Reading: Colossians 2.
When waiting before the Lord concerning these days of conference, it was borne on my heart that He would have us be occupied with Christ in heaven as our Sufficiency.
Let us turn to some passages of Scripture:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly
places in Christ...". Eph. 1:3-4.
"...They drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ". 1 Cor. 10:1-4.
"This is he that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel... who received living oracles to give unto us." Acts 7:38.
"...Our sufficiency is from God..." 2 Cor. 3:5.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves." 2 Cor. 4:7.
All these passages have to do, in one way or another, with sufficiency. That sufficiency is bound up with our Lord Jesus Christ. Now what occupies us here is touching a question about which every Christian should be quite sure and clear as to its answer: What is the supreme purpose which governs the life of a child of God? It is very important that we should be able to answer that question. I believe the right answer is: the supreme purpose of the life of the child of God is - to learn Christ.
God has filled Christ with all His fulness. In Him dwell all the riches of knowledge and wisdom. And that fulness is for us. The apostle Paul makes this statement, saying, that we are "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ". Thus our business as believers is to learn Christ to come, in a living way, into the fulness of Jesus Christ. That governs everything. Every dealing of God with His child is to bring that one into a fuller knowledge of Christ. All the rest in our life will be but the outcome and the result of that knowledge.
I have heard many people say that the purpose of God, in having saved us, is that we should save others. But this is only a part of God's purpose. There can be no real service for the Lord apart from a personal knowledge of the Lord. We can never lead anyone into a knowledge which is not ours, neither can we lead anyone further than we know Christ in a living way. So everything depends on the measure of our knowledge of Jesus Christ.
If we live as long as Methuselah we shall never exhaust the fulness of Jesus Christ. There is always more to discover in Him. I therefore believe that our occupation in eternity will be to know Christ more and more. Our life-purpose is to enter into the sufficiency of all the fulness of Jesus Christ for us. If that is perfectly clear the question will arise:
How Can We Learn Christ?
Before we answer this question let us first look at the background of that fulness and sufficiency of Christ. It may startle you if I say that this background is a WILDERNESS. We can only know the sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ if we are willing to go into the wilderness.
Now, the wilderness has always been the best place for spiritual education. You may think that there is not much to be learnt in a wilderness. Nevertheless it is so; it is the best place to learn heavenly things. It was so with Abraham; it was so in the case of Moses; it was true with Israel. The wilderness had also a definite place in the life of Paul. Whether we take it in a literal or a spiritual way, the fact is, that God's people were, again and again, sent into the wilderness. Many of us know what such a 'wilderness' means.
When God puts His hand upon a people, He always cuts them off from everything which is not of Himself; that is, He cuts them off from the whole realm of their natural life, and puts them, so to speak, outside of the world of nature. We see this in the case of the people of Israel. Pharaoh was allowing them to go into the desert; he wanted them to serve God in a half-hearted way: partly in Egypt and partly in the land. But that could never serve God. God's irreducible minimum was: not a hoof was to be left behind. God's people should be absolutely separated from Egypt. Therefore the Red Sea came between His people and the Egyptians. God saw to it that they remained in the wilderness until they had learnt their lesson. God had some great lessons to teach them there. Israel's sojourn in the wilderness had to serve coming generations as an example. The dispensation of the church - yet far away in the future - was to derive its instruction from them. In the wilderness God laid down eternal principles. The things which happened to Israel "were our examples".
God cuts His people off from the whole realm of nature. You know how little the natural man prevails in the wilderness. It doesn't matter how intellectual, how mighty the natural resources are. It is not of much use in a wilderness. You may be an excellent student, a splendid businessman or organiser, yet all this is not much good in a wilderness. For a man who is planted down alone in the middle of a wilderness, his own cleverness is not of much avail, his natural capacities will not bring him very far.
So you see what matters. When God gets us into His hand, He takes us right out of the realm of what we are by nature. That is the meaning of the wilderness. God's object is to make Christ everything. So long as we can do things, so long as we have resources in ourselves, we cannot know Jesus Christ. Christ will remain an unexplored realm for us.
In the first letter to the Corinthians we find some definite statements concerning Christ in the wilderness. "They did all eat the same spiritual food, and drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ." Whenever Israel came into a new situation of need, the thing which God did for them to meet that need was to give them an illustration of Christ. If they needed food, heaven provided it. What they received was a type of Christ. So they learned to know Christ in the wilderness as their food and their drink. This is a great historic illustration for the church, that Christ in heaven is her sufficiency.
What was true of Israel historically was also true of Jesus Christ voluntarily. Christ accepted that position of dependence for Himself. He chose to live entirely on heavenly resources. Everything concerning Christ here on earth speaks of His poverty. He had none of the riches of this world. He did not enjoy the advantages this world could provide. He was born in a very poor home. Early in His life He had to work for His livelihood. His life was right to the end straitened on the natural side. But so He willed it to be. He chose to live on heavenly resources rather than on earthly means. He fulfilled His whole ministry as out from heavenly resources. We may see that more fully later.
The church, when wholly in the hands of the Lord, will be led by the same way, and brought into that dependence. All that which is of nature must cease, that she may learn that her whole life is bound up with Christ in heaven, and all her resources are in Him alone.
But it is just wonderful to live in the heavenlies! it is a realm of constant discoveries, of continuous wonder. Day by day we feel how impossible the things are as seen from the natural standpoint. We know in ourselves that we cannot meet situations and answer the need. Our nature is governed by this great, "I cannot". We see this in Paul's life. He says of the natural man that he "cannot know the things of God". That is the reason why natural resources are of no avail in the realm of divine things. But to be brought into the realisation of that fact is to be brought into a realm of wonderful experiences, a realm of constant discoveries of how rich and full Christ is for us. Only those who realise their own weakness and failure know what a wonderful strength and fulness there is in Christ. In the course of time we come up against an impossible situation. There is no strength in us to meet that need. We do not know how to get through this thing. If we are left to ourselves we shall fail. But now we are entering into a fresh experience. We are learning something we have never known before. We see that the Lord has brought us into such a situation that we may discover more of the resources of Christ. At the beginning we thought we were going to break down; but in going on, in spite of all appearances, we slowly learn the lessons of the wilderness, so that we get into a new inward position where we can meet greater demands.
Thus we learn by experience that the Lord is equal to every situation, that Christ has what we need. Instead of being discouraged, we carry about a spirit of victory, although we have not more strength in us than before. We are just as unable in ourselves as we have ever been. But we begin to discover how capable the Lord is, how great His fulness is in our emptiness. He is the Strength in our weakness, He is the Wisdom for our foolishness. Our resources are no longer earthly resources, they are heavenly resources in Christ.
This was Paul's experience when he was in prison. Imagine being in his place! Cut off from temporal blessings, his work in the churches apparently come to an end, his liberty taken from him, in evident need physically and temporally. The whole situation he was in was depressing. He was faced with an early execution. And then he begins to write: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." He is in the 'wilderness', yet he is living on the basis of Christ. Therefore he is triumphant.
And because he has so learnt Christ he has been able to be a blessing to an untold number of believers right up to this day. When turning to his letters we receive ever fresh blessings from its pages. The riches of Jesus Christ are flowing to us in abundance through His servant Paul. Paul knew Christ. But there was a spiritual wilderness in the background of that life, that is, a realm where nature cannot help. Therefore he writes: "We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay...". That is the wilderness of our own nature - vessels of fragile clay. "Our outward man is perishing". Paul had learnt the All-sufficiency of Christ for himself in the wilderness of the natural man.
So you see, the supreme business of a believer is to learn Christ. That brings us into a position of spiritual power and fulness, which means to live a life of victory and fruitfulness.
There are many who will not have the wilderness. They work for the Lord in their own strength. Such people do not know the Lord Jesus. They will not learn Christ. But if we will give to the Lord His place in our life, it may be that He will bring us into a wilderness that He may reveal Himself to us in His fulness, that we may learn Christ and His sufficiency.
May the Lord use these messages in order to show us our poverty, and reveal to us His fulness.