoretical position of fulness, but to an actual, spiritual position. The enemy therefore is the Lord's instrument of bringing the Church to its place along the line of conflict.

The inheritance, of course, has its two sides in this letter. The Lord has an inheritance in the saints; that is, the Lord's people are His inheritance. There is the other side, where the inheritance of the saints is the Lord Himself; and these two in realization - the Lord getting what He has set His heart upon having, and our coming into that to which the Lord has called us - is a matter of spiritual enlargement day by day by means of spiritual conflict.

The Need For Strength Of Spirit

What does this amount to? In a word, it is a matter of strength of spirit. Our spiritual measure is a matter of how strong we are spiritually. Therefore this section begins with, "Finally, be strong in the Lord (or, from henceforth be made powerful in the Lord) and in the strength of His might"; that is your measure, and spiritual strength is decided in spiritual conflict. If we go down easily under opposition and pressure, soon give up and fade out because things begin to get difficult, that determines just our measure of spiritual strength, our measure of Christ. From one standpoint, you have to measure Christ by His contact with the enemy. Go back to His life on the earth, and see how far the enemy was able to gain advantage, to bring Him down, and you discover that he was not able at all, at any point, in any circumstances. The Lord proved His spiritual measure against the whole force of spiritual opposition. Satan and all his kingdom is matched against the one Man - and the one Man overcomes, casts out the prince of this world, subdues his kingdom and takes his authority. The measure of Christ is seen as over against the enemy; and our spiritual measure is determined in this combat with the enemy. Simply, then, our spiritual measure is a matter of spiritual strength.

That is seen here in these two ways. As the rest of the passage shows, there are many forms in which the enemy comes to break in, to get vantage ground. We cannot here pursue all the things represented by the armour, but each of these parts of the whole armour mentioned points to some form of enemy assault. The helmet suggests a blow at the head, that is, a spiritual assault upon the mind. How far is the mind impregnable to assaults? We know the terrific assaults of the enemy upon our minds, to capture them, to dominate our thinking, our reasoning. Another time he will make a terrific assault upon our hearts - our feelings, emotions, affections, desires. The breastplate suggests this form of spiritual attack. Another time the very vitals, the loins, are assailed, as suggested by the girdle of truth. The enemy will, as we say, 'hit us below the belt' if he can. There is a suggestion here of a form of spiritual assault at a place where we shall be thoroughly wounded if we are not careful, if we have not provision made. So you go through the whole armour in each part, and you find every part signifies some form of spiritual conflict, the point at which the conflict is being concentrated at a given time. Today it will be at one point, tomorrow at another. Am I able to meet the enemy in strength? Can I spiritually meet him in the mind? Can I spiritually meet him in the heart, where all the feelings are centred? That determines what my spiritual measure is. So, to begin with, it is strength in that sense, which is our need.

The Need For Intelligence

But then it is also a matter of intelligence. The two things which mark spiritual degree are strength and intelligence. You find that all the way through the New Testament. It is a matter of understanding as well as of being strong. There is a sense in which we may be strong, but not accomplish very much by our strength because it is not accompanied by intelligence. On the other hand, we may have a sort of intelligence and know all about things, and yet not stand up to them. These two factors must go together. So the word here is "the wiles of the devil." It is not only his fierce onslaught in strength that has to be reckoned with, but also his wiliness. He knows where to attack at a given time, and just when it is the best time to make a particular kind of assault; and very often he works up a situation that is very suitable to his purpose. He will get us moving very much in our minds, thinking, scheming, reasoning, and then he will make a terrific blow to bring us down through our minds. Sometimes he is moving altogether in the realm of our feelings, stirring these up, bringing about situations that touch our hearts very deeply. At that moment it is the emotional life that is the danger point, and then he makes a terrific onslaught upon that. He is very wily, very intelligent, very knowing.

To counter that, we need to have spiritual intelligence to see his intention and to be alive to his tactics. Spiritual intelligence is a matter of spiritual measure. How often someone has gone down under an assault of the enemy, completely knocked out; and someone else comes along and says, "Did you not see so-and-so - how the enemy has been working up to this, and getting you in the end in a position for which he has been manoeuvering?" They reply, "If only I had seen that, I should not have given way!" If we have intelligence to meet the wiles, we have spiritual measure. The need is not only of being strong in the sense of digging our heels in and clenching our fists, but of having intelligent strength, A very strong man can be, after all, thoroughly overcome by a little cleverness; beaten, not because of counter-strength, but by a wile.

Christ - An Adequate Defence In Every Assault

Paul himself was an outstanding example of strength combined with intelligence. Think of his position when he was writing these very things. "I am an ambassador in chains", (Eph. 6:20). What a contradiction! How absurd! Paul, in that chain, in his imprisonment, had a very great deal of reason to give up, to weaken, to take the hopeless attitude; but in actual fact he was very strong. He might also have despaired of coping with the whole situation which confronted him, not only personally, but in the churches - he could have been completely defeated by the whole complex of the situation. But he is displaying a wonderful wisdom. This armour, as Paul picks it up and transfers it to the spiritual life, indicates a great deal of wisdom on his part. Think it through, piece by piece. For the assault upon the mind - the helmet of salvation. How apt, how suited to the situation it is! The assault upon the heart - what is that? What is it that gets us down more than anything else from the enemy? It is a spirit of accusation, of condemnation, bringing home to our hearts a sense of our own wickedness and unworthiness and unprofitableness, to cause our hearts to sink in despair. Paul so wisely says, "The remedy for that is to put on the breastplate of righteousness - but not your own righteousness. Meet the enemy with the righteousness of Another; it is the only way to meet this assault." Go through each part, and you find it is so wise a provision, so understanding. At every point, Paul is exhibiting this wonderful understanding, and showing his measure: for Paul could have gone down under these things as easily as any other man if he had taken another attitude. He could have argued, "All these churches have turned against me, all these brethren have forsaken me; here I am in prison, shut up: the Lord must have something against me, there must be something very wrong with me." If he had taken that on, it would not have been long before he would have been a prisoner in the inner dungeon of the castle of Giant Despair. But he had taken up the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness and the rest of the armour, and he showed his measure. We cannot stand as equals with him, but he does indicate for us what spiritual enlargement really means; it is being strong and wise in conflict. So spiritual degree resolves itself into a matter of spiritual strength and spiritual understanding in the time of conflict.

 2005/5/26 15:23Profile

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